THE GREAT AMERICAN VACATION
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Visitors trek to the Olympic Peninsula year-round, but summer is prime touring time for this outdoor-lovers' paradise. June through September, when it's least likely to rain, is busiest. Beaches, campgrounds, and downtown areas bustle during the sun-filled summer months, and festivals attract additional crowds. This is also the time of peak lodging rates.
Early and late spring and fall are likely to be less crowded, and in many cases the shoulder season also promises less expensive hotel rates. Anytime between April and October, there's a good chance of clear skies, even if temperatures dip. The rest of the year, prepare for heavy clouds, rain showers, and chilly temperatures.
Accommodations tend to fill up year-round on festival and holiday weekends. Some museums and other tourist attractions close or operate on a limited schedule in winter, when unrelenting storms pound Washington's Pacific coast. Mid-October through mid-March, pummeling waves crash into sea stacks and outcroppings, and wind speeds of up to 60 mph send rain spitting sideways. Winter storm watchers, weekend skiers and snowboarders heading to Hurricane Ridge, and locals are usually the only hardy souls around this time of the year. For some, that—coupled with off-season lodging rates—is a draw.
The region has a number of festivals and events that are worth planning for.
Great Port Townsend Bay Kinetic Sculpture Race. Since 1983, contestants have been racing human-powered contraptions through sand, mud, neighborhoods, and saltwater in the hope of winning the most coveted prize: the Mediocrity Award for finishing in the middle of the pack. The race takes place the first weekend in October. Festivities include safety tests, a parade, and a "Kween Koronation Kostume Ball" on Saturday night. Port Townsend, WA, 98368. 360/379–4972. ptkineticrace.org.
Irrigation Festival. Sequim has been celebrating the introduction of irrigation water to its once-parched prairie since 1896. The fest, held in May, features an antique-car show, art show, logging show, street fair, pageant, parade, dance, community breakfast and Strongman Showdown, in which competitors put their muscles to the test in events like the arm-over-arm truck pull, log press, and car lift. Sequim, WA, 98382. 360/683–6197. irrigationfestival.com.
Olympic Music Festival. From June through September, concert-goers can picnic on the lawn while enjoying chamber music in a bucolic setting, complete with a renovated, turn-of-the-last-century barn. 7360 Center Road, Quilcene, WA, 98376. 360/385–4800. www.olympicmusicfestival.org.
Port Townsend Film Festival. Founded in 1999 by Rocky Friedman, owner and operator of the town's 1907 Rose Theatre, this mid-September fest features onstage discussions with Hollywood stars, a variety of documentary and narrative films, and the ever-popular outdoor screenings on Taylor Street in front of the movie house. Port Townsend, WA, 98368. 360/379–1333. www.ptfilmfest.com.
Sequim Lavender Festival. A street fair and free self-guided farm tours celebrate Sequim's many fragrant lavender fields in July. Sequim, WA, 98382. 360/681–3035. www.lavenderfestival.com.
Wooden Boat Festival. Hundreds of wooden boats sail into the Bay of Port Townsend each September for a weekend of demonstrations, presentations, tours, and sea shanties. Believed to be the largest gathering of its kind on the West Coast, the festival is sponsored by the Wooden Boat Foundation, part of the Northwest Maritime Center, which holds on-the-water programming for adults and youths all year. Port Townsend, WA, 98368. 360/385–3628. www.nwmaritime.org/wooden-boat-foundation/wooden-boat-festival.