Road Journals Blog—Pointing my kayak away from the sand crescent, I stroked deeply, poling through the dappled bay and aiming toward the distant snow cone of glaciated Mount Baker on the northeastern horizon.
I imagined I was on a grand adventure, heading for distant shores. In reality, I was still in the calm bay fronting the Olympic Peninsula’s Fort Worden State Park .
The sensation of being off the beaten path is a natural one at this historic fort, situated in one of the most sublimely scenic locales in the state, only two miles northwest of the charming Victorian seaport of Port Townsend , and not far from Finnriver Farm & Cidery  (which I visited as part of a story I wrote about cideries  for VIA).
Thirty feet to starboard, a shiny gray head emerged from the wavelets, and soulful eyes sized me up for a long moment. Determining that I posed no danger, the harbor seal blithely went on its way in search of a school of herring. I did a long sweep to my right, twisting my hips left, as I turned to follow the shoreline north toward Point Wilson lighthouse .
With two miles of shoreline along the Strait of Juan de Fuca , high bluffs holding a 19th century military fort with a tidy row of officers’ houses, a broad parade ground, and a tangle of trails leading to some of the most gorgeous waterscape views in the state, Fort Worden is a favorite recreational getaway.
A sense of history as thick as dust in an attic imbues every experience here. The fort was considered to be a first line of defense for the country in the late 1890s, guarding Seattle and nearby naval facilities from attack by a hostile fleet. Today you can stay in a spacious officer’s house (costs range from $215 per night for a 3-bedroom apartment within one of the houses to $491 for a 6-bedroom duplex), explore the dank crannies of bunkers, and learn about naval strategy in the Coast Artillery Museum .
The centerpiece of the park is the gorgeous sweeping crescent of sandy beach that serves as a summer playground for picnicking families that come for a day visit or a stay at the beachside campground (complete with cantina.
Kids and adults can learn about the nearby sea life at the Port Townsend Marine Science Center , situated on a pier jutting into the bay. The center regularly schedules fun activities such as “fish painting ,” which yields T-shirts decorated with aquatic themes.
There’s creativity for adults, too, at Centrum , home to a series of events ranging from the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes to Jazz Port Townsend, from a poetry symposium to a children’s choral extravaganza.
The best way to visit the park is to stay for a while; accommodations range from the Olympic Hostel —where hot pancakes are served every morning to a broad mix of international travelers—to the aforementioned officers’ row houses.
However you choose to experience Fort Worden, you’re bound to leave feeling refreshed and energized from this scenic seaside getaway.
Q: Staying in officers’ quarters is an unusual and wonderful way to see a particular location up close. Do you have suggestions for other unusual, non-hotel-type lodging?
Leslie Forsberg wrote about cideries for the March/April 2011 Oregon edition of VIA.
Photography by elisfanclub/Flickr (bunker); courtesy of Port Townsend Visitors Bureau (lighthouse, concert)
This blog post was first published in April 2011. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.