7 Hidden Gems in Washington Towns

Great Places to Explore Off the Beaten Path

If you are planning a day trip or an overnight adventure in Washington state, these seven towns offer outdoor activities, rewarding views and some hidden treasures.

Under Washington’s phased “Safe Start” program, you should find some shops and restaurants open. Museums and other attractions will start opening as more areas reach Phase 3. To be sure, check websites or call ahead before you hit the road to check the availability of any specific places you want to visit.

House of Swans from Twilight

House of Swans from Twilight. Photo by iStock.

1. Forks

The newest book in the Stephanie Meyer’s vampire-centric “Twilight” series brings the action, and the spotlight, back to the historic timber town of Forks in the Hoh Rain Forest and Olympic National Park. Until the Forks Timber Museum reopens, enjoy trails, exhibits and picnic areas on the museum grounds. The Visitor Information Center next door supplies maps for self-guided “Twilight”-themed driving tours (complete with a “Twilight” trivia quiz). While there, you can snap a photo in the parking lot with Bella’s red truck (the book or the movie version). This is also the place to get directions, tips and maps for area hiking trails, parks, waterfalls and Pacific Ocean beaches.

Retired Sternwheeler

Retired sternwheeler. Photo by iStock.

2. Anacortes 

Much more than the gateway for ferries to the San Juan Islands, Anacortes entertains and educates visitors with plenty of parks and more than 160 historic and whimsical murals around town depicting local characters and events. The city also offers a self-guided walking tour to 30 historic buildings and landmarks in the downtown core. On the list: The Great Northern Railroad Depot and the W.T. Preston, a retired sternwheeler that served as a snagboat (a specially equipped boat used to clear log jams on rivers). The Preston is the largest artifact at the Anacortes Museum.

Grand Coulee Dam

Grand Coulee Dam. Photo by iStock.

3. Grand Coulee

The Grand Coulee Dam visitor center (a federal facility) remains closed, which means no tours or laser shows for now. The parking lot below the Visitor Center is open, however, offering great views of the impressive structure as well as grassy areas for relaxing, picnic tables for enjoying a packed lunch, and restrooms. Just a few miles down Highway 155, between Grand Coulee and Electric City, you will find a unique outdoor treasure: the Gehrke Windmill Garden. This public park on the Washington Historic Register is home to more than 100 whimsical, folk-art windmills and whirligigs made by the late Emil and Stella Gehrke in the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s out of old silverware, coffee cups, machine parts and other castoff items.

Gig Harbor overview

Harbor view. Photo by iStock.

 4. Gig Harbor 

Learn the story of this historic maritime town on a harbor walk dotted with heritage markers and vintage photographs. Along the way, stop at Ancich Waterfront Park for harbor views, picnic tables, beach access and a public art piece with 25 relief sculptures that celebrates Gig Harbor’s rich fishing history. Indoor galleries at the Harbor History Museum are not open yet, but the museum’s shop, lobby gallery, and courtyard boat exhibit are accessible now.

Broadwalk in Long Beach

Broadwalk in Long Beach. Photo by iStock.

5. Long Beach

This summer’s Washington State Kite Festival is canceled, but the World Kite Museum in Long Beach is open and the Long Beach Peninsula, with its 28-mile, continuous sand beach, is ideal for flying a kite. No sand for you? Long Beach has a wooden boardwalk that stretches a half-mile along the beach. In the center of town, you’ll find two of Washington’s quirkiest attractions: a giant razor clam that squirts on the hour (or on demand for a quarter) and, beside it, a 10-foot-wide, 20-foot-tall frying pan, which once held the title of world’s largest flying pan.

You can access the north trail head of the 8.5-mile, mostly paved Lewis and Clark Discovery Trail in Long Beach. (The other end of the trail is in Ilwaco). Hike or bike past interpretive panels, sculptures and art installations commemorating the journey of the Corps of Discovery and Lewis and Clark’s arrival at the Pacific Ocean.

The lighthouse in Mukilteo

Mukilteo’s lighthouse. Photo by iStock.

6. Mukilteo

Although tours of the historic lighthouse at the Mukilteo Light Station are unavailable this season, the surrounding grounds of Lighthouse Park are open. The site has beach access and restrooms and is ideal for strolling, picnicking, ferry watching and taking in sunset views over Puget Sound. For outdoor meals with those views, stop in at Ivar’s at Mukilteo Landing or Diamond Knot, a local brewery and alehouse.

Mining cars in Rosyln

Mining cars in Roslyn. Photo by iStock.

7. Roslyn

Some still recognize the quaint streets of Roslyn as the stand-ins for the quirky “Northern Exposure” TV town of Cicely, Alaska. This Cascade Mountains town about 80 miles east of Seattle dates back to the late 1880s. Roslyn has a rich mining history and a strollable cemetery that highlights the surprising cultural diversity of early miners. Visitors also can walk or bike the Coal Mines Trail, which starts in town “behind Old City Hall, near the Slag Pile.”

–Written by Harriet Baskas

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