×

15 Best Small Towns to Visit in Washington State

Written by Brad Lane
Updated Oct 14, 2022

We may earn a commission from affiliate links ()

Several small towns in Washington are worthy of some weekend attention or a long-term move. These hamlets, towns, and mini-cities nestle into the Cascade Mountains and sit seaside on Puget Sound.

They are lined with charming downtown districts and within eyesight of vibrant fields of lavender. These small towns illustrate the best of Washington, revealing big wondrous landscapes without the crowds.

Gig Harbor, Washington
Gig Harbor, Washington | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Whether looking for fashionable boutiques, historical museums, or access to the Evergreen State's top adventures, small towns in Washington all have their own unique flair and reasons to visit. What they share is the characteristics of jaw-dropping scenery, friendly communities, and plenty of things to do year-round.

Discover the best places to visit in this beautiful state with our list of the best small towns in Washington.

1. Sequim

Lavender farm in Sequim
Lavender farm in Sequim

Sequim (pronounced: "skwim") is one of many scenic locations on the Olympic Peninsula. This sea-inspired community is only a short drive between Port Townsend and Port Angeles and hosts a famous Lavender Festival each July. This festival alongside the blooming fields that abound gives Sequim its preferred title: The Lavender Capital of North America.

The driving factor of Sequim's successful lavender output is the sunny weather it receives in contrast to the typical Pacific Northwest forecast. Sequim sits in the Olympic Rain Shadow and only receives an average of 16 inches of rain per year, adding "Sunny Sequim" to its list of nicknames. This nice weather provides yet another reason why tourists flock to the town and surrounding area.

In addition to all that sunny weather, Sequim boasts several flavorful coffee shops like the Hurricane Coffee Co. Other unique shopping opportunities in Sequim include boutique stores, lavender farms, and craft stores. The surrounding ocean waters and Olympic Mountains add a scenic backdrop to all the things to do in Sequim.

John Wayne Marina, Sequim
John Wayne Marina, Sequim | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

A short drive to the north, you can find the picturesque New Dungeness Lighthouse on the shores of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. To the east, the John Wayne Marina on the Sequim Bay offers dining, sightseeing, and lodging along the shore. South of Sequim is the entrance to Olympic National Park, home of the Hoh Rainforest and Hurricane Ridge.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Sequim

2. Leavenworth

Bavarian building and fall colors in Leavenworth
Bavarian building and fall colors in Leavenworth

Leavenworth first came to life in the early 1900s as a small timber community. When the railroad diverted to the neighboring Wenatchee in the 1920s, the community all but fell apart. That is until 1962, when Project LIFE (Leavenworth Improvement for Everyone) revamped the failed timber community into the Bavarian Village it is today.

To promote tourism, community leaders at that time remodeled the city's storefronts to have a facade like those you would find in the Alps of Europe. With the new look came a new lifestyle as well, one that embraces Bavarian spirit in outdoor recreation, food, and celebrations. This cultural creativity has made Leavenworth one of the most popular small towns in the entire state of Washington.

Crafted beneath jagged Cascade Mountain peaks, Leavenworth and its Bavarian architecture is postcard-worthy any time of the year. And its vibrant local shopping and dining scene, like the bratwurst-serving München House or athletically-inclined Der Sportsman, also has a unique Bavarian twist.

Come winter, when the town is strung with millions upon millions of Christmas lights per their annual Christmas Lighting Festival, it's a whole other sight to see.

Alpine Lakes Wilderness on the outskirts of Leavenworth
Alpine Lakes Wilderness on the outskirts of Leavenworth | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Leavenworth is also an adventure town. The mountains that lend Leavenworth its Alps-inspired backdrop are a mecca for activities like mountain biking, hiking, fishing, rock climbing, and skiing. And nearby outdoor playgrounds like the Alpine Lakes Wilderness offer bucket-list hiking destinations right at Leavenworth's backdoor.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Leavenworth

Read More: Top Things to Do in Leavenworth, WA

3. Gig Harbor

Gig Harbor
Gig Harbor

Just 12 miles northwest of Tacoma, connected by the Tacoma Narrows Bridge across Puget Sound, Gig Harbor is on a bay of the same name and is perhaps the most picturesque town in the United States. Much of that stunning scenery is thanks to its historic downtown waterfront. Visitors to the waterfront will find an abundance of boutiques, galleries, and eateries.

