Encompassing an area of 71,362 sq. mi, in the Western United States’ Pacific Northwest region, the state of Washington is renowned for its natural splendors. Boasting majestic snow-capped mountains, expansive valleys, dense temperate rainforests, rolling plains, numerous crystal-clear water bodies, and wind- and water-battered coastline, Washington is an ideal place to soak in the wonders of Nature. The majority of travelers who plan a trip to this part of the country, usually tour the state’s most popular destinations such as the cities of Seattle, Spokane, Tacoma, Vancouver, etc. However, apart from these bustling metropolises, there are some amazing small towns peppered throughout this scenic state that are waiting to welcome the vacationers. With rich histories, plenty of outdoor recreation, and vibrant festivals, these friendly communities in the Evergreen State are worth visiting.
Leavenworth, a small German-inspired mountain town sits on the southeastern side of the North Cascades mountains in Washington’s Chelan County. Initially a timber community, the town gradually transformed due to a civic initiative from the 1960s onwards into a ‘theme town’ based on an Alpine German theme. Although the town has retained its vast parking lots and wide streets, most downtown structures have been modeled after German Bavarian settlements. During the warmer months, the Wenatchee and Icicle Rivers offer canoeing, tubing, swimming, and rafting activities; while in winter, the surrounding Cascades offer ice climbing, skiing, mountain biking, and hiking opportunities. This well-known four-season tourist destination is also home to the Waterfront Park, Front Street Park, Icicle Creek Center for the Arts, Leavenworth Reindeer Farm, Icicle Ridge Winery, Silvara Cellars, and Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum. Throughout the year, the town hosts multiple events including Art in the Park, Leavenworth Wine Walk, Christmas Lighting Festival, Maifest, Autumn Leaf Festival, Oktoberfest, and Bavarian Icefest.
Gig Harbor, Washington
Dubbed, “the Maritime City,” Gig Harbor is a charming small town on Pierce County’s Kitsap Peninsula along the Gig Harbor Bay of Puget Sound, across the Narrows Bridge from Tacoma. Noted for its maritime heritage, the town’s historic waterfront offers visitors a variety of boutiques, fine lodging, and dining options. The town also provides easy access to several parks including Donkey Creek Park, Sehmel Homestead Park, Crescent Creek Park, and Kopachuck State Park. History buffs can visit the Skansie Brothers House in the Skansie Brothers Park, and the Harbor History Museum close to the Donkey Creek Park. Outdoor enthusiasts must hike the 6.2-mile-long paved Cushman Trail or enjoy a ride on the Gig Harbor Gondola, and get breathtaking panoramic views from the Bogue Viewing Platform and Finholm View.
Placed close to the base of the Olympic Mountains, the coastal town of Sequim is located along the Dungeness River in Washington’s Clallam County. Being the cultural center of the Sequim-Dungeness Valley, the town’s downtown is packed with numerous locally-owned shops selling lavender-themed goods, boutiques, art galleries, and award-winning eateries. Set aside some time to visit the Northwest Native Expressions Art Gallery at the Jamestown S’Klallam Tribal Center, the Sequim Museum & Arts, and the nearby Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. Outdoorsy types can wander through the local berry and lavender farms, hike through the pristine forests, bike along the Olympic Discovery Trail, go kayaking and paddle boarding at the Sequim Bay State Park, head to the New Dungeness Lighthouse on the northern side of the Dungeness Spit Trail, and play a round of golf at the town’s various golf courses. From May to October, shop for locally-grown produce at the Sequim Farmers & Artisans Market, and partake in the various annual festivals like the Sequim Irrigation Festival in May and Sequim Lavender Weekend, held every third weekend in July.
Affectionately called, “Living Norway” in reference to its Viking roots, this cozy waterfront town is situated at the northern end of Liberty Bay in Washington’s Kitsap County. Poulsbo’s Scandinavian heritage is best seen in its modern-day downtown or Front Street which is filled with top-notch retail outlets, antique shops, art galleries, coastal-lifestyle boutiques, and famed coffee shops, cafes, and restaurants like Sluys’ Bakery, Poulsbohemian Coffeehouse, Boehm’s Chocolates, Mora Iced Creamery, Valhöll Brewing, etc. Some of the town’s top attractions include the First Lutheran Church of Poulsbo, Norseman Statue, Central Market, Poulsbo’s Fish Park, Poulsbo Wilderness Trail, Sea Discovery Center & Aquarium, Muriel Iverson Williams Waterfront Park, Poulsbo Historical Society & Museum, Kitsap Memorial State Park, and Maritime Museum & Tourist Visitor Center. Do check out Poulsbo’s annual Viking fest celebrating all things Nordic.
