As a local with the Cascades practically in my backyard and the salty Pacific air in my lungs, I’ve realized that Washington State never runs out of surprises. One minute you’re sipping coffee in a hip Seattle café, and the next, you’re winding your way through lush rainforests and spotting orcas from a ferry’s deck, which is why I started my Washington State bucket list of items to check off.
I’ve lived in this evergreen corner of the country for the better part of my life, and year after year, I find myself going off on new adventures that leave me awestruck and grinning from ear to ear. There’s something to do no matter what season it is – you’ll find me skiing at Snoqualmie Pass in the winter in Seattle, going on wildflower hikes during the spring, and enjoying all things outdoors in the summer.
I also love when friends visit and have their own Washington bucket list that I can help them achieve. That’s when I get to show them some of my old favorites as well as go to places that are new to me. It also fires me up to see my friends excited about places I may have taken for granted.
I could probably ramble on about hundreds of things you have to do in Washington, but I realize your time is likely limited. That’s why I made a printable Washington bucket list poster to keep track of your goals that you can sign up for further down this article.
This post was first written in 2019 and last updated in May 2023.
1. Have a Drink on Top of Seattle’s Oldest Skyscraper
Built in 1914, the Smith Tower is the oldest skyscraper in the city (a fun fact about Seattle to tell others). You can take a tour of the bottom floor to see historic pictures and learn about the unique history of the building. Make sure to take time to observe the beautiful marble and gold decorations found throughout the building.
When you’re done, head to the top of the tower for one of the best Instagram spots in Seattle, especially if you go at sunset (which I highly recommend!). You’ll get seated at a table, order your drink (I always get a flute of champagne, but they have tons of unique cocktails), and then you can head outside on the observation deck while you wait for your drink. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a better view of the waterfront, and you can walk all the way around the deck for a 360-degree view of downtown Seattle.
I’ve actually done this tour multiple times (most recently in April of this year) because it’s hands-down one of the most unique Washington adventures to go on. I took one of my friends for the first time for a fun girls’ happy hour at sunset, and most recently, I took my husband for a romantic Seattle date. That definitely won’t be my last time going, as visiting this restaurant and bar in the sky is always a good occasion.
2. Walk Under Deception Pass Bridge
The most famous bridge in Washington is Deception Pass, which connects Whidbey Island to Fidalgo Island. You can visit this when you’re visiting Anacortes or taking a Whidbey Island day trip, and it’s great to add to your Washington summer bucket list.
Diehard fans of The Ring may recognize this as a bridge that was featured in the movie, and it’s one of the best drives in Washington.
Not only is the water a beautiful green color, but you’ll notice various whirlpools due to the two different bodies of water meeting. You can drive over the bridge or walk underneath it to get pictures. For a really unique angle, you can even take a boat tour right under the bridge.
Have more time? Make sure to check out all the Whidbey Island activities there are to do.
3. Take a Hike to Colchuck Lake
If you love hiking, you’ll want to visit Leavenworth on the weekend to add the Colchuck Lake hike to your itinerary. This is one of the most unique things to do in Washington State, as this moderate hike will drop you right into a blue-green alpine lake.
At 8 miles roundtrip and a 2,280-foot elevation gain, this is tough but doable if you’re in shape. While it’s hard, it is completely worth it with how beautiful the lake is. This is also part of The Enchantments, which you need an overnight permit for the rest of, so you get a little peek into one of the most beautiful hikes in Washington.
I will give you the helpful tip to bring bug spray in the summer, as thousands of bugs in the area want to enjoy the water as much as you do. While I loved doing this hike one August many summers ago, I did not love being eaten alive, so I took a very short break here and headed back to the trailhead.
4. Go on the Seattle Underground Tour
I recommend the Seattle Underground tour to everyone I talk to, whether they’ve lived here all their lives or are just visiting for a weekend. While you may notice that downtown Seattle is on a steep hill, it was built on top of the original city!
