Things to Do in Washington
Seattle’s Space Needle, one of the Pacific Northwest’s most distinctive icons, rises 605 feet (184 meters) above the city. Once the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River at the time of its construction—built for the 1962 World’s Fair—the tower features a rotating restaurant and an observation deck at 520 feet (158 meters) with 360-degree panoramic views over Seattle and its surroundings.
The cold, dark waters around Seattle hide an abundance of marine life, from orca whales to giant Pacific octopus to otters and salmon. The Seattle Aquarium helps visitors access this rich underwater world without getting wet. The experience involves touch tanks, daily dive shows, and plenty of exhibits showing off the area’s sea life.
Every day from dawn to dusk, Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market buzzes with locals and tourists alike, who come to browse the 150 stalls of fresh seafood, produce, flowers, artisanal products, and local art, as well as see the numerous street performers wandering throughout.
Pioneer Square, where Seattle’s founders first settled in 1852, is a bustling district in the southwest corner of downtown Seattle. The shop- and nightlife-laden neighborhood takes its name from the small, triangular cobblestone plaza known as Pioneer Square Park, and features a bust of Chief Seattle, an ornate pergola, and a totem pole.
More than just the second-largest lake in all of Washington State, Lake Washington defines Seattle as a city intimately tied to the water. Residents and visitors alike come to Lake Washington to connect with the natural beauty of the landscape, which includes views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascade Mountains.
Comprised of the lands and shores between Fidalgo and Whidbey Islands, Deception Pass is the most visited state park in all of Washington state. Beaches, tide pools, and trails offer access to its seafront areas, and there are also lots of freshwater activity options on the park’s three lakes. Boating, swimming, and fishing are possible in both areas.
The park is especially known for its excellent hiking options, with over 30 miles of trails through its scenic wilderness. Horse and bike trails, as well as numerous camping facilities, offer even more ways to enjoy the forested outdoors.
Wildlife is also frequently spotted in the many coves and cliffs. Deer, elk, foxes, and otters are often seen, as well as a variety of fish and birds. The iconic Deception Pass Bridge is also worth a visit, seamlessly blending in with its natural surroundings and particularly beautiful at sunset.
One of the oldest national parks in the United States, Mt. Rainier National Park was established in 1899 to preserve the wilderness surrounding Mount Rainier. Encompassing 369 square miles (956 square kilometers) of old-growth forests, wildflower meadows, glacial scenery, and wildlife, it’s a must-visit for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
When a city has an enviable location on a large body of water, like Puget Sound, the waterfront becomes a top attraction. This is definitely true in Seattle, where the nearly 20-block stretch along the water is home to restaurants, hotels, markets, shops, and more than a dozen piers.
You can’t miss this colorful shrine to pop culture and creativity. When architect Frank Gehry designed the shimmering exterior, he made one of Seattle’s most eye-catching landmarks. From rock music to science fiction, film, and video games, it’s an immersive experience that includes interactive exhibits and treasured memorabilia.
The Seattle Great Wheel is a can’t-miss icon that speaks to the fun-loving nature of the city’s residents. One of the biggest Ferris wheels in the US, the Seattle Great Wheel features enclosed gondolas that afford spectacular coastal views. It stands above 175 feet (53 meters) and weighs in at more than a quarter of a million pounds.
More Things to Do in Washington
Learn about the annual phenomenon of salmon spawning at Seattle’s Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, known locally as the Ballard Locks, where three types of Pacific salmon pass through the fish ladder during the summer months on the way upriver to their spawning grounds.
There are a few viewpoints along the road leading from highway I-5 to Mount St. Helens, but the best (and closest to the volcano) is the Johnston Ridge Observatory.
The Johnston Ridge Observatory is at the end of State Route 504, and the visitor center overlooks not only the yawning crater of Mount St. Helens but also a huge swath of the blast zone. Exhibits walk visitors through what happened on the morning of May 18, 1980, as well as the scientific history that led up to that enormous eruption. There are trails that begin at the Observatory for day hikes, including a half-mile trail that offers great views into the crater.
Johnston Ridge is named for the volcanologist David Johnston, who was surveying changes in Mount St. Helens in May of 1980 when it finally erupted. He was never found.
For views of downtown Seattle, the Space Needle, and Mount Rainier, the hilltop Kerry Park (Franklin Place) is hard to beat. Popular with photographers, Kerry Park looks out across the city skyline, the leafy streets of the Queen Anne Hill neighborhood, and Puget Sound, where you can spot ferries leaving the Seattle waterfront for the San Juan Islands.