Port Townsend, Washington
Jefferson County’s seat, Port Townsend is located on the Quimper Peninsula on the northern end of the semi-protected Port Townsend Bay adjacent to the Admiralty Inlet. Originally named “Port Townshend,” in 1792 by Captain George Vancouver, this quaint seaside village is steeped in maritime history and boasts spectacular natural scenery. A major portion of the town’s walkable downtown and Uptown area is a part of the Port Townsend Historic District which includes several carefully preserved Victorian-era structures like the Jefferson County Courthouse, City Hall, Capt. Enoch S. Fowler House, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Rothschild House, etc. Besides these 19th-century buildings, the downtown also houses dozens of boutiques, eclectic shops, art galleries, and world-class eateries. Travelers must also survey the abandoned turn-of-the-century bunkers in Fort Worden State Park, enjoy a relaxing picnic at Chetzemoka Park, shop at Port Townsend Farmers Market, go for whale-watching tours from the Port Townsend Marina, and visit the Port Townsend Marine Science Center, Point Wilson Lighthouse, Port Townsend Aero Museum, and Jefferson Museum of Art & History. Every year, the town hosts the Port Townsend Wooden Boat Festival, Port Townsend Film Festival, Rhododendron Festival, and Blues & Jazz Festival.
Ellensburg, the administrative center of Kittitas County, is located immediately east of the Cascade Range along the Yakima River, close to the intersection of Interstate 82 and Interstate 90 highways. Initially called “Ellensburgh” after the wife of the town’s founder John Alden Shoudy, Ellensburg is surrounded by rolling hills and extensive agricultural areas. The downtown of Ellensburg features a plethora of old-school architecture, independent shops, pubs, diners, and many performing and visual art centers. The town also has multiple local art museums and galleries such as the Kittitas County Historical Museum, Clymer Museum & Gallery, 420 Loft Art Gallery, Goodey Gallery, Gallery One Visual Arts Center, and the Central Washington University’s Sarah Spurgeon Gallery and the Museum of Culture & Environment. Ellensburg welcomes merrymakers to participate in the town’s many festivals and community events like the Ellensburg Farmers Market, Buskers in the Burg, Ellensburg Rodeo, Jazz in the Valley, Winterhop Brewfest, and Dachshunds on Parade.
Benton County’s seat of government, Prosser, named after the town’s first surveyor Colonel William Farrand Prosser, is situated along the Yakima River, close to the eastern end of Yakima Valley. Dubbed the “Birthplace of Washington Wine Industry,” the town’s location among lush agricultural landscapes has made it a leading destination for wine aficionados. With almost 300 sunny days yearly, Prosser provides opportunities for a wide variety of outdoor recreations like hiking, golfing, fishing, boating, and camping. Travelers can tour the various wine estates, cellars, wineries, and vineyards located within the Yakima Valley AVA for wine tasting, aside from browsing the outstanding exhibits at the Prosser Historical Museum that tell stories about the town’s past. Do watch the gorgeous hot air balloons up in the skies during the annual Great Prosser Balloon Rally every September.
Friday Harbor, Washington
Named after the native Hawaiian sheepherder Joseph Poalie Friday, this tiny town in Washington’s San Juan County occupies the eastern side of San Juan Island facing the San Juan Channel. In addition to being the seat of the San Juan County government, Friday Harbor is also the San Juan Islands’ principal commercial, social, and cultural center, connected to the mainland via Washington State Ferries. Stroll through the town’s downtown and browse the informative museums, historic storefronts, old wood frame houses, Coast Salish native carvings, and restaurants. The San Juan Historical Museum, Whale Museum, San Juan Islands Museum of Art, Lime Kiln Point State Park, Fairweather Park at the Marina, San Juan Islands Sculpture Park, San Juan Island National Historical Park, Cattle Point Lighthouse, San Juan County Park, and Pelindaba Lavender Farm are some of Friday Harbor’s interesting attractions.