You’ll go with a guide to access the closed-off portions under the streets where parts of the original buildings still stand. When it’s a cold and rainy day in December or January, this Seattle bucket list item becomes one of the best things to do in Seattle in winter.
I’ve now done this tour three times because each tour guide has their own spin on the history of Seattle, so I’m always learning new faces about my city. You can also take a night tour that tells you more about the dark history of Seattle, such as ghosts and brothels.
5. See the Stunning Snoqualmie Falls
Snoqualmie Falls is only 45 minutes east of Seattle, making it an easy item to put on your Washington State bucket list. Most people go to the observation deck at the top to get the iconic view there.
The view at the top is beautiful, but you can take the trail down from the top to get to the river. It’s about a mile long and will bring you to a second parking lot complete with a bathroom. From there, go along the boardwalk to walk closer to the falls. If you walk away from the falls, you’ll find a popular spot to play in the river.
During the warmer months, many people head to this part of the river where you can swim. People sunbathe on the rocks or bring a picnic to enjoy. An ice cream stand sells ice cream cones by the main road, so make sure to grab one before you come down.
When you’re done, head to Salish Lodge to enjoy lunch or buy a fun Seattle souvenir.
6. Take a Hot Tub Boat Ride
Whether you’re looking to have a fun weekend adventure or want to impress your friends, going on a hot tub boat in Seattle is one way to easily do that. This experience is one of the best kept secrets in Washington State that I just learned about this year.
I did this during the winter, and the temperature of the hot tub mixed with the cool air felt great, but summer in Seattle would also be a fun time to rent one. You get two hours on the boat and can have a handful of friends with you as you slowly drive around Lake Union. You can bring snacks as well as your own playlist to listen to your music, which I highly recommend.
7. Wine Taste in Walla Walla
While Washington may not have Napa Valley, we do have the Walla Walla region, where many of our grapes are grown. The area is in the state’s southeast corner, making for a fun road trip from Seattle on the weekend.
The region has dozens of different wineries, which is one of the best things about Washington State. If you’re a local, you’ll likely recognize some of the winery names as the wine you’ve had in restaurants before. I recommend going when the weather is warm outside so you can enjoy outdoor wine tasting while looking over the vineyards.
As far as wineries go, it’d take me ages to name them all, but I love Leonetti Cellar. This family-run winery has made a name for itself by being the first in Walla Walla to receive a 100-point score from a major wine critic. I also enjoy visiting L’Ecole No. 41, a charming winery set in a historic 1915 schoolhouse, which is renowned for consistently producing award-winning, terroir-driven wines with a focus on sustainability.
8. Visit the Furthermost Northwestern Corner of the US
One of the most unique experiences in Washington State is being able to say you’ve visited the very northwestern corner of the country. Luckily, this is also a very scenic stop, so visiting Cape Flattery on the Olympic Peninsula is worth the trip.
If you want to make it a long day, you can do this during a day trip to Olympic National Park. I recommend heading here first and then slowly making your way back to discover what the rest of the area has to offer, such as easy hikes, waterfalls, and more.
9. Stay at Olympic National Park
Speaking of the Olympic Peninsula, you’ll want to stop in Olympic National Park while you’re there. This park is one of the best in the Pacific Northwest, with everything from rainforests to hot springs to the ocean.
I recommend going on an Olympic Peninsula road trip to truly experience the whole area. One of the more unique items to put on your Washington bucket list is booking a stay in the park, as not all national parks have lodging you can stay at. Lake Crescent Lodge is a beautiful lodge right on the lake that’s perfect for calling your base.
While you’re in the area, make sure to check out the best hikes on Olympic Peninsula. There’s a good range of easy to hard ones to choose from. I’m here all the time, and some of my personal favorite ones are Sol Duc Falls (1.6 miles RT) and Marymere Falls (1.8 miles RT) for short but scenic trails.
