Discover the best things to do in Washington State
If you’re looking for an amazing vacation destination, look no further than Washington. I was born in this beautiful state and lived there for the first 29 years of my life. I’m delighted to share with you the best places to visit in Washington State.
The Evergreen State has something for everyone, from stunning mountain ranges and awe-inspiring glaciers to vibrant cities and charming small towns. Washington is a great place to visit all year round, but my favorite time to be there is in the summer.
So pack your bags and get ready for an unforgettable adventure!
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Seattle is a great city to visit for several reasons. First, it’s a beautiful place. There are also a ton of things to do, whether you’re into museums and art galleries or you prefer to spend your time outdoors hiking and exploring.
Seattle is also home to some great food. You can find everything from fresh seafood to delicious international cuisine.
And, of course, no visit to Seattle would be complete without spending some time in coffee shops and trying out the local coffee.
If you’re looking for a fun and interesting city to visit in Washington State, definitely put Seattle on your list.
Below are some specific places in Seattle that you should see during your trip to Washington State.
The Space Needle was erected for the World’s Fair in Seattle in 1962 and has since become an internationally recognized symbol of the city. It’s one of the most photographed buildings on earth.
Be advised, the Space Needle is not an inexpensive attraction to visit; however, it is a pretty unforgettable one. They do have a few different ticket options to help you plan the best experience for you.
Even if you have only one day in Seattle, you should plan to at least pop by the Space Needle. It’s probably the most Seattle thing you can do.
Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is a unique landmark in Seattle, Washington. The market is located on the waterfront, and it is home to a variety of businesses, including seafood sellers, flower stalls, and specialty food stores.
In addition, the market is home to several arts and crafts vendors, making it the perfect place to find unique gifts and Seattle souvenirs.
They truly have something for everyone. And if you just window shop, it’s one of the great free things to do in Seattle.
The Seattle Mariners have called this beautiful ballpark home since it opened in 1999 (when it was known as Safeco Field), and it’s become one of the most iconic stadiums in Major League Baseball.
The retractable roof protects fans from the drizzly Seattle weather, and there’s not much better than taking in a game with the roof open on a sunny day.
The views from inside the stadium are pretty unbeatable, and there’s plenty of great food to choose from.
If you’re ever in town, be sure to add catching a Mariners game at T-Mobile Park to your Seattle itinerary.
And if a game isn’t on the schedule, maybe take a tour.
Seattle Gum Wall
The Gum Wall in Seattle is one of the most unique attractions in the city. The wall is covered in used gum, and visitors are always adding their own contributions.
The gum wall is located at 1428 Post Alley near Pike Place Market, and it’s a popular spot for taking photos.
If you’re looking for a unique way to experience Seattle, the Gum Wall is definitely worth a visit.
Oldest Starbucks Store
The Starbucks located at 1912 Pike Place is not the first Starbucks store (though it’s often referred to that way), but it is the location where the first store moved in the mid-1970s. And it’s been operating there continuously ever since.
If you love Starbucks as much as I do, waiting in line with tourists to get a glimpse of the inside of the store and snag one of the unique souvenirs is worth it.
Seattle Art Museum
The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is a world-renowned institution that houses an incredible collection of art from around the globe.
Located in the heart of downtown Seattle, the museum is a popular destination for art lovers.
The SAM’s collection includes thousands of pieces of art, ranging from ancient artifacts to contemporary works.
It’s one of the finest art museums in the United States, so even if you have only a passing interest in art, it should really be on your list of things to see in Washington State.
I’ve seen many wonderful exhibits at SAM and highly recommend a visit.
Designed by Frank Gehry—and once called the Experience Music Project—the Museum of Pop Culture offers exhibitions and educational programs dedicated to creativity and contemporary pop culture.
MoPOP is a great place to visit if you’re interested in learning more about music and popular culture.
Where to stay in Seattle
Mayflower Park Hotel—Stay in the heart of downtown Seattle within walking distance of Pike Place Market and just steps from the Westlake Center monorail stop, making is super easy to get to the Space Needle, Seattle Center, MoPOP, and Chihuly Garden and Glass. Check rates and availability here.
Hotel Ändra—Also within convenient walking distance of the Seattle waterfront and the Westlake Monorail station, Hotel Ändra offers unique boutique accommodations. It’s also about a 15-minute walk to the Space Needle. Check availability here.
Ace Hotel—located in the popular Belltown neighborhood, Ace Hotel offers affordable accommodations just more than a 10-minute walk from Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. It’s also about a 7-minute walk to Olympic Sculpture Park. Check out available rooms here.
These cities are great places to visit in Washington State
Olympia is the capital of Washington and a great stop on your trip, especially if you’re “collecting” state capitals.
The Legislative Building (Capitol Building) is the centerpiece of the city and warrants a visit. They offer free daily guided tours that are open to the public.
