When most people visit Washington, bigger cities like Seattle or Olympia tend to be on their list of places to stop at. While I do love those areas, there are so many small towns in Washington that don’t get enough credit. In fact, I prefer to visit these cities instead of the larger ones.
I’ve lived in Washington for several decades and am always looking for new small Washington towns to visit when I have free time. I put together this list of places I’ve been to to give you a variety of options next time you want to explore a new city and hopefully have you discover your new favorite area.
Here are the 17 best small towns in Washington State that you should know about!
If you’re heading out to the Washington seaside, few towns compete with Anacortes, which is one of my favorite cute towns in Washington. The city is on Fidalgo Island, making it perfect for a whale-watching tour. The excitement starts when you take the ferry from the mainland – it kicks off the holiday in fine style.
There’s also an option to check out the Cap Sante Marina, a beautiful area to walk around at sunset. The port is open to the public daily.
Beyond that, the fine restaurants and bars will occupy most of your evenings. You can attend a concert at the Seafarers Memorial Park on fine days. On other days treat yourself to a relaxing spa treatment at the Majestic Inn & Spa, which is also a handy accommodation option.
2. Bainbridge Island
Another ferry ride – this time from Seattle – takes you to Bainbridge Island. While it’s a rather large island, it’s all considered one city. The forests and natural beauty here are outstanding and make for a superb getaway in the scenery of Northwestern USA.
Previously, the entire island was a state park, and the natural landscape reflects that. The island is on the Puget Sound, but that waterway is characterized by saltwater, so it will feel like an ocean getaway should you choose to spend the day on the sand. Try Lytle Beach or Fay Bainbridge Park for a beach day.
Pritchard Park is another option, offering views of the boats and ferries drifting by. Something to note about beaches on Bainbridge Island is that camping is allowed. So if you’re someone who likes to get out into nature, Bainbridge is top of your list.
Side note: Bainbridge has a connection to the popular TV show Grey’s Anatomy – the ferry ride in particular tugs at fans’ hearts.
The second-oldest town in Washington state sits on Whidbey Island and is named after Thomas Coupe. Coupe was a notable ship‘s captain from Canada, who was also one of the first settlers of Whidbey Island.
The town is known partly for its impressive collection of historical buildings and a row of BnBs hosting visitors to its wharf. Many of the buildings hail from the 19th century and are made from oak, making them incredibly appealing to those who love a rustic feel to their holidays.
There are a variety of shops to visit as well as restaurants that showcase the local seafood. Some of my favorite places to stop are Front Street Grill, Toby’s Tavern, and Penn Cove Brewing Company.
Dayton is notable for its train station, the oldest in Washington state, and the station opened in 1900 and is locally called the Tower Depot. There is also an old courthouse that is worth looking at – it has been operating since 1887.
Donkeys are the local celebrities – so much so that they have their own annual festival called Mule Mania. Beyond that, the town is charmingly old-school, albeit with great options for eating, shopping, and enjoying the gorgeous Washington scenery.
Eastsound sits on Orcas Island – one of the San Juan Islands – and is, in fact, the biggest town on the island. It is well known for its visitor-friendly facilities. There are several hotels and restaurants, gift shops, music venues, and even a small airport.
The village green is a popular social point, with a stage that regularly hosts live music performances. Folks can relax on the green, under trees, or picnic tables. When music isn’t on the go, a popular farmer’s market offers local produce.
Like many of the best small towns in Washington state, Eastsound is entirely walkable. Once you arrive here, you’ll have little reason to use a car unless you’re venturing out of the town limits. Not surprisingly, should you do that, you could opt for some whale-watching or one of the easy Washington hikes in the hills.
Mount Constitution is worth seeing for history buffs, the highest point in the islands. Take a view of the island from the tower – it’s well worth the excursion.
Get away from the islands in northern Washington, and opt for the valley of central Washington instead. There you will find the beautiful town of Ellensburg, nestled in the Kittitas Valley. The Yakima River sits alongside it, and Ellensburg has oddly become a haven for waterski fans.
The weather plays along seasonally, meaning you can also head here for fly fishing, river rafting, and even snowboarding, depending on which time of year you visit.
In terms of other activities, the historical district is always a hotspot. In part, Pubs and restaurants are popular because of the University students from Central Washington University. They also provide a healthy stream of cultural events, making music, theater, fine art, and crafts a significant factor in the town’s attractions.