Gig Harbor is also home to several scenic places to visit like Kopachuck State Park and Skansie Brothers City Park. The industrious roots of the city are on display at the Harbor History Museum, as well as a magnificent view of Mount Rainier.

Gig Harbor
Gig Harbor | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

With so many shops to explore and natural areas to admire, simply walking through the streets and enjoying the scenery is well worth the visit to Gig Harbor. Plan at least a little time wandering the waterfront at leisure. For some extra elevation while walking about, head for the Finholm View Climb at the back of the harbor.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Gig Harbor

4. Winthrop

Winthrop
Winthrop | Fil.Al / photo modified

The small mountain town of Winthrop is a prominent stop on Washington's North Cascades Scenic Loop Byway. It has a distinctly Western-theme similar to the Bavarian streets of Leavenworth, including a community that loves to host visitors.

Winthrop is a basecamp for recreational activities throughout the year. The adjacent Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest surrounds other stellar places to get outdoors, like Pearrygin Lake State Park and North Cascades National Park.

The town has grown quite the outdoor reputation for adventure activities like backcountry skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and camping. Winthrop is also home to the world-famous Methow Trails, with over 120 miles of groomed cross-country skiing routes. All these activities and attractions in Winthrop provide superb sightseeing opportunities in the Cascade Mountains.

To complement your outdoor adventures, the town's collection of local eateries, like the Rocking Horse Bakery, all have a distinctly Old West theme that encourages memorable meals. Eclectic shops such as the Trails End Bookstore, and overnight accommodations like the Sun Mountain Lodge, also share the Western motif.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Winthrop

5. Friday Harbor

Friday Harbor
Friday Harbor | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Friday Harbor is one of the principal cities of the San Juan Islands in far northwest Washington. It's on San Juan Island itself – the second-largest island of the archipelago. This scenic seaport town and surrounding island have enough attractions within their small geographical area to accommodate any type of vacation. Friday Harbor also provides abundant opportunities for ferry hopping to the other nearby islands.

Off the water, there's plenty to explore in Friday Harbor at places like the Whale Museum or the San Juan Islands Museum of Art. Boutique storefronts in Friday Harbor's shopping district, Spring Street, also tend to attract vacationers. Couple these experiences with local dining options like the Rocky Bay Cafe and overnight accommodations such as the Snug Harbor and Marina, and weekend trips tend to pass too quickly.

Lime Kiln Lighthouse, San Juan Island
Lime Kiln Lighthouse, San Juan Island | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Lime Kiln Point State Park and San Juan Island National Historical Park are two spots not to miss on San Juan Island. Alongside unique historical viewpoints, these scenic destinations also exemplify the landscapes that define island life. Visitors also enjoy whale watching or bicycle touring the San Juan Islands Scenic Byway.

Besides being a beautiful town to visit, this really is the gateway to the rest of the San Juan Islands. Places like Sea Quest Kayak Tours and the Friday Harbor Ferry Terminal offer easy outlets for exploration.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Friday Harbor

6. Long Beach

Kite flying on Long Beach
Kite flying on Long Beach | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Long Beach is the central city on the Long Beach Peninsula in far southwestern Washington. The Pacific Ocean and Willapa Bay bound the peninsula with the Columbia River to the south. This aquatically lined landscape offers several ways to enjoy a vacation, including along the peninsula's 25-plus-mile beach.

The city of Long Beach offers a quintessential beach getaway. The town has more hotel rooms than its population of approximately 1,500 residents. Several family-friendly establishments like bakeries, candy stores, and novelty museums line Pacific Way, the main thoroughfare through town. But enjoying the beach is still one of the top things to do in Long Beach.

Several beach approaches line the sand and offer ample room for parking. In Long Beach, spend some time exploring the half-mile boardwalk trail that navigates the grassy dunes. This walkway parallels the 8.5-mile paved Discovery Trail, which follows in the footsteps of Lewis and Clark south to Cape Disappointment State Park.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Long Beach

7. Port Townsend

Historic Port Townsend at sunrise
Historic Port Townsend at sunrise

Port Townsend is an approximately 40-mile drive from Seattle across Puget Sound, at the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula. This charming seaport community boasts quite the reputation when it comes to art, history, and natural beauty. Couple the scenic storefronts with the waterfront views, and the aesthetics alone are enough of a reason to visit Port Townsend.

Port Townsend has two National Landmark Historic Districts and many of the buildings throughout the city display their original Victorian craftsmanship from the late 19th century. The city hosts several different cultural events in these historic streets and harbor.

