25 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions in Washington State
The natural world is larger than life in the state of Washington. The state is stacked with sleeping volcanoes, lush rainforests, and islands full of attractions. And surrounding these verdant landscapes are cities big and small, brimming with cultural appeal.
Washington State attracts millions of tourists each year. These visitors and potential transplants descend upon the state for various reasons. For those that haven't explored the massive appeal of the Evergreen State, from world-class adventures to one-of-a-kind music and artistic scenes, there's no better time than now to find out what makes Washington so special.
Fun things to do and exciting places to visit are found in every direction in Washington, including the more arid eastern side of the state in cities like Spokane. One trip to Washington will never be enough, and even living there for years won't uncover the entire splendor of the state. Plan your trip with our list of the top attractions in Washington State.
- 1. Olympic National Park
- 2. Seattle Center and the Space Needle
- 3. San Juan Islands
- 4. Mount Rainier National Park
- 5. Seattle Downtown
- 6. Leavenworth
- 7. North Cascades National Park
- 8. Puget Sound
- 9. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
- 10. Deception Pass State Park
- 11. Port Angeles
- 12. Riverfront Park, Spokane
- 13. Bellingham
- 14. Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
- 15. Sol Duc Hot Springs
- 16. Pacific Crest Trail
- 17. Tacoma
- 18. Snoqualmie Falls
- 19. Fort Worden Historical State Park, Port Townsend
- 20. Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island
- 21. Winthrop, Methow Valley
- 22. Palouse Falls
- 23. Washington State Capitol Building
- 24. Vancouver
- 25. Future of Flight, Everett
1. Olympic National Park
From ocean beaches to glaciered mountaintops, Olympic National Park overflows with incomparable scenery. The park covers most of the Olympic Peninsula, and roads only circle the wild terrain, never cutting through the park's mountainous heart. While auto-touring is fun, the best way to experience Olympic is by hiking trail.
Iconic coastal areas like Ruby and Rialto Beach define the rugged western edge of the park. This stunning slice of the Washington coastline is only a short drive from the oversized trees and abundant foliage in the Hoh Rain Forest. Other popular attractions at the park include the snowy peaks of Hurricane Ridge and the welcoming waters of Sol Duc Hot Springs.
The hiking trails at Olympic National Park traverse many different landscapes, including a Hall of Mosses and the family-friendly Marymere Falls. The Hoh River Trail is an absolute must-do hike for all ages. This lush hiking trail explores the rainforest and river corridor with a flat path for 13 miles before ascending to the lateral moraine of Blue Glacier on Mount Olympus.
For excellent places to spend the night, the campgrounds at Olympic National Park put visitors close to the awe-inspiring scenery presented by this wild western region of Washington. Camping is easier in Olympic NP than in other national parks in Washington, with more campgrounds also dispersed throughout the adjacent Olympic National Forest.
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/olym/index.htm
2. Seattle Center and the Space Needle
Of all the top attractions in Seattle, the Space Needle within the Seattle Center is perhaps the most iconic. It was built for the 1962 World's Fair and stands today as a centerpiece of the sprawling Seattle Center. Surrounding the spinning observation deck are more of the city's most iconic attractions, including some of Seattle's best museums.
Alongside the Space Needle, the Seattle Center's 74-acre campus is home to the Monorail, parklands, museums, and restaurants. Among the indoor sightseeing options are the colorful glass artworks at Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Frank O. Gehry-designed Museum of Pop Culture.
Other fun things to check out at the Seattle Center include a plethora of art installations, various theater and stage accommodations, and multiple garden and fountain settings, and on any sunny day in Seattle, the campus offers an excellent place to stroll outside.
Author's Tip: Look into the official Seattle CityPass if you're considering visiting more than one big attraction. This discounted package includes a ride on the Space Needle and automatic entry into the Seattle Aquarium. It also includes three admissions into a selection of other nearby places to visit.
Official site: http://www.seattlecenter.com/
3. San Juan Islands
The San Juan Islands are north of Puget Sound, off the northwest mainland. They are a collection of 174 named islands, with the four largest readily accessible by ferry. These four islands are San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Lopez Island, and Shaw Island. The county seat, and most populous city, Friday Harbor, is on San Juan Island and is often a jumping-off point for bigger adventures.
Each main island has a mix of galleries, seafood restaurants, and parks, including San Juan Island National Historic Park. The historic park encompasses both a British and an American Camp that date to the mid-1800s. Here, the park details life at the camp and the conflict known as the Pig War dispute.
