15 Places to Visit in Washington State for Fun, Adventure and Beautiful Vistas

Kimberly Miles Avatar
person kayaking in Washington State
Washington State is full of fun and adventure for lovers of the outdoors. Photo credit: Silvana Clark

Between its towering space needles, stomach dropping bridges, grandiose mountains and stunning national parks, there’s certainly no shortage of things to do and see in the Evergreen State. If you’re having trouble deciding which of the best places to visit in Washington State you should put on your itinerary, start with this list of our 14 faves.

Bordered by Canada, Oregon and the Pacific Ocean, Washington State is known for its diverse ecosystems, majestic mountains, stunning national parks and iconic landmarks. No matter your age or interests, there is something on this list that will leave you wishing you had more time to explore them all.

From jaw-dropping natural wonders and temperate rainforests to art museums and internationally known coffee shops, there’s something bound to catch the attention of art lovers, nature lovers, history lovers, outdoor enthusiasts and foodies.

Iconic Seattle view, from Bainbridge Island ferry
Iconic Seattle view, from Bainbridge Island ferry. Photo credit: Judy Antell

1. Seattle

Home to the original Starbucks Coffee, Seattle sits on the Puget Sound surrounded by water, mountains and forests. As the largest city in the state, there is plenty to do and see to keep you busy whether you’re visiting for a day or a week.

The historic Pioneer Square, also known as Seattle’s first neighborhood, is known for its Renaissance Revival architecture as well as its art galleries, coffee shops, boutiques, trendy bars and nightlife. The popular Pike Place Market, Seattle’s original farmer’s market, is the place to go for locally-sourced foods, art and crafts. The Pike Place Fish Market is perhaps one of the most entertaining parts of the market as “flying fish” get thrown back and forth between fish mongers who then catch and wrap it behind the counter.

Seattle makes it easy to get around the city with a choice between the Link Light Rail, King County Metro Transit and the Seattle Streetcar.

Must-visit places in Seattle include:

Space Needle with two cyclists in Seattle
The iconic Seattle Space Needle. Photo credit: Judy Antell

Space Needle

The Space Needle is perhaps the most recognizable feature of the Seattle Skyline and one of the most recognized attractions in America. This 605-foot-tall structure at the center of the city offers an observation deck as well as a rotating restaurant. It is definitely a must-visit attraction while in Seattle.

Built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, the Space Needle began as a drawing on a napkin, inspired by the Stuttgart Tower in Germany. After many design iterations, architects Edward Carlson, Victor Steinbrueck and John Graham Jr. created the iconic building that soars above the city today, offering 360 degree views of Seattle.

Deception Pass State Park

The most visited state park in the state of Washington, Deception Pass State Park has more than 3,854 acres of mysterious coves, cliffs and stunning sunsets. There’s also a marine and camping park with 77,000 feet of saltwater shoreline and three freshwater lakes.

Spend a day at Deception Pass State Park fishing or swimming in Cranberry Lake. Or, bring out your sand buckets and search for seashells along the Puget Sound beachfront. You may even catch a glimpse of a whale or a family of seals while you’re there! If you’re feeling a little more active, you can conquer one of the hiking trails through the park’s stunning forest while birdwatching and spotting other local wildlife. If you’re feeling particularly adventurous, take a stroll across the stomach-dropping Deception Pass Bridge, which connects Skagit Bay with the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

Bainbridge Island

Just a short ferry ride from Seattle, Bainbridge Island is roughly the same size as Manhattan, NYC, but with more hills. The island is a great day trip where you can enjoy a relaxed vibe outside of the main city riding bikes (there are bicycle lanes everywhere) or strolling its Main Street lined with shops and cafes.

Island attractions include Bloedel Reserve with landscaped gardens and trails, the coastal Fay Bainbridge Park and Campground with beach views of the Cascade Mountains and Puget Sound and the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, with rotating exhibitions by contemporary local artists.

2. Spokane

Spokane is known as the birthplace of Father’s Day. But that’s not all that makes it special. In addition to its nickname of “Hooptown USA” due to its hosting of the world’s largest basketball tournament, it is also home to the vast Riverfront Park, site of the 1974 World’s Fair.

Spokane is one of the best places to visit in Washington State for its four seasons and number of both indoor and outdoor activities to enjoy year-round. The walkable downtown area is a mix of boutique shops, chain stores, laid back eateries and pubs. The Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture explores the region’s history, culture and Native American Heritage.

