Port Angeles, Washington, U.S.A.: a nice living place

Maybe I shall make a backpacking trip to Port Angeles, Washington in the near future after reading this web page http://www.outsideonline.com/2006426/americas-best-towns-2015. The article is “The 16 Best Places to Live in America: 2015” dated August 18, 2015.

About the above pictures: Clockwise from top left: Next Door Gastropub; camping in Olympic National Park; Port Angeles traffic jam; fog over Lake Crescent. Photo: Courtesy of Next Door Gastropub; Ethan Welty/Aurora (bottom left and center); Jordan Siemens/Aurora


Port Angeles (population 19,000) staged an impressive fight. Homeowners put placards in their yards reminding passersby to vote, businesses made pleas on sandwich boards, and locals stood on street corners with signs. The town ended up coming in second to Chattanooga—which has almost ten times the population—by just 2 percent of the vote.

The message was clear. “We love this town, and this community can really pull together,” says Jacob Oppelt, owner of Next Door Gastropub.

Situated on the northern shore of Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, Port Angeles is a gateway to Olympic National Park. Because of the dramatic relief—the peaks rise to over 5,000 feet within a few miles of the coast—the area hosts diverse ecosystems, including alpine environments studded with lakes, ultragreen old-growth forests threaded with whitewater rivers, and bays that harbor orcas and steelhead. “I call it the holy land,” says John Gussman, a local photographer. “We don’t have smog or traffic, and we have this beautiful million-acre wilderness in the backyard.”
Not surprisingly, the local culture is built on an appreciation of the outdoors, and the economy is boosted by adventure travelers. It’s not uncommon to see surfers toting boards through town or cars stuffed with gear for forays into the park. More recently, mountain bikers have arrived to ride the burly downhill trails in the 600,000-acre national forest.
But Port Angeles isn’t your typical bro experience. There’s a healthy population of retirees—the town’s average age is 42—and a strong blue-collar flavor. The town lumberyard sits near the sea-kayak put-in, there’s an active boat-building industry, and commercial fishing for halibut and Dungeness crab is a mainstay. These industries infuse the town with a grittier feel than artsy neighbor Port Townsend and sleepy nearby retirement community Sequim. But they also help keep home prices reasonable—the median is $201,000—and engender a live-and-let-live ethos. Longtime residents and progressive newcomers manage not only to get along, but also to come together. Take the recent Elwha River restoration: the largest dam removal in the country’s history took place just upstream from town and gained strong local support. Now, for the first time in 100 years, trout and salmon are migrating past old dam sites, and greenery is sprouting in empty reservoirs.
Port Angeles isn’t big, but as this year’s Best Towns showing demonstrates, it can compete with just about anyplace. “In high school, I couldn’t get away from here fast enough,” says fifth-generation resident Sara Gagnon, owner of Harbinger Winery. “But once I got out and saw the world, I couldn’t wait to get back.” —Kate Siber


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