With lots of art, history, and plenty of historical buildings, Ellensburg is a great place for the entire crew and one of the best towns in Washington state. Head out on a scenic drive for a glimpse of the canyons. Or take the kids on one of the many hiking trails to connect with nature.
7. Friday Harbor
Another favorite in the San Juan Islands, the watersports and rustic feel of the town, makes Friday Harbor popular with visitors to Washington. It’s a seaside town, so expect access to riverside beaches and harbor views.
You could also go hiking, as Mount Young is a beautiful opportunity to get out into the great outdoors. Lime Kiln Point State Park is also a park hikers’ dream and is ideal for a daytime excursion.
Friday Harbor has around 2000 residents, so it’s a small town, not counting its many visitors year-round. The community here is tight-knit. Many of the stores and establishments are family-owned, so if you stay for a while, you’ll get to know the owners.
8. Gig Harbor
The mountains surrounding Gig Harbor are worth the effort of getting there alone, making it one of the best small towns in Washington to live and visit. The town calls itself “the gateway to the Olympic Peninsula,” and it’s regarded as the perfect point from which to explore the region’s many state parks and other natural wonders.
Harbor History Museum, Kimball Coffee House, and Pelican Bay Books are popular visiting points for those new to the town. The boutique stores and the waterfront make it one of the region’s top tourist attractions and one of the best cities to visit in Washington state.
The name has maritime origins, as Captain Charles Wilkes brought a gig (a small boat) into the harbor to shelter from a storm in 1840. He later named the sheltered area Gig Harbor.
9. La Conner
Flower lovers love to visit La Conner at least once a year, as it’s near the site for the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival and all that goes with it. The town also hosts the La Conner Daffodil Festival each year. It’s unclear why this town is so obsessed with these flowers, but it’s a major tourist event every year.
Like most Washington towns, the inns and taverns of the town are charmingly quaint. When not here to see flowers, visitors enjoy the Arts Alive festival every November or the local sites like the Rainbow Bridge.
The town was originally a fishing village but has evolved into an arts haven. It’s a top-rated weekend getaway and great if you’re looking for romantic things to do in Washington state.
La Conner makes no secret of its numerous awards, listing titles like “Best Tiny Town in Washington,” “Best Small Town in Washington,” and “Best Romantic Getaway” by Evening Magazine.
Known as the Village By The Sea, this town is famous for many festivals, historic New England architecture, and art. This city stands out from others in Washington for multiple reasons. For example, whale watching is common around Whidbey Island, but Langley’s Welcome to the Whales Festival sets it apart.
This is Whidbey Island, so once again, a ferry is in your plans and kicks off what should be a wonderful stay on a picturesque island full of activity and scenic thrills. It’s a small town (less than a mile square), but it packs a punch as a weekend getaway destination.
Langley is interesting because it feels a lot like an east coast historical town. Something about the architecture says “Salem” and “Massachusetts” rather than “western frontier.” It nonetheless has a more-than-adequate share of unique coffee shops, restaurants, and local stores to keep your wallet occupied.
Folks interested in whales can also stop in at the Langley Whale Center, which displays a relatively impressive collection of whale bones, skulls, and other artifacts.
Leavenworth is a tourist town by design and one of the best small towns in Washington to visit. The city had its origins as a logging town around the turn of the 20th century but decided to undergo a facelift in the 1960s. The idea was to model itself on a traditional Bavarian village to capitalize on its winter tourism persona.
Earlier, the town had become semi-famous for opening a ski jump. A Bavarian theme adds a unique feel to the city as a holiday destination, and Leavenworth in the winter is a fun time to visit.
The restaurants serve bratwurst and schnitzel and sauerkraut. The beer is divine and free-flowing in the beer halls, and the snow falls over the hills and trees in the winter like in the Alps. It’s romantic, it’s adventurous, and it’s classic!
12. Port Angeles
Olympic National Park is one of many national parks in Washington, and at its edge lies Port Angeles. It was initially named Puerto de Nuestra Señora de Los Ángeles by a Spanish explorer but took its shortened form from the English settlers that eventually settled here.
As a tourist spot, there are plenty of choices for activities here – bike, hike or rent a canoe and drift along the waterways. If you visit around Labor Day, stick around for the hugely popular Salmon Derby – an annual competition pitting the region’s best fishermen in competition.
