With gorgeous landscapes from the Pacific coastline to the North Cascade mountains, Washington State offers a delightful array of activities for every interest. I’ve lived here for over 30 years and am still amazed by the endless opportunities, from outdoor adventures to cultural experiences. Here are the top six, in my experience.
The San Juan Islands, accessible by ferry, are a summer paradise in the state’s northwest corner. The waters around the San Juan Islands are most famous for whale watching, particularly for orcas. Several tour operators offer boat tours to see these magnificent creatures and other marine wildlife like seals, sea lions, and porpoises.
San Juan Island, Lopez Island, and Orcas Island are the most popular islands. They each have numerous trails for hiking and nature walks. Orcas Island has over 30 miles of hiking trails, for example, including the Mount Constitution trail, which has fantastic, photo-worthy views on a clear day.
The islands are also a popular destination for kayaking, biking, boating, and camping. And for their beautiful beaches and parks, where you can relax, have a picnic, or enjoy the sunset.
The San Juan Islands are home to a vibrant arts community as well. You can visit galleries, studios, and shops to see local art, crafts, and other unique items. And, of course, enjoy the local cuisine, which emphasizes fresh, locally sourced seafood.
Each island has unique charm and attractions, so visiting multiple islands is worth making the time.
Rainier is a nature lover’s dream, with trails and impressive views for all skill levels. Summer is the perfect time to explore its meadows, which burst into color with wildflowers.
There are several scenic drives for those who prefer to enjoy the beauty of the park from their vehicle. The drive to Sunrise, the highest point in the park accessible by car, provides breathtaking views of Mount Rainier, the surrounding valleys, and usually wildlife too.
The park is home to a rich array of wildlife, including black bears, deer, and mountain goats, and offers excellent opportunities for wildlife photography. Visitors often ask about the black bears, which are generally brown or cinnamon in color. There are no grizzly bears in the park.
The park also boasts several incredible waterfalls, with Narada Falls, Christine Falls, and Myrtle Falls being some of the most picturesque and easily accessible.
Lastly, perhaps my favorite, are the meadows around Paradise and Sunrise which burst into color with wildflowers between July and early September. This is the best time of year to visit all around, for weather, amenities, wildlife and wildflowers.
This signature spring event is an exceptionally delightful experience for everyone of all ages. The festival, celebrated every April, transforms the Skagit Valley into a vibrant landscape of blooming tulips and, slightly earlier, ever-so-fragrant daffodils, drawing visitors worldwide.
The festival’s main attraction is the endless rows of tulips in various colors. These fields provide a spectacular backdrop for strolls, photography, or simply enjoying the beauty of our state. The flat terrain of the tulip farms is generally easy to navigate, making it accessible for those who prefer a less strenuous outing.
The festival features beautifully curated garden displays, floral shows, and outdoor fields. The festival also includes a marketplace featuring local artisans and crafters. You can browse and purchase unique handmade goods, garden art, and other crafts.
This UNESCO World Heritage site encompasses nearly a million acres. It includes a stunning stretch of the Pacific coastline, alpine areas, and the temperate Hoh Rainforest. Summer is the best time to explore its varied ecosystems, whether hiking in the mountains, strolling along the beaches, or trekking through the rainforest.
The park is famous for its lush, temperate rainforests. The Hoh and Quinault Rainforest offer trails like the unbelievably beautiful Hall of Mosses and the Spruce Nature Trail.
A drive or hike up to Hurricane Ridge is a must for stunning panoramic views of the park and its surrounding areas. On clear days, you can see the Olympic Mountains and even glimpses of Canada.
Olympic National Park offers a variety of hiking trails for all skill levels. Popular trails include the Sol Duc Falls Trail and the trails in the Staircase area. Rialto Beach, Ruby Beach, and the beaches around La Push offer wonderful walks also, with dramatic sea stacks, tide pools, and the chance to spot marine life.
The Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is another relaxing vacation stop, letting you decompress in natural hot spring pools surrounded by the forest. The area is also dotted with beautiful waterfalls, with Marymere Falls and Sol Duc Falls being among the most popular and accessible.
Each area of the park has something unique, so try to visit multiple regions if time allows.
The Lavender Festival, held annually in Sequim, celebrates the region’s extensive lavender farms and status as the “Lavender Capital of North America.” The festival usually occurs in July, during the peak bloom season for lavender.
The highlight of the festival is the opportunity to visit multiple lavender farms. Each farm is unique, offering tours, demonstrations, and the chance to see lavender fields in full bloom.
You can purchase a wide range of lavender products at the farms and the festival street fair, from essential oils and soaps to culinary lavender and crafts. Many farms offer a “U-Pick” experience where you can harvest your lavender directly from the fields.
You can also participate in workshops or watch demonstrations to learn about lavender cultivation, distillation processes, and its many uses in cooking, crafts, and aromatherapy.
The festival typically features live music and entertainment, adding to the festive and fun atmosphere. It’s not just about the beauty of lavender but also a celebration of community, local agriculture, and the arts.
Washington State is rich in history and culture, reflected in its many spectacular museums. Whether you’re interested in Native American history, aviation, art, or natural history, a museum in Washington caters to your interests. Here are some of the best:
One of the world’s most significant air and space museums, it’s impressive for all ages with a vast array of airplanes and space vehicles.
Known for its diverse and dynamic collection, this museum features works ranging from ancient artifacts to contemporary art, including a notable collection of Native American art.
Focusing on contemporary and incredible art, this museum highlights the medium of glass and features works by renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly, among others.
Located at the University of Washington, this museum has extensive anthropology, natural history, and paleontology collections. If you visit in the spring time, you may also catch the cherry blossom fever.
Museum lovers will be thrilled at the endless options that await, offering a unique window into the various aspects of Washington State’s rich cultural and historical tapestry.
Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, cultural experiences, or natural beauty, the state is full of opportunities to create memorable experiences. Always check for current conditions and reservations when planning your trip!
What’s your favorite kind of adventure when you travel – urban exploration, nature escapes, or cultural experiences? Have you ever visited Washington State? If so, what was the highlight of your trip?