8 Perfect Small Town Getaways

As Seattle continues its boom, the relaxed charm of small towns seems all the more attractive
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

As Seattle continues its boom, the relaxed charm of small towns seems all the more attractive. These Northwest hamlets, brimming with character, friendly locals, fantastic food and scenic views, are some of our favorite places to get away from it all.

1. Dayton, Washington

A sleepy wine country town with a wide thoroughfare—and an annual event dedicated to donkeys—wakes up


The Victorian-era Weinhard Hotel. Photo Credit: Nick Page Photography

A few years ago, Paul Mackay retired and moved from Seattle to a home in the Blue Mountains, near Walla Walla. Like so many west-side transplants, he was intent on getting into the local wine scene. “Then I realized I don’t know anything about grapes,” says Mackay. “But I know a lot about restaurants.”

Mackay, a seasoned Seattle restaurateur who helped run El Gaucho in the ’70s, and revived and expanded it in the ’90s, was quickly bitten again by the restaurant bug.
Conventional wisdom would dictate that he open a place within the city limits of Walla Walla, home to fine dining options such as Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen and the Whitehouse-Crawford restaurant. Instead, Mackay found his ideal location 30 miles to the northeast, in Dayton, a town of 2,500 residents with a main boulevard wide enough to accommodate an Old West gunfight.
“It’s a beautiful street,” says Mackay of Dayton’s Main Street, a three-block downtown stretch lined with historic buildings. “There’s a theater [the Liberty] that has movies and live performances; there’s a place called Woody’s that’s a biker-bar type. They have great burgers, and you throw peanut shells on the floor. It’s just a neat little town.”
With Dayton resident Aimee McGuire, a chef who ran the Walla Walla farmers’ market for several years, Mackay assumed the reins of the old Country Cupboard earlier this year and rechristened it the Moose Creek Cafe & Bakery, where comfort food wins the day.
A more upscale dining experience is offered at Patit Creek Restaurant, a four-star French place on the edge of town that Bruce and Heather Hiebert opened in 1978. Portraits of Hollywood legends line the wood-paneled walls, and the restaurant’s loyal patrons—who travel for hundreds of miles—insist that rich, filling classics such as chicken Florentine, mushroom caps, tomato bisque, and veal never leave the menu.
While Main Street is typically serene, hundreds of jackass jockeys annually descend upon the town for Mule Mania, which will take place over Memorial Day weekend this year. Participants’ campsites spill onto the ninth hole of the Touchet Valley Golf Course (located in the infield of the Columbia County Fairgrounds) during the event, which features mule driving and riding competitions, and chuckwagon cooking. 
“[Golfers] only get to play eight holes during Mule Mania,” quips Mike Spring, a former fire chief who now runs Chief Spring’s Fire & Irons Brew Pub, which slings pretzels, pizza and pints (about $30 for a large pizza and a couple of pints of beer). The pub is located across the street from the Victorian-era Weinhard Hotel, which boasts antiques-filled rooms and a complimentary continental breakfast.
“The recreational activities—fishing, hunting, backpacking, 
skiing—in the Touchet Valley [an area that encompasses Dayton and Waitsburg] are great. I can’t say for sure if it will be the next Bend,” Spring says, referring to the Oregon town where he grew up, “but it’s certainly got the potential.” —Mike Seeley

Mackay, a seasoned Seattle restaurateur who helped run El Gaucho in the ’70s, and revived and expanded it in the ’90s, was quickly bitten again by the restaurant bug.Conventional wisdom would dictate that he open a place within the city limits of Walla Walla, home to fine dining options such as Saffron Mediterranean Kitchen and the Whitehouse-Crawford restaurant.

Instead, Mackay found his ideal location 30 miles to the northeast, in Dayton, a town of 2,500 residents with a main boulevard wide enough to accommodate an Old West gunfight.“It’s a beautiful street,” says Mackay of Dayton’s Main Street, a three-block downtown stretch lined with historic buildings. “There’s a theater [the Liberty] that has movies and live performances; there’s a place called Woody’s that’s a biker-bar type. They have great burgers, and you throw peanut shells on the floor. It’s just a neat little town.”

