With its majestic mountains and cascading coastlines, Washington State embodies the Pacific Northwest’s greatest attributes. It is no wonder so many small towns have blossomed into iconic tourist destinations with outstanding restaurants, eclectic local shops, and great places to stay. In Washington, the wonders of the world are at your fingertips; Mount Ranier, the largest mountain in the state, sits to the southwest, the Pacific Ocean and Puget Sound lie to the west, and the country of Canada is a quick trip to the north.
Although big cities like Seattle and Olympia draw crowds from all over the globe, it is Washington’s beautiful small towns that can truly provide unique, exclusive, once-in-a-lifetime experiences. Whether you are looking for a quick escape to a quaint seaside town, a long hike along some of Washington’s most beautiful trails, or a pampered weekend of downtown boutique shopping and sampling local cuisine, these 13 small towns in Washington state are sure to deliver.
Deemed the “Lavender Capital of North America”, the town of Sequim enchants its visitors with lush fields of purple flowers, offering a vacation right out of a storybook. For the best lavender experience, be sure to visit Sequim during its annual Lavender Weekend, perenially the third weekend in July. A street fair featuring local lavender-themed artisan goods paints the town purple, and lavender farms plan special events for the occasion. Other unique activities include hot air balloon flights with Morning Star Balloon Co., catching a concert and playing some pickleball in Sequim’s Carrie Blake Park, or hiking the Dungeness Spit, the longest natural sand spit in all of the United States. After all that activity, eat like a local at the Rainshadow Cafe, with seasonal, from-scratch meals served alongside local craft wine, beer, or coffee.
Home to Central Washington University, founded in 1891, Ellensburg is a lively town, beloved by students, residents, and tourists alike. Popular haunts include the Palace Cafe in the early 20th century Pearson Building, Cornerstone Pie’s pizza place offering hand-pulled dough, and the Iron Horse Brewery, which features unique flavors such as its vanilla milk stout. Over the summer, Iron Horse hosts a summer concert series spotlighting artists like Kyle Bain and David Owens Band. There is no shortage of outdoor activities in Ellensburg; hike through the Umtanum Creek Canyon and observe the local flora and fauna, play a volleyball game at Irene Rinehart Riverfront Park, or stroll through the tranquil CWU Japanese Garden. A can’t-miss in this small town is the Ellensburg Rodeo, drawing in the best riders in the state to participate in the show. The stakes are high, and the crowds go wild, as the prize money can go up to $400,000.
Known for being the town where Twin Peaks, a popular 90s crime series, was set, North Bend is an iconic facet of northwestern Washington. You can even eat at Twede’s Cafe, a classic diner featured in the hit TV series. Other local eats include Georgia’s Bakery, famous for its delicious maple bars, and Chang Thai Cuisine, a family business serving quality, authentic Thai food. During the day, take a walk through one of North Bend’s many picturesque parks to catch views unlike any other; a stroll through the aptly named Si View Park boasts a great view of Mount Si, along with bike trails, a playground, and sports courts. At night, the best place to be in North Bend is at one of their amazing shows. Whether you’re in the mood for relaxing jazz at JazzClubsNW Performance Center or a lively play at Valley Center Stage, you are sure to have a great night out in North Bend.
This quiet town complete with cobblestone sidewalks and rolling green hills has been called the “Birthplace of the Washington Wine Industry”, and it is no wonder why; the town has over 30 different wineries. On your tasting tour, be sure to stop at places like Bunnell Family Cellar, famous for its award-winning wines, or WIT Cellars, where local musicians play alongside you as you sip. For a taste of adventure, check out Red Mountain Trail Rides’ horseback trail riding through the vineyards of Prosser, or Rattlesnake Mountain Skydiving’s expert-guided, you guessed it— skydiving! As a hub for agro-tourism, Prosser’s restaurants reflect the quality farm-to-table vibe that the town is known for. Whistran Steaks and Spirits down on Wine Country Road stands out as a top-notch eatery to enjoy local natural-fed burgers and local seafood.