Popular destinations within the San Juan Islands include Friday Harbor, Eastsound, and Moran State Park, where visitors will find one of the best campgrounds in Washington. Favorite things to do on the San Juan Islands include sea kayaking, whale watching, and dining on local fare.
4. Mount Rainier National Park
Mount Rainier is an iconic Washington landmark seen miles from every direction, including certain vantage points in Seattle on clear days. It's the tallest peak in the state (14,410 feet) and is at the center of its namesake national park.
Two areas of particularly stunning interest include the Sunrise and Paradise regions of the park. The road to Paradise is open, weather permitting, year-round, allowing visitors to reach high elevations for hiking in summer and snowshoeing in winter. The Sunrise area, on the park's northeast side, lives up to its name and is well worth a pre-dawn drive.
Hiking trails at Mount Rainier National Park tour mountain meadows, massive waterfalls, and groves of ancient forests, including the around-the-mountain Wonderland Trail. The country-spanning Pacific Crest Trail also passes through the park's boundaries.
Four auto-campgrounds are among some of the best campgrounds in Rainier. Two of the campgrounds, Cougar Rock and Ohanapecosh, accept reservations and often book out fast. Visitors also find several other places to pitch a tent or park an RV in the national forests surrounding the park.
Other attractions are within easy distance of the park, including Northwest Trek wildlife park in Eatonville and the Mount Rainier Scenic Railroad in the little town of Elbe.
5. Seattle Downtown
It's a large, densely packed city, but downtown Seattle reveals its more relaxed side at the waterfront. Here, piers and parks rim the shoreline, and the chatter of visitors, traffic, and fish throwers add to a vibrant summer soundtrack. Pike Place Market is the standard draw for tourists, but other historic buildings and venerable institutions add diversity to a visit.
Visitors will likely wish to catch an underground tour near Pioneer Square or a performance at Benaroya Hall. And back on the waterfront, a sea-level exploration takes you from the Olympic Sculpture Park in the north to the Seattle Aquarium and ferry terminal farther south. The waterfront is also a popular spot to depart on some of the best day trips from Seattle.
Read More: Best Beaches in the Seattle Area
After the town of Leavenworth experienced the bust following a boom in the logging industry, city leaders rallied and decided to change the town's image. Today, the town of Leavenworth proudly recognizes itself as a Bavarian Village, and it's common to see residents wearing lederhosen or blowing a morning serenade on an alphorn.
Alongside the encompassing Bavarian theme of this tourist town comes several annual festivals. Perhaps one of the most spirited is the annual Christmas Lighting Festival, where the nighttime streets transform into something of a surreal snow globe scene.
Outdoor recreation is also a primary draw to Leavenworth. Craggy Cascade mountains backdrop the town to the west, with iconic destinations like the Icicle Gorge and Alpine Lakes Wilderness nearby. These mountain playgrounds comprise several of Leavenworth's best hiking trails, including the world-famous Enchantments Thru-Hike.
7. North Cascades National Park
The North Cascades are one of the most unspoiled tracts of country in the United States. And the national park encompassing these mountains caters to anglers, walkers, and nature lovers. To the north, the park shares a border with British Columbia, Canada.
A drive through the park on the North Cascades Scenic Byway is rewarded with fantastic views. Some of the many highlights of this drive include the Washington Pass Overlook, the aquamarine waters of Ross Lake, and the western-inspired town of Winthrop in the Methow Valley.
Lake Chelan National Recreation Area borders the southern edge of the national park and is home to one of the deepest lakes in the country. It also provides a stunning backdrop for the mountain town of Stehekin (only accessible by foot, boat, or seaplane).
Many hiking opportunities in the North Cascades are steep, though some of the best hikes in the area also incorporate family-friendly treks with stunning mountain views. Head to the North Cascades Institute within the park for other family-friendly adventures in the North Cascades. This non-profit institution offers educational opportunities and overnight visits.
8. Puget Sound
On the state's western border, separating the Olympic Peninsula and Seattle, Puget Sound is a watery region filled with inlets, islands, and unique worlds to discover. Several cities and harbors surround all sides of Puget Sound, offering endless access and places to visit. Some things to do in Puget Sound include sea kayaking, whale watching, and visiting the vibrant communities that define the islands.
An extensive ferry system accesses the different destinations in Puget Sound, allowing for easy day trips and island hopping. A top spot to visit is Whidbey Island, the largest island in the Sound. It's home to Naval Air Station Whidbey Island and the adjacent city of Oak Harbor, located on the island's north side. The island's north side is also home to Washington's most visited State Park: Deception Pass State Park.
