20 Things to do in Washington State

Last updated: November 25th, 2023 | Originally published: November 7, 2023
Things to do in Washington State

Washington State in summertime is one of the most beautiful places in the world.  We have mountains, islands, and a cool-looking city on the water. The outdoor activities are endless and the weather is mild.  If you’re looking to spend time here, there are lots of incredible things to do in Seattle and Washington State.

You should be warned that if you plan to visit, our state frequently turns guests into residents.  It really is that beautiful here.  The best times to visit are July through September.  The flowers really pop in spring, (although it frequently rains).  We wouldn’t recommend visiting November through February unless you love gray, rainy skies and miserable people.  

Lots of folks come to Seattle and do the city tourist thing.  We understand the convenience of this approach, but trust the locals:  There are much better things to do in Washington State outside of Seattle. The following twenty are what we consider the best of them.

Many of the blurbs below have additional links (in blue) that connect to other articles we’ve written or helpful websites associated with the attraction. We hope you’ll enjoy reading!

Must-Do: Things to Do in Washington State

Must-Do attractions are typically the reason we’ve decided to visit.

1.  Mt. Rainier National Park

Things to do in Washington State
Things to do in Washington State

Everyone knows Mt. Rainier is going to explode someday — it’s an active volcano, it’s what they do.  We have contingency plans for when it does, so it’s serious and scary.  Until that dreadful day, however, we will enjoy the majesty of Tahoma every chance we get.

At 14,410 feet tall, this beautiful behemoth is almost always in view.  It goes without saying that the closer you get to it, the more massive and surreal it becomes.  The three most popular points to approach Mt. Rainier are Paradise from the south, Sunrise from the north-east, and Tolmie on the west.  

If you like waterfalls, three of the highest in Washington State are in Mt. Rainier National Park Narada Falls, Pearl Falls, and Comet Falls, the later of which is a real stunner and surprisingly easy to reach. 

We consider Mt. Rainier to be one of the most spectacular places to visit in the USA, and one of the can’t-miss things to do in Washington State.

2.  Olympic National Park

Things to do in Washington State
Things to do in Washington State

Olympic National Park is the most visited national park on the west coast, which is saying something considering OLYNP is pretty remote. Where else can you hike a mountain, stroll through a rainforest, and relax in a hot spring all in the same day? The park is consists of 922,000 acres with 60 named glaciers and over 3,000 miles of rivers and streams.  The western slopes see more average rainfall than any place in the continental US, which makes the Ho Rainforest a terrific place to visit.

Many points of interest in OLYNP are easy to access by car. Hurricane Ridge, replete with hikes and vistas, is a twenty-mile drive from Port Angeles.  Sol Duc Hot Springs is the perfect place to relax, if you can handle the sulfur smell and pasty skin of Washingtonians.  Rialto Beach at La Push is a wild and majestic coastal stretch. Each of these things would be one of the best things to do in Washington State, and yet they’re all part of the same wonderful place.

For those who prefer more exertion with their activity, the Olympic Mountain Range is home to over 175 world-class hiking trails.  Want to see elk and mountain goats?  How about yellow pine trees?  You can see these things and much more in one of the USA’s greatest treasures.

3. North Cascades National Park

Things to do in Washington State
Things to do in Washington State

Two hours north of Seattle is an alpine landscape called North Cascades National Park. This is one of the few national parks without an entrance fee. It is home to over 300 glaciers, and also boasts a cornucopia of fishing lakes, hiking trails, fanciful towns, and an amazing ski resort in Mt. Baker.

If you’re into eagles — and seriously, who isn’t — you can watch them feed every year from mid-December to mid-January on the Welcome Bridge at Nooksack River Bald Eagle Viewing Area. Spend the day watching hundreds of eagles in their natural habitat for zero dollars.

Diablo Lake is a mint-blue alpine lake reminiscent of Banff. Ross lake is great for fishing and water sports. The Maple Pass Trail offers incredible scenery, and the Pacific Crest Trail runs through these parts. East of the park is the old western town of Winthrop. And if you’re in the mood for total isolation, Stehekin sits at the north end of Lake Chelan.

4.  Mt. Saint Helens

Things to Do in Washington State
Things to do in Washington State

On May 18, 1980, Mt. Saint Helens erupted.  It was the most destructive volcanic eruption in US history and produced the largest landslide in recorded history (3.3 Billion cubic yards).  The ash and gases shot more than twelve miles into the air, turning daylight into darkness.  Fifty-seven people died.

