The US city of Seattle and the lesser known parts of Washington State have always held a fascination for me. It was back in 1980 when as an 11 year old boy, my school year took part in a foreign exchange. The young lad I was paired up with was from city of Spokane. He visited me in the UK and told stories of his family, his home, the pacific northwest coast and the natural beauty of the area. Over 40 years later we are still in touch, not by post, as in those days, but through the wonder of social media.
Soon after his visit on the 18th May, 1980, an earthquake struck below the north face of Mount St. Helens, triggering the largest landslide in history. This major volcanic eruption made the headlines worldwide. My new friend sent me a shoe box containing a small pot containing some of the ash that was scattered across an incredible 12 US states, some local chocolates and a copy of the local newspaper – The Spokesman Review, which I still have to this day.
Over 40 years later that fascination remains, so when I was recently in contact with the newly rebranded State of Washington Tourism I was keen to learn what’s new for 2022 in both Seattle but also those small Washington State towns which perhaps do not get the recognition they and the region merit.
Seattle, Washington State
2022 marks a major milestone with the 60th Anniversary of the Space Needle. In 1962, Seattle hosted the World’s Fair, and the newly completed Space Needle became one of the most recognisable landmarks in the world as well as a treasured icon for the city. The 60th anniversary of the Space Needle will be on the 21st April 2022. Today, visitors can experience two breathtaking levels of floor-to-ceiling glass with a 360⁰ view of Seattle plus the Cascade and Olympic Mountains.
The Seattle Waterfront Development is completely overhauling the ‘look’ of this alluring city. In 2019 the viaduct road that blocked views and cut the waterfront off from downtown was removed and taken underground, freeing the city’s vision of opening the waterfront, with its mountain backdrop, to downtown. Today, the harbour is being transformed into a beautiful expanse of open public spaces with magnificent water and mountain vistas.
The Small Towns Map Of Washington State
Winslow, Bainbridge Island
Winslow is located on Bainbridge Island (gateway to the Olympic Peninsula) and a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle. If you’re in Seattle and want to explore more, hop on a ferry to Bainbridge Island where you’ll find the little town of Winslow, filled with lots to do and many treasures just waiting to be discovered. Time the return trip at sunset to see the city’s skyline lit up and all aglow.
This charming village is the heart and soul of Bainbridge Island. Its main street invites you to explore further; saunter down one side of the street and back up the other, stopping for coffee, a bite to eat, wine tasting, browsing in eclectic boutiques and galleries, or checking out the yachts in the Eagle Harbor Marina.
If you’re driving, be sure to stop at the 150-acre Bloedel Reserve with its spectacular walking trails, streams, ponds, gardens galore and the Bloedel family’s former home, now a museum.
Tip: Seattle was named after the Duwamish chief, famous for a speech he gave about being responsible to the environment and having respect for the land rights of his people.
Located in the centre of Whidbey Island (one hour from Seattle in Washington State), accessible by ferry from Port Townsend or Mukilteo and the Deception Pass Bridge to the north.
Coupeville harks back to an era more than a century ago and is known as Washington’s second-oldest community. Along the historic waterfront discover 100-year old buildings that were once livery stables or barber shops and are now cafes, wine tasting rooms or bookshops. Front Street offers small shops with local artisan products and galleries. Be sure to check out the Coupeville wharf, jutting out into the water from Front Street. It’s part of Whidbey Island’s fascinating history and to learn more, the Island County Museum is a good place to start.
Waterfront restaurants offer views of Penn Cove, home to Washington’s famous mussels. Just a few minutes away is the historic Captain Whidbey Inn. Located on the shoreline of the cove, they are known for their delicious recipe of Penn Cove Mussels, sauteed in white wine and garlic. Enjoy making this dish yourself!
Coupeville rests in the heart of Ebey’s Reserve, a partnership with the National Park Service and the first of its kind in the USA, with some of the oldest homes in the state. Several miles away is Fort Casey State Park with trails and vistas of the Olympic Peninsula.
Tip: MusselFest is an annual festival in early March, celebrating the delicious and award-winning mussels grown in Penn Cove.
