The state of Washington is home to a wide range of sites touching varying interests, from nature to art to history and more. We’re travel nuts, and love the Northwest.
So you can bet that we’ll show you 16 of the very best places to visit in Washington State. Read on to see our top recommendations for places to visit, why we love each, and things to do in each.
16 Best Places to Visit in Washington State
The scenic state of Washington boasts some incredible places to visit. Cities like Seattle, Spokane, and Bellevue offer an interesting mix of eateries, coffee shops, parks, and museums, while national parks and offshore islands are great for spotting wildlife, hiking and biking rugged trails, and getting a taste of the state’s thrilling outdoor adventures.
From glaciated peaks, alpine forests, and wildflower meadows of Mount Rainier National Park to cool attractions like the Space Needle, vineyards, and outdoor sculpture gardens, you’ll find the 16 best places to visit in Washington state below.
1. Mount Rainier National Park
Roughly 2 hours southeast of Seattle, the wild wonderland of Mount Rainier National Park is easily one of the best places to visit in the state of Washington and one of the most popular spots for outdoor adventure with 2 million+ visitors each year.
Mount Rainier is the giant of the park, towering over 14,400 feet with the largest number of glaciers at the peak of any other mountain in the contiguous U.S. People come here for hiking, biking, climbing, skiing, fishing, and boating.
Drive up to Sunrise, the park’s highest peak you can reach by vehicle, and hike short trails like Grove of the Patriarchs (1,000 year-old red cedar and fir trees), Life Systems Trail, and Nisqually Vista Trail (all under 1.5 miles) with wildflowers and ancient trees all around you.
The road from Longmire to Paradise leads to the 176-foot Narada Falls plunging into a pool. Reflection Lakes and the Pinnacle and Plummer peaks can be reached from the Stevens Canyon Road nearby, while the Ruby Falls pullout is a beautiful overlook.
You can visit the Longmire Museum and hike the Trail of the Shadows to see a homestead cabin replica before checking out the Longmire General Store to grab a bite.
2. Space Needle
Seattle’s iconic Space Needle stands 605′ tall, overlooking the city with panoramic views over downtown Seattle, Puget Sound, Mount Rainier, and the Olympic and Cascades mountain ranges in the distance.
You can take an elevator to the open-air 520′ or the enclosed, revolving glass floor 500′ levels of the Atmos. Ascend to the 510′ Ring level for even more stunning views. The sweeping Oculus Stairs make it easy to start at 500′ and make your way higher and higher to the top.
The Space Needle is something every Seattle visitor should do on the first day to get far-reaching views over the city and its surrounding natural beauty. Originally built as an attraction for the 1962 World’s Fair, it’s still drawing visitors today.
Sit on glass benches over a revolving glass floor (The Loupe) that lets you see 500 feet down, keep your free welcome photo as a souvenir, dine at the Atmos cafe and grab a glass of wine from the wine bar.
For an elevated experience, you can hang out at the upscale Loupe Lounge for curated menus including a multi-course dinner, cocktails, and dessert with a special VIP ticket.
Read Next: The Best Things to Do in Seattle in 2024
3. Museum of Pop Culture
Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) has a collection of all things pop culture. It opened in 2000 and the unique exhibits have been continually curated and added to over the years to form a museum that’s a favorite for locals and visitors alike.
MoPOP brings a cool mix of sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and music exhibits (like the famous Nirvana and Jimi Hendricks exhibits) that draw you into the history of your favorite books, movies, TV shows, and musicians and give you behind-the-scenes peeks.
From slasher film and Wizard of Oz costumes to Lord of the Rings swords and Game of Thrones props, there are endless things to geek out over if you’re a pop culture fan.
Allow yourself 2-3 hours to make your way through the museum in full, checking out exhibitions like Hidden Worlds: The Films of LAIKA and Science Fiction + Fantasy Hall of Fame.
The Sound Lab lets you create music with top-of-the-line equipment and instruments, while the Guitar Gallery explores history, sound clips, and guitars of famous musicians displayed in glass cases.
It’s a museum that you can not only visit, but also interact with, making it one of the best places to visit in Washington state.
