An integral part of the Pacific Northwest, Washington State is a jolt of life. From its urban centers to the lush wilds and white-capped peaks, Washington is the place where you can explore nature and disconnect from your urban roots. Megacities like Seattle are beautiful and lively, though the true Washington is on the coast and in the forest.
Teeming with natural wonders, Washington shows an incredible amount of diversity in its landscapes. The Cascade Mountains, island-dotted coastlines, and dense forests are just a few of the natural highlights.
Visitors are also frequently drawn to the fog covered beaches, which often harbor dramatic cliff views and hidden sea caves. Nature is the star in Washington, and visitors are just lucky to be able to witness its beauty.
When you’re ready to reconnect to the urban lifestyle, Washington’s cities are at the ready. Seattle and Tacoma are some of the most populated and visited cities in the state. Though, smaller cities like Bellingham and La Conner are hidden gems.
Whether you lose yourself in nature or the city, Washington will take you on a journey. A door into the Pacific Northwest, this state is quickly becoming a tourist hotspot. With beauty and charm, Washington won’t let you down.
A Brief History
Hugging our northern border, archeologists agree that Washington was one of the first areas in North America to have evidence of human habitation. Animal and human bones found in the area have been dated back to 13,000 years ago.
These early people began to develop into tribes. Today, these tribes are recognized as Native American, and quite a few still remain on Indian reservations. For years, the tribes lived uncontacted until the arrival of European explorers in the late 1700s.
Juan Pérez was the first recorded European explorer in Washington. He was soon followed by the British, Captain James Cook, in the year 1778. The arrival of explorers led to settlements and land disputes.
In 1848, Washington was not independent. Instead, it was a part of Oregon’s territory along with Idaho and portions of Wyoming and Montana. Washington became its own territory in 1853. By 1872, the US-Canada border had been established, and some of the land, as well as nearby islands, was granted to Washington.
With land disputes calmed, Washington moved towards a better future. In 1889, Washington became the 42nd state in the United States of America. Known for mining, lumber, and agriculture, the state’s popularity has grown throughout the years.
Business is booming, and notable giants like Amazon, Starbucks, and Microsoft were all created in the state. These companies have helped increase the state’s popularity and importance as they have helped Washington establish a stable economy. Some businesses, like the original Starbucks Coffee shop, have even become tourist hotspots.
Tucked into the very southern end of Puget Sound is the city of Olympia. Incorporated in 1859, Olympia is the capital city of Washington State. As a center for the state’s government, Olympia is also a popular hub for tourism. History, art, culture, and nature collide in Olympia to make this small city a worthwhile destination.
The first thing that visitors notice about Olympia is the spectacular natural landscape. Meeting Puget Sound, Olympia is backdropped by both the coast and mountains. This unique location makes the city a magnet for outdoor recreation.
A rather mild climate guarantees that you can swim and ski on the same day. Closer to the city limits, Olympia proudly features numerous parks and scenic areas to ensure that nature is never too far away.
Ideal for traveling families, Olympia has plenty of activities for people of all ages. The Olympia Farmer’s Market is a popular summer activity that also helps support the local economy.
For youngsters, the Hands-On Children’s Museum is filled with tons of interactive exhibits for a fun and recreational day. Families can also enjoy exploring the shores of Capitol Lake to spend some time on the water.
Finally, an abundance of dining, shopping, and lodging make Olympia one cool little capital. Close to Seattle, it’s easy to spend the day or weekend perusing the city’s highlights.
The Emerald City
No, you haven’t been transported to the Land of Oz. Unlike the fictional Emerald City, Seattle is a real place, and its thick evergreen forests have helped give it this darling nickname. While the evergreens are vibrant, they don’t completely take over the city, and its urban sprawl is still significant in size.
Seattle’s location on Puget Sound makes it a busy port city. With trade coming directly from China, thousands of shipping containers pass through its watery gates. The abundance of trade has made Seattle a financial hub as dozens of businesses are headquartered here.
With billion-dollar industries, the city has grown to be Washington’s most popular destination. Though, not everyone who visits Seattle is there for business. Tourist attractions have sprung up around the city so that guests can indulge in Seattle’s culture and entertainment.
Art is one of the city’s biggest themes, and there are a few world-renowned museums in Seattle. Surreal in design but oddly beautiful is the Chihuly Garden and Glass. Towering precariously high, Chihuly’s unique glass pieces have become a highlight in Seattle.