South of Oak Harbor, the rest of the island has a quieter tone and more rugged landscapes to explore. Here, Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve encompasses several seaside state parks and historic farmlands. It also includes the charming community of Coupeville, where fresh seafood restaurants serve meals by the water.
To look into the native cultures that once inhabited the region, the nearby Tillicum Village on Blake Island Marine State Park offers another popular day trip from the city.
9. Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument
Mount St. Helens erupted on May 18th, 1980, reducing its peak by 1,300 feet and leveling much of the surrounding area. A cloud of ash rose 13 miles into the air, houses were overwhelmed by masses of water and mud, and almost 150 square miles of forest were destroyed. And most tragically, 57 people lost their lives.
Mount St. Helens's landscape is still rebounding from the massive event. Today, visitors are encouraged to learn more about the geological processes underway at the Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.
One of the most popular places to observe and learn about the mountain is the Johnston Ridge Observatory at the end of the Spirit Lake Highway (SR 504). This unique visitor center offers further insight into the eruptive history of the mountain and is a launching point for many of Mount St. Helens' best hiking trails.
A bucket-list adventure at Mount St. Helens is hiking/climbing all the way up to the remaining crater. This challenging endeavor is usually done from the Climber's Bivouac trailhead on the south side of the mountain. Permits are required for any summit attempt on Mount St. Helens.
Official site: http://www.fs.usda.gov/mountsthelens
Read More: Best Campgrounds near Mount St. Helens, WA
10. Deception Pass State Park
The Deception Pass Bridge is an iconic landmark of the region and a civic achievement dating back to the Civilian Conservation Corps. The historic bridge spans Whidbey and Fidalgo Islands in Puget Sound, and on both sides of this scenic bridge, Deception Pass State Park easily ranks high as one of the best state parks in Washington (and most visited).
Activities like tide pooling, hiking, and boating are some of the most popular things to do at the park. Several campsites spread across three campgrounds within the park, facilitating multiple days of adventure. Knowing the tides is the key to success for those interested in passing under the bridge with a boat.
Address: 41229 State Route 20, Oak Harbor, Washington
Official site: https://parks.state.wa.us/497/Deception-Pass
11. Port Angeles
The town of Port Angeles lies along the northern shores of the Olympic Peninsula, across the Strait of Juan de Fuca. The region is known for the huge number of things to do outdoors, such as hiking, biking, golfing, boating, kayaking, fishing, birding, and more.
Port Angeles is also an access point to Olympic National Park, including nearby areas like Hurricane Ridge. At this high alpine recreation area, hiking trails fan out from the visitor center leading to wildflower meadows in spring.
Back at sea level in Port Angeles, the Port Angeles Fine Arts Center features changing Northwest exhibits in the semi-circular hilltop gallery. On the extensive grounds, visitors will find a museum without walls featuring over 100 sculptures along rustic trails.
Port Angeles has many great hotels, eateries, and a waterfront downtown district. It's also where ferries depart for Victoria, Canada. And even if you're not interested in active days taking in all the natural wonders, you'll enjoy the laidback nature of the town and the plenty of bench seats overlooking the water.
Read More: Best Things to Do in Port Angeles
12. Riverfront Park, Spokane
Eastern Washington is notably different than the west side of the state. The weather is considerably sunnier; farmland dots much of the landscape; and the population is less dense in much of the region, besides in the major cultural hub of Spokane – the second largest city in Washington.
A crown jewel of Spokane attractions is the illustrious Riverfront Park. This sprawling parkland received a massive revitalization just in time for the 1974 World's Fair. Today, it's dotted with community attractions, including a hand-carved carousel made in 1909. The Spokane River also rushes through the area, with several vantage points overlooking its falls.
Other places to visit in Spokane include gardens, parks, and museums. And for the adventurous, the city offers access to several outdoor playgrounds, including the extensive Riverside Park. Skiing and year-round adventures are also available on the nearby Mount Spokane. Take some time to visit the historic Manito Park, established in 1904 and located south of Interstate 90 and the Spokane River.
Bellingham is north of Seattle, less than an hour from the Canadian border. It's an access point for several iconic Pacific Northwest adventures, including Mount Baker. The town also has a notable collegiate appeal and culture, known for its laid-back vibe and a community emphasis on outdoor adventure.
For a quick introduction to this corner of the Pacific Northwest, stroll through Fairhaven Historic District and duck into local art galleries or catch some sun on a restaurant patio. Outside of this historic district, Western Washington University has amassed an excellent Outdoor Sculpture Collection among its academic offerings, and its campus is dotted with works small and large.
