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Port Townsend, Washington

Explore Port Townsend’s History, Arts and Family-Friendly Activities

A historic, maritime heritage and thriving arts scene are just a few reasons to visit Port Townsend — a quaint, Victorian seaport on the Olympic Peninsula. A quick hop on the ferry or scenic drive along the coast, Port Townsend is not only easily accessible for Seattleites, but also located in one of the most breathtaking regions in the country. Whether it be a quick day trip or three-day getaway, there’s plenty to keep the whole family entertained.

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Fort Worden. The photo is by Dan Deluca.

Family Fun at Fort Worden

For families with kids, venturing out to the Olympic Peninsula is a breeze — and it makes an excellent spring-break getaway. Fort Worden — a historic state park and former military base — spans two miles along the shoreline of the Peninsula and is home to more than 100 historic structures. Take in breathtaking views of the Olympics and Cascades as you explore the many trailheads and go beachcombing along one of the area’s few sand beaches.

With historic sites such as the Puget Sound Coast Artillery Museum, military bunkers and Commanding Officer’s Quarters, there are plenty of places to explore with the whole family. If you’re looking to stay for a couple days, Fort Worden has a number of historic homes and cottages that now serve as vacation rentals, perfect for a family-size group.

For an easy day hike or ride that ventures outside of the park, hit the Larry Scott Memorial Trail by foot, bike or horseback. A starting point for the Olympic Discovery Trail, the Larry Scott Memorial Trail is a 7.3-mile trail that is great for families with kids of all ages.

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Booming Arts Scene

In addition to trendy boutiques and contemporary dining, Port Townsend’s bustling arts scene commands attention. With more than a dozen galleries and an art walk that takes place on the first Saturday of each month, Port Townsend is home to an abundance of artistic talent.

Home to the Port Townsend School of Woodworking, Rain Shadow Recording Studio and Copper Canyon Press, it’s not hard to find the source of the town’s growing art and entertainment scene. Stop by Northwind Art (the product of a 2021 merger of the Port Townsend School of the Arts and Northwind Arts Center) to experience local art exhibits, literary readings and music performances. Those interested in film and live performances should check out Key City Public Theatre or plan their visit around the Port Townsend Film Festival in September.

Another gem in Fort Worden State Park is Centrum — a non-profit arts organization that offers classes in music, visual arts, writing and more. Centrum not only offers residencies for both emerging and established artists, which supports local creatives throughout their career, but also holds workshops and classes for visitors.

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Local Wildlife Galore

Whether you take to the ocean or stick out the cold weather indoors, there are a number of options in Port Townsend for visitors looking to learn about local flora and fauna. During the winter months, the Port Townsend Marine Science Center at Fort Worden State Park is a convenient way to learn about local ecosystems without setting foot outside.

Visit the aquarium on the pier between March and October to learn about the nearshore habitats of the Salish Sea, whether it involves viewing plankton through a microscope or touching an anemone. The Marine Science Center’s museum also offers a number of interactive displays and exhibits, including a full orca whale skeleton — one of only six on display in the entire United States.

Operating between March and September, visitors can hop on a boat with Puget Sound Express in downtown Port Townsend for a 4-hour or full-day tour full of whales, bald eagles, harbor seals, tufted puffins and more. There’s even a Port Townsend Orca Festival that takes place each June, celebrating the local ecosystems and aquatic species of the Salish Sea. The Marine Science Center also offers a number of wildlife viewing cruises in the spring and summer months, including the popular Spring Bird Migration cruise for aspiring ornithologists.

–Written by Maggy Lehmicke, last updated in September 2022.

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