For more contemporary art, you can visit the Museum of Pop Culture and tour some of the most unforgettable moments in entertainment history. Finally, any art aficionado will appreciate the Seattle Art Museum, which features permanent and temporary exhibits for your viewing pleasure.
For a classic Seattle experience, you can peruse the city’s downtown area. The Central Waterfront is a popular place where you can view the city by riding a Ferris wheel. Visitors may also enjoy seeing the aquatic wildlife at the Seattle Aquarium.
Pike Place Market is the top choice for shopping and dining. The market often showcases local produce and crafts. However, the most iconic part of Downtown Seattle is the Space Needle, which features a wonderful observation deck and rotating restaurant.
Entertainment for travelers of all ages awaits you in Seattle, and it makes it one of the best places to visit in the Pacific Northwest. With lots to see and do, your itinerary will be full of fun Seattle activities.
Similar in character to Seattle, Tacoma is like the city’s less popular cousin. Smaller than Seattle, Tacoma has a cozier feel, but it is still on-trend.
Art is the city’s most impressive boast, and the Museum of Glass gets the gold star. Close to the Museum of Glass and also along the waterfront, other popular places to visit include the Tacoma Art Museum and the Washington State History Museum.
Amongst the museums are boutique shops and restaurants. The waterfront location is beautiful and a great place to spend the day enjoying the local delights.
Visitors can get out on the water, if they so choose, by booking a local tour. Parks and wildlife areas also fringe the city, so you can escape the concrete and enjoy a day in nature.
In the shadows of the state’s big cities are underrated destinations that receive significantly fewer visitors than the popular tourist hotspots.
Two of the best-underrated towns in Washington are Bellingham and La Conner. Both cities are less than 100 miles away from Seattle, and their quieter streets are perfect for a relaxing getaway.
From the main highway, Bellingham looks rather uninteresting. However, a scenic route into town might just change your mind. Known as a college town, Bellingham has a quirky personality and amazing views.
The historic district is the best for shopping and dining. Though, it’s the bay and coastline that really wow visitors.
Just 66 miles from Seattle, La Conner is an enticing destination for a quick getaway. With a population of 900, La Conner may be small, but it doesn’t lack in entertainment.
A historic waterfront district has breweries, wineries, and fine dining options. Seafood is the top choice here, and for dessert, you can visit the ice cream tower. Finally, the cherry on top is the gorgeous view of the Swinomish Channel.
In tune with nature and a big attraction for outdoor recreation, Washington has three National Parks — Olympic, Mount Rainier, and North Cascades. Managed by the US government, all three parks are open to the public.
Welcoming 3 million visitors annually, Olympic National Park is a big hit in Washington for travelers who want to explore the state’s natural landscape. With views of the coast, peaks, and forests, Olympic National Park will satisfy your wanderlust cravings. The natural diversity of the park is on full display, so you can enjoy the views and local wildlife.
Created in 1899, Mount Rainier National Park is acclaimed for its abundance of flora, fauna, and wildlife. Mount Rainier is the park’s main trophy and the state’s tallest mountain. Jutting out from the land, Mount Rainier is over 14,000 feet tall.
Technically, a sleeping volcano, the mountain has long been a destination for avid mountaineers. Non-climbing visitors can still enjoy the park and partake in a wide range of recreational activities.
Combined with the Ross Lake National Recreation Area and the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, the North Cascades National Park covers over half a million acres of land. Protected in 1968 by becoming a park, North Cascade is now preserved for the coming generations. Popular activities in the park include climbing, hiking, and skiing.
A Place to Remember
Another famous volcano in Washington State is Mount St. Helens. Officially, the mountain is a stratovolcano that is still considered to be active. However, the last major eruption was in May 1980. A total of 57 people died in the eruption, and in the aftermath, the area was turned into a National Monument.
With 41 years having passed since the eruption, the area is now safe to visit. Actively monitored for further volcanic activity, visitors are often surprised by the beautiful landscape.
No longer charred, life has come back to Mount St. Helens in the form of pristine lakes, green forests, and fertile valleys. Taking a hike is the best way to experience the park, though you could also choose to take a scenic drive.
Dotted with idyllic towns and busy cities, Washington is a thrilling place to be. Urbanites will love Seattle and even the funky charms of Tacoma.
Nature lovers will be eager to head into the wilderness and explore the state’s diverse beauty. With a little something for everyone and endless adventures, it’s guaranteed that you’ll fall in love with Washington.