Lower Port Hadlock, Washington

Wooden boatbuilding and one very unique restaurant in this cozy Puget Sound gunkhole

Obscure Lower Port Hadlock is tucked in the southwest corner of Port Townsend Bay, Washington, 4.5 miles south of the more popular boating destination of Port Townsend. Anchoring is possible, during settled weather, just offshore in 30 to 50 feet of depth over a mud bottom. There is also an 80-foot public dock with short-term moorage.

Before setting the hook, skippers need to be aware of a Department of Natural Resources (DNR) imposed “No Anchor Zone” which is marked by four white and orange pillar shaped special purpose buoys extending on a 317-degree line, for 370 metres from the northeast-most point of Skunk Island to Lower Port Hadlock. The zone was established to protect eelgrass and shellfish beds near the spit to the west.


The second area of note is a shipwreck marked on the chart, which lies 320 metres east of the dock in 37 feet of water.

If anchoring is not your thing, or the weather is not conclusive to anchoring, moorage is also available at Port Hadlock Marina. The marina’s 30 to 64-foot slips are fully occupied by permanent moorage but they extend a warm welcome to guest boaters by offering vacant slips when tenants are away. Calling ahead for reservations is recommended. The facilities are clean, well maintained and the breakwater provides comfortable moorage from passing boat wakes and any wind.

For shore excursions, there is a public dock close to the quirky Ajax Café.

Located on the waterfront of Lower Port Hadlock is the Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding, occupying most of the historic and modern buildings. The school’s mission is to teach and preserve traditional and contemporary wooden boatbuilding skills while developing the students as craftsman. Students build boats from nine to 40 feet from scratch. Since the school’s founding in 1981, it has attracted students from around the world. Thousands of students have graduated from its programs, while thousands more have attended summer and community traditional maritime workshops. This is essentially a working boatyard and visitors are not allowed to wander through the shops and classrooms.

Northwest School of Wooden Boatbuilding.

One of our favourite things to do during any visit to Hadlock is enjoy dinner at the Ajax Café. A local favourite since 1977, the café—which is open Tuesday through Sunday with entertainment on Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings (reservations recommended)—is located on the waterfront in the historic district of Lower Port Hadlock and offers one of the most unique dining venues in all of Puget Sound. At first glance, one would never suspect a fabulous restaurant is part of a cluster of aged bungalows and clapboard warehouses remaining from Port Hadlock’s glory days.

The unassuming, but terrific Ajax Café.

Since the café is located just steps from the public dock, visitors can tie up at the dock or arrive by dinghy. Boaters are welcome to stay at the dock for up to four hours while dining at Ajax Café or exploring the area. For provisioning needs, there is a QFC grocery store a kilometre up the road in Upper Port Hadlock.

The café’s menu selections are prepared using local ingredients to create memorable cuisine at a reasonable price. The culinary talent of Chef Graham and his team create a wonderful array of tasty selections, which include seafood, beef, poultry, fruits and vegetables, homemade bread and desserts.

At the Ajax Cafe wearing fancy hats during dinner is encouraged.

Step inside the 130-year-old yellow and green false-front structure—once home to the town’s founder Samuel Hadlock—and expect a warm reception. Visitors can’t help but notice all the hats hanging on the walls in the entrance. Patrons are informed, by the enthusiastic receptionist, that wearing hats during dinner is customary in the restaurant and she passionately encourages you to select a hat.

The dining room is filled with brightly coloured chairs and tables of varying colours and styles. Photographs of famous musicians and movie stars hang on the walls. The utensils, glassware and dishes don’t match, which adds to the unique décor. Draft beer is served in wide-mouth mason jars, and margaritas arrive in 16-ounce Coca-Cola glasses from the 1960s. The menu is housed in old vinyl album jackets, which stimulates conversation. The atmosphere is like one big party. Who would have thought something as simple as hats could break the ice among strangers and even melt away some folks’ shyness?

Before long, diners are visiting with others seated around them, all making for a great combination of excellent food, casual atmosphere and great fun.


For those who like to forage for their meal, there are crabs and clams to be had in the area, just be sure to check the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife (WDFW) website first for license requirements, seasons, gear rules, limits and closures.

Lower Port Hadlock map.


Location: 48.02’0” N, 122.45’0”
Chart: 18464
Port Hadlock Marina: porthadlockmarina.com
Northwest School of Wooden Boat Building: nwswb.edu
Ajax Café: ajaxcafe.com
Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife: wdfw.wa.gov