Washington is most often associated with coffee, grunge music, and consistently rainy weather. While these notions may be accurate, they are only a small part of what makes The Evergreen State so unique. Located on the Pacific Northwest coast, Washington is home to a wide variety of ecosystems. In the west, sprawling beaches and lush rainforests charm visitors. In the east, the drier climate gives way to open grasslands, arid deserts, and farmland. The state also has a booming wine industry, with over 600 wineries exporting internationally.
The Seattle metropolitan area is the industrial and cultural hub of the state. Stunning views of Puget Sound and the Cascades are juxtaposed with the modern skyline. There are plenty of bars and restaurants to satisfy your cravings, and you'll notice that the locals will look you in the eye and say hello. From nature lovers to social butterflies, all are welcome and encouraged to explore the many pleasures of Washington State.
Mt. Rainier National Park is a prime destination for nature-loving tourists. Not only is Mt. Rainier the highest mountain in the state, but it's also the tallest active volcano in the Cascades and a notable point of interest for scientists and seismologists. As you wander the expansive wilderness and marvel at its natural beauty, make a stop at the Reflection Lakes, the park's most photographed view. Your best chances for a perfect photo are in the early morning or at sunset when the winds are calm and do not disturb the lake's reflective surface.
The Beacon Food Forest is an initiative in Seattle that promotes a healthy relationship between the community and the foods they consume. Located in the center of the city, this system of fruit-bearing trees and vegetable and herb gardens relies on volunteers to grow nutritious foods for the neighborhood. As you plan your time in Seattle, check the Beacon Food Farm website for upcoming work parties. Volunteers can get their hands dirty and mingle with the locals while assisting in the rehabilitation of this ecosystem.
The Olympic Peninsula sits across the Puget Sound from Seattle, and a world away from the hustle and bustle of Washington's largest city. Tourists can visit the Olympic National Park and its temperate rainforests, then head to the coast to pitch a tent on the beach overnight. For a serene and intimate experience, hike past the crowded Second Beach in La Push to the more secluded and stunning Shi Shi Beach. You'll find a prime spot near the mile-long Point of Arches and a thousand beautiful photo opportunities.
At first glance, it may seem as if the narrow 50-miles-long Lake Chelan is a river. Most of the land surrounding the lake is protected, and while it is a popular fishing spot, the few communities established near the lake are quite isolated. Stehekin is a charming little unincorporated community at the northern end of Lake Chelan; the only ways to get here are by a two to three-day hike or a four-hour ferry ride along the pristine natural scenery. However you choose to arrive, be sure to stay at least one night so you can leisurely enjoy the recreation and make some new friends.
For adventurous travelers, a camping trip in Washington State cannot be complete without spending one night on a snowy mountaintop. Communal huts in the Mount Tahoma area allow snow lovers the opportunity to enjoy the majestic scenery without having to worry about tent camping in inclement weather. These huts require a reservation, unlike the numerous fire lookouts situated throughout the forests. These lookouts are free and can fill up quickly, but friendly hikers always scoot their sleeping bags over to make room for a cozy sleepover.
The discovery of gold originally put Winthrop on the map in the late 1800s, and today it continues to lure visitors with its old western-themed architecture and design. Since restoration began in 1972, this touristy town has done an excellent job of preserving these late nineteenth-century structures while maintaining a modernized infrastructure. After strolling down the main road, grab a beer at the local brewery and enjoy the lakeside seating area. Consider staying in town to take advantage of some killer cross-country skiing.
If you vacation in Washington without setting foot on a water taxi or ferry, have you truly settled into the Washington experience? There are plenty of opportunities to see the Evergreen State from a fisherman's perspective, whether you are in town for a day or a week. If you have the time, consider a day trip to the San Juan Islands via a ferry, or a whale-watching tour. Several species of whale navigate the waters surrounding this archipelago, with sightings reported even outside of peak whale-watching season.
In 1989, the Fremont Art Council sponsored a national contest for the design of a permanent art installation underneath the north end of the Aurora Bridge. The winning design was a giant troll made of concrete, and since its installation, it has become a Seattle icon. You may recognize this landmark from the popular 1999 teen comedy, 10 Things I Hate About You. Include this local hangout on your Seattle itinerary, and settle down for a picnic or cup of coffee with the troll under the bridge.
Though the Prohibition Era is long gone, several bars in Seattle have not forgotten the city's rich history of speakeasies and rum runners. In keeping with tradition, there are several hidden and unmarked bars around the city awaiting your arrival. Well-known locations have been frequented for many years, and informed locals may point you down a dark alley or to the rear of a parking lot to a nondescript door. A long list of speakeasies and how to find them is only an internet search away; take note of any dress codes and pack appropriately.
Washington boasts some of the most scenic drives in North America, with routes ranging from coastal byways to mountain passes, and weaving through volcanic ranges, wine vineyards and wheat fields. Many travelers are content to photograph the splendor at rest stops or from the passenger seat, but camping along these stretches of the road offers more time for hiking and relaxation. A great way to travel the dozens of scenic byways in Washington is in a camper van; just pull over into a safe area and settle down for the view. If you don't already have a van, rent a camper or seek out companies that specialize in outfitting small vans for road trips.