Head to Deception Pass State Park, a half hour drive north, with its beaches and trails meandering through thick forests. Cross the 54-meter Deception Pass Bridge and drive 20 minutes to Anacortes to catch the ferry to Friday Harbor.
Located in the San Juan Islands, an hour’s ferry ride from Anacortes, 90 minutes north of Seattle in Washington State.
Named as “#4 for Top Islands of the Continental US and Canada” by Travel + Leisure magazine, the San Juan Islands are an archipelago of more than 400 islands with 769 km of shoreline. Friday Harbor is the jewel of the islands, a picturesque, historic Pacific Northwest treasure that’s a walkable seaport only steps away from the ferry landing. And travelling by ferry to this charming town is part of the fun of visiting, as the vessel meanders through gorgeous islands shrouded in evergreen forests. Visitors can also arrive by seaplane, enjoying a bird’s eye view en route.
Once in town, small friendly boutiques offer delightful shopping experiences and excellent restaurants abound. A car isn’t needed to explore this enchanting town as it’s so easy to explore on foot, although parking is available at one of the private parking lots for an easy day trip.
A whale watching adventure is a must-do since orcas are prevalent in the area. To learn more before going out, stop by the Whale Museum. They keep a map of recent whale sightings, identifying the whales seen by name, i.e. SurpriseL-86, meaning she’s from the L-pod. Here you’ll find information about the pods of the Southern Resident Community of Orcas as well as the natural history of marine mammals around the islands.
To get up close to the marine life, rent a kayak from one of the excellent outfitters in the area. Or rent a bicycle to explore the island on land. Head along the coastline dotted with lighthouses and keep a lookout for whales that you can spot from the shore. On your way back to town, ride through the beautiful countryside where the fragrance of summer lavender fields will fill your senses.
Tip: Lime Kiln Point is considered one of the best whale-watching spots on earth, especially May through September.
From Anacortes, it’s an easy 20-minute drive to La Conner.
Located east of Anacortes in the Skagit Valley, 90 minutes north of Seattle in Washington State.
Take time on the drive to La Conner to explore the country roads, lush with fields of daffodils and tulips in the spring, or berries, wheat and corn in the summer. Classic barns and farmhouses have spectacular flowers brimming from hanging baskets, pots and planters with gardens of bright colours framing the buildings. Farm stands dot the countryside where you can buy fresh jams, flowers, ice cream and a myriad of home-grown treats. Snow Goose Produce is a summer favourite—a family-run, country market, famous for its ice cream cones.
As you head into town, you’ll discover why La Conner is often named one of the most romantic getaways in Washington. This delightful village boasts galleries showcasing local artists, boutique shopping for every taste and eateries with seafood purchased directly from fishermen right off their boats. Don’t miss the award-winning Calico Cupboard Café & Bakery for delicious handmade bakery items. Better yet, take a few moments to enjoy breakfast or lunch.
A boardwalk runs along the Swinomish Channel offering a lovely way to wind down at the end of the day, take in the beautiful views and stop for a sip of wine.
Tip: The Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is held every April.
La Conner is the gateway to the 708-km Cascade Loop National Scenic Byway and will take you through North Cascades National Park on the 3-hour drive east to Winthrop. The national park, one of three in Washington, is known for its majestic mountain scenery, cascading waterfalls, snowfields, glaciers and alpine meadows filled with summer wildflowers with some of the most spectacular views in the Pacific Northwest.
Located in the Methow Valley on the Cascade Loop, 4.5 hours north of Seattle in Washington State.
If you fancy a western-style escape with a bit of cowboy flair, Winthrop is the place to go. It’s been preserved to resemble the 1850s wild west. Maybe catch a rodeo and don a cowboy hat! Reminiscent of the movie High Noon, it’s easy to imagine walking in the middle of a movie set with the town’s wooden pavements, hitching rails, saloon-style entrances and boardwalks. Western murals add to the old-time vibe. Boutiques offer one-of-a-kind items for gifts or mementos. For more details about the area’s history, stop by the Shafer Historical Museum.
