Bordering Canada’s British Columbia, Washington is the United States’ northernmost state on the West Coast. Known as much for its rainy days as for its midnight sun, this Pacific Northwest destination offers a remarkable mix of fine dining, Native American heritage, and stunning natural views.
Whether you are stopping by for a romantic weekend in Seattle, ending your Pacific Crest Trail journey amidst the cascades, or doing a long road trip throughout the state, there is always something brewing in Washington. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the best activities for your Washington State trip.
With a population of nearly four million residents, Seattle is Washington’s largest city. It is also visitors’ most common point of entry to the state, as the SEA-TAC Airport is a thriving international hub.
“One can fly into Seattle and spend a day kicking around the city,” says Lea Cramer, Washington state native and writer at Fine Dining On Discourse. “Have a cup of joe in the first Starbucks. Explore Pike Place Market bustling with vendors, vibrant colors and delectables for every palate. Finish up with a stroll down to the Wharf or take a ride to the top of the Space Needle.”
Known both for its persistent rain and its lush greenery, Seattle offers a mix of old and new. This was the land where grunge rock originated, and the famous musicians who originated here are countless. Visit the Museum of Pop Culture, formerly known as the Experience Music Project to get to know Seattle’s musical history. This includes the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Eddie Vedder, and Kurt Cobain.
The Space Needle is certainly Seattle’s most famous landmark. If you have the time, it is worth the cost of entrance to scale its 50 floors. This structure boasts spectacular views of Seattle, especially at night. Even more impressive is its rotating restaurant, Sky City, but be sure to make reservations ahead of time. Around the corner, you will find the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit in the Seattle Center, introducing you to the state’s most renowned art form with an entrance of towering glass flower gardens.
If you’re an early riser, head to Pike Place Market to see fishermen unloading fish from the docks. Established more than one hundred years ago, it’s one of the U.S.’s oldest open-air markets. Even if seafood isn’t your thing, this market sells everything from fresh vegetable smoothies to hand-made souvenirs to gourmet nuts. If you do love seafood, you’re in for a treat, as you will see piles of fresh lobster, crab, tuna, and many more underwater creatures. Across the street, you can spot the original Starbucks, where the international chain had its humble beginnings.
If you’re into art, don’t miss the Fremont neighborhood, where you can find the monstrous Fremont troll who lurks under the highway, one silver eye gleaming, holding a full-sized VW beetle. Also around the neighborhood are a variety of antique shops, second-hand stores, and plenty of street art.
If you need to get away from the bustle, head to the Japanese Gardens to admire their immaculate bonsai, cherry trees, and other lush foliage. There are also a variety of parks throughout the city offering a respite from the concrete jungle, such as Volunteer Park.
Seattle is a place of growth, and while many of its residents are against the rise of technology, IT, and giants like Amazon and Kirkland, there is no denying that the city is shifting into something new — a bit of grunge, a bit of posh luxury.
In the past, Tacoma has been brushed off as merely a stopover on the way to Mt. Rainier, but this waterfront city is a destination in and of itself. Its hilly streets are reminiscent of San Francisco — possibly because of its architecture. The Murray Morgan Bridge and East 21st Street Bridge are both excellent places to admire the bones of this city. It remains proud of its Native American roots, which can be seen frequently on street signs, but mostly through its art.
In fact, Tacoma is world-renowned for its glass blowing. If you’re looking for a place to stay, the Hotel Murano is an excellent choice. Its outstanding service is only surpassed by its collection of glass works, which are for sale in its Creative Forces gift shop. Dale Chihuly, a Tacoma native, is one of the main driving forces behind the glass art scene. His work can be admired at The Bridge of Glass, composed of more than 2,000 original glass pieces, and the Museum of Glass. The Tacoma Art Museum is also a fantastic place to admire these delicate, intricate works of art, while also delving into Tacoma’s Native American past. Large wood carvings are strewn throughout the museums, ranging from bear cubs and eaglets to a large, towering dog.
