Sometimes the small towns have the biggest personalities. Whether it be quirky, coastal communities with offbeat festivals or pint-sized hamlets with unique geological marvels, Washington’s varied landscape and rich cultural diversity mean even the smallest populations reside in worthwhile destinations. Time to hop in the car and venture to some of the state’s most distinctive towns.
Tucked in the Southwest corner of our state alongside charming coastal towns and temperate rainforests is the longest stretch of beach in the United States: the Long Beach Peninsula. Home to a handful of small fishing villages, Long Beach proper shouldn’t be the only stop on your itinerary. Whether you’re looking to take a selfie with the giant frying pan or attend the annual Kite Festival, the Peninsula has plenty of activities and entertainment to keep visitors busy year-round.
Immediately upon arrival, conspicuous signs spelling out “ANTIQUES” are hard to miss. Located in Ocean Park, the Long Beach Peninsula Trading Post is a visitor favorite, featuring two stories of estate finds, nautical antiquities, and quirky collectibles. The more art-inclined can indulge in the area’s abundance of galleries, particularly those in Ocean Park and Ilwaco. Head to Bay Avenue Gallery for a collection of varied works by talented local artists, including watercolor paintings, decorative jewelry, and whimsical ceramic pieces. Don Nisbett and Marie Powell both have galleries right by the Ilwaco port — an ideal spot for a stroll before dinner at Salt Pub or watching the sunset at Cape Disappointment. (Spoiler alert: You won’t be disappointed.)
A trip to the peninsula will never be complete without setting aside a day for razor clamming. With only five designated razor-clam digging beaches in the state, the peninsula’s 24-mile stretch of shoreline makes it an appealing target even during the busy tourist season. The best time of year to dig is in spring during low tide. There’s even a Razor Clam Digging Festival that takes place each April, offering free clamming lessons and a clam chowder taste-off.
Most famous of all is the Washington State International Kite Festival — a week-long celebration that takes place on the third week of August each year. Kite fliers from around the world gather to take part in a number of events, including workshops, kite fighting, and a lighted kite show. Make sure to check out the World Kite Museum in Long Beach for additional info.
Stay at Adrift Hotel and Spa
Not only is Adrift dog-friendly, but there are no breed or size restrictions. Add beachfront views, complimentary bikes, and a top-notch restaurant, and you and your furry friend have got it made.
A nature lover’s paradise, there’s not much to Republic outside of its verdant beauty, famous fossil beds, and Gold Rush heritage — which is exactly why it’s worth a visit. An abundance of lakes, hiking trails, and historic sites gives visitors the chance to disconnect from their busy lives and reconnect with their surroundings.
Located right in downtown Republic is Stonerose Interpretive Center and Eocene Fossil Site — an interactive, educational center that allows visitors to participate in the excavation. After checking in, visitors can make their way to an ancient Eocene lake bed full of volcanic deposits, which are home to unearthed fossils as old as 40 million years. Though some fossils are retained for scientific research, visitors are usually given the opportunity to take home a few of their favorite finds.
After a hard day of digging, head over to one of Republic’s nine surrounding lakes to cool off. The largest and most well-known is Curlew Lake — a popular spot for fishing, kayaking, and camping, just 10 minutes outside of town. Stop at the restored trestle bridge — part of the newly developed Ferry County Rail Trail — and keep an eye out for bald eagles, ospreys, and herons. A little farther of a drive, Swan Lake is enveloped by forest and the ideal destination for swimmers, with generous camping spots for families looking for a place to spend the weekend.
Active travelers can tackle one of the area’s many hiking trails, including the 3-mile route that circles Swan Lake. Sherman Peak Loop Trail is a moderate 5-mile route and also a popular pick among locals. Wildflowers, rocky cliff sides, and the surrounding hills are all visible along the trail, whether you decide to tackle it by foot or horseback. For a lengthy trek, Thirteenmile Trail (which is actually a 16-mile route) is ideal for casual roaming, featuring old-growth Ponderosa Pines, canyon views, and an abundance of wildlife (including rattlesnakes).
Hike in Colville National Forest
Republic’s remote location and proximity to Colville National Forest mean most of its hiking routes are pup-friendly, including the Swan Lake, Snow Peak Cabin, Mount Leona, and Kettle Crest trails.
With the youthful energy of a vibrant college town, Ellensburg is slowly gaining traction as a vacation destination. From its celebrated rodeo heritage to its vineyard-lined landscape, the town’s diverse culture, activities, and events cater to a wide variety of tastes. Scenic parks and byways, a burgeoning art scene, and quality craft beer are just a few of the perks that visitors can look forward to.
Art and culture aficionados should feel right at home in Ellensburg, with more than a dozen museums and galleries to choose from. One of the most popular attractions is the Ellensburg Rodeo Hall of Fame — a nonprofit that’s dedicated to preserving hundreds of rodeo-related artifacts. Another worthwhile stop is Dick and Jane’s Spot — a private home with a remarkable collection of art on display, featuring the works of more than 40 Northwest artists. The Kittitas County Historical Museum also offers a variety of walking tours, with topics ranging from local art to the area’s haunted history.
But let’s be honest: Ellensburg wouldn’t be what it is without its blossoming beer scene and top-notch wineries. The oldest commercial operating winery in the valley, Thrall & Dodge, operates a tasting room in a historic building in Kittitas, just 15 minutes from downtown. Ellensburg Canyon Winery is another local gem, specializing in malbec, riesling, and cabernet franc. There are also a number of noteworthy tasting rooms located right off Ellensburg’s main drag.
If you resonate more with the brew and pub scene, have no fear: There are plenty of stops within walking distance from the city center. Iron Horse is a local, independent craft brewery with a pub located right downtown, offering tasty grub in addition to brewery tours. Whipsaw Brewing is another great stop for hoppy IPAs, and Wheel Line Cider is worth a visit for those seeking fruitier libations.
Eat at the Yellow Church Café
Built in 1923 for German Lutherans, the Yellow Church Café in Ellensburg not only allows dogs on its outside tables, but also has been recognized as one of the best restaurants in Washington.
A self-proclaimed “cure for the ordinary,” the small town of Soap Lake is nestled in the Channeled Scablands — a barren region littered with coulees and glacial boulders that’s considered one of the seven wonders of Washington state. Aside from the obvious appeal of the lake’s supposed healing powers, the area’s unique geography and rich Native American history give it an extra burst of character.
A number of visitors are drawn to the lake each year to experience the rejuvenating properties of the mineral-rich water for themselves. The suggested medicinal values of the lake are no recent discovery, as a number of Native American artifacts and pieces of recorded history suggest that rival tribes would call a truce when they came to Soap Lake in order to have time to heal. Modern-day soakers have claimed to experience natural relief from a number of health issues and autoimmune diseases, including psoriasis, rheumatoid arthritis, and neuropathy.
Aside from water-oriented activities, Soap Lake’s growing arts community gives locals and visitors a creative outlet for rainy days. Fire on Main is a local glassblowing studio that offers classes on making paperweights, pendants, vases, and more. Not far from the studio is Gate 17 — a retreat center designed specifically for quilters that hosts a number of multi-day group retreats throughout the year.
Sleep in a Tipi
Located right on the shores of the lake, Smokiam Resort’s tipi village is pet-friendly, so long as they’re kept on a leash. Additional amenities include a clubhouse, pool, two hot tubs, and 900 feet of beachfront.