With Dayton resident Aimee McGuire, a chef who ran the Walla Walla farmers’ market for several years, Mackay assumed the reins of the old Country Cupboard earlier this year and rechristened it the Moose Creek Cafe & Bakery, where comfort food wins the day.

A more upscale dining experience is offered at Patit Creek Restaurant, a four-star French place on the edge of town that Bruce and Heather Hiebert opened in 1978. Portraits of Hollywood legends line the wood-paneled walls, and the restaurant’s loyal patrons—who travel for hundreds of miles—insist that rich, filling classics such as chicken Florentine, mushroom caps, tomato bisque, and veal never leave the menu.


Clockwise from top left: The annual Mule Mania event entices crowds to town for Memorial Day weekend; Main Street’s Liberty Theater; cycling with a view, just outside of town; a windfarm on the gentle hills on the edge of town. Photo Credits: Theater and cycling: Nick Page Photography; all others courtesty of Dayton Chamber of Commerce.

While Main Street is typically serene, hundreds of jackass jockeys annually descend upon the town for Mule Mania, which will take place over Memorial Day weekend this year. Participants’ campsites spill onto the ninth hole of the Touchet Valley Golf Course (located in the infield of the Columbia County Fairgrounds) during the event, which features mule driving and riding competitions, and chuckwagon cooking. “[Golfers] only get to play eight holes during Mule Mania,” quips Mike Spring, a former fire chief who now runs Chief Spring’s Fire & Irons Brew Pub, which slings pretzels, pizza and pints (about $30 for a large pizza and a couple of pints of beer).

The pub is located across the street from the Victorian-era Weinhard Hotel, which boasts antiques-filled rooms and a complimentary continental breakfast.“The recreational activities—fishing, hunting, backpacking, skiing—in the Touchet Valley [an area that encompasses Dayton and Waitsburg] are great. I can’t say for sure if it will be the next Bend,” Spring says, referring to the Oregon town where he grew up, “but it’s certainly got the potential.” —Mike Seely

Getting There
Dayton is about 270 miles southeast of Seattle, and 30 miles to the northeast of Walla Walla. Take I-90 E to Washington Route 26 E.
The Liberty, 344 E Main St.; 509.382.1380; libertytheater.org
Woody’s Bar & Grill, 214 E Main St.; 509.382.2364; Facebook, “Woodys Restaurant” 
Moose Creek Cafe & Bakery, 330 E Main St.; (phone not available at press time) 
Patit Creek Restaurant, 725 E Dayton Ave.; 509.382.2625; Facebook, “Patit Creek Restaurant” 
Touchet Valley Golf Course, 209 N Pine St.; 509.382.4851
Chief Spring’s Fire and Irons Brew Pub, 148 E Main St.; 509.382.4677; fireandironsbrewpub.com
Weinhard Hotel, 235 E Main St.; 509.382.4032; weinhard.com

2. Eastsound, Washington
This charming Orcas Island community is the stuff of ferry tales


Browsing the shops in Eastsound. Photo Credit: San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau

It pays to plan ahead for your island getaways these days; spontaneous types may lament the dearth of drive-on slots, but we planners adore Washington State Ferries’ new reservation system. No longer squandering hours at the ferry landing to ensure a ride, these days we pull up 45 minutes before departure and happily skip the mediocre offerings at the Anacortes landing’s sole café.

Still, it takes effort to get to Eastsound. That 90-minute drive from Seattle to the Anacortes ferry landing can stretch to two hours or more in traffic. That hour-long ferryboat ride—though it takes you through some stunning scenery—will cost you upward of $100, assuming you take your car and a passenger or two.

But at the end of the journey awaits the jewel of the San Juan Islands: a lovely little village (population approximately 3,500) perched on an idyllic little bay. There are beautiful views, fine shops and restaurants, and a slow and friendly vibe. What you won’t find are chain stores, strip malls, traffic jams or even traffic lights. Sip a pint and browse for a book; peruse the offerings at the homespun Saturday farmers market (beginning this month and going through September); or slip out to sea in a rented kayak. It’s just the right mix of things to do—and beautiful places to sit and not do.


