Leavenworth, Washington,

11 Most Charming Towns In Washington

Bordered by Oregon (to the South), Northern Idaho (to the East), and British Columbia, Canada (to the North), the state of Washington takes the Pacific Northwest to its most Northwest-ness! Throughout its 71,362 square miles (making it the 18th largest state in the nation), Washington displays seemingly endless and astonishing scenery. From the abundant rough and tumble coastlines and the smattering of idyllic islands on the Western side to the dramatic yet peaceful wilderness of the interior, combined with the practically ubiquitous mountain ranges, this place hardly lets you catch your breath. With a foundation like this, there is a bounty of charming small towns to appreciate the setting and lunge forth into different aspects of the natural environment. These eleven entries should be at the top of your list. 

La Push

Seaside town of La Push, Washington coast, USA
Seaside town of La Push, Washington. Editorial credit: Wirestock Creators / Shutterstock.com

La Push is an unincorporated community on the Quileute Indian Reservation. Home to the sovereign Quileute Tribe, this one-square-mile settlement welcomes anyone seeking a peaceful getaway on the water. La Push is ideally located on the Olympic Peninsula, along a 70-mile stretch of unspoiled coastline. The overcast skies and copious piles of driftwood create an introspective atmosphere and invite a different kind of beach bum. Kick back with a good book and a cup of tea while gazing out your cabin window from the Quileute Oceanside Resort, stroll around town and engage with the culture, or put together a daypack and be invigorated by the ever-changing elements. 


Red pick up trucks from the Twilight series. The town was the setting for the films.
Red pick up trucks from the Twilight series in Forks, Washington. The town was the setting for the films. Editorial credit: Sean Pavone / Shutterstock.com

Next, prepare to get cozy in the heart of the Olympic Peninsula. Forks sit between the rugged Pacific Ocean beaches (to the West) and the Olympic Mountains (to the East), including the 7,980-foot focal point of Olympic National Park, Mount Olympus. Furthermore, La Push/First Beach is just 15 miles West, while the enchanted, moss-covered Hoh National Rainforest is only double that in the other direction. Whatever you do, make sure to pack your waterproof clothing as this humble logging community takes the crown for the rainiest town in the contiguous United States (around 120 inches annually!). The whimsical surroundings and lack of sun inspired the setting for the best-selling series Twilight, which certain tourists will surely get an extra little kick out of.


Aerial View of John Wayne Marina, Sequim
Aerial View of John Wayne Marina, Sequim.

Yet another gem of the Olympic Peninsula is the super small city of Sequim in Clallam County. Situated next to Sequim Bay and the Salish Sea/Strait of Juan de Fuca (looking across to British Columbia's Vancouver Island, as well as the San Juan Islands of Washington), this place definitely delivers charming waterfront vibes. Also, thanks to the proximity of the Olympic Mountains, Sequim is part of a small climate bubble that offers warmer, sunnier days than is common in much of Western Washington. But the greatest blessing bestowed on (and cultivated by) this lovely town is the aromatic lavender fields that propagate waves of purple throughout the summer. 

Port Townsend

Downtown marina with boats and historical buildings.
Downtown marina with boats and historical buildings in Port Townsend. 

A couple of small, jutting peninsulas East of Sequim sits Port Townsend in Jefferson County. This town has the privilege of poking out into the waters of Puget Sound, which orcas, humpbacks, and gray and minke whales frequent. Port Townsend is a ferry terminal, with boats crossing Puget Sound (to Fort Casey, near Coupeville) and Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. These cruises can offer another perspective on the beautiful region and an informal whale-watching tour on top of the practical transportation benefits. If you are in the mood to move, hop on a bike or lace up your hikers to get at least a taste of the Olympic Discovery Trail, which begins in town and traverses 120 miles to La Push. But don't leave town too quickly – there are farmers' markets, film festivals, and other regularly-occurring highlights to appreciate in this peppy community. 


he Coupeville Wharf in Washington State under clear blue sky with view of Penn Cove
The Coupeville Wharf in Washington State under clear blue sky with view of Penn Cove. Editorial credit: Ian Dewar Photography / Shutterstock.com

Speaking of Coupeville, this cute community sits in the middle of the picturesque Whidbey Island and is part of the boundary of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve. Settled in the 1850s, Coupeville is Washinton's second-oldest town. Many of the original buildings still stand, including Captain Coupe's home, but have been repurposed into art galleries, shops, seafood restaurants (muscles are the specialty in these parts), and even wine-tasting rooms. This all gives the area a hybrid historical and social charm to add to its already splendid waterfront atmosphere. There is much to explore on Whidbey Island, and Coupeville's centralized location and magnetism make it a perfect base camp from which to do so. 

