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Situated in the far northwestern corner of America, Washington state is much more than just the city of Seattle. Now Seattle is an amazing city with a ton of things to see and do; however, there are also lots of small towns, natural parks, and coastal areas worth spending time at as well.
The state of Washington is full of wonders, from lush forests to mountain peaks and notorious volcanoes. City lovers will find plenty of concerts, festivals, and top-rated restaurants to check out, while outdoor enthusiasts could spend years here taking advantage of the state’s hiking, biking, kayaking, and skiing opportunities.
So if you’ve never experienced this amazing state for yourself, now is the perfect time to start planning a trip! These are some of the most exhilarating places to visit in Washington.
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Off the mainland of Washington, there are actually over 170 islands that make up the San Juan archipelago. About 83 of these islands are part of the San Juan Wildlife Refuge and are an excellent place to see seals, sea lions, and lots of sea birds. One of the big draws to this area is the orca whales, which are year-round residents and often best viewed from a kayak. Visitors can take the ferry to Lopez, San Juan, Shaw, and Orcas islands to see the wildlife and get active with cycling and kayaking adventures. Quite a few of the other islands are inhabited as well, but you’ll need to arrange your own air or water transportation to reach them.
Seattle serves as the ultimate destination city and home base for many travelers to Washington, and it really is a unique city worth spending at least several days in. The natural areas framing the city are absolutely stunning, with lovely views of the surrounding mountains and waterways visible from the city’s many vantage points. Mount Rainer looms in the distance and towers over the city’s skyscrapers to remind you why Seattle is the gateway to the Pacific Northwest. While in the city, check out the historic district and surrounding neighborhoods, as well as the many museums, cultural attractions, and sporting events going on all throughout the year. Popular sightseeing routes include the Space Needle, Monorail, Pike Place Market, Chihuly Garden & Glass artworks, and Olympic Sculpture Park.
Spokane is a Washington city that’s exhilarating to visit no matter what time of year it is, and it’s the second-largest city in the state. In the winter, this is a great home base for skiing and snowshoeing in the nearby mountains. In the summer, visitors and locals take to the trails for hiking, biking, and fishing. The autumn leaves are colorful in the fall, and the flowers are in full bloom in the springtime. Downtown Spokane is a beautiful and peaceful place to visit, with a river running through downtown and lots of family-friendly neighborhoods for a mid-day stroll. This is also a great city for attending local festivals, such as Bloomsday and Hoopfest. Plan to check out the Nishinomiya Japanese Garden in Manito Park and the Ferris wheel in Riverfront Park while you’re in town.
One of the most unique towns in Washington is Leavenworth, a Bavarian-themed village that has lots of festive shops, live music and theater events, and quaint accommodations. It’s situated along the slopes of the Cascade Mountains and celebrates German culture. The townspeople reinvented Leavenworth in the 1960s to revitalize it and boost tourism after the railway and timber industries went into decline. The town is also close to the Wenatchee Valley, which hosts an apple blossom festival and has some excellent wooded trails for hiking. If you visit in December, you can catch the holiday lights celebration and other Christmas-themed events.
Heading down to the southwestern tip of Washington, the Long Beach Peninsula spans about 28 miles and is home to the Willapa National Wildlife Refuge. There are many shorebirds that call this place home, including bald eagles and great blue herons. Expect to find sandy marshes, wetlands, and forests while exploring this peninsula, and then check out some of the local beach towns to get a taste of life on the peninsula. You can visit Long Beach, Ilwaco, and Nahcotta go to their museums to learn more about the history of the region and its agricultural history with oysters, crabs, and cranberries. If you visit in August, make sure to check out the peninsula’s kite festival, which is one of the largest in the world, as well as the Sandcastle Festival and the Northwest Garlic Festival.
There are several towns that make up the communities of the Puget Sound, which is a body of water where ocean waters creep inward from the Pacific to provide ports for ships at sea. From Stanwood to Olympia, this region includes Seattle, Tacoma, Everett, Port Orchard, and Shelton. This is an ideal place to plan a relaxing getaway because there are so many retreats and resorts to choose from. Consider a cozy bed & breakfast, and check out local natural food markets and restaurants here. A couple of can’t-miss attractions are Island Wood, a nonprofit outdoor education facility, and Tillicum Village, which has a salmon buffet and cultural entertainment events.
Another relaxing destination that’s ultra-romantic in Washington is Whidbey Island, which is known for both cozy bed & breakfasts and great campsites in the area’s state parks. Puget Sound residents flock here for its laid-back and romantic vibe, with winding country roads and scenic drives through the small town. This is also a great place for history buffs since the island was once a military defense site, and you can actually hike between Fort Ebey and Fort Casey. Towns to check out here include Clinton, Freeland, and Langley, and you can take a ferry to Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula from here too.
For a beach getaway destination in Washington, consider the seaside town of Ocean Shores. This is an ideal place to rent a bicycle, go horseback riding along the beach, and fly a kite with the ocean breeze. Take a walk through the downtown area to check out the cute shops with antiques, collectibles, and artwork. If you’re looking to stay here overnight, there are some great cabins, vacation rentals, and bed & breakfasts close to the beach for convenient access.
Many people don’t think of the Wild West when they plan a visit to Washington, but Winthrop is a western-themed town that celebrates cowboy culture. One of the most charming small towns in Washington, it’s located along the North Cascades Scenic Byway and a popular cross-country skiing destination too. North Cascades National Park and the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest are nearby. If possible, plan to attend a local festival while in town, such as the Rhythm and Blues Festival or the Chamber Music Festival.