For stunning views of Spokane Falls, hop on a cable car from Riverfront Park or take the kiddos on a carousel ride. Afterwards, take a stroll through the park’s sculpture walk.

whale watching
An orca breach around San Juan Islands. Photo credit Sarah McCullagh, San Juan Outfitters.

3. San Juan Islands

The San Juan Islands in Washington are known for its incredible landscapes and wildlife. Although there are 172 named islands and reefs in the county, the four most popular islands that are served by the Washington State Ferry are San Juan Island (with the beautiful seaside town of Friday Harbor), Orcas Island, Lopez Island and Shaw Island.

San Juan Island, located in the Strait of Juan de Fuca along the Canadian border, is one of the most popular islands. It is one of the best places in Washington to visit for temperate climate with a slow, island pace. Catherine Parker took the ferry to San Juan Island on a road trip through the Pacific Northwest and was immediately hooked by its history, orca whale-watching from Lime Kiln Point State Park and fields of summertime lavender. As soon as you hop off the ferry, you’ll step into Friday Harbor lined with shops and restaurants. From there you can catch an inter-island ferry to the Lopez, Orcas and Shaw Islands.

Horseshoe-shaped Orcas Island, called “the gem of the San Juans” by locals is a mix of  arts and culture, lush forests, pristine lakes and outdoor recreation. Lopez Island, known as “the friendly isle,” offers a landscape of forests, farmlands, quiet bays and beaches with distant views of the snow-tipped Mount Baker. Shaw Island is the smallest of the four islands with just one small grocery store, one park and campground.

Leavenworth winter activities - corner view onto light park at night.
It’s not called the “Village of Lights” for nothing! Behold Winter Karnevale in Leavenworth. Photo credit: Jennifer Keller

4. Leavenworth

Located in the Cascade Mountains, Leavenworth is a Bavarian-style village with Alpine-style buildings and a popular Front Street serving up delicious German beer and food. Leavenworth is one of the best places to visit in the state of Washington for skiing and wine tasting at one of its many wineries.

Leavenworth in the winter is magical, especially during the holidays. On December 1st, the town turns into a Winter Wonderland with 1.2 million lights, carolers, sleigh rides, a lantern parade and roasted chestnut vendors. There are weekly festivals, a traditional Christkindlmarkt, and a massive tree in the center of town. Melody Pittman recommends the Leavenworth Nutcracker Museum with nearly 5,000 items to admire.

If you’re up for a road trip, take a trip to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness with 700 lakes and numerous opportunities for hiking, glacial mountaineering and fishing (with the proper license).

Chihuly Bridge of Glass
Beautiful works of art at the Chihuly Bridge of Glass. Photo credit: Judy Antell

5. Tacoma

Located on the banks of Puget Sound, Tacoma may not be as famous as its sister city Seattle, but it still has plenty to offer. In fact, it is one of the best places to visit for art lovers with unique pieces of art and hands-on exhibits to explore.

Tacoma is known for the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a pedestrian bridge that connects downtown Tacoma to the waterfront. It also serves as an outdoor gallery of Chihuly works. This gallery features two 40-foot towers of giant blue crystals, a walk-through pavilion with a ceiling of 1,500 glass “Seaforms” and a wall of Venetian vessels. The bridge will take you from the Tacoma Art Museum to the Museum of Glass where you can explore even more unique pieces. Judy Antell calls it “a museum to entice kids who are art museum averse.”

Other attractions in Tacoma that you’ll want to include in your vacation budget include the Point Defiance Zoom and Aquarium;, the must-visit LeMay (America’s Car Museum), which celebrates America’s passion for the automobile; the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, which transports visitors back to the 19th century; and the Washington State History Museum, which features hands-on exhibits including a vast model railroad. Just a half-hour away is the state capital of Olympia and the towering Washington State Capitol building.

6. Port Angeles

Sitting at the entrance of the Olympic National Park, Port Angeles is one of the best places to visit in Washington for outdoor enthusiasts and explorers. Although the park is the biggest highlight with nearly one million acres for hikers, bikers and beachcombers to have a blast, Port Angeles has so much more to offer.

