Things to Do in Washington
In a city surrounded by water, the Seattle Aquarium acts as a touchstone for all who desire to experience the heartbeat of the underwater world without getting wet. An Associate of Zoos and Aquariums-certified center, this public aquarium is located on Pier 59 of Seattle’s vibrant waterfront. Spend the day discovering the elusive Pacific Octopus, gaze at the 120,000-gallon exhibit, immerse yourself in an underwater dome filled with life, or wiggle your finger at playful sea otters – this aquarium is one of the best in the country. Don’t miss the touch tanks and daily dive shows where divers explore the underwater world wearing special masks which allow them to speak to the aquarium attendants, thus making a visit to the Seattle Aquarium truly an interactive experience.
More than just the second largest lake in all of Washington State, Lake Washington defines Seattle as a town intimately tied to the water, and it’s here that residents come to connect with their natural surroundings. Plenty of shoreline let visitors swim, picnic, hunt for clams and crawfish, and just generally relax and play. Floating platforms allow swimmers to rest and sunbathe, and the Madrona Park is a nice wooded area that slopes down to the beach and offers a changing station. Other attractions include the Kurt Cobain bench – a nice de facto cultural memorial also serving as homage to Seattle’s large music scene.
Pioneer Square, where Seattle’s founders first settled in 1852, has evolved into one of city’s prettiest downtown neighborhoods. Filled with streets lined with trees and restored Victorian buildings, the area is listed on the Nation Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood takes its name from a small triangular cobblestone plaza near the corner of First Avenue and Yesler Way, officially known as Pioneer Square Park, and features a bust of Chief Seattle, an ornate pergola, and a totem pole.
During the day, Pioneer Square buzzes with locals and visitors perusing the antique shops and art galleries. When you’re not shopping or marveling at cutting-edge art, you can visit the Seattle Underground, a network of underground passageways and basements that are remnants of the original building here, many of which were destroyed by fire in 1889.
The fishy-smelling, heart of downtown Seattle is Pike Place Market. Each day, from dawn to dusk, the market bustles but not just with people perusing the fresh produce brought in by the farmers or the browsing stalls of fresh fish. The market is also brimming with good theater, as street performers entertain the milling crowds while more than 150 artisans and artist sell their creations.
The Main and North arcades of Pike Place Market are the most popular areas, with bellowing fishmongers, arts and crafts, and stacks of fruits and vegetables. Tiny shops of all descriptions are scattered throughout the market, along with dozens of restaurants. One of the most entertaining spectacles is the fish stall, where employees throw salmon and other fish to each other rather than passing them by hand. When a customer orders a fish, an employee at the ice-covered fish table picks up the fish and hurls it over the countertop, where another employee catches it and preps it for sale.
If Seattle takes credit for the birth of the grunge movement and thus leading garage bands into what is now all-star rock fame, then it only serves as fair that the museum dedicated to all things rock and roll be located in Seattle’s boundaries. For a city that loves music, the Experience Music Project was a foregone conclusion. Attached to and now incorporated with the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, a trip to the EMP Museum offers more than an introspective into passing memorabilia – it’s a look at the outreaches of our collective imagination made manifest by rock gods and science fiction greats. Designed by wildly famous architect Frank Gehry and funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the surreal jellyfish-like structure is as much a part of the interest in the museum as the exhibits themselves.
In Woodland Park, up the hill from Green Lake Park, the Woodland Park Zoo is one of Seattle's greatest tourist attractions, consistently rated as one of the top 10 zoos in the country. It was one of the first in the nation to free animals from their restrictive cages in favor of ecosystem enclosures, where animals from similar environments share large spaces designed to replicate their natural surroundings.
The Woodland Park Zoo thrills with superb attractions including such exhibits as a tropical rain forest, two gorilla exhibits, and an African savanna. One of the best exhibits is the brown bear enclosure, which realistically resembles an Alaskan stream and hillside. Another highlight is the elephant forest, where the zoo’s pachyderms have plenty of space to rumble around. For kids, there’s the farm-animal area and the interactive Zoomazium, where kids can see what its like to be wild animals.
Summertime in Seattle is when everyone comes out to enjoy the fine weather. For fun in the sun, no other Seattle icon speaks of the free-wheeling carefree attitude of this city than the Seattle Great Wheel. One of the biggest Ferris Wheels in the United States, the Seattle Great Wheel is open year-round with fully enclosed gondolas, making it one of the best viewing ports in the entire west coast. Standing over 175 feet tall and weighing in at over a quarter of a million pounds, the Seattle Great Wheel lives up to its name as one of the world’s truly great Ferris wheels.
