Washington State sometimes gets a bad rap as being unfriendly. The "Seattle Freeze," as it is often called, is the term for the general aloofness which newcomers to the city can sometimes feel. However, there is no shortage of welcoming Washington towns, and these friendly communities are raring to disprove the misconceptions about Washingtonians. Whether moving to the Pacific Northwest for good or simply visiting, consider the following small towns for a refreshing reality check full of small-town cheer, bustling main streets, and welcoming people.
There is a lot to love about Leavenworth and its residents. Nestled in the Cascade Mountains, this town has a distinctly Central European flavor. Having never lost its Bavarian roots, expect to see lederhosen, smell schnitzel roasting, and hear the raucous excitement of the town coming alive, especially around Oktoberfest. There are nearly 20 wineries and hard cider tasting rooms to experience. Being in the heart of Leavenworth Valley Wine Country, it would be a shame not to. The town is a hotbed for summer activities as well. Biking, camping, climbing, and river tubing are all popular activities in this friendly mountain town. Try and visit in May when the annual Maifest is held. There is traditional Bavarian dancing in full regalia, a wood carvers display, and authentic yodeling.
Named the country’s "Friendliest Small Town," in 2011 by USA Today, Walla Walla meets all the criteria for what a friendly town should be. Walla Walla is in the southeast of Washington state, a place known for agriculture, particularly wineries (there are over 100) and the famous Walla Walla sweet onions. Here, children ride their bicycles to and fro across the small town of under 13 square miles, and it is not uncommon to see an outdoor musical beneath the stars of a jet-black sky. Walla Walla is the type of town where people stop by their neighbors for a cup of sugar and leave with two. Stop by the town’s hot air Balloon Stampede, a festival that takes place at Howard Tietan Park each year, and climb between the clouds. Like the dappling autumn foliage of Washington State, you must see Walla Walla to believe it.
This friendly little town on Orcas Island might arguably be better classified as a village, but its charm is certainly not up for debate. Historic and incredibly pretty, Eastsound is, in short, a dream. The area was formerly a center for commerce of the Coast Salish peoples, the Native Americans whose ancestral territory ranges from Washington to British Columbia in Canada. Today, the town is a hub for artists. Take the Orcas Island Artists’ Studio Tour and see what the island’s painters, sculptors, and weavers have worked on as they invite you into their lives and workspaces. Orcas Island is named due to the pods of orcas that frequent the waters just beyond its shores. Several charters are available to see these magnificent creatures by boat or plane. And, no visit to a seaside town would be complete without seafood. Eastsound’s many locally-owned restaurants have oysters and fish in no short supply, and many even offer outdoor seating right on the water’s edge.
Fantastically preserved, Coupeville is Washington’s second oldest town and benefits from the nearby natural beauty. The town and Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, the nation’s first, go hand in hand. Here, European and Native American history is preserved with the utmost care and easily accessible at the historical society. Coupeville is so much more than its exhibits, though. Many of the historic buildings in the downtown core and along the waterfront are still intact but have been changed from bunkhouses and post offices to galleries and gourmet seafood restaurants. Walk along the visually striking red wharf alongside other friendly locales with its views of nearby Penn Cove. Smell the salty ocean spray in this picturesque seaside town and experience living, breathing Washington history as never before.
While Washington State is known for its precipitation, one of the features making Sequim such a hidden gem is its lack of constant downpours and dreary greys, thanks to the Olympic Mountains nearby. The town gets plenty of sunshine and is an outdoor lover’s paradise. The faint smell of lavender embraces Sequim, and its friendly locals, and for a good reason. The town is the bonafide lavender capital of North America. Trek across the lush fields the town is known for up to the New Dungeness Lighthouse along the Olympic Peninsula. Sequim also boasts delicious Dungeness Crab, so be sure to fill up! In July, the town comes to life with the annual Lavender Festival. Watch live on-farm demonstrations, pick bunches to take home, and even eat lavender-infused goodies.
This seaside town on the stunning waters of Puget Sound is home to many friendly residents. Whale watchers travel worldwide to see the seven types of whales and two types of orca which frequent these waters. In town, there is still more to see. The town’s Victorian architectural heritage is inescapable. Walk through the streets of Port Townsend’s downtown with its steepled roofs and spired houses and feel transported back in time. A Victorian Festival occurs each April, and visitors are highly encouraged to participate. Explore Fort Worden State Park if the corsets and trousers begin to feel stuffy. Fort Worden is 432 acres with over two miles of shoreline to its credit. Bike or walk the park and its beaches and learn about its history as part of the US Army’s Coast Artillery Corps.
Found on Fidalgo Island in Puget Sound, Anacortes is a unique and often overlooked town. For those willing to spend the time, this Washington gem easily holds its own compared to the rest of the towns on the island chain. Delightfully low precipitation levels mean Anacortes can be safely enjoyed without a rain jacket (usually). Take a historic walking tour through this friendly little town. The people of Anacortes are proud of their town’s history and have put tremendous effort into preserving it. For instance, the WT Preston and Maritime Center is set up inside of a dry-berthed paddle-wheeler. Climb Cap Sante next for an amazing view of the town and the Cascade mountains in the distance. Anacortes has over 150 murals painted throughout its downtown area, many paying tribute to its history. Try and see them all!
As one might expect by the name, Friday Harbor is known for its laid-back beachfront atmosphere that is a major hit with tourists and residents alike. Friday Hub is famously walkable, so take advantage of this and pack comfortable shoes. Visit the town’s sizable seaside marina and sit back with a Bloody Mary with some fresh oysters by the seaside. There are art galleries, museums, and plenty of tour guides available. Stroll down Spring Street to find the town’s main shopping district. The town has locally made clothing and jewelry for those looking to pick up a souvenir. The Brickworks Plaza is the heart of Friday Harbor’s cultural events. Check out the website to see what events are being held, such as the San Juan Island Farmers’ Market. Eat baked goods with locally-sourced ingredients to the tune of live music.
Located within the Methow Valley, Winthrop has kept the Old West tradition of the frontier very much alive. Many of the townsfolk have traded in cowboy boots for Blundstones these days, but the sound of clopping hooves and establishments like Three Fingered Jack’s Saloon are full of friendly locals and constant reminders of Winthrop’s heritage. This is no one-horse town, though. There are vintage car shows, three-day hot air balloon festivals, and snowshoe softball matches to entertain tourists and townsfolk year-round. Winthrop has some of the darkest skies in the lower 48 states, perfect for spotting the Milky Way galaxy and the Northern Lights. Day trips to Winthrop are great, but try and spend at least one night below the stars.
These are just a taste of the wonderful, welcoming culture the small towns of Washington State have worked hard to kindle. There is so much to do, see, and experience along the Pacific Ocean and coastal rainforests of the Evergreen State. Paddle beside the majestic orca in Puget Sound, dig into plates of delicious Dungeness Crab, and stare up at the unfolding cosmos from the Methow Valley. Washingtonians have a rich and textured history to share with visitors to their state and have proven their eagerness to do so.