Because of the town’s seaside locale and proximity to lakes and rivers, outdoor enthusiasts have a variety of water activities at their fingertips including paddleboarding, scuba diving, surfing and kayaking. Hurricane Ridge is popular for skiing and snowboarding during the winter. Those looking to get up close and personal with wildlife and sealife can easily do so in the Olympic Peninsula by whale watching, bird watching and hiking to spot mountain goats, deer and marmot.

If you’re looking for a low key way to spend time in town, visit one of the town’s historic sites and museums to learn more about its Native American heritage, or do some shopping around the charming downtown and waterfront area. There’s no way to get bored in Port Angeles!

7. Olympic National Park

With more than 900,000 acres of wilderness to explore, the year-round Olympic National Park is a beautiful place with rugged coasts dotted with tide pools, hidden trails, hot springs, temperate rain forests and wildflower-covered mountaintop meadows. Olympic National Park is a triple threat park with mountains to hike, rainforests to explore and beaches to walk. In fact, Olympic National Park is so diverse and beautiful that it is considered a World Heritage Site, and the only one of its kind in the northwest.

SheBuysTravel contributor Catherine Parker visited the park and recommends exploring a rainforest trail to get the full Olympic National Park experience. The popular Hoh Rain Forest, located on the Olympic Peninsula, is one of the largest temperate rainforests in the USA. She also recommends Lake Quinault for trails. Both Lake Quinault and the Hoh Rain Forest are stunning and offer family hikes. Small group tours are also available.

Some other fun ways to explore the park’s beauty include driving up to Hurricane Ridge to see its glaciers, exploring an alpine ridge and hiking through a meadow of flowers. Or swim in a warm mineral pool. If you’re up for the challenge, grab a stand-up paddleboard.

8. Vancouver

Vancouver (not to be confused with Vancouver, British Columbia) is the 4th largest city in Washington State. With nearly 200 parks to explore, Vancouver is one of the best places to visit in Washington State for outdoorsy visitors.

If you don’t do anything else while in Vancouver, the historic waterfront and waterfront park is a must. Built in 2018, the 7.3 acre park has an open lawn, an urban beach, picnic areas and an interactive water play feature, Headwaters Wall. Walk or bike the Waterfront Renaissance Trail to the Vancouver Land Bridge, leading you to the family-friendly National Historic Site, Fort Vancouver. Vancouver’s Main Street is a great place to go for antique shops and galleries, pubs, restaurants and ice cream shops.

For some additional outdoor recreation and enjoyment, head to the Columbia River Gorge for trails, forests, waterfalls, canyons and incredible vistas. The 11,000-square-foot Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum is the place to learn about the area’s cultural and national history.

on the water in Bellingham
Take a break from the bustling city for some relaxing down time on the water in Bellingham. Photo credit: Silvana Clark

9. Bellingham

Located near the border of Canada, Bellingham is a coastal city and port for ferries to Alaska. SheBuysTravel contributor Silvana Clark is a Bellingham native and thinks of the semi-small town as one of the best places to visit in Washington State for visitors seeking a break from big city traffic and crowded attractions.

For some fresh air and time in nature, Bellingham offers moer than 40 parks, each with its own distinct personality. Some are basic with a few trails or homemade rope swings, while others cover hundreds of acres.

Spark Museum of Electrical Inventions is one of those slightly weird, yet fun museums that teach you things  you didn’t know you needed to know and features a giant “MegaZapper” Tesla Coil that produces nine-foot lightning bolts! Find a 500-square-foot large toy train in the Bellingham Railroad Museum, or explore trails and lookouts down to Puget Sound at the Larrabee State Park. The Whatcom Museum is the place to go for art, nature and regional history. And just an hour’s road-trip away is where you’ll find year-round snow at Mount Baker.

10. North Cascades National Park

Located in the northern part of the state, North Cascades National park offers 300 glaciers in a rugged park vast with mountains and lakes. The west side of the park offers a temperate rainforest while the east side of the park offers a dry ponderosa pine forest.

For visitors wanting to spot some wildlife, the park is home to grizzly bears, gray wolves and more than 200 species of birds. If you want to camp in a floating cabin, you can find them at the Ross Lake Resort along the Skagit River. The fun part is that they’re only accessible by float plane, ferry or horseback.

A peaceful early morning on Lake Chela
A peaceful early morning on Lake Chelan. Photo credit: Deb Steenhagen

11. Lake Chelan

Just over the North Cascade mountains from Seattle sits Lake Chelan, the third deepest lake in the USA. Although it’s not well known outside of the state of Washington, it is one of the best places to visit in Washington State for locals and visitors looking for a summertime getway.

