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Washington State has some of the most stunning and fascinating places to visit anywhere in the United States. From the glorious coastline to the breathtaking national parks to the bustling cities, it is impossible to get bored while staying here.
You will find it all here — city, small-town charm, mountains, beaches, Canada to the north, and Oregon to the south.
If you want one-of-a-kind things to do in Washington, our in-depth Washington state visitors guide can help you learn everything you need to know before you visit Washington (beyond the same old suggestions of Pike Place Market!).
- Best Things to Do in Washington
- 1. Explore Mount Rainier National Park
- 2. Take in Culture at The Port Angeles Fine Arts Center
- 3. Hit One of The State’s Many Beaches
- 4. Go Whale Watching at San Juan Island National Historical Park
- 5. Explore The Wine Country of Lake Chelan
- 6. Get Your Hiking Boots on
- Where to stay in Washington
- How to Get Around in Washington
- Travel Tips for Visiting Washington
- 1. Consider Getting Travel Insurance
- 2. Pack Smart
- 3. Think Outside The Box
- 5. Be Open to New Foods
Best Things to Do in Washington
1. Explore Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier is undoubtedly one of the most popular places to visit in Washington. This stunning active volcano sits in Mount Rainier National Park, one of the state’s three national parks. It should come as no surprise that there are countless things to do here, from hiking to enjoying the wildflowers and looking for one-of-a-kind animal life.
In the winter, visitors and locals alike flock to Mount Rainier National Park to become cross-country skiers and snowshoers. The park is open all year, so you can see the state’s great outdoors.
Most people take on Mount Rainier alone, but that doesn’t mean you have to. If you prefer to join a tour guide, many Mount Rainier tour experiences are available. For example, you can join a tour guide on a seaplane tour to enjoy the natural beauty from the bird’s eye or take a full-day hike up Mount Rainier with a small group.
2. Take in Culture at The Port Angeles Fine Arts Center
Port Angeles is a large city west of the Olympic Peninsula known for its coastal and woodland offerings, notably the Olympic National Park. However, you might not know that the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center offers visitors the chance to enjoy culture in the middle of the forest.
This former residence-turned-museum features art displays inside and outdoors, and visitors are welcome to explore the outdoor sculpture park. The outer portions are the most popular and stylized as a “museum without walls.”” They feature more than 125 art pieces set on five acres of walking trails so that you can experience art in the most uniquely Northwest way.
The indoor art gallery features pieces from local artists to the Pacific Northwest, offering a stylistic experience that couldn’t happen anywhere else. These pieces change periodically, so you never know what you will find!
The Port Angeles Fine Arts Center is open throughout the year, so you will have plenty of opportunities to experience it (provided you’re willing to set out in the rain or the snow to have these outdoor adventures, of course). However, you would be hard-pressed to say it wasn’t worth braving the weather to see them.
3. Hit One of The State’s Many Beaches
There is no shortage of gorgeous Washington coast, with each beach offering something new and unique. While much of the year might be too cold for swimming, you will still find people flocking to the beaches to enjoy hiking, exploring, and taking in the gorgeous views.
However, there are also times when the weather is warm and pleasant; during this time, the beaches get crowded with swimmers and sunbathers.
Ask a local, and you will likely get many different answers about the best beach in the state. That is because western Washington has so much to offer regarding coastal experiences, from the Olympic Peninsula to the islands.
For example, Ruby Beach in Olympic National Park is extremely popular due to its pebbly shores and stunning views. The beach on the Olympic Peninsula is also home to many tidal pools and rare migrating bird species.
On the other hand, Long Beach Peninsula is a quiet place perfect for walking and admiring the scenery. True to its name, the beach stretches 28 miles west of the Pacific and east of the Columbia River Gorge and features sandy shores ideal for taking a long stroll. Long Beach tends to be quiet and uncrowded.
4. Go Whale Watching at San Juan Island National Historical Park
Washington has many state parks, but the San Juan Islands are unique. Located in Puget Sound, the islands are home to some fascinating history and some of the most breathtaking views in the state — which is saying something!
The San Juan Islands are remembered in history as being the site of the Pig Wars, a skirmish between the United States and the United Kingdom in 1859 that started after a pig was killed. Today, the San Juan Islands are known for being home to the only natural prairie in Puget Sound.
