Port Townsend Washington – Victorian Era Fun

Genie Davis October 7, 2010 No Comments

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Port Townsend Washington is a delightful small town a short ferry ride from Seattle. Surrounded by lavender farms and produce-rich fields, and close to one entrance of Cascades National Park, this historic waterfront community is a charming place to spend a weekend with the kids. 

The ferry ride itself is a lot of fun, leaving just outside downtown Seattle, it’s easy to drive on board. There’s something particularly enjoyable about a car ferry, stepping out of your own vehicle to watch the prow of the ship cut through the waves. There was a small snack bar on board and the views of islands and Seattle slipping away behind us was lovely. 

The town dates from 1792, and the gorgeous old brick and stone buildings show off these historic roots. We enjoyed seeing the John Quincy Adams House and Good Templars Hall; even more we enjoyed staying in the heart of the historic district and a block from the Puget Sound at the Palace Hotel, built in 1889. We had a huge third floor room – warning, there’s no elevator – with a kitchen, a small living area, and bedroom. The ten foot arched windows offered incredible town and water views, and while the rooms feature antiques they’re comfortable antiques – you can climb on the sofas and turn on the lamps, and the kids will not feel inhibited here. 

Palace Hotel Port Townsend Washington State

Inside the Palace Hotel, Port Townsend, WA

In the 1800′s, shipping tycoons and businessmen raised up grand homes and businesses. But when the economy boomed elsewhere – when the Northern Pacific Railroad neglected to connect the city to Tacoma- the wealthy builders left, the buildings escaped change, and now downtown Port Townsend is a designated National Historic District. We loved the mix of galleries, antique shops, gift shops, cafes and coffee houses. Port Townsend is a Victorian doll house come to life. 

The kids were also welcomed in the many galleries around downtown. We made it to the monthly Arts Walk, and were impressed with the sophistication of the paintings, sculptures and ceramics on display. There were of course standard seascapes and landscapes, but there was also decidedly unique modern art, Asian fused glassworks, and wonderful Native American styled carvings. We were even more impressed by the friendliness of the artists; one landscape painter showed our kids how he works in layering paint and mixing his colors. Jazz music spilled from cafes; fresh carrot cake was served at food stands set up on the street. The Rose Movie Theater is a classic structure, showing well-chosen art house and family fare at reasonable prices. We loved it’s old fashioned feeling and friendly concession stand operators. 

In the morning we liked strolling along the Puget Sound and taking in the blue water, circling sea birds, and fishing craft from our chosen perch on a comfortable bench. 

Puget Sound Port Townsend, Washington

Enjoying the view of Puget Sound, Port Townsend, WA

By afternoon, we’d found some delicious sandwiches to go at Panedeamore, an Artisan bakery with excellent bread and pastries, and we decided to leave our Victorian era enclave for the wilderness. 

Washington’s stunning, snow capped – even in summer – peaks,  deep valleys, pristine waterfalls, and three hundred plus glaciers are all a part of the North Cascades National Park. Divided into three separate regions, we headed up to the hills. We had a tie for a favorite stop en route: lavender farm and blackberry picking. 

At Purple Haze lavender farm and store, we were treated to that amazing floral aroma and a cup of sweet lavender ice cream. We bought armfuls of the dried flowers that we selected ourselves from inside the cool, damp barn. We came home with lavender soap, salad dressing, and candy as souvenirs. We found out there’s a beautiful three bedroom house available for rent on the property; if you stay your family is invited to pick any produce, including the lavender growing on the property. We’ve made a note to come back – or at least we hope to enjoy the purple fields again, soon. 

Blackberry picking was purely a roadside event. We saw the plants. We stopped. We waded through some wild flowers and weeds, we picked and we ate. For the kids, this was quintessential natural grazing, delicious and delightful. 

Driving up into the Cascade mountains, the views are of beautiful forest land inhabited by cedar and fir trees. Some of the last large stands of old-growth forest in the U.S are here in the forests of the Cascade Mountains. A ranger told us that some of the Western Red Cedars are over a thousand years old, and many of these ‘old ones’ rise up to two hundred feet from the ground. 

We enjoyed several trails near the visitors center, easy, tree shaded, with ferns and wild flowers, mosses and lichens easily observable. We needed jackets even in the summer when the afternoon grew later; maybe it’s due to the seemingly perpetual snow cap on the mountains, but in the shadows there’s a significant chill in the air. 

Back at sea level and close to downtown Port Townsend, we explored the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, with touch tanks and knowledgeable docents eager to discuss the sea life in the Puget Sound. Also located in Fort Worden State Park, is the Commanding Officer’s Quarters, which features late Victorian and Edwardian furnishings and offers a nicely presented look at the life of a U.S. Army officer and family in the early twentieth century. 

Fort Worden is also home to sights familiar to viewers of the Richard Gere/Debra Winger romance, An Officer and a Gentleman. The film isn’t appropriate for small kids, but checking out the filming locations at the Fort after fast forwarding through a free VHS copy provided at our hotel was a lot of fun. 

Downtown again it was time for some pizza and pasta at Lanza’s cozy Italian bistro; followed by desert and live jazz at the Upstage Restaurant and Theater which allowed kids in the listening room until ten p.m. 

Just as the fog started to roll in across the sound, we were tucked in our antique filled suite again, looking out toward the faint lights of boats bobbing in the harbor.

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Genie Davis is a multi-published fiction author, screen and TV writer, and travel writer. If it was possible, she'd like to spend every day traveling. www.geniedavis.com

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