The best view of the blast side of the mountain is the Johnston Ridge Observatory (although the view from a Seattle-Portland flight is a sobering scene).  Another great vantage is the Windy Ridge Viewpoint to the east of Spirit Lake.  Many of the trees blown down in the eruption now reside in the far end of the lake, and the Windy Ridge View is your best place to see it.   

5.  Makah Indian Reservation

Things to Do in Washington State
Things to do in Washington State

If you want the ultimate, you’ve got to be willing to pay the ultimate price.  In this case, the ultimate price is a four-hour drive from Seattle to the western most point of the USA.  

Want to catch a 40 lb. King Salmon?  Neah Bay is like little Alaska.  Bring your own boat, rent a boat, or charter a guided tour.  

Want to learn how to surf, or enjoy an ocean forest in solitude?  Hobuck resort is one of Washington’s best kept secrets.  About six miles north from Hobuck is Cape Flattery, the western most point.  The trail is easy and looks so primitive you wouldn’t be surprised if a dinosaur flew past.

Shishi Beach may be Patagonia passe these days, but its still one of the best things to do in Washington State. We think the Point of Arches is every bit as incredible as it was a million years ago.  

Related Article: 20 favorite things to do on the Oregon Coast.

6.  The Space Needle

Things to Do in Washington State
Things to do in Seattle Washington

In our opinion, the Space Needle is the best thing to do in Seattle Washington.  Built for the ‘64 World’s Fair, the needle was the first of its kind.  Several other needle-type structures were built in the following years, i.e., Tower of the Americas, CN Tower, etc., yet none match the Seattle view.

There are two ways to enjoy the view:  spend $25+ to ride the elevator to the observation deck, or have dinner at the restaurant at the top (which comes w/ access to the observation deck).  Sky City is a fabulous restaurant. While it isn’t exactly cheap – dinner will run you around $120 for two w/out drinks – it is worth it and highly recommended.  

The best time to dine is around sunset, where you will enjoy a beautiful evening with rotating views of the Puget Sound islands, Mt. Rainier, Seattle skyline, and more.  

Should-Do: Things to Do in Washington State

Should-Do attractions receive a strong recommend.

7.  Blue Lake Rhino

Things to do in Washington State
Things to do in Washington State

Here goes:  15 million years ago, the area we now know as central Washington experienced a series of volcanic eruptions that laid 1000’s of feet of molten basalt rock across the landscape.  A juvenile prehistoric rhino was in a lake (scientists believe), likely deceased, and managed to become waterlogged before a lava flow encased its body, preserving its form in the rock.  Without emotion, the lava continued flowing for eons and eons and buried the rhino deep in the geological annals.

Enter the Cordilleran Ice sheet 15,000 years ago which pushed southward from Canada during the last ice age. The two-thousand-foot-tall glacier stopped-up a river in Missoula, Montana, and filled the valley with what is known as Glacial Lake Missoula (almost twice the size of The Great Salt Lake).  Eventually the ice dam gave way, and the water flowed with the authority of ten times the world’s rivers combined, ravaging a path between Montana and the Pacific Ocean.  This process recurred several times, creating Washington’s curious Channeled Scablands.

In the 1930’s, a group of hikers in the Sun Lakes area noticed a hole in the cliffside of an ancient river valley caused by the floods.  They scampered up the nearby talus hill, scooted onto a 300’ high ledge, and scaled ten feet up a wall to the cave opening.  In the furthest reaches of the small, rhino-shaped cave they found a jaw and other bone fragments.  To read more about Blue Lake Rhino and the Channeled Scablands, click here.

8.  Alki Beach — Things to Do in Washington State

Things to Do in Washington State
Things to do in Seattle Washington

Seattle has three major beaches:  Discovery Park in Magnolia, Golden Gardens in Ballard, and Alki Beach in West Seattle.  All three are worth visiting, but in our opinion, Alki is superior.  That said, it is often crowded and parking can be tricky.  If you’re looking for a relaxed atmosphere, Discovery Park might be more your speed. If you’re a sand aficionado, Golden Gardens takes the category.  

