In my recent travels for I Ate the State, I took a visit to Jefferson County in NW Washington. Home to beautiful Pacific Ocean coastlines, towering mountain peaks and a UNESCO designated rain-forest, Jefferson County is not only one of the most stunning areas in the state, it is a defining jewel in the North American crown. (I’ll also add it is one of my favorite places in the world…) It is incredibly diverse in its offerings and well worth the exploration.
As I am currently based in North Seattle, I took the Edmonds/Kingston ferry and made my way up Highway 104, across the Hood Canal Bridge. (For more info on local ferry travel, check out my previous entry for Kitsap County.) I was ultimately headed towards the largest town in Jefferson County, Port Townsend, but planned on taking several detours along the way. Jefferson County boasts many tucked-away inlets, tiny hamlets and areas of rolling farmland and I wanted to explore as much as possible. That said, not too long after crossing the bridge, I headed up Highway 19 towards Port Ludlow and Marrowstone Island.
I’d never actually visited this area of the state before and I’m glad I finally did! Not only was it a beautiful, crisp sunny day, but it had recently snowed and there was still a bit on the ground – including the shorelines. Absolutely breathtaking! It is also a much lesser-traveled part of the state, so I felt very much at my leisure to casually peruse the surroundings as I drove through. My first detour from said perusal was to check out the Port Ludlow Resort and Marina area. (Take a right off of Highway 19 onto Oak Bay Road. OR – take the first right after crossing the Hood Canal Bridge onto Paradise Bay Road.)
While driving down towards the resort area, I noticed many homes tucked away by the water and mused at how lovely it would be to have a home near the water. Sigh… Especially in such a nice little inlet like Port Ludlow. The 37-room inn/resort is perched on a small spit of land next to the marina and features a nice restaurant (The Fireside), spa services and adjoining golf course. It would be the perfect base for exploring the surrounding areas as well as a great place to spend a relaxing weekend.
A little further up the very scenic Oak Bay Road, I took a right onto Highway 19 to head further north towards Marrowstone Island and Fort Flagler State Park. Along the way, I noted a sign for wine tasting at the Marrowstone Vineyards and took a quick turn in that direction. Just a short way up a very quaint road, I came upon the vineyard proper. Adding to the beauty of the sunny winter settings, the main building sits aside a lovely vineyard, sprawling its way down towards the water. There’s a charming deck and outdoor fire pit as you head towards the winery entrance which I’m told plays host to many events in the summer, both public and private. (Weddings, concerts, etc.) Inside, you can view areas of the winemaking process as well as enjoy a tasting in their cozy tasting room. The staff is incredibly friendly and well-versed in their wines and gave me a very detailed and tasty walk through a few of their offerings. Additionally, unbeknownst to me, I happened to be there on the Olympic Peninsula Red Wine, Cider and Chocolate tour and was also treated to various chocolate pairings. Score! I would’ve loved to have walked away with a case that day, but was conservative and took home a bottle of their delicious Island Blend. No matter, I’ll be returning soon to further exploit their catalog.
Before I continued on my journey, I took a trip upstairs to visit their gallery. It’s a beautiful, wood-planked loft featuring local artists and craftspeople and had the most peaceful feeling about it. I would absolutely love to have an event in that room, drinking wine and chatting with guests as we look out over the water. Something about that gallery was just magical. I will definitely be back soon and hope to check out some of their summer events.
Back on Highway 19, I continued further up the island towards Fort Flagler State Park. It was a very pretty trek and I even stopped along the way to allow a few deer to saunter across the road. (On a general note, there are a lot of deer in Jefferson County. Be aware as you’re driving along the winding roads as they often meander about.) The sun was beautiful as it streamed onto the tree-lined road and quite awe-inspiring as the road opened up onto the Fort Flagler grounds and the coastal tip of the county.
Similar to nearby Forts Worden and Casey, Flagler was constructed in the early 1900s to help protect the coastlines and was in use until the 1950s. Today it is a state park and the old barracks, officer’s quarters and surrounding buildings are open to the public. You can rent them as vacation homes or for event/retreat sites or pitch a tent or trailer in the campgrounds. There are also many beautiful trails and coastline areas to explore, complete with remaining defense bunkers and battlements. I love walking around the old bunkers and exploring inside, but it’s important to bring a good flashlight or headlamp. Some of them are quite dark inside and there are many narrow, twisting corridors. Spooky!
