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Washington State

Trip Planner USA  /  Washington State
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A state with two distinct faces, Washington features a landscape split apart by the Cascade Mountains, separating the damp forested areas to the west from the irrigated farmland to the east. Named after the country's first president, Washington is the second most populous state in the western United States. Nearly 60 percent of its population lives in the Seattle metropolitan area, one of the state's most popular holiday destinations. A land of over 1,000 dams, Washington is a leading producer of products as diverse as wine, lumber, apples, hops, pears, and potatoes. A big contributor to the nation's manufacturing industries, the state also boasts a cosmopolitan culture with plenty of sightseeing opportunities and a selection of small cafes, bars, and restaurants. Put Washington State at the heart of your travel plans by using our United States travel itinerary planner.
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Washington Holiday Planning Guide

A state with two distinct faces, Washington features a landscape split apart by the Cascade Mountains, separating the damp forested areas to the west from the irrigated farmland to the east. Named after the country's first president, Washington is the second most populous state in the western United States. Nearly 60 percent of its population lives in the Seattle metropolitan area, one of the state's most popular holiday destinations. A land of over 1,000 dams, Washington is a leading producer of goods as diverse as wine, lumber, apples, hops, pears, and potatoes. A big contributor to the nation's manufacturing industry, the state also boasts a cosmopolitan culture with plenty of sightseeing opportunities and a selection of cafes, bars, and restaurants.

Places to Visit in Washington

Seattle: Home to a diverse array of cultures, a thriving music scene, rabid sports fans, and some of the best scenery in the nation, high-tech and cosmopolitan Seattle undoubtedly lies at the top of any list of places to visit in Washington.

Olympic National Park: Washington's lush scenery shows in all its glory at Olympic National Park, a massive stretch of leafy rainforests, towering, snowcapped mountain peaks, and fertile valleys home to free-roaming elk and a riotous array of native wildlife.

San Juan Islands: The San Juan Islands offer beautiful coastal landscapes, quiet rural getaways, and artsy seaside harbor towns, all within easy reach of Seattle; Orcas, Lopez, and San Juan are most accessible for tourists, and Friday Harbor on San Juan Island is a favorite for its charming, small-town feel.

Bellevue: The epicenter of much of the tech industry in Washington, upscale Bellevue, one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, features an array of shopping options, beautiful parks, and an impressive skyline.

Whidbey Island: Surrounded by the waters of Puget Sound, sleepy Whidbey Island is rife with gorgeous beaches, a forested interior, and small, artsy waterfront towns, just a short hop by ferry from Seattle.

Mount Rainier National Park: Arguably the premier outdoor attraction in Washington, this national park is renowned for 4,392 m (14,411 ft) tall Mount Rainier, an active volcano and the highest mountain in the state, along with breathtaking alpine meadows, glaciers, and lakes.

North Cascades National Park: Nearly untouched by civilization, North Cascades National Park dazzles the travelers that hike and bike through its vast forested wilderness of nearly 300 glaciers, temperate rainforests, and stunning mountain lakes.

Port Townsend: Perched along the edge of the Olympic Peninsula, charming Port Townsend plays home to a huge concentration of Victorian buildings, placing its city center on the list of National Historic Landmarks.

Leavenworth: Nestled in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains, Leavenworth entices visitors with a town center designed to resemble a Bavarian mountain village, complete with timbered buildings, wooden balconies, and chalet-style homes.

Spokane: Eastern Washington's beating heart, sun-soaked Spokane boasts a definite small-town feel despite its size, and also provides tons of opportunities for outdoor adventuring in its lake-studded surroundings.

Things to Do in Washington

Popular Washington Tourist Attractions

Pike Place Market: A can't-miss addition to any Washington itinerary, bustling Pike Place Market stands among the oldest farmers' markets in America, and this multi-level waterfront complex, famous for its fish-tossing merchants, bursts with stalls and shops selling a huge array of tasty local treats, crafts, and more.

Chihuly Garden and Glass: Home of the works of famed Washington-born glass blower Dale Chihuly, Chihuly Garden and Glass shows off an extensive collection of his intricately crafted and colorful works, including a magnificent, 30.5 m (100 ft) long sculpture that serves as one of the exhibition's centerpieces.

Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour: Visit the Boeing Aircraft Factory Tour Center on your Washington vacation to wander through a commercial jet assembly building where some of the world's most recognizable airliners are built. Finish your tour at a center detailing Boeing's future projects.

Space Needle: Built for the 1962 World's Fair, the Space Needle was originally intended as a temporary structure, but this futuristic, 184 m (605 ft) tower has since risen to become the city of Seattle's most beloved icon.

Mount Rainier: The state's highest mountain at 4,392 m (14,411 ft), majestic Mount Rainier, an active volcano notoriously difficult to climb, rises dramatically from the surrounding landscape, providing stunning backdrops for Seattle, Tacoma, and much of the Puget Sound area.

Riverfront Park: Spanning 40.5 hectares (100 acres) along the Spokane River, Riverfront Park serves as a relaxing getaway in the heart of the city, allowing visitors to enjoy an attractive clock tower, amusement parks, and plenty of pathways for wandering.

The Museum of Flight: Marvel at the world's largest private air museum, where more than 150 aircraft are on display both inside and outside the complex, including rare examples like a variant of the SR-71 Blackbird, plenty of warbirds, and an array of locally made Boeing planes.

Museum of Pop Culture: Designed to resemble a smashed guitar, the eccentric EMP Museum houses a wide array of exhibits, artifacts, and collections paying tribute to pop culture and music on a big scale, including famous Washington residents like Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix.

Hurricane Ridge: With access to an array of hiking trails, spectacular views of the surrounding mountains and the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and the thick forests of Olympic National Park, it's no surprise that Hurricane Ridge is one of the top places to visit in Washington.

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks: A system of adjustable waterways allowing ships to pass between Puget Sound and Seattle's lakes, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks make for an interesting session of boat-watching and observing local migrating fish climb the glass-sided fish ladder.

Planning a Washington Vacation with Kids

Places to Visit in Washington with Kids

Washington positively overflows with family-friendly destinations equally suited to kids both young and old. Seattle, as you might expect, boasts the lion's share of urban attractions in Washington, though its surroundings in the western part of the state, particularly Mount Rainier National Park, provide plenty of opportunities to get out into the great outdoors. Likewise, Olympic National Park and North Cascades National Park make for fantastic getaways, providing tons of room for the little ones to stretch their legs. In the San Juans, quaint Friday Harbor makes a solid jumping-off point for exploring the rest of the island group. In the east, Spokane is the epicenter of most activity, though Ellensburg and Cle Elum serve as decent travel bases closer to Seattle.

Things to Do in Washington with Kids

When on vacation in Washington with the little ones, you can take advantage of the state's wealth of things to do just about anywhere you decide to travel. Head for the great outdoors with the kids to explore Washington's gorgeous landscapes and many walking trails. Even big cities like Seattle feature fantastic options very close to town or in nearby suburbs, such as Saint Edward State Park, Golden Gardens Park, or Spokane's Riverfront Park. Try kicking back at West Seattle's own Alki Beach, swinging by Gas Works Park to let the kids run wild and enjoy a fantastic view of downtown across the lake, or making for Kerry Park for an equally stunning panorama. Farther afield, Big Four Ice Caves, Lake Chelan State Park, and Ginkgo Petrified Forest State Park offer a rewarding day of exploring in nature.

Swing by the bustle of Seattle Center or indulge in the many hands-on, interactive exhibits at Pacific Science Center, marvel at hundreds of animals and species at Woodland Park Zoo or Seattle Aquarium, or even go for a canoe ride through Washington Park Arboretum near University of Washington. Nearby Snoqualmie Falls makes for a sight sure to impress the kids, while Issaquah's Boehm's Candies gives younger members of the party the opportunity to take home a sweet souvenir from their trip to Washington. Alternatively, just take the ferry out to Bainbridge Island or Whidbey Island and let the kids release some energy on the beach. Not only is the destination a pleasant one, but the ferry ride itself serves as a breathtaking tour of Puget Sound. Depending on the season, try catching a Seattle Seahawks game at thunderous CenturyLink Field, one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL (and the world) and home to fantastic city views.

