Planning a trip to Washington? You’re in luck because there are countless things to do in Washington state!
Maybe you’re here to explore the national parks or the Puget Sound and you want to see incredible natural wonders. Perhaps you’re looking for the best cafes and restaurants in the PNW or you want to learn about the art, culture, and history of the people who live here. Whatever the reason for your visit, you’ll discover that the state of Washington absolutely delivers.
As a Washington state local, I’ve gathered a list of the best things to do in my home state, so visitors will keep returning to this gem of the Pacific Northwest. Read on to find out what made the list!
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Best Things to Do in Washington State
Go Whale Watching at the San Juan Islands
The San Juan Islands are a dreamy place for visitors and locals alike. They’re on the north end of the Puget Sound and are the prime spot in Washington state to go whale watching!
You have a good chance of seeing orcas from land at Lime Kiln State Park on Friday Harbor, San Juan Island. But your chances of seeing whales, seals, bald eagles, porpoises, and other area wildlife are much higher if you take a whale watching tour with an expert guide who knows where to look and the best seasons for sightings.
Explore the Olympic National Park
📍 Address: 3002 Mt Angeles Rd, Port Angeles, WA 98362 | Phone: (360) 565-3130 | Website | Visitor Center Hours: 9 am – 5 pm daily | Entrance: $30 for 7-day vehicle pass | 👉 Browse Port Angeles Hotels on Booking
The Olympic National Park is one of the most popular attractions in Washington state and for good reason. The park has nearly a million acres to explore.
You can hike to see beautiful mountain views atop Hurricane Ridge, set up camp in the Hoh Rainforest, search tide pools at Rialto or Shi Shi beach, watch the cascading Marymere Falls and so much more. The park isn’t far from Port Townsend and Port Angeles, two vibrant cities that are worth a visit. Altogether, this makes the Olympic National Park one of the best places to visit in Washington State.
🛏️ Extending your stay? If you want to spend most of your time in Washington exploring the Olympic National Park, I highly recommend booking a hotel in the nearby city Port Angeles.
You could easily spend your entire visit to Washington staying in Seattle. It’s the largest city in the state and is centrally located, which makes it the prime jumping-off spot for day trips. You won’t run out of things to do in Seattle.
Downtown Seattle and the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood are home to popular attractions like Pike Place Market and the Seattle Center. Foodies should check out Georgetown and Capitol Hill, two neighborhoods with great bars and restaurants. Discovery Park is one of the best parks in the city with rugged trails, beautiful views, and beach access. Love coffee? You’ll find great options pretty much anywhere in the Emerald City.
👉 Pro Tip: If you’re debating where to stay in Seattle, two of the top places for first-time visitors are by the Downtown waterfront or in Belltown.
Camp at the North Cascades National Park
Camping at the North Cascades National Park is the best way to explore this wild and fascinating terrain. Located three hours north of Seattle, the North Cascades is one of the least visited national parks in the country. This makes it easy to avoid crowds in this remote wilderness.
Go boat-in camping to traverse the breathtaking turquoise waters of Lake Diablo or backpack up high passes, down valleys, and along lakes and rivers further in the park in search of glaciers. Drive-up camping is another option that makes experiencing this beautiful park all the more accessible.
Palouse Falls State Park
Palouse Falls was named Washington’s state waterfall in 2014. These 200 ft falls are a result of glacial flooding from the last Ice Age. They’re one of the last active waterfalls from that period. You’ll be stunned that a place like this exists in Washington – its landscape is nothing of the evergreens and mountainscapes we associate with the Pacific Northwest.
While viewing, learning about, and taking pictures of the falls are the main draws, you can drive down to Walla Walla for wine afterward, or add this to a stop on your road trip throughout the state. This part of Washington state can get really hot so the best time to visit is early spring to ensure you beat the intense heat.
Go to the Coast
Don’t skip a visit to Washington’s coastal beaches on your trip! Visiting the coast is one of the best things to do in Washington state because it’s downright enchanting.
You can admire the sea stacks at Cape Flattery, backpack down to Rialto Beach, surf at La Push, go horseback riding on the beach at Ocean Shores, fly a kite on the Long Beach Peninsula and so much more. Every beach on the Washington coast offers its own specific charm, and whatever your preferred beach activities, you’re sure to find an option someplace along the coast.
