10 Adventure Gateway Towns


Small cities sometimes get short shrift from visitors on a sprint to get somewhere else. Yet more than mere launching pads to bigger, bolder adventures, these 10 destinations deserve a deeper look when planning your next getaway. 

Anacortes, Washington anacortes.org 

In the rush to catch the next ferry to the San Juan Islands or British Columbia, you might be tempted to bypass the Gateway Arch leading into the historic downtown of Anacortes, Washington. Yet antique hunting, the arts and outdoor adventures abound on scenic Fidalgo Island about 90 minutes north of Seattle. Stroll Commercial Avenue in Old Town where colorful murals of the town’s equally colorful characters grace many of the nearby buildings. Created by artist Bill Mitchell, the murals invite visitors to take a closer look at the people whose outsized legacies remain imprinted in the town’s collective memory. 

Beyond the town’s boutique shops, Maritime Heritage Center and W.T. Preston Steamship provide a peek at the town’s treasured maritime history. — NM   

Victoria, British Columbia tourismvictoria.com 

Gateway to Vancouver Island, Victoria, B.C., enchants upon first glance, and highways to all manner of adventures fan out from this graceful city. Float in by boat or seaplane to the Inner Harbour, a cross-section of fishing boats, floating homes and water taxis. Warm. Welcoming. Culturally diverse and tech friendly. Victoria is a food-lovers, bike-enthusiast, environmentally conscious visitor’s delight. Framed by the distinctive architecture of B.C. Parliament, the Royal B.C. Museum and the iconic Fairmont Empress Hotel, the Inner Harbour alone calls for leisurely exploration. Enjoy afternoon tea at the Empress, a whale-watching adventure or a tour and taste of Indigenous culture. 

Continue onto Government Street for pubs, bookstores and gift shops. Victoria’s tiny but mighty Chinatown, the oldest in Canada, offers traditional Asian markets and historic Fan Tan Alley, the narrowest street in Canada. – NM  

Ellensburg, Washington myellensburg.com 

A few miles shy of the geographic center of Washington State and conveniently located on I-90, Ellensburg is easy to reach from any direction. With the Cascade Range rising to the west and the vast central plateau of the state sprawling to the east, Ellensburg is a place of wide-open spaces. This quaint city is home to Central Washington University, and, as in most college towns, sports all the amenities to make any stay a worthwhile experience. Start your getaway by checking in at Hotel Windrow, a boutique hotel in the heart of downtown. Ellensburg’s revitalized downtown has art galleries, locally owned shops and plenty of dining options. One of the best restaurants and craft cocktail lounges in town is Basalt in Hotel Windrow. 

The region surrounding Ellensburg is a haven for those wanting to get outdoors. Fly fishing, bicycling and hiking rank among the most popular activities in the Ellensburg region. Or step back in time at Olmstead Place Historical State Park, the well-preserved site of the first homestead in the county—structures and artifacts intact. — AC 

Kalispell, Montana discoverkalispell.com 

As a gateway city to Glacier National Park, Kalispell offers plenty of hospitality to those on a quest to explore the spectacular park straddling the Continental Divide and the surrounding territory on the western slopes of the Northern Rockies. Settle in and get your bearings at the Kalispell Grand Hotel, which has anchored the city’s downtown since 1912. Explore more of Kalispell’s history and culture at The Northwest Montana History Museum, housed in an 1894 schoolhouse; the Hockaday Museum of Art with its collection of Western art; and the Conrad Mansion Museum, the home of the city’s founder. 

Glacier National Park is about a half hour away, but is extremely crowded with visitors in the summer months. Closer to town, Lone Pine State Park offers trails for hiking, cycling and panoramic views of Kalispell spread out in the valley below. — AC 

Sitka, Alaska visitsitka.org 

The deep roots of wilderness, wonder and cultural heritage combine at water’s edge within Alaska’s Inside Passage. Against a vast vista of snow-capped mountains and the nation’s largest national forest (Tongass), small coastal communities offer gateways into Alaska’s boundless natural beauty. 

Accessible only by boat or by air, scenic Sitka faces the outer waters of the Inside Passage where humpbacks, orcas and bald eagles thrive. View vestiges of the town’s Tlingit and Russian roots with a walking tour of national historic landmarks, such as St. Michael’s Cathedral, or “Totem Park” a short distance away. For dining, Ludvig’s Bistro seafood tops the locally sourced menu while shops and galleries feature a range of clothing, gifts, and collectibles. — NM 

Long Beach, Washington visitlongbeachpeninsula.com 

Family-friendly adventures await on the Long Beach Peninsula, a 28-mile spit of land in the southwest tip of Washington State. With six state parks and endless scenic vistas of wind, sand and surf, the Peninsula provides plenty of reasons to get away and play. 

