Washington State is known for several things: temperate rainforests, some of the best hiking in the Pacific Northwest, and being a base for companies like Microsoft. With pleasant weather, plenty of greenery, and access to the Pacific Ocean, it is no surprise that Washington State ranks second among the best U.S. states to live in, behind Utah, according to U.S. News and World Report. The state’s beating heart can be found in the small towns of Washington. Stray off the beaten path to experience Washington State as never before.
Fans of David Lynch will know all about Snoqualmie. The town was used as a filming location for Twin Peaks, the mind-bending classic television show that changed the medium forever. Unlike the town featured in the show, Snoqualmie is actually one of the safest places in the state. Snoqualmie Falls is the second most visited natural landmark in the state and is more than twice the height of Niagara Falls. The Northwest Railway Museum educates visitors about the importance of trains to Washington’s history, and you can ride a vintage locomotive through the town’s sleepy streets. In the winter, The Summit at Snoqualmie has some of the best skiing around and is only about a half-hour drive away.
Nestled in Pierce County, Gig Harbor is a maritime haven that effortlessly combines natural allure and cultural charm. Offering breathtaking views of Mount Rainier and the Cascades, the town is a peaceful retreat for boaters, bicyclists, and hikers. Culinary delights like Anthony’s seafood restaurant and cozy spots like Kimball Coffee House enrich the experience. The town is wrapped in water on three sides and has beautiful waterfront parks. Don't miss the sunset over the harbor, best enjoyed during a summer ride on the retro trolley.
This lovely Washington town has an interesting Nordic flavor. Poulsbo, sometimes called Little Norway and Viking City, has clean, quiet streets and great views of Liberty Bay. The locally made Poulsbo Bread was invented by the owner of Sluys’ Bakery, who was trying to recreate a kind of bread described in the bible. This local delicacy is unique to the town, so be sure to try some! The town is also known for its sense of community. The farmers market features live music and fresh produce between April and October, and Viking Fest is a must-see festival held every July.
The town of Neah Bay is a premier destination for anyone looking to learn about the heritage of Washington State’s Native American populations. Neah Bay is entirely part of the Makah Indian Reservation at the northwestern tip of the Olympic Peninsula. The ocean is never far for visitors to Neah Bay, and the views are sublime. The Cape Flattery trail has an amazing viewpoint of Tatoosh Island waiting for hikers at its conclusion. The Museum at the Makah Culture and Research Center is an excellent place to learn about the Makah Tribe and features artifacts from the Ozette Archaeological Site. During warmer months, Neah Bay becomes a surfer’s paradise. There is great swimming to be had in Neah Bay!
A visit to the coastal towns of Washington would not be complete without a little whale watching, and Port Angeles is a great place to do it. Many companies can take you out to see the cetaceans near Port Angeles, a town originally visited by a Spanish Explorer. The English speakers who would eventually populate the town simplified the name to Port Angeles. Lake Crescent is a huge draw for visitors to the town. It is glacier-fed and has a magnificent blue color. Also, the Dungeness crab here is absolutely to die for, and there is even a crab and wine festival in the fall.
The town of Snohomish gets its name from the tribe of Native American people who lived there before the settlers arrived. Today, the town is a burgeoning historical and cultural hub in northwestern Washington. Snohomish has plenty to offer, with a quaint downtown listed on the National Register of Historic Places, antique shops, and wineries. The Tim Noah Thumbnail Center has productions every weekend, and the famous Kla Ha Ya Days festival attracts up to 25,000 visitors each summer. You can even hire a hot air balloon ride and see as far as Vancouver, Canada.
Not to worry, the town formerly known as Eureka Gulch still has plenty of inspiration. This former gold-rush town has been wonderfully preserved and is something like a living, breathing museum of Washington’s history. Visitors can go gold panning much like the prospectors did in the early 20th century. For a more modern activity, ATV and dirt bike riding are hugely popular in the Republic, as is fishing and birding. Swing by the Stonerose Fossils’ famous fossil beds, as featured in National Geographic, and dig for fossils! After a long day of excavations, Curlew Lake is only an eight-mile drive from town and is a wonderful place to relax.
This little village may be Washington’s best-kept secret. Secluded and serene, Stehekin is not accessible by car. Not to worry, boats, planes, and foot traffic are more than welcome here! The town is surrounded by the soaring peaks of the Cascade mountains, and the glacial Stehekin River rushes nearby, making Stehekin one of the most tranquil places in the state. There are so many opportunities to trek through the expansive wilderness near town, including Hike and Like-it tours where meals and camp are provided. Kayak tours, fly fishing tours, and even orchard tours are available. Of course, nobody would blame you for just sitting down and taking in the beauty of it all, either.
This section of Pend Oreille County has been described as a meeting place between the lake and the forest. Only accessible by horseback or by river, the area is so beautiful you may never want to leave. The town itself is tiny and has a population below 300. Still, it is so scenic that it has been used for at least two major motion pictures. Colville National Forest is an absolute gem, and its 1.5 million acres are a priceless refuge for anyone weary of their early morning traffic jams. There are plenty of rainbow trout and Arctic grayling in the Pend Oreille River for the anglers out there as well. Rest and recharge with a delicious slice of homemade apple pie at the Farmhouse Cafe. Simplicity never tasted so good.
Called the most beautiful town in Washington by some, Friday Harbor is an absolute feast for the senses. The town sits on the San Juan Islands, and the briny sea breeze rises high each morning with the sun. Its downtown area is small but well-appointed, with ice cream parlors, art galleries, and quaint restaurants. Nearby, fields of lavender grow in rows amidst evergreen forests. The award-winning San Juan Vineyard offers tastings in a remodeled schoolhouse, while the waterfront dining at the Friday Harbor House is absolutely delightful and should be experienced at least once. Friday Harbor has something for everyone.
Visitors to North Bend usually have one thing on their mind: Mount Si. Fans of Twin Peaks will remember the mountain as the inspiration for the show’s title, but hikers looking for one of the best views around will be looking to summit the mountain. Trust us, you will not be disappointed. Twede’s Café was another filming location for Twin Peaks and offers a great slice of cherry pie. The nearby Rattlesnake Lake is 111 acres of prime paddleboarding and kayaking real estate, and there are several trails in the area for hikers of moderate skill levels.
The Unparalleled Allure of Washington's Small Towns
The raw beauty of Washington State is undeniable. Roaring waterfalls, raging rivers, and verdant forests seem to spring up wherever you look. However, Washington's small, charming towns have plenty of drawing power. Explore the state’s indigenous history, discover hotels immortalized on film, and experience the hospitality the Pacific Northwest has to offer.