Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Port Angeles

I stepped onto the private balcony, and immediately wished I lived here on the edge of America. Above me stood a western red cedar, dark green needles hanging from its limbs, and below me the town sloped gently to the Strait of Juan de Fuca. On the opposite side of the bed and breakfast, beyond town, the Olympic Mountains rose to snow-capped heights.

When Erika and I decided to travel to Washington state, we knew we wanted to spend part of the trip on the Olympic Peninsula. And after a little research we decided to stay in Port Angeles because it seemed to be the peninsula’s most ideally located place. This was before Stephenie Meyer’s Twilight novels made it the setting for several key scenes and caused it to become a bit of a household name.

Sitting just off-center on the peninsula’s north coast, Port Angeles is not too far east of the Pacific or west of Puget Sound. From its waterfront you can see Canada -- specifically, Vancouver Island and the capital city of Victoria, British Columbia, which will tempt you to head over on the ferry and make your trip international. If you do that, you might see orcas swimming the strait.

One of the best things about Port Angeles’s location is that it offers easy access to the gorgeous wilds of Olympic National Park, which are home to luxuriant forests, cascading rivers, and more than 60 miles of undeveloped coast. The following picture is of a hiking trail as it approaches Marymere Falls, with the falls hazily visible in the background. The same day we walked there, we also hiked along the Sol Duc River where a bald eagle soared low overhead (Twilight fans may recall that the Sol Duc is the river that flows behind the Cullen house).

A 17-mile drive from town takes you to the summit of Hurricane Ridge, whose mile-high altitude seems even higher because it rises from so close to the sea. Here is just one of the stunning views we saw from there:

But even if Port Angeles were not centrally located and close to the national park, it would still be a very worthy destination with its Waterfront Trail, museums and galleries, and attractive neighborhoods. Nice shops can be found throughout town, including this world-unto-itself where we bought just enough that we had to purchase another suitcase for the flight home.

Do not fall prey to the misperception that just because Port Angeles is on the Olympic Peninsula, it always rains here. In reality, it averages just 25 inches of precipitation per year, while Miami averages 62, Atlanta 51, and New York 45. Even Oklahoma City sees more precipitation than Port Angeles.

What’s more, greater than half the rainfall occurs from November through February, when people are least likely to be vacationing. If you come during the rest of the year -- especially summer, when temperatures are in the 70’s and rain averages less than an inch per month -- you will find it hard to believe you are sharing the peninsula with temperate rain forests. We had nothing but blue skies when we spent more than three days here in October.

There is all manner of lodging available, but I will always think of this as a B&B town because it was the first place we ever lodged in a true bed-and-breakfast: you know, the kind of inn where the owners greet you personally and prepare your breakfast each morning, and you get to know the other guests by eating breakfast together in the dining room. We stayed at the Five SeaSuns and could not have had a more pleasant experience. Its husband-and-wife owners, Bob and Jan Harbick, were a fount of information about the area and even called the ranger station to get information for us before we went hiking one day.

When we return to Port Angeles, we will stay at the Five SeaSuns again. But if you want to take the rent-a-house approach I have written about before, go here to check your options. And if you want to go the hotel route, both the Downtown Hotel and Olympic Lodge are well regarded.

In closing, here is a picture of us on the steps of the Five SeaSuns, taken by Mr. Harbick the morning we left:

Note: The picture at the beginning of the post was given to us by the owners of the Five SeaSuns.