4. Olympic National Park
Switch gears to get out in Washington’s natural beauty by heading to Olympic National Park in Port Angeles, WA for majestic mountain views of the Olympic range, endless outdoor recreation options, and dense forests filled with groves of centuries-old trees.
Mount Olympus is the highest peak in the park, permanently capped in snow and ice and topped with glaciers, whose runoff creates the mighty Queets, Hoh, and Elwha rivers. Climbing is a popular sport in the park, but Mount Olympus is known for its technical difficulty at the pinnacle.
Even if you’re not here to climb or reach any summits, you’ll appreciate the wild rocky Pacific coast beaches, abundant hiking trails leading to scenic overlooks and secluded groves, and stunning waterfalls, hidden lakes, and vast alpine meadows.
The dense Hoh Rainforest is a special spot in the park, reachable on the Hoh River Trail with two waterfall detours on the path that are worth taking (the second can be climbed). Hike out to Lake Crescent through temperate rainforest with beautiful views over the still water.
Check out Hurricane Ridge and a short, 3-mile trail to reach some of the best views of the surrounding mountains. Sights like Sol Duc Falls and Marymere Falls will take your breath away. Come to camp, fish, hike, or spot wildlife (black bears, eagles, and elk are common) in the park.
Read Next: The Best National Parks in the United States
5. Mount St. Helens
Washington’s rugged wilderness is truly the sparkling gem in the state’s crown of destinations, and Mount St. Helens is no exception. This active volcano famously (and disastrously) erupted back in 1980, but hasn’t erupted since.
Situated about 50 miles northeast of Portland, OR, Mount St. Helens adds a tantalizing element of danger for adventurous travelers with its active status and awe-inspiring views, climbing paths, and overlooks that make it a thrill to visit.
Start at the Mount St. Helens Visitor Center to learn about the volcano’s history and wander the short trail around the serene and scenic Silver Lake to get your first real view of Mount St. Helens.
Take a day trip to the Ape Caves that burrow deep into the volcano, providing you with breathtaking views into the volcano’s “throat” (amazing on hot summer days, when the caves are nice and cool) and great hiking trails around the caves.
Hike deep into the volcano’s crater, see waterfalls on the Lewis River trail, hike Harry’s Ridge from the visitor’s center for impressive views of the volcano, and go fishing on Coldwater Lake, which is often a wildlife hotspot with deer, elk, beavers, and coyotes.
Bring binoculars for wildlife and sunscreen when you go, since the catastrophic eruption in 1980 wiped out the forest and leaves hiking trails exposed to the sun.
6. Seattle Art Museum
If you’re an art aficionado and will be in the city during your trip to Washington, don’t miss the fascinating Seattle Art Museum downtown. This distinguished collection includes works from famous artists from ancient to contemporary times, a gallery, and gift shops to browse.
The museum houses diverse and multicultural works, from African and Asian art to ancient Native American and Aboriginal artwork. You’ll find modern and contemporary pieces, including paintings, sculptures, photographs, and drawings, in the museum, as well.
You can easily spend 2-3 hours meandering through the museums exhibits, which feature some permanent exhibits and a revolving door of changing collections that keep the museum fresh and interesting, even for locals who visit regularly.
On your way out or to break up your visit, head to the art gallery inside to browse local artists’ works for sale or visit the gift shop with unique prints, journals, trinkets, and toys to commemorate your visit to the SAM.
7. Pike Place Market
Famously inspiring the name of a popular Starbucks roast and the location of the flagship Starbucks coffee shop, Pike Place Market in the heart of downtown Seattle is still a bustling, vibrant market today and a must-visit if you’ll be in the city.
The market’s unique cobblestone streets and charm make it a favorite spot for locals and tourists to visit on weekends and weekday mornings and afternoons. It’s filled with interesting booths and shops selling everything from baked goods and coffee to crafts and fresh produce.
The first Starbucks opened up here in Pike Place in 1971, selling roasted coffee beans, spices, and teas for customers to take home and brew up. You can still visit the flagship store today with the same original design, though its menu has expanded quite a bit!
