10 Top Things to Do Between Seattle/Tacoma and Portland

With 160 miles between them, it takes about three hours to drive between Portland and Seattle/Tacoma, but if you have some time to spare, there is plenty to see along the way. While the majority of folks who live on the west side of the Cascade Mountain Range will find themselves driving along Interstate 5 between the two cities, drivers do have the option of taking a more scenic route on the roads that follow the coast.

Regardless of how you get from one city to another, there are lots of exciting possibilities along the way to take a break, grab a bite, learn a new skill, and stretch your legs amid lush forests. These are the best stops between Portland and Seattle/Tacoma.

01 of 10

Take a Detour to Mount Rainier State Park

USA, Washington, Mount Rainier National Park, Mt. Rainier and flower m
Alan Majchrowicz / Getty Images

The image of wildflower meadows overshadowed by snowcapped mountains should be more than enough to convince you to pay a visit to one of the Pacific Northwest's most beloved national parks. Even if you're not prepared to climb the summit of the park's 14,410-foot volcano (which is active), you can take at least stretch your legs on one of the shorter hikes like the Myrtle Falls Viewpoint Trail, located near the Paradise Inn. If you want to see the wildflowers, you'll have to visit in the summer, sometime between mid-July and late August.

Mount Rainier, Washington 98304, USA
02 of 10

Visit Washington's State Capitol Campus

Washington State Capitol or Legislative Building in Olympia is the home of the government of the state of Washington.

Danita Delimont / Getty Images

416 Sid Snyder Ave SW, Olympia, WA 98504, USA
Phone +1 360-902-8880

The gorgeous domed structure of the Washington State Legislature building is a standout landmark, easy to see from I-5 whether you're heading north or south. Designed by architects Walter Wilder and Harry White, the building was built in 1928, and it is well worth the time to stop and walk around the lovely structure as well as the surrounding buildings and park-like grounds.

Nearby is a slew of other attractions, including the Percival Landing boardwalkFarmers Market, and a Hands-On Children’s Museum.

03 of 10

Stretch Your Legs in a Wildlife Refuge

Boardwalk through woods, Nisqually Wildlife Refuge.

Danita Delimont / Getty Images

100 Brown Farm Rd NE, Olympia, WA 98516-2302, USA
Phone +1 360-753-9467

There are two fantastic wildlife refuges and big parks located right off of I-5. These green pockets are great places to get out and stretch your legs, let the dog and the kids burn off some energy, and sneak in a little nature time.

Renamed in 2015 in honor of the late Nisqually tribe leader, the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge on the banks of the Nisqually River was originally established in 1974 to protect migratory birds of the area. It's a beautiful spot for birdwatching and hiking. 

The Fort Borst Park in Centralia is a 101-acre park at the confluence of the Chehalis and Skookumchuck rivers. In addition to the water tributaries, the park is home to several historic buildings, including the Borst homestead, schoolhouse, arboretum, and Fort Borst Blockhouse. It has fields for all manner of sports, facilities for camping, and concession stands. 

04 of 10

Hike Near Mount St. Helens

An extended family hikes and enjoys the beautiful mountain views around Mt Saint Helen in the National Park.

 Vernon Wiley / Getty Images

3029 Spirit Lake Hwy, Castle Rock, WA 98611-8706, USA
Phone +1 360-274-0962

The Mount St. Helens Visitor Center at Silver Lake, part of Seaquest State Park, is one of the best and most informative of the several visitor centers in the area.

Located five miles east of the Castle Rock exit, the Silver Lake Visitor Center offers an extraordinary film about the 1981 eruption of Mount St. Helens, fascinating exhibits and artifacts, a bookshop, and an outdoor boardwalk trail. On clear days you will see a view of the volcano in the distance. This visitor center is approximately 45 miles from Mount St. Helens.

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05 of 10

Stay Overnight at an Indoor Water Park

Cars lined up for check-in at Great Wolf Lodge, Village West area.

