Romantic Beach Weekend Getaway in the Olympic Peninsula

  • Distance from Seattle: 100 miles
  • Best time: April to October
  • Best for: Girl's GetawayRomanticBeaches

The misty Olympic Peninsula is now famous as the main setting in the popular Twilight novels and movies. Thankfully, you don't have to be in love with a vampire (or werewolf) to fall head-over-heels for this forested escape that's a perfect weekend destination for couples. Our favorite itinerary winds from the Victorian-era Port Townsend along wind-swept beaches and into the temperate rainforest of the Olympic National Park. Few travelers realize that the far northern half of this region benefits from a "rain shadow," featuring dependably sunny days and mild temperatures—great weather for leisurely lake hikes, beachfront picnics, outdoor cocktails, and other romantic adventures (so leave the garlic at home). –By Lora Shinn

Friday

Olympic Peninsula Cheat Sheet

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1.When you arrive in Port Townsend, stretch your legs at Fort Worden State Park, where sandy, driftwood-strewn beaches, fir forests, and stately Victorian-era officer's cabins make for a relaxed first stop—even more so if you've brought a bottle of wine and some snacks sourced from The Wine Seller on Port Townsend's waterfront.

2.Discover romance on the menu at the quiet Silverwater Café, which offers an intimate setting amid soaring, graceful ceilings. This eclectic, seafood-focused restaurant sources ingredients from nearby producers for dishes like fresh Hood Canal clams steamed with spicy chorizo, and Dungeness crab cakes with a rich lemongrass buerre blanc. The wines-by-the-glass menu has many inspired local selections.

3.After dinner, go for a stroll. Port Townsend is one of the region's few Victorian-era seaport towns; the picturesque brick-and-lathe downtown streets teem with vintage mural signs, antique shops, clothing and collectible boutiques and used bookstores. On Friday nights, Port Townsend Brewing Company hosts live music in a cheerful outdoor beer garden; pull up a chair as the bartender pulls you an amber home-brewed draft.

Saturday

1. Fortify yourself with organic coffee and pastries on your way out of Port Townsend at Better Living Through Coffee, as your first stop is 45 minutes west in the funky little town of Sequim (pronounced "squim"). At The Oak Table's handsome oak-paneled dining room, order a souffle apple pancake; when you hear the bell ring, you'll know that the waitress has less than a minute to deliver the three-inch high pancake to your table before goes as flat as a traditional pancake. After breakfast, drive 15 minutes north along the Dungeness-Sequim highway to Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, one of the world's largest natural sand spits, and a home to countless seabirds year-round.

2.For an only-in-Washington experience, drive 30 minutes west along Highway 101, which becomes Front Street in Port Angeles. Turn left (south) on Race Street and proceed one mile towards Hurricane Ridge. Turn left (east) on Lauridsen Boulevard and proceed 1/4 mile to PAFAC parking adjacent to a domed water silo, to investigate Webster's Woods Art Park. The magical forest features 110 sculptural art works by local and international artists playing hide-and-see among evergreens. What you see this year won't be guaranteed for the next—many objects disintegrate and become part of nature once more.

3.Now that you've worked up an appetite, browse the welcomings stalls in the downtown Port Angeles Farmers Market at Gateway Center at Lincoln and Front Streets, where you can assemble an artisanal picnic lunch of cheeses, charcuterie, fresh bread, and local berries—or a quick take-out soup, wrap, or plate of noodles from a stall vendor.

4.Take that picnic lunch to Olympic National Park, only a quick five-minute trip south from downtown Port Angeles along South Race Street. Pull over at the Olympic National Park Visitor Center to discover more about the natural (and sometimes violent) history of this now-peaceful region, and browse the selection of books on local fauna. Lunch here, amid native plants at a picnic table, and map out your next hike—or bring your lunch to the next stop.

5.South Race Street becomes Hurricane Ridge Road, which you'll follow for 40 minutes through a forest of ferns, fir trees, and huckleberries. Keep an eye out for bears and marmots en route; at the Hurricane Ridge Visitors Center, learn more about the wildlife rambling across the Olympics—and glean how to ID each of the surrounding peaks. Hurricane Ridge itself clocks in at an impressive 5,200 feet, so you'll be reward with romantic views of crystal-cut crests and pearl-colored snow; check the daily schedule for interpretive walks along the ridge top trails that explode with wildflowers.

