Located at the very tip of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, Port Townsend has a lot to offer families. From the quaint waterfront town with its lively history to a storied military presence, exploring Port Townsend with kids includes hiking trails, fort batteries, ice cream shops, and touch tanks! Here’s what’s in store (and where to stay):
Downtown Port Townsend:
It’s easy to see the charm of this small town as soon as you enter, whether via road from elsewhere on the peninsula or by boat (more on that later). The shipyards are open to the public, which means boat-loving kids can see dry-docked vessels up close and personal, and Union Wharf offers great views of the ferry.
Start on Water Street, where kids will want to view the wooden boat outside the NW Maritime Center, then head across the street to City Hall Museum run by the Jefferson County Historical Society. We would have overlooked this museum had I not been taken there by a local: inside the historic courtroom, visitors can get an overview of the town’s history, then go downstairs to see old jail cells (Jack London is rumored to have spent a night inside) and exhibits on the region’s pioneering, Japanese, and native cultures.
Right nearby is Dogs-a-Foot, a hot dog stand with every type of hot dog desired. It’s a perfect lunch pit stop, with tables outside. Afterward, continue your stroll down Water Street for a stop at Elevated Ice Cream. This locally-owned and operated ice cream shop offers unique, locally-sourced flavors, and has a chocolate shop and candy store located next door.
Stop into any other shops that interest you; you’ll find a great local bookstore and numerous galleries. Note the historic architecture; Port Townsend has some of the best preserved buildings in the NW. If you have your car with you, don’t forget about ‘uptown’: historic Port Townsend built on both the wharf and in the hills, and families will find the best Victorian architecture overlooking the downtown region. This area features a lot of the town’s B&Bs, but you’ll also find wonderful bakeries, diners, and shops.
Note: If you’re in the downtown/shipyard area for breakfast, you’ll want to head to the Blue Moose Cafe on Haines for an authentic home-cooked meal. This local hangout is right in the shipyards, and has been overseen by the current cook (not chef!) for decades.
Fort Worden State Park:
We’re pretty sure Fort Worden State Park is the heart of Port Townsend as far as kids are concerned. This sprawling park is located just outside of downtown on the coast, with beach access, hiking trails, and picnic grounds. The central feature of Fort Worden is the fort, which served as defense against invasion during WWI. The invasion never came, but the many fort batteries remain, with platforms for artillery, ammunition storage rooms, and many more intriguing spaces for kids to explore. The batteries are open to the public, which is a very welcome feature in a world that has increasingly shut doors on historical sites. Kids will love climbing on them, running through their creepy, dark tunnels and hallways, and generally playing soldier. Parental supervision is absolutely needed, of course; small children could fall or get lost. Don’t worry, you’ll want to explore the batteries just as much! Prepare to spend hours here!
In addition to the batteries, Fort Worden is home to the Marine Science Center, located right on Battery Way. It’s open from April through October, with innovative saltwater touch tanks. The center staff bring sea life into the tanks in the spring, and release all the creatures in the fall. Daily, fresh salt water from the ocean adjacent is flushed into the tanks. Kids can touch many marine animals, and see more in additional aquariums. Across the street, the education building houses a whale skeleton and other educational exhibits with a conservation theme.
There are numerous walking trails through Fort Worden (grab a trail map when you enter) and some take kids to additional batteries (less crowded than the one near the beach). There are several campgrounds, and yes, the beach has swimming access. The Point Wilson lighthouse makes for a great backdrop to your Olympic Peninsula beach day!
Inland from the beach, the campus of Fort Worden remains, though quieter than in its active days. Currently, buildings and rooms can be rented for vacation stays, allowing families to further immerse themselves in the area’s history.
Yes, you can stay the night in Fort Worden!
Rentals include full homes on Officers’ Row, units in the Non-Commissioned Officers’ Row, or dormitory rooms. I checked out an Officer’s Row house, where I stayed the night overlooking the campus and ocean. Officers’ Row houses include 1 and 1/2 bathrooms, four bedrooms, a parlor and a dining room, and a full kitchen. It’s fun to see firsthand how officers and their families lived during WWI. These houses are not newly renovated, but are comfortable and very spacious. Kids can play outside, and everyone can walk to the beach, the light house, and the batteries. There is no wifi, but in the check-in building (which is newer), there is a sitting room and a coffee counter where your java and wifi needs can be met.
Beyond Port Townsend proper, the Olympic Discovery Trail weaves 120 miles between the town and La Push, on the western coast, and of course, the rest of the Olympic Peninsula beckons with Olympic National Park and numerous additional hiking trails and beaches. Read more about Olympic National Park with kids!
How to get here:
Port Townsend and Fort Worden are located on Highway 20, which connects with Highway 101. Families can also take Washington State ferries directly to town from Whidbey Island (Coupeville) or take the Puget Sound Express from the San Juan Islands. We recommend booking a whale watching trip with this company, even if you don’t need them for transportation to the peninsula. On our trip with Puget Sound Express, we saw humpback whales, porpoises, and harbor seals.