11 Best Small Towns in Washington — From the Mountains to the Coast

·7 min read

Most travelers planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest state of Washington make a beeline for its most popular destinations, like the coffee-loving city of Seattle or dramatic peaks of Mount Rainier. But it's well worth branching out to explore the rest of the destination, too.

Mount Rainier in the background at Gig Harbor, Washington
Mount Rainier in the background at Gig Harbor, Washington

Marshall Pittman/Getty Images

Encompassing more than 71,000 square miles of wind- and water-battered coastline, snowcapped mountains, rolling plains, and misty forests, Washington is famous for its natural scenery. And dotted throughout are plenty of cute small towns offering everything from beautiful architecture to world-class wine. Full of history, culture, art, tasty food and drink, and access to some of the region's most scenic landscapes, these 11 small towns in Washington — all with a population of less than 15,000 — are waiting to be discovered.

Coupeville

Waterfront at Coupeville, Washington
Waterfront at Coupeville, Washington

Courtesy of State of Washington Tourism

Preserved as part of Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve, Coupeville holds the distinction of being Washington's second-oldest town. First settled in the 1850s, many of the buildings downtown and along the historic waterfront still date to the 19th century, now housing art galleries, wine tasting rooms, stores, and seafood restaurants serving locally grown Penn Cove mussels. The waterfront is especially striking, with its historic red wharf and peaceful view of Penn Cove. Coupeville also serves as a great home base for exploring Whidbey Island, and other nearby attractions include hiking trails with ocean vistas, state parks like Fort Ebey and Fort Casey, and historic landmarks like the Admiralty Head Lighthouse.

Leavenworth

Street scene in Leavenworth, Washington
Street scene in Leavenworth, Washington

Connie Coleman/Getty Images

Are you in Europe or the U.S.? Are those the Alps or the Cascades? With its Bavarian-style architecture, mountain views, and taverns doling out steins of German beer and traditional dishes like käsespätzle, you'd be forgiven for mistaking this small town in central Washington for the type of alpine village it's modeled after. Inspired by California's Danish-themed Solvang, this year-round destination is best visited during one of its festive cultural events. That includes Oktoberfest and the winter months, when the town is decked out in Christmas lights and hosts a holiday market and seasonal carnival. Each season also brings its own set of sports to the Cascades, from skiing to whitewater rafting.

Sequim

Lavender fields in Sequim, Washington
Lavender fields in Sequim, Washington

Courtesy of State of Washington Tourism

Protected from western Washington's perpetual rainfall by the towering Olympic Mountains, Sequim enjoys more sunny days and warm, dry weather than most of the Olympic Peninsula. Visitors can maximize that good weather by wandering through fragrant lavender fields, hiking to historic lighthouses, trying to spot protected wildlife in Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, and biking along the 120-mile Olympic Discovery Trail, which runs from Port Townsend to La Push on the Pacific Coast. In town, you can shop for lavender-themed goods, peruse local art galleries, and eat all the Dungeness crab you can manage.

Port Townsend

Aerial view of Port Townsend, Washington
Aerial view of Port Townsend, Washington

halbergman/Getty Images

The breathtaking views and opportunities to see local wildlife like orcas are reason enough to visit Port Townsend, which juts out into the whale-rich waters of the Puget Sound, with jagged mountains fringing the horizon. But the destination's historic collection of ornate, Victorian-style buildings adds an element of enchantment and grandeur to the scenic backdrop. Many of these exquisitely crafted gems date back to the 19th century, and the walkable downtown and Uptown areas get visitors close to them. Along with friendly locals and fun, year-round events like farmers markets and film festivals, outdoor fun abounds in the form of boating, fishing, hiking, and cycling in Fort Worden State Park.

Poulsbo

Waterfront of Poulsbo, Washington
Waterfront of Poulsbo, Washington

Courtesy of State of Washington Tourism

If Leavenworth is like a mini Bavaria, then Poulsbo is a mini Norway. With colorful houses, Norwegian architecture, and coastal landscapes, this spot on the Puget Sound lives up to its nickname of Little Norway. Unlike Leavenworth, though, Poulsbo boasts actual Scandinavian roots, having been settled by Norwegian immigrants. Try a smorgasbord of open-faced sandwiches, lefse, and other traditional Norwegian foods put on by the Poulsbo Sons of Norway; shop for Nordic wares at Nordiska; and try the famous bread and baked goods from the family-owned Sluys' Poulsbo Bakery. The walkable waterfront and up-and-coming Arts District make for great strolling.

