Port Townsend, WA

The Victorian Port

Photos Courtesy of: Centrum & Paul Conklin,and Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce
Nestled between the ranges of the Olympic Mountains to the southwest and the waters of the Puget Sound to the east, Port Townsend embodies the perfect mixture of small-town vitality and an enduring natural beauty. Though praised for its spectacular scenery, Port Townsend is perhaps even better known for its elegant Victorian architecture, with more authentic examples from this architectural era than any other city north of San Francisco.

More than two hundred years ago, British Captain George Vancouver visited this port city.

By 1888, Port Townsend was an official port of entry, hosting consulates and agencies from the greatest seafaring nations in the world. These boom times made the port a featured attraction, resulting in construction that today puts Port Townsend on the National Register of Historic Places. Port Townsend's citizens have long been known for possessing an artistic sensibility and independent spirit.

Port Townsend may not be home to giant Fortune 500 corporations, but local business does reap the benefits of nearby Seattle and Tacoma, the most active of the Puget Sound port cities. International trade has meant prosperity for the entire region, and the largest local industry is marine trades, which encompasses a host of seafaring enterprises ranging from yacht builders to sail shops. Pulp and paper mills, along with year-round tourism also boost the local prosperity.

The city founders always hoped Port Townsend would grow into a large seaport city, but thankfully that vision never came to pass. Surrounded by the open waters of the Sound, with the green, cedar and fir-covered Olympic Mountains to the Southwest and the snow-capped Cascade peaks to the east, Port Townsend's natural beauty is a treasure that locals would never trade. In fact, people move here to get away from hectic city life. Here they find a place where picturesque mountain hikes, fishing excursions, boating adventures, and gorgeous views of the Sound are a part of everyday life.

Port Townsend, WA At-A-Glance

Population: 9,100

Avg. July high: 69

Avg. January low: 35

Avg. Annual Precipitation: 19

Avg. Annual Snowfall: 5

Closest Big City: 50 miles to Seattle

Health Care: 1 hospital with 25 beds

Cost of Living: 10-15% above the national average

Housing Costs: 273,000


Port Townsend boasts the best climate in Puget Sound. Faring better than its neighbors, Port Townsend receives half the amount of rainfall that Seattle and Tacoma receive, and just one-tenth of the moisture that reaches the Olympic rain forest. In fact, November, December, and January are the only months that average more than two inches of precipitation.

Summer temperatures are pleasantly warm with highs reaching 75 degrees and lows in the upper 50s. Surrounded by the Olympic Mountains to the southwest, Vancouver Island to the north, and the Cascade Mountains to the east, Port Townsend enjoys dry summers with low humidity and moderating ocean breezes.

With plenty of sunshine and a long growing season, gardens have profuse and enduring blooms.

Winters are also comparatively warm.

Even average low temperatures usually stay above freezing, while daytime highs often settle in the 50s. A light dusting of snow comes a few times a year, but melts quickly.

Snow lovers must head out of town and into the nearby mountains where they can find great skiing conditions.

Art & Culture

Surrounded by the open waters of the Puget Sound, Port Townsend looks out on the lush, wooded slopes of the Olympic Range to the southwest. To the east rest the majestic snowcapped Cascades.

According to Coastal Living magazine, this culturally rich town " pulses with environmentally friendly businesses, art galleries, plenty of live theater, and festivals celebrating jazz, blues, and classical music." It clearly deserves its reputation as one of the most culturally rich small towns in the Pacific Northwest.

Music lovers in particular enjoy a wide range of festivals. The Olympic Music Festival invites renowned artists such as the Philadelphia String Quartet to perform on weekends during the summer.

The Air Touch Jazz Festival, Country Blues Festival, and Festival of American Fiddle Tunes also add to the musical potpourri for which Port Townsend is famous. Perhaps the most spectacular musical event of the year is the Turtle Bluff Concert series, which has outdoor performances set against the lush backdrop of Puget Sound inlets and islands.

Centrum, an international center for the arts and creative education, organizes many of Port Townsend's annual events, including musical performances and an annual ten-day Writers Conference.

Centrum also sponsors the Country Blues Workshop and Festival. Other popular events include a wooden boat festival each September and a Victorian tree lighting ceremony each Christmas. The Gallery Walk, which displays new works, is held the first Saturday of every month.

The historic buildings in Port Townsend now house gift shops, art galleries, restaurants, and hotels. Local artists display their work in these historic shops, and area residents can always find unique gifts among the paintings, jewelry, and sculpture.

City Recreation

Photos Courtesy of: Centrum & Paul Conklin,and Port Townsend Chamber of Commerce
Port Townsend's neighbors are, in succession, a state park, a national forest, a wilderness area, and a national park. These wild areas can all be explored on foot, by car, or even by kayak. Fort Worden State Park is in town, and Olympic National Park is also nearby. Locals can easily trek to some of the most breathtaking locales in the Pacific Northwest.

Olympic National Park, for example, holds nearly a million acres of terrain that includes sixty miles of coastline, campgrounds, hiking trails, mountains, and glaciers.

To the delight of photographers, campers, and nature lovers of all ages, the park boasts the only coniferous rainforest in the world. There, one can see spectacular giant ferns, moss-covered rocks, and towering spruce, cedar, and fir trees. The wild coastline affords vistas of craggy beaches and occasionally of breaching whales.

Puget Sound is a major attraction for boaters, and fishing in Port Townsend can be an adventure or simply a hobby to pass the time. The islands, coves, and beaches of the Washington coast provide endless opportunities for exploration.