Competing with neighboring Mt. Rainier National Park as the pinnacle of Northwestern outdoor activities, Olympic National Park boasts over 1,400 square miles (almost a million acres) of teaming tide-pools, alpine glacial lakes, and wildflower-filled lowland meadows.
Hiking, camping, kayaking, fly-fishing, and mountaineering are all popular pastimes here, and the simple pleasures of the moss-draped Olympic National Park are prevalent. More than three times the biomass of tropical rainforests, the Pacific Northwest is an overwhelmingly abundant environment for old growth trees, and visitors to this area will enjoy a network of trails that extend from foggy beaches to rocky ridge lines, cascading waterfalls, and everything in-between.
The majestic Mount Rainier, the US 4th-highest peak outside Alaska, is also one of its most beguiling. Encased in the 953-sqkm Mount Rainier National Park, the mountain’s snow-capped summit and forest-covered foothills harbor numerous hiking trails, a wide range of sub-alpine flora and fauna, and an alluring conical peak that presents a formidable challenge for aspiring climbers.
In the higher elevations, snow covers much of the Mount Rainier year round. In lower elevations, you’ll find wildflower-draped slopes, lush rainforests of Douglas firs and western red cedars, and rivers.
The National Park is also home to all sorts of wildlife, including black bears, dear, elk, and mountain goats. Marmots, a large member of the squirrel family, are a common site in the park, often seen stretching out on rocks to bask in the sun as well frolicking in the meadows, seemingly oblivious to human presence. Summer is the best time to take in all that the park has to offer.
More Things to Do in Washington
Definitely make the Seattle Waterfront your first stop on a visit to Seattle, for it is one of the most popular attractions in the city. The bustling waterfront not only holds gift shops, candy stores selling fudge and saltwater taffy, sidewalk T-shirt vendors, and restaurants of all kinds, it’s also is the spot for some of city’s top attractions and piers tied with boats waiting to take you out on Puget Sound.
On the Seattle Waterfront, you can touch starfish at the Seattle Aquarium, watch your kids take a virtual kayak ride on Puget Sound at the Odyssey Maritime Discovery Center, or picnic in Waterfront Park, while taking in the breathtaking view across Elliott Bay to Olympic Mountains. If you want to get out on the water from the Seattle Waterfront, head to Pier 52 for the Washington State Ferries, Pier 55 for harbor cruises and trips to Tillicum Village on Blake Island, or Pier 56 for a boat to Chittenden (Ballard) Locks.
As one of the most beloved holiday destination for northwestern Americans, the reputation of the San Juan Islands precedes them. The archipelago consists of 172 islands, four of which are inhabited, serviced and ferry-served: Orcas Island, San Juan Island, Lopez Island and Shaw Island.
Without a doubt the most popular and impressive activity in the area is killer whale watching: dozens of specimens appear every summer between late May and October off the coasts of the Orcas Island, San Juan Island and Lopez Island as part of their –still widely misunderstood– migration patterns, offering visitors an unforgettable experience. And that’s not to mention the presence of other fascinating animals like seals, porpoises, sea lions, otters, bald eagles, and numerous seabirds! The Whale Museum in Friday Harbor should also be a mandatory stop for water mammal aficionados.
One of Seattle’s top attractions is Lake Union, a freshwater glacial lake enhancing the aesthetics of the area while also offering a number of recreational activities. For those who want to be in the water, kayaking, standup paddle boarding and canoeing are popular activities. If you’d rather stay dry there are a number of things to do around Lake Union’s shores, mainly exploring the many scenic parks like Fairview Park, South Lake Union Park, North Passage Point Park, Gas Works Park, and Terry Pettus Park.
While at Lake Union you can also visit the Naval Reserve Building, home to the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI). Along with a permanent collection holding over 100,000 objects, -- some of which include Seattle artifacts, local inventions, maritime pieces, local artwork and historical textiles -- there are rotating exhibits, historical workshops and lectures, and public tours.
Glass artist Dale Chihuly was born down the highway a bit in Tacoma, but he has left his glittering mark on the city of Seattle in many places – perhaps nowhere more than the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum at Seattle Center.
The museum opened in 2012 and features four different areas. The Glasshouse is just what you'd expect from the name – a 40-foot glass-covered building with Chihuly's famous flower-like sculptures hanging from the ceiling. The entire piece is 100 feet long. The Garden is, as you'd expect, an outdoor space with Chihuly glass sculptures in different places. Inside the Exhibition Hall you'll find a Chihuly retrospective covering his career, showcasing his often monumental glass artwork beautifully. The Theater shows videos about Chihuly's art and his work.
