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

By Susan C. Kim
August 01, 2006
Matt Brown

Port Angeles could become that next great coastal town. Lyingsmack between the gleaming Strait of Juan de Fuca and themagnificent mountains of Olympic National Park, the possibilitiesfor this corridor seem boundless. Another bonus: Its sheltered spotbehind the Olympic Mountains makes the area's weather an anomaly ina region famous for rain. "This is called the 'Blue Hole' becausewe get 300 days of sunshine," says Annie Gjertsen. She relocatedhere from Chicago with her husband, Bruce, to open theirbed-and-breakfast, The Meadows Inn.

Still, Port Angeles faces a difficult predicament. The town'sthriving logging industry came to a screeching halt in 1981, whenthe discovery of an endangered spotted owl forced officials to curbtimber harvesting. Paper mills and logging companies eventuallyclosed their doors and displaced generations of workers. "It's hardbecause [that] industry carried the entire city," says a40-year-old ex-mill worker, who currently attends local PeninsulaCollege to learn a new trade.

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

Other developments signal the town's growing potential: Fourlocal wineries and year-round art and music festivals stand toattract tourism. Telecommuters can depend on the city's recenthookups to high-speed Internet, fiber-optic service, and cellularphone service. A bustling new shipyard promises more jobs.Sheltered harbors and deepwater access make it the perfect hub forsailboats, tankers, and ferries to Vancouver Island, B.C.

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

(published September 2006)