The natural charm of Western Washington stretches from the state’s rugged coastal borders to the edge of the impressive Cascade mountain range. Yet, despite being home to bustling Seattle, the rest of the region remains vastly undiscovered. From lavender farms to quaint island escapes, Western Washington’s charming towns and villages are just waiting to be explored.
Comprising the best of both worlds, Western Washington boasts an extremely diverse landscape – lush evergreen forests, stunning seascapes, and snow-capped mountains can all be found in this picturesque portion of the country. Postcard-worthy views can be found throughout the Western half of the state, which is dotted with quintessentially Pacific Northwest towns and villages, some of which were established centuries ago. These small towns showcase the regions’ varied natural wonders and rich history.
From the rural Pacific coast to the snowy Cascade Mountains, and passing through verdant Evergreen woodlands, Western Washington’s heart and soul lie in its immense natural surroundings highlighted in the local communities. The area’s small towns and villages hold limitless opportunities for both the casual and adventurous traveler. In just a couple of hours, you can go from deep-sea fishing on the coast to an afternoon of skiing in the nearby mountain ranges, or spend the day antique shopping and head out to a craft brewery (or authentic German Biergarten) to brush elbows with chatty locals after dark.
Here are ten of the most charming small towns and villages in Western Washington that will have you planning a trip back in no time.
Port Townsend is located on the Quimper Peninsula, named for the rugged Brittany region of France which it’s said to resemble. Once expected to be the largest harbor on the West Coast, Port Townsend is also known as the city of dreams. But the port city’s limited accessibility has helped it hang onto its original small-town charm and laidback way of life. Reachable via a scenic ferry ride or a lengthy drive along highway 20, the journey to Port Townsend is almost as picturesque as the town itself. Numerous parks and museums surround, which are frequented by curious visitors and locals alike. The city center doles out exceptional views of the Cascades and Olympic mountains, and classic Victorian architecture is interspersed with modern brick homes; creating a fascinating juxtaposition for photographers or casual passerby.
Known by locals as the jumping-off point to explore the neighboring San Juan island archipelago, the seaside village of La Conner is filled with nature and wildlife at every turn. Every Spring, the fields in the surrounding Skagit Valley come alive with a rainbow crop of tulips framed by the snow-dusted Cascades – the town proudly hosts an impressive annual tulip festival that draws visitors from all over the world. During colder months, visitors can take a leisurely walk through the couple-block town, lined with all kinds of antique shops and boutiques. And it’s hard to beat meandering along the waterfront park, offering sweeping seascape vistas and a chance to spot local birds such as Trumpeter Swans and Snow Geese in their natural habitat.
Situated on picturesque Sequim Bay on the Olympic Peninsula, the small town of Sequim is a seafood-lovers delight. The neighboring coastal area is rife with Pacific oysters and clams though it’s also worth mentioning that Dungeness crab hails from this region. A calming walk along the water’s edge showcases beautiful Northwest vistas, and there are plenty of establishments hawking local seafood. Besides being a foodie haven and famously hard to pronounce, Sequim is known for being the lavender capital of North America. Despite being partially on the coast, the inland areas are arid and hilly; the perfect climate for lavender. During July, the town lights up in various hues of blue and purple as the annual Sequim Lavender Festival starts drawing crowds.
The picture-perfect Bavarian village of Leavenworth is nestled high in the Cascades and will make you feel as if you’ve set foot in small-town Germany. Leavenworth is best known for its authentic and extravagant annual Oktoberfest, which has been consistently voted one of the best in the country. Classic timbered houses and typical Biergarten line the main thoroughfare, where German specialties like bretzels, kebabs and of course, steins of beer are enjoyed year-round. Curious souls will appreciate the town’s Nutcracker museum, which houses the world’s largest collection of vintage Nutcrackers. And for outdoorsy folks, Leavenworth boasts a waterfront recreation area along the Wenatchee river; where rafting and boating are the favorite summer pastimes.