Clockwise from top left: An aerial view shows Eastsound’s waterside setting; the Orcas Island Farmers Market, every Saturday during season; a spa treatment room at Rosario Resort; The indoor pool at Rosario Resort; Eastsound's colorful shopping district. Photo Credits: Bookstore: Martin Taylor Photography; Spa: Suzana Roach; Aerial: RJ; all others: The San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau

Wander through town, stopping at Darvill’s Bookstore, the island’s cozy and excellent independent bookstore, and Crow Valley Pottery, next door. Cross the street for an inspired espresso—or a cup of drinking chocolate—at Kathryn Taylor Chocolates. Then, tuck into the snug new Madrona Bar & Grill for a jammin’ hamburger enjoyed in a comfy, rustic room with sweeping bay views. 

Afterward, head to Moran State Park and take a brisk hike around Cascade Lake, or—if the weather allows—a quick dip.Orcas Island is replete with sweet bed-and-breakfast options, or stay upscale in a water-view suite at Rosario Resort and Spa. —Kristen Russell

Getting There
From Anacortes, 90 minutes north of Seattle, catch the San Juan Islands ferry (wsdot.wa.gov/ferries) to Orcas Island. Turn left after exiting the ferry for the 20-minute drive to Eastsound.  
Darvill’s Bookstore, 296 Main St.; 360.376.2135; Facebook, “Darvill’s Bookstore” 
Crow Valley Pottery, 296 Main St. and 2274 Orcas Road; 360.376.4260; crowvalley.com
Kathryn Taylor Chocolates, 109 North Beach Road; 360.298.8093; 
kathryntaylorchocolates.com
Madrona Bar & Grill, 310 Main St., No. 105; 360.376.7171; madronabarandgrill.com
Rosario Resort and Spa, 1400 Rosario Road; 360.376.2222; rosarioresort.com.

3. Jacksonville, Oregon
Travel through time without leaving the best part of modern life behind


Downtown at dawn. Photo Credit: Wes Neito

With Jacksonville’s main drag, California Street, seemingly unchanged since the days of horse-drawn carriages, its Wild West storefronts are just a few of the charming delights of this southern Oregon town.

After gold was discovered in the area in 1851, the town boomed with enough settlers to make it the largest city in Oregon, and in 1966 the entire town was designated as a National Historic Landmark. More than 100 charming historic buildings and homes in the small town (population 2,816) could make for a cuteness overload, but the town’s stellar food and wine scene makes it a gastro destination to rival a big city. 

Try out the Jacksonville Inn’s farm-to-fork restaurant, where ingredients travel no farther than 100 miles before arriving on your plate; or pop in to sample the wines in the downtown tasting room of Quady North, an estate vineyard that takes advantage of the sunny and mild southern Oregon climate to grow French grape varieties. An entire itinerary could be built around the 18 wineries in the surrounding Applegate Valley and the 100-plus wineries in southern Oregon.



Clockwise from top left: Nearby Applegate River; downtown is perfect for a stroll; TouVelle House B&B; The pool at TouVelle House; Jacksonville Inn, which offers farm-to-fork dining. Photo Credits: Touvelle: Touvelle House Bed and Breakfast; all others: Tara Fisher

A trip to Jacksonville plops a weekend visitor in an ideal location for day trips. Drive 90 minutes east to spectacular Crater Lake National Park or 30 minutes south to take in a play at Ashland’s renowned Oregon Shakespeare Festival. Or enjoy Jacksonville’s Britt Festival, a summer concert series that draws the likes of Willie Nelson and The Decemberists, and is held on the bucolic hillside grounds of the former estate of pioneer photographer Peter Britt.

Be sure to head uphill to Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery, a slice of 19th-century history that’s brought to life during summertime guided tours, which tell the sometimes tragic stories of Jacksonville’s dearly departed.

