Planning a visit to Washington State? Known as the Evergreen State because of its lush green rainforests, Washington has a variety of attractions for everyone. Find the best things to do in Washington State and explore the best places to visit in this epic guide. You might also like our post on the best places to visit on the West Coast of the USA.
Washington State is a jewel of the Pacific Northwest. The state is named after US President George Washington. It is home to amazing cities such as Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, and Spokane. The state is also a powerhouse for the information technology industry. Multi-million dollar corporations such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Expedia are based in the state. It is also the birthplace of Starbucks and Boeing. Washington is famous for its coffee houses and delicious seafood-based cuisine.
Washington also has an incredible natural beauty which is reflected in its slogan of the Evergreen State. It is visited by millions of tourists every year for its natural attractions such as Olympic National Park, Mt Rainier, and North Cascades National Park. Visitors from all over the world enjoy hiking in the emerald green Hoh Rain forest on the Olympic peninsula and wildflower viewing at Paradise in Mount Rainier National Park. Other attractions such as vineyards, apple orchards, and rural communities also bring in visitors.
But Washington is much more than it’s cities or mountains or other land-based attractions. The coastline, islands, and marine life of the state also attract many visitors. You would be surprised to know that there are 400 archipelagos and islands in Washington State! Not all of them are inhabited – but those that are have plenty of attractions for visitors. The most famous are probably the San Juan Islands in Puget Sound. But other popular islands including Bainbridge Island, Blake Island, and Whidbey Island are also popular attractions.
Best Things to do in Washington State
Washington has many interesting and unique things to do that keep all types of visitors happy. Art and culture lovers can see the stunning blown glass artwork at Chihuly Garden and Glass while movie buffs will love the props and costumes at the Museum of Pop Culture in Seattle.
Outdoor families can enjoy hiking, biking, and scenic drives in the snow-capped mountains of the Cascade ranges. Foodies can eat a variety of cuisines, shop for fresh produce at the local farmer’s markets, and enjoy the fresh catch of the day at seafood restaurants. Here are some of the best places to visit and the best things to do in Washington:
Enjoy the urban attractions of Seattle
Seattle is one of the top cities to visit in the country. It makes the perfect weekend getaway or a city break for culture and coffee lovers. Spend a day visiting Seattle’s most iconic attraction, the Space Needle. Located within the Seattle Center, the Space Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. Since then, the building has attracted millions of visitors to its observation deck every year. From here, you can get stunning views of the skyline, Puget Sound, and Mount Rainier.
The Seattle Center has many other attractions including the Chihuly Garden and Glass, Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), and the International Fountain which shoots up water in the sky. At the Chihuly Garden and Glass, you can see stunning blown glass creations of the artist, Dale Chihuly. At MoPOP, you can see props, costumes, and exhibits from popular movies in the sci-fi, fantasy, & horror genres.
Seattle’s other attractions include the spooky Seattle Underground and the unique building of the Seattle Public Library. The waterfront and Pike Place Market are great for taking a stroll, shopping, and eating a variety of cuisines. See our post on the Best Things to do in Seattle for more information on attractions such as Capitol Hill and the Museum of Flight.
Explore the Hoh Rainforest & Olympic Peninsula
Washington’s Olympic Peninsula is one of the most beautiful regions in the country. It lies opposite Seattle on the Puget Sound. The Olympic Peninsula has plenty of attractions including beautiful landscapes, giant trees, and coastal communities. You will also have amazing wildlife and marine life encounters including deer, elk, bear, eagles, dolphins, whales, sea otters, seals, sea lions, etc. The best way to explore the Olympic peninsula is via a road trip along Highway 101.
Olympic National Park located on the peninsula is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and protects many diverse ecosystems. One of the best places to visit in the Olympic National Hurricane Ridge. Located about 17 miles from Port Angeles, this side of the park has beautiful mountain views and incredible hikes crossing subalpine lakes and valleys. The easy half-mile Big Meadow Trail is a great introduction to the park. The national park also has dramatic beaches, turquoise glacial lakes, waterfalls, and hot springs and is the ultimate outdoor destination.