In a continuing vein, the next stop on my journey was Fort Worden, just past nearby Port Townsend. The Fort Worden area is quite large and is still largely in use today. (Albeit not militarily – the area was decommissioned in the 60s and opened in the 70s as a state park with lodging, museums and a large arts community.) Like Flagler, you can rent vacation homes, host events and participate in the ongoing events offered by local Worden residents such as the Centrum Foundation and Copper Canyon Press. Several years ago, I was lucky enough to win a scholarship to participate in the week-long Centrum Jazz Workshop and have been a huge fan of the area ever since. Bring a camper or tent and set up in the beach campground to explore the expansive coastline and 100 year old bunkers. (Bring flashlights!) Even better, be sure to head for the large trail network found atop the bluffs overlooking the beach. It’s completely amazing – and chilling – to be hiking through old growth forest and suddenly come upon a perfectly disguised defense bunker overlooking the water.
Since I fully intended on hiking through some of the bunkers and had again forgotten to purchase a new WA State Parks Discover Pass, I headed to the Coast Artillery Museum to buy a new one. (Very convenient!) And since I love museums and hadn’t visited this one yet, I did a quick tour through the military history of the area. The museum name is slightly misleading as it features much more than artillery and shares quite a bit about life in the fort throughout its military history. Definitely worth checking out and well worth the $4 admission fee.
After I became versed in the history of the fort, it was time to head down to the beach and check out the bunkers and do a little beach hiking. It was starting to get cloudy and rain seemed imminent, so mucking around in the bunkers seemed like a good idea. As many times as I’ve visited Fort Worden and hiked around the area, I still seem to find a new perspective and discover new (to me) areas tucked away along the shore. This day was no exception and I stumbled upon a few bunker areas I hadn’t previously explored. And with the greyness rolling in, the relatively deserted beach and the still in the air, it reminded me of the look of the movie, The Road. (Part of which was filmed in WA state near Mount St. Helens.) Eeesh.
In need of a feel-good pick-me-up, I abandoned the bunker scene and headed back to the main grounds in search of Fort Worden restaurant, Taps at the Guardhouse. However, since this is a former military installation, I shouldn’t have been surprised to go from bunker to brig. Set inside the former guardhouse and jail, the restaurant hosts a nice bar and dining area where you can actually eat in jail! Granted, you can enjoy a nice ploughman’s plate and a glass of Domaine Vetriccie IGP Ile de Beauté White 2015 while you do it, but it certainly makes for an entertainingly foreboding dining experience. Since I successfully made bail/paid my tab, I’m looking forward to further exploring their food and drink offerings on my next visit.
For more information on artistic partnerships Fort Worden hosts, visit HERE. It truly is an amazing area and a great asset to the artistic communities of the Pacific NW.
Since Fort Worden is located just past Port Townsend, I headed back towards town to investigate the area. Port Townsend, founded in 1851, is the only incorporated city in Jefferson County as well as being its county seat. It is filled with a beautiful array of Victorian architecture and style and is a must visit for any fan of the era. (It is one of only three Victorian Seaports on the National Register of Historic Places.) The Arts community thrives in the area, there is a bevy of shops, antiquing opportunities, restaurants, galleries, wine, cider and beer tasting – the list goes on. It also has a ferry terminal which connects to Whidbey Island, making travel around the Sound more convenient. I always find something lovely in Port Townsend and this visit was no exception. Here are a few of my top picks for the downtown area:
- Waterfront Pizza
- When I told my friend, Joe what town I was going to visit, he INSISTED I check out Waterfront Pizza. He also said, and I quote, “God rolls the dough and makes the sauce…” Well, with such heavenly reviews, I had no choice but to check it out. Turns out Joe was right! Their pizza is AMAZING! And as anyone who knows me will confirm, I’m not actually a big pizza fan. For the record, this place pretty much turned me around and put me back on the pizza-loving track. The sauce and dough were indeed god-like, the toppings tasty and plentiful and the place was packed the entire time I was there – in the middle of the day. NOTE: There is a very small walk-in section of the restaurant with an entrance off the street. Go there if you want slices or something to go. Head up the staircase to the right of that entrance if you want to sit down and order a whole pie and drink a glass of wine. I almost missed the experience as I didn’t initially notice the staircase to the upstairs section – and the street-entrance portion of the restaurant was continually standing room only.
- Bubble n Squeak
- This is one of new favorite stores! Quirky and eclectic selections of British antiques as well as current goods and sundries. There were sooooo many things I would’ve loved to have taken home, but I settled for some toffees and Turkish Delight. I’ll be back – possibly to purchase the amazing antique whisky dispenser they had. ($500! Eeek!) (But I want it…)
- Mad Hatter & Co
- Great hat store with ‘lots of options. Scarves, too! They even had some terribly (in a good way) British top hats and tweed golf caps which made me want to sprint to the nearest polo match or putting green. (And I play neither sport. Details.)