With 50 miles of shoreline set inside a picturesque mountain valley, Lake Chelan provides plenty of fun. There are three communities located on the lake: Chelan, Manson and Steheken, which is only accessible via boat, seaplane or hiking. With four full seasons and more than 300 days of sunshine per year (unlike the rainy, drizzly images that come to mind when someone mentions Seattle), the area is a popular tourist destination with many events, activities and festivals happening year-round.

SheBuysTravel contributor Deb Steenhagen says her favorite experience while visiting Lake Chelan was the Lady of the Lake ferry, which runs year-round from Chelan to Stehekin. It’s the only regular ferry service to the upper portion of the lake, which is only accessible by boat, plane or walking. In her words, “Whether you make a day of it or choose to stay overnight in Stehekin (or set up at a campsite along the way), this area is remote and beautiful to explore by boat or on foot.”

Snoqualmie Falls is just a short drive from Bellevue
Snoqualmie Falls is just a short drive from Bellevue. Credit: Judy Antell

12. Snoqualmie Falls

One of Washington’s most popular tourist attractions, Snoqualmie Falls is a scenic, 268-foot waterfall located east of Seattle on the Snoqualmie River. It is internationally known for its appearance in the American mystery serial drama series Twin Peaks.

The waterfall sits in a two-acre park with an observation deck, gift shop and a lodge and spa. The 1.4 miles out-and-back trail to get to the waterfall is generally considered easy and takes roughly 45 minutes to complete. Whether you want to hike or bike the trail is up to you! Wine lovers can enjoy a trip to the falls before embarking on a fun wine tasting tour.

13. Mount Rainier National Park

Mount Rainier National Park is home to the 14,410-oot, glacier-capped Mount Rainier, an icon in the state. It is one of the best places to visit in Washington State if you want incredible mountain views. As an active volcano, it is the most glaciated peak in the USA.

On a clear day, Mount Rainier offers Seattle’s best view. The 6,400-foot-high Sunrise is the highest point in the park reachable by car where you can view Mt. Rainer and other nearby volcanoes. Head to the 5,400-foot-high Paradise overlook for the best mountain views, wildflower meadows and hiking trailheads.

And of course, a trip to Mount Rainier is not complete without sampling its namesake cherries. It’s a good idea to arrive early in the day during the summer.

14. Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Located between Canada and Mt. Rainier National Park, the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is another of the best places to visit in Washington State for beautiful views, forests and glacier-covered mountaintops.

With year-round recreational activities, the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest is a playground for outdoor lovers of all ages. When not on a guided tour, you can check out one of the park’s lakes or rivers and do some fishing or go rafting. In the winter months, you can go cross-country skiing or give snowshoeing a try. Or, take a relaxing hike while doing some bird watching.

15. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument

Mount St. Helen’s National Volcanic Monument once was a recreational playground for Washington. However, one Sunday morning on May 18, 1980, an earthquake caused the snow capped mountain to collapse into an avalanche, which released pressurized gasses from within the volcano. The explosion detroyed nearly 150 square miles of forest, leaving behind a gray landscape. In 1982 the 110,000-acre site was turned into a National Volcanic Monument.

The Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument now draws thousands of visitors yearly to climb the rim, learn about the history of the area and to take part in recreational activities such as hiking, biking, fishing, skiing and snowboarding.

Catherine Parker visited Mount St. Helens with her three school-age kids and recommends the Johnston Ridge Observatory with live seismographs and geologic exhibits. The visitor center offers two films that had her kids glued to their seats as they watched.

Kimberly Miles is a mother of one and an experienced solo and single mom traveler. So far, she has traveled to Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, Dubai, Bahamas, Aruba, Mexico, and several places in the U.S. Kimberly was born and raised in Alexandria, Virginia, but in 2018 she took a leap of faith and made the beautiful beach town of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico her home with her young son. In addition to writing for SheBuysTravel, Kimberly ghostwrites blogs on a variety of topics. She also provides marketing consulting services and business guidance to entrepreneurs, small businesses, and corporations via her independent business KNM Virtual Solutions. When she’s not traveling or writing, you can find Kimberly working out, eating tacos, dancing the night away, or spending time at the beach with her son. You can read more of her work at Travel Unapologetically.
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