Spread across 74 acres (30 hectares) in the heart of the city, Seattle Center was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and today houses many of the city’s top attractions. This is where you’ll find the Space Needle, International Fountain, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Pacific Science Center, Museum of Pop Culture, and Seattle Children’s Museum.
Olympic National Park covers a huge swath of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, encompassing rugged coastline, towering mountain ranges, temperate rain forests, and wildflower-filled lowland meadows. Home to some of the biggest stretches of old-growth forest remaining in the US, this misty Pacific Northwest park is the ultimate outdoor escape.
Just north of downtown Seattle, the glacially carved freshwater Lake Union is ringed with houseboats—including the one made famous by the movieSleepless in Seattle—and home to numerous recreational opportunities. The lake is a true urban gem, contributing to Seattle’s high standard of living.
The award-winning Woodland Park Zoo re-creates savannah, jungle, tropical rain forest, and other exotic landscapes on a 92-acre (37-hectare) campus by Seattle’s Green Lake. Full of furry, feathered, and scaly residents from across the globe, the Woodland Park Zoo is a leader in wildlife conservation and a kid-friendly Seattle attraction.
Glass artist Dale Chihuly, famous for his whimsical sculptures, was born in Tacoma but has left his mark on Seattle. Fans can revel in his colorful creations at the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum at Seattle Center. The facility includes a 100-foot (30-meter) glass sculpture, theater, and Chihuly retrospective, plus an outdoor garden.
One of the longest lava tubes in North America, the Ape Cave Lava Tube, is in southwest Washington near Mount St. Helens.
Ape Cave is in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest south of Mount St. Helens, the Washington volcano that erupted in memorable fashion in May 1980. The lava tube wasn't created by the 1980 blast, however; a logger discovered it in the early 1950s, and local Boy Scouts known as the Apes did the first extensive surveys of the tube before providing the cave its name. It's believed the tubes were formed about 2,000 years ago, but these lava formations are unusual for this part of the world – most volcanoes in the area don't produce the kind of fast-flowing lava that formed the Ape Cave tubes.
There are two lava tubes at Ape Cave. The upper tube is larger, although the lower tube is easier to explore. Ape Cave is the longest continuous lava tube in the country at about 2.5 miles in total, and one of the longest on the continent.
Often simply referred to as the ID, the Chinatown-International District is the multiethnic center of Seattle’s Asian community. The neighborhood is also one of the city’s oldest, its rich history highlighted by museums, festivals, and cultural centers. Many visitors come for the food—dim sum, banh mi, sushi, and more.
Seattle’s funky, irreverent, and always colorful Fremont neighborhood is a vibrant place to explore. The area bills itself as the “Center of the Universe,” and it’s a hotbed of interesting landmarks. Visitors stroll along the scenic Ship Canal and grab coffee, artisan chocolate, craft beer, or a full dinner at one of Seattle’s best restaurants.
Fishermen’s Terminal is the home port of most of the North Pacific and Puget Sound fishing boats, many of whom spend several months on the open sea before returning to Seattle. It doesn’t come as a surprise, that one of the main attractions of the terminal is the fresh fish. On big boards, the catch of the day – be it salmon, halibut or crab – is advertised and ready to be taken home and thrown in a pan. But those who can’t wait that long can also get their seafood fix at one of the restaurants right at the port. Chinook’s, Bay Café and the Highliner Pub offer great views of the Fishermen’s Terminal and are also popular hangout spots for the crews.
At the very center of Fishermen’s Terminal, hundreds of names are inscribed on a big bronze and stone memorial to commemorate all those who have died at sea and to serve as a reminder of the dangers of commercial fishing. Every month, a memorial service is held and new names are added to the list. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the blessing of the fleet, an annual event held in March at the start of the halibut fishing season or attend the Fishermen’s Fall Festival in September. But even if you’re there on a regular day, a walk on the docks through the rows and rows of moored commercial fishing boats can be very impressive.
Tiny Waterfall Garden Park, in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, offers a peaceful respite from the surrounding streets, with tables, chairs, and benches that invite a relaxing visit. Planted with trees and flowers native to Japan, the park commemorates the original location of the United Parcel Service.
Fans of Twin Peaks will recognize Washington state’s iconic Snoqualmie Falls, an epic cataract that drops 270 feet (82 meters) in one single, massive rush. Travelers can hike down to the base of the falls, take in the views from the side of the falls, or walk a winding boardwalk along Snoqualmie River for a look from the bottom.
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