Everyone always imagines Seattle when they think of Washington, but it’s the smaller towns that really make up the heart of this Pacific Northwest state. The quiet coastal cities, cozy mountain towns and charming communities on our islands all have a lot to offer as well but somehow they just don’t get as much recognition. These are just ten of our many small unique towns that are vastly underrated.
Winthrop was restored back in the ’70s as a Wild West town along the North Cascades Highway. You can stroll along old-timey storefronts here and grab a drink from the oldest operating saloon in the state (which still has swinging doors). With its prime spot up in the mountains, the town’s also just a short drive from a range of outdoor opportunities like hiking and biking in the summer and skiing/snowboarding by winter.
2. Port Gamble
On the Kitsap Peninsula, Port Gamble is a quaint New England-style village with beautiful tree-lined streets and small shops to explore. They also have a charming old-fashioned general store and cafe where you can enjoy a warm, fantastic breakfast with relaxing waterfront views.
In the foothills of the Cascades, Elbe is a tiny town with a ton of character. It’s home to the depot for the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad, and lots of attractions for train lovers, including the Mt. Rainier Railroad Dining Co. (where you can dine inside of an old train car), The Hobo Inn (with rooms in refurbished cabooses), and the Mount Rainier Railroad & Logging Museum.
In the northwestern corner of Washington, Lynden is a quiet small town with lovely Dutch-style architecture. Most notably – this huge windmill that has a nice bistro & bar downstairs and rooms available upstairs where you can actually stay the night. While you’re in town swing by the Lynden Dutch Bakery for melt-in-your-mouth pastries like maple bars, scones, muffins, cookies and other homemade goods.
Dreaming of going to Norway, but don’t want to pay for a flight and hotel? Drive up to Poulsbo on the Kitsap Peninsula and stroll through their historic downtown. You’ll find several old buildings that show off the town’s Scandinavian roots, plus bright blue benches and a beautiful waterfront on Liberty Bay, dotted with local sailboats. Our favorite stop in town? Sluy’s Bakery, of course – but while you’re here, don’t miss a warm cup of coffee from Poulsbohemian Coffeehouse, and wandering through the many local specialty shops for items like books, clothes and antiques.
Things move at a slower, more peaceful pace when you’re not on Washington’s mainland, and Langley is a perfect example. The community maintains small town charm on the south end of Whidbey Island, with serene views overlooking Saratoga Passage and local restaurants for every kind of taste. Try the locally-sourced fare from Prima Bistro before grabbing a glass of wine from one of the area’s many excellent wineries.
Ask someone out of state about Roslyn and they’ll probably say they’ve never heard of it. But show them a photo of the famous Roslyn Cafe mural (seen in the ’90s show Northern Exposure) and this quaint town in the Cascades might sound more familiar. Aside from the iconic cafe, where you can get amazing burgers & sandwiches, small-town Roslyn has a lot more to offer. Catch a movie over at the Roslyn Theater and learn more about local railroad history at the Roslyn Historical Museum.
9. Port Townsend
The lovely Port Townsend, on the northeast tip of the Olympic Peninsula, is best known for its Victorian-style buildings and world-class restaurants. There’s a little something for everyone here – museums, art galleries, a historic theater, and a fun variety of small retail shops and local businesses. Big history buff? Check out the old structures and pre-World War I-era bunkers at Fort Worden.