Port Townsend
Port Townsend | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

Notable events include the Shipwrights' Regatta in February, the Port Townsend Film Festival in September, and weekly Farmers Market held every Saturday from April through December.

In addition to the almost weekly cultural attractions, the area also offers several opportunities for outdoor recreation. Popular things to do in Port Townsend include biking along ocean paths, boating and fishing in the Port Townsend Bay, and camping in the nearby Fort Worden State Park.

Port Townsend also makes a great basecamp for the neighboring Olympic National Park.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Port Townsend

8. La Conner

Rainbow Bridge, La Conner
Rainbow Bridge, La Conner

The waterfront village of La Conner is a top tourist destination in the heart of the Skagit Valley of far northwest Washington. The town is the perfect mix of Pacific Northwest beauty, community, and ample access to outdoor recreation. It's also home to several blooming attractions.

The La Conner Daffodil Festival and Skagit Valley Tulip Festival draw crowds from across the world each spring. These colorful festivals bring scores of painters and artists, who try to emulate the different tones of La Conner that blossom throughout the region.

Other fun things to do in La Conner include soaking in the sea-salt landscape of the surrounding Skagit Bay or Swinomish Channel, or taking a break in your day to sketch the town's most notable architectural icon, the Rainbow Bridge.

Beach at Deception Pass State Park, 12 miles from La Conner
Beach at Deception Pass State Park, 12 miles from La Conner

La Conner also opens neighboring adventures in Puget Sound. Fidalgo Island is less than a 10-minute drive, where Deception Pass State Park connects to the southern Whidbey Island. Deception Pass is one of the best state parks in Washington and one of the most visited.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in La Conner

9. Westport

Grays Harbor, Westport
Grays Harbor, Westport

Westport embodies Washington's quintessential ocean town with fresh seafood options, 18 miles of immaculate beaches, and more than one picturesque lighthouse by the shore. The city is at the tip of the peninsula, 70 miles west of Olympia, and serves as the southern gate for the tourist-oriented Grays Harbor and the rest of the Pacific Ocean.

This proximity to the Pacific gives the community plenty of fun things to do in and out of the water. Whether it's chartered fishing adventures, all-day beach outings, or experiencing some of the state's best surfing, any trip to Westport has a nautical tinge.

Westport's top attraction, Grays Harbor Lighthouse, is the tallest lighthouse in Washington rising to 107 feet. The lighthouse facility provides tourists with an information center, guided tours, and the perfect spot to admire the surrounding Pacific Ocean.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Westport

10. Poulsbo

Poulsbo
Poulsbo

Poulsbo is a small community on the Kitsap Peninsula in northwest Washington. The city sits on the shore of Liberty Bay and is affectionately known as "Little Norway" thanks to its many Scandanivan influences and traditions. And today, thousands of tourists pass by the "Velkommen til Poulsbo" sign on their way to enjoying a weekend vacation.

Exploring the historic Norwegian district is a top draw for visitors coming from Seattle and beyond. Bookstores, restaurants, and boutiques line this pedestrian-friendly area near the water, all surrounded by a Scandinavian flare dating back to the late 1800s, when Norwegians landed on the shore.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Poulsbo

11. Port Angeles

Port Angeles
Port Angeles

Port Angeles blends plenty of amenities with a small-town atmosphere on the north side of the Olympic Peninsula, bordering the Salish Sea. It's a laid-back community of approximately 20,000 residents. The city is well-known for its easy access to Olympic National Park but also boasts a growing collection of in-town attractions and things to do.

There's certainly an outdoor vibe in Port Angeles, and many of its top attractions mingle with the stunning surrounding landscapes. A few top things to do in Port Angeles include hopping on the 60-mile paved Olympic Discovery Trail or navigating Ediz Hook – the crescent-shaped sand spit extending from the shoreline. Both of these popular endeavors provide unparalleled views of the Cascade Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

And thanks to its great places to stay overnight, like the luxurious Olympic Lodge, and fresh dining options, such as the New Day Eatery, it would be easy to spend all your time exploring the Port Angeles Downtown District.

Lake Crescent, 20 miles west of Port Angeles
Lake Crescent, 20 miles west of Port Angeles | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

When it comes time to explore Olympic National Park, iconic places like Hurricane Ridge and Lake Crescent are the closest. And it's less than a two-hour drive to reach the park's wilderness coast. Port Angeles tends to be a top basecamp for exploring the park and staying indoors at night.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Port Angeles

12. Anacortes

Anacortes
Anacortes

Anacortes is the largest city on Fidalgo Island and is one of the most accessible coastal communities of the San Juan archipelago. It has plenty of fun attractions and activities on land and on water.

