Washington State: One Stop Vacation Shopping
When it comes time to chose a vacation destination, climate specific choices usually top the checklist. Just think of those most popular warm vacation spots like Hawaii, Southern California, Florida and Arizona. It is not typical to see droves of tourists flocking to cities with non-tropical climates for vacations – escaping to the sun is usually the goal. But more and more travelers are choosing Washington state as their travel destination and it’s no wonder why… The ocean, the mountains, the islands, the big city and even the desert are all in one place. What more could you ask for?
No more having to take several vacations to experience all of these regions. Seattle is one of the few major cities in the U.S. that is just a short jaunt from every type of landscape for every type of individual. That’s why the locals love it so much – escaping the city in just a few minutes is a priceless attribute.
The history of Seattle seeps from every corner. Like any other major city, it has its museums, galleries and theatres, but it also has a unique story. By taking the popular Underground Tour based in the historic Pioneer Square district, tourists can learn about how Seattle was built upon “old” Seattle after it unfortunately burned down some years ago. Downtown is lined with traditional historic-looking building facades, but new architecture is seeping through, like the Seattle Public Library designed by a Dutch architect and now an infamous icon in central Seattle. In 1962, when the World’s Fair came to Seattle, the world-famous Space Needle was erected and still stands tall at the Seattle Center. Visitors can enjoy an elevator ride up to the Observation Deck and discover the remarkable 360-degree views of the city and Elliot Bay. And with over 390 city parks and open spaces, there is no shortage of places to stop and enjoy a picnic, a relaxing nap in the grass, or a game of Frisbee with the family.
Especially popular is Alki Beach. A favorite place for locals and tourists alike, Alki Beach in Seattle, Wash. is a hot spot for professional volleyball tournaments, cruising with your hotrod, enjoying a stroll along the six mile promenade, or relaxing with your family on the beach. Lined with dozens of trendy, inexpensive and delectible restaurants, one can spend all day on Alki Beach without worry.
If you plan to soak up some sun and enjoy the sun and sand, bring a blanket, unbrella, beach chair and sunblock. As you pick your place in the sand, you will enjoy views of the Seattle skyline staring back at you. If you want to enjoy some rollerblading, leisurely walking or jogging or even some bike riding, utilize the path running along the beach for miles. Don’t forget to look off to the west to spot the Olympic Mountain peaks waving hello!
When you get tired of enjoying yourself, don’t forget about the many restaurants to choose from. With everything from Mexican to Greek to good old fashioned seafood, you are sure to find something that fits your taste. Some favorites are Duke’s Chowderhouse, Pegasus Pizza and Pasta, Salty’s, Alki Bakery, Christo’s and more.
When finished with the beach, or if time allows, head up to the West Seattle junction (five minutes from the beach on California Avenue). Here you will enjoy quaint shops and boutiques with a real community feel. And not to forget, even more excellent restaurants including the Matador and Elliott Bay.
To Get There
Traveling on I-5, take the West Seattle Bridge exit and head west. Take the Harbor Avenue exit and let the road wind you down to the right, paralleling you along Alki Beach and the Pacific Ocean. To the left, you will pass rows of condominiums and houses of people who like to call Alki home. As the condos fade out, restaurants and small shops begin to line the streets. Park anywhere your car will fit. Parking is free!
A 45 minute drive can bring you face to face with the Cascade foothills, the mountain range dividing western Washington from its eastern counterpart. This short drive from the city makes the area a hot spot for hiking, picnicking, mountain biking and snow sports in the winter. The stunning 270-foot Snoqualmie Falls is the famous landmark of the area, attracting 1.5 million visitors a year. About 40 miles south, if you take the eagle’s route, and about two hours from the city, you can find Mt. Rainier towering over the valley. It is the lower United States’ tallest mountain, making it a natural wonder and its presence is a signature of Washington state. Further south, the rumblings of Mt. St. Helens makes for a popular attraction for locals and tourists. With the recent volcanic activity aside, the landscape surrounding Mt. St. Helens silently tells the story of the 1980 eruption. Finally, circling over to the peninsula just west of Seattle, the Olympic mountains hold a handful of remarkable sights and seductive escapes from the city. Visitors to the Olympic National Park, three hours drive from the city, can hike through old growth forests and rainforests and view glacier-capped mountains.