If learning about the capitol building doesn’t interest you, might enjoy a stroll through one of the city’s many beautiful parks.
Walla Walla is a small city in southeastern Washington with a big personality. With a population of just over 30,000, it’s the perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of big city life.
But don’t let its size fool you – there’s plenty to do in Walla Walla.
The city has a vibrant downtown with plenty of shops and restaurants, and there are also several parks and museums to explore.
Spokane, Washington, is also a beautiful city with a lot to offer visitors.
From historic neighborhoods to the incredible natural scenery (they seem to think their fall colors can rival New England’s), Spokane is a great place to spend a few days
The city is home to numerous parks and green spaces, as well as an accessible downtown area with plenty of shops and restaurants.
And of course, no visit to Spokane would be complete without taking a scenic stroll through Riverfront Park. Or you might want to tackle a portion of the Centennial Trail which starts in Washington’s largest state park, Riverside State Park.
Washington State National Parks
When most people think of Washington State, they picture Seattle’s skyline or the snow-capped peaks of the Cascade Mountains.
Washington is also home to a diverse array of other landscapes, from temperate rainforests to deserts.
And tucked away in these different ecosystems are some of the most beautiful national parks in the country. So whether you’re a nature lover or an adventure seeker, be sure to add these destinations to your list.
They would all make great weekend getaways from Seattle.
North Cascades National Park
If you’re looking to explore the great outdoors near Seattle, North Cascades National Park is a perfect destination. Hiking is the most popular activity in the park, and the best time to go is during the driest weather, from mid-June through September.
Even if you’re not an experienced backpacker or mountaineer, there are still plenty of trails that can be done in a day. There are at least five or six trails that can be completed in less than two hours.
Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park is one of the most stunning and iconic places in Washington state. The 14,000+ foot tall mountain is an active volcano, and the national park protects and preserves this natural wonder.
Mount Rainier is a popular destination for hikers, campers, and photographers, and it’s easy to see why.
The views are simply breathtaking, and there are countless trails to explore. Whether you’re looking for a challenging hike or a leisurely walk in the woods, Mount Rainier National Park has something for everyone.
So if you’re ever in Washington state, be sure to add Mount Rainier National Park to your list of places to visit.
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is an amazing place full of striking scenery. The lush rainforest and mountains are just two of the many things to see in this unique national park located on the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State.
Hiking through here with your friends or family will be a fun experience. I’m not a major outdoorsy person, but I really enjoyed the hike to Marymere Falls. I liked it so much that I even wrote a college essay about it.
I’m not joking even a little bit.
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is a must-see for anyone visiting Washington State.
Those who grew up in Washington State tend to think of Mount St. Helens as a watershed moment in their lives and mark time by how old they were, where they were, or what they were doing when it erupted in 1980.
Make sure you stop at the Visitor Center to explore the educational offerings, so you can learn more about what happened on that fateful date.
Fort Vancouver National Historical Site
Fort Vancouver National Historical Site is one of the coolest places in Washington State. It was established in 1948 as a way to preserve the history of this important Hudson’s Bay Company site.
It’s a large area that includes a reconstructed fort (the original burned to the ground in the 19th century) where you can learn all about the early days of the Northwest fur trade.
If you’re looking for a fun and educational place to visit in Washington State, you should check out Fort Vancouver National Historical Site.
San Juan Islands
Some people, when writing about the best things to see in Washington State, lump all of the San Juan Islands together…as if it’s all one place (eye-roll). There are actually well over 100 named islands in the San Juans.
Each island is different. Below are my favorites.
The 57-square-mile Orcas Island is regarded as the “gem of the San Juans” by some, and even referred to as the “Emerald Isle.”
Orcas Island is a stunning location to visit. Moran State Park has 38 miles of trails, and you can go up Mt. Constitution (the highest point in the San Juans) for great views of the region or try sea kayaking or whale watching, among other things.
If you’re planning on spending a day driving around Orcas Island, be sure to check out the scenic byway and visit Orcas Island Pottery–the oldest pottery shop in the Pacific Northwest.
If your visit to Orcas Island is a romantic getaway, I recommend you check out Rosario Resort & Spa.
San Juan Island
If you’re interested in sea kayaking, whale watching, or anything similar, San Juan Island is the place to go.
San Juan is considered one of the best places to see killer whales. Try this whale-watching tour to have a great chance of seeing whales and of course other sea mammals.
Friday Harbor on San Juan Island is also a very walkable town, and just about anything you’d want to see or do is within walking distance of the ferry terminal.
Lopez Island is a lovely place to visit, and one of the best ways to see it is by bicycle.
The island is fairly small (about 30 square miles), so it’s easy to get around, and there are plenty of places to stop and enjoy the beauty of the island.