Known locally as the ‘Gateway to the Olympic Peninsula’, Gig Harbor is a bayside town situated on Puget Sound between the bustling city of Seattle and the quieter, westernmost portion of the state. A former fishing village and industrial logging town, Gig Harbor is now a popular yet calm getaway from life in the city. A haven for boaters, cyclists and day-trippers, Gig Harbor is reachable by car or by boat: featuring a large marina showcasing breathtaking views of snow-capped Mount Rainier in the distance. Gig Harbor’s waterfront is lined with multicolored fishing cabins interspersed with enviable modern-day mansions which open up to a charming town center loaded with a variety of farm-to-table restaurants, cool bars, quaint boutiques, and plentiful parks where you can picnic, play Frisbee, or simply enjoy the views.
Situated just 28 miles from Seattle in the Cascade foothills, Snoqualmie is a quiet town framed by impressive evergreen forests. Natural wonders abound here, and the town and surrounding parks like the 270-foot Snoqualmie Falls waterfall draw hikers, photographers, and nature enthusiasts. A stroll through the town itself will give visitors a peek into a slower laidback way of life. Local commerce is quite varied and includes several galleries featuring Native American art, woodworking shops, knitting boutiques, as well as an up-and-coming bar scene. The town is also home to the Northwest Railway Museum and a full-service casino. During colder months, locals flock to hit the slopes at nearby Snoqualmie Pass, the closest option from Seattle.
Famous for being the home of Penn Cove Mussels, Coupeville is an artsy waterfront village on Whidbey Island which prides itself on serving up some excellent shellfish. The scenic journey to Coupeville can be made via private boat, or a ferry ride from either Port Townsend or Mukilteo; both of which provide pristine views of typical Pacific Northwest landscapes and a chance to spot the area’s resident Orca whales. Coupeville’s waterfront town center is lined with bookstores, art galleries, and craft breweries – perfect if you’re in the mood for a low-key day of island living. Local seafood eateries are plentiful and you can dine on Penn Cove’s famous shellfish with a view of the Olympic Mountains in the background. The island as a whole is popular for its immense cycling routes, and quaint you-pick produce stands line the island roads during the summer.
Known today as Little Norway and by locals as the Viking City, Poulsbo has a rich history and a generous helping of small-town Scandinavian charm. Beautifully situated overlooking Liberty Bay, legend has it that Poulsbo was first settled by Viking explorers. A stroll through the town is a favorite with visitors of all ages; pastel-colored houses and boutiques line the main streets, and local Sluys bakery has launched Poulsbo to nationwide fame with their tasty take on traditional Norwegian bread. On Saturdays from April-October, head over to the farmer’s market for a real taste of the local lifestyle and a chance to enjoy live music. The Naval Undersea museum pays homage to the areas’ Viking origins and will be a welcome detour for history buffs, while adventurous types can enjoy the many expansive hiking and bicycling routes near Poulsbo.
Located just sixty miles from Seattle, and with a population of just under one thousand, Neah Bay is a quiet fishing village that also holds the title of most westernmost point in the continental United States. Despite its small size, Neah Bay’s picturesque setting on the verdant Makah Indian Reservation and pristine sport fishing waters draw a fair number of eager fishermen and curious visitors every year. Once in Neah Bay, visitors can explore the town’s impressive natural surroundings. During summer months surfers, swimmers, and hikers flock to Neah Bay and the surrounding beaches for a tranquil holiday, but the braver souls know Neah Bay is worth a visit all year round. A hike to the famous Cape Flattery is just a 1-mile loop and will provide jagged coastal vistas and a glimpse of rugged Tatoosh island in the distance. Neah Bay also comprises Waddah island whose tidal waters boast some of the country’s best scuba diving, and a chance to see creatures like the Pacific Giant Octopus.
Thanks to its unforgettable feature in cult classic Twin Peaks, North Bend receives its fair share of eager fans and tourists, and you can still visit sites from the series like the Double R Diner. Though despite the influx of visitors, North Bend has managed to hold onto its natural charm. Just a quick drive from Seattle on I-5, North Bend is surrounded by dense evergreen forests and mountains allowing the town itself to remain rural and quiet. For those in search of an outdoor excursion in North Bend, neighboring Rattlesnake Ridge park and majestic Mount Si both make for excellent yet challenging day hikes or climbs.