In any weather Washington state is full of hot spots

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The real reason they're sleepless in Seattle?

The place is simply mad for coffee -- especially espresso.

Visitors figure residents quaff the stuff to stave off the nods during the gray, rainy days the Great Pacific Northwet -- oops, we mean Northwest -- is known for.

But late summer through mid-October, as the region enjoys some of its best weather all year (70-degree days and mostly clear skies), they're still pounding down supertankers of the steamed brew. Some dentists and car dealerships serve it while you wait.

Even where we were headed -- on a 90-minute car-and-ferry excursion across Puget Sound from Seattle -- the deluxe drink wasn't hard to find.

Instead of the espresso stands dotting the city, the places amid the pines of the Olympic Peninsula offered caffiends a wider selection.

"Truffles. Firewood. Bait. Diesel. Deli. Espresso," read the sign on one roadside store. Just about everything travelers in the upper left-hand corner of the country could want.

Upon landing in Port Townsend, we found the rest in a place where gingerbread-festooned homes once owned by sea captains peer down a bluff at blocks of untouched 1890s-era storefronts on the waterfront.

Sandwiched between the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, the town was once the port of entry for the whole northwestern United States, handling almost as much shipping as New York.

Then a financial crash and the failure to get the railroad left Port Townsend a Victorian seaport stuck in time.

Though the town's main drag, Water Street, now boasts art galleries, gift shops and several good eateries, the population remains what it was 103 years ago -- around 7,000.

Naturally, Port Townsend's early association with old salts means that all except one of its still-standing Italianate-styled hotels once housed young tarts.

Retired sea captain H. L. Tibbals even dubbed his brothel-hotel "Palace of Sweets."

Some of the other locals were also pretty interesting, including one who regularly rode his horse into the Belmont Saloon for a beer and another who trained trout to jump through a hoop.

The guide on our walking tour also noted with some pride that writer Jack London once spent a night here -- in jail.

In the 1970s, artists, former hippies and lovers of small towns began moving in. Now Port Townsend is a day-trip destination for Seattleites and weekenders aiming to stay in charming bed-and-breakfast inns where mariners and merchants once lived.

These are located on the bluff overlooking the harbor in the town's compact Uptown district. Here, the Victorians built their own little shopping area to keep their wives and daughters from going downtown in the belief that, at least in Port Townsend, sin flourished at sea level.

Among the best of the local B&Bs; is the Quimper Inn, a white 1888 Georgian home rounded out with shingled arches, where the rooms are named after the owners' children and the host may let you peek at the classic Porsche in his garage.

While in town, take in a movie at the Rose Theatre, a restored jewel box of a movie palace that seats 158, including nine in the balcony. Don't expect Stallone or Van Damme on the marquee here; among the films playing this month are "Much Ado About Nothing" and "Orlando."

Two months ago, 160 film buffs in Charlie Chaplain garb stood in front of the place for a first anniversary photo. Owner Rocky Friedman, a University of Southern California film school grad weary of L.A., refurbished the 1905 vaudeville house-turned-theater-turned-resale shop by selling stock in the project locally.

Port Townsend also has its own claim to movie fame. Parts of the 1982 hit "An Officer and a Gentlemen" were filmed here.

One site was nearby Fort Worden, now a state park complete with a working lighthouse and a series of massive abandoned gun emplacements perched on a high bluff overlooking the strait. Other key scenes were filmed at the local paper mill and a motel that now lets guests stay in its popular "Officer and a Gentleman" suite.

Or, you might grab a bite where the locals do, at the Bread and Roses bakery or the Silverwater Cafe. The cafe's separate fish-and-chips stand lowers food in a basket to kayakers and other boaters below the pier.

OC This brings us back to the water, which is never very far away.

The short way around

In order to save miles of driving the long way around Puget Sound and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, the state of Washington runs the largest ferry system in the country. It carries 23 million passengers a year in and out of Seattle and places like Port Townsend, where the strait and sound meet.

The giant white-and-green boats run like clockwork. But at peak times, drivers seeking to make the trip to such popular stops as Victoria, British Columbia, may wait hours to board.

We went as walk-on passengers and had no wait at all for the hour-long crossing to that veddy British Canadian city. Just off Victoria's Inner Harbor, you'll find a little London, complete with tearooms, pubs and double-deck buses. Here, they prefer high tea and low tea to cappuccino and espresso.