The Hoh Rainforest, part of the Olympic National Park, is one of the largest temperate rain forests in the country and gets over 140 inches of rain every year. This rainforest is a magical place where dense fog rolls through moss-covered trees and the sun rays barely penetrate through the evergreen rainforests. Hiking in the rainforest among ferns, lichens, mosses, and old-growth trees is a favorite tourist activity. Visitors can go on trails surrounded by cedars, fir, and spruce trees. One of the most visited trails in the rainforest is the 1.1 miles long Hall of Mosses trail. This heavily hiked trail is very photogenic, accessible, and perfect for all age groups.
Visit the North Cascades National Park Complex
The North Cascades National Park Complex has some of the most untouched and unspoiled places in the United States. The park complex is actually home to three different units: the snow-covered North Cascades mountain ranges bounded by the national park, Ross Lake National Recreation Area, and Lake Chelan National Recreation Area. The North Cascade mountains are also called the American Alps due to their snow-capped peaks, alpine lakes, and wildflower-filled meadows. The best time to visit the park attractions is from July to September when the snow melts and roads are open.
Hiking in the North Cascades park complex is one of the best ways to explore the park. Most hiking trails have gorgeous mountain views and lots of wildlife seeing opportunities. Some of the popular trails are the short Ladder Creek Falls, the accessible Sterling Munro Trail, and the 7 mile long strenuous Cascade Pass trail. Also must visit is the North Cascades Visitor Center. It has plenty of exhibits and educational opportunities for the kids plus is a good place to grab a map, souvenirs, etc.
The drive along the North Cascades Scenic Byway is one of the most scenic drives in the state. The route is 140 mile long and will take you along sharp mountain peaks, frozen glaciers, roadside waterfalls, and the charming Skagit Valley tulip fields. Some of the highlights of the drive include Washington Pass Overlook, the turquoise shimmering Ross Lake, Diablo dam overlook, and the charming wild west mining town of Winthrop.
Spend a day on the water in Puget Sound
Puget Sound is an inlet of the Pacific Ocean in the Pacific Northwest. The Sound consists of many waterways, basins, and islands in the northwestern corner of Washington. Seattle is located on one side of the sound while the Olympic peninsula consisting of the Olympic National Park is located on the other side. Other cities in the region include Tacoma and Bellingham. There are also many rural communities in the region that thrive on farming and provide pick your own produce type of attractions to tourists.
A special attraction of the sound is its islands. The most popular islands include the San Juan Islands, Bainbridge Island, Blake Island, and Whidbey Island. Most of the major islands are connected by the Washington State ferries and are easy to access. Other small islands can be accessed by sea kayaks or chartering private boats.
Puget Sound has a stunning diversity of wildlife including harbor seals, orcas, salmon species, and many sea birds. This abundant wildlife attracts many tourists to the islands and the sound every year. You can go whale watching and see the migrating orcas and other species. The most popular whale watching cruises leave from the Seattle waterfront. Along with tourists, photographers and naturalists also visit the sound for its wildlife.
Experience rural life on San Juan Island
San Juan Island is the second largest of the islands in Puget Sound. The island has exceptional whale watching. The cruises and tours leave from Friday Harbor marina. Other outdoor activities include hiking, biking, and kayaking. On the island, you will be treated to pastoral sights of alpacas, cows, and sheep grazing around. The island also has many scenic byways that go past attractions such as farms, rugged coastlines, and lighthouses such as the Cattle Point Lighthouse. One of the most popular places to visit on the island is the Lime Kiln Point State Park. The park has stunning coastal views, good hiking trails, and even a lighthouse.
The island also has many attractions for city dwellers and urban tourists. Historic Friday Harbor is a beautiful seaport town on the island. It has many art galleries, boutiques, antique stores as well as book stores. The island’s museums are worth a visit. At the Whale Museum, You can see skeletons of orcas and humpbacks and efforts going on to protect marine life. At the San Juan Islands Museum of Art, you can explore local artists and their creations. Learn all about the island’s history at the San Juan Historical Museum.
The San Juan Islands are a delight for food lovers. There are many charming cafes, eateries, and seafood restaurants in Friday Harbor. The salmon dishes are especially delicious. Other dining experiences also abound on the island You can dine at farm to table restaurants and go wine tasting at the local wineries. Many breweries and distilleries are also located on the island. You can taste amazing craft beers, very best ciders, and unique flavored spirits.