Tips for a Family Vacation in Washington

Though larger urban areas like Seattle and Spokane feature solid public transportation in the form of buses, getting out to many of the natural attractions in Washington can be very difficult without access to a car. Consider renting a vehicle during your trip to make things a whole lot easier, as you can hop in and make longer drives to national parks, beaches, and the like, or simply motor your way around town without worrying about bus schedules. Not only does this expand your accommodation options by allowing you to choose places to stay outside of the big cities, but it also makes the trip easier on your wallet, as bus fares for the whole family can quickly add up over a few days.

Dining and Shopping on Holiday in Washington

Cuisine of Washington

Though much of Washington's cuisine is similar to what you can expect to find throughout the United States, there are still plenty of local specialties. Thanks to the state's multicultural heritage, you'll find on your Washington vacation that there is no shortage of fare from around the world, with Asian foods taking center stage. Japanese, Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese cuisines are all extremely popular choices, and most towns of reasonable size feature decent restaurants specializing in one of these national styles. Seattle's International District features hordes of noodle bars, bubble tea joints, dim sum restaurants, and diverse food stores like Uwajimaya, all bustling with activity. Seafood is also a local staple, and when in coastal regions you'll certainly want to sample some local Pacific salmon, crab, or shrimp to appreciate the bounty of Puget Sound. Pike Place Market is a solid place to sample some aquatic fare, or even grab some of your own to barbecue or ship home. The eastern part of the state, particularly around areas like Walla Walla, Wenatchee, and Yakima, features verdant fruit orchards, specializing in cherries, pears, and famed Washington-grown apples; as you explore the state, keep an eye open for fruit stands popping up at farms and along highways, hawking massive baskets straight from local producers. These make for fantastic and delicious snacks to keep you fueled up on your Washington trip.

Washington state is a mecca for microbreweries. Though plenty of the state's 280-plus licensed breweries call Seattle home, you'll find that plenty of smaller companies operate all over the place. Local favorites include Redhook, Mac & Jack's, Elysian, Pike, and the beloved Fremont Brewery, plus a near-endless array of special craft beers. Washington state also produces renowned wines and boasts more than 800 wineries, so head for Woodinville's Chateau Ste. Michelle Winery to sample some delectable native blends.

Shopping in Washington

Washington boasts a wealth of places to shop, from upscale malls and downtown streets to artsy, independent studios and craft stores. The western part of the state features more than enough shopping destinations to fill an entire holiday in Washington; Westlake Center and the surrounding area is perhaps Seattle's premier location, though Westfield Southcenter is also a popular option. In the suburbs, Bellevue Square, and Bellevue in general, can spoil you for choice, while Redmond Town Center offers a range of stores and shops in a pleasant outdoor setting. In the eastern part of Washington, you'll likely discover that most towns offer decent choices for your shopping needs in the form of local malls, such as Spokane Valley Mall. Be sure to stop by the Seattle Waterfront or Pike Place Market to grab some souvenirs or crafts, or swing by one of the many independent galleries and shops on Bainbridge and the San Juans.

Know Before You Go on a Trip to Washington

History of Washington

For thousands of years, the area that's now Washington state was inhabited by countless Native American tribes. Many native tribes along the coast lived prosperously, as there was no lack of food or other resources along the rich shores of Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. They carved totem poles and masks dedicated to legends and mythical figures, built longhouses, and survived on the region's wealth of natural offerings. Salmon fishing and whaling were particularly important pursuits. Tribes like the Makah, Lummi, Swinomish, Duwamish, Chinook, Tulalip, Snoqualmie, Puyallup, and Muckleshoot thrived in the period before European settlement. In the east of the state, however, food was scarcer, and tribes like the Nez Perce, Yakama, and Cayuse had to survive on subsistence foraging and agriculture.

