After you’ve found a home and have settled in a bit, you’ll probably want to explore outside Seattle. The communities of the Puget Sound area and western Washington are wonderful places to visit. Just a short drive away (five hours at most) you’ll discover mountain peaks, lush valleys, azure lakes and streams, delightful fields of flowers, and picturesque farms. For general travel information and a tourism packet, call the Washington State Tourism Office at 800-544-1800 or visit experiencewa.com.
Most of the locations listed in this chapter offer a variety of activities, lodgings, and other attractions. For information on outdoor sports like hiking, fishing, and skiing, read the Sports and Recreation chapter of this book. See also Outdoor Guides in A Seattle Reading List.
Whidbey Island, and San Juan Islands
Whidbey Island, northwest of Seattle, is one of the two longest islands in the United States (Long Island and Whidbey Island trade the honor back and forth as their measurements change with erosion). Whidbey Island is most easily reached by ferry from Mukilteo, but a longer route through Mount Vernon and Anacortes can save you the ferry fare. Whidbey has several picturesque towns, such as Coupeville and Oak Harbor. While visiting, make sure you try some mussels in a local seafood restaurant, and take the time to drive to Deception Pass, at the north end of the island. The view from the bridge is stunning, though not recommended for those afraid of heights. For a free Island County Discovery Guide and other tourist information, call 888-747-7777, or visit islandweb.org.
The San Juan Islands are reached by ferry, either from Anacortes or Bellingham, and are worth the trip. If possible, give yourself a long weekend or several days; the wait for the ferry can take several hours, especially on a holiday or summer weekend. There are several islands in the San Juans worth visiting, each with breathtaking views. Stay in a quaint bed and breakfast or hotel, or check for vacation rentals on the Internet or in Seattle newspapers. Camping is also available in the breathtaking Moran State Park on Orcas Island. You’ll find secluded beaches, cozy coffee shops, and charming towns. If possible, take your bike or kayak, and tour the islands that way. Ferry rides between islands, especially if you’re walking or taking a bicycle, are inexpensive, but you’ll want to make sure that the dock is close enough to town, or you might be in for a long haul. For more information, contact the Orcas Island Chamber of Commerce at 360-376-2273 or orcasislandchamber.com, San Juan Island Chamber of Commerce at 360-378-5240 or sanjuanisland.org, Lopez Island Chamber of Commerce at 360-468-4664 or lopezisland.com, or the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau at visitsanjuans.com, where you can download a free visitors guide.
Skagit Valley, located only a couple hours north of Seattle, is famous for its tulips, producing more of the flowers than the Netherlands. During the spring and summer, thousands of visitors come to the valley to see the colorful tulip fields. The entire month of April is given over to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. In addition to viewing acres of waving tulips, be sure to visit nearby La Conner or Mount Vernon. La Conner is a captivating village, with intimate cafés, homemade ice cream and candy shops, and scrumptious bakeries. A few antique malls on the edges of town attract Seattle collectors as well. Mount Vernon offers several antique malls, delicious eateries, and a local brewpub with excellent food. The Skagit Valley is also a well-known haven for artists, with the Museum of Northwest Art located in La Conner: 360-466-4446, museumofnwart.org. For more information, call the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival Office at 360-428-5959, or visit tulipfestival.org.
Victoria, Vancouver, and Harrison Hot Springs, B.C.
Located on the southern tip of Vancouver Island, Victoria, B.C., is a direct ferry ride from the Seattle Waterfront on the Victoria Clipper. It’s a small but appealing city, with a lively waterfront and beautiful gardens. The Butchart Gardens in particular are worth a visit. Bus tours leave for the gardens several times a day from the waterfront. Children will enjoy the wax museum with its replicas of famous and historical figures. A trip to Victoria isn’t complete without afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel, which presides over the waterfront. For visitor information call Tourism Victoria at 250-953-2033 or visit tourismvictoria.com.
A three-hour drive north of Seattle on I-5, Vancouver, B.C., is a cosmopolitan port city offering great dining and shopping, including an extensive underground mall and Robson Street, which is lined with fashionable clothing boutiques, trendy cosmetics stores, and unique beauty and bath shops. Visit Granville Island for a bustling farmers’ market during the day or live music and dancing at night. Rent bicycles and pack a picnic lunch to ride through beautiful Stanley Park, which overlooks the shipping activity in the bay. Music concerts and live theater performances draw many Seattle residents to Vancouver, since many tours stop at only one of the two cities. For more information, call 604-682-2222 or visit tourismvancouver.com.
If you’re in the mood to relax and get away from the big city pace, consider a trip to the sleepy resort town of Harrison Hot Springs, B.C. From any point in this small town, you’ll have a spectacular view of Harrison Lake and surrounding mountains. During spring and summer, you can charter a fishing boat, take a cruise on the lake, play golf, go parasailing, play tennis, swim in the lake or the public hot springs, hike, water ski, windsurf, or go horseback riding. Harrison Hot Springs is just a little more than four hours away from Seattle. A stay at the Harrison Hot Springs Resort offers a soak in private hot springs pools and complimentary high tea. For additional information on the town and neighboring communities call the Harrison Hot Springs Chamber of Commerce at 604-796-5581 or visit www.harrison.ca.
East of the Cascades
Located on Highway 2 on the east side of the Cascade Mountains, Washington’s own Bavarian village, Leavenworth, attracts many visitors. During the summer, the town is a destination for novice rock climbers, who scale boulders along Icicle Creek. In the fall, Leavenworth presents the music-filled and beer-soaked Oktoberfest celebration. In winter, the village offers nearby skiing at Stevens Pass, as well as Christmas festivals and concerts. For more information, or to order a guide, contact the Leavenworth Chamber of Commerce at 509-548-5807 or visit leavenworth.org.
