The state of Washington is blessed with landscapes, whether created by nature or by humans, that are not only scenic but perfect for outdoor recreation—but that's not all the Evergreen State has to offer. Whether you like the view from the top of Seattle's Space Needle or shopping at the bustling Pike Place Market, Washington State has something for everyone. Here is a list of the 12 best attractions to enjoy in Washington.
Olympic National Park, which is a unique and diverse wilderness preserve, is designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a Biosphere Reserve. During a visit to the park, you can experience a number of different ecosystems, including alpine mountain, temperate rain forests, and rugged ocean beaches. The park's Hurricane Ridge can be visited on a long day trip from Seattle. If you wish to explore several sections of the park, plan to spend at least three days on a multiday loop around the Olympic Peninsula.
Mount Baker Highway begins in Bellingham on State Route 542, passes through a charming rural area, then enters Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Along the way, you'll enjoy 60 miles of beauty and recreation. Be sure to stop at the U.S. Forest Service ranger station in Glacier for a map, recreation pointers, and the latest road and trail condition. There will be many places to stop and enjoy the scenery, hike, or picnic, including Horseshoe Bend, Nooksack Falls, Heather Meadows, and Artist Point. If you plan to head all the way up to Artist Point (which, along with Heather Meadows is the reason Mount Baker Highway ranks so high on this list), August or September is the time to go.
The stunning beauty and dominant presence of Mount Rainier demands that all who see it on their horizon will want to visit in person. And the closer in you get, the more gorgeous the view. Mount Rainier National Park is accessible to all who wish to experience it; even if you're not up for a hike, much can be experienced on a driving tour with frequent stops at scenic viewpoints. Those who wish to explore the mountain landscape up close will find hikes that range from easy to difficult, from a few minutes to several days.
The Coulee Corridor National Scenic Byway runs from Omak in the north, through Moses Lake, to Othello. Along the way, you'll take in stunning scenery, both natural and human-made. Grand Coulee Dam is a major highlight, where you can spend a good chunk of your day. Dry Falls Visitor Center, Banks Lake, Steamboat Rock State Park, Sun Lakes-Dry Falls State Park, Lake Lenore Caves State Park, Potholes State Park, and the Columbia National Wildlife Refuge are all worthwhile stops along Coulee Corridor.
The North Cascades Scenic Highway follows State Route 20 from Sedro-Woolley to the Methow Valley, passing through portions of both Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest and North Cascades National Park. Along the way, you'll see sharp snowcapped peaks, historic dams and powerhouses, and blue-green lakes. There are numerous places to get out and stretch your legs at a scenic viewpoint or hiking trail. Must-do stops include the Diablo Lake Boat Tour, the North Cascades National Park Visitor Center, and the charming Western-themed town of Winthrop.
Mount St. Helens and the lands preserved in Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument are fascinating places to visit for a number of reasons. First, getting up close to an active volcano provides a particular thrill. As you drive through the monument, you'll see evidence of the vast destruction from the 1980 eruption, but you'll also see signs of fantastic recovery in plant and animal life. Each of the visitors' centers does an excellent job of filling you in on different aspects of Mount St. Helens, before, during, and after the events of 1980, with photographs, videos, models, and interpretive exhibits.
Seattle's Pike Place Market is packed full of more stalls, shops, and eateries than you can explore in just one visit. Or even a few. But that's one of the things that makes Pike Place Market a favorite with both visitors and residents. You know you'll see a gorgeous array of seafood, produce, and flowers every time, and you know you'll also find nifty craft items, hear entertaining street musicians, and see numerous interesting characters. Along with these old favorites, you'll discover something new and unique to the Northwest.
A legacy of the 1962 Century 21 Exposition, Seattle Center combines open park spaces with a number of attractions and performance venues. Many of Seattle's major annual festivals are held at Seattle Center, including the Northwest Folklife Festival, Bumbershoot, and Winterfest. The Space Needle, Museum of Pop Culture, the Pacific Science Center, KeyArena, McCaw Hall, and Intiman Theatre are just some of the places you can visit during a day at Seattle Center.
Part of Washington's state highway system, the Washington State Ferries convey people and their vehicles to and from points around the Puget Sound. Not only are these ferries one way—and often the only way—to get to the many island communities scattered around the Sound, they are also a fun and relaxing way to experience the beauty of the region. Major ferry docks are located at downtown Seattle, Edmonds, Mukilteo, Clinton, Kingston, Bainbridge Island, and Anacortes.
World's fairs and expositions have left Washington with beautiful community spaces, and unique structures that have gone on to become treasured landmarks and Riverfront Park is a stunning example. Expo '74 transformed Spokane's downtown railroad yards into lovely green spaces dotted with interesting buildings. Some of those structures remain, along with fun attractions such as the Spokane Falls SkyRide, the historic Looff Carrousel, an amusement park, and seasonal ice skating rink.
No artist is more synonymous with Seattle than Dale Chihuly. The artist's colorful, spiraling works of glass can be seen around the world, but Seattle's Chihuly Garden and Glass is an astounding showcase of the Tacoma-born Chihuly's works. The garden's centerpiece is the 40-foot tall Glasshouse, home to a mesmerizing 100-foot long sculpture.
Seattle's Museum of Flight is home to one of the most extensive air and space collections in the United States and attracts more than 500,000 visitors each year. In addition to ever-changing exhibitions, the museum's permanent collection includes a 1929 Boeing 80A-1, a Lockheed M-21, and a Boeing VC-137B. One of the museum's unique exhibits is a full-scale, interactive air traffic control tower, which offers visitors a glimpse in the work of an air traffic controller.