Though the first Europeans in the area, landing in 1775, were Spanish, the area was later explored extensively by British naval officer George Vancouver, who gave his name to many cities and geographical features in the Pacific Northwest. Washington state, due to its location, was a point of contention between Spain, Britain, and Russia for decades, as rival trading companies jockeyed for position through a series of forts, trading posts, and treaties. They were later joined by white American settlers from the Midwest, who came in search of a new life out along the new frontier. Washington Territory was officially formed in 1853, and underwent several iterations before it became a U.S. state. Despite the European influence, Washington still bears many marks of its strong Native American heritage in its place names, such as Issaquah, Snohomish, Wenatchee, Yakima, Mukilteo, and Snoqualmie, along with countless others. Chief Si'ahl, leader of the Duwamish tribe, was instrumental in aiding white settlers around the southern Puget Sound region through the harsh winters of the mid-1850s, as well as helping to negotiate peace between warring American and Native American factions. The settlers, out of respect, gave their growing outpost an anglicized version of his name--Seattle. Don't miss a chance to delve deeper into native history at the Burke Museum, home to an incredible repository of Northwest Native American artifacts, carved wooden masks, and artwork. Alternatively, pay a visit to a local tribal center, such as Yakama Nation Cultural Center or Makah Cultural and Research Center.

The 1850s saw numerous skirmishes and battles between Native American tribes and U.S. forces (along with U.S.-aligned tribes) across the state, including long periods of conflict in Yakima, the Puget Sound area, and the eastern regions surrounding Walla Walla. Many campaigns were instigated by the controversial first governor of the Washington Territory, Isaac Stevens. In 1856, Seattle itself was briefly assaulted by a force of Yakama warriors, which caused settlers to flee with the help of local neutral tribes before the Yakama were repulsed by cannon fire from a U.S. Navy cruiser in Puget Sound. You can find a legacy of this long series of conflicts during your Washington trip at Fort Simcoe, a base used by U.S. Army soldiers to monitor the local Yakama tribe.

On November 11, 1889, Washington was admitted to the union as America's 42nd state. The 20th century saw the western part of the state, particularly Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett, become a major center of industry and development. World War II in particular was a turning point for all of Washington, as the plants of the local Boeing company churned out thousands of aircraft for the war effort. Consider adding The Museum of Flight to your Washington itinerary to learn more about the local aircraft industry and the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a heavy bomber that served as one of the United States' most effective airborne weapons throughout the war, produced in the Seattle area.

Bremerton and Tacoma became huge shipbuilding centers and jumping-off points for soldiers headed for the Pacific theater, while Hanford became the site of a major development complex and nuclear reactor, playing a vital role in the Manhattan Project. Learn more about the nuclear program at Hanford Reach Interpretive Center. However, this period was also witness to a dark stretch of local history, when thousands of Japanese-Americans were removed from their homes in Washington and sent to internment camps, as the government feared they might betray the country in favor of Japan. Visit Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience for more information about Asian-American history.

Washington state has also endured several dramatic natural disasters throughout its recent history. On the morning of May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted violently, spewing massive columns of ash and smoke into the air, obliterating forests and the mountainside, flooding the Columbia River with volcanic discharge, and killing 57 people. February 28, 2001, saw the powerful Nisqually earthquake strike, and though damage was limited, the 6.8-magnitude quake caused a great deal of disruption, uncertainty, and architectural redesigns in the Seattle area.

Innovations and industry continued to play a huge role in state history throughout the second half of the 20th century, when Washington spawned some of the world's most famous names and companies. The year 1971 saw the founding of Starbucks Coffee, which grew from a small local startup into a major global corporation and worldwide favorite by the turn of the 21st century. If you're a fan of the famous company, try making the pilgrimage to the very first Starbucks coffee shop. Microsoft set up its headquarters in western Washington in 1979, and spearheaded the tech and computing revolution of the late 20th century, rising to become one of the world's best-known corporations and making founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen some of the world's richest people. Guitarist Jimi Hendrix began his musical career in his hometown of Seattle in the 1950s, while a small band known as Nirvana, led by frontman Kurt Cobain, became a forerunner of the grunge scene when it emerged from the logging town of Aberdeen in 1987.