As might be expected, lodging in Jacksonville takes advantage of the town’s architectural history. Turning 100 this year, the TouVelle House Bed and Breakfast boasts modern amenities (free Wi-Fi and private bathrooms) amid Craftsman details and furnishings. Rent the entire historic Judge Hanna House near downtown for a glimpse of life in the 1870s at this little-changed wood-frame Victorian home, where air conditioning means opening the balcony windows on summer nights. —Alisa Welch 

Getting There
Jacksonville is seven hours south of Seattle via I-5.
Jacksonville Inn, 175 E California St.; 541.899.1900; jacksonvilleinn.com
Quady North, 255 E California St.; 541.702.2123; quadynorth.com
Crater Lake National Park, 541.594.3000; nps.gov/crla
Jacksonville’s Historic Cemetery, Cemetery Road; 541.899.1231; friendsjvillecemetery.org
TouVelle House Bed and Breakfast, 455 N Oregon St.; 541.899.8938; touvellehouse.com
Judge Hanna House, ramsayrealty.com/vacation-rentals/hanna-house

4. Edison, Washington
From art to artisan foods, there’s plenty to whet your appetite in Edison


Breadfarm, a carb lover’s delight. Photo Credit: Gabe Rodriguez

Hidden in the bucolic farmland of the Skagit Valley, just off scenic Chuckanut Drive and past the familiar daffodils, cabbage fields and flocks of white trumpeter swans foraging in the mud, lies the idyllic town of Edison, population 133. Founded in 1869 and named after inventor Thomas Edison, it was, at the turn of the 19th century, home to a 280-acre utopian socialist project named Equality Colony, which was devoted to farming and included a timber mill, school and blacksmith shop. 

Today, Edison is a two-block stretch of old storefronts on Cains Court, which includes some of the most eccentric and quintessentially Northwest dining, art and retail to be found between Seattle and the Canadian border. The friendly, flannel-shirt-wearing guy or gal you encounter there on a weekday afternoon is as likely to be a local artist as an organic farmer. 

No trip to Edison would be complete without a lunch that includes the house-smoked salmon at Tweets, with its charming tool-shed-inspired interior. Across the lawn, clad in weathered metal siding, is Mariposa, its discrete, diminutive and delicious Mexican satellite.

For a decidedly different Edison experience, stop in at the Longhorn Saloon, a traditional biker bar frequented by locals and traveling packs of Harley riders. Here you can enjoy an afternoon pitcher or stay late for the live bands. 

At Breadfarm, with its large selection of delicious organic baked goods made from scratch, buy a package of the graham crackers for the best s’mores you’ll ever have.


Clockwise from top left: the patio at Slough Food; the bounty at Bow Hill Blueberries; a classic loaf from Breadfarm; Ann Duffy’s oil painting of Edison’s Cains Court in I.E. Gallery; Tweets offers tasty treats in a quirky setting.

Next door, Slough Food offers picnic staples, including regional cheeses and cured meats, as well as a rustic courtyard with tables out back. Load up on some farm-fresh road snacks on your way out of town at Samish Bay Cheese or Bow Hill Blueberries, where you can pick your own on weekends from July through mid-September.

If you are looking to purchase painted ceramic owls or other uniquely Northwest crafts by local artists, dive into The Lucky Dumpster, located in the weathered building on the corner across the street from Slough Food. Much of the store’s merchandise, from the children’s clothing to the kitchenware, is fashioned from repurposed materials. Owned by the same folks who own Tweets, nearby Shop Curator offers an eclectic mix of antiques, handmade jewelry and home goods, curiosities and native art.

There is perhaps no other small town in the region with such a high proportion of space allocated to exhibiting art as Edison. The Smith & Vallee Gallery, next door to the Longhorn, exhibits paintings and sculpture by established and emerging Northwest artists. While the work ranges from abstract to representational, nearly all of it pays homage to the region’s landscape and natural life. The gallery also showcases one-of-a-kind furniture and cabinetry by owners Andrew Vallee and Wesley Smith.