10. Drive to Diablo Lake
When you go on a North Cascades day trip, it’ll be near impossible not to stop at the gorgeous Diablo Lake. The colors of the lake seem almost unreal when you see pictures, but you’ll quickly see in person how true the hues are.
You can stop at the overlook to get pictures from the most common vantage point, where most people stop before continuing. If you have extra time and feel like hiking, you can also go below for one of the best hiking trails in North Cascades National Park.
11. Hike Around Cape Disappointment
You’ll want to stop at Cape Disappointment when enjoying a weekend in Long Beach. This area is on the very southwestern corner of the state, and you can even see Oregon from it on a clear day!
It’s an easy hike from the parking lot to the lighthouse, which sits on the cliff. You can also add in longer hikes if you’re looking for some exercise when making a list of what to do in Washington State.
12. Visit an Old Western Town
Spending a weekend in Winthrop is one of the most unique things to do in Washington State, as you’ll feel like you stepped right onto a Western movie set. All their storefronts have the same theme, from local boutique shops to coffee shops.
Any time of the year is fun to visit, as you can swim in the local lake in the summer or cross-country skiing in winter. Make sure to stop at Three Finger Jack’s Saloon, which completes your experience with swinging saloon doors. I also always stop at Old Schoolhouse Brewing for a pint and a view of the river.
13. Photograph Wallace Falls
Wallace Falls is of the best waterfalls in Washington that is both scenic and doable for most skill levels. This is a great winter hike in Washington, as it’s not usually high enough to get too much snow. There are multiple waterfalls to photograph during this 5.6-mile roundtrip hike.
This hike is one of the best kept secrets in Washington State since it’s so easily accessible. However, the word is starting to get out, so I recommend going in the morning if possible.
14. Ride the Ferry
Whether you take a day trip to Bainbridge to find all the fun things to do on Bainbridge Island or visit one of the San Juan Islands, a must do in Washington State is ride the Washington State Ferry. A ferry ride is the best way to commute, and you’ll have a gorgeous view no matter which ferry you take.
The further north you get, the better your chances of seeing sea life like our Orca whales. If you’re lucky, they might decide to swim with you to accompany you during your commute if you’re lucky!
15. Backpack the Olympic Wilderness Coast
Adventure lovers will want to get out to the Olympic Coast to put a backpacking trip on their Washington State bucket list. There are various hikes to go on, such as the Ozette Loop, which will end right at the Pacific. I went here years ago and had a stunning experience camping right next to the ocean, and we even saw bears the next day (they were far enough away to be safe!).
You’ll have different campsites to choose from along the coast, so pick a weekend and make a reservation in advance. This area is one of the best places to go in Washington State when you want to enjoy nature as well as peace and quiet.
16. Get Close to the Gum Wall
Love it or hate it, the Gum Wall by Pike Place Market draws thousands of curious visitors each year. It’s a Seattle bucket list so they can see this colorful wall in person and decide how close they want to get.
The wall is cleaned periodically, but that doesn’t stop people from putting new gum up each year. Even if you want to keep your distance, it provides a fun background for your pictures.
17. See the Wildflowers at Mount Rainier
There is nothing better, in my opinion, than taking a day trip to Mount Rainier in late July or early August to see the wildflowers blooming. You can also see wildlife like marmots exploring the hills and enjoying the warm weather. As soon as the snow starts to melt, I’m up here almost weekly, checking out hikes like Silver Falls and Sourdough Ridge.
There are numerous hikes, with the Skyline Trail in the Paradise region being one of the most popular this time of year. Naches Peak Loop Trail is a shorter but equally popular trail on the opposite side of the mountain in the Sunrise area. You’ll quickly see why the mountain is one of the best places to see in Washington State.
18. Find Peace at the Japanese Gardens
Visiting the Japanese Gardens is a must do in Washington State during fall in Seattle. The color of the leaves turns into vivid shades that are perfectly reflected in the pond.
