Washington state is tucked into the far Northwest corner of the United States and known for Seattle, coffee, and Grunge (is it still known for Grunge? I feel like it is, but I’ve been here so long, who really knows?). But there’s so much more to see! Sure, Seattle and coffee are both very important (and Grunge is fine, just a little dated at this point…perhaps much like my pop culture references), but there is much more to the Evergreen State. So when you’re planning your trip to Washington, don’t just set your sights on Seattle and call it a day. Get off the beaten path, see some of these other cities and towns.
Okay, so this one is obvious and where most Washington visitors start. Just because it’s obvious doesn’t mean it’s a bad choice. In fact, it’s a great choice. If you’re going to visit one place in Washington state, it will probably be Seattle. The city is filled with major sights like the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, the Seattle Great Wheel, Seattle Art Museum, Woodland Park Zoo…the list goes on. There’s plenty to do. Beyond sights, there are lots of things to do to get in touch with Western Washington’s natural side – go for a hike in Discovery Park, take an Argosy Cruise to Blake Island, or take the Water Taxi to West Seattle. Seattle has something for everyone, even it’s youngest visitors. Check out this list of things to do in Seattle with kids.
Tacoma is the state’s third largest city and is not known as a stop on most travel itineraries, but that’s starting to change. The city is about 45 minutes south of Seattle and offers a much more laid-back appeal. It’s especially great if you enjoy museums as the city’s museums are mostly all within a few blocks of each other, and include the Tacoma Art Museum, Museum of Glass, Washington State History Museum, LeMay – America’s Car Museum, and the Children’s Museum of Tacoma. For getting outdoors, don’t miss Point Defiance Park, which is one of the largest urban parks in the country and serves up tons of trails with cliffside views of the Puget Sound (you can even spot whales from up there on occasion), but also is home to Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, a small but lovely Japanese garden, a rose garden, and Owen Beach. Tacoma is also just about an hour from Mt. Rainier and makes a fine jumping off point if you want to visit “the mountain.”
Olympia is the state’s capital city, but don’t expect a bustling metropolis. Olympia is on the smaller site, but has an adorable downtown where you can duck into shops and restaurants or visit the nearby Capitol Campus. Don’t miss the Olympia Farmer’s Market, which is open most of the year and has not only plenty of fresh produce and local foods, but also some eateries, live music and plenty of crafters. Olympia is also great as a jumping off point for lots of natural pursuits – it’s close to several state parks, not far from the Washington Coast and Olympic National Park, and places like the Nisqually Wildlife Refuge. For kids, the Hands On Children’s Museum is also one of the region’s best!
Bellingham is a cool city tucked up in the far north corner of Western Washington. It’s a fun destination for a getaway – the city has lots of offer, but it’s also a great jumping-off point for all kinds of non-city adventures. In town, you’ll find all the things you’d expect of a city – lots of restaurants with fresh, local cuisine, lots of shops, lots of stores and shopping centers, and plenty of places to enjoy some family fun. Bellingham’s parks are also pretty awesome across the board. Bellingham is pretty close to the San Juan Islands so you can catch a cruise out that way, but it’s also is close to Mt. Baker and its surrounds where you can do everything from ski to snowshoe to go tubing. Also don’t miss uniquely scenic Chuckanut Drive, or adorable and historic Fairhaven.
Leavenworth is just straight-up charming for its Bavarian theme. Even the gas station close to the core of town is done up Bavarian style! For outdoorsy visitors, Leavenworth is pretty amazing as a base as there are all kinds of mountain hikes nearby (like any good Bavarian town, it’s located in the mountains). But staying right in town and hanging out there is tons of fun for a family vacation. Stay in a hotel with a pool, or even go tubing in the Wenatchee River that winds right near Enchantment Park, which you can walk to from downtown. In October, the town is taken over by Oktoberfest celebrations. In the holidays, it’s a twinkly wintery wonderland.
Spokane is Washington’s second largest city and it’s got a great range of things to do. A place worth visiting anytime of year is Riverfront Park, which is kind of like the Seattle Center of Spokane (and it was even host to a World’s Fair, much like Seattle Center). The Spokane River flows through the park so you can check out some pretty awesome waterfalls from bridges that span the river, or even take the SkyRide (enclosed cable cars that dangle over the river) right overtop of them. The park also has a spray ground for kids in the summer, lots of paths to walk or bike along, an antique carousel, a clock tower, and a garbage eating goat statue that kids are sure to love. Beyond the park, Spokane is home to a downtown that’s filled with restaurants and breweries. The city has two children’s museums, too!
Bellevue is just across Lake Washington from Seattle, but has a pretty different vibe as well as fewer major attractions, but that’s a boon as the attractions aren’t as busy and crowded. Downtown Park is right in the heart of the city and great for some outdoor play or a walk. Nearby is the Bellevue Collection where you can shop for hours in three connected malls! KidsQuest Children’s Museum is also downtown and a great stop for families. Bellevue Botanical Gardens is super pretty anytime of year for a stroll through gorgeous natural surrounds, and it gets decked out in lights during the holidays. Bellevue is also a fun place to enjoy lake beaches – kick back on sandy beaches on Lake Sammamish or at Meydenbauer Beach Park.
The Washington Coast has several towns dotting along its shores, and most are very small. There are two stand outs, though – Ocean Shores and Long Beach. Ocean Shores is closer to Seattle, Tacoma, and Olympia, and has plenty of shops and hotels, but doesn’t feel as pedestrian friendly if you’re a fan of strolling through a cute town on the coast. Long Beach is a bit more of a drive as its in the southwest corner of the state, but its shops and restaurants line up neatly along a street with sidewalks. Bonus, Long Beach also has a fantastic wooden boardwalk that winds through the sand dunes on the beach. With either town (or any of the other smaller towns on the coast), you can’t really go wrong as they all have stretches of sand and wide open ocean.
Port Townsend is a quiet little Victorian town on the Puget Sound with lots to do and amazing views. Book a waterfront hotel with a balcony and you won’t regret it for a second. Take a stroll down Water Street and duck into shops and restaurants and cafes, or check out one of the museums – the Port Townsend Marine Science Center is a stand out located in nearby Fort Worden State Park, which is also worth checking out. You can use Port Townsend as a base for whale watching, kayaking, or getting out on the water. Or explore the local parks – Chetzemoka Park is one of the best!
Friday Harbor is the biggest town on the San Juan Islands, but it’s by no means a big town. It’s cute and quaint and perched right on the water. It’s an amazing gateway to all things San Juans, including kayaking and whale watching. It’s also the perfect little town to explore on foot. Explore the shops or kick back at a café, or catch one of the inter-island ferries to other islands in the San Juans. These islands are perfect for connecting with sheer, Northwesty nature at its finest, and great for family vacations, especially if you have younger children who love romping through nature. Book a vacation rental with a water view so the kids can run free while you enjoy the view.