It’s easy to make a day trip to Lake Crescent from Port Angeles, as the lake is a short 20 miles west of the town. The waters here are particularly blue, and the glacier-formed lake sparkles and inspires in the beautiful sunlight.
Aside from the standard whale watching attractions, Ediz Hook, Madison Creek Falls, and Lake Crescent are among the most popular day trip spots. Those more in touch with nature can experience the rainforest in the state park or enjoy the spectacular view from Hurricane Ridge.
13. Port Townsend
Victorian architecture dominates the eye, but it’s the vintage shops and eateries that will win the heart in Port Townsend, one of the best towns to visit in Washington state.
The iconic Point Wilson Lighthouse is as romantic a destination as one gets. It was built in 1879, looking out over the similarly famous Puget Sound. It’s not inconceivable that many proposals have been made here. If you’re really into the mood, the house attached to the lighthouse is available for rent.
Port Townsend also makes a point of selling its miles and miles of beach coastline. It’s a major draw, especially if you enjoy walking along sandy shores along the water.
If you have an evening to spare, support the local production at the Rose Theater on Taylor Street. In the daytime, you can walk uptown to visit the farmer’s market for a taste of some local wares.
Vikings are the theme in Poulsbo, which makes it one of the coolest and best small towns to live in Washington state. This town has a particular claim to fame for visitors – its bread is the stuff of legend and why many choose to travel here. The bread used to be sold internationally but is now only available in the town.
Previously, the region was inhabited by the Suquamish people. The Norwegian aesthetic of the town is attributed to its founder Jørgen Eliason, and other Norwegian and Scandinavian immigrants who settled here in the 1880s.
The most popular attraction in the town may be Liberty Bay Waterfront Park. Several boardwalks let visitors enjoy the waterside scenery in this area.
Historic buildings are fascinating to explore in the town itself, while lots of parks and friendly shops and locals add a calm atmosphere. Try the locally brewed beer, and enjoy the sight of the 12-foot Norseman statue, and hike the many trails from within the town itself.
One word defines Sequim, Washington: lavender. Sequim is known as the “Lavender Capital of North America,” and you can find the sweet aroma of the iconic plant in every corner of one of the prettiest towns in Washington.
Lavender fields surround the town adding distinctive color and aroma to the air. Naturally, there’s an annual lavender festival to plan your visit around. If this were the only attractive aspect of Sequim, it might be enough, but there’s more.
Sequim sits within range of one of the most ancient landscapes in the country. You’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stepped back in time to before industrial times in some places.
When you want to feel like you’re in the country, head out to Snohomish. There are dozens of different farms here, and depending on the time of the year, you can pick apples or pumpkins, visit a corn maze, or cut down a Christmas tree.
Snohomish also loves history and culture, with museums and antique shops prominent in its central town region. Each year, a historic festival takes place: Kla Ha Ya Day, and it forms a part of Seafair, a Seattle-based event in July.
The Lord Hill Regional Park and the Snohomish Aquatic Center are among the landmarks and attractions. Topping the fun-lover’s list, though, is Bob’s Corn and Pumpkin Farm, where there are lots of ideas around what to do with pumpkins (no doubt).
Something a little gentler is the Mountainview Blueberry farm, where you might be able to pick a few for your own enjoyment. If you’ve brought kids, take them out to the town’s permanent circus.
Winthrop’s appeal is that it’s distinctively Western-themed. This is easily one of the smallest villages in Washington. It’s also quite snowy in the winter, making it ideal for a ski getaway or a winter hike destination. The Methow Trails boast 120 miles of ski trails that go cross-country.
The Shafer Museum looks at cultural and historical artifacts related to the community’s past. You can also try the wine and beer at the local Lost River Winery and Old Schoolhouse Brewery, respectively.
Before skiing, there are many great old-style restaurants and shops to stop by. This is interesting, as Winthrop’s official population is less than 500. Still, if you’re looking for a bit of peace and isolation, this is one of Washington State’s hidden gems.
If you want to look at the local nature, you can’t beat the Staeekhwa Bridge and Trail hike. There’s a lot to do in this small Washington town so that you won’t get bored.
How many of these small towns in Washington have you been to before? Let me know in the comments!