6.Drive back down the ridge to eat dinner in downtown Port Angeles's Bella Italia restaurant, made famous as a dining destination in Stephanie Meyer's Twilight series. Thankfully, you don't have to be a "Twihard" to enjoy this restaurant; favorite dishes rely on Northwest ingredients like foraged mushrooms and Dungeness Valley organic carrots, both plucked from the local stomping grounds. Belly full, head for your hotel, the Lake Crescent Lodge, located in the Crescent Lake area, about 25 minutes southwest of Port Angeles along the curving Olympic Highway.

Sunday

1.After breakfast, walk right out the door and meander along a river trail to Marymere Falls—just ask for directions from staff at Lake Crescent Lodge. On the way, you'll hike through rainforest-thick vegetation and old-growth woods, past a splash-worthy river beach, and over wooden bridges to a horsetail-like Northwest waterfall. Don't forget your camera!

2.Who doesn't find childlike joy when exploring tidepools? The jackpot of all Washington shore areas is at Salt Creek Recreation Area, where you'll find the shallows full of quirky-cool creatures—rows upon rows of mussels, sea urchins, and giant sea stars, among other squirty sorts.

3.For a final taste of the Olympic Peninsula, head east along US 101 for about an hour, braking for lunch in Sequim at Alderwood Bistro, where ingredient distances are noted on the menu (i.e. cultivated in the Dungeness Valley, grown within 100 miles of Sequim, or produced regionally). Watch your pizza slide into wood-fired oven (gluten-free pizzas too) then enjoy your feast in the lovely outdoor garden or warm dining room.

Where to Stay

Note: We recommend that you stay overnight in two different locations to prevent long evening drives.

First night: Stay in Port Townsend at the Victorian-inspired Palace Hotel (rooms from $130/night), which offers vintage-décor rooms and suites (some with chandeliers over soaking tubs). Or, for a more luxe stay, head 20 miles south to The Resort at Port Ludlow (rooms from $100/night), which offers in-room spa treatments, gorgeous views over Ludlow Bay, and a golf course. The downside? It's far from many sites listed here.

Second night: We recommend the 1916 Lake Crescent Lodge (rooms from $120/night), which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and located just west of Port Angeles. This rustic retreat sits on the shores of the 8 ½-mile long Lake Crescent, with hiking trails and historic ambience. Warm up on cool nights next to the stone fireplace in the antique-decked lobby or bask out on the sun porch on sunny days. For extra privacy, reserve a beachfront cottage. Open May through October.

When to Go

The Olympic Peninsula is a popular destination in spring, summer and fall. Port Townsend is a hub of music, art and other festivals year-round, but particularly so in summer, when it hosts a variety of week-long events at the nearby Centrum, which offers arts-focused workshops. Expect full hotel rooms and campgrounds, in addition to car-packed roads.

Some national park destinations close for certain parts of the year; check the hotel's website and book well in advance.

Winter brings rain and cool temps to the region, but it also drives down prices. Off-season hotel rooms are a steal, and sequestering yourself in a Port Townsend hotel over a rainy weekend can be charming. However, many Olympic National Park have limited access during this time of year, due to snow conditions.

How to Get There

By car from Seattle: The Olympic Peninsula is about three hours from Seattle. Take a Washington State Ferry from downtown Seattle to Bremerton. Or you can take the Edmonds Ferry to Kingston.

From Bremerton ferry dock: Once you've arrived, follow signs north to Port Townsend. You'll drive along Kitsap Way (310) to get out of Bremerton, then head north on Rte 3 (which becomes Rte. 104). Keep heading north for 30 miles until Rte. 104 branches off at Beaver Valley Rd. (State Route 19), for about 20 miles. Turn right onto State Route 20, which delivers you into downtown Port Townsend after about 5 minutes.

From Kingston ferry dock: Once you've arrived, get on Rte. 104, heading north for 15 miles until Rte. 104 branches off at Beaver Valley Rd. (State Route 19) for about 20 miles.Turn right onto State Route 20, which delivers you into downtown Port Townsend after about 5 minutes.

Once inside this Washington corner, you'll mainly stay close to 101, the Olympic Highway. Pack a GPS device or iPhone; you'll probably need it when driving the region's curving, twisty roads.

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