On the banks of Puget Sound, Tacoma offers its own unique attractions, such as the Museum of Glass, and is also the perfect base camp for day trips throughout the Pacific Northwest. Less than 2 hours away in any direction you’ll find urban adventure in cities like Seattle, small town charm in throughout Puget Sound and its islands, and breathtaking nature in the surrounding Olympic National Park and Cascade Mountain Range.
1. Gig Harbor
Gig Harbor labels itself Washington’s Maritime City. Located on Puget Sound, the harbor is rich in maritime history as commercial fishing and boat building played a large role in the area’s growth. Visit the Harbor History Museum for 7,000 square feet of exhibits on the Gig Harbor Peninsula. Additional historic attractions include the Eddon Boat Building and the Historic Gig Harbor Netsheds. Gig Harbor’s downtown waterfront offers restaurants, galleries and shops. Events take place nearly every month of the year including the annual Gig Harbor Beer Fest in May, Summer Arts Festival in July and December tree lighting and boat parade.
Gig Harbor, WA 98335
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Washington’s Bainbridge Island features fine food and unique local boutiques surrounded by the scenic vistas of the Pacific Northwest and opportunity for outdoor adventure on land and sea. Attractions include the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, the Baindbridge Performing Arts community theater, and the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. Lovers of the outdoors will enjoy the 150-acre Bloedel Reserve public garden and Islandwood, a 225-acre environmental education center. Shop the commercial districts along High School Road, Madison Avenue and Winslow Way for one of a kind finds and restaurants. The island is also home to several award-winning wineries, some with tasting rooms easily accessible from the Winslow ferry.
Bainbridge Island, WA 98110
Bellingham, Washington is located between the ocean and 100,00 acres of farmland. Top things to do in town include strolling the downtown arts district, enjoying the local craft beer scene, or taking off into the hills for mountain biking or outdoor adventure. Rent a bicycle for a ride along the South Bay Trail to Fairhaven from Bellingham, or cycle throughout the surrounding scenic roads and trails. Along the shoreline, enjoy bird watching from any of the Audubon Society’s six Bellingham area choice locations. Fish the Nooksack River or Bellingham Bay, or rent a kayak to explore the Salish Sea.
Bellingham, WA 98225
4. Castle Rock
Castle Rock is located at the western base of Mount St. Helens and is best known for its proximity to the famous 1980 eruption. Find antiques, collectibles and Mount St. Helens souvenirs in the quaint historic district alongside the Cowlitz River. An exhibit hall displays the history of the area through photographs. An inscribed stone at the Harry R. Truman Memorial Park memorializes the owner of the Mount St. Helens Lodge who refused to leave his land when evacuation orders were announced. Truman, not to be confused with the U.S. President, was a local hero who perished under the volcanic flow but is remembered for his love of the area.
Castle Rock, 98611
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5. Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park
King County, Washington’s Cougar Mountain Regional Wildland Park protects over 3,000 acres of wilderness and is connected to the nearby Squak Mountain State Park by way of the Cougar-Squak Corridor. Together, the parks span over 5,000 acres at an elevation of nearly 1,600 feet. Claypit Peak, at 1,560 is the highest peak within the park. Enjoy 35 miles of trails through wetlands, streams and old-growth forests. Hike to views of Lake Sammamish, Bellevue and the Cascade Mountains. Some trails allow horseback riding; mountain biking is not allowed. Park facilities include parking and picnic areas.
18201 SE Cougar Mountain Dr, Renton, WA 98059, Phone: 425-643-5306
6. Desolation Peak Trail
Desolation Peak Trail is located in the North Cascades National Park. The Desolation Peak Trail is popular with boaters staying near Ross Lake or anyone looking for a challenging day hike. The trail is accessed by boat from Ross Lake, or via the park’s East Bank Trail. One-way distance to Lightning Creek is just over 3 miles for an easy hike. From Lightning Creek, the 7,7 mile distance is rated strenuous, with an elevation gain of close to 5,000 feet. Summer hikers should remember there are no consistent water sources along the trail, so it’s imperative to bring plenty of water in the hot dry months.