There’s no better spot to spend a morning or afternoon just wandering through the market’s shops, grabbing breakfast, brunch, or dinner and souvenirs to bring home from your Seattle trip.
8. Hoh Rainforest
Located in the Olympic National Forest in Port Angeles, WA, the Hoh Rainforest is a section of temperate rainforest shrouded in mist and the sound of rushing water from the Hoh River and waterfalls that plunge into it.
Hike past mossy fallen logs under a dense canopy of old-growth trees in the rainforest, winding your way down rugged but well-worn trails that lead you to the most scenic viewpoints and areas of the forest.
You can hike 2.8 miles from the Hoh Visitor Center down to the 60-foot Mineral Creek Falls, which empty into the river and are surrounded by dark green ferns and trees. You can see the falls from a cool footbridge.
Hop into a kayak to raft your way to the segmented Maple Creek Falls upriver — only reachable by the water, and a truly secluded spot for peaceful reverie if you’re confident in your kayak.
Fishing is also incredible on the Hoh River, from salmon (lower Hoh River) to steelhead trout (upper Hoh River) that thrive in the cool waters, and you’ll find it’s the perfect spot to try fly fishing.
9. San Juan Islands
Sitting just offshore of the state of Washington, the San Juan Islands are a chain of small islands in the Pacific Ocean that are known for their breathtaking views, forests teeming with wildlife, and small-but-bustling towns with galleries, shops, and seafood restaurants.
Whale watching is huge on the islands with populations of orcas coming close during the April to October season, as is spotting wildlife like seals, foxes, deer, and more.
On San Juan Island, do brunch at Friday Harbor House and a San Juan Vineyards wine tasting, enjoy time at Jackson Beach near Friday Harbor (a fun town with a ferry terminal, hotels, beaches, and great seafood), tour the Whale Museum, and visit the Lavender Farm in spring.
San Juan Island also has ample outdoor recreation options. Explore Lime Kiln State Park for incredible views, book a whale watching tour, or head out to the driftwood-covered South Beach and the Cattle Point Lighthouse.
If you’re hoping for a more secluded chance to explore wilderness, head to Orcas (we love Doe Bay) or Lopez islands. Orcas is especially nice with Moran State Park, Rosario waterfront resort and marina, the art gallery, museum, and shellfish farm in Olga, and Mt. Constitution for scenic, panoramic views over the ocean.
10. North Cascades National Park
North Cascades National Park is one of the most underrated and less-visited parks in the country, and it sits in the scenic Cascade mountain range in Washington state, just 2 hours or so from Seattle.
Evergreen trees tower in stands around alpine lakes in the mountains, which are capped with 300+ glaciers and known for some of the most scenic viewpoints in the state with panoramic views of the peaks and ridges in this wilderness area.
Hiking trails lead you through ancient red cedar and Douglas fir stands, up mountain passes, and deep into forested valleys and gorges that provide glimpses of the way Washington once appeared before settlers transformed the landscapes.
Take your pick of 400+ miles of rugged paths like the Thunder Knob Trail to great views over Diablo Lake, Happy Creek Forest Walk to reach a beautiful waterfall, or the Easy Pass Trail to a mountain pass with some of the park’s best views of the Cascades.
Gorgeous, brilliant-blue lakes and rivers with icy waters are popular for boating and fishing, including Ross Lake, Lake Chelan, and Skagit River. You can even camp in the park to set out on multi-day journeys through its wilderness!
11. Snoqualmie Falls
Snoqualmie Falls is just 30 minutes outside Seattle, but with the rugged terrain and beautiful views of falling water here, you’ll feel worlds away from the buzz of the city. Evergreen trees, meadows, and cliffs surround you in the wilderness.
The 268′ falls are impressive to say the least and plunge from incredible heights down into the Snoqualmie River to create a wild spectacle that’s well worth taking a day trip from Seattle if you’re looking for natural beauty in the area.
It’s a short, easy trip to the falls from the parking lot (you can even bring kids) along a paved path. Head down to the viewing deck for the best perspective of the thundering falls as they roar down into the Snoqualmie River.