Alki is an energetic hub w/ both city and island views.  It is one of our absolute favorite places in the city and one of our favorite things to do in Seattle. A quick boat ride from downtown has your there in under a half-hour; by car it’s about ten minutes*.  There are several good restaurants, including Pegasus Pizza (get the Tom’s Special), and the famous Spud Fish and Chips (meh).  When the tide retreats far enough you can walk the beach around the lighthouse to even better views on your way to Lincoln Park.

*The recent closure of the West Seattle Bridge has complicated car travel to Alki Beach.  

9.  Seattle Center

Things to Do in Washington State
Things to do in Seattle Washington

Originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the Seattle Center is 74 acres of educational tourism and entertainment just north of downtown Seattle.  With a variety of high-quality museums and venues, one could easily spend two or three days enjoying the myriad things to do here. This is an obvious thing to do in Seattle Washington and it comes highly recommended.

Major attractions include:  MoPOP, Paul Allen’s interactive tribute to music and pop culture; Pacific Science Center; Children’s Museum; Chihuly Garden and Glass (highly recommended); Space Needle; Seattle Monorail; Mercer Arena and Memorial Stadium; as well as an assortment of sculptures and much more.  At the center of it all is the beloved and funky International Fountain.

10.  Snoqualmie Falls — Things to Do in Washington State

Things to Do in Washington State

Thirty miles east of Seattle is Snoqualmie Falls, the most famous waterfall in Washington State.  A short and pretty drive down I-90 makes for a popular tourist stop, and the falls draw 1.5 million visitors a year.    One of the best things to do in Seattle Washington is to get out of the city and spend a few hours at Snoqualmie Falls.

The primary view is near the parking lot and looks down on the falls from the north.  It is easy to find and often very crowded.  You can also hike down the trail to the power plants, which takes about 20 minutes.  The hike is strenuous and leaves many folks huffing and puffing on the way back up, so some years back they put in a parking lot at the bottom.  

Once upon a time, folks could scamper out onto the rocks and picnic near the base of the falls (see above photo).  But those days are behind us. Sigh.

If you love to travel, we have something we would like to give you. It is our professionally designed e-book and it is FREE of charge. We think it’s pretty great, and we’re hopeful you’ll like it, too. It’s called, “Cultivating a Lifetime of Travel”. Click HERE. and we’ll send it on over!

11.  Whidbey Island — Things to Do in Washington State

Things to Do in Washington State
Things to do in Seattle Washington

Any excuse to get yourself on a ferry boat in the Puget Sound works for us!  Whidbey Island might have the best mix of things to do, but you can’t go wrong with Bainbridge or the San Juan Islands (which we touch upon later in the article), as well as other island destinations.  

Two beautiful places to visit are Ft. Ebey State Park and Deception Pass.  Deception Pass is a narrow strait between Whidbey and Fidalgo islands that is connected by a tall bridge.  The areas on all sides of the bridge are fun to explore (cliffside picnic, anyone?) and walking across the bridge is unforgettable.

Ebey State Park is a 650-acre park on the west-side of Whidbey.  It is known for its expansive, stunning views of the sound (especially at sunset), and a military earthwork battery system. 

12.  River Rafting on the White Salmon River

River Rafting in Washington State is at its best on the Salmon River.
Things to Do in Washington State

We personally love the White Salmon, but good times are certainly also had on the Wenatchee, Methow, and Skykomish rivers.  We picked the White Salmon because our boat seems to dump at the Staircase rapids every time – which we find hilarious and exhilarating – and you also go over a damn waterfall.  

Before you scroll to number thirteen and forget we ever mentioned this, there is a river, or stretch of river, for all degrees of adventure.  If you aren’t into the whole risking-your-life thing, the Wenatchee and Methow have terrific Class II sections with pleasant, agreeable rides.  In our opinion, everyone should raft a river because it is without a doubt the most fun you can have with your clothing on.  

13.  Whale Watching and Kayaking in the San Juan Islands

Things to Do in Washington State
Not our photo

If you’re going to visit us in the corner of the country, why not take the opportunity to stalk what is perhaps the most bizarre and surreal animal on earth?  Do you want a memorable experience, or what?  

The San Juan Islands are made up of four major islands:  Lopez, Orcas, Shaw, and San Juan.  Reached primarily by ferry, the islands make for a lowkey and beautiful retreat from civilization.  This is one of those places where people visit for a weekend and then decide to move there.