Several unique shops and boutiques line the core downtown district of Anacortes, selling everything from antiques to accessories. This is also where to find a long list of lovely places to stay, like the Majestic Inn and Spa. Add in the excellent eateries like the GERE-a-DELI or A'Town Bistro, and it's easy to spend a whole vacation wandering the streets of Anacortes.

To catch a bit of the island culture, the Anacortes Art Festival in July and August is usually a good bet. Other annual events in Anacortes include a biannual Vintage Market and a Waterfront Festival in June. Anacortes is also home to a weekly concert series in the summer at Seafarer's Memorial Park.

Ferry departing Anacortes
Ferry departing Anacortes | Photo Copyright: Brad Lane

With ferry rides departing daily, Anacortes is the ideal jumping-off point for destinations like Orcas Island, Friday Harbor, or any port of call on a San Juan Islands itinerary. Washington's most popular State Park, Deception Pass, is less than 10 miles south of Anacortes on Whidbey Island.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Anacortes

13. Chelan

Lake Chelan
Lake Chelan

While the town of Chelan has many restaurants worth visiting, including the local favorite Apple Cup Cafe, it's really the easy access to outdoor adventures that puts it on the map. Miles of hiking and biking trails stem from town and connect to several scenic places to camp.

The most sparkling attraction of Chelan comes from the adjoining Lake Chelan, which stretches for a remarkable 55 miles into the brimming Cascade Mountains. Lake Chelan provides ample opportunity for water activities, including swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving, and boat rentals

But for the best adventure, the Lady of the Lake ferry takes visitors across the entire lake and into the remote, tourist-friendly town of Stehekin. With a stellar bakery and few other modern amenities, Stehekin serves as the front gates of North Cascades National Park.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Chelan

14. Elbe

Locomotive at Elbe, Washington
Locomotive at Elbe, Washington

Elbe is an extremely small town with a big thing for trains. The town is about 13 miles from the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier National Park and is a popular place to stay in town is the world-renowned Hobo Inn.

The Hobo Inn has Washington's largest collection of train cabooses. And this full-service hotel not only provides tourists and train enthusiasts a look at the past, but each overnight guest gets their own personal, fully furnished caboose to sleep in.

After sleeping in a caboose, grab a bite to eat at the adjoining Mt. Rainier Railroad Dining Company. This lively restaurant operates a diner, lounge, and pizzeria out of renovated train cars.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Elbe

15. Snoqualmie

Snoqualmie Falls
Snoqualmie Falls

Snoqualmie is an adventure-filled small town 30 miles east of Seattle in the Snoqualmie Valley. The Cascade Mountains surround Snoqualmie and its smaller neighbor North Bend, offering all types of recreation and adventure throughout the year.

Best representing Snoqualmie's outdoors-focused nature is Snoqualmie Falls near the town's center. This 270-foot waterfall attracts millions of visitors each year to marvel at the sheer volume and force of the water. Several amenities surround the natural display, including observation decks, parkland, and the luxurious Salish Lodge and Spa.

Adventures radiate beyond Snoqualmie Falls, as do other in-town attractions. Spend some time at the Northwest Railway Museum for insight into the industry that shaped the community into what it is today.

Other things to do in Snoqualmie include dining at local restaurants or venturing to the top of the nearby mountains.

Accommodation: Where to Stay in Snoqualmie

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

imageMore Places to Visit in Washington: Washington State has a lot to explore. From craggy mountains to rugged rainforests, our guide to the top attractions in Washington state covers all the must-see destinations. To explore the wild side of Washington, it's recommended to check out the best state and national parks in Washington. For the most defining cultural experience in Washington, the city of Seattle delivers with big city attractions.

imageOther Washington Cities: The state of Washington also features several mid-size cities worth exploring. The state capital of Olympia offers attractions like historic theaters and a state capitol complex. A true university appeal is integrated into Bellingham, north of Seattle, as well as gorgeous views of the San Juan Islands. For extra cultural flavor, the city of Bellevue delivers with museums, parks, and botanical gardens.

Discover destinations, find outdoor adventures, follow the journeys of our travel writers around the world, and be inspired.

More on Washington