👉 Pro Tip: If you’re backpacking along the coast, be sure to bring along a tide chart to keep track of the safest times to cross the headlands so you don’t get caught in a tricky or dangerous situation.
Mount Rainier National Park
Hundreds of hiking trails, wildflower meadows, whistling marmots, and curious chipmunks await visitors of Mount Rainier National Park. Mount Rainier is about two hours from Seattle and is a year-round hiker’s paradise (one of the areas on the southwest corner of the park is even called Paradise!).
In addition to hiking, you can go on a wildlife tour, go mushroom and huckleberry picking, snowshoeing, or even ride a gondola above the mountain. There’s lodging in the nearby towns along with opportunities to learn more about the area’s history. All this easily makes a trip to Mount Rainier one of the top things to do in Washington state.
Sites & Attractions
Pike Place Market
You’ll probably hear about Pike Place Market pretty early when planning a visit to Washington state. It’s one of the most well-known attractions and is a must-do for first-time visitors. Located in downtown Seattle, Pike Place Market is in a historic district where local farmers, makers, and artists set up shop.
Go to watch the famous fishmonger fish throw, buy seasonal produce, and snag some beautiful flowers. Grab a snack, some Rachel’s Ginger Beer, and go check out the (in)famously disgusting gum wall… if you have the stomach for it.
🥘 Need Something to Eat?: There are so many good food options in the market, it can be hard to choose! Get around this by booking a market food tour, that way you can get a little bit of everything.
Visit the Space Needle and Seattle Center
You can count on there always being something interesting to do at the Seattle Center! Home to the Space Needle, the Pacific Science Center, and numerous art installations, the Seattle Center is the place to go if you want the best in art and culture.
Whether you want to see a live music performance, attend the opera, play in a historic fountain, wander through an enchanting glass garden, or participate in the celebration of various cultures around the world, you can do it at the Seattle Center. Don’t skip a stop here when traveling through Washington state!
Anyone interested in seeing beautiful architecture, meticulously-cared for gardens, and learning a bit of history while doing so will want to take a trip to the Capitol Building in Olympia. Olympia is the state Capitol, located an hour from Seattle on the south end of Puget Sound.
Visitors can go on a self-guided tour or attend one of the guided tours that take place throughout the day. After you’ve learned more about the Washington state government, and made a visit to the gift shop, make sure to check out more of Olympia. There’s a wealth of natural areas in and around the city which will make a day in Olympia time well spent.
Leavenworth is a delightful town in the Cascade Mountains that caters to all types of travelers. If you’re coming for outdoor adventures, you’re in luck. Leavenworth is right near Colchuk Lake, the gateway to the Enchantments and other hiking in the beautiful North Cascades. There are mountain biking opportunities in the summer and a scenic e-bike tour you can book to help lead your exploration of the beautiful area. In the wintertime, skiing, sledding, and snowmobiling are popular.
If you’d rather spend time in town, there’s plenty of shopping, German food, and beer to keep you busy in this Bavarian-inspired town. Go check out a play, attend a festival and, depending on the season, go for a carriage, horseback, or sleigh ride.
Snoqualmie Falls is arguably the most popular waterfall in Washington state. An hour and a half from downtown Seattle, the falls are easy to get to. Just make sure to go early to beat the crowds.
Whether you’re visiting because you’re a fan of the cult tv show Twin Peaks, or because it’s a magnificent force of nature, a trip to Snoqualmie Falls ranks as one of the top things to do in Washington state when it comes to viewing natural wonders.
If you’re here for the Twin Peaks tour, complete it by visiting the nearby Salish Lodge and Spa and then stop at Twede’s Cafe in North Bend for some cherry pie. While the falls are worth a visit in every season, they’re the most magnificent in spring.
Free & Cheap
Ride the Ferries
Washington state has the largest ferry system in the United States! All visitors should make time for a ride, especially since some of the best views (and best photos!) of the city skyline, mountain silhouettes, and the Puget Sound are from a ferry. Not to mention they’re the best way to get to cities across the water that are just waiting to be explored.
