25 Must-Visit Attractions in Washington State

The Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest provides excellent opportunities for outdoor adventurers
The Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest provides excellent opportunities for outdoor adventurers | © Terry Donnelly / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Jacklyn Grambush
18 September 2020

The Evergreen State, rounding out the northwest corner of the contiguous US, offers incredible business opportunities, art and outdoor adventures. For those who are just visiting, Washington State can be overwhelming to tackle. However, a good place to start is with the state’s top attractions, offering views – both natural and human-made – guaranteed to impress.

Olympic National Park

Park
Map View
Sun setting behind the Olympic Mountains on Olympic National Park, Washington
© Tristan Brynildsen / Alamy Stock Photo
One of three national parks in the state of Washington, the Olympic National Park is home to one of the few temperate rainforests, the Hoh Rain Forest, in the nation, as well as the Olympic Mountains and the Olympic Hot Springs. The park sits on the Olympic Peninsula in the northwest corner of the state, and among the most popular areas to explore is Hurricane Ridge.

Boeing Tour

Building, Museum
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Usa Everett Boeing Tour Center Washington State Factory Industry Hall Aircraft Plane Aeroplane Aviation Inside Indoors United
© Prisma by Dukas Presseagentur GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo
The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour is an incredible opportunity to visit the world’s largest building by volume, watch 747, 777 and 787 Dreamliner airplanes being assembled and gain admission to both the Aerospace Gallery and Strato Deck. Tickets sell out quickly at no more than $27 per person, so buy yours online.

Tacoma

Natural Feature
Map View

The third-largest city in the state is well known for its museums, including the Museum of Glass, the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, the Tacoma Art Museum and the Washington State History Museum. A few other points of interest include the Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, as well as the Tacoma Dome.

San Juan Islands

Natural Feature
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Sailboats in the San Juan Islands, Washington, USA.
© TMI / Alamy Stock Photo

This archipelago, comprising four main islands and several small islands not accessible by ferry, provides beautiful scenery and fun towns to explore. Must-see sights include Moran State Park on Orcas Island and Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Also, there are excellent whale-watching opportunities throughout the area.

Coulee Corridor

Architectural Landmark
Map View

With captivatingly stark scenery, the Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway lies in the desert region of Washington State. The Grand Coulee Dam is the “largest hydropower generating facility” in the nation and provides 75 percent of the Pacific Northwest’s power. You can also explore areas such as the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge.

Mount Rainier National Park

Park
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Stunning fall foliage along a hiking trail at Mt. Rainier National Park in Washington state
© Claudia Cooper / Alamy Stock Photo
Mt Rainier is the highest peak in the Pacific Northwest, rising 14,410ft (4,392m), and provides excellent hiking and biking opportunities. The park is also open during the winter for skiing and snowboarding. You can even enjoy Mt Rainier without visiting the park, as it towers gracefully above the rest of the state.

Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument

Forest
Map View
A woman walking along a trail cut into a steep hillside, Johnston Ridge Trail, Mount St Helens National Monument, Washington, USA.
© TMI / Alamy Stock Photo
Following the Mount St Helens 1980 eruption, a monument was created in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, to act as a place of exploration and learning. The now-partially imploded volcano has trails open for hiking as well as cross-country skiing and snowmobiling in the winter. The Learning Center shows how the surrounding ecosystem has reacted over time.

Mt Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest

Forest
Map View
This gorgeous forest runs more than 140mi (225km) along the west side of the Cascade Range (also known as the Cascades), from the Canadian border to the north end of Mt Rainier National Park. With glacier-covered peaks, meadows and old-growth forests, it’s one of the most visited forests in the nation.

Washington State Capitol Building

Building
Map View
The Washington State Capitol, Olympia, Washington, USA
© Ian Dagnall / Alamy Stock Photo
The state’s capitol building in Olympia is a sight to behold. It cost $7m dollars to build before opening in 1928 and has the tallest masonry dome in North America. Tours are available, including that of the five-ton Tiffany chandelier and the permanent sculptures.

Lake Chelan

Park
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Lake in front of mountains, Lake Chelan, Washington State, USA
© SuperStock / Alamy Stock Photo
Lake Chelan National Recreation Area was created in 1968, along with the North Cascades National Park in which it resides. Stretching for 50mi (80km), the lake is the third-deepest natural lake in the nation and a popular annual destination for residents. Aside from the numerous opportunities for outdoor activities, there is also a nearby water park called Slidewaters.

North Cascades National Park

Park
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The North Cascades National Park is a vast collection of forests and valleys along the Cascades and offers hiking, camping and climbing opportunities. Ross Lake and Thunder Creek Trail are two of the more popular destinations. The unincorporated community of Stehekin, nestled in the park, is a lovely city getaway with no cell phone reception and limited groceries.

Washington State Ferries

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Pacific Northwest, Washington State, Washington State Ferries terminal,ferries docked ready for passengers to board
© Dorling Kindersley ltd / Alamy Stock Photo

It’s not so much the ferries themselves that are so spectacular, but rather the views possible only from a ferry in the middle of Puget Sound. Surrounded by water, vistas include the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges, islands, the Seattle skyline and – if you’re lucky – some orca whales.

Bellingham

Museum, University
Map View
Bellingham, WA, USA.  Taylor Street Boardwalk on Bellingham Bay on a summer's evening.
© David J. Mitchell / Alamy Stock Photo
Approximately a half-hour from the Canadian border, the northern city of Bellingham is enveloped by evergreen trees and Mt Baker. Two points of interest, in particular, are the SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention and the Whatcom Museum. Known as a more “hippie” section of the state, it’s also the location of Western Washington University.

Snoqualmie Falls

Natural Feature
Map View
Snoqualmie Falls
© Zachary Frank / Alamy Stock Photo
With more than 1.5m visitors every year, Snoqualmie Falls is a 268ft (82m) waterfall – that’s 100ft (30m) taller than Niagara Falls – with hiking trails and observation points. Over the years, the waterfall has attracted many daredevils, including tightrope walkers and those who parachuted into its canyon – some successfully and others to their death.

Seattle

Aquarium
Map View
The Space Needle a 1960's observation tower build for the1962 World's Fair and Downtown Seattle at night from Kerry Park , Seattle ,WA ,USA
© Steve Tulley / Alamy Stock Photo

The largest city in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle is one of the most popular attractions in the Evergreen State. It hosted the 1962 World’s Fair and has since grown into a flourishing hub for technology and the arts. Don’t miss the Seattle Center (with the Space Needle), the Chihuly Garden and Glass, and Pike Place Market.

Diablo Lake

Natural Feature
Map View

Camping and hiking are two year-round activities in Washington, and Diablo Lake, near Ross Lake and North Cascades National Park, is one for the purists. Watch the occasional kayak gliding on cerulean waters, its milky hue produced by the sun’s reflection onto tiny suspended glacial partials. Though the lake may be easily mistaken for a natural wonder, it’s man-made. The combination of thriving trout species, soaring mountains and pristine forests only add to its splendor.

Fremont Troll

Park
Map View
Troll Under the Bridge artwork in Fremont, Seattle Washington.
© Ron Buskirk / Alamy Stock Photo
Where would you expect to find a troll? Under a bridge, of course. But the Fremont Troll is unlike any other, happily residing under the Aurora Bridge in north Seattle. Steve Badanes and his team created this sculpture to transform the area from an unruly wasteland to a must-see sight. Weighing 13,000lbs (5,897kg) and measuring 18ft (5m) in height, the Fremont Toll has a steel eye and clutches a Volkswagen Beetle in its left hand. Featuring in songs and films (including 1993’s Sleepless in Seattle), there is perhaps not a more famous troll in the whole country.

Elliott Bay Book Company

Bookstore
Map View

In Seattle’s trendy Capitol Hill, there are more than 150,000 titles displayed on cedar shelves at Elliott Bay Book Company, tempting passers-by, occasional readers or die-hard bibliophiles. Founded in 1973 by Walter Carr, it went on to call the Globe Building home, introducing Seattle’s first bookstore café. By 2010, the store moved to Capitol Hill, where it organizes about 500 author readings annually. As it proclaims on its website, “Come for the books, stay for the experience.”

Olympia

Architectural Landmark
Map View
Capitol Lake in Olympia, Washington, with the Capitol Building in the background.
© Luc Novovitch / Alamy Stock Photo

The first recorded Europeans arrived in Washington’s capital city in 1792, and by the early 1910s, 22 blocks were developed in the downtown area to produce a deep water harbor. While travelers often overlook Olympia, it’s a fantastic and compact city with a laid-back attitude and a largely carefree lifestyle. It has more than 1,360 acres (550ha) of parkland – quite a figure for a place with just 50,000 inhabitants. Visit the Percival Landing waterfront park in the morning for a mesmerizing start to your day.

How to Cook a Wolf

Restaurant, Italian, $$$
Map View
There may not be an actual wolf on the menu, but the name is catchy. How to Cook a Wolf is an Ethan Stowell restaurant, and the menu focuses on simple ingredients transformed into delectable delights, all at reasonable prices. This Italian-Mediterranean eatery on Queen Anne Avenue in Seattle is first-class all the way. Try its prawn conchiglie with heirloom cherry tomatoes, basil and pangrattato, and finish off with the peaches and cream or fig tart with salted ricotta, lemon sabayon, walnut and basil.

Additional reporting by Jo Varley.

These recommendations were updated on September 18, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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