Even more fascinating is its reputation as a prime place to observe orcas in their natural habitat. If you are interested, you can find whale-watching tours from the island.
San Juan, sometimes known as Orcas Island, is a small town known for its fascinating wildlife offerings, some of which you won’t find anywhere else in Puget Sound. These include elephant seals, bald eagles, wild foxes, unique amphibians, and the famous orca.
These animals are spread from the coastline to the prairie, and visitors are welcome in both areas, provided they follow safety regulations and behave with respect toward the animals.
5. Explore The Wine Country of Lake Chelan
Lake Chelan is one of the fascinating places in Washington for more reasons than one. This 50-mile-long lake could almost be called a fjord due to its unique structure and untold depths. It is a trendy spot for visitors to enjoy the beaches, hiking, biking, and other outdoor sports.
However, the unique climate of Lake Chelan also turns the surrounding area into an ideal wine country. You will find vineyards and wineries all along the shores of the lake, and they are truly worth a visit.
You will even find people doing a tour of the wineries in a day or a weekend, some of them by bike! Lake Chelan is home to more than 30 wineries, so there are countless experiences to have and vintages to taste as you make your way through small towns along the shoreline.
These vineyards and wineries are locally owned and produce some of the best wine in the region, full of the flavors of the Pacific Northwest. Wine lovers won’t miss the chance to sample some of the unique wines of Lake Chelan wine country, whether you take a bike or drive from vineyard to vineyard.
6. Get Your Hiking Boots on
To say there are many places to hike and enjoy Washington’s stunning mountains is an understatement. Glance at a map, and you’ll see countless sites where you can walk for a view from the hills, even in the winter.
Once you leave the city (and sometimes even before), you will immediately see mountains. Some of these, like Mount St Helens and Mount Olympus, are well known, while others are hidden gems.
The North Cascades are one of the most popular hiking spots. The Cascade Mountains are north of the state, an afternoon drive east from Seattle. Among the North Cascades is the Cascade Loop, the highway that is itself a popular tourist destination thanks to its stunning views of the Cascade Mountains.
If you prefer to hike in the islands, you’ll find Moran State Park and Mount Constitution in the San Juan Islands.
West of Seattle, these islands aren’t in every Washington travel guide — but they definitely should be. Other popular hiking destinations include Whidbey Island, the Grand Coulee Dam, and Hurricane Ridge.
Where to stay in Washington
Washington has many great places to stay, no matter what you seek. From campgrounds to five-star hotels and resorts, there are options to suit various interests in this beautiful state.
Here are our top recommendations for the best accommodations, whether you are staying on the coast or in eastern Washington:
- Riverfront Park Travel Apartments — Spokane
- Silver Cloud at Point Ruston Waterfront — Tacoma
- McMenamins Elks Temple — Tacoma
- The Finch — Walla Walla
- Twisp River Suites — Twisp
- Woodland Inns — Forks
- Cedarbrook Lodge — Seattle
- Willows Lodge — Woodinville
- Island Inn at 123 West — Friday Harbor
- Skamania Lodge — Stevenson
How to Get Around in Washington
Washington has some unique offerings when it comes to transportation. Not only do you have the standard options of renting cars and taking public transport, but there is also the incredible ferry system running along the coast and the islands, which any good Washington travel guide will mention.
If you prefer to rent a car — and many travelers do — you can find great options on sites such as RentalCars.com. This can be a great option if you plan on being in a more rural area.
Washington even has some byways considered tourist attractions because of the stunning landscapes and mountains. So, a rental car may be a great choice, especially if you stay in Eastern Washington.
If you are visiting a larger city, you may be able to rely on public transportation. Tacoma, Seattle, and Olympia have excellent public transportation systems. Tacoma has buses and shuttles that tourists and locals use daily. Meanwhile, Seattle has ferries, a light rail, and a bus system.
If you are on the coast, you can use the ferries. This is a great way to travel around the islands while skipping out on traffic and avoiding finding parking spaces.
Travel Tips for Visiting Washington
The Evergreen State truly has something for everyone, and there are too many locations to see on a single trip. You might be exploring a major city and drinking in arts and culture, or out in the Cascade Range or driving through small towns. That’s why you should consider a few things before you visit Washington.
1. Consider Getting Travel Insurance
Most people don’t consider travel insurance before going on a trip, but it can be hugely helpful. Companies such as Visitors Coverage and SafetyWing offer excellent travel insurance options designed to give you peace of mind while you travel — without putting undue strain on your wallet.
