Washington's Best Small Towns, From Mountain Towns To Coastal Towns

Washington's Best Small Towns, From Mountain Towns To Coastal Towns
Mount Rainier National Park. Courtesy of National Park Foundation 

You can find charming coastal towns as well as Bavarian-inspired mountain towns in Washington.

The coffee-loving city of Seattle and the dramatic peaks of Mount Rainier are among the most popular destinations in the Pacific Northwest state of Washington. It's well worth exploring the rest of the destination as well.

Washington boasts more than 71,000 square miles of wind- and water-battered coastline, snowcapped mountains, rolling plains, and misty forests. Many of these cute small towns offer everything from beautiful architecture to world-class wine. Discover the small towns in Washington - all with a population of less than 15,000 - that are bursting with history, culture, art, tasty food and drink, and scenic landscapes.


Courtesy of Town of Coupeville 

Coupeville is Washington's second-oldest town, protected as part of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve. Many of the buildings downtown and along the historic waterfront date back to the 19th century, and they now house art galleries, wine tasting rooms, stores, and seafood restaurants. Historic red wharfs and Penn Cove's peaceful views make the waterfront particularly striking. The Admiralty Head Lighthouse, Fort Ebey, and Fort Casey are among the historic landmarks near Coupeville, which also serves as an excellent base for exploring Whidbey Island.


Courtesy of Destination Leavenworth 

Do you live in Europe or the United States? Could those be the Cascades or the Alps? It would be easy to mistake this small town in central Washington for an alpine village with its Bavarian-style architecture, mountain views, and taverns serving German beer and käsespätzle. During one of its festive cultural events, this year-round destination is inspired by California's Danish-themed Solvang. In addition to Oktoberfest, the town hosts a seasonal carnival and holiday market during the winter months. In addition to skiing and whitewater rafting, each season in the Cascades offers its own set of sports.


Courtesy of City of Sequim

In contrast to much of the Olympic Peninsula, Sequim is relatively dry and sunny owing to its protection from the perpetual rains of western Washington. It's possible to take advantage of the good weather by wandering through lavender fields, hiking to historic lighthouses, spotting protected wildlife in Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, and cycling along the Olympic Discovery Trail, which stretches from Port Townsend to La Push. Local art galleries, lavender-themed goods, and Dungeness crab are all available in town.

Port Townsend

Courtesy of Olympic Peninsula 

Visit Port Townsend, which sits on the edge of Puget Sound's whale-rich waters and has jagged mountains encircling the horizon, for its breathtaking views and opportunities to see local wildlife like orcas. The scenic backdrop is embellished by the ornate, Victorian-style buildings of the destination. Walkable downtown and Uptown areas allow visitors to see many of these exquisitely crafted gems from the 19th century. At Fort Worden State Park, outdoor activities such as boating, fishing, hiking, and cycling abound in addition to friendly locals and fun events throughout the year.


Courtesy of Pinterest

Poulsbo is like a miniature Norway, just as Leavenworth is a miniature Bavaria. Its nickname, Little Norway, reflects its colorful houses, Norwegian architecture, and coastal landscape. Poulsbo, however, boasts actual Scandinavian roots, having been settled by Norwegian immigrants. The Poulsbo Sons of Norway serve open-faced sandwiches, lefse, and other traditional Norwegian foods; Nordiska sells Scandinavian wares; and Sluys' Poulsbo Bakery offers fresh bread and baked goods. A stroll along the waterfront and the up-and-coming Arts District makes for a great day out.

Gig Harbor

Courtesy of Pegasus Senior Living 

Gig Harbor's waterfront is one of the most picturesque in the world. Snow-capped Mount Rainier provides the backdrop, while evergreen forests, white boats, and cobalt waters of Puget Sound provide the foreground. While strolling along the historic waterfront or visiting the Harbor History Museum, you can enjoy these beautiful views. Kopachuck State Park, which features hiking trails and lovely views, is a nearby state park. Tacoma is just a short drive from Gig Harbor, making it easy to enjoy a leisurely day trip or afternoon there.


Courtesy of National Park Service 

Stehekin offers a get-away-from-it-all atmosphere. Stehekin Valley in the North Cascades is only accessible by plane, boat, or foot. Lake Chelan is the headwaters of the North Cascades, making the town a popular hiking, camping, and backpacking destination. You can easily take advantage of the laid-back, leisurely lifestyle here by relaxing by the water or participating in activities like kayaking. Visit the Buckner Homestead outside of town to learn how the valley was settled and enjoy its large orchard of delicious apples while you're there.

Friday Harbor

Courtesy of Pinterest

A small town with breathtaking scenery, amazing wildlife, and a peaceful quality of life, Friday Harbor is a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. With its charming downtown area full of art galleries, museums, restaurants, and tourism operators offering activities like whale watching and sea kayaking, Friday Harbor serves as the commercial and cultural hub for San Juan Island. It takes only 15 to 20 minutes to get anywhere else on the island, including Lime Kiln Point State Park, the British and American army camps left over from the Pig War, and San Juan Vineyard.


Courtesy of Travel Lens 

Chelan can easily become the apple of any visitor's eye due to its scenic setting on the rolling shores of Lake Chelan and its epic water sports and wineries. There is no doubt that this region is known for its delicious and vividly colored apples, which are abundant in this agriculturally abundant region. In between savoring the local bounty at restaurants and wine or cider tasting rooms, take advantage of the many outdoor activities available. You can boat, swim, kayak, or even scuba dive in Lake Chelan's waters. Several hiking and cycling trails are available in the surrounding landscapes for those who love the outdoors. Lake Chelan's far end offers a true taste of adventure in the North Cascades' backcountry.


Courtesy of Winthrop Washington

There is a Wild West feel in the town of Winthrop, Washington. The storefronts along the main drag of this old western town are designed exactly like those along the North Cascades Scenic Byway. Visit Three Fingered Jack's Saloon for a drink and find locally produced artisan goods at shops around town if you're just passing through. Winthrop is a bonafide year-round destination with outdoor recreation if you do decide to stay for the night or weekend. You can hike, bike, camp, and cross-country ski on the famous Methow Trails in the summer and in the winter at North Cascades National Park and Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest.

North Bend

Courtesy of City of North Bend 

David Lynch's cult-favorite crime series, Twin Peaks, was filmed in North Bend, which sits on the doorstep of the Cascades. Twede's Cafe offers famous pies, and Snoqualmie Falls, which is featured in the show's opening credits, is a must-see for fans. In addition to its filming locations, North Bend has much more to offer than just a movie set. Mountain Si offers ample opportunities for outdoor adventure, as is typical of most small Washington towns. There are also many pre-World War II buildings in North Bend that lend the city a frozen-in-time quality. A number of wineries and breweries are also located in the area.

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