Quaint shops along Government Street include Rogers' Chocolates, serving bittersweet treats to the royalty since 1833, and Old Morris Tobacconist where you can get the Cuban cigars you're not supposed to bring back into the United States.

On another day, another ferry delivered us to Whidbey Island, a ** 50-mile stretch of soil northwest of Seattle. One of the state's oldest and smallest towns, Coupeville, is here, anchored by its block-long stretch of stores and restaurants.

There's no historic marker, but there should be. It was at a little ice cream parlor here in 1970 that a guy named Jim Stewart first served up his roasted coffee. A year later, he and the competing Starbucks chain began pouring strong coffees on Seattle's waterfront and the rest was history.

The best view of Seattle, the nation's 21st-largest city, comes from approaching downtown by ferry with the hilly skyline bookended by the Space Needle and the Kingdome.

Close to the ferry terminal is Seattle's famous Pike Place Market, an arcaded profusion of peddlers and constantly moving people. While here, watch the action at Pike Place Fish, where the fishmongers sling 20-pound salmon through the air.

This is also a good place to try a latte, Seattle's official drink. This steamed milk espresso drink topped by a thin foamy head is so popular local bureaucrats used the cost of a daily latte (about $1.40) to justify the latest water rate hike.

While bopping around downtown Seattle, note that things are pretty mellow and crime is low, but the police (some on bikes) seem to be on a mission to pass out jaywalking tickets.

From chic to grunge

Fashion wise, clothing runs from European suits to the flannel-shirt-raggedy-jeans grunge look that New York's fashion elite usurped from Seattle's street kids and bands. Keep in mind the B's: Bauer (as in Eddie -- the Northwest's answer to L. L. Bean is headquartered here) and Birkenstocks.

Wired from all the coffee by now? Drop by one of the weirdly neon Gravity Bars for a refreshing juice or veggie drink. Think twice about their house specialty -- wheatgrass juice, a green solution that seems to answer the question of where the lawn clippings went.

While relaxing, consider this fun fact: Whoever coined the term "top man on the totem pole" -- to mean the boss -- never talked to the Pacific Northwest Native Americans, who make totems to dot the Seattle street scene. They believe that the bottom and largest figure is the most important.

Besides the totems, you'll find an occasional small palm here and there in Seattle. That's because the weather, aided by ocean currents and the mountains, is actually quite mild, if a little rainy.

But that befits a city whose Labor Day art-and-music festival is called Bumbershoot, after the English term for an umbrella.

According to the weatherman, Seattle averages 40 inches of wet a year (about the same as Baltimore). Meanwhile, Port Townsend gets only 20, which might mean your chances of rays there are about twice that of Seattle.

7+ We had glorious weather in both places.

IF YOU GO . . .

Guidebook: "Seattle Access," (Harper Perennial, 1993, 250 pages, $18): Facts, graphics, insider tips, detailed maps of neighborhoods with color-coded paragraphs on rated and numbered sights, shops, restaurants and hotels.

Ordering espresso: According to "Seattle Access," among the slang:

* "Thunder Thighs": a double tall mocha made with whole milk and topped with extra whipped cream.

* "Yankee Dog with White Hat on a Leash": basically a caffe Americano with foam, to go.

Where to call: Seattle is on Pacific Time. Hours below reflect Eastern time.

* Seattle Visitors Bureau: (206) 461-5840, 11:30 a.m.-8 p.m. daily.

* Port Townsend Visitors Center: (206) 385-2722, noon-8 p.m. weekdays, 1 p.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, 2 p.m.-7 p.m. Sunday.

L * Tourism Victoria, B.C.: (604) 382-2127, noon-8 p.m. daily.

* Quimper Inn, 1306 Franklin, Port Townsend. (206) 385-1060, any time. 5 rooms. Rates from $65 to $120 a night.

* Rose Theatre, 235 Taylor St., Port Townsend. (206) 385-1089, any time.

* Washington State Ferry System runs several routes in and out of Seattle and other points. Tickets average $6.65 for car and driver; $3.30 for walk-on passengers. Call (206) 464-6400 any time.

* Olde England Inn, 429 Lampson St., Victoria, B.C., Canada. (604) 388-4353, 10 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. 57 rooms, from $55 to $150 U.S.

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