While Seattle is a great city with so much to see and do, you do contend with big city annoyances like traffic and lots of people. Sometimes you just need to get away. These five adorable small towns are less than a 2-hour drive, and in some cases, a ferry ride from Seattle, and are perfect for a day trip or weekend getaway. You will enjoy cute local shops in walkable downtown areas, craft beverage makers (wine, beer, and spirits), and food from the best of the Pacific Northwest bounty.
Winslow On Bainbridge Island
You can hop on a ferry from the terminal in downtown Seattle and either walk on or take your car to Bainbridge Island. From the Bainbridge Island ferry terminal, you can walk right into Winslow and easily spend a day. Personally, I prefer to have my car to explore the rest of the island as there is so much to do. In addition to the cute, local shops, Winslow has three museums, my favorite being the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. The island was the site of the first Japanese American Exclusion when 227 Islanders were sent to the Manzanar Relocation Center. The story is fascinating and tragic, with elements of hope woven through. Once you get hungry, stop in the Amelia Wynn Winery Bistro with its Spanish-influenced menu and great wines.
Outside of town, you must visit the Bloedel Reserve, a beautiful 150-acre botanical garden. It is the result of the heir to a logging fortune who felt guilt over all the trees. Timed reservations required. It is truly lovely no matter what time of year you visit. The Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial is a hauntingly beautiful trail through a Japanese garden to a commemorative wall that tells the story of Japanese internment during World War II. It is well worth a visit.
Pro Tip: Make sure to stop in Mora for the best ice cream of your life, and as a self-proclaimed ice cream connoisseur, I don’t say this lightly. Food and Wine magazine backs me up, naming it as one of the nation’s best (Best Ice Cream Spots in the U.S., Dec 11, 2018). Made in small batches, it is decadent. I am a fan of the Double Dulce de leche, which combines caramel and shaved chocolate.
I love Kirkland, a lovely lakefront town with my favorite walkable downtown. It is so “local” with a vibrant downtown filled with galleries, restaurants, and wine tasting rooms. Adjacent is Marina Park, which has a nice grassy area as well as a sandy beach with magnificent views of Lake Washington and Seattle. You can access boat tours of the lake or take a dinner cruise in season from the marina.
Take time to check out the dining scene. It is truly a foodie heaven. From Turkish kebabs and baklava to fine dining, there is something for everyone. When the weather is nice, brunch is immensely popular with outdoor patios and lakeside dining. There are numerous opportunities to try some great Washington wines. For one of the best craft cocktails you’ll ever have, stop in at the Hearth. A Llama drink made with Kahlua, amaretto, brandy, and coffee hits the spot on a cold day.
Pro Tip: Check out all the public artworks. There are more than two dozen sculptures downtown. Many are whimsical, and children love the variety of animals.
La Conner is a quaint, historic waterfront village in the heart of the Skagit Valley. It is known for its friendly people, and I have to say it’s true. Everyone you meet is so nice. There are three museums in the tiny town as well as large antique shops that could almost be museums. Plan to spend plenty of time exploring the locally owned boutiques and galleries. Walk the waterfront along the Swinomish Channel for possible wildlife sightings of eagles, otters, or sea lions. You might see a tugboat pulling a barge full of logs.
Take some time to drive the farm roads outside of town. November to April sightings of the Trumpeter Swans and snow geese abound. In early spring, the daffodils bloom, followed by fields of tulips. The Skagit Valley has views of the Cascade Mountains. It is such a beautiful scenic drive, and this area is part of The Cascades Loop, Washington’s Ultimate Road Trip.
Pro Tip: Go see The Scone Lady. She is famed for her scones, which she bakes fresh daily. She does a German chocolate scone, and her savory ones can be a meal because they are so chock-full of bacon or ham, cheese, veggies, and a kick of jalapeno.
If you want to try Washington wine, you need to go to Woodinville. Winemakers are typically in Eastern Washington, so to make their wine more accessible, many began to open tasting rooms in Woodinville due to its proximity to Seattle. It proved popular, and now more than 130 wineries have tasting rooms in the area. With so many 90+ rated vintages, people come from all other the world to imbibe here. You can try wines from Washington pioneers of the wine industry or the new kids on the block.
It can be overwhelming to know where to go because there are so many wineries. Woodinville is broken up into districts. I think the Hollywood District is a good start. Named after the old Hollywood School House, this district is jam-packed with destination restaurants and a gold-rated Conde Nast resort. You won’t go wrong with any of the tasting rooms from small artisan wineries to the epic Chateau Ste. Michelle with its chateau tasting room (this is a good place for beginners to visit). For a great, unpretentious meal, don’t miss Heritage Restaurant. Chef and owner Breanna Beike makes everyone who walks in feel like a local and her food is so good. She sources locally as much as possible. She is my favorite chef in Washington.
Pro Tip: Stay at the Hampton Inn which doesn’t feel like a chain hotel. Why stay here, you may ask? There are two tasting rooms across the parking lot. How convenient is that?
Coupeville On Whidbey Island
This is the furthest away from Seattle at a little over a 2-hour drive and a ferry ride. Coupeville was the settling for the movie Practical Magic. The producers chose the waterfront village for its historic, seaport charm which you can still enjoy to this day. The town is Washington state’s second-oldest community and is filled with 100-year-old buildings. Front Street is the waterfront street with shops, restaurants, and the Island County Museum at one end. Not to be missed is a walk out on the Coupeville wharf with its iconic red building. From the pier, you can see the Penn Cove Shellfish farm where they nurture the mussels the company is famed for. While in town, eat at the Oyster Catcher. This restaurant is the epitome of farm to table, they even ferment local produce. Make a reservation because it is immensely popular.
The town of Coupeville sits in what is known as the Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. Almost 85 percent of the reserve is privately owned. This federal reserve is the nation’s first, and its mission is to preserve the cultural integrity of this stunning area with its farmland and the seaport of Coupeville. Hiking in this area is breathtaking. Here’s a peek at it:
The Bluff Trail will give you views of Mount Baker to the east with the Cascades flowing to the south. The Olympic mountains loom over the Puget Sound while you walk along this trail. The historic Jacob Ebey house is one of the sites as you make your way to the bluff. It is hard to describe how beautiful this area is. Be mindful that some areas are private property, respect the signs and remain on the trail.
This is just a brief glimpse into the adorable, small towns a short distance from Seattle. I am a big fan of small local businesses and these small towns abound with them. The local communities work to support these ventures which are anything but cookie-cutter. Each of these towns is quite different from each other, making for some great day trips from Seattle or a longer weekend stay.
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