But Winthrop is more than an old west town. It’s also known as an outstanding recreational area for all seasons with hundreds of miles of trails for hiking, mountain biking, trail running and even horse riding. The Methow River offers many opportunities for fishing, river rafting, kayaking and swimming on warm summer days.
A highlight in the area is Sun Mountain Lodge, a premier year-round destination resort offering mountaintop accommodation at its finest with dining of uncompromising excellence. Winter activities include groomed ski trails, which in the summer months are perfect for hiking, mountain biking and horse riding. There are pools, hot tubs, private wagon rides, tennis and golf.
From June through September, take a tour of the North Cascades Smokejumper Base to discover how smokejumpers protect national forest resources from wildfire. This troupe of fire experts travel across the US to fight fires and protect thousands of acres of forests annually.
Wherever your interests lie, Winthrop is a great place to get away from the hustle and bustle.
Tip: Winthrop celebrates Washington’s 76th Annual ’49er Days in early May – an old west heritage festival of rich western and equestrian history.
Head southeast for nearly five hours to Dayton.
Located 45 minutes north of Walla Walla, 4.5 hours from Seattle in Washington State. Historic Dayton is tucked into the fertile farmlands and wheatfields of eastern Washington, sought after by pioneer settlers in the 1800s. Its history has been well-preserved boasting 117 buildings on the National Register of Historic Sites, with self-guided walking tours through three National Historic Districts.
Four museums tell the fascinating story of the town. The Dayton Historic Depot was the oldest depot in Washington. The Boldman House Museum recounts the story of the 90-year life of one family who lived there. Smith Hollow Schoolhouse is a newly restored country schoolhouse, and the Palus Museum shares the cultural and geologic history of the people who lived there.
Dayton has a vibrant, nostalgic downtown business district with gourmet restaurants, farm-to-table restaurants and American eclectic cuisine. There’s even an old-fashioned soda fountain!
A 10-minute drive away is Lewis & Clark Trail State Park giving details and information about the history of the area. These two famed explorers passed through the property in 1806. Add another half hour to reach Walla Walla, voted by readers of USA Today as “America’s Best Wine Region” for two years in a row. SEE MORE
Tip: Take time to sip and savour on the Highway 12 corridor connecting Dayton to Walla Walla as it passes through one of the most exciting wine and food regions in the Pacific Northwest. The valley is home to over 140 vineyards!
Located on the Willapa Bay on the Long Beach Peninsula, 2.5 hours from Seattle, Washington State. Or located 35 minutes north from Astoria, Oregon, driving across the Astoria-Megler Bridge to the Long Beach Peninsula.
As you’re travelling the peninsula, you will discover the charming little town of Oysterville. This historic community nestled along the Willapa Bay was a lusty boomtown in the mid-1800s. Its glamour faded with the oyster population, leaving behind lovely homes of pioneer descendants, several of whom still own their ancestral properties. In 1976, the village was added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Today, a self-guided walking tour is available to learn about the fascinating history of the town. Be sure to visit the church, built in 1892. Sit in the pews and listen to the reverberations of hymns sung by villagers for a century. Stop by the cannery building, home of Oysterville Sea Farms. Although no longer a working cannery, visitors can purchase fresh oysters or steamer clams straight from the bay. You’ll be amazed to see mountains of white oyster shells around every corner!
While on the Long Beach Peninsula, the longest continuous sand beach in the US, stop by the Cranberry Museum, only 20 minutes away and take a walking tour to learn about this historic berry. Or check out the World Kite Museum nearby. And, of course, being right on the Pacific Ocean, don’t miss the chance to put your toes in the sand!
Tip: Washington’s International Kite Festival is held every August.
Getting To Washington State
In 2022 there are direct non-stop flights between Seattle and London with American Airlines, British Airways, Delta Air Lines, Virgin Atlantic and with Aer Lingus from Dublin.
Another significant development for the city of Seattle is the expansion of its Light Rail. Once through the airport, in just 40 minutes you can travel from the airport to downtown for $4.00 (around £3).