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12 Best Small Towns to Visit in Washington State

Written by Brad Lane
Mar 10, 2020

Nestled into the Cascade Mountains and sitting seaside on Puget Sound, numerous small towns in Washington are worth your attention. Whether you are looking for fashionable boutiques, historical museums, or access to the Evergreen State's top adventures, the best 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 top small towns in Washington.

1. Sequim

Lavender farm in Sequim

Only a short drive between Port Townsend and Port Angeles, Sequim (pronounced: "skwim") is one of many scenic locations on the Olympic Peninsula. This sea-inspired community, which hosts a Lavender Festival each July, is the only one to boast the 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 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 there is to do in the city.

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.

If all of that doesn't peak your outdoor interest, then the many vibrant fields of purple lavender laid out across Sequim provide some of the most unique sights you'll see in all of Washington.

2. 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 a postcard-worthy image any time of the year. 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.

Leavenworth has a vibrant local shopping and dining scene that, much like the bratwurst-serving München House or athletically-inclined Der Sportsman, also has a unique Bavarian twist. The mountains that lend Leavenworth its impressive backdrop, including the world-renowned Alpine Lakes Wilderness, also offer adventurous activities like mountain biking, hiking, fishing, rock climbing, and skiing all year long.

3. 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 areas 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. 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.

4. Elbe

Locomotive at Elbe, Washington

About 13 miles from the Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier National Park, Elbe is an extremely small town with a big thing for trains. A popular place to stay in Elbe is the Hobo Inn. Serving as North America's largest collection of train cabooses, the Hobo Inn 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, another fun thing to do in Elbe is grab a bite to eat at the Mt. Rainier Railroad Dining Company. This historic train has turned into a restaurant that operates a diner, lounge, and pizzeria out of renovated train cars. The scenic Alder Lake abuts the entire city, providing an expansive shoreline to explore and different places to camp like the nearby Rock Point Campground.

To top off your visit to Elbe, the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad is a must-see and do. It departs from Elbe and takes passengers along its 14-mile loop, crossing the glacier-fed Upper Nisqually River and making a one-hour pit stop at the Mt. Rainier Railroad and Logging Museum. This scenic train ride provides tourists with both the knowledge and first-hand look at the timber-rich environment that has defined much of western Washington's communities and livelihood.

5. Winthrop

Winthrop | Fil.Al / photo modified

On Washington's North Cascades Scenic Loop Byway, the small mountain town of Winthrop deserves much more than just a drive thru. With a distinctly Western-themed community that loves to host visitors, Winthrop is also 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.

Winthrop is well known for adventure activities like backcountry skiing, mountain biking, horseback riding, and camping. All these activities provide superb sightseeing opportunities of the Cascade Mountains. For winter enthusiasts, Winthrop is home to the world-famous Methow Trails, with over 120 miles of groomed cross-country skiing routes.

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.

6. Port Townsend

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, no matter the season.

Port Townsend contains two National Landmark Historic Districts and many of the buildings throughout the city still display their original Victorian craftsmanship from the late 19th century. Every year, Port Townsend holds many different cultural events in its historic streets and harbor. 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 a large number of opportunities for outdoor recreation. Popular ways to explore the area include biking along ocean paths, boating and fishing in the Port Townsend Bay, and camping in the nearby Ft. Worden State Park. Port Townsend also makes a great basecamp for the neighboring Olympic National Park.

7. La Conner

Rainbow Bridge, La Conner

A top tourist destination in the heart of the Skagit Valley of Washington, the waterfront village of La Conner is the perfect mix of Pacific Northwest beauty, community, and ample access to outdoor recreation. 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.

Whether soaking in the sea-salt aromas 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, if it's a laid-back, relaxing sea town that you are looking for, put La Conner towards the top of your list.

La Conner also opens neighboring adventures in Puget Sound. Fidalgo Island is only a 10-minute car drive from La Conner. On Fidalgo Island, Deception Pass State Park connects to the southern Whidbey Island. One of the best state parks in Washington, Deception Pass is an easy day trip from La Conner.

8. Westport

Grays Harbor, Westport

With fresh seafood options, 18 miles of immaculate beaches, and more than one picturesque lighthouse by the shore, Westport embodies Washington's quintessential ocean town. Located at the tip of the peninsula, 70 miles west of Olympia, Westport 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, Westport has enough outdoor attractions to keep you busy all weekend long. Its top attraction, Grays Harbor Lighthouse, at 107 feet tall, is the tallest lighthouse in Washington. The lighthouse facility provides tourists with an information center, guided tours, and the perfect spot to admire the surrounding Pacific Ocean.

9. Anacortes

Anacortes

Serving as one of the most accessible coastal communities of the San Juan archipelago, Anacortes is the largest city on Fidalgo Island and has plenty of fun attractions and activities. With a long list of lovely places to stay, like the Majestic Inn and Spa, Anacortes also has several unique shops and boutiques selling everything from antiques to accessories. Add in the excellent eateries like the GERE-a-DELI or A'Town Bistro, it can be easy for your weekend to slip away from you.

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 your San Juan Islands itinerary. Washington's most popular State Park, Deception Pass, is less than 10 miles south of Anacortes on Whidbey Island. The challenging Mt. Erie lies at the center of Fidalgo Island and beckons climbers and hikers from across the country.

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.

10. 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 55 miles into the brimming Cascade Mountains, making it the nation's largest natural lake.

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

11. Friday Harbor

Lime Kiln Lighthouse near Friday Harbor

Steps from the ferry landing on the eastern edge of San Juan Island, Friday Harbor is a welcome retreat from the ordinary hustle and bustle of everyday life. This scenic seaport town has enough attractions within its small geographical region to accommodate any type of vacation. Friday Harbor also provides abundant opportunities for experiencing the San Juan Islands and Puget Sound.

Off the water, you have plenty to explore at the Whale Museum or the San Juan Islands Museum of Art. Boutique storefronts in Friday Harbor's shopping district, Spring Street, also tend to garnish some vacation time. Couple these experiences with local dining options like the Rocky Bay Cafe and overnight accommodations such as the Snug Harbor and Marina, and you don't even have to get your feet wet to have a good time here.

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. Visitors can also spend time whale watching or exploring nearby islands from the San Juan Islands Scenic Byway.

Land lovers can venture further afield to Mount Young for a challenging hike. Lime Kiln Point State Park is also a popular place to hike and to see some lighthouses. And San Juan Island National Historical Park offers visitors a chanceto touch upon the island's natural and cultural history.

12. Port Angeles

Port Angeles

On the northern side of the Olympic Peninsula, Port Angeles blends plenty of amenities with a small-town atmosphere. 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. However, what really attracts tourists and new residents is the wide range of outdoor recreational activities.

One of the most popular things to do in Port Angeles is to use one of the many guide services to spot humpback whales in the harbor. Guided tours are also available to learn about Port Angeles' Historic Downtown Underground.

For those who like a little more movement in their adventures, the 60-mile paved Olympic Discovery Trail cuts through Port Angeles and offers bikers and hikers unparalleled views of the Cascade Mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Port Angeles also offers some of the easiest access to Olympic National Park. Home to iconic spots like the Hoh Rainforest and Ruby Beach, Olympic has nearly unlimited backpacking and camping opportunities. The Olympic National Park Visitor Center is in Port Angeles near the access road to Hurricane Ridge.

More Related Articles on PlanetWare.com

More 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.

Other 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.

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