There is a small entrance fee to get in, but this helps keep the number of visitors lower. The gardens are a beautiful place to take a quiet stroll by yourself or get some thinking done as you sit on a bench. Make sure to bring your camera because there are so many photo-ops.
19. Ski in the Mountains
A big reason I’ll likely never move from Washington is that there are adventures to be had throughout the year, including winter. We have a variety of mountains to ski at in the state, including Mount Baker to the far north and Crystal Mountain further south. If you’ve never been before, you should put ski lessons on your Washington bucket list.
Located about an hour east of Seattle off I-90, Snoqualmie Pass is the closest place to go skiing around the area. There are four places to ski at Snoqualmie: Summit West, Summit Central, Summit East, and Alpental. I personally prefer Alpental, as it tends to be less crowded.
If you head to Stevens Pass, you can stop in the town of Leavenworth after to spend the night. This Bavarian town in the mountains is magical when there’s snow, so you’ll love winter in Leavenworth.
20. Ride Bikes Along the Pacific Ocean
Taking a vacation down to Ocean Shores is always a blast, as it’s a cute town along the Pacific Ocean full of ice cream shops, activities like mini-golf, and delicious seafood restaurants. There are many things to do in Ocean Shores in the summer particularly.
When you’re there, rent a bike to add a ride along the ocean to your bucket list in Washington. You can bike through the town, grab a snack, and explore some of the beaches along the way.
There’s also a fun Irish pub called Galway Irish Pub with Guinness and authentic Irish food available, as well as a store that sells Irish snacks and souvenirs, which was a pleasant surprise as someone who loves all things Ireland.
21. See the Rare Larches
Larches are elusive trees that turn to a glowing yellow color only a few weeks out of the year, so you’ll want to be ready to go on larch hikes in Washington. This tends to be late September or early October, but you’ll want to look at local trip reports on sites like WTA to see what people are reporting.
If you need help remembering, just follow my Instagram – I watch these reports like a hawk every fall, and the second I see larches are out, I plan as many trips as time allows. Last October, I spent a glorious few days up in the North Cascades exploring larches on likes like Blue Lake, Cutthroat Pass, and Goat Peak Lookout.
Seeing the larches in person is an ultimate Washington State bucket list item since they only appear for a short time. One of the best places to see them is throughout North Cascades National Park, so keep an eye on hikes in one of Washington’s best national parks during the fall to know when to go.
22. Camp on Orcas Island
You may have noticed that many items on this list are active, but one of the best things about Washington State is how much there is to explore in the great outdoors. You’ll want to go camping at least once during the summer, and one of the most scenic places is Moran State Park on Orcas Island. In fact, camping is one of the best things to do on Orcas Island in the summer.
You can pick a campsite that’s on a lake on the island – does it get better than that? The weather is generally pleasant, in the 70s during the summer, so you’ll enjoy sitting around your campfire. You can also head into town to pick up food or go shopping.
23. Explore a Bavarian Village
If you’re looking for things to do in Washington State this weekend and want to get away, book a trip to Leavenworth. This town has a Bavarian theme to it, and you’ll get a kick out of being able to buy “German” souvenirs while you’re here. You can even attend an authentic Oktoberfest festival at the end of September.
There are tons of things to do in Leavenworth in winter, as they have tree-lighting ceremonies, carolers, and more. You can stop at German restaurants like Andreas Keller to enjoy German beer, bratwurst, spätzle, and more! They often have snow since they’re in the mountains, so kids will love sledding on the hills in town.
24. Visit the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
One of the best signs that spring in Seattle has arrived is the beginning of the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival. This festival takes place in Mount Vernon and is a must-see in Washington State this time of year.
You’ll be greeted with thousands of colorful tulips as you drive through the area, and there are plenty of places to pull off to get pictures. There are beautiful souvenirs by locals to purchase, such as paintings and photographs of the area. I go here almost every year during spring in Washington because the sight of these bright tulips never gets old.
Don’t feel like driving up here? Join a tour from Seattle instead!
