Seattle’s a wonderful city with many interesting suburbs, yet many visitors crave something beyond the Space Needle and Pike Place Market. Adding one of these dedicated day trips to your itinerary in the Emerald City will enhance an already pleasant trip; with so much natural beauty and dynamic culture in Western Washington, it’s not hard to find a point of interest within three hours of the metro area. Before making commitments to a plan, make sure that inclement weather hasn’t affected roadways or attractions.
Best Seattle Day Trips
1. Vashon Island
Experience one of the many islands in the Puget Sound without going too far of a distance. Vashon Island sits adjacent to Seattle proper, requiring a short ferry ride from the Fauntleroy terminal. The fares add up —especially if you bring your vehicle—so consider exploring Vashon with your bike, which will only cost you a $1 surcharge each way (adult tickets are $5.25). After a half hour on the ferry, venture through the forest on Cedarhurst Road to Fern Cove, an estuary that lends itself to fantastic bird watching. South on the main road is Sea Breeze Farm, an idyllic patch of grassland with a view of the Sound and a working farm, restaurant and butcher (charcuterie fans will dive right in). On Saturdays only, think about reserving a table for the “Farm Experience Dinner,” a fancy five-course meal. Be sure to see Point Robinson Lighthouse, a must-see landmark located on the eastern end of Maury Island, connected to the rest of Vashon by a tiny isthmus; if you don’t mind getting wet or cramming into a wetsuit, stop on that very isthmus and take one of Fat Cat Paddle boarding’s guided tours, which range from two to six hours (three person minimum). Don’t worry about rushing your visit on Vashon—ferries back to Seattle run as late as 1:20 a.m.
Distance from Seattle to Vashon Island: 20 miles (including Vashon Island Ferry)
During the winter, Leavenworth’s energy becomes truly magical. A two-hour drive on the Stevens Pass Highway/U.S. Route 2 (check closures before setting out) reveals many mountain peaks behind a thick forest, but may require tire chains depending on weather and can be daunting, particularly when the night covers the road in darkness. An easy, quick skiing trail is at the end of Icicle Road about nine miles south of town, where the road ends and forest routes begin. This Bavarian-inspired town in the Cascades has much to offer in addition to skiing. In the same area, fish enthusiasts can tour the federally run Leavenworth National Fish Hatchery, an educational look at local salmon, trout and lamprey species with a dedicated trail to observe spawning salmon. Lovers of antiques and knick-knacks might enjoy the Nutcracker Museum, recognized all over the country as a novelty mecca with 6,000 figurines and related objects—and of course, reference upon reference to the classic ballet The Nutcracker. Food-wise, those craving a beer and bratwurst should definitely patronize Munchen Haus, while The Gingerbread Factory (it’s a bakery, not a factory) will satisfy smaller appetites. Finally, top off the holiday spirit with the Christmas Lighting Festival, a delightful ceremony that takes place during the first three weekends of December.
Distance from Seattle to Leavenworth : 134 miles
3. Snoqualmie/North Bend
If you haven’t seen Twin Peaks, the cult TV series created by David Lynch that was filmed in and around Snoqualmie, you and fellow travelers will savor the scenic splendor of the area after a 40-minute drive on I-90. The show featured Snoqualmie Falls prominently in its opening shots, illustrating its importance in a town once dependent on a hydroelectric plant, both in fiction and reality. Even in drier seasons, the 270-foot waterfall roars without end. After checking out the Falls gift shop, head to Snoqualmie’s charming downtown to visit the Northwest Railway Museum, a definite must if you have young kids who marvel at every passing train. Peruse the website before coming in case of closure, or better yet, an opportunity to ride one of the trains during a special event.
Want to play some golf without breaking the bank? Mount Si Golf Course’s reasonable yet beautiful greens boast a view of nearby Mount Si and are situated along the south fork of Snoqualmie River—but be warned, the course may take a little bit of time to complete.