Stehekin, a teeny unincorporated community in Washington’s Chelan County, is situated on Lake Chelan’s northwestern end, just south of the North Cascades National Park. Only accessible by passenger ferries, private boats, seaplanes, or by hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, this remote town has a population of roughly 100 permanent residents, which swells during the warmer months when hordes of vacationers and seasonal workers visit the area. Placed within the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and forming a part of the Wenatchee-East Wenatchee Metropolitan Statistical Area, Stehekin lures photographers, hikers, skiers, snowshoers, and bikers to survey its many points of interest like the 392 ft Rainbow Falls, the Buckner Homestead & Orchard, Historic Stehekin Schoolhouse, the Golden West Visitor Center, the “House that Jack Built,” Harlequin Bridge, the Stehekin Pastry Company, and the National Park Service cabin at High Bridge.
La Conner, Washington
Skagit County’s oldest community, La Conner is situated at the edge of the Skagit Valley, surrounded by farmlands, the Swinomish Channel, and the Swinomish Indian Reservation. First settled by Alonzo Low in May 1867 as “Swinomish,” the town was renamed in 1870 in honor of Louisa Ann Conner, the spouse of John S. Conner. Bounded by the Swinomish Channel as well as the Second, Commercial, and Morris Streets, the town’s center called “The Hill,” is a National Register-listed historic district. Some of La Conner’s prominent landmarks include La Conner Rainbow Bridge, Museum of Northwest Art, Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, Skagit County Historical Museum, La Conner Seaside Gallery, Nasty Jacks Antiques, Conner Waterfront Park, Kukutali Preserve State Park Heritage Site, etc. The town also hosts many events at the tulip farms as a part of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival annually during spring.
A quaint old western town in Washington’s Okanogan County, Winthrop is located within the Methow Valley to the east of Mazama and the north of Twisp. With a population of less than 500 inhabitants, this charming tourist destination gives an authentic American Old West feel with its historic Western-style buildings, antique boardwalks, galleries, fashion boutiques, eateries, bed & breakfasts, and various outdoor pursuits. This year-round retreat is a well-known cross-country skiing site, having more than 120 miles of groomed trails. Every year, Winthrop hosts the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival, Winthrop Rhythm & Blues Festival, Winthrop Balloon Roundup, Wild West Historic Celebration, Christmas Kickoff Festival, and many more.
Westport, a little beach town in Grays Harbor County, sits on the southernmost Point Chehalis peninsula at the mouth of Grays Harbor, just over 2 hours southwest of Seattle. The town boasts 18 miles of spotless sandy beaches that offer beachgoers surfing, swimming, crabbing, sunbathing, kite flying, and sightseeing opportunities. Housing a handful of recreational charter fishing vessels and a large commercial fleet, the Westport Marina is the biggest marina on the outer coast of the Pacific Northwest. Walk down Main Street to window shop from the idyllic boutiques, and taste the fresh seafood served by the local diners. Climb atop the 107-foot-tall Grays Harbor Lighthouse to get a 360° view of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding areas, and visit the town’s stunning state parks: Twin Harbors State Park, Grayland Beach State Park, and Seashore Conservation Area State Park.
This colorful coastal community situated on the beautiful Fidalgo Island in Washington’s Skagit County, serves as a favored departure point for boaters and others who want to visit the Vancouver and San Juan Islands. A variety of marine animals are found in the waters off Anacortes, and the town’s closeness to the Strait of Juan de Fuca provides ample whale-watching opportunities. On the Fidalgo Island’s northwestern end, Anacortes manages the 220-acre Washington Park featuring picnic shelters, campgrounds, boat launches, and a paved 2.2-mile loop road that meanders through the park’s forested hills and meadows. Additionally, Anacortes hosts several festivals including the Waterfront Festival, Bier on the Pier, Anacortes Arts & Crafts Festival, and Spring Wine Festival, all of which attract thousands of merrymakers to the town annually.
From the Bavarian-inspired town of Leavenworth to the mind-boggling lavender fields of Sequim, the adorable small towns in the nation’s 18th-largest and 13th most-populous state have something for everyone. Whether you are a curious traveler, an adventurist, or someone in search of a serene locale away from the noise of big cities, look no further than these small towns of the Evergreen State that will surely provide you with one-of-a-kind experiences.