👉 Pro Tip: Don’t want to get stuck in ferry traffic? Skip the car line and walk or bike aboard instead! You’ll save money on a ticket too. The Seattle to Bainbridge Island ferry is one of the best to walk or bike onto since the ferry terminal is very close to the cute town of Winslow, which has dozens of cute shops to explore.
Washington State Farmers Markets
Washington state is known for its delicious and bountiful harvests, so going to a farmer’s market is definitely worthwhile. You’ll find great ones all over Washington, but Olympia, Port Townsend, Vancouver, and Bellingham have some of the best in the state. Go pick up some produce, flowers, drinks, and other farm-fresh goods.
Many have local vendors that sell ceramics, textiles, and jewelry, and sometimes local musicians come out to perform. The markets are great places to relax, people watch, enjoy some street food, and “do as the locals do.”
Find the Flowers
Coming to Washington State in the springtime almost necessitates a visit to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. Miles of tulips make the perfect backdrop for photos and are a wonderful pop of color against the (typically still gray) spring skies. You’ll find this magical place 60 miles north of Seattle.
Can’t make it to the tulips in time? There are other options for flower seekers. The Pelindaba Lavender Farm on San Juan Island and the lavender fields in Sequim are worth your while during summer. From July to August, wildflowers bloom in the meadows around Mount Rainier and Mount St Helens. And you can find sunflower fields at Maris Farms and many other farms from August through September.
A trip to Riverfront Park in Spokane is one of the top free things to do in Washington state. Since its creation for the 1974 World Expo, this beautifully designed park has become the life-blood of the city.
There are tons of trails to walk and bike, a skate ribbon for ice skating in the wintertime or rollerblading in the summer, and endless green spaces for relaxing picnics. Larger events and shows are put on beneath the iconic Pavilion. Light shows happen year-round on the weekends. Kids will enjoy the merry-go-round and two unique play spaces, and you can even ride a gondola over the park’s incredible waterfall.
Take a Scenic Drive
If you want to traverse some of Washington’s enchanting landscapes, a scenic drive is a great way to do so. Chuckanut Drive is an option that takes you along Chuckanut Bay where the winding road hugs a beautiful sandstone cliff.
The Olympic Loop is the perfect option for a scenic drive you can turn into a road trip, particularly if you want to stop at Hurricane Ridge, Ruby Beach, and the Hoh Rainforest. Try the North Cascades Loop to see mountain vistas or the Palouse Falls Scenic Byway to see a part of the state that often gets overlooked but is just as beautiful.
On A Rainy Day
Tacoma Museum District
There are numerous things to do in Tacoma, but the museum district is the perfect place to spend a rainy day. Just an hour south of Seattle, the district boasts six museums all within a short walk or drive of each other.
The Washington State History Museum is great for those who want to do a deep dive into the state’s past and the Museum of Glass has incredible glass sculptures. Families with kids can spend an easy day at the Children’s Museum or get swept away checking out the old school automobiles at America’s Car Museum. The Tacoma Art Museum’s many rotating exhibits focus on local artists. If you want to learn about the state’s maritime culture, The Foss Waterway Maritime Museum is worth a visit.
👉 Pro Tip: On the third Thursday of every month museums have free or discounted admission. Take advantage of this to see multiple museums at once!
Museum of Pop Culture
The Museum of Pop Culture, or MoPOP, is just the place for anyone looking for a contemporary take on a museum. Located in the Seattle Center, the MoPOP is just as cool on the inside as its exterior would lead you to believe.
There are always rotating exhibits, and fans of pop culture, music, fantasy, sci-fi, and the entertainment industry will get the most out of a visit. Of all the museums in Seattle, this one is a standout that’s considered one of the coolest things to do in Washington state for museum aficionados.
Future of Flight
📍 Address: 8415 Paine Field Blvd, Mukilteo, WA 98275 | Phone: +1 800 464 1476 | Website | Open 9:30 am – 5 pm Thurs-Mond, Closed Tues and Wed | Entrance: $12 adults, $6 youth (6-15), free for children under 6
Into aviation, flight, and engineering? You’ll love the Boeing Factory Future of Flight. Located 30 miles north of downtown Seattle, the Future of Flight Aviation Center is the largest building in the world by volume.