Photograph the beautiful Mount Rainier
Mount Rainier National Park is a highlight of Washington. The towering Mount Rainier forms the beautiful backdrop for the Seattle skyline and is a must-visit. Two of the most popular areas of the National Park are Paradise and Sunrise. The road to Sunrise area is open only from July to September while the paradise area is open year-round. Other popular areas of the park include Carbon River, Longmire, White River, and Ohanapecosh.
The Henry M Jackson Visitor Center at Paradise is the most popular visitor center in Mount Rainier. At the visitor center you will find many exhibits related to the geology, flora and fauna, natural resources, and history of Mount Rainier. The Paradise area is known for its meadows filled with wildflowers during summer. Along the hiking trails in Paradise you will see glacier views, waterfalls, and stunning views of the volcanic peaks in the Cascade ranges.
The paradise region is also popular during winter for snow activities like skiing, snowshoeing, and sledding. The Sunrise area is closer to Seattle but much less visited. This region is at a much higher altitude than Paradise and completely inaccessible during winter. Sunrise is popular for its stellar views of the meadows, the valley, and Mount Rainier. Sunrise Nature Trail and Sunrise Rim Trail after two most popular hikes in this region. The National Park is a photographer’s paradise for its scenic views.
Get a taste of Europe in Leavenworth
Located in the Cascade mountains of Central Washington, Leavenworth is a charming Bavarian Village. It has Alpine chalet-style architecture and is significantly influenced by the Bavarian traditions in Germany. Leavenworth is extremely photogenic and a wonderful place to visit especially during the holiday season when twinkling lights decorate the entire town. The town is not authentically Bavarian but was intentionally transformed into a Bavarian-style village to draw tourism when logging in the region declined, just like Helen – the beautiful Bavarian town in Georgia.
The Front Street of Leavenworth is full of restaurants serving German beer and food. Visitors can eat traditional delicacies like bratwursts, sauerkrauts, schnitzels, and pretzels while visiting the town. Leavenworth celebrates events such as Octoberfest and Christmas markets on a large scale. One of the unique area attractions is the Nutcracker Ballet Museum. Also must visit is the Gingerbread Factory, a bakery that sells delicious baked goods. There are also many wineries, breweries, and distilleries close to the town.
There are plenty of outdoor things to do in Leavenworth. In the summer, tourists can go hiking and biking in the region. In late summer, you can see colorful white flowers whereas during autumn, you will see beautiful fall colors. You can also go white water rafting on the Wenatchee River. During winter, this charming Bavarian town is the gateway to skiing in the Cascades. Stevens Pass ski resort is one of the most popular skiing destinations nearby. This is the perfect outdoor playground for visitors from Seattle and the rest of the country.
See the blast zone at Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mount St. Helens is an active stratovolcano in Washington. The national monument protects the volcanic peak and its surrounding area. It is located on the Pacific Ring of Fire and the last major eruption occurred in 1980. The Johnston Ridge Observatory and Visitor Center has a beautiful view of the volcanic peak and is open from May to October.
The Mount St Helens Forest Learning Center is free to visit and has many exhibits regarding the eruption. There are many trails in the National Monument and hiking is one of the popular activities on hikes you can expect to see wildlife including bears and elk. Visitors can also take a helicopter tour of the blast zone, climb the volcano (permit required) and explore the Ape Caves on the south side of the monument.
Fall in love with Deception Pass on Whidbey Island
Located in the Puget Sound, Whidbey Island is a great tourist destination. The island has beautiful scenery, pastel-colored wood buildings, and fantastic wildlife. The island is easily accessible by ferry and even cars are permitted on it. Things to see on Whidbey Island include Ebey’s Landing, Deception Pass State Park, and the small harbor towns of Langley, Oak Harbor, Clinton, and Coupeville.
The island has many outdoor activities. Visitors can hike, bike, birdwatch, go fishing, enjoy the beaches and watch stunning sunsets on the island. The Deception Pass State Park, located on the north tip of Whidbey Island, deserves a special mention. The Deception Pass Bridge is a national historic site and very photogenic. From the entire park and the bridge you will have beautiful coastal views.
Get charmed at Port Angeles
Port Angeles, located on the Olympic Peninsula, is one of the most beautiful places in Washington. The city is the perfect gateway to Olympic National Park. You can stay in Port Angeles and make a day trip out to the park for hiking, wildlife viewing, and scenic drives. The wildlife and marine life are abundant around Port Angeles. Common sightings include orcas, whales, deer, mountain goats, and sea birds.