In the surrounding area, visitors can take scenic drives through the mass fields of Skagit Valley tulips in spring or follow the twisting, narrow route of Chuckanut Drive year-round. The Chuckanut Mountains, or the Chuckanuts, are a recreation staple in the area, home to many of the best kikes and best campgrounds near Bellingham. Another popular outdoor attraction is Whatcom Falls Park, with four sets of falls and numerous walking trails.
14. Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest
The Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest runs along the slopes of the Cascade Mountains, with North Cascades National Park to the south and the Canadian border to the north. The wide range of recreational opportunities includes numerous hiking trails, forest cabin rentals, alpine climbing, and one of the best ski resorts in Washington state.
On the Mount Baker Highway (SR 542), the town of Glacier is the closest base camp to the peak. The very small town does offer limited tourist amenities, such as restaurants and lodging. At the end of the highway, the stunning Artist Point area of the mountain offers jaw-dropping views of Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan. Here, several hiking trails, like Yellow Aster Butte and Winchester Mountain Trail, expose beautiful views of both peaks.
Mount Baker is also a major ski and snowboard destination come winter. Mount Baker Ski Area consistently ranks high as one of the best ski spots on the West Coast. The steep 1,000 acres encompassed by the ski area are best suited to moderate or advanced downhill enthusiasts.
15. Sol Duc Hot Springs
The Sol Duc region is at the heart of Olympic National Park and an hour's drive from Port Angeles. The area has several visitor attractions, including iconic hiking trails and the namesake waterfalls. One of the steamiest reasons to visit is the relaxing pools at Sol Duc Hot Springs.
The Sol Duc Hot Springs Resort is operated by a concessionaire and features rooms, cabins, and suites adjacent to the Sol Duc River. Those staying within the resort have free access to the mineral pools and spas, and anyone interested in checking out the rejuvenating water can pay a day-use fee.
The resort also operates a nearby campground for pitching a tent or parking an RV. The only way to stay within the campground or at the resort is with advance reservation.
16. Pacific Crest Trail
Spanning the entire length of the United States from Mexico to Canada, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) traverses some of its biggest landscapes as it travels through Washington. Beginning at the sea-level Columbia River Gorge, the PCT heads north to hit such iconic landscapes as the Goat Rocks Wilderness, Snoqualmie Pass, and the mountain town of Stehekin before arriving at the Canadian border.
You don't have to be a long-distance hiker to enjoy any part of the PCT – some of the best day hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail span Washington, Oregon, and California. A few recommended day hikes on the PCT in Washington include Lake Valhalla, north of Stevens Pass, and the challenging but rewarding Kendell Katwalk, north of Snoqualmie Pass.
Located between Seattle and Olympia, Tacoma is one of Washington's larger cities. Once industrial in feel, the city has developed a variety of exceptional museums and cultural venues. Perhaps the most notable, The Museum of Glass features exquisite, translucent pieces by world-renowned artist and Tacoma-native Dave Chihuly.
Extending from the Museum of Glass, a walkway decorated with glass sculptures, known as the Bridge of Glass, allows visitors to reach the nearby Washington State History Museum.
Be sure to spend time at Point Defiance Park when visiting Tacoma. This signature outdoor space encompasses a peninsula jutting into Puget Sound with amazing views across the water. It's also home to the world-renowned Port Defiance Zoo & Aquarium, the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, Owens Beach, and a vast network of hiking and biking trails connecting them all.
Read More: Top Things to Do in Tacoma, WA
18. Snoqualmie Falls
This stunning 270-foot waterfall is one of the most popular natural attractions in the state. Its accessibility from Seattle, less than a 30-mile drive to the west, adds to its popularity. But its sheer stature also lends credence for a visit.
A two-acre park near the falls offers a popular observation deck with different vantage points. The Salish Lodge & Spa is also nearby, offering one of the nicest places to stay within an hour's drive of Seattle. All the rooms at this four-star hotel are spectacular, but the ones facing the falls offer an unbeatable view.
Read More: Top Things to Do in Snoqualmie
19. Fort Worden Historical State Park, Port Townsend
Port Townsend is a charming seaport city on the northeast edge of the Olympic Peninsula. It's a spot of cultural and historical value and home to Fort Worden – once part of the coastal defense center known as the Triangle of Fire. Today, visitors to this decommissioned military fort enjoy walking through history and the seaside scenery.
The park encompasses over 400 acres, with several batteries and barracks spread throughout. For those looking to explore the densest collection of these cement structures, head to the park's Artillery Hill. Other on-site attractions include the Coast Artillery Museum and the Point Wilson Lighthouse.