Visitors can take a tour to watch planes being built and check out exhibits to learn more about what products are in development. You can fly a drone, learn about robotics and engineering, and, after you’ve gotten your fill for the day, grab a bite to eat in the quaint town of Mukilteo.
As of September 2021, the Boeing Factory Tour is temporarily closed due to the ongoing health crisis, but you can still check out the interactive exhibits.
Wine Tastings in Woodinville
📍 Visitor Center Address: 13590 NE Village Square Drive, Suite 1030, Woodinville, WA | Phone: (425) 287-6820 | Website
With over 100 wine tasting rooms, Woodinville, Washington makes for an excellent place to spend a rainy day. Whether you’re a wine connoisseur or new to the wine-making scene, you’ll find an option to suit your palate in one of several Woodinville Wine Country districts.
It’s only 30 minutes from Seattle, so if you’re staying there, it’s an easy trip to take. In addition to wine, there are tons of great restaurants and cute shops to check out which makes a trip here on a rainy day a must-do.
Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
The Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest is a breathtaking place perfect for people craving an escape from crowds and a chance to explore the Cascade Mountains. You’ll find plenty of trails, both well-trodden and lesser-known, for all hiking levels.
There are options for river rafting and boating in many of the rivers and lakes within the forest. Mount Baker is considered a great mountain to climb for those just starting out mountaineering. If you want to ski or snowboard, Mount Baker is the place for it. The forest is home to bears, cougars, and other fascinating wildlife, and is pretty accessible in all seasons. If you’re traveling to Washington state to engage in outdoor activities, the Mount Baker Snoqualmie National Forest is a must for your itinerary.
Journey to Stehekin, Washington for a unique, seldom taken adventure. It’s an extremely small town on the tip of Lake Chelan in the heart of the North Cascades. There are no roads that lead to Stehekin so you’ll have to leave your car behind for this trip.
You can reach Stehekin via hiking, on horseback, private boat, or on a ferry from Lake Chelan. While there, visitors can rent a bike to explore the trails, and go kayaking or fly fishing. Visit The Garden to buy honey, goat cheese, and other farm goods, attend the weekly dinner cruise along the lake, and, most importantly, get a delicious baked good from the Stehekin Pastry Company to reward you for the trek.
Deception Pass State Park
Outdoor enthusiasts will love Deception Pass State Park. It’s on the northern tip of Whidbey Island and the south end of Fidalgo. The defining feature of the park, the bridge, connects these two islands. If you can only visit one state park in Washington, choose this one. It’s one of the best things to do in Washington state for anyone who wants to explore the far reaches of Puget Sound.
Walk along the bridge to take in the stunning views of the crystal blue water below. The park has miles of trails for people of all skill levels, and you can stay at one of the campgrounds, picnic on the beach, or go kayaking through the peaceful waters.
Hike (part of) the Pacific Crest Trail
If completing the Pacific Crest Trail is on your bucket list, you can get a small taste of it by hiking a portion of the Washington section. You have options to hike through areas near the Columbia River Gorge, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, or go through the North Cascades National Park.
This particular stretch of the Pacific Crest Trail encompasses a lot of high passes and ridges so it’s perfect for the avid hiker who’s not afraid of a challenge and wants to traverse these landscapes for some seriously rewarding views.
Columbia River Gorge
Though most associate activities along the Columbia River Gorge with Oregon, there’s plenty of fun on the Washington state side. You can climb Beacon Rock for rewarding views the whole way up or hike Dog Mountain to see the lovely wildflowers in spring and early summer.
The Washington state side of the Columbia River Gorge is also home to Maryhill, a small community whose main attraction is the Maryhill Museum of Art and the Stonehenge replica. You’ll find Skamania Lodge nearby too, a place where you can go ziplining or test your balance at an aerial park.
🛏️ To get the full experience on the southwestern side of the state, you should spend a few days down here. I recommend booking a hotel in the historic city of Vancouver, Washington so you can make it your home base while you explore.
Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument
Apart from its fascinating and deadly geological history, many people visit Mount St Helens because of this natural wonder’s breathtaking beauty. The area around the mountain boasts tons of hiking trails, and visitors can obtain permits to go backcountry backpacking or to climb the mountain.