Also east of the Cascades, Lake Chelan is a favorite among sun-seekers and water enthusiasts. The area is a favorite family destination, with plenty of water-based activities and houseboat rentals. At the southern tip of the lake, the town of Lake Chelan offers crowded bars, casual restaurants, and sporting goods shops. Condominiums and motels line the lakeshore, and there is public camping at nearby parks. Call ahead for reservations, though, because the area is usually packed during the summer months. At the northern tip of the lake, the tiny town of Stehekin is reachable only by ferry or boat from Chelan and is favored by hikers and those wishing a quieter vacation. For additional tourist information call 800-4-CHELAN, 509-682-3503, or go to lakechelan.org.
Olympic Peninsula and Mountains
A short ferry ride across Puget Sound, the Olympic Peninsula has something for everyone. Poulsbo is a small Scandinavian-style village located 30 minutes east of the Bainbridge ferry terminal. Stop in for a fabulous donut at Sluys Poulsbo Bakery, home of the original recipe for Poulsbo Bread.
Drive south on Highway 101 along Hood Canal for scenic little fishing towns like Quilcene, clamming and oyster beaches, and spectacular vistas from Mt. Walker. Heading north on Highway 101, you’ll find Port Townsend, where An Officer and a Gentleman was filmed. It features historic buildings, antique stores, unusual boutiques, and kite shops, and you can also catch a ferry to Whidbey Island from downtown.
Port Angeles, at the northern tip of the peninsula, offers ferry service to Victoria, B.C. Hurricane Ridge, located only 15 minutes away from Port Angeles, is always worth a visit. The mountaintop views from the ridge are sensational, even if you only drive to the parking lot and visitors’ center. Sequim is famous for its fields of lavender and as the sunniest town in Western Washington, receiving only 16 inches of rain a year.
Nestled in the Olympic National Park, Sol Duc Hot Springs, 866-476-5382, olympicnationalparks.com, has cabins and a campground for visitors. Soak in the beautiful outdoor pools, take a short hike to the Sol Duc waterfall, or arrange for a massage from on-site massage therapists. Another short drive takes you to secluded Ruby Beach, one of the nicest sandy beaches on the Washington Coast. For more information on the Olympic Peninsula, visit the Olympic Peninsula Visitor Bureau at olympicpeninsula.org.
If you are interested in hiking or mountain climbing, get a copy of one of the many hiking guides to the Olympics. (See the Literary Life section of the Cultural Life chapter for a list of area bookstores.) If you enjoy mountain climbing, two mountains on the Peninsula are especially challenging: The Brothers is the twin-peaked mountain that is easily visible from Seattle, and Mount Olympus, while it cannot be seen from the city, is the tallest mountain in the Olympic range. To climb to the summit of either of these peaks, contact a local mountain climbing club or guide service (see the Sports and Recreation chapter for listings). Happily, there are many more hikes in the Olympics that are manageable for the average person. For information on Olympic National Park, call 360-565-3130 or visit nps.gov/olym.
A popular summer destination along the coast is the tourist town of Ocean Shores. Hotels line the beach, and popular activities include horseback riding on the beach, driving on the beach, beachcombing, kite flying, and a Fourth of July fireworks show over the ocean. For a free visitors guide, call the Ocean Shores Chamber of Commerce at 360-289-2451 or visit oceanshores.org.
In the mood for a picturesque beach resort town and spectacular ocean view? Try either the southwest Washington coast or northern Oregon coast. Long Beach, at the far southwest tip of Washington, is said to be the world’s longest beach. Several annual events are held in Long Beach, such as an international kite-flying festival, regional stunt kite competition, sand sculpture contest, and Fourth of July fireworks celebration. Contact the Long Beach Peninsula Visitor’s Bureau at 360-642-2400 or 800-451-2542, or visit funbeach.com.
Across the mouth of the Columbia, the Oregon coast offers a stretch of beautiful beaches and ocean surf. Seaside is the best known destination, with affordable beach cottages and hotels and access to an expanse of white sandy beach. Other nearby towns attract fewer visitors, a plus for those in search of a private stretch of beach or a romantic getaway. If that’s your preference, rent a cottage in Gearhart or reserve a room overlooking the ocean in Cannon Beach. For more information on these and other Oregon destinations, call the Oregon Tourism Commission at 800-547-7842 or visit traveloregon.com. The drive to Long Beach from Seattle is about four hours; Seattle to Seaside takes four to five hours, even in Friday rush hour traffic. If possible, give yourself a long weekend, but expect more crowds if it’s a holiday.
Majestic Mount Rainier will be a familiar sight soon after you move here, and definitely worth a visit. During the winter, Crystal Mountain Ski Resort bustles with activity while the rest of the mountain is deserted. In early spring, however, the roads begin to re-open and visitors flock to the area to hike, mountain climb, and camp. Many start their hikes from the mountain’s most visited site, Paradise, which hosts a visitor center and historic lodge. Mount Rainier is a challenging hiking or climbing destination even for experienced climbers. Some short hikes near the base of the mountain are suitable for the average recreational hiker; look in a good hiking book or trail guide for details. For anything other than a day hike on a well-marked trail be sure to research your route carefully and take an experienced outdoorsman or guide with you. If you’re interested in climbing to the summit, contact a local mountain climbing club or guide service (several are listed in the Sports and Recreation chapter). Don’t let the beauty of the Cascades and Olympics fool you; people get lost and some die every year climbing mountains in Washington. For more information, call Mount Rainier National Park at 360-569-2211 or visit the National Park Service’s Mount Rainier website at nps.gov/mora.