The charming town of Leavenworth, Washington. Editorial credit: Kirk Fisher /

Washington's 7 Most Underrated Towns To Visit In 2024

Washington is a state of great contrasts. It has some of the biggest and well-known cities in the Pacific Northwest, but it also has a slew of tiny, remote, and nature-soaked villages. The Evergreen State, as one might expect, also has exemplary parks, but what's interesting is that it lays claim to one of the most-visited national parks in the United States and one of the least-visited. At its geographical extremes, this northwesternmost state goes from snow-capped peaks that punch into rarified air all the way down to coastal rainforests and sandy beaches. For the sake of this article, let's hone in on the first category of contrasts and further unpack some of the most overlooked and underrated small towns that Washington has to offer outdoorsy folks this year. 

La Push

A serene beach scene near La Push, Washington.
A serene beach scene near La Push, Washington.

La Push is a tiny community in the Northwest corner of the Olympic Peninsula, within the Quileute Indian Reservation. Though owned by the sovereign Quileute Tribe, this oceanfront gem welcomes anyone in search of a tranquil and rustic getaway. Unspoiled beaches line either side of the mouth of the Quillayute River. On the north side, Rialto Beach looks out to Little James Island and several shoreline sea stacks. To the south, paralleling Front Street and the cabins of Quileute Oceanside Resort is the pebble-and-driftwood-strewn Quileute/First Beach. After a listless and introspective beach stroll, consider hopping on the tail end of the 1,200-mile Pacific Northwest Trail – one of the best hikes in the Pacific Northwest. Its final section heads north to Ozette, or the wooded coastal path can also be backtracked south to Oil City. Cap the day off with a plate of satiating seafood at River's Edge Restaurant. March, April, and October are the prime whale-watching seasons, and the annual Quileute Days cultural festival kicks off in mid-July. 


Hot air balloons over snow covered village in Winthrop, Washington
Hot air balloons over snow covered village in Winthrop, Washington.

Small-town Washington possesses many personalities, including, in the case of Winthrop, a Wild West flair. This Okanogan County community is lined with an antique boardwalk, 1850s-style saloons/restaurants, general stores, and boutique shops. It is also wonderfully situated within the 60-mile-long, glacially-carved Methow Valley, the 3.8-million-acre Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest, and is just a short drive from Pearrygin Lake State Park, and North Cascades National Park – one of the least-visited US national parks. Outdoor recreation is therefore abundant in the summer, but come wintertime, Winthrop also sports the largest network of groomed cross-country ski trails on the continent. Spring is the peak festival season in these parts, starting with the Winthrop Balloon Roundup (March 1–3, 2024), when colorful hot air balloons fill the sky, followed by the Wild West Historic Celebration from May 10–12. 


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

Jumping back over to the Olympic Peninsula, this time on the Northeast coast, sunny, scented Sequim is another underrated town (actually, it's a small city). This Clallam County beauty sits beside Sequim Bay and the Salish Sea, and thanks to its proximity to the Olympic Mountains of Olympic National Park, it occupies a unique climate bubble that delivers many more warm, cloud/rain-free days than the rest of western Washington. Not only does this make waterfront getaways more pleasant for summer tourists, but it also allows for picturesque and aromatic fields of lavender (and berries) to bloom – earning Sequim the registered trademark: Lavender Capital of North America. Try to time your 2024 visit for the Sequim Lavender Weekend (July 19–21), but several U-Pick farms run all summer, and a few keep going year-round. 


Mt. Rainier overlooking the marina in Poulsbo, Washington.
Mt. Rainier overlooking the marina in Poulsbo, Washington.

Only about half of Americans possess a valid passport. Thankfully, there are tons of stateside communities that exude an enthralling international feel. Poulsbo, aka "Little Norway," is one such place that serves to transport visitors across the pond (so to speak), but in actuality, it only requires a short and scenic ferry from Seattle. This spirited, Scandinavian-themed city is based around the tip of Liberty Bay on the Kitsap Peninsula, which, with the help of the background peaks, mimics the dramatic fjords of the founders' homeland. Here, the red, white, and blue flags of both Norway and the United States complement each other nicely, while the traditional Scandinavian restaurants and sweet shops along the pedestrian-friendly Front Street appeal to all persuasions. Velkommen til Poulsbo!


The charming town of Leavenworth, Washington.
The charming town of Leavenworth, Washington. Editorial credit: Kirk Fisher / 

Another of Washington's European-themed towns that deserves more love is Leavenworth. This Bavarian-style settlement swaps the steep Alps for the lumbering Cascade Mountains but resembles a traditional German alpine town in every other way. Visitors can choose from a wealth of B&Bs, cabins, chalet lodges, and campgrounds and then cruise the Bavarian Village for their fill of steins, schnitzel, and bratwurst, but also a surprising selection of South American and Italian restaurants, American pub-grub, and fine-dining establishments. In terms of recreation, the Leavenworth Ski Hill is great for both downhill and Nordic skiing, tubing, snowshoeing, and fat biking, and the fair-weather season boasts an even wider range of activities (from bird watching to paddleboarding on the Wenatchee River). Finally, Leavenworth loves its festivals. Oktoberfest is a must, but Winter Karneval, Maifest, and the International Accordion Celebration are other fun options that boost the Bavarian theme. Willkommen!


Lynden, Washington
Mill Inn, on the southeast corner of Front and 9th Streets, Lynden, Washington. Image credit: Joe Mabel via Wikimedia Commons.

We've covered Norwegian and German heritage; now it's time to get in touch with Washington's Dutch roots. Lynden is a small city in Whatcom County, just south of the border with British Columbia, Canada, and home to one of the largest Dutch-American populations in the county. The focal point of its historic downtown is the large authentic windmill that is a common sight in the Netherlands. Lynden's installment is actually a quaint seven-room hotel with a small restaurant at its base. Keep the Dutch vibes going by indulging your palate next door at the Lynden Dutch Bakery before walking another couple of blocks down Front Street to the Lynden Heritage Museum – home to the largest horse and buggy collection in the state. For a bit more excitement, swing by in August (from the 8th to the 17th in 2024) for the Northwest Washington Fair – a ten-day bash filled with concerts, carnivals, food vendors, rodeos, and even a demolition derby. Get your tickets early, as the fair attracts over 200,000 people each year. 


Boat landing at Stehekin, Washington.
Boat landing at Stehekin, Washington.

A place as breathtaking as Stehekin is only underrated because of its remote, somewhat inaccessible position at the northern tip of Lake Chelan, in the heart of the North Cascade Mountains. The 100 or so permanent residents and any outside adventurers must make their way to and fro by foot, boat, or plane. But even though there is no road to this Chelan County paradise, visitors are well looked after once they arrive, thanks to an array of log cabins, lodges, and ranches, plus multiple lakeside campgrounds. Once settled, explore the trails of Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, or get to know the long and slender lake with a paddle or power boat or by simply casting a line anywhere along the idyllic shore. 

If you're on the hunt for an off-the-beaten-path trip in 2024, then look no further than these seven underrated Washington towns. The Pacific Northwest is always ripe with adventure, but the Evergreen State's small-town blend of exotic culture, cozy accommodations, unique festivals, and delectable, non-chain restaurants further enhance its rugged beaches, boundless forests, and stunning peaks that surround them. These beautiful contrasts create balance and make Washington well worth a gander this year. 

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