25. Walk Through a Rainforest
Did you know that Washington also cradles a rainforest alongside all the other awe-inspiring wonders it’s got up its sleeve? Tucked away in the Olympic National Park is the Hoh Rainforest, an emerald oasis that’s a must-see for any adventurer’s Washington State bucket list. This rainforest, with its moss-laden trees and veil of perpetual mist, is something straight out of a storybook.
On your Pacific Northwest itinerary, make sure you carve out time to get lost in the vast beauty of the Hoh Rainforest. Roam the well-marked trails beneath towering old-growth trees, listen to the native bird calls, and soak in the unique tranquility that only a rainforest can offer. I can tell you from personal experience that it’s an adventure that will truly make you appreciate our state’s diverse landscapes.
Once you’ve crossed it off your bucket list, head on over to Port Angeles. This charming city is the perfect spot to unwind after your rainforest expedition. Grab a coffee from a local café like The Great Northern Coffee Bar, and sip it leisurely as you stroll along the waterfront watching ferries glide to and from Canada.
Want to go with a group? You’ll love this all-day tour that leaves from Seattle.
26. Put a Letter in a Mailbox on a Mountain
This adventure is for more advanced hikers, so you’ll want to summit Mailbox Peak if that’s you. One of the most adventurous things to do in Washington is climbing this 9.4-mile roundtrip mountain with 4,000 feet of elevation gain.
One of the more unique experiences in Washington State, there’s an actual mailbox at the top of this mountain. People in Seattle will instantly know where you’ve been as soon as you post this iconic picture, and you’ll have another adventure to brag about.
27. Book a Weekend on San Juan Island
When you need a relaxing weekend getaway from Seattle, book a trip to San Juan Island. You’ll have a pleasant ferry ride from Anacortes to Friday Harbor, the main part of town.
From there, you can walk around the downtown area, where most restaurants are, or explore the rest of the island. There are plenty of things to do during a weekend on San Juan Island, including visiting a lighthouse, walking through a lavender farm, and trying local wine. There are also plenty of trails on San Juan Island to check out.
Staying overnight? You’ll love booking a room at Friday Harbor House.
28. Climb Mount St. Helens
Have you ever wanted to climb an active volcano? Now you can when you go on the hike to summit Mount St. Helens. Make sure to read my post on it first, as you do need a permit before you can do this and you will need the proper equipment to complete it. This was one of my favorite experiences of all time when I did this in the summer of 2018, and I also love encouraging others to prepare for this hike.
The fact that you can go to the top of this volcano while most people just view it from the visitor’s center is one of the best-kept secrets in Washington State. You can carefully go to the rim of the crater and peek inside to see steam coming out.
29. Admire Palouse Falls
This spectacular Washington waterfall is tucked away in the eastern part of Washington, like some kind of secret oasis in the midst of the rolling hills of wheat fields. It’s a sight that will make your heart skip a beat, I promise.
Standing at an impressive 198 feet, this cascade is a real showstopper. It tumbles down into a bowl of ancient basalt, sending a fine mist that catches the light just right. And if you’re lucky, you might just spot a rainbow stretching across the spray.
Getting there is a bit of a journey, but totally worth it. If you’re driving from Spokane, it’s about two hours southwest. If you can time your trip right, I recommend going at sunrise or sunset for some beautiful photos. This waterfall is one of the best attractions in Washington State that’s free to visit.
30. Stroll Through Point Defiance Park
One of the best things to do in Tacoma is visit Point Defiance Park, and the fact that it’s free makes it even better. This huge area has hundreds of acres to wander on, and you can even go on a five-mile-long drive in your car if you don’t feel like getting out.
I recommend stopping to see the gardens when the flowers are in bloom, as they’re spectacular. The Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium is another fun place to stop during the day.
How many of these items are you looking forward to experiencing? Make sure to print off your Washington State bucket list poster to keep track!
No matter how many experiences you get on your Washington State bucket list, you’ll love having a taste of what this state has to offer.