Wednesday, March 02, 2016

Discovering the Salish Sea: Port Townsend and Fort Worden, Pt. 3

Mention Port Townsend and I immediately think of its physical location: a forested point of land at the northeastern tip of Washington's Olympic Peninsula, jutting into the waters joining the Strait of Juan de Fuca with Puget Sound. This fortuitous placement made it an ideal seaport in the 19th Century, easy for large sailing ships coming up the West Coast to duck into, dock and unload their cargo.

Staircase detail with painted ceiling.

Which brings to my mind the other feature of the town, which is the astonishing number of intact Victorian homes ringing the port and climbing up the hills that overlook the harbor. Built by wealthy merchants and sea captains, many are still in private hands, and several others have been converted into bed and breakfast hotels. The large number of these historic buildings has given birth to a Victorian Festival in mid-March that features tours, a Victorian Ball and even a pub crawl of saloons and shanghai tunnels.

Elaborate Victorian post office.

What I didn't know about before this latest foray, courtesy of Christina Pivarnik of the City of Port Townsend, was Fort Worden State Park, originally a military facility built as an artillery fortification in the early 1900s to defend the Puget Sound. Now a state park that comprises more than 430 acres, it features 100 historic structures and spans two miles of saltwater shoreline with views of the Olympic and Cascade Mountains and the San Juan Islands.

View of parade grounds and the bay.

Our group of travel writers was scheduled to stay in one of the historic officers' quarters (top photo), and I was having a moment of déjà vu until Christina mentioned that the row of Victorian structures featured prominently in the movie "An Officer and a Gentleman." Built as duplexes to house the Fort's highest-ranking military families, they've been updated with modern kitchens and amenities and are available to rent to individuals or groups, some even designated as pet-friendly. Located overlooking the vast lawn of the parade grounds, the homes also have a stunning view out over the water.

Back in town there's beer with a view!

The grounds of the base include a large conference center and café, great for those of us who like a stroll with a destination that includes a snack, and ambitious plans are afoot to develop resort and education facilities over the next few years. Already there is a Marine Science Center on the property, 12 miles of hiking and biking trails, an artillery museum and a plethora of year-round activities for families and individuals, including the old gun batteries that are open for the public to explore (kids would love this feature, guaranteed). Plus, of course, a lively farmers' market in town from April through December.

Getting my steampunk on.

One incredibly charming feature of Port Townsend, and I'm not surprised considering its Victorian roots, is that it has become a nexus of activity for the steampunk community. In mid-June, in fact, you'll find the town flooded with characters straight out of a Jules Verne novel, outfitted for the annual Port Townsend Steam festival. One of the keepers of the flame for local steampunk enthusiasts is Olympic Peninsula Steam, which sponsors other steampunk activities throughout the year.

And don't worry if you don't have your goggles, helmet and hose—stop by World's End downtown like we did and get your steampunk on!

Read the other posts in this series: San Juan Island, Pt. 1 and San Juan Island, Pt. 2.

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