As Washington State residents and unapologetically vocal fans of The Evergreen State, recommending just five “must-see things” feels painfully restrictive. If we had our way, every visitor to the state would have endless amounts of time to discover all of the treasures that Washington holds. From the moss-drenched Olympic Peninsula hugging the Pacific Ocean to the arid wine region of Walla Walla at the base of the Blue Mountains and everything in between—there is just so much to experience. However, since most visitors only have a short amount of time, we’ve (reluctantly) restricted ourselves to just five recommendations. Additionally, since most visitors to the State base themselves in Seattle, we’ve focused the following list on experiences that are reasonably close to the Seattle area.
Here are the five things that we feel any visitor will appreciate and that will provide a good understanding of just how dynamic Washington State is without having to travel too far from Seattle.
- Pike Place Market – It should come as no surprise that Washington State’s most popular tourist attraction tops the list. Not only is it home to the iconic Pike Place Fish Market (you know, the guys who throw the fish) and the world’s first Starbucks, people flock to experience the stunning array of local artisans and outstanding restaurants. Even locals find themselves popping into the market for fresh flowers and locally farmed produce. And, yes, sometimes we too find ourselves trying to get a glimpse of some fish being thrown.
- National Parks – Visitors staying in Seattle or Tacoma have fairly quick access to three National Parks: Olympic National Park, Mt. Rainier National Park, and North Cascades National Park. Most visitors will want to pick one and take the time to really experience that park and its surrounding area. For instance, visitors who want to see a temperate rain forest should take a ferry across the Puget Sound to see Olympic National Park. When there, make sure to check out aptly named Hurricane Ridge (bring a warm jacket!) and the turquoise waters of Lake Quinault.
- Seattle Center – Another spot in Seattle that every visitor should see is Seattle Center. Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, Seattle Center is now home to the popular Experience Music Project (where you can learn all about Seattle’s grunge scene), Chihuly Garden and Glass, and the most iconic structure in all of Washington State, the Space Needle.
- San Juan Islands – The San Juan Islands are one of the State’s hidden gems. The temperate San Juans (as locals call them) maintain an air of remoteness and untouched beauty that belies their close proximity to Seattle. If the timing is right, you can watch whales breach or kayak along unspoiled coastlines. You can also just sit back, drink some wine, and take in the beauty that makes the San Juans must see. For visitors who don’t have a ton of time, we recommend visiting one of the islands served by Washington State Ferries (because the ferry ride is half the fun!).
Viewfinder Tip: For visitors whose travels allow for more exploration, the less populated east side of the state is rich with outdoor activities and endless things to do.
- Mount St. Helens – On the edge of the lush Gifford Pinchot National Forest is one of Washington State’s most notorious residents. In 1980, the volcano–just one of many in the Cascade Range–erupted and literally changed the shape of the state forever. Things have calmed down a lot since then (although the volcano still shows signs of activity), so it is safe to go explore the aftermath of the most destructive volcanic eruption in the history of the United States.
What are you most interested in seeing when you visit Washington State? If you are familiar with Washington State, what would you add to this list?