Seattle is a wonderful place to visit. But to get a true sense of the beauty and wonder of the Pacific Northwest, We would encourage you to check out a few fun day trips. From Seattle, it’s easy to explore islands, embark on beautiful hikes, and visit charming towns and cities. Kati and I always love to get out of the city and explore the area, meet locals, and take an adventure.
Here are nine fun day trips from Seattle:
For an easy day trip from Seattle, wander down to the ferry terminal at Coleman Dock. Here, you can hop on the Seattle-to-Bainbridge boat. (If you mean to go to Bainbridge, be sure that you get into the Bainbridge Island line. Coleman Dock also has a ferry that goes to Bremerton.) The ferry does allow cars, but you don’t need one for Bainbridge. I suggest walking on unless you’re hoping to explore other parts of the island aside from the city center.
The thirty-five-minute crossing to Bainbridge is part of the fun. As the boat drifts across the Puget Sound, you can stand on the top deck for a simply stunning view of the water and the Seattle skyline. The ferry also has a galley in case you need a snack, coffee, or a beer. Keep an eye on the water. You might be lucky enough to spot an Orca whale—most likely while they’re chasing salmon between October and February.
Once your ferry docks at Bainbridge, it’s easy to walk up from the ferry terminal to Winslow Way, Bainbridge Island’s main drag. Spend an afternoon! You’ll find excellent bakeries, restaurants, art galleries, and shops. Some highlights are the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art (BIMA), Bainbridge Brewing Alehouse, the Bainbridge Island Historical Society, and Hitchcock (both the deli and the restaurant).
If you have a car, you can explore more of the island. Bainbridge is home to fantastic parks and trails. I especially love the lovely Bloedel Reserve, a nature reserve that used to be a private residence on the north of the island.
Once you’ve finished your day on Bainbridge, you can go straight back to Seattle on the ferry. The return trip is free for pedestrians.
For a longer day trip, think about driving a few hours south to Portland, Oregon. On a good day, you can get to Portland in under three hours. If you don’t have a car, you can also take the train or the bus—but these methods of transportation will take a bit longer.
What can I say about Portland? This city is quirky and cool. Their unofficial slogan is to Keep Portland Weird and you’re bound to see plenty of local color. With only a few hours before you have to head back to Seattle, I’d make a list of priorities. Portland has some great local beer (Deschutes Brewery is fantastic) and coffee (if you love coffee, you’ll recognize Portland-based Stumptown Coffee Roasters) but perhaps the most famous Portland establishment is Voodoo Donuts.
There is one thing to keep in mind when it comes to Voodoo Donuts—you will have to wait in line. But their big, tasty donuts are worth it!
After a few hours exploring Portland, hop back in your car/train/bus and back home to Seattle. Or, spend the night in this PNW city. You’ll find plenty to explore and it’ll give you a second chance to enjoy another cup of Portland coffee.
Note: If you have a passport, you could also day trip to Vancouver. It’s a similar distance from Seattle (about three hours, on a good day). Like Portland, you can also take a bus or train from Seattle to Vancouver. In fact, there’s a train that stops in Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver.
Are you a Twin Peaks fan who loves a rigorous hike? This next Seattle day trip is for you. Snoqualmie Falls is only thirty minutes from Seattle, and it’s full of Twin Peaks sites—as well as fantastic hikes and trails.
Even if you’ve never seen Twin Peaks, you’ll appreciate the majestic Snoqualmie Falls (made famous in the TV show’s opening credits). Go to the observation deck for an incredible panorama of the roaring waterfall.
And if you have seen Twin Peaks, you’ll definitely want to stop at the Salish Lodge—which is the inspiration for the Great Northern Hotel in the TV show. (The show used the exterior of the Salish Lodge.)
If you love to hike, then I suggest taking to the trails nearby. While in the area, you can hike up the Rattlesnake Ledge Trail. This moderate hike takes about two hours to complete, and you’ll be rewarded for your effort with a beautiful view of the lake below. (This is a popular trail, so aim to get there early if you want to avoid the crowds.)
Future of Flight-Boeing Factory
Aviation fans will love this next day trip. Just thirty minutes north of Seattle is Boeing’s “The Future of Flight” — a public tour of Boeing’s commercial jet factory. And even if you are not a huge aviation fan, this is a fun and interesting day trip.
The tour is engaging and informative. But probably the coolest part of the entire trip is getting to see planes that are under construction. Be sure to make it up to the Sky Deck for a beautiful view of the North Cascades mountain range.
If you’re more interested in aviation history—or if you’re looking for a slightly shorter drive—go south, instead, to the Museum of Flight. Here, you’ll find cool relics of aviation history like the Air Force One jet used by presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.
Speaking of the North Cascades…if you’re an avid hiker, then your day trip should definitely be here. This enormous mountain range between Washington State and Canada is packed with fantastic trails to explore for all levels.
Where you hike will depend on what you’re looking for—maybe you want an easy hike with a beautiful view, or maybe you’re looking for a steep trail filled with switchbacks that will get your heart pounding.