The Johnston Ridge Observatory, one of several visitor centers in the area, is at the starting point of the popular Harry’s Ridge Trail. Be sure to hike this trail if you want to see the mountain, meadows, and views of Spirit Lake. Altogether, the beauty and history of the area easily make a trip to Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument one of the top outdoor things to do in Washington state.
As of September 2021, the Mount St Helens, Johnston Ridge Observatory, and Forest Learning Visitor Centers are temporarily closed due to the ongoing health crisis.
Unique & Out of the Ordinary
If you love tiny western towns, you’ll love Winthrop, Washington. Right near the North Cascades National Park, Winthrop is great for outdoor enthusiasts and skiers in particular. It boasts the largest number of groomed cross-country ski trails in North America.
Winthrop’s downtown, equipped with western-style buildings, is beyond charming. There is a lot to explore in the town, great restaurants, and unique shops, including the Shaefer Museum which will give you a glimpse into the small town’s past. For a special treat, visitors should come during the Hot Air Balloon Festival in March when the giant balloons light up the gray skies with color.
Spend the Night in a Treehouse
While wandering amongst the trees in the Evergreen State, you might begin to wonder what it would be like to live in them. Treehouse Point in Issaquah, Washington gives you a chance to explore this fantasy!
Located in a beautiful forest, visitors can live out their childhood dreams of staying in a treehouse for a few relaxing nights away from the hustle and bustle of the city. You can also take a tour of the treehouse village, and get a chance to view these beautiful places that seem straight out of a fairytale.
Hot Springs in the Olympic National Park
If you’re hoping for a couple of days of exploration followed by some time to relax and unwind, head to Sol Duc. Nestled among old-growth forests on the northwestern part of the Olympic National Park, the Sol Duc is home to a river, a magnificent waterfall, and the rustic Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort with commercial hot springs for use by guests and non-guests alike.
If you’re more interested in non-commercial hot springs go to the equally relaxing Olympic Hot Springs. These are suited for intermediate-level hikers who want to backpack through the rainforest.
Attend a Concert at The Gorge
The Gorge Amphitheatre is a huge outdoor concert venue in Central Washington. It’s about 2.5 hours from Seattle, right on the Columbia River, and its location is perfect. The sound quality in the valley is remarkable and you’ll be as dazzled by the views as you are by the acoustics.
You can camp here during multi-day lineups and festivals (the most popular is the Sasquatch Festival). If you come for a multi-day trip, the Gorge is close to the quirky small-town Ellensburg, which is well worth a visit if you want to plan a day trip.
Explore Ape Cave Lava Tube
Ape Cave, located in the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument, is a must-see site if you’re going to spend time around the mountain. Ape Cave is the third-longest lava tube in North America, formed from lava flow 2,000 years ago. There are two different parts of the cave to explore, the upper and lower paths, which offer different levels of difficulty. This is a seriously fun part of the Mount St Helens area to visit and it’s a great way for people to see a part of the state that often doesn’t get explored – the underground.
👉 Pro Tip: The Ape Cave is currently on a timed reservation system. Be sure to get your tickets in advance to ensure you have a spot.
Tree of Life at Kalaloch
The Tree of Life at Kalaloch is a natural wonder and a magnificent sight to behold. The Sitka Spruce is balanced between two bluffs with its roots hanging below even though the area between the bluffs has eroded over time.
Despite the lack of soil for the roots to grow into, the tree is still alive and thriving and has been for many years. It’s one of Washington State’s great attractions and visitors should definitely come to see this seemingly magical, logic-defying tree in person.
🚗 How to Get There: The Tree of Life is on the Washington coast, near the Kalaloch Campground. You can rent a car through Discover Cars to get here and then either camp or rent a rustic cabin at the Kalaloch Lodges. Book early, these spots can fill up quickly!
👉 Want More? Keep planning your trip to Washington with my list of all the best places to go around the state!
There’s no end to the number of fun things to do in Washington state, but hopefully, this has given you some ideas to start planning the perfect vacation.
What will you be hitting up on your next trip to Washington? Let me know in the comments below!