- About Time
- Super cool clothing and shoe store that happens to carry a brand of Israeli-made Jafa brand boots I absolutely covet. I will be back.
- Wandering Angus
- Quaint shop covering all things Irish, English and Scottish. Perfect shop to visit around St. Patrick’s Day.
- What’s Cookin’
- Local kitchen supply store, jam-packed with wonderful books, gadgets, cookware, tea and coffee making supplies, knives, bar supplies, etc. I only allowed myself a brief visit as I would’ve walked out with a giant box of goods otherwise. As it was, I made it out with only a respectably sized shopping bag. Respectable, I say!
- Rose Theatre
- An absolute gem of a classic movie house showing current-run films on their main screen with the addition of current-run and classic films in their upstairs 21+ Starlight Room. (Serving food and cocktails from the Silverwater Café)
- Port Townsend Antique Mall
- Antiques galore! They were just closing as I drove up for this visit, but I’ll hit them up next time. I could browse through that place for hours!
- Vintage Hardware & Lighting
- Ditto with this place! A very cool mix of items and if you happen to be looking for old lighting fixtures…
- Port Townsend Vineyards
- Lovely vineyard and winery just outside of Port Townsend. I much enjoy their Gewürztraminer and Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Downtown Tasting Room
- Just next door to the Rose Theatre. Small plates and a cozy setting make for a nice wine tasting outing.
- Port Townsend Brewing Co
- They have a great selection of ales and it’s a cool place to hang out and have a beer. They do close somewhat early, but they’re open ‘till 9pm on Fridays. (7pm all other days) I’m particularly happy they make an ale called Red Barchetta Red Ale. It’s made with a “power trio of hops!” Insert major air-drum solo <HERE>
- And scores of other great shops, bookstores, restaurants, etc.!
Looking for a place to stay in Port Townsend?
Check out one of Port Townsend’s lovely Victorian era hotels located in the old town area:
And for lodging closer to the beach:
Festivals and Events to Check Out in Port Townsend:
Throughout the year, Port Townsend features many cool festivals, concerts and art shows. A few worthy of note:
- Port Townsend Jazz Festival (July)
- The whole town as well as Fort Worden takes a week to celebrate America’s original art form, Jazz. Local, national and international artists participate – it’s a great time to visit the area!
- Strange Brewfest (January)
- Enjoy beer? Enjoy weird beers and exotic beer concoctions? This is the event for you! Sample eclectic brews from around the NW while enjoying unique entertainment – You can’t go wrong! And while it’s a little chilly, it’s fun to get a bunch of people together to camp over at Fort Worden. All you need is a solid tent, a good coat and a toasty campfire. And more beer.
- Steampunk Hootenanny (June)
- I haven’t actually been to this one, but I’m intrigued! I definitely plan on checking this one out as they advertise the following very titillating features:
- A “Den of Iniquity!” (Who doesn’t love some good ol’ fashion iniquity??)
- An absinthe bar! (Yes, please.)
- I haven’t actually been to this one, but I’m intrigued! I definitely plan on checking this one out as they advertise the following very titillating features:
Next stop on my Jefferson County tour brought me to the Chimacum area. It’s not far from Port Townsend and features some of the most idyllic landscapes and farmland in the state. Over the course of my two days around the area, I was lucky enough to see it both blanketed in snow and alive with green hills and sunshine. There are so many stops to make throughout the area and it would be very easy to spend a quiet weekend just exploring this small area of the county.
In the summer, there are numerous farm stands to visit and a few great farmers markets. The Chimacum Corner Farmstand is a particularly cool one. As it operates officially between June and October, it wasn’t open, but it’s a great place to stop by during the summer and early harvest months. There is also a great fall Chimacum farm tour and even a cider tour you can take in and around the area.
On the topic of cider, I took a visit to one of the coolest places ever, Finnriver Farm & Cidery. This is one of my very favorite stops in the area! The cider is delicious, the staff is knowledgeable and friendly, they have great food onsite (local bratwurst, wood-fired pizza and crepes!), regular live music and great tasting events. It’s an impressive, fully-working farm, but has a great cozy, intimate feel throughout their tasting room, gift shop and public grounds. I’m also now a member of their cider club, so I’ll be going back a few times a year to pick up featured ciders and goods. What a burden!
I also had the pleasure of picking up a bag of peanut brittle from Sugar Hill Old Fashion Confections while browsing the Finnriver gift shop. This is a local favorite which has very recently opened a shop in the Chimacum area. Great family-run candy company using great local ingredients. (Including recently visited CB Nuts!) I will admit to being a bit of a peanut brittle snob as my grandmother made an AMAZING version. That said – and please don’t be mad at me, Grandma – the Sugar Hill recipe is simply outstanding and some of the best I’ve ever had.