If you’re feeling hungry, enjoy a hearty Italian meal (with gluten-free options) at Gianfranco Ristorante, located on the same block as the previously mentioned museum. However, Twin Peaks enthusiasts might want to drive an extra five minutes into the neighboring town of North Bend for Twede’s Cafe, the 50s-style diner known in the show for its “damn fine” coffee and cherry pie.
Distance from Seattle to Snoqualmie/North Bend: 33 miles from Seattle
Not enough time to go to Canada, but enough time to hit up a different city while you’re staying in Seattle? Luckily, Bellingham is an hour and a half away on I-5: locals deem it “small enough to have character, but big enough that you won’t get bored.” A popular draw for out-of-owners is Whatcom Museum, which takes up three buildings (including the old Bellingham city hall) in the heart of downtown. Admission ($10 for adults and $4.50 for children five and under) includes access to all facilities, notably the Family Interactive Gallery in the futuristic Lightcatcher building; the “F.I.G.” will keep kids busy with hands-on art exploration for hours. Hip clothing, housewares and gifts are at every turn in the Fairhaven district south of the city center, especially at upscale boutiques like Arabella and Three French Hens. Great photo ops and foliage can be found at Sehome Hill Arboretum next to Western Washington University—the most unique feature of this urban forest is a hand-cut rock tunnel, which local college students often pass through on the way to campus. Stop by Boundary Bay Brewery & Bistro for a mix of award-winning ales and eclectic gastropub fare, like tofu bánh mì and yam enchiladas: with veggie options this tempting, imagine what the rest of the menu has to offer! For faster meal options, consider the freeway-adjacent Boomer’s Drive-in, an iconic Bellingham burger joint in business for over 25 years.
Distance from Seattle to Bellingham: 90 miles
5. Mineral Lake/Elbe
Once a logging town during the “boom years” between 1900 and the Depression, tiny Mineral serves as a getaway for sport fishermen and sightseers, though most tourism happens between April and September. Those planning on angling should consult with Mineral Lake Resort, which sells bait and tackle along with various boat rentals. While waiting for an oversized trout to bite, enjoy the pristine view of Mount Rainier facing opposite the front of town.
Before or after you take Highway 7 to Mineral, take a breather in Elbe (just ten minutes up the main road), a hamlet with relatively more activities and sights than its neighbor. Low on time? Sink your teeth into a juicy patty from Scaleburgers, operating out of a tiny log cabin, or admire the precious, 109-year-old Elbe Lutheran Church in all its authentic German glory.
Visitors with more daylight to spend in the Nisqually River Valley should reserve a tour with E Z Times Horse Rides in order to better experience the nature and history of the area. The longest trail takes three hours to complete; unlike the fishing schedule in Mineral, horseback rides with E Z Times go on year-round.
Distance from Seattle to Mineral Lake/Elbe: 79 miles
6. Copalis Beach
Nothing beats a classic day trip to the coast—Washington State’s beaches have a different kind of serenity than the typical West Coast surf spot. At two and a half hours from Seattle, a visit to Copalis Beach might be the quickest way to appreciate the Pacific Ocean without geological barriers. Bring your dog and/or partner to the sprawling, dune-filled Griffiths-Priday Ocean State Park, a spot with accommodations like picnic tables, windscreens and a restroom facility. To go razor clamming, a somewhat unconventional form of fishing, walk south to Copalis Beach itself and dig into shallow tide. Need a snack for the ride home? Nosh on a decadent cheese plate at The Stowaway (in Seabrook, a couple miles north), which has a smart selection of local and imported wines, but know that the restaurant is closed from Monday to Wednesday during the winter. If you’re searching for a bigger meal, Pacific Beach’s gourmet Mill 109 presents guests with seafood dishes from the surrounding area, including the razor clams so many visitors come to harvest for themselves.
Distance from Seattle to Copalis Beach: 132 miles
This article was written by Juliana Cohen.