So You Want to Live in ... Port Angeles

Matt Brown
Once a mill town, this still-gritty Washington city is accessible, appealing, and affordable.

Port Angeles could become that next great coastal town. Lying smack between the gleaming Strait of Juan de Fuca and the magnificent mountains of Olympic National Park, the possibilities for this corridor seem boundless. Another bonus: Its sheltered spot behind the Olympic Mountains makes the area's weather an anomaly in a region famous for rain. "This is called the 'Blue Hole' because we get 300 days of sunshine," says Annie Gjertsen. She relocated here from Chicago with her husband, Bruce, to open their bed-and-breakfast, The Meadows Inn.

Still, Port Angeles faces a difficult predicament. The town's thriving logging industry came to a screeching halt in 1981, when the discovery of an endangered spotted owl forced officials to curb timber harvesting. Paper mills and logging companies eventually closed their doors and displaced generations of workers. "It's hard because [that] industry carried the entire city," says a 40-year-old ex-mill worker, who currently attends local Peninsula College to learn a new trade.

However, those able to see past the city's struggling facade have struck real-estate gold. Says a waiter at Michael's Divine Dining, "You can buy here for $500,000 a home that would cost $4 million in certain parts of California."

Other developments signal the town's growing potential: Four local wineries and year-round art and music festivals stand to attract tourism. Telecommuters can depend on the city's recent hookups to high-speed Internet, fiber-optic service, and cellular phone service. A bustling new shipyard promises more jobs. Sheltered harbors and deepwater access make it the perfect hub for sailboats, tankers, and ferries to Vancouver Island, B.C.

Port Angeles comes of age in today's world, having learned from the hard-earned economic lessons of its past. "I want Port Angeles to be a destination―not just the way station," says Mayor Karen Rogers, who envisions a diversified economy for the future. "We have the fabric," she says. "We just need to figure out what to make with it."

(published September 2006)

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