Gig Harbor

Boats at Gig Harbor, Washington
Boats at Gig Harbor, Washington

4nadia/Getty Images

It's hard to find a waterfront more picturesque than the one at Gig Harbor. With snowy Mount Rainier as the backdrop and evergreen forests, white boats, and the cobalt waters of the Puget Sound in the foreground, it's the quintessential Washington postcard. These beautiful views can be enjoyed throughout, from strolling along the historic waterfront or visiting the Harbor History Museum. Nearby, you'll find state parks and nature areas like Kopachuck State Park with lovely views and hiking trails. Located a short drive from Tacoma, it's easy to pop over to Gig Harbor for a leisurely afternoon or day trip.

Stehekin

Stehekin Valley in Washington
Stehekin Valley in Washington

Courtesy of State of Washington Tourism

For a get-away-from-it-all vibe, head to Stehekin. This remote community in the North Cascade's Stehekin Valley is only accessible by plane, boat, or foot. Situated at the headwaters of the 55-mile Lake Chelan, the town serves as a gateway to the North Cascades, making it a paradise for hikers, campers, and backpackers. From lounging by the water to activities like kayaking, you can easily tap into the laid-back, leisurely way of life here. While visiting, be sure to check out the historic Buckner Homestead outside of town to learn about how the valley was settled and enjoy delicious apples from its large orchard.

Friday Harbor

Boats at Friday Harbor, Washington
Boats at Friday Harbor, Washington

Courtesy of State of Washington Tourism

From watching bald eagles fly overhead while drinking a beer at the San Juan Island Brewing Co. to admiring its idyllic waterfront, locals and visitors alike fall in love with Friday Harbor, a small town with gorgeous scenery, amazing wildlife, and a peaceful quality of life. Located on San Juan Island's eastern shore, Friday Harbor serves as the commercial and cultural hub for the islands, with a charming downtown area full of art galleries, museums, restaurants, and tourism operators offering activities like whale watching and sea kayaking. A 15- to 20-minute drive is all it takes to get anywhere else on the island, including the popular whale-watching spot of Lime Kiln Point State Park, the British and American army camps left from the Pig War, and San Juan Vineyard for island-made wines.

Chelan

Main Street in Chelan, Washington
Main Street in Chelan, Washington

Wolfgang Kaehler/Getty Images

From its scenic location on the rolling shores of Lake Chelan to its epic water sports and wineries, Chelan can easily become the apple of any visitor's eye. That can be taken quite literally because this agriculturally abundant region is famous for its delicious and beautifully colored apples. When you're not savoring this local bounty at restaurants and wine or cider tasting rooms, dive into the many outdoor sports on offer. The waters of Lake Chelan are made for boating, swimming, kayaking, and even scuba diving. For land lovers, the surrounding landscapes are riddled with hiking and cycling trails. For a true taste of adventure, the North Cascades' backcountry is just a boat ride away at the far end of Lake Chelan.

Winthrop

Group walking in Winthrop, Washington
Group walking in Winthrop, Washington

Courtesy of State of Washington Tourism

The Wild West comes to Washington in the town of Winthrop. Situated along the North Cascades Scenic Byway, the storefronts along the main drag are designed exactly like those of an old western town. If you're just passing through, pause for a drink at Three Fingered Jack's Saloon and find locally produced artisan goods at stores around town. But if you do want to stay for the night or weekend, Winthrop is a bonafide year-round destination with outdoor recreation. North Cascades National Park and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest are within spitting distance, offering hiking, mountain biking, and camping in the summer and cross-country skiing on the famous Methow Trails come winter.

North Bend

Cafe in North Bend, Washington
Cafe in North Bend, Washington

Courtesy of State of Washington Tourism

Sitting on the doorstep of the Cascades, North Bend is best known for being the setting of David Lynch's cult-favorite crime series, Twin Peaks. Devoted fans can eat the famous pies at the retro Twede's Cafe or watch the crashing water of the 268-foot Snoqualmie Falls, featured in the show's opening credits. But there's far more to North Bend than its filming locations. As is typical of most small Washington towns, there's ample opportunity for outdoor adventure, including hiking around Mount Si. The presence of many pre-World War II buildings also gives North Bend a frozen-in-time feel. And the area is even home to several wineries and breweries.