Lopez is also the least hilly of the San Juan Islands, although I definitely wouldn’t describe it as flat.
Biking around Lopez with my best friend her father is one of the highlights of my Washington State explorations.
Don’t miss these other Washington State islands
Bainbridge Island is just a short ferry ride from Seattle, but it can feel like a different world. It also makes a relaxing day trip from Seattle.
The ideal location to unwind and recharge, Bainbridge Island is a popular destination for tourists.
While there you can visit the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (free admission) or the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. Both are near the ferry terminal.
If you’re looking for something a little more outdoorsy, head to Bloedel Reserve. With 150 acres of gardens, forests, and meadows, it’s the perfect place to take a stroll.
There are also some great places to stay on Bainbridge Island if you want to stay over. The Eagle Harbor Inn is a small boutique hotel near the water.
Or try The Marshall Suites if you’re looking for something a little more spacious.
Whidbey Island is a lovely place to visit in Washington State. It’s only a short drive (plus a ferry ride) from Seattle, and once you get there, there are lots of things to do on the island.
You could follow the Whidbey Art Trail and explore the many studios, galleries, and sculpture parks the island offers.
Or visit Fort Casey Historical State Park and stop by Admiralty Head Lighthouse.
Whidbey is the largest island in Washington State, so there are a few towns to choose from if you want to stay overnight.
If you’re looking for a more-or-less centrally located town, Coupeville might be the place for you. Or, if you prefer larger towns, Oak Harbor (on the north end of the island) or Langley (near the Mukilteo ferry) could also be good options to check out.
Jetty Island is a little slice of beach paradise just a stone’s throw from downtown Everett, Washington. It’s actually the longest sandy beach in Puget Sound.
This two-mile-long manmade island is only accessible by foot ferry or personal watercraft. It’s the perfect place to spend a summer day swimming, picnicking, kayaking, or just exploring.
State parks and other natural sites
Just a short drive from Seattle you’ll find the beautiful 268-foot Snoqualmie Falls on the Snoqualmie River. Snoqualmie Falls is listed on the National Register of Historic Places because of its importance to the Snoqualmie people.
If you’re looking for a weekend getaway that’s luxurious and relaxing, Salish Lodge & Spa is hard to beat.
Deception Pass State Park
Deception Pass State Park is the most popular state park in Washington. It’s perfect for fishing, boating, hiking, camping, picnicking, or just strolling on the beach.
You can take in the beauty of both the Whidbey and Fidalgo islands when you visit this 3800+ acre park. With 77,000 feet of shoreline, you’re sure to find a spot that’s perfect for you.
The Deception Pass Bridge is an excellent sightseeing location, especially for those interested in photography. There are wonderful views from the bridge itself, which can be accessed by foot (though beware of potential crowds; this is the only bridge to Whidbey Island).
Lake Chelan is a beautiful place to visit in central Washington State. The glacier-fed lake is in the Cascade Mountains of central Washington. It’s an ideal location to unwind and enjoy the area’s natural beauty.
At 33,000 acres, Chelan is the largest natural lake in Washington. There are many activities to enjoy, including hiking, fishing, boating, and swimming. In addition, you can enjoy restaurants and shops in town.
Whether you’re looking to “rough it” and camp or enjoy higher-end accommodations at a resort, Chelan has what you need. Try the Lakeside Lodge and Suites. It’s right on the lake and just a few steps from Lakeside Park.
Columbia River Gorge
The Columbia River Gorge is one of the most beautiful and picturesque regions in the United States. This location is recognized for its lush trees, rushing waterfalls, and breathtaking views.
If you’re going to be in the area in the fall, don’t forget to stop by and admire all of the colors on display!
There are numerous hiking and biking trails in the Columbia River Gorge, so it’s a great destination for nature lovers.
If you’re looking for a place to stay in the Columbia River Gorge, the Skamania Lodge in Stevenson, Washington, is a great option.
Mount Baker is one of the most famous peaks in the Cascade Mountains. It’s a popular destination for skiers, snowboarders, and mountain climbers.
At 10,781 feet, Mount Baker is the third highest peak in Washington State. It’s considered an active volcano even though it last erupted in 1843. You’ll find Mount Baker in the North Cascades east of Bellingham, Washington.
Palouse Falls State Park
Palouse Falls State Park is one of Washington’s hidden gems. The park is home to the beautiful Palouse Falls that tumbles 200 feet over a cliff into a pool below.
Visitors can enjoy hiking, picnicking, and bird-watching. In addition, the park offers three stunning views of the Falls.
Located at the southwestern tip of Washington State, Cape Disappointment is known for its foggy weather.
Visitors can explore and enjoy captivating views of the Pacific Ocean. But one of the best parts of Cape Disappointment is its history.