Saltwater beaches line the city of Seattle and extend north to Canada, south to Tacoma and encompass the peninsula. The Puget Sound, the body of ocean water that is home to the metropolitan region of Seattle and its suburbs, offers unparalleled beauty and a playground for water lovers to explore. Starting in Seattle, renowned cruises and harbor tours offer a unique way to view the city skyline and relish the ocean scents and sights. Following the coastline south, a quick stop in the city of Des Moines reveals a hidden jewel, a quaint town with a 19.6-acre beachfront park and, for those checking in by boat, a public marina with guest moorage. Views across the bay reveal the peaks of the Olympic mountains waving back at you.
To escape the suburbs and discover what the miles of Pacific Ocean beaches have to offer, a two hour drive from the city will land you at the Washington coast, a no-frills natural beach destination conveniently lacking fancy beach resorts and high rise hotels. Plenty of unhampered public beaches line the coast and afford visitors leisures like fishing, clam digging, whale watching, bird watching, horseback riding, or just taking in the salty ocean air. To catch some of the most breathtaking views at the mouth of the Puget Sound, a two hour drive north of Seattle will take you to Deception Pass, a state park not to be missed by the outdoor-loving tourist. Once you arrive, you drive over two narrow bridge spans with views to either side of the ocean and islands. Over 4,000 acres of state park surrounds the area – hiking is a must with the best views found at sunset.
Accessible only by seaplane, boat, or ferry, the San Juan Islands are known as Washington’s gem. Traveling to the islands can be an adventure in itself because the scenery is so magnificent. Three main islands make up this mini paradise – San Juan Island, Orcas Island and Lopez Island. San Juan Island is perhaps the most visited of the islands. It has several parks to enjoy, but don’t pass up Lime Kiln Point Sate Park which is known as the Whale Watch Park. Here you can watch for Orca whales from the shores while setting your sights on the views of Victoria, British Columbia, the Olympic mountains, and the serene waters of the Strait of Juan de Fuca. On Orcas Island, a drive to Moran State Park will impart picturesque encompassing views at the top of Mt. Constitution. Visitors can climb the steps of a stone observation tower built in 1936 and look across the water to see Canada.
The friendly island, Lopez Island, is known for its flat terrain and is treasured by bikers. Shark Reef Park is an amazing short walk from the parking lot entrance and often times affords visits by seals and sea lions on the shores. All of the islands are occupied with authentic art studios and galleries of all types including pottery, jewelry, sculpture, and painting.
Just over the cascade mountain range, western Washington transforms into a dry, desert-like climate region. You can get there by the Cascade Loop Scenic Highway or via Interstate 90, both scenic routes that take you through mountain passes and put you at the massive Columbia River for you to decide your next leg of the drive. As Washington is the second largest premium wine producer in the U.S., a visitor to eastern Washington would be remiss if they didn’t visit one or more of the many wineries that the region is known for. The Yakima Valley boasts more than 40 wineries and the Walla Walla region declares 55 more. Many of the wineries offer complimentary wine tasting and throughout the year Washington’s wine regions host several wine-related festivals.
The desert region is also home to the Columbia River Gorge, including the Gorge at George, an outdoor concert and festival venue consistently ranked as a favorite outdoor concert venue in the U.S. The venue is nestled atop a bluff overlooking the immense Columbia River and, at dusk, the cool air from the river blows through the arena making for a perfect summer’s night. If you have the opportunity to catch a concert there while visiting, it is a must!
Now that you have virtually visited all of the regions of Washington state, your next step is to literally visit them. The best place to set up base camp for exploring all of these exciting places is to stay in the greater Seattle area and make day trips. Seattle Southside near the airport offers the most hotel options for the best rates, nearly 30 percent less than downtown Seattle hotels. You’ll also need a rental car to get around, which can be easily found at or near the airport. And if you are still looking for that heat wave of a vacation, the best weather in Seattle can be found in August or September. Remember, it doesn’t always rain in Seattle!