Friday Harbor is the major population center on San Juan island and home to most of the whale watching tours and kayaking tours.

14.  Skiing at Crystal Mountain

Things to Do in Washington State
Things to do in Washington State

There is a saying in Washington that if you can ski here you can ski anywhere (because of the wet, heavy snow).  Regardless, there is no shortage of white stuff, so if you want mountains to tackle, we’ve got a handful.  

Two of our ski resorts are clearly superior to the others:  Crystal Mountain and Mt. Baker, and both come recommended by Washingtonians.

Crystal Mountain is Washington State’s largest ski resort with 2600 acres.  Located in the shadow of Mt. Rainier, the mountain has everything from miles of lazy green circles to double black diamond slaughterhouses, to backcountry basin dreamscapes, to helicopter accessed powder peaks. For skiers, Crystal and Baker Mountains are two of the best things to do in Washington State.

15.  George Amphitheater Concerts

Things to Do in Washington State
Best Concert Venue in the USA

The Gorge at George is one of the finest outdoor concert settings in the nation.  Located in George, which is basically a gas station and 500 farmers, the amphitheater is out of the way for anyone living in a major Washington city.  So why would people drive 2.5 hours to see a concert when the Tacoma Dome is thirty minutes down the freeway? Because it’s a breathtaking venue.

Backdropped by the Columbia River gorge, the stage sits high atop the cliffs overlooking the river.  A lush, green hillside sprawls out before it and provides enough room for 26,000 butts.  Virtually every musician who plays there takes a moment to reverently ponder the stunning beauty.  To read the George Amphitheater concert schedule, click here.

16.  Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

Things to Do in Washington State
Things to do in Seattle Washington

Every April, Western Washington buzzes with talk of tulips.  “Are you going to see the tulips this year,” we ask each other.  The reasoned response might be, “Of course not.  Who gives a crap about tulips?”  Ordinarily we wouldn’t fault this attitude, but the tough guy is wrong here.  If it’s April, go see the tulips.

Skagit Valley is easily one of the most beautiful places in Washington State, even without the tulips.  Whenever we drive north on I-5 we always look forward to that point where the road crests and the valley comes into view.  The city of Mt. Vernon is essentially the hub of the festival, although the flowers are in the fields west of town.  To read more about Skagit Valley tulips, click here.

Could Do: Things to Do in Washington State

Could-Do attractions are worthwhile, but we don’t strongly recommend them for one reason or another.

17.  Dry Falls

Things to Do in Washington State
Things to do in Washington State

Dry Falls could be dismissed as a couple of lakes in a scabby desert.  However, what happened here is epic and worthy of investigation.  

15,000 years ago, these scalloped cliffs were 400’ high waterfalls measuring five times the width of Niagara Falls.  The power of the water pouring over these cliffs was ten times the force of the world’s rivers combined!  Those small lakes at the bottom are actually plunge pools, relics of a catastrophic geological event during our last ice-age.

The Dry Falls visitors center is first-rate and is an essential stop on your geological tour of eastern Washington.  Inside you can learn about the Grand Coulee, Lake Missoula, and Dry Falls, of course.  The jawbone and other bone fragments from the Blue Lake Rhino are available for the public to view.  

Have you heard of the Blue Lake Rhino? It is one-of-a-kind experience. Learn More.

18.  Lake Chelan — Things to Do in Washington State

Things to Do in Washington State
Things to do in Washington State

If Washington State has a quintessential summertime lake, it is Lake Chelan, the largest natural lake in the state. Chelan has the means to get people out on the water — and the beer to keep them there.  It is the 3rddeepest lake in the USA, so no matter how hot it gets in August, the lake is always f-f-frosty cold. 

Lake Chelan State Park is a incredibly popular, so make your reservations early.  The town of Chelan has lots of hotels, condos, and timeshares as well.  Boat and watersport rentals are in abundance, and there is a waterpark in town.  

If you want to feel like you’re the only person on earth, the Lady of the Lake Ferry takes you 50 miles upstream to Stehekin village.  Some say Stehekin is one of the best things to do in Washington State.

19.  Grand Coulee Dam

Things to Do in Washington State
Things to do in Washington State

Grand Coulee Dam is the largest electric power-producing facility in the USA.  Construction started in 1933 as part of Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt’s effort to stimulate the economy and increase employment.  The dam cost $163M to build, todays equivalent of $2B.  It contains 12M cubic yards of concrete, making it the 2nd largest concrete structure in the world.  Seventy-eight men died while building the original dam, many of whom are buried deep in the structure.  