Tacoma is rapidly putting itself on the map, with many of the activities Seattle possesses at a fraction of the cost. Restaurants, breweries, and coffee shops are booming right alongside the arts scene. The Harmon Taproom is a haven for craft suds, rivaling the many successful breweries in Portland, the southern part of the Pacific Northwest. Likewise, Tacoma is catching wind of the importance of vegan and vegetarian food, with spots like Viva and Pure Kitchen offering a delicious variety of organic, farm-to-table choices.
If you’re in Tacoma and feel like being in nature for the weekend, or even a day, there are plenty of choices. Visit Owen Beach, Point Defiance Park, or the W.W. Seymour Conservatory for break from city life.
Located less than 20 minutes from Tacoma and 45 minutes from Seattle, Gig Harbor is one of those places you wish you would have discovered sooner. Once simply a maritime village off of the Puget Sound, it’s now a relaxing and opulent getaway. With waterfront restaurants, stellar museums, and a multitude of outdoor activities, this is the perfect place to unwind with your partner or your children.
Established in 1973, the Tides Tavern is known for their clam chowder and specialty fish and chips. Even if you’re not hungry, order one of their house drinks and grab a seat on their picturesque waterfront deck. With fabulous views of Mt. Rainier, the ocean breeze, and the sounds of seagulls, this is the perfect place to watch the sunset.
If you happen to be a spirits enthusiast, don’t forget to check out Heritage Distilling. They offer a number of organic flavors with premium fermented produce and brown sugar. If you’re so inclined, you can also take a tour and learn how they make the magic happen. In fact, it’s been the most decorated craft distillery in the country for the past three years.
If you haven’t been to Venice, Italy, then you won’t want to miss out on the opportunity to ride an authentic Venetian gondola. At Gig Harbor Gondola, you’ll have the chance to climb aboard a hand-crafted wooden boat, shipped straight from Italy. Cruise through the harbor, admire the surrounding mountains, and spot wildlife. Cinque, your gondolier, will paddle through the waters while serenading you with beautiful Italian melodies. It’s the only experience like this in the Pacific Northwest, and would be perfect for an anniversary or honeymoon.
If you’re a fan of nature, planning a trip to the state of Washington simply to see Mt. Rainier is a no-brainer. Looming at 14,000 feet, this mountain is home to fauna such as elk, black bears, and mountain goats. Climbers often scale Mt. Rainier as practice before setting off for Mt. Everest. As such, it has attracted several Nepalese transplants, and thereby offers an eclectic mix of culture and cuisine. While heading to the National Park from Tacoma, stop by The Wildberry near Ashford for traditional Himalayan cuisine. It is run by Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa, a Nepalese man who holds a record for one of the world’s fastest accents of Mt. Everest.
Whether you love to admire mountains from afar, photograph their peaks from your car, take a stroll through the woods at the basin, or hike for hours on end, Mt. Rainier is sure to exceed your expectations. At Chinook Pass, skip through the tall grasses at Tipsoo Lake. If you’re driving, stop by the Longmire area, which consists of the Trail of the Shadows. Park for a bit and take a short walk to the impressive Narada Falls, which offer a cool mist on a hot day, and spectacular, mesmerizing views year-round.
Head to Paradise Area, where you can learn about Mt. Rainier’s history at the Jackson Visitor Center. Don’t miss the Reflection Lakes, which offer incredible views of the trees and mirror-like reflections. Take in the snow-capped mountains as you ascend through the Sunrise trails, dotted with wildflowers.
Even if you’re not a hiker, you can catch the Mt. Rainier Gondola up to the top of and dine at the Summit House Restaurant. At almost 7,000 feet, this is the highest restaurant in all of Washington. Enjoy a healthy meal while admiring the surrounding landscape, including Mt. St. Helens and Glacier Peak.
There is far too much to see at Mt. Rainier, so even if you’re a speed hiker, allow yourself at least two or three days to soak in its untouched beauty.
This article is by no means comprehensive — there are a multitude of other places worth visiting in Washington State. Whether this is your first or even your fifth time visiting the state, hopefully this list has inspired your wanderlust.