Lonely Planet / Getty Image

20500 Old Hwy 99 SW, Centralia, WA 98531, USA
Phone +1 800-640-9653

The Great Wolf Lodge at Grand Mound is a massive indoor waterpark resort that's a family-friendly destination located just north of Centralia. You'll have to book a room to take advantage of the water park, but during a short stop, the Lodge is ideal to grab a snack or meal in one of Great Wolf's many eateries like the Woodfire Grill, Grizzly Rob's Bar, or Starbucks. If traveling with kids, there are several toy shops to grab a distraction for the rest of the car ride or ply them with a sweet treat from the Candy Company.

06 of 10

Try a Local Beer

The tap room at Narrows Brewing Company

Narrows Brewing Company

While the driver should only observe, the rest of the passengers can partake of locally brewed beer at Narrows Brewing Company. Since 2013, the brewhouse has been crafting original flavors of IPA's, stouts, porters, blond ales, and ciders. Popular brews on tap include the Central District Hazy IPA, Hard Blackberry Cider, and Group Hug IPA. New beers are released each Wednesday, and the location sells the bottle, can, growler, and keg.

9007 S 19th St, Tacoma, WA 98466, USA
Phone +1 253-327-1400
07 of 10

Stop and Smell the Lilacs

Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens
Wendy Cutler/Wikimedia Commons
115 S Pekin Rd, Woodland, WA 98674-9532, USA
Phone +1 360-225-8996

If you're traveling I-5 between Seattle and Portland from mid-April to mid-May, take some time to stop at the Hulda Klager Lilac Gardens. This National Historic Site preserves the Victorian home and garden, where you can walk among a large variety of glorious, fragrant lilacs. The garden not only showcases the typical lavender, white, or purple lilacs blooming, but also yellow, pink, and blue.

08 of 10

Step Back in Time at the Olympic Flight Museum

Olympic Flight Museum

 Olympic Flight Museum

This non-profit museum was founded to preserve and fly vintage aircraft. The Olympic Flight Museum's collection is a testament to the beauty and power of flight. Visitors can get up close to the dozens of retro machines, including carrier fighters from World War II and jets still being used by over 30 armies around the world. The museum also runs the famed Olympic Air Show each June, allowing attendees to watch the majestic machines take to the skies.

7637 Old Hwy 99 SE, Tumwater, WA 98501-5728, USA
Phone +1 360-705-3925
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09 of 10

Take a Glass Blowing Class

Glassblowing class at Central GlassWorks

 Central GlassWorks

Why not take a two-hour break and gain a new skill? Central GlassWorks, located in Centralia about two hours south of Seattle and two hours north of Portland, offers multiple classes a week teaching students how to blow glass and make art.

If that's too much of a time commitment, the artisans welcome observers anytime that the shop is open. Unlike many other glassblowing studios, Central Glasswork doesn't place guests behind a window but invites them to pull up a chair and get close to the action.

109 W Main St, Centralia, WA 98531-4205, USA
Phone +1 360-623-1099
10 of 10

Dive With Sharks

Diving with sharks at the Point Defiance Zoo

Point Defiance Zoo

The Point Defiance Zoo, located right by Tacoma, gives visitors the option to get face-to-face with sharks. At the South Pacific Aquarium’s Outer Reef habitat, handlers will school participants on using the gear before they step into a steel cage and get lowered into the 225,000-gallon warm water tank. Participants must be at least eight years old.

The zoo has a variety of other exhibits, including camel rides, a wolf sanctuary, polar bears, and a kids zone. At noon each day, there is a close encounter live show that allows guests to meet animals under the watchful eyes of the trainers. 

Located at the tip of Tacoma, the surrounding Point Defiance Park also has hiking trails and a Japanese Garden. If you prefer not to stop for long, you can take a detour and follow the scenic Five Mile Drive to Owen Beach.

5400 N Pearl St, Tacoma, WA 98407, USA
Phone +1 253-404-3800
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10 Top Things to Do Between Seattle/Tacoma and Portland