Friday Harbor

Kenmore Air floatplane painted as an orca on the water in the port of Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States.
Kenmore Air floatplane painted as an orca on the water in the port of Friday Harbor, San Juan Islands, Washington State, United States. Editorial credit: EQRoy / Shutterstock.com

If heading North into the San Juan Islands from Port Townsend, the ferry will dock at Friday Harbor, a delightful little tourist town on the East side of the main, titular island. Here, one can jump on a boat or kayak and explore the various nooks and crannies of this island cluster, uncover the local museum and restaurant scene, or sip some suds at the island's very own brewing company, also by the same name. Whatever you do, birdwatchers or patriots (or both) should keep an eye out for the noble bald eagles that soar the skies of Western Washington's islands. 


Leavenworth, Washington
Leavenworth, Washington.

Washington has an endless supply of beautiful coastal towns, but leaving out the interior would be doing a disservice. Leavenworth, in the centralized Chelan County, breaks the mold in a curious way. This Bevarian-style "city" (much more of a village in practice) trades out the European Alps for the almost equally-iconic Cascades of the Pacific Northwest. Other than the mountain swap, a trip to Leavenworth could be an easy aesthetic and cultural substitute for a more substantial trip abroad. To truly feel the foreign charm, consider visiting during Oktoberfest, or bask in a surreal winter wonderland. Head up here while the enchanting light displays are sprinkled throughout the snow-covered streets. 


Boat landing at Stehekin, a secluded community at the north end of Lake Chelan - Washington state, USA
Boat landing at Stehekin, a secluded community at the north end of Lake Chelan - Washington state.

The unincorporated community of Stehekin can also be found in Chelan County, not too far North of Leavenworth, as the crow flies, but it is quite a unique undertaking to actually get there. In fact, Stehekin (a Salish term meaning "the way through") is the most remote, continuously inhabited community in the state and can only be accessed by boat, float plane, or on foot. There are about 75 permanent residents, however, swells of committed tourists roll in during the summer to experience the town's jaw-dropping and isolated setting. Even though Stehekin is far inland from the brilliant blue coastal towns previously mentioned, its position at the North end of Lake Chelan (backdropped by envy-inducing peaks and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest) is every bit as captivating. 


Mt rainier overlooking the marina in poulsbo washington
Mt Rainier overlooking the marina in Poulsbo, Washington.

Another European gem, this time of the Scandinavian persuasion, is the quaint city of Poulsbo, in Kitsap County, on the Kitsap Peninsula, which is sandwiched between Seattle and the rest of the mainland (to the East), and the Olympic Peninsula (to the West). "Little Norway," as it is accurately dubbed, is wonderfully positioned at the base of Liberty Bay, perhaps chosen by the founding immigrants in the 1880s for its resemblance to the fjords of their motherland. Poulsbo is not just Norwegian in spirit, there are red and blue flags flown in the streets, traditional Scandinavian grub served throughout everyone's favorite Front Street restaurants, and of course, the town is particularly pedestrian-friendly. Velkommen til Poulsbo! 


Old buildings in the historic western town of Winthrop, Washington
Old buildings in the historic western town of Winthrop, Washington.

The Okanogan County town of Winthrop adds some Wild West charm into Washington's eclectic mix. The old fashioned aesthetic of the main drag transports visitors back in time. Swing open the doors at one of the saloons and you may just be greeted by some honky-tonk piano along with your few fingers of whisky (or a shot of cola for younger tag-along travelers). Take a slow afternoon to cruise the antique boardwalk and get to know the less than 500 residents, and then consider ramping up the adventure. Winthrop is a launching point for the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest and the remainder of the 60-mile-long glacially-carved Methow Valley. Ski enthusiasts will be delighted to know that during the winter, Methow Valley sports the largest network of groomed cross-country trails in North America. 

Gig Harbor

White Sailboats Marina Kayaks Reflection, Gig Harbor, Pierce County, Washington State
The marina at Gig Harbor, Pierce County, Washington.

Bringing it full circle back to a pristine coastal town, Gig Harbor acts as "the gateway to the Olympic Peninsula." Across The Narrows from the city of Tacoma and hiding on the small harbor of the same name, Gig Harbor is easy to get to and will charm your pants off in no time flat (so pack a bathing suit!). This place is all about layers. The rich blue waters welcome scores of tasteful boats in the well-stocked marina while stalwart evergreens surround the area. And all the while, from every angle, the behemoth, omnipotent, omnipresent, snow-capped Mount Rainier watches on. Should inclement weather end the outdoor fun prematurely, pop on over to the Harbor History Museum to learn more about the local stories and cultural traditions. 

Washington is a remarkable section of the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Sure, it can be a little rainy (or a lot rainy), but that only adds to the coziness and fuels the continued growth of "The Evergreen State." The trick is to have a wholesome home base, such as one of these eleven small towns, and then to strive forth whenever the weather breaks. 

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