Inventive eateries, elegant fin de siècle hotels and an unusual stash of year-round festivals make Port Townsend an Olympic Peninsula rarity: a weekend vacation that doesn't require hiking boots. Cut off from the rest of the area by eight bucolic miles off US 101, don't come here to base yourself for national-park exploration unless you don't mind driving a lot.
Despite the name, there's nothing Spanish or particularly angelic about Port Angeles, propped up by the lumber industry and backed by the steep-sided Olympic Mountains. People come here to catch a ferry for Victoria, Canada, or base themselves here for excursions into the northern parts of Olympic National Park. The town itself is not a draw.
Northwestern Olympic Peninsula
Despite not falling within the boundaries of the Olympic National Park, the northwest section of the Olympic Peninsula remains sparsely populated and remote. Logging is a primary industry here and, in the cultural sphere, four different Native American reservations offer plenty of local legends and history.
The Pacific side of the Olympics is the most remote part of the park and home to the foggy, moss-draped temperate rain forests. It is also the wettest area, receiving 12ft of rain annually, and you can expect a soaking at any time. US 101 is the only road that accesses this vast, heavily wooded area.
The most popular access to Olympic National Park is from the north. Port Angeles is the park's urban hub, and other good access points are Hurricane Ridge, the Elwha Valley and Lake Crescent, the park's largest lake. South of Port Angeles the Olympic Mountains rise up to Hurricane Ridge, one of the park's most accessible viewing points and an active ski station in the winter.
Forks, a small lumber town on US 101, was little more than a speck on the Washington state map when Stephenie Meyer set her now famous vampire novel Twilight here in 2003. Meyer had never been to Forks when she created the ghoulish legacy with the first of what has become a series of insanely popular 'tweenage' books.
Isolated Neah Bay is a rather lackluster settlement that sits amid breathtaking coastal scenery at the end of Hwy 112 in North America's extreme northwestern corner. Hit hard by the decline in the salmon-fishing industry, this small town, characterized by its weather-beaten boats and craning totem poles, is the home of the Makah Indian Reservation.
Olympic Coastal Strip
Coast lovers in the Pacific Northwest tend to head for Oregon where the beaches are famously wide, windswept and accessible. Further north in Washington the facilities gradually thin out until beyond Gray's Harbor you're confronted with one of the most undisturbed slices of coastal wilderness in the US.
Former home of the Makah tribe, whose ancient cliff-side village was destroyed in a mudslide in the early 18th century before being unearthed in the 1970s, Ozette is more than just a well-excavated archaeological pit. It is also one of the most accessible slices of isolated beach on the Olympic coastal strip.
Ruby Beach to South Beach
This southernmost portion of the Olympic coastal strip, between the Hoh and Quinault Indian Reservations, is abutted by US 101, making it more accessible than the beaches further north. Your first stop here should be Ruby Beach, arguably the most scenic beach on the whole peninsula, where a short 0.