In any weather Washington state is full of hot spots

October 10, 1993|By Robert Musial | Robert Musial,Knight-Ridder News Service

The real reason they're sleepless in Seattle?

The place is simply mad for coffee -- especially espresso.

Visitors figure residents quaff the stuff to stave off the nods during the gray, rainy days the Great Pacific Northwet -- oops, we mean Northwest -- is known for.

But late summer through mid-October, as the region enjoys some of its best weather all year (70-degree days and mostly clear skies), they're still pounding down supertankers of the steamed brew. Some dentists and car dealerships serve it while you wait.

Even where we were headed -- on a 90-minute car-and-ferry excursion across Puget Sound from Seattle -- the deluxe drink wasn't hard to find.

Instead of the espresso stands dotting the city, the places amid the pines of the Olympic Peninsula offered caffiends a wider selection.

"Truffles. Firewood. Bait. Diesel. Deli. Espresso," read the sign on one roadside store. Just about everything travelers in the upper left-hand corner of the country could want.

Upon landing in Port Townsend, we found the rest in a place where gingerbread-festooned homes once owned by sea captains peer down a bluff at blocks of untouched 1890s-era storefronts on the waterfront.

Sandwiched between the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, the town was once the port of entry for the whole northwestern United States, handling almost as much shipping as New York.

Then a financial crash and the failure to get the railroad left Port Townsend a Victorian seaport stuck in time.

Though the town's main drag, Water Street, now boasts art galleries, gift shops and several good eateries, the population remains what it was 103 years ago -- around 7,000.

Naturally, Port Townsend's early association with old salts means that all except one of its still-standing Italianate-styled hotels once housed young tarts.

Retired sea captain H. L. Tibbals even dubbed his brothel-hotel "Palace of Sweets."

Some of the other locals were also pretty interesting, including one who regularly rode his horse into the Belmont Saloon for a beer and another who trained trout to jump through a hoop.

The guide on our walking tour also noted with some pride that writer Jack London once spent a night here -- in jail.

In the 1970s, artists, former hippies and lovers of small towns began moving in. Now Port Townsend is a day-trip destination for Seattleites and weekenders aiming to stay in charming bed-and-breakfast inns where mariners and merchants once lived.

These are located on the bluff overlooking the harbor in the town's compact Uptown district. Here, the Victorians built their own little shopping area to keep their wives and daughters from going downtown in the belief that, at least in Port Townsend, sin flourished at sea level.

Among the best of the local B&Bs is the Quimper Inn, a white 1888 Georgian home rounded out with shingled arches, where the rooms are named after the owners' children and the host may let you peek at the classic Porsche in his garage.

While in town, take in a movie at the Rose Theatre, a restored jewel box of a movie palace that seats 158, including nine in the balcony. Don't expect Stallone or Van Damme on the marquee here; among the films playing this month are "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Orlando."

Two months ago, 160 film buffs in Charlie Chaplain garb stood in front of the place for a first anniversary photo. Owner Rocky Friedman, a University of Southern California film school grad weary of L.A., refurbished the 1905 vaudeville house-turned-theater-turned-resale shop by selling stock in the project locally.

Port Townsend also has its own claim to movie fame. Parts of the 1982 hit "An Officer and a Gentlemen" were filmed here.

One site was nearby Fort Worden, now a state park complete with a working lighthouse and a series of massive abandoned gun emplacements perched on a high bluff overlooking the strait. Other key scenes were filmed at the local paper mill and a motel that now lets guests stay in its popular "Officer and a Gentleman" suite.

Or, you might grab a bite where the locals do, at the Bread and Roses bakery or the Silverwater Cafe. The cafe's separate fish-and-chips stand lowers food in a basket to kayakers and other boaters below the pier.

OC This brings us back to the water, which is never very far away.

The short way around

In order to save miles of driving the long way around Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the state of Washington runs the largest ferry system in the country. It carries 23 million passengers a year in and out of Seattle and places like Port Townsend, where the strait and sound meet.

The giant white-and-green boats run like clockwork. But at peak times, drivers seeking to make the trip to such popular stops as Victoria, British Columbia, may wait hours to board.

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