810 State Route 20, Sedro-Woolley, WA 98284, Phone: 360-854-7200
7. Green Lake Trail
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Mount Rainier National Park’s Green Lake Trail is a 10 mile round trip journey through old growth forests to a breathtaking waterfall. The kid friendly trail is accessible by foot or bicycle. The hike begins in the Carbon River Valley before climbing just over 1,300 feet to a small lake at the base of Tolmie Peak. A thick canopy of forest keeps the trail mostly shaded on hot days. On the way to Ranger Falls, ranked the most beautiful in the Carbon River Valley, you’ll pass trees over 800 years old. The triple tiered falls drop for 170 feet and the view from the trail is unobstructed. Green Lake itself is located at an elevation of 3,100 feet at the top of the trail.
Carbon River Area, Mount Rainier National Park, Phone: 360-569-2211
8. Hood River
Hood River is located where the Cascade Mountains and the Columbia River Gorge intersect and is an outdoor adventurer’s paradise. The windsurfing capital of the world, Hood River is now a favorite of kite surfers, offers miles of hiking and biking trails, wineries, craft breweries, and farm-to-table dining. Visit the downtown historic district for shopping, art galleries, outdoor recreation outfitters and over 30 restaurants. The 35-mile Hood River Fruit Loop is a scenic drive past several orchards, farms and agricultural communities. Get out on the water with Hood River Water Play, the area’s top outfitter for kayak, SUP, or sailing rentals.
Hood River, Oregon 97031
9. La Conner
La Conner, Washington is among the state’s most romantic getaway destinations. The beautiful agricultural area is located on the shores of the Salish Sea and is home to a charming marina and miles of scenic farmland. Museums in the area include MoNA, the Museum of Northwest Art and the Pacific Northwest Quilt & Fiber Arts Museum. Take a walking tour of the town’s outdoor sculpture, or historic landmarks. Founded in the 1860’s, La Conner is the area’s oldest non-native community. Shop Morris and First Streets for unique locally crafted gifts. The area offers several galleries, interspersed with restaurants and bars. Enjoy fresh seafood along the waterfront at the La Conner Seafood & Prime Rib House. Visit the Pioneer Market for casual dining, homemade goods, even hardware supplies.
La Conner, WA 98257
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Leavenworth began as a 19th century lumber town. When the logging business was depleted and the railroad was rerouted from town, area leaders gathered with a plan. In the 1960’s the town was completely renovated to resemble a Bavarian village of the Black Forest. A series of festivals were created to further draw visitors to town, including the Autumn Leaf Festival, Maifest and the Christmas Lighting Festival. Now a top tourist destination, millions walk the streets each year enjoying the local food and beer, wine tasting, spas, and outdoor recreation in an area that closely resembles the Bavarian Alps.
Leavenworth, WA 98826
11. Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument
The Mount Saint Helens National Park surrounds the infamous Washington State volcano which last erupted in 1980. Volcano watching is the most popular activity at the park, and can be done by climbing the volcano, hiking the nearby trails, or taking a helicopter tour. A limit of 100 guests per day may climb the volcano, and permits are required. The Johnston Ridge Observatory is managed by the US Forest Service and is located in the heart of the explosion zone. It offers exhibits and films on the history of the mountain and its eruptions. The nearby Forest Learning Center is primarily a gift shop, but also offers visitor information.
3029 Spirit Lake Hwy, Castle Rock, WA 98611, Phone: 360-449-7800
12. Mt. Baker
Mt. Baker is among the peaks of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. State Route 542, or the Mt. Baker Highway, is a scenic driving route that visitors can take past the small communities of the Mt. Baker foothills to Artist Point at an elevation of over 5,000 feet. The road’s final 24 miles are designated as a U.S. National Forest National Scenic Byway. Along the road, visit breweries, vineyards, farmlands and locally owned shops. Popular pit stops from Bellingham to the peak include the Nooksack waterfalls at mile 40 and Picture Lake at mile 55. The Glacier Public Service Center and the Heather Meadows Visitor Center Area are both official ranger offices for the national forest.
Mt. Baker, WA 98244, Phone: 800-695-7623
13. Ocean Shores
Ocean Shores is located on the jetty of Washington’s