Enter Long Beach, the Peninsula’s gateway, where “The World’s Largest Frying Pan” and Orca Sculpture welcome all. See the town’s star attraction, Jake the Alligator Man, at Marsh’s Free Museum, then head to Stormin’ Norman’s to pick up a souvenir of your stay. Rent bicycles for a fun way to tour the peninsula or challenge your traveling companions to a game of laser tag and arcade games at Funland Family Fun Center. — NM 

Pendleton, Oregon travelpendleton.com 

People who have heard of Pendleton think of the famous woolen mill and the products the produce. Those who have been to Pendleton know that it has so much more. This old-west town in northeast Oregon is home to the legendary Pendleton Round-Up, one of the country’s longest-running large-scale annual rodeos. Whether or not you visit during the rodeo, there’s plenty to discover in Pendleton. If you’re looking to be outfitted in authentic, handmade cowboy gear, you’ve come to the right town. Pendleton is brimming with unique shops where the gear is made onsite. In fact, you can take a self-guided Makers Tour to meet the artisans, talk with them about their crafts, and browse for Western gear that will last a lifetime. 

Go underground on the 90-minute Pendleton Underground Tour, the subterranean world that was sanctuary for the darker side of this Pendleton and its shadier characters in days gone by. Below the street, you’ll visit the quarters of the old Cozy Room bordello, a Chinese opium den and the conveniently located jail. Above ground, get a taste of place at Oregon Grain Growers Brand Distillery to sample fine spirits made from the products of local grain farmers. — AC 

Walla Walla, Washington wallawalla.org 

Does Walla Walla really need an introduction? It has recently been recognized as the best wine region in the country, and most people know it for its fine wines. Walla Walla is the place of pilgrimage for both serious wine connoisseurs and those just looking for a casual getaway filled with excellent wine and food. In fact, there are more than 120 wineries to choose from. The city also has many notable hotels, like The Historic Marcus Whitman, the tallest building in town; and cozy boutique inns, like Eritage Resort, The Finch or Abeja Inn & Winery—each geared for pampering guests in style. 

But Walla Walla isn’t only known for wine, food and exceptional hospitality. It is home to a vibrant arts scene and has a rich history. Browse the walkable downtown to visit multiple wine tasting rooms, grab a meal and explore galleries and shops. 

Drive a short distance out of town to visit the Whitman Mission National Historic Site, the site of an early 19th-century mission and the infamous Whitman Massacre. Back in town, head to the Fort Walla Walla Museum to learn more about the region’s early history. — AC 

Yakima, Washington visityakima.com 

As if 300 days of sunshine somewhere—anywhere—in the Pacific Northwest weren’t compelling reason enough to visit Yakima, there are more to consider. A vibrant downtown of wineries, breweries, restaurants and retail does more than hint at good sips and savors. 

A seasonal Sunday Farmer’s Market highlights the bounty produced in the agricultural powerhouse. For live entertainment, Capitol and 4th Street Theaters, plus The Seasons Performance Hall, host shows ranging from big Broadway musicals to blues, jazz and classical orchestra ensembles. Or croon a tune on Saturday Night Karaoke at Old Town Pump Saloon. Rail and retail lovers will enjoy shops and restaurants inside the restored 1912 Northern Pacific Railway Depot in the historic district. 

When it comes to adventure, send your palate on an exploration of the many tasting rooms in Yakima Valley’s vast wine region, or set your legs in action on one of the region’s many hiking trails. — NM 

Astoria, Oregon travelastoria.com 

Set between the mouth of the Columbia River and a steep hillside dotted with Victorian homes, the port city of Astoria, Oregon, serves as a springboard to popular coastal adventures.  

As the oldest settlement west of the Rockies, Astoria’s origins began in fur trapping and later in the fishing and logging industries. To learn more about the town’s maritime history, walk the Astoria Riverfront along the Lewis & Clark National Historic Trail or visit Columbia Maritime Museum for informative, interactive exhibits. Take timeout for a handcrafted beer and pub food at Buoy Beer Company, then explore Astoria’s Downtown Historic District to visit The Garden of Surging Waves at Heritage Park and several buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. — NM