But what is travel insurance, and why do you need it? This kind of insurance coverage helps protect you in the event of a loss of personal belongings while you are traveling. It can be applied to both international and domestic trips. Travel insurance can be a wise idea if you plan on being on the road for any length of time.
For a basic fee, you can get coverage of all your personal belongings while on a trip. In the event of an unexpected loss — whether through an accident or a theft — your insurance company will reimburse you for the lost items.
This can be a massive help for people who have lost valuables while on the road, such as electronics, jewelry, or other expensive items that would otherwise have been lost for good, which they would have had to pay to replace.
2. Pack Smart
The weather in Washington State, especially in the national parks, is famously changeable and can quickly bounce between warm and sunny to cold and rainy or snowy. Because of this, you might need to pack extensively to ensure you have all the clothes and gear to stay safe and comfortable during your visit.
In general, when you head out for a day trip during your time in Washington, make sure you are wearing layers. The weather can change on a dime, so you may take layers off and put them back on throughout the day. Rain gear is an absolute must. Washington averages an annual rainfall of 32 to 45 inches, depending on where you are in the state, one of the highest in the United States.
If you plan hiking or other outdoor activities, you will also need the proper gear to stay safe and comfortable. Depending on your plans, this includes hiking or snow boots, skis, swimming gear, umbrellas, rain gear, camping gear, waterproof boots, and more.
Getting the best products can be the key to having a pleasant trip. You can check out highly-rated outdoor products from brands such as Patagonia and Columbia on Amazon and other websites.
3. Think Outside The Box
Complete guides are written about exploring Seattle and Spokane, but don’t limit yourself to the big cities. Washington state has some of the most stunning and unique places to visit, many off the beaten track.
Browse most travel guides for Washington tourism. You will find suggestions for popular attractions such as the Space Needle in Seattle, Pike Place Market, North Cascades National Park, Mount Saint Helens, and the Olympic National Park. While these are all great for their reasons, Washington has much more to offer.
Washington is a place to be open to adventure, so don’t be afraid to find something new that isn’t in the guidebooks. A great way to do this is to talk to locals, who can tell you places to visit that go far beyond the official recommendations.
You might be surprised at the experiences you have and the places you find to explore. This can include everything from hole-in-the-wall restaurants to undiscovered gems of art galleries or the perfect spot to watch for whales along the coast.
That doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the classic tourist attractions in the downtown area of Spokane if that’s up your alley. Just be aware that they aren’t the only things Washington has to offer!
5. Be Open to New Foods
It should be no surprise that Washington State is full of great food, especially seafood. Being on the Pacific Coast, you can eat some of the best seafood you have ever had — the freshest. Even if you aren’t usually a big seafood eater, be open to trying something new. You may find something delicious that you have never had before.
Of course, seafood isn’t the only unusual food in Washington State. Among the many offerings, you will find countless types of ethnic cuisines and modern, trendy offerings. This will vary in part depending on where you are visiting.
Seattle features some of the nation’s most renowned restaurants. If you plan on visiting one of these metropolitan hubs, you are in for a treat (assuming you can get a reservation, of course).
When you set out for Washington, bet on finding some new and unique foods and try them. Whether trying an avant-garde new restaurant, a Michelin-star popular eatery, a hole-in-the-wall hidden gem, or a food truck on a street corner, be prepared to eat well while staying in Washington State.
- About the Author
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Kyle Kroeger is the Founder and Owner of ViaTravelers.com. He is a full-time traveler and entrepreneur. Kyle started ViaTravelers.com to help travelers experience a fully immersive cultural experience as he did initially living in Italy. He’s a converted finance nerd and Excel jockey turned world wanderer (and may try to get lost on purpose). After visiting 12 countries and 13 national parks in a year, he was devoted to creating and telling stories like he’d heard.
Plus, after spending more time on airplanes and packing, he’s learned some incredible travel hacks over time as he earned over 1 million Chase Ultimate Rewards points in under a year, helping him maximize experiences as much as possible to discover the true meaning of travel.
He loves listening to local stories from around the world and sharing his experiences traveling the globe. He loves travel so much that he moved from his hometown of Minneapolis to Amsterdam with his small family to travel Europe full-time.