Rounding out my Jefferson County adventure is one of the most stunning areas in the country, the Olympic National Park and the drive along the Pacific Ocean on Highway 101. For this visit, I came up Highway 104 and connected to Highway 101 around the Discovery Bay area. As there is no direct route through the park to get to the ocean, you’ll need to drive around the park boundaries and up through neighboring Clallam County before dropping back into Jefferson. (Or alternately, up through Olympia, and Aberdeen and up the coast from the South.) Olympic National Park and Olympic National Forest are enormous areas and comprise not only a huge chunk of Jefferson County, but reach into surrounding counties, Grays Harbor and Mason as well.
One of my favorite areas to visit in the park is the Hoh Rainforest and the Hall of Mosses trail. To say it’s like walking into a fantasy-land is a complete understatement. It’s right out of a Tolkien adventure with lush moss dripping off towering trees, hidden ponds and streams, moss covered rocks and stumps and an easily managed rambling trail. The hiking and backpacking opportunities are near limitless in the park, but if you’re down a quick shot of majesty, this is a great pick. And don’t forget to pack your rain gear – it is one of the most rain-drenched areas in the United States. There are certainly beautiful, sunny days to be enjoyed during the summer, but the area receives between 100-170 inches of rain a year and is always somewhat damp. Be prepared for weather conditions to change on a dime and always pack extra supplies when hiking in any wilderness area. (The 10 Essentials)
Back out on Highway 101, heading south, I made a stop at the very beautiful Ruby Beach. A fairly easy hike down from the (sometimes crowded) parking area leads to long stretches of sandy beach, amazing driftwood displays and gorgeous haystack rock formations along the shoreline. Bring a picnic, sit on the beach and just take some time to relax and watch the ocean – and some of the most exquisite sunsets you’ll ever see.
Just a little further south on Highway 101, you’ll come to another must-see stop in the area, Kalaloch Lodge and beach area. There are a few nice campgrounds in the area as well as a beautiful, classic lodge and surrounding cabins, but definitely plan in advance as everything books up quickly – especially in the summer months. That said, I love to come to the area in the winter months when tourism is a little quieter. Granted, there are quite a few rainy, gusty days, but the storm-watching opportunities are amazing and there’s nothing like trying to walk against the winds down on Kalaloch beach. Good luck! It’s also especially cozy if you’re lucky enough to score one of the cabins perched on the bluff overlooking the beach. Put a few logs in the fireplace, fix yourself a hot toddy and stare out into the blustery seas. Another nice option is to head over from your campsite or cabin to the main lodge and grab a nice meal in the The Creekside dining room. Adjacent to the lodge is the Kalaloch Mercantile, which is a great place to grab extra supplies, a good cup of coffee or some soft-serve ice cream.
After visiting Kalaloch, it was time to return home. Rather than going back towards the Kingston ferry, I headed south down Highway 101, up through Aberdeen, into Olympia and onto I-5 North. A lovely roundtrip tour and a few hours later, I arrived back in Seattle. My adventure was certainly action-packed, but I still only got to see a portion of what I’d planned. I fully plan on returning to Jefferson County again and again and I’m quite positive there will always be something new to check out and a gorgeous vista to behold.
I hope you enjoyed the ride and are inspired to check out all Jefferson County has to offer. It truly is one of my favorite parts of the state.
Until next time!
My Jefferson County Playlist – Check it out on Spotify
I was going for an Americana sort of feel to accompany the rolling farmland and quiet, winding roads.
- Last of My Kind – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit (Formerly of The Drive-by Truckers – Jason Isbell is one of my favorites)
- If We Were Vampires – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
- Something to Love – Jason Isbell & the 400 Unit
- Flagship – Jason Isbell (solo)
- Look At Miss Ohio – Gillian Welch (Also happened to be playing in the Finnriver tasting room!)
- Wayside/Back in Time – Gillian Welch
- One Little Song – Gillian Welch
- Oh My Sweet Carolina – Ryan Adams (w/Emmylou Harris)
- To Be Without You – Ryan Adams
- All Your Favorite Bands – Dawes
- To Be Completely Honest – Dawes
- Beyond This Moment – Patrick O’Hearn (Lovely w/the snowy shorelines and pastures)
- Northwest Passage – Patrick O’Hearn
- My Shot – Hamilton: Original Broadway Cast Recording (I’d recently gotten to see Hamilton and was binging on the soundtrack. Come on – Thomas Jefferson was a big part of it. Seemed appropriate enough.)