While there are plenty of things to do to keep you busy in Seattle, there are a wealth of day trips within easy reach. Surrounded by water and mountains, you’ll have access to outdoor adventure and breathtaking scenery in every direction, not to mention some fabulous smaller towns with all sorts of attractions. When visiting the Emerald City, try to squeeze at least one of these options into your itinerary.
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It’s worth waking early to enjoy a day trip to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. While it will take a few hours, part of the journey is the fun of the adventure with a scenic ferry ride from Anacortes. You’ll arrive on Friday Harbor where no vehicle is necessary. This especially picturesque seaport town is home to a number of museums, art galleries, unique shops and countless eateries serving farm-to-table dishes with local ingredients, including fresh seafood, produce and herbs as well as some outstanding island-produced wines. Kayaking tours, including whale watching, are an option too.
Snoqualmie Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls in the Pacific Northwest. Just a 40-minute drive east of Seattle, the fast-moving whitewater plunges 286 feet from the Snoqualmie River into a 65-foot-deep pool below. The falls are surrounded by a picturesque park that includes a gift shop, small café and observation deck as well as a large grassy area, perfect for a picnic. Film and television trivia buffs will likely recognize the area as the falls have appeared in the cult TV series, “Twin Peaks,” as well as the 1993 film “The Vanishing.”
Port Townsend is a Victorian seaport town on the northeastern tip of the Olympic Peninsula, about two hours from Seattle. The charming town in Washington was once named one of the ‘Best Small Towns’ in the country by Fodor’s Travel Guides. Enjoy free talented entertainment on the streets downtown, filled with gorgeous century-old buildings that house a variety of restaurants, galleries and boutiques. There is a wealth of parks to take advantage of nearby too, like Fort Worden State Park, popular for paddling, sailing, hiking, cycling, picnics and more.
Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier National Park showcases Washington State’s most famous mountain and prominent peak in the Cascades, Mount Rainier. Just a little over 90 minutes south of Seattle, this active stratovolcano looms over the Puget Sound region at over 14,400 feet and offers some of the most spectacular scenery in the country along with a wealth of outdoor adventures. Enjoy miles and miles of beautiful hikes that lead to waterfalls and wind through wildflower-filled meadows in the summer, and in the winter, ski Crystal Mountain, just six miles from the northeast entrance of the park.
Olympic National Park
One of the country’s less-visited parks, Olympic National Park offers endless hikes, cascading waterfalls, glistening lakes, hot springs and even wild, remote beaches. Lake Crescent with its emerald-hued waters is popular for all sorts of water sports like kayaking, canoeing, boating and swimming. The park is home to more than four dozen peaks that soar over 6,500 feet and over 600 miles of scenic trails. Keep an eye out for wildlife along the way like mountain goats, marmots, Roosevelt elk, bald eagles, and possibly even the spout of a whale offshore.
About two hours east of Seattle over the breathtaking Cascade Mountain Range, Lake Wenatchee is one of the state’s most magnificent lakes, particularly in the summer when its clear sapphire waters are ideal for swimming. There’s a shallow lagoon for the little ones to wade in, though the five-mile-long lake is most popular for boating, windsurfing, kayaking and stand-up paddling. Both SUPs and kayaks can be rented right at the lake for navigating the calmer waters along the shoreline. On land, you can bring your bike and hike miles and miles of trails too.
A little over two hours east of Seattle, Leavenworth is a Bavarian village complete with Bavarian-style buildings, Bavarian cuisine and huge steins of beer, along with alpine-style attractions and frequent festivals. It’s especially famous for its Oktoberfest which lasts through much of the month as well as being a popular place to visit during the Christmas holiday season, all decked out with sparkling lights and decor as well as hosting lots of fun attractions. During the warmer months, many come to fish, tube and raft the Wenatchee River that runs through town.
La Conner, located in the Skagit Valley just a little over an hour’s drive from Seattle, has been lauded many times, named the “best small town,” “most undiscovered town” and “One of the best getaways in the U.S.,” among numerous other accolades. While it’s most popular for its annual Tulip Festival, it’s fun to visit all year round with a wealth of hot culinary spots, numerous art galleries, wineries for tastings, independent boutiques and three museums: Museum of Northwest Art, the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum, and the Skagit County Historical Museum.
Langley, Whidbey Island
Langley is located on Whidbey Island, easily accessed by ferry from Mukilteo to Clinton. It overlooks the dazzling waters of Saratoga Passage and the Cascade Mountains, characterized by quiet, charming streets lined with historic buildings, book stores and antique shops as well as a number of outstanding cafes and eateries, including those whose chefs’ creations are made with island-grown ingredients. The seaside village also offers the chance to do everything from whale watching and blowing glass to chatting with winemakers, artists and coffee roasters.
Drive or walk onto the Bainbridge Island Ferry right from downtown Seattle, and enjoy the ride, watching for the myriad of marine life that passes by, from otters and porpoise to humpbacks, grey whales and orcas. Gazing east, the Seattle skyline is spectacular, and looking west toward Bainbridge Island, the dramatic Olympic Mountains provide an impressive backdrop. Once there, rent a bike and explore it on two wheels, enjoy a picnic in a waterfront park or take advantage of one of the many eateries that range from casual to fine dining.