Once you’re at the top, you can check into the Salish Lodge & Spa to the left of the falls with amazing views and a long-running history in this scenic spot.
If you’re up for more exploring, head up Snoqualmie Pass to Gold Creek Pond with a nice boardwalk trail around the pond in a picturesque valley.
While Seattle gets all the fanfare, Spokane is a cool city to visit in eastern Washington and the second-largest in the state. Offering natural beauty and nicely-landscaped parks with cultural attractions from museums to old architecture, it’s one of our favorite places to visit in Washington state.
Hiking is a year-round activity here with so many parks and trails surrounding the city, while summer paddle boarding, tubing the river, and swimming offers a fun twist on outdoor recreation. Skiing and snowboarding on Mount Spokane are winter options.
The city’s food and brewery scenes are growing, leaving you plenty of options to fill up or knock out a few cold ones after a day exploring the wilderness. Visit the Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Fox Theater for performances, or Spokane Art School for fun group classes.
Downtown Spokane is filled with bakeries, diners, coffee shops, wineries, breweries, distilleries, and bars that make it easy to spend a few hours just walking the streets and exploring what the district has to offer.
The parks here are really nice! Riverfront Park has a cable car to Spokane Falls and onsite sculpture garden that make it a favorite spot to visit, while Manito Park’s botanical garden, arboretum, and conservatory spanning 90 acres is the perfect spot to explore for an afternoon.
13. LeMay – America’s Car Museum
LeMay — America’s Car Museum is the largest auto museum in the country at 165,000 square feet, located in Tacoma, WA near the Tacoma Dome. There are 12 rotating exhibits and yearly Signature Events to look forward to.
You’ll be able to marvel at over 350 vehicles around the property, including some from the private collection of the LeMay family.The cars on display are unique — there’s a little of everything, from American muscle cars to European rally cars and everyday vehicles from different time periods.
Most of the autos here are original and unrestored, adding to the historic significance. The museum is one of the best places to visit in Washington state, being named in the top 10 museums near Seattle and ranked as the one of the 5 Best Museums in Western Washington twice by King 5.
The museum also has a live music venue, booking big-name and local acts from different genres throughout the year. There are a few cars and museum pieces in the music hall, so if you’re coming for a show, you’ll still get to see some automobile history!
14. White Pass Ski Area
Washington state is great for snow sports during the winter, receiving a good amount of snow up in its higher elevation areas and rugged mountains. White Pass Ski Area is one of the best for ski slopes in the gorgeous, wild terrain high in the Cascade Mountains in Naches, WA.
You’ll have great views of the Cascades and Mount Rainier from the slopes here, where you can challenge yourself on 45 runs serviced by quad lifts. Take the Great White Express, carve down the Couloir Express and the Paradise Basin, or snowboard the Hammerhead Terrain Park.
There are wide, easy to intermediate slopes on the eastern side, while more challenging runs are on the northern side. High Camp Lodge at mid-mountain is easily accessed by chairlift when you want something to eat or drink.
Lodging at Village Inn has even more dining options, and kid and adult clinics with rentals make sure everyone’s ready to hit the slopes on your trip!
15. Bellevue Botanical Garden
Nestled in the city of Bellevue, just across the lake from Seattle, is the lush oasis of the Bellevue Botanical Garden. Serene pathways meander through the green, colorful blooms, and wetlands of the garden with native and international species to admire.
With multiple gardens to explore within its bounds and beautiful seasonal variations (including light displays at Christmas), this is a captivating place to go in Bellevue and a peaceful retreat from the noise and buzz of city life.
Rock and iris gardens, ground cover and wildflower meadow displays, perennial plant corners, gardens highlighting fuchsia, dahlias, and rhododendrons, water conservation gardens, and Pacific Northwest native plants are all charming stops in the Bellevue Botanical Garden.
There’s also a stunning Japanese garden, complete with a traditional Japanese garden gate and zen influences, that’s dedicated to Bellevue’s sister city, Yao, Japan.
When you’re finished strolling through the tranquil paths, you can head to the Bellevue Arts Museum to see a sculpture garden, visit the Downtown Park for a small park and waterfall, or grab lunch downtown around the park or Bellevue Square.