But apart from the outdoors, there are many things to do in the city itself. The downtown has everything from museums to casinos and is a lively place to visit. Many charming boutiques and stores are located around the downtown and waterfront areas. You can shop for clothes, books, handmade gifts, antiques, fresh produce, and artisan goods. Take a stroll along the Port Angeles mural trail to see beautiful murals or visit the Elwha Klallam Heritage Center to see Native American artifacts. Beachcombing is also a popular tourist activity.
Get cultured at Spokane
Spokane, located in Eastern Washington, is one of the top cities to visit in the state after Seattle and Tacoma. One of the city’s highlights is the Spokane Falls. Visitors can take a cable car ride to see the waterfall from above. The city has beautiful urban parks and gardens including the Centennial Trail, the Riverfront Park, and the botanical Manito Park. Manito Park’s Japanese Garden is especially beautiful.
Spokane also has many museums and is a cultural destination. Visit the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture to see a beautiful variety of Native American arts and culture on display. St John’s Cathedral has beautiful Gothic architecture and is worth a visit. In winter, the Mount Spokane Ski and snowboard park is a premier attraction.
Get up close to Canada in Bellingham
The city of Bellingham is closer to the Canadian border than to other major attractions in the US. Bellingham is located close to the North Cascades National Park and also has easy access to the San Juan Islands. The Western Washington University is located in Bellingham and as a result the city has a significant college population. One of the main highlights of Bellingham is the Whatcom Falls Park, where visitors can see the Whatcom Creek cascade over the rocky landscape.
The historic district of the city has beautiful Victorian architecture and is great for a stroll. Science buffs should visit the Spark Museum of Electrical Invention which has amazing science exhibits including a Tesla coil and replicas of Edison’s bulbs. The Mount Baker ski area is located near Bellingham and is a must-visit for avid skiers in winter.
See the stunning Snoqualmie Falls
The Snoqualmie Falls are one of Washington’s most popular natural attractions and visited by over millions of visitors every year. The falls are 269 ft tall and look beautiful as they cascade down the mountainside. There are many things to do in Snoqualmie Falls. Visitors can hike the 1/2 miles one-way trail to the base of the falls. The views from the bottom are beautiful.
For those who do not want to hike, the falls can also be easily seen from an easily accessible viewing platform near the parking lot. The Snoqualmie Falls also look amazing when seen from the viewing platform. The falls look especially beautiful in spring when the ice melts and the falls are at their full capacity.
Walk the Bridge of Glass in Tacoma
Tacoma is located south of Seattle and is a great weekend getaway from the Emerald City. Tacoma is also located on the Puget Sound and enjoys beautiful water views. The city has many cultural attractions. One of the most popular attractions in Tacoma is the Museum of Glass which exhibits artwork by Dale Chihuly. The museum building itself has beautiful architecture.
The beautiful Bridge of Glass connects the museum to Downtown Tacoma and is decorated with many of Chihuly’s artworks. Other good museums in the city include the Tacoma Art Museum, the LeMay car Museum, and the Washington State History Museum which has a nice display of model trains and is a hit with kids. Another favorite with the kids is the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium.
Admire the architecture of the Washington State Capitol, Olympia
The Washington State Capitol located in Olympia is a beautiful building and worth a guided tour. The Capitol is built in the Greco-Roman style of architecture. The rotunda is also magnificent and has the state seal on the floor. The Capitol has a marble interior with beautiful chandeliers designed by Tiffany’s. You can discover the history of the building, see its architecture, and know more about the legislature on an hour-long free tour offered by the State Capitol.
The guides are knowledgeable and make the tour interesting and fun. Alternatively, visitors can also tour the building by themselves but they won’t be able to see certain areas. Olympia also has many other things to do and see besides the Washington State Capitol Complex. See the Capitol Lake, enjoy the waterfront Percival Landing, and go birdwatching at the Billy Frank Jr Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
Learn about Lewis & Clark Expedition at Cape Disappointment State Park
Cape Disappointment State Park is located where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean. The park is a part of Lewis and Clark National and State Historical Parks that honors the Lewis and Clark expedition. Inside the State Park, you will see beautiful old-growth forests, lakes, and marshes. The park also has two lighthouses – the North Head Lighthouse and the Cape Disappointment Lighthouse.