After exploring Fort Worden, the rest of Port Townsend also deserves some attention. The city's most defining feature is its several pieces of 1800s Victorian architecture throughout its uptown and downtown district. These storefronts and homes offer a particular type of charm that pairs well with the saltwater smell of the ocean nearby.
Read More: Top Things to Do in Port Townsend
20. Bloedel Reserve, Bainbridge Island
The Bloedel Reserve is a magnificent 150-acre property on the north side of Bainbridge Island. It once belonged to Virginia and Prentice Bloedel, who amassed their fortunes in the timber industry. And the Bloedels spent more than 30 years cultivating the natural and landscaped gardens still seen today.
The Bloedel Reserve opened to the public in 1988 and has been a top place to visit on the island ever since. For the price of admission, visitors are welcome to take the two-mile looped hiking trail throughout the property. A must-see stop is the Residence itself, surrounded by some of the most intricate gardens.
Bainbridge Island's proximity to Seattle makes it a popular weekend destination. Several other attractions on the island also demand attention, including a Grand Forest laced with hiking trails. And head to Fay Bainbridge Park, near the Bloedel Reserve, for one of the best places to camp and spend the night on the island. It's also a great park to catch a stunning sunset across the water.
21. Winthrop, Methow Valley
The Old West-inspired town of Winthrop in northern Washington is worth more than a weekend visit. This uniquely themed town is within the stunning Methow Valley and is a gateway to the big world of North Cascades National Park. Its year-round adventure status also adds to its appeal.
During the summer months, take some time to mosey about the downtown district, made to resemble the 1850s Old West. Along the wooden boardwalk and within the old-timey storefronts, several modern establishments offer places to shop and dine.
The summer is also the time to explore the expansive Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest surrounding the town.
Come winter, the Methow Valley has a world-class reputation for its extensive collection of cross-country ski trails. The non-profit Methow Trails organization oversees a remarkable 200-plus kilometers of groomed cross-country routes, all open to the public for the price of a day or season pass.
Read More: Top Things to Do in Winthrop, Washington
22. Palouse Falls
Ice Age floods over 13,000 years ago carved the present-day Palouse Falls in southeast Washington. And today, this stunning display of gravity is one of the last active waterfalls along this ancient floodway. That's why, in 2014, the Legislator named Palouse Falls the state's official waterfall.
Designation or not, the 200-foot Palouse Falls is quite a sight. For those looking for the best vantage point, head to Palouse Falls State Park. Here, three designated viewing areas offer commanding looks at the falls and interpretive information about their creation.
The park's semi-remote location makes visiting a challenge. The park has minimal camping, but a nearby KOA has spots near the Snake River. This area of Washington is prone to intense heat during the summer, and visitors should check out Palouse Falls as early in the day as possible this time of year.
23. Washington State Capitol Building
Set against the southern end of Puget Sound, Olympia is a relatively quiet state capital. Here, the grand white dome of the Washington State Capitol building rises 287 feet above the tree-lined streets and center of town. It's hard to miss the eye-catching architecture when visiting, and the landscaped grounds deserve special attention, especially when the sun is out.
Free, guided public tours highlight the building's interior, including the five-ton Tiffany chandelier and permanent sculptures. Other top attractions of Olympia surrounding the Capitol building include The Olympia Farmers Market, the Hands On Children's Museum, and the nearby Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge.
Address: 416 Sid Snyder Ave SW, Olympia, Washington
In southern Washington near the Columbia River Gorge, Vancouver is a city filled with history and cultural appeal. Some of the attractions of Vancouver include Esther Short Park and Playground, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, and a summer farmers market filled with live music.
History and natural appeal run deep in Vancouver, and places like the Waterfront Renaissance Trail and Officer's Row add even more unique things to do. With easy access to the vibrant city of Portland, Oregon, across the Columbia River, Vancouver is also a popular jumping-off point for exploring the City of Roses.
25. Future of Flight, Everett
Even those who aren't plane buffs will likely be impressed by this jet assembly plant tour at the Boeing Factory, located north of Seattle in Everett. Detailed tours through the facility happen daily under the attraction name Future of Flight.
These popular tours take members of the public through the assembly process of some of Boeing's biggest planes and throughout the working environment of the world's biggest building (by volume). Those interested in taking the tour are advised to book their spot beforehand.
Address: 8415 Paine Field Boulevard, Mukilteo
Official site: http://www.futureofflight.org/
Read More: Top-Rated Things to Do in Everett, WA