Famous for its snow-capped mountains, damp drizzle, and coffee, Seattle offers far more to its visitors. In addition to having some of the most perfect summer weather you’ll find anywhere, Seattle is a modern city with a strong outdoors vibe. This technological center serves as the gateway to mountain trails, forested islands, and the blue waters of the Puget Sound, the ocean inlet that makes Seattle a thriving seaport. With historical ties to Native American potlatches, the Alaskan Gold Rush, and the great fire of 1889, Seattle is a fascinating place to explore.
Seattle is flanked on the east by the dramatic Cascade Mountains, a range that includes the 14,000-plus-foot Mount Rainier and snow-peaked Mount Baker. To the west lies Puget Sound, home to orca whales, seals, and green-and-white ferry boats. Across the water, farther west, are the Olympic Mountains, Washington’s older mountain range. This knot of mountains sits on the Olympic Peninsula and includes the Olympic National Park, where you’ll find the only rain forest in the United States. With the Canadian border to the north and the Columbia River to the south, Seattle is encircled by fun day-trip destinations.
Begin your tour of the city by heading to the major sights: the waterfront and the Space Needle. The waterfront includes a number of popular attractions such as the Pike Place Market, the Seattle Aquarium, the ferry dock, and well-known shops and restaurants. Pike Place Market, so-called because it lies at the end of Pike Street, is an open-air market that’s filled with fresh fruits and vegetables, flower vendors, and locally-made crafts. Tour the stalls, examining the glass, honey, jewelry, and knit-wares, then stop off at the seafood stand to see the vendors throwing fish back and forth with fanfare. “The Market,” as it’s locally called, first started in 1907 and now has over 300 booths.
From the Market, take the stairs down to the waterfront, where you can enjoy hot fish and chips at Ivar’s restaurant and quick-serve stand. The waterfront includes Coleman Dock, where public ferries dock from Bainbridge Island and Bremerton, and the cruise ship dock, where ferries head to Alaska and other points farther off. The gem of the waterfront is the Seattle Aquarium, where the kids can see the Giant Octopus, walk through a glass dome into an underwater world, and see the adorable otters at play.
The Space Needle is at the Seattle Center, a complex that includes an opera house, playhouse, major sports center, and amusement park rides. The Space Needle is a 520-foot tall tower that was built for the 1962 World Fair. You can ride up in the glass elevator, then enjoy a meal at the rotating restaurant with 360-degree views of the city. Seattle Center is also where you’ll find the Pacific Science Center. Kids and adults alike will enjoy the fun hands-on exhibits, exploring the Science Center’s dinosaurs, robotic insects, and other seemingly magical displays. While you’re at the Seattle Center, head to the Experience Music Project to view the rock-n-roll memorabilia and try out the hands-on music-making exhibits. You might even catch a rock concert with a famous band!
Kids can enjoy a day of rides and fairy-tale charm at Wild Waves and Enchanted Village, south of Seattle. Right in the city, kids can explore other cultures and geology, or pretend to drive a fire engine, at the Children’s Museum.
For a scenic day trip, catch the ferry from Coleman Dock to Bainbridge Island. You’ll enjoy views of both the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges as you ride thirty-five minutes to this pine-forested island. Explore Bainbridge’s charming, artsy downtown by foot, then return on the ferry in time for an Asian-inspired dinner in Seattle. The city is knows for its international cuisine that features fresh seafood like oysters on the half-shell, crab, and steamed clams.
The Bavarian-themed town of Leavenworth also makes a great day trip. Just three hours from Seattle, this quaint alpine town has German-style shops and restaurants, a Nutcracker museum, and a lively Oktoberfest. To the south of Seattle, you can visit Mount Rainier, the highest active volcano in the Cascade range. But don’t worry – it last erupted 150 years ago! Take a hike to glaciers and alpine meadows, then visit the 1,000-year-old cedar and fir trees in the Grove of the Patriarchs.
Many visitors to Western Washington head to Snoqualmie Falls, a dramatic 270-foot waterfall. A fully-accessible 200-foot trail leads to a stunning view of the falls. This is a great place to enjoy a picnic lunch or to go for a mountain hike. And if mountains strike your fancy, be sure to visit Mount Saint Helens, the mountain that famously erupted in 1980, spewing ash for hundreds of miles. The north face of the mountain collapsed, sending massive mud slides across the steep face. Today, the wilderness of Mount Saint Helens is blooming again. Visitors can tour the observation spots, learn about volcanoes at the visitor’s center, and arrange for a plane or helicopter tour above the mountain.
If you have a little more time to spend in the region, go a little farther with a trip to the Hoh Rainforest in the Olympic National Park or to the gorgeous San Juan Islands. You can walk the beaches at the Pacific Coast, watching for whales, or visit Bellingham and the Mount Vernon tulip festival. Wherever you go in Western Washington, you’ll be accompanied by a beautiful skyline of deep blues and greens, from ocean waters to miles of pines.