16. Chihuly Garden and Glass
The popular Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit is a permanent indoor/outdoor collection of glass artwork, structures, and sculptures in downtown Seattle, right next to the Space Needle. It’s a really cool experience to walk through after your Space Needle observatory deck views!
The creator, Dale Chihuly, has developed three sections for people to wander through and see the magical ways the glass medium can be transformed into fantastical trees and plants, massive “house” structures, and sculpted glass in various colors.
Tour the Glasshouse, the Garden, and Galleries to see Chihuly’s unique and masterful talent. Or check out the Theater to see videos on glassmaking, interviews with the artist, and glassworks installations on the property to get a behind-the-scenes look.
This is a favorite spot for Seattle locals and tourists to visit, and you’ll enjoy grabbing a coffee or lunch at the cafe, hanging out in the lobby, and retracing your steps back to your favorite pieces indoors and out.
Frequently Asked Questions
Learning the best places to visit in Washington state is a great start, but you’ll really be on a roll when you check out the FAQs to learn more about planning your visit to this wild and wondrous state.
What is the prettiest place in Washington state?
The prettiest place in Washington state is Olympic National Park, owing to its diverse terrain and scenery from coastal Pacific beaches and cliff views to rugged Mount Olympus, wildflower meadows, and tranquil alpine lakes with temperate rainforests.
Hiking trails in the park lead to the Hoh River and Hoh Rainforest, up to panoramic views of the Cascades Mountains, and beaches like Rialto Beach and Ruby Beach to explore on pebbled shores under evergreen forests.
What is Washington's biggest tourist attraction in this state?
The biggest tourist attraction in Washington state is Olympic National Park, which ranks as the most-visited attraction in the state with its rainforests, rivers, trails through the Cascade Mountains, and chilly alpine lakes.
While it’s not exactly an attraction, the city of Seattle is the most-visited city in the state, seeing more than 33 million tourists annually, according to VisitSeattle tourism data. The Space Needle, museums, and Pike Place Market are popular attractions to visit here.
Where to explore in Washington?
The best places to explore in Washington’s wilderness are Mount Rainier National Park, Olympic National Park, and North Cascades National Park for incredible mountain vistas, alpine lakes and meadows, and rugged hiking trails that lead you through it all.
Other great areas to explore in Washington are its major cities and downtown districts, especially in Seattle (Space Needle, Seattle Art Museum, Pike Place Market, Chihuly Garden and Glass, and MoPOP) and Spokane (Northwest Museum of Arts and Culture, Riverfront and Manito parks, Tudor-style homes, and Spokane Falls).
What is the best city to stay in Washington state?
Seattle is the best city to stay in Washington state, offering the widest range of restaurants, markets and shops, breweries, bars, and accommodations in the state. From museums and gardens to parks and the bustling downtown district, Seattle is the perfect place to make your basecamp for a Washington adventure.
Seattle is also close to wilderness destinations that make excellent day trips, like Snoqualmie Falls (30 minutes away) and Mount Rainier National Park (2 hours away).
What is the best time of year to visit the state of Washington?
The best time of year to visit the state of Washington is between April and October, when the temperatures are mild to warm, hiking trails at the best national and state parks are open outside of the winter season.
During the spring, summer, and early fall, the water may be warm enough for swimming and cities are hosting warm-weather festivals, events, and open-air concerts. You won’t freeze while you hike, climb, or fish and the days are longer, giving you more time to enjoy the state!
So, What’s the Best Place to Visit in Washington?
The best places to visit in Washington state are as varied as the activities you can do in this scenic piece of the Pacific Northwest — from the rugged trails, slopes, and peaks of Mount Rainier National Park to breweries and dining hotspots in Seattle and Bellevue, there are ample opportunities to enjoy Washington to the fullest.
Whether you’re up for outdoor adventures and chasing the most picturesque mountain and waterfall views or want to take on Washington’s coolest cities for museums, restaurants, and nightlife, you’ll have an awesome array of experiences waiting for you when you head to the state’s best destinations on your trip.