Landscape of Washington

In many ways, Washington almost acts as two states in one, as its distinct halves also boast noticeably different landscapes and natural features. Western Washington is chock full of rich coastal scenery, including glacially formed bays, inlets, and fjords, as well as the islands of Puget Sound and the more northern San Juan Islands. On the Olympic Peninsula, you'll find the towering peaks of the Olympic Mountains, capped off by Hurricane Ridge. Visitors adding this area to their Washington itinerary can also see the huge amounts of lush foliage and expansive forests that characterize the region, particularly at places like Lake Quinault and the famed Hoh Rainforest, the only temperate rainforest in the contiguous United States. The peninsula also boasts the extreme northwestern point of the lower 48 states at Cape Flattery, accessible from nearby Neah Bay. The rest of the west features hilly, forested terrain, bounded along the state's southern border with Oregon by the Columbia River.

The mighty Cascade Mountains rise up in the middle of the state, dividing it in two; this range stretches north-south across Washington, from the border with Canada all the way down to the state line with Oregon, and includes the prominent volcanic peaks of Mount Adams, Mt Baker, Mount Rainier, and the infamous Mount St. Helens. This lengthy range, along with the Olympics, bears a great deal of responsibility for the western half's rainy reputation, as the peaks "wring out" clouds heading inland from the Pacific, dumping tons of rain and snow in the mountains and leaving the east in a rain shadow.

Eastern Washington features vast expanses of dry countryside, including the rolling hills of the Yakima Valley and the Palouse and other stretches of arid and semi-arid desert. Palouse Falls State Park is a good example of the rugged canyons and rock formations that characterize the area, while lengthy Lake Chelan, formed due to a dam, is a popular place to visit in Washington and a tribute to human influences on the region. The Snake River and Columbia River, as well as the reservoirs created by Grand Coulee Dam, wend their way through the heart of the state's eastern portion toward the sea, creating dramatic gorges and helping to nourish the area's rich farmland. The wild, mountainous landscape of Colville National Forest and the plateaus of the Okanogan Highlands dominate the northeastern corner of Washington.

Holidays & Festivals in Washington

The greater Seattle area alone features enough gatherings and events to fill an entire Washington trip, and the state's cultural capital certainly knows how to celebrate on a big scale. Seafair, held during July and August, stands as one of the area's most beloved festivals, where locals and visitors alike take to the waters of Lake Washington in hundreds of boats and the city pulses with countless block parties and outdoor events. Farther east, Ellensburg Rodeo is one of North America's biggest and most popular get-togethers of its kind, with thousands flocking into town over Labor Day weekend.

Port Townsend's Victorian Heritage Festival in March, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in April, Spokane's Lilac Festival in May, the Prosser Balloon Rally in September, and Issaquah's Salmon Days festival in October are just a few fun-filled examples of local events. State fairs also attract large numbers of visitors. Check out the Evergreen State Fair, Kittitas County Fair, and Puyallup's famed Washington State Fair.

Washington Travel Tips

Climate of Washington

Though Seattle has received a reputation as a rainy city, travelers on tour in Washington may discover that it is not the amount of rain at once that creates this stereotype, but the fact that Seattle's and western Washington's rain falls over much of the year. This results in plenty of sprinkling, overcast days rather than heavy downpours. However, summer in western Washington can be unrivaled, and you'll find that June, July, August, and September all generally boast a solid amount of sunshine and warm temperatures. The Olympic Peninsula receives buckets of rain each year, and the Hoh Rainforest is one of the rainiest places in the country. Eastern Washington features a much drier climate, though this results in hot summers filled with sunshine and cold winters with plenty of snow.

Transportation in Washington

Seattle sits at the intersection of two major freeways, Interstate 90 and Interstate 5. On I-90, you can travel from Seattle to Spokane and the eastern part of the state. I-5 runs through Seattle up to the border with Canada and south through Portland, Oregon. Numerous other highways link towns and cities in the region, and the road network is solid, so you'll have little trouble getting between the top places to visit in Washington. The larger cities do offer public bus networks, though you may find that services are limited outside of the city itself. Seattle also features a burgeoning light rail line running from the airport to downtown.