This magical Bavarian village set against the Cascade mountains will transport you to an authentic German paradise— without the need for a passport! The most popular time to visit is in the winter around Christmas, as the town comes alive complete with twinkling lights, sleigh rides, and gift shopping for nutcrackers and music boxes at local stores like Kris Kringl and The Wood Shop. Other winter activities such as snowmobile tours, downhill skiing at Stevens Pass, or sledding down the Leavenworth Ski Hill offer great fun for the whole family. Do not miss Leavenworth’s own Oktoberfest in the fall; drink unique brews, grab some tasty pretzels, and pull out your best lederhosen for an authentic German experience you will not find anywhere else in Washington state. For amazing German cuisine, the tourist hot spot Gustav’s tavern or the Munchen Haus biergarten are great choices to finish out your night in Leavenworth.
Offering visitors the best of both worlds, the town of Camas is the perfect place to experience Washington’s past while enjoying today’s amenities. Downtown shops filled to the brim with unique antiques, murals featuring the town’s history, and a historic walking tour around Camas will transport you back to the early 20th century. The most iconic site to visit is the 1927 Liberty Theatre, preserved to feel like a vintage theatre, yet updated with a snack shack featuring classic buttered popcorn and local brews. For a more modern experience, visit The Hammond Kitchen & Craft Bar to sip on their inventive cocktails and high-end seafood dishes in a gorgeous patio setting. Outdoor activities such as swimming, fishing, bird-watching, and paddle-boarding are all the rage at Lacamas Park, a lush green park with a big walking bridge perfect for a great photo op.
The town of Friday Harbor, Washington is the one name you will find on everyone’s list of the best places to visit in the state. Nestled on the beautiful coastline of San Juan Island, Friday Harbor boasts the charm of a quaint seaside town with the energy of a bustling city. There are loads of adorable boutiques and shops scattered along Spring Street like Griffin Bay Bookstore, Cin Cin Goods, and King’s Market. For fans of marine life, hop on a whale-watching tour to see the native orcas hunting for their dinner, and on occasion, even a humpback whale. On Saturdays, be sure to sample around the San Juan Island Farmer’s Market, where bakeries and food vendors set up shop to offer a wide array of local flavors. At night, catch the sunset along the waterfront and watch the boats pass by as you snack on a fresh catch from Friday Harbor Seafood.
Home to the annual Washington State Fair, Puyallup is the perfect place to bring the whole family to enjoy days of endless fun. Tons of exciting rides, including a classic wooden roller coaster, a huge food court full of the best carnival eats, and multiple stages featuring live shows can all be found at the fair, along with so much more. Proud of their heritage as a farming town, Puyallup offers tours of their local farms where you can taste fresh fruits and veggies, and sample ciders straight from the orchard. If you are looking for a restaurant to sit down and experience these flavors, Farm 12 is a great choice, as their mission is to support local farms through their business and create tasty dishes in the process. Do not miss out on Puyallup’s Daffodil Festival, a beloved community event that dates all the way back to 1934. There is a big parade that marches through multiple towns, led by an elected “Daffodil Queen” who serves as an ambassador for the town and a role model for Puyallup’s youth.
A remote town only accessible by boat, plane, or foot, Stehekin is the ideal place for a weekend escape. This town offers many beautiful tours of the North Cascades, Stehekin Valley, and local forests full of wildlife. These tours do not even have to be on foot, as you can rent an ATV to explore Rainbow Falls, paddle through Lake Chelan on a guided kayak adventure, or hop on a horse at Stehekin Outfitters for a full-day ride to Bridge Creek— with lunch included! For breakfast, the Stehekin Pastry Company offers tasty pastries, loaded breakfast sandwiches, and salads full of local ingredients. At dinnertime, book a reservation at the North Cascades Lodge and enjoy their unique Beer Cheese Mac and Cheese or their Tuna & Avocado Banh Mi. The best time to visit this lovely town is during the summer months, as the weather is at its warmest and businesses have the best local flavors to offer.
