Trippy Seattle - Day Trips
Get out of town! Some nearby towns of interest:
- Take the (car or passenger) ferry from the downtown Seattle waterfront to Bainbridge Island, all of 30 minutes away. Then putz around some small towns as you make your way onto the Olympic Peninsula.
- San Juan Islands, WA - The ferry to get to this island group is 1.25 hours away in Anacortes, then it's up to you to decide on which of four islands to stop. Go to Friday Harbor for the quaint island town, or Orcas to climb Mount Constitution and get the supposedly best marine view in the world. Or just get great views from the ferry and loop around a between all the islands for free after the initial fee to get out to them. Check out Lopez to easily cycle the entire island (in terms of flatness of terrain, anyway - the miles can add up); go to Shaw to disappear without a trace (since there is almost no traffic to take notice of you). That's all four stops! Beyond the Washington State Ferry System, the Victoria Clipper quickly connects Friday Harbor to Downtown Seattle by speedy hydrofoil as does Kenmore Air via, drumroll please, the air. (The Canadian version of these islands, just to the north and an international border crossing over water away, is called The Gulf Islands.)
- Victoria, B.C. - This peaceful city is kinda like England with a bunch of Canadians. This is not a bad thing, but it is worth making perfectly clear to any and all hoping to bump into anything resembling royalty or posh and stiff upper lips. Speaking of blue bloods, though, the Royal BC Museum is great, as are the famous Butchart Gardens half an hour north of town. For the High Tea folks there is the Empress Hotel to take your money. It takes several hours to get here by car and ferry (Washington State Ferries) or only a couple hours or so by the Victoria Clipper (sans car although bikes are OK) straight from downtown Seattle.
- Portland, Oregon - The "mini-Seattle" to the south, about three hours away. "Same same but different!" as they sometimes say in SE Asia, especially when hoping to turn your attention from an established and reputable business to their less known one. Not that Portland is Seattle's second fiddle any more in the least. Take the comfy Amtrak train from Seattle's King Street Station (in the Pioneer Square area south of downtown, at 4th and Jackson or King) for an alternate means of arrival. It's worth noting that it's a hell of a lot nicer for bikes than Seattle, has competent light rail transportation, plus there is some great park space above the downtown area to the west. Try the smoothness of local cafe Stumptown's coffee, wander the Pearl District, or walk the Willamette River and cross its bridges on bike and foot. Plenty of bridges and scads of architecture will keep the eyes busy as you meanwhile stumble onto the impressive offerings of a host of food carts covering the length and breath of the world's food offerings.
- Vancouver, B.C. - The "maxi-Seattle" to the north, Vancouver is about 2.5 hours away by car (four by train) if the border crossing doesn't take a day or two. A bit more cosmopolitan than Seattle, it's also somewhat less homey and with less history left (building-wise) to check out. But Canadians are generally nice and here's one place where you don't have to suffer the ubiquitous flag on their backpacks (for us hostel/backpacker types) to identify them. Moreover, Vancouver probably has a slightly better immediate lay of land than Seattle what with its own version of nearby islands, water, and mountains. Walk the downtown shopping area and the shoreline to get started, then head to the biggest Chinatown outside of China beside San Francisco. The nearby Gaslight District is cute enough, too, if you don't wander over to where people are shooting up heroin nearby. Stanley Park, kind of like the local Central Park, is hard to top for setting. To eschew the car as I'd recommend, take the coastal Cascades train from Seattle's King Street Station in the Pioneer Square area (south of downtown).
- Whistler, B.C. - Sure it's an expensive (ski) resort area, but the terrain is beautiful and the drive up along Horseshoe Bay is no less than stunning. It's also a quicker zip up thanks to the 2010 Olympics. There's skiing/snowshoeing in winter, hiking/biking in summer (with the chairlifts running to assist the downhill bombers). The 2010 Olympics might've also successfully killed any charm and hidden secret to the place, however. Not that that much was left - Whistler was already the biggest resort town in North America. Now it's bigger, with even more crowds and shopping for those who crave such. All this at an hour or so past Vancouver heading north.
- La Conner, Bellingham, and Snohomish, WA - these towns sit within 1-1.5 hours of Seattle, and each is known for its own take on artsy-quaintness. La Conner sits on the Swinomish Channel of the Skagit River, Bellingham hosts Western Washington U. with its sculpture garden and alternative scene on Puget Sound, and Snohomish lies on yet another river, the Snohomish River (naturally), when not otherwise drowning itself in antique shops. Take all the above as an entreatment and a warning.
- Roslyn, WA - the former home of the set for Northern Exposure (where it's supposedly Cicely, Alaska), some of the memorabilia is still around in situ - if you head 1.5 hours away from Seattle to the east on I-90, by Cle Elum. Drive further into the mountains after passing through town, though, after spending the requisite 15 minutes to see the main drag: it only keeps getting better as you head further into nature and beyond town.
- Leavenworth, WA - about 2.5 hours away on U.S.-2 (or via I-90 and U.S.-97), this faux German (Bavarian to be precise) town is appreciated by some for its Euro-themed trinkets and kitsch, but you actually can find some good German grub here and, more importantly, the nearby mountains along Tumwater Canyon and Icicle Creek are stupendous for hiking, biking, rafting, floating, and more.
- Olympia, WA is the state capital, so you can tour the Capitol Building and see all the other government buildings. Yay. Well, the capitol is grand enough, to be fair. Olympia also has a great Hands-On Museum for kids, plus a number of worthy wall murals if you look for them. It takes about 1.5 hours to drive there from Seattle, down at the bottom of the Sound. Here's proof that not all bad things float downstream, or rather downsound.
- Everett, WA - Lying 40 minutes to the north of Seattle on I-5 there's this burg and, well, it has the Boeing Plant Tour. THAT takes place in the largest building in the world by volume (a mongo box which makes a WalMart warehouse store look snazzy). Okay, I'll fess up: after approximately one zillion years in Seattle I have yet to set foot in Everett. Sorry, Everettites! Everetters? This is getting worse... I'll stop.
- Tacoma, WA - Lying 40 minutes to the south of Seattle on I-5 lies Seattle's former competition from back in the day. Loyalists will tell you Tacoma has all the heart that Seattle is missing and, well, who am I to argue? Start with Commencement Bay and check out Chihuly's Museum Of Glass if the mood strikes you. Centennial High School near Downtown has a backdrop to die for; find Ted Bundy's childhood home if you can. For the captive animal types, there's the Point Defiance Zoo and a nearby ferry to Vashon Island to get your weird on all over again.
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