Grand Coulee Dam offers tours and has an amazing visitors center with lots to do.  Between Memorial Day Weekend and September 30th, the dam puts on a nightly laser light show, called, “One River, Many Voices,” a tribute to the construction of the damn as well as the Indian heritage of the region.   

20.  Port Townsend and Fort Worden

Things to Do in Washington State
Things to do in Washington State

If you’re looking for a weekend getaway, consider Port Townsend.  Located on a large port in the NE corner of the Olympic Peninsula, the quaint settlement was once dubbed “The City of Dreams,” and expected to become the largest harbor on the west coast.  The town was built on speculation the shipping port would be a massive boon to the area, but the depression came and the railroads never connected the region. What we are left with is an isolated and funky Victorian town.

Beyond the town, Port Townsend offers amazing views of Puget Sound.  One of the best state parks in Washington State is Fort Worden. It is two miles north of town and is a perfect place to camp or play in the military batteries with the kids.  The ferry can shoot you over to Fort Casey on Whidbey Island, which opens a whole other set of actions.  There is just so much to do in one, cool little place, making it one of the best things to do in Washington State.

*Pike Place Market

Things to Do in Washington State

We imagine most people consider the Pike Place Market an iconic, can’t miss thing to do in Seattle Washington.  Sadly, the hype oversells it.  We never recommend the market to friends when they come to town. This is a warning more than a review.

If you insist on watching loud men make a big deal of throwing and catching a fish, more power to you. Do yourself a favor and don’t go Saturday afternoon because the place gets stupid busy.  You’ll probably want to stop and look at flowers, bracelets, and local artwork without a horde of other tourists running up your backside. And heaven forbid you bring a stroller at these times…

Still, there are some cool stores and restaurants in the lower levels. We wish you well at Pike Place 🙂

More Things to Do in Washington State

Leavenworth — German-themed town in the Cascade Mountains. Great food. Fun weekend getaway.

Safeco Field — One of the best stadiums in MLB. Whether the team wins or loses, the Mariner brass knows how to create a family-friendly experience. One of our favorite things to do in Seattle Washington.

Beacon Rock — Fun hike up a monolith. Great view and disturbing history, too.

Palouse Falls — Big waterfall between Pullman and Tri-Cities in Eastern Washington.

Winthrop — Old western style town on the east side of the North Cascades.

Paulsbo — Quaint seaside town on the backside of Bainbridge Island (which is also a great place to visit). If you’re looking for things to do in Seattle Washington, this is a great day trip.

La Conner — Another quaint town in the Skagit Valley. Nice weekender destination.

Seattle Art Museum — Located downtown. Free first Thursday of the month. One of the most recommended things to do in Seattle Washington.

Museum of Flight — The largest independent, non-profit air and space museum in the world. If you’re looking for an original thing to do in Seattle Washington, the Museum of Flights is a winner.

An Honest Conclusion for Things to Do in Washington State

Things to do in Seattle Washington

We love Washington. This is where we’re from, and where some of our family still resides. The USA has many beautiful places to see; perhaps none of them are finer than here.

But we also loathe what has become of western Washington.

Seattle has gone to hell the past ten or twenty years. Many of us are moving away, and strangers have replaced us en masse. The city is simultaneously witnessing an exodus and a pilgrimage, and a total changeover of personality is the result.

We cannot recommend that anyone move here unless you’re the kind of person who avoids eye contact, doesn’t want to know your neighbors, and loves drug-addled, culture-void, self-righteous charades.

If you are visiting you should be fine. But be careful, though. It is easy to fall in love with the scenery and think Washington would make a great place to live. Many a fool has moved here and two years later found themselves saying, “The people suck. I’m outta here.” They call it “The Seattle Freeze”. Consider this your warning.

If you’re coming to Washington, give Seattle a brief look or a pass.

Thank you for stopping by our website! We are the Hoffmann family, a full-time RV family that has split residence in Seattle, Washington and San Antonio, Texas. We have special needs children that we homeschool, and work travel assignments for the Veteran Affairs Hospital. If you would like to learn more about us, check out our Start Here and Biography pages.

Things to Do in Washington State
Map of Things to do in Washington State

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