Despite being known as “the rainiest town in the contiguous U.S.”, Forks, Washington is anything but dreary. The natural landscape boasts the Hoh Rainforest, where you can walk through The Hall of Mosses, a lush green wonderland lined by some of the oldest trees in all of Olympic National Park. The beaches around Forks are known far and wide for their majestic cliffs and amazing views; a few of the best ones are Ruby Beach, Third Beach, and Rialto Beach. Famous for being the setting of the popular teen vampire book and movie series, Twilight, the town of Forks is not afraid to lean into the association when it comes to tourist activities. You can view real-life costumes and props worn by the actors at Rainforest Arts Center, or attend the annual Forever Twilight in Forks Festival, complete with themed parties, film viewings, and a discussion panel featuring actors from the films. For food, stop in at one of Forks’ cozy cafes like the Hard Rain Cafe & Mercantile or Bug and Buf’s Espresso.
The riverfront town of La Conner has long been a hub for commerce and culture, as the development of the steamboat skyrocketed this town to stardom. The town does a great job of preserving its history, with over 20 authentically-preserved buildings dating back as early as the 1860s. One of these buildings is the Skagit County Historical Museum, featuring vintage artifacts and exhibits about the first pioneers to settle in the area. La Conner has an amazing arts scene, with many galleries such as the modern Museum of Northwest Art, the ever-changing Forum Arts, and The Courtyard Gallery, which has an outdoor section as well. Head down to the waterfront for a dinner along the river, and grab a meal at La Conner Seafood and Prime Rib, or the Nell Thorn Restaurant, which serves a great Dungeness crab. Hellam’s Vineyard, also set against La Conner’s beautiful waterfront, offers great sips as you gaze out at the sunset over the Swinomish Channel.
Nestled right in the heart of the central Cascades, Cle Elum is a great destination for outdoor exploration. In the winter, there’s no shortage of activities; cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, snow tubing, ice skating, and guided snowmobile tours turn Cle Elum into a winter playground. During the summer months, tee off at the Suncadia Prospector Golf Course, raft through the rapids on the Yakima River, or hop onto an ATV with Motortoy Rentals & Tours. A walk down First Street will transport you back to the old west, with its vintage architecture and signage. Along the street sits Cle Elum Bakery, which has been serving homemade donuts fresh out of the oven for over 100 years! Other good eats include classic southern cuisine at Smokey’s Bar-B-Que, or Orchard Restaurant’s “edible artwork” in an open kitchen environment. Don’t forget souvenirs! Drop by Black Sheep Home Goods, Ireland Jewelers, or Mac-A-Bee Southwestern Gifts to find something to remember your trip by.
The seaside town of Langley, situated on the southwest side of Whidbey Island, is known for its value of the arts. Take a tour of their unique galleries, like Callahan’s Firehouse Studio & Gallery featuring glass sculptures and decorations, or Artworks Gallery, a centre for many local artists to feature their wide array of piecing ranging from paintings to garden art. During your stay, spend some time in Langley’s beautiful outdoors; take a stroll through the enchanting Bayview Garden while sipping on a latte from the on-site Flower House Cafe, or kayak through the beautiful Salish Sea through Whidbey Island Kayaking Company. On select summer nights, bioluminescence can even be seen by the naked eye. The best place in town to grab a bite to eat is the well-hidden Seabiscuit Bakery and Cafe. Hence the name, they feature amazing baked goods and a wide range of soups, salads, and sandwiches. Hurry up and get there early, because there will be a line out the door before you know it!
These 13 small towns in Washington State full of the region’s most beautiful landscapes, wondrous wines, and endless outdoor activities offer more than just a vacation from busy city life; they boast rich histories, uplift local businesses, and create warm, welcoming atmospheres with their communities. Anything but ordinary, they all have something unique to offer, whether you attend Lavender Weekend in Sequim, kayak the bioluminescent waters in Langley, or ride the wooden coaster in Puyallup. The charm and character of these small towns are unmatched; stop by for a visit, or stay and enjoy their wonders for a lifetime!