One of Seattle’s premier destinations for wine, art, and festivals, the Seattle Center is the 74-acre heart of all events in the Seattle area. Originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair, this vibrant hub of activity for Seattle holds some of the area’s best attractions. The Seattle Space Needle (once the tallest building west of the Mississippi) is here, as is the International Fountain, the famous Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, as well as the Kobe Bell, Mercer Arena, and the Pacific Science Center. Great for a family day in the park, for catching one of the numerous music concerts or cultural events, or for visiting the center’s many restaurants, the Seattle Center is one stop that you can’t miss.
Nature certainly has its miracles and you can see one of its highlights at the Chittenden Locks & Fish Ladder, locally known as the Ballard Locks, where you can see salmon fighting their way to their spawning grounds in the Cascade headwaters of the Sammamish River, which feeds Lake Washington.
Watching the salmon climb the fish ladder is pretty exciting. You can watch the fish from underwater glass-sided tanks or from above (nets are installed to keep salmon from over-leaping and stranding themselves on the pavement). In the past, the fish runs at Chittenden Locks & Fish Ladder have attracted sea lions that try to swallow the salmon as they go by. On the northern entrance to the Chittenden Locks & Fish Ladder is the Carl English, Jr., Botanical Gardens, a charming arboretum and specimen garden. Trails wind through gardens filled with mature trees and flower gardens. Flanking the gardens is a small museum and visitors center documenting the history of the locks.
The Chinatown-International District, often simply referred to as the I.D., is the multiethnic center of Seattle’s Asian community. Coincidentally, it is also one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and thus, is chalk-full with plenty of history and culture. Some highlights include Kobe Terrace, a small terraced park on a hillside showcasing a urban community garden and Mt. Fuji cherry trees, the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience as well as the many cultural festivals that are held each year, such as the Lunar New Year celebration and Bon Odori.
Most people head to the Chinatown-International District because of the abundance of authentic restaurants though, which sell everything under the sun from dim sum to banh mi. Many of these eateries are tiny mom and pop type shops or food carts and offer completely authentic flavors and experiences.
Touting itself as the “Center of the Known Universe,” it’s hard to beat this signature Seattle neighborhood’s charms. Known for a funky, irreverent, imaginative environment, Fremont is a bastion of Seattle creative-types and a hotbed for interesting Seattle landmarks. See the Fremont Troll – a giant concrete troll molded under the Aurora Bridge, a slew of murals painted across walkways and bridges throughout the area, the controversial and engaging Vladimir Lenin stature in Fremont’s commercial district, or the 50’s era Cold War rocket still poised for takeoff. Sure, there are a lot of things to see in Fremont, but the best part of this old beatnik neighborhood is the attitude of the freewheeling people and the many shops, restaurants, and pubs they inhabit.
One of Washington state’s most popular attractions, Snoqualmie Falls is a waterfall on the Snoqualmie River. More than one million visitors come every year to watch the spectacular rush of water tumble down 270 feet/82 meters into a pool of deep, blue water. The falls are also known internationally for its appearance in the Twin Peaks television series.
The top of Snoqualmie Falls is a short distance from the parking lot, which has a gift shop, espresso stand, and bathrooms. The main views are from the side of the falls, which also has picnic tables and benches, and a small grassy meadow called the Centennial Green, where weddings are performed through the summer. On the way down to the base of the falls, hikers trek through a temperate rain forest, with a few moss covered trees, giant ferns, and a few resting spots. At the bottom of the trail is the 1910 powerhouse and the river itself.
Fishermen’s Terminal is the home port of most of the North Pacific and Puget Sound fishing boats, many of whom spend several months on the open sea before returning to Seattle. It doesn’t come as a surprise, that one of the main attractions of the terminal is the fresh fish. On big boards, the catch of the day – be it salmon, halibut or crab – is advertised and ready to be taken home and thrown in a pan. But those who can’t wait that long can also get their seafood fix at one of the restaurants right at the port. Chinook’s, Bay Café and the Highliner Pub offer great views of the Fishermen’s Terminal and are also popular hangout spots for the crews.
At the very center of Fishermen’s Terminal, hundreds of names are inscribed on a big bronze and stone memorial to commemorate all those who have died at sea and to serve as a reminder of the dangers of commercial fishing.
There are a few viewpoints along the road leading from highway I-5 to Mount St. Helens, but the best (and closest to the volcano) is the Johnston Ridge Observatory.
The Johnston Ridge Observatory is at the end of State Route 504, and the visitor center overlooks not only the yawning crater of Mount St. Helens but also a huge swath of the blast zone. Exhibits walk visitors through what happened on the morning of May 18, 1980, as well as the scientific history that led up to that enormous eruption. There are trails that begin at the Observatory for day hikes, including a half-mile trail that offers great views into the crater. Johnston Ridge is named for the volcanologist David Johnston, who was surveying changes in Mount St. Helens in May of 1980 when it finally erupted. He was never found.
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- Things to do in Napa & Sonoma
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