Port Townsend, Wash.
Looking for a small town with a big sense of adventure, top-shelf boating right from town and majestic mountains a short skip away? If so, Port Townsend is calling. Even after 12.7 percent growth since 2000, fewer than 10,000 people live here year round, although the population swells during summer tourist season. And while Port Townsend is less than two hours north of Seattle by car, the town gets very little rainfall because the massive Olympic Mountains to the west wring the moisture out of Pacific storms. (Full disclosure: While the “rain shadow” keeps Port Townsend relatively dry, it doesn’t block all the clouds. So overcast is the norm here.)
Downtown had the feel of a time warp: Well-preserved and restored Victorian buildings remain from the town’s original construction boom, around 1890. When the bust came a year or so later, the town meandered along, essentially frozen in time, for the next 90 years. Had any industry come along during those tough years, Port Townsend most likely would have been razed and rebuilt, like so many former boom towns in the United States. As it stands, today’s locals and tourists reap the aesthetic rewards of the century-long stall.
And the pace has clearly picked up: Among myriad annual festivals and side-stream events are a wooden boat festival, kinetic sculpture race, festival of American fiddle tunes, naturalist-led bird-watching walks and traveling exhibits, such as a recent showing of 1960s surf photography. A handful of bars in town keep the live music flowing, augmented by casual and social Thursday-night concerts on the dock at Pope Marine Park during summer. The Saturday farmers market draws chatty crowds from early April to Christmas.
Art lovers have a dozen galleries to browse, and you can sample them with like-minded locals on Saturday gallery walks. All of this has attracted retirees: Almost a quarter of the population is age 65 or older.
Port Townsend enjoys proximity to remarkable outdoor recreation: The Olympic Mountains rise on one side, with trails, streams, lakes and towering, snow-capped peaks. On the other side of town, Port Townsend Bay extends like a silken blanket, beckoning kayakers, sailors and power boaters. The parks in town include two with waterfront access and a third — Kah Tai Lagoon Nature Park — with a sizable lake.
There are no higher education institutions in Port Townsend, but nearby towns such as Everett, Lynnwood and Shoreline have community colleges. Port Townsend lags the national average in doctors per capita, but residents tend to be healthy, with low rates of diabetes, obesity and hypertension. With so much to do and so little to worry about on this little peninsula, the health numbers aren’t surprising.