The Lewis and Clark interpretive center has exhibits from the expedition, the history of the park including the construction of Fort Stevens, and maritime history of the Columbia River. Visitors can camp, hike, bike, sea kayak, paddleboard, and enjoy the scenic views at the park. The North Head Lighthouse can be seen on guided tours.
See the trees turned into stone at Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park
One of the most unusual places in Washington State is the Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park. It is located on the shores of the Wanapum Dam near the city of Vantage along the Columbia River. This bare desert landscape was the site of lush green forest millions of years ago. The state park preserves an entire forest of petrified wood. The site contains dozens of fossilized prehistoric trees including the petrified ginkgo tree.
Inside the Visitor Center and Museum, you can see beautiful cross-sections of petrified wood. Apart from petrified wood, visitors can also see fossils of prehistoric animals and Native American petroglyphs at the state park. Walk along the 1.5 miles long Trees of Stone interpretive trail to see various types of excavated petrified trees including maple, fir, and elm. It is fascinating to watch the trees hardened to stone due to volcanic activity, making it one of the best places to visit in Washington State.
See the lavender fields at Sequim
Sequim, Washington is most famous for its lavender fields. There are many lavender farms in the Sequim-Dungeness area and almost all of them are open to visitors. The lavender farms are stunning and gorgeous when the lavender is in bloom. Visitors can take a stroll and walk in the huge lavender farms and purchase lavender products at the farm gift shops. Sequim also organizes an annual lavender festival in the summer, which is worth a visit.
Another popular thing to see and do in Sequim is the Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge. This natural area is popular for its wildlife viewing and bird watching. Other attractions at Dungeness include hiking, kayaking, exploring the beaches, and touring the charming New Dungeness Lighthouse. Other places to visit in Sequim include the Olympic Game Farm Wildlife safari, Railroad Bridge Park, etc.
Enjoy the tulip fields in La Conner & Skagit Valley
Skagit Valley in spring is one of the most beautiful places in the whole world, let alone Washington. The Skagit Valley is popular for its tulip fields that are in full bloom in April. During the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, visitors can see row after row of vibrant colored tulips. The fields look stunning and rival those in the Netherlands. The tulip festival is one of the most popular Instagram spots in Washington.
The epicenter of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is La Conner, a small community that is centrally located from all the flower fields. In addition to the tulips, La Conner has its own Daffodil Festival in March. Visitors from all over the world descend on La Conner in March and April. Along with the flower fields, you can spend time by the waterfront, attend music concerts, go wine tasting in local wineries, visit the Skagit County Historical Museum, and the one of its kind La Conner Quilt and Textile Museum.
Take the ferry to Bainbridge Island
Bainbridge Island makes the perfect day trip from Seattle. The island can be reached by taking a short 35-minute ferry away from Seattle Waterfront. There are many things to do on the island including boutique shopping, parks and marinas, and historic museums. The island also has great seafood restaurants, wineries, breweries, and cafes.
Visit the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art to see work by local artists of the Pacific Northwest. The free Bainbridge Island Historical Museum has details about the history and life on the island. Nature and outdoor lovers should visit the Eagle Harbor Waterfront Park and hike the waterfront trails to see historic structures and marine life. Bainbridge Island also has many other attractions and is a great relaxing getaway in Washington.
Experience Native American culture at Tillicum Village
Tillicum Village is a tourist attraction located in Blake Island State Park on Blake Island in Puget Sound. The only way to reach the island is by boat. You can take a four-hour-long cruise known as the Tillicum Excursion from Seattle to the village. The excursions are operated solely by Argosy Cruises. Along with the excursion events, visitors also get an hour to explore the island.
In the village, visitors can experience the Pacific Northwest Native American culture and see a half an hour-long storytelling and dance performance. The dancers are dressed in traditional costumes and wear wooden masks. The excursion includes a meal of fire smoked salmon in the longhouse. Visitors can also see a variety of native arts and crafts. A visit to the island is a really great introduction to the indigenous people of the Pacific Northwest.
We hope you like our post on the Best Things to do in Washington State. Did we miss out on any amazing attractions in the Emerald State? Let us know in the comments.