A few weeks ago a girlfriend and I spent a weekend in Port Townsend. We rented one of the 36 historic homes at Fort Worden and spent two days laughing until our cheeks hurt while also getting lost on the Fort Worden trails, window shopping Downtown and Uptown, avoiding scampering otters, and eating and drinking all we could. Things move a little slower in Port Townsend. My friend jokes that the town operates on island time despite it not being an island. But slowing down and taking it as it comes is part of the historic town’s charm.
For us, it all started with breakfast. After putting our names in for a table at the Point Hudson Cafe, we were outside overlooking the marina when we spotted three otters gliding through the water. It was adorable, until they left the water and started slowly coming up the rocks toward us, hissing slightly as they advanced.
From our left, the voice of a burly fisherman angel boomed, “You better get out of the way, they’re trying to cross here.” We scooted to our left and the otters made a break for it, scampering up the rocks and crossing the path, running under a giant California lilac next to the restaurant.
I swear the guy was laughing at us, shaking his head slightly as he told us the cafe used to be named Otter Crossing Cafe — maybe they shouldn’t have changed it. Regardless, Point Hudson Cafe is a wonderful place to be once you get a table, hands curled around a diner mug full of hot coffee, a view of the boats from the many window tables. The setting is busy — but not harried — a couple at a nearby table leisurely played cards as they waited for breakfast.
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again — a table pancake (or waffle!) is the perfect way to start a diner breakfast. The cornmeal cherry pancakes ($11.50) are perfection; a slightly crisp and crunchy exterior gives way to a fluffy, sweet interior. The cherry studs throughout cut the sweetness with a tart smoosh. The pancakes arrive with a paper cup of whipped butter and a carafe of syrup, but I didn’t need either.
If you’re in Port Townsend on a Saturday, head uptown for the Farmers Market (9 a.m.-2 p.m.), situated just off Lawrence Street on Tyler. Kitty-cornered from the edge of the market is Aldrich’s, a gorgeous light-filled grocery store that first opened in 1895. The building burned down in 2003 but was rebuilt and first reopened in 2005. It was in danger of closing shortly after the pandemic put a squeeze on small businesses everywhere, but siblings Rachel, Christa and Yos Ligtenberg bought the business and breathed new life into it. Yos was working the checkout the early evening we visited — more than 20 years before buying the place, he worked at the store for a while and then spent decades in the wine industry. If you’ve got questions about the shop’s wine offerings, he’s the guy to ask. Aldrich’s is a great place to stock up on provisions (especially tubs of local Elevated Ice Cream) and specialty items, and there’s an impressive cheese selection (especially considering the size of the market). Saturday afternoon after touring the Coastal Artillery Museum at the Fort, we sat in the rocking chairs on our porch, watching campers across the road play pétanque while eating an unhurried late lunch procured from the market, the warm sun on our faces.
Dinner reservations should be made at Finistère, a cheerful, unpretentious restaurant that feels decadent yet comfortable. Go for the blistered shishito peppers with black bean aioli ($14) or the rich rigatoni with ragu Bolognese ($22), and definitely go for the salmon set atop a puddle of miso beurre blanc and sunchoke chips ($32). The servers work as a team and glide between tables effortlessly with a level of genuine congeniality I feel I haven’t felt in forever. Dinner at Finistère is a joy for the food as much as the setting. If you’re in the neighborhood earlier in the day, swing by Lawrence Street Provisions, a teeny building right next door. Inside you’ll find linens and kitchen wares plus olive oil, most definitely some food stuff you’ve gotten a targeted Instagram ad for (Momofuku noodles, I’m looking at you), and quite possibly the most delightful citrus-glazed croissant doughnut holes. There’s also a limited selection of charcuterie (including mortadella sliced to order), cheese and pantry items from Finistère.
Of course, it was still May in Washington, and Sunday was a cold, drizzly, windy day. We headed back to the marina for coffee and toasty bagels, topped with a smoked salmon and caper schmear ($6) at Velocity. There are a few benches and picnic tables out back under cover where a bald eagle kept watch over the scene from its perch on a tsunami siren. After walking through downtown on Water Street, battling some sideways rain, the best cure was to stop in at Hanazono Noodles for steaming bowls of ramen or udon soup, spicy Japanese chicken curry and plates of light-as-air tempura (the daikon radish is the best).
There is so much more to explore in Port Townsend, but if you go, remember this is a small community working its way out of the pandemic. We saw multiple businesses closed for COVID precautions the weekend we were there and ads for staff in nearly every window. As we head into the warmer months and with them the crush of summer tourists (not to mention the second THING, a music festival slated for late August and predicted to bring thousands of visitors to the region), I’m putting out a gentle reminder to meet Port Townsend where it’s at — a charming historic town operating on its own timeline.