Last June, longtime Seattle painter David C. Kane and Samish Flats artist Margy Lavelle opened the I.E. Gallery next door to Tweets, focusing on exhibits featuring of some of the Northwest’s better-known contemporary artists , such as Brian Cypher and William Elston. “This place has the ideal light for painters,” says Kane. “You also have amazing weather effects and vistas courtesy of the Cascades. There’s a peculiar spatial effect that takes over when you’re out in the flats looking back at the mountains.” —Jim Demetre

Getting There

Edison is about one hour and 45 minutes from Seattle via I-5 N.
Tweets, 5800 Cains Court; 360.820.9912; tweetscafe.com
Mariposa, 14003 Gilmore Ave.; 360.820.9912
Longhorn Saloon, 5754 Cains Court; 360.766.6330; Facebook, “Longhorn Saloon Edison”
Breadfarm, 5766 Cains Court; 360.766.4065; breadfarm.com
Slough Food, 5766 Cains Court, Suite B; 360.766.4458; sloughfood.com
Samish Bay Cheese, 15115 Bow Hill Road; 360.766.6707; samishbay.com
Bow Hill Blueberries, 15628 Bow Hill Road; 360.399.1006; bowhillblueberries.com
The Lucky Dumpster, 14011 Mactaggart Ave.; 360.766.4049; Facebook, “The Lucky Dumpster”
Shop Curator, 14010 Mactaggart Ave.; 360.820.9912
Smith & Vallee Gallery, 5742 Gilkey Ave.; 360.766.6230; smithandvallee.com
I.E. gallery, 5800 Cains Court; 360.488.3458; ieedison.com

5. Oak Bay, British Columbia
Enjoy a taste of Anglo culture from our neighbors up north

The relaxed pace of Oak Bay is perfect for cycling; photos: hotel: oak bay beach hotel; distillers: Sven Boecker; restaurant: vis a vis; all others: Oak Bay Tourism

On the southern tip of Vancouver Island, 5 miles west of Victoria’s Inner Harbour, lies this sweet seaside community. Oak Bay is technically part of Victoria, but with double the posh and even more of a British bent. Tucked along the beautiful Haro Strait, Oak Bay is home to some of the most expensive real estate in Victoria, stretches of sandy beach, and high-end shops and dining options. You’ll come for the insanely luxurious resort hotel, with its waterfront mineral pools and private butlers (upon request). 

You’ll stay for the charcuterie. 

Styled in the manner of an enormous and grand English manor house, the Oak Bay Beach Hotel is a primo destination for small-town enthusiasts who like their base camps on the swanky side. Shrug off your bags (or toss them to the butler!) and set out for a stroll along the waterfront and a toe dip into the Salish Sea at nearby Willows Beach.


Clockwise from top left: the grounds and bayside pool at Oak Bay Beach Hotel; the bistro bar at Vis à Vis; picnicking on the lawn at one of Oak Bay’s parks; general manager and master distiller Peter Hunt taking a sample of Craigdarroch Whisky in the sparkling new premises of Victoria Distillers; tourists pose for a photo opp outside the Penny Farthing Public House in Oak Bay’s arts district

Chat up the sommelier as you mull over the many options—including the amazing charcuterie—at Vis à Vis, a bistro in the heart of nearby Oak Bay Village, a little enclave of Victorian architecture and shops. Or opt for British comfort food (shepherd’s pie, bangers and mash) at the Penny Farthing Public House next door. Stroll the galleries and boutiques in the village and pick up a souvenir or gift at Side Street Studio, which exclusively offers locally made pottery, jewelry, textiles and art, before retreating to the seaside soaking pools at your hotel. The next day, make a side trip to Victoria Distillers (formerly Victoria Spirits, the brand-spanking-new home of cult favorite Victoria Gin). 

Its new waterfront distillery opens this month in Sidney (40 minutes from Oak Bay) and will feature tours and tastings as well as a lounge, so you can sample the spirits neat or in a variety of cocktails, such as Victoria’s Secret, in which gin mingles with coriander and maple syrup. —K.R.

Related Content

Find the getaway you're looking for in central Oregon.

A woodsy paradise awaits less than two hours from Seattle.

Forget the Bavarian kitsch. The beloved tourist town is a hub for outdoor enthusiasts.

The British Columbia hotspot is more than a ski town.