Glide along the Olympic Peninsula in a sea kayak and admire the unique marine environment.

Eagles soar above, seals can be seen on the shoreline, and the emerald-green Olympic range provides its stunning backdrop.

Every season Port Townsend offers a host of outdoor activities.

Even in town, recreational opportunities abound. With 500 acres of parks and a variety of walking trails, open spaces are plentiful. A swimming pool and well over a dozen tennis courts are also maintained by the city for everyone to enjoy. Golfers, too, will love living here, as the two 18-hole courses and one nine-hole course located here provide breathtaking settings along with a healthy challenge.

Kids find that the Port Townsend area is one big playground. Take the whole family over to the Olympic Game Farm in nearby Sequim, Washington, for guided walks featuring deer, elk, and other protected game animals. For its marine counterpart, visit the Marine Science Center in Fort Worden State Park. It sports touch tanks of local marine life and its nature boats cruise around Protection Island National Wildlife Refuge.


Olympic National Park's Hoh Rain Forest is the only coniferous rain forest in the world. See spectacular giant ferns, moss-covered rocks, and towering trees along a wild coastline.

Port Townsend schools are well funded, ranking above national averages in per-student expenditure. In addition to their regular programs, the two area high schools of Port Townsend and Mar Vista have developed additional programs for gifted students and those with special needs. Port Townsend also has a school exclusively for special education, as well as a school with an alternative curriculum. Private schooling is also an option, as there are several schools in the area to choose from.

Religiously affiliated, non-sectarian private schools, and college-preparatory schools are available.

Washington State University's satellite campus and Peninsula College provide much of the post-secondary course offerings in the Port Townsend area. The College's East Jefferson County Extension Site lets Port Townsend locals fulfill requirements for associate degrees without ever having to leave the city. For those who wish to continue in a four-year degree program, transfers to the University of Washington are ideal. Most courses at Peninsula College are flexible in terms of scheduling. The school offers students a computer lab, and boasts courses of study in continuing education fields, professional skills development, arts programs, and academic courses of study. The school also hosts community musical and art gallery events.

Housing & Cost of Living

Port Townsend was ranked one of America's " 16 amazing coastal communities " by Coastal Living magazine.

The cost of living in Port Townsend is just slightly higher the national average. Child care costs are on par with the national average costs. The median, annual price for a four-year-old at an accredited center is less than $6,000, and around $8,000 for an infant. And thanks to abundant power supplies in this part of the country utility costs are lower than many parts of the nation.

Owning a house or condo on the beautiful Port Townsend waterfront is affordable compared to the inflated prices found in most U.S. coastal communities. The average single-family home in Port Townsend sells for approximately $336,000, but this average is inflated by more expensive homes. The median price of $299,000 better indicates the affordability of the area. For the one-third of people who rent homes, the average monthly rate is $600.

Crime & Safety

Crime rates are extremely low in this area. Port Townsend boasts a violent crime rate that is just one-quarter of the national average and an overall crime rate that is three-quarters of the national average. No robberies, rapes, or murders have been reported in recent years.

Often community members are on a first-name basis with the members of the police force, and Neighborhood Watch programs help ensure a safe environment.

Port Townsend's Police Department supports more than two dozen full time police, reserve police, and professional patrol units. All work together to help maintain the low crime rate.

Earning a Living

This historic Victorian seaport on Washington's Pacific coast hosts a Rhododendron Festival each May...

As the main port of entry for Puget Sound, Port Townsend historically has been an active trade center. While ship and boat building continue to be important, the lumber industry has now expanded beyond logging to include diverse manufacturing procedures for pulp and paper products. Overall, marine-related activities are a major contributor to the Jefferson County economy, and the Port has been a major catalyst for development in the area.

This waterfront town and the surrounding county rely heavily on small businesses.

Several hundred of them are involved in service, retail, and manufacturing, and nearly 2,300 now operate in the area.

However, there are also three major industrial parks in Jefferson County: The private Port Townsend Park; Glen Cove Industrial Area; and the most important, The Port of Port Townsend's Marine Industrial Park, a facility that has attracted light industry such as software engineering, CAD/CAM manufacturing, and has provided a home base for service industries. The professional sector continues to expand and now employs one-quarter of residents. Nearby Jefferson County International Airport has also developed to meet the demands of the 21st century by providing the necessary infrastructure for a successful business climate.

Port Townsend has been revitalized by ongoing renovation of the city's wonderful historic district. This project sparked the renovation of more than 100 buildings, which now often house shops and restaurants.

Tourism thrives here, there is 100% occupancy of the downtown street level storefront space, and the sales and services sectors employ more than 40% of the workforce. Local, state, and federal government jobs also employ a significant portion of residents- nearly one-fifth.

Health Care

Port Townsend boasts its own hospital.

Jefferson Healthcare is a critical access facility that offers everything from cardiology, gynecology, and neurology, to pulmonology and surgery. Because the hospital services the entire county, it is equipped with an air ambulance and the best in 24-hour emergency services.

For special services unavailable in Port Townsend, nearby Seattle has some of the best hospitals in the country. The Children's Hospital and Medical Center, affiliated with the University of Washington Medical School, is the community hospital for greater Seattle and the pediatric referral center for the Northwest.

This large hospital was named in the U.S.

News and World Report " America's Best Hospitals" issue.

The city has one independent living center- Discovery View Retirement Apartments. Nearby Seattle has around 86.