The cape was named by English explorer John Meares, who mistakenly believed that the mouth of the Columbia River was only a bay. Today, visitors can learn about Meares’ expedition at the Lewis and Clark Interpretive Center.
So whether you’re looking for a place to enjoy some fresh air or to brush up on your history, Cape Disappointment is a great place to stop.
Wonderful towns to visit in Washington State
Port Townsend is a great place to see in Washington State if you’re looking for a charming small town. This picturesque town is located on the Olympic Peninsula and is renowned for its Victorian architecture.
It’s also a great place for outdoor activities like hiking, biking, and kayaking (you’ve probably noticed that these are recurring themes in any destination listing featuring Washington State).
There are plenty of lodging options in Port Townsend, including bed & breakfasts, hotels, and vacation rentals. The Ravenscroft Inn is highly rated by guests for its service, amenities, and breakfast.
If you’re looking for a place in Washington State that feels like you’ve traveled to Europe without leaving the United States, then Leavenworth is the place for you.
I’ve heard that Leavenworth is second only to Seattle in Washington State as a tourist destination. I’m not sure if it’s true, but I wouldn’t be shocked.
This charming town is nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. Here, you’ll find plenty of shops and restaurants to enjoy, as well as quirky attractions like a nutcracker museum.
There are many great places to stay in Leavenworth, but one of the best is the Bavarian Lodge in the heart of Leavenworth.
Pullman, Washington, is a small city in southeastern Washington State that’s also home to Washington State University.
The city is also known for its stunning scenery, with the Palouse providing a picturesque backdrop. Many visitors enjoy biking the Palouse, while those looking for a more urban adventure can explore the shops and restaurants downtown.
The quaint town of Winthrop, Washington, is nestled in the stunning Methow Valley, and is fondly known as the “Gateway to the North Cascades.”
With its picturesque mountain views and charming Western-themed architecture, Winthrop feels like it stepped right out of a John Wayne movie.
Today, this friendly town is a popular destination for those looking for Western-themed fun. You can also enjoy hiking, biking, and horseback riding, and nearby Pearrygin Lake State Park offers boating and campsites.
Other things to do in Washington State
Museum of Flight
The Museum of Flight is a must-see for anyone interested in aviation history. Located just outside of Seattle, the museum houses an impressive collection of aircraft, spacecraft, artifacts and exhibits.
In addition to the static displays, the museum also offers a variety of interactive exhibits, making it a great place for both adults and kids.
The only time I’ve ever stepped aboard a Concorde or an “Air Force One” (retired) was at the Museum of Flight.
Grand Coulee Dam
Grand Coulee Dam is a massive hydroelectric dam located on the Columbia River in central Washington state. It’s the largest power generator in the U.S. by nameplate capacity.
(I don’t really know what that means others than that this dam is huuuuuge.)
The dam was completed in 1942, and visitors today can take the dam tour (yes, I went there) to see the facility and learn about its history.
Don’t forget to stop by the Visitor Center, and you simply must check out the laser light show at night.
Bing Crosby House
The Bing Crosby House is a must-see for any fan of the legendary crooner. Located in his hometown of Spokane, Washington, the house is owned by Gonzaga University and offers a fascinating glimpse into Crosby’s early life.
The house features a collection of more than 200 pieces of memorabilia, including photographs, records, and personal belongings.
Even if you’re not a big fan of Bing Crosby, the Bing Crosby House is well worth a visit. It’s a unique slice of American history that provides insight into the life of one of our most beloved entertainers.
When to visit Washington State
If you’re looking for the best time to visit Washington State, you’ll want to consider the weather. Summer is a great time to enjoy the good (drier) weather in Western Washington.
The downside of that though is higher numbers of other travelers flocking to the same areas.
Fall is a good time to visit Eastern Washington when the temperatures are cooler. Late spring in Eastern Washington is historically the wettest time of the year there.
Winter is a great time to visit if you’re looking to enjoy some of the state’s winter activities, such as skiing and snowboarding. But mid-fall through winter is also the wet season in the Seattle area.
Spring is also a good time to visit, especially if you’re interested in seeing the state’s beautiful wildflowers in bloom.
Ultimately, there is no wrong time to visit Washington State – it’s a beautiful place to visit year-round.
Final thoughts on the best sites in Washington State
Washington is a stunning state with plenty to offer visitors. Whether you’re interested in the hustle and bustle of Seattle or want to get away from it all on one of our many gorgeous islands, there’s something for everyone here.
If you haven’t had the chance to visit Washington State, be sure to add at least one of these amazing destinations to your list.
Do you have a favorite place to visit in Washington State? Let us know in the comments below.
More articles to help you plan your trip to Washington State
- Cheap things to do in Seattle
- Seattle weekend itinerary
- Perfect day trips from Seattle
- How to plan a travel itinerary
- Essential travel planning resources
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