15 Top-Rated Day Trips from Seattle
Whether you're seeking a rural or urban getaway, Seattle offers many opportunities for day trips by ferry or car. Secluded islands with quiet bays, villages showcasing Native American culture, serene national parks, and unusual museums are all within easy day-trip distance of downtown.
Larger cities near Seattle, like Tacoma and Bellevue, lure visitors with their art museums and international cuisine. Smaller communities along Puget Sound maintain a slower speed - a pace that makes time for boat trips to state parks; discovering fun local heritage; and learning about a few famous connections, be it Jimi Hendrix in Renton or "Twin Peaks" locations in North Bend.
1 Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands
The lovely island escapes in Puget Sound warrant more than a day trip. But it is still possible to see some highlights on a quick trip, especially on Whidbey Island, where attractive small towns draw on farming and fishing heritage. WWII coastal fortifications at Fort Casey and Fort Ebey State Parks are also popular tourist attractions. A longer ferry trip from Seattle, the San Juan Islands archipelago encompasses four main islands: San Juan, Orcas, Lopez, and Shaw. The most populous, San Juan Island is where you can tour San Juan Island National Historic Park to learn about the Pig War border dispute between American and British forces in 1859.
If you want to explore the waters of Puget Sound on a day trip and see some of the region's wildlife at the same time, the Friday Harbor Day Trip & Whale Watching tour from Seattle is a great option. This full-day tour departs directly from downtown Seattle and includes round-trip ferry service, a 2.5-hour guided whale-watching cruise with an experienced naturalist, and a visit to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Minke whales, humpbacks, orcas, seals, porpoises, otters, and bald eagles are just some of the magnificent animals you might see while cruising these waters.
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- Top Tourist Attractions of Puget Sound
2 Victoria, British Columbia
A three-hour high-speed ferry ride from Seattle, flower-flecked Victoria on Vancouver Island is the capital of British Columbia and one of Canada's prettiest cities. Thanks to its sheltered location between the surrounding mountains and the warm North Pacific current, Victoria enjoys one of the the country's mildest climates. Highlights of a visit here include beautiful Butchart Gardens; the Royal British Columbia Museum; the magnificent dome-capped parliament buildings; and Craigdarroch Castle, an evocative example of Victorian architecture. While you're here, a fun thing to do is enjoy afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress, a landmark hotel dating from 1908. Miniature World is another popular attraction in the hotel grounds, with delightful dioramas depicting the past, present, and future.
An easy way to visit the island is on the Seattle to Victoria Ferry, which departs right from Pier 69 along the waterfront in downtown Seattle. You can relax on the ferry's comfortable seats and purchase duty free goods as well as beverages and snacks on board. Don't forget to bring your passport.
3 Blake Island State Park
Accessible only by boat, Blake Island State Park is a marine park known for its calm beaches, Native American heritage, and beautiful views of the Olympic Mountains looming in the background. This picturesque island was the birthplace of the famous local leader, Chief Seattle, and you can soak up some of the island's heritage at Tillicum Village at its northeast end.
A fun and convenient way to explore the island from Seattle is the Tillicum Village Cultural Experience tour. On this half-day excursion, you can hop aboard a 45-minute narrated cruise to the island, tour the village, and learn all about Native American culture. The tour also includes round-trip boat transportation, a salmon feast, and traditional storytelling and dance performances.
4 Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park is a beautiful area of snow-capped mountains, lush old-growth forests, alpine wildflower meadows, and rugged empty beaches. It takes up almost the entire Olympic Peninsula, and roads only ring the outskirts of the park, never entering the park's wild heart. Many visitors spend a number of days or a week exploring the park, but driving up to Hurricane Ridge Port Angeles is a reasonable goal for a day trip. Other day trip options include 90-foot Marymere Falls near Lake Crescent, and exploring the mossy environment in the Hoh Rain Forest.
Address: 3002 Mt. Angeles Road, Port Angeles, Washington
5 Future of Flight - Aviation Center & Boeing Tour
In Everett, half an hour's drive north of Seattle on US 526, the factory of the Boeing Aircraft Company has the largest aircraft construction hangar in the world. On a guided tour, visitors are shown the latest high-tech aircraft under construction. Note that there is a minimum height restriction for the tour. The nearby city of Everett is on the shores of Port Gardner Bay, with a large marina, waterfront hotels, and historic buildings. Laid out like a mini town, Everett's Imagine Children's Museum offers fun and exciting exhibits for children of all ages. The city is also home to a repository of local heritage, the Snohomish County Museum.