Blue Lake Trail is a good choice if you’re looking for something beautiful. The trail is listed as easy/moderate and leads to a beautiful lake. Hannegan Peak is more difficult, but you’ll find some gorgeous views of the Cascades from the top.
Note: It’ll take longer to get there, but the Olympic Peninsula is full of beautiful hikes as well. The best way to get there is to take the ferry to Bainbridge and then drive up to one of the trails.
For another ferry-and-island adventure, plan a day trip to beautiful Whidbey Island. This is a good option if you have time and a car since you’ll need to drive north from Seattle up to the Mukilteo ferry terminal. Plus, you’ll want some wheels to explore all that Whidbey offers (the island is about 60 miles long from end to end). In a pinch, you can use bus routes between Seattle and Mukilteo, and buses that run on the island.
From the Mukilteo ferry, I suggest you go straight to Langley. This cute, quaint, seaside town has everything you need for a relaxing afternoon. Stroll the cute main street, visit the art galleries, grab a coffee at Useless Bay Coffee Co., and be sure to look out for whales next to the statue of the man doing the same. If you see a whale, follow the instructions on the nearby bell: “Spy a Whale, Ring the Bell!”
While on the Island, you may also want to visit the cute town of Coupeville (this is where the Seattle-area’s famous Penn Cove mussels are harvested) or explore the trails around the beautiful Deception Pass Bridge. Pedestrians can cross the bridge, but anyone afraid of heights might want to avoid this activity.
Whidbey Island is also filled with local distilleries and vineyards. You can drive to a couple for a taste test and to pick up a unique souvenir like Mutiny Bay’s Blueberry Liqueur.
Once you’re finished exploring Whidbey, you can cross back via the Mukilteo ferry. Or, you can take the ferry from Coupeville to Port Townsend. Port Townsend, located on the northeast corner of the Olympic Peninsula, is full of cute parks and water views. Grab a scoop of ice cream at Elevated Ice Cream Co. and be sure to check out the used books at William James Bookseller. (Adding on Port Townsend to a Whidbey trip is a good option if you got an early start!)
From here, you can extend the adventure by looping back down through Bainbridge Island and hopping on the Bainbridge-Seattle ferry. Or, you can take the boat back to Whidbey and drive home through Mukilteo.
For a Seattle day trip that’s closer to home, look no further than Lake Washington. This enormous freshwater lake—second in size only to Lake Chelan, about four hours away from the city—enhances Seattle’s reputation as a water city. Puget Sound, to the west, and Lake Washington, to the east, create a lovely bookend of water views.
Since Lake Washington is so big, you’ll have several different ways to enjoy it—depending on what you want to do, and how much time you have to do it. You can access the Lake from several points in the city, including from Magnuson Park (in the north) and Seward Park (in the south). From either of these points—or, from the other side of the lake—you can embark on all the water activities that your heart desires.
The University of Washington also offers boat rentals in Union Bay. Here, you can rent a canoe or rowboat and take to the waves! The benefit of this option is that you can easily get to the University of Washington via Seattle’s Link Light Rail. No car required.
Olympic National Park
Hikers, this next day trip—which could extend into a camping trip—is for you. Olympic National Park extends a luscious 922,000 acres along Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula. (That means you’ll likely be hopping on the ferry again!) It’s an absolutely wonderful place to explore. You’ll find tons of enchanting trails, incredible views, rigorous hikes, and activities that the entire family will enjoy.
Since the park extends all the way to Washington’s western border, I recommend getting some beach time in at Olympic National Park. Pick a beach like the lovely Kalaloch Beach 4 in Forks, Washington. You’ll find mesmerizing tide pools and an awe-inspiring view of the Pacific Ocean.
If hiking is more your speed, you’ll have plenty to explore in the interior of the park. Olympic National Park is good for both day hikes and more intense backpacking treks—it’s so big that, really, you can find whatever you want here. Hurricane Hill Trail is three miles there-and-back and offers stunning, panoramic mountain views at the top. The Ozette Triangle Trail is much longer, more than nine miles, and passes through the beach along Cape Alva.
The San Juan islands
Finally, there’s no better way to end a list of Seattle day trips than with more islands. This time, we’re talking about the San Juan Islands, which are north of the city. The San Juans are actually made up of 172 islands and reefs—but ferries only go to four islands. These are San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Lopez Island, and Shaw Island. (However, Shaw Island has limited amenities for visitors.)
Like many of the day trips on this list, things to do in the San Juan islands range from water activities to eating at local restaurants to embarking on gorgeous forest hikes. (There is also a healthy selection of wineries and distilleries up here. I especially enjoyed getting a beer at the San Juan Brewing Co.)
But possibly what makes these northern islands so special is the opportunity to go whale watching. You can sign up for a boat tour or even a kayak tour to search for whales. Or, if you don’t have your sea legs yet, go to Lime Kiln State Park (also called Whale Watch Park) on San Juan island. Here, you may be lucky enough to see Orca, humpback, or minke whales as they pass by!
So if you find yourself with some time in Seattle, head out. Explore the area. And take a day trip or two. You will not forget it.