For many people visiting Seattle, Washington, a quick trip up to Vancouver in southwest British Columbia, Canada, makes for a great addition to their West Coast vacation itinerary. Located just a few hours apart and accessible by plane, train, bus, car, or even ferry services, these two major cities provide plenty to do on their own, but there are several fun things to do when traveling between them as well. This central northwestern region of North America offers many attractions for transient travelers, including plenty of places to shop for produce, browse the art, take scenic drives, and even gamble.
Browse Local Art Galleries
Two of Washington's best art communities are found along the road between Seattle and Vancouver: La Conner and Fairhaven. Between them, you'll find plenty of great art galleries and pop-up exhibitions of local and international artists.
La Conner, in Skagit Valley, offers the opportunity to stroll along the waterfront while checking out art galleries and shops. The Wood Merchant, Earthenworks Gallery, and Two Moons Galler all have wonderful selections of original art, fine crafts, home furnishings, and gift items. We also recommend stopping by La Conner Seaside Gallery, Caravan Gallery, Blackfish Gallery, and Cassera Arts Premiers for even more great art. Meanwhile, the Museum of Northwest Art and the Pacific Northwest Quilt and Fiber Arts Museum present unique galleries and exhibits dedicated to regional artists and art programs.
Farther north along Interstate 5 is the historic district of Fairhaven, located just south of downtown Bellingham, which has many locally owned shops and galleries where you'll find a great selection of affordable and unique items. Local favorite galleries include Gallery West, Artwood, and Renaissance Celebration, but newer additions like Whatcom Art Market and Uptown Art Studio also offer great places to shop for unique pieces of art.
Interstate 5 is not only the most direct route between Seattle and Vancouver, British Columbia, it also offers plenty of lovely scenery to enjoy while you drive—or even while you relax on a BoltBus. However, to see the best scenery in the area, you'll need to rent a car and take a detour off the main highway.
The shortest and easiest scenic drive to incorporate into your journey is Chuckanut Drive, which runs through farmland and along the Puget Sound between the towns of Bow and Bellingham. Chuckanut Drive is Washington's original scenic byway, which runs 20 miles from Burlington to Bellingham along the shoreline of Samish Bay on Washington State Highway 11. Connected to Interstate 5 on both ends, the Chuckanut Drive is a great, quick detour on your drive to Vancouver.
Meanwhile, scenic drives that can take you off the Interstate for a few hours or more include the Mt. Baker Highway, Semiahmoo Spit, and the North Cascades Scenic Highway. Mount Baker Highway—also known as State Route 542—runs from East Bellingham to Mount Baker, while the North Cascades Scenic Highway stretches over 140 miles from Burlington and Sedro-Woolley in the west to Twisp in the east.
Alternatively, go even further off the beaten path by taking a ferry from Mukilteo to Whidbey Island then driving north on Highway 525 and Highway 20 to rejoin I-5 near Burlington. The sights you'll discover on Whidbey Island are uniquely beautiful and feature everything from untamed beaches to the quaint Oak Harbor.
Shop for Farm-Fresh Produce and Seafood
The region north of Seattle contains some of the lushest and most productive farmland in the world, and fresh produce is available for purchase in farm stands and markets throughout Skagit and Whatcom counties. Depending on the time of year, you'll find berries, hazelnuts, cheeses and dairy products, cider, apples, and even freshly bottled wine at several wineries, many of which have tasting rooms. Additionally, local oyster and shellfish farms provide their wonderful products to markets and restaurants in the area, and oyster lovers will want to stop at one or more of the eateries located along Chuckanut Drive.
Washington State is home to over 33,000 farms, so you'll have no shortage of options to choose from when driving between Seattle and Vancouver. To find the best produce, check out the 21 Acres Center in Woodinville—just a few miles northeast of Seattle—or visit Bellewood Acres in Lynden, Washington. For fresh oysters, stop by Pike Place Market or Taylor Shellfish Farms in Seattle or take a ferry ride to Vancouver Island for the Fanny Bay Oyster Bar.
Discover Aviation, Science, and Technology at Museums
If you're fascinated with how things work, you'll love the museums and visitors centers found along the route between Seattle and Vancouver. Whether you're interested in airplanes or radios—or anything between—there's plenty of science and history to discover in northwest Washington.
Located near Boeing's humongous Everett manufacturing plant is the Future of Flight Aviation Center, where you can embark on the Boeing Tour to learn about designing and building aircraft through interactive exhibits. Aviation enthusiasts will want to check out the historic airplanes at The Flying Heritage Collection, also located at Everett's Paine Field.
Meanwhile, the SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention in downtown Bellingham offers unique collections of historically significant experimental inventions, including one of the first electronic razors, Thomas Edison's three-wire power distribution cable, and Michael Faraday's famous rotating cup experiment.
For an experience more geared toward practical education, head to the small waterfront town of Edmonds and the Rick Steves' Travel Center, which offers travel gear for sale, guest speakers throughout the year, and plenty of classes on specific locations as well as travel skills and strategies.
The casinos in Washington State offer Vegas-style gaming along with good food, live entertainment, and other amenities. Tulalip Resort Casino—located next to the Seattle Premium Outlets at I-5 exit #202—is a full-service resort destination, with upscale lodging and dining, meeting facilities, and a spa. Skagit Valley Casino Resort in the town of Bow is another place where you can enjoy gambling, lodging, and live entertainment at one destination. Other casinos located along the route between Vancouver and Seattle include the Silver Reef Casino in Ferndale and Angel of the Winds in Arlington.
Go Outlet Shopping
There are two major outlet shopping malls located along Interstate 5 between Seattle and Vancouver. Seattle Premium Outlets, located in Tulalip at exit #202, offers shops from a number of high-end retailers such as Kate Spade, Ann Taylor, Ralph Lauren, and Coach. This outlet mall has nicely landscaped grounds and is home to several fast food and snack shops. Farther north (exit #229) you'll find The Outlet Shoppes at Burlington, which offers bargain shopping opportunities at such retailers as Jones New York, Pendleton, Corningware, and Carter's Childrenswear.
Located a few miles from Bellingham the town of Lynden is the second-largest city in Whatcom County—the last county before your hit Canada. Originally settled by the Dutch, this quaint city features all sorts of Netherlands-inspired art, architecture, and foods. Visitors hoping to experience more of Dutch culture can stay at The Mill, which is located inside a functional windmill, or dine on some delicious traditional pastries at the Lynden Dutch Bakery. Alternatively, the city also hosts a number of Dutch-themed events throughout the year. Check the city's events calendar to see if you'll be in town during one of these special annual celebrations.