Address: 8415 Paine Field Blvd, Everett, Washington
From its industrial roots, Tacoma has developed into a surprisingly modern city with a host of excellent, engaging museums. The city is perhaps best known for its stunning glass sculptures, many by renowned Washington artist Dale Chihuly, and the immense Museum of Glass is a testament to the art form. There's more art to behold at the nearby Tacoma Art Museum. Stretching 500 feet, the Bridge of Glass pedestrian walkway connects the Museum of Glass to the Washington State History Museum. Outside of the downtown museum hub, LeMay - America's Car Museum displays a world-class collection of automobiles. There are up to 350 cars on display at any one time, drawing largely from the museum's collection of 3,400 vehicles.
7 Museum of Flight
To the south of Seattle, the Museum of Flight presents carefully restored historic aircraft as well as exhibits that give insight into the development of aviation through to the Space Age. Also on the property, the Red Barn is where W. E. Boeing constructed his first aircraft in 1916.
Address: 9404 East Marginal Way South, Seattle, Washington
8 Washington Park Arboretum
On the shores of Lake Washington, Washington Park Arboretum covers 230 acres and includes mainly native trees and shrubs in a beautifully landscaped setting. April to October are the best months to visit, though the facility is open year-round. The city and the University of Washington run Washington Park Arboretum jointly. Also within the arboretum, the Japanese Garden was created in 1960. This mature garden offers a fabulous display of flowers in the spring and throughout the summer. Hours and admission at the Japanese Garden differ from the arboretum.
Address: 2300 Arboretum Drive E, Seattle, Washington
The city of Bellevue, on the eastern outskirts of Seattle, lies in a picturesque setting in front of the Cascade Mountains. It is a rather prosperous and growing community that attracts commuters from the surrounding areas. The Bellevue Arts Museum is the primary attraction, featuring changing exhibits, programs, lectures, and workshops. Free to visit, the Bellevue Botanical Garden covers 53 verdant acres and features Washington's showy state flower, the rhododendron. For high-end shopping, The Shops at The Bravern have an open-air European village design that includes a 125,000-square-foot Neiman Marcus department store. Further east along I-90, Issaquah is a growing town with family-friendly attractions like Cougar Mountain Zoo. Endangered species are a highlight of the zoo, along with large mammals like cougars, reindeer, and alpacas.
10 Chittenden Locks
Northwest of Seattle Center, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks are one of the largest and busiest lock complexes in the United States. The historic 1911 link is also known as Ballard Locks. Beside the locks, a fish ladder allows salmon and other fish to make their way upstream from the saltwater of Puget Sound to the freshwater of Lake Union and Lake Washington. North of the locks, the Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Garden features a huge variety of trees and plants from around the world as well as those native to the local area. After admiring the parade of boats, you can walk through the lovely garden.
Address: 3015 NW 54th Street, Ballard, Washington
An important naval base with many large vessels (such as the USS Turner Joy naval ship museum), Bremerton is otherwise a small city. It is located directly west of Seattle across Puget Sound, and the town has worked to develop its waterfront and historic areas in recent years.
Further north, on the Kitsap Peninsula, the quirky town of Poulsbo proudly displays its Norwegian heritage. Local shops and bakeries attest to these Northern European roots. And from Poulsbo, it's possible to drive southeast to Bainbridge Island and return to Seattle by ferry.
12 Bainbridge Island
Bainbridge Island is a small island community located just west across the bay from Seattle. Tourists can access Bainbridge Island either by ferry (on foot or with a car), or by car via an extended route leading through Tacoma. A short distance from where the ferry docks, the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum is housed in a 1908 schoolhouse. The museum contains artifacts, photographs, and information on the local history. Other island attractions highlight nature, such as the lovely grounds of Bloedel Reserve and the shoreline of Fort Ward State Park.
A suburb of Seattle, Renton is famous primarily as the final resting place of musician Jimi Hendrix. A Hendrix family memorial is in Greenwood Memorial Park. Another interesting local attraction is the Renton History Museum, where exhibits present Native American history and pioneering artifacts in an Art Deco-era fire station.
14 Gig Harbor
In Puget Sound opposite Tacoma, the town of Gig Harbor is a popular tourist hangout, with a historic waterfront sprinkled with shops, galleries, and restaurants. You reach the community by crossing the twin Tacoma Narrows suspension bridges, which replaced the infamous "Galloping Gertie" bridge that collapsed in 1940. The town's Harbor History Museum features permanent displays about Native American culture, boat building, and early life on the Gig Harbor Peninsula.
15 North Bend
In the Snoqualmie Valley, North Bend is probably best known for being the filming location of the television series Twin Peaks. The town is just east of Seattle in a scenic area along the foothills of the Cascade Mountains. The town's Northwest Railway Museum is a favorite with railroad buffs. Northwest along the river, the equally small community of Snoqualmie is also featured regularly in the Twin Peaks TV show. The town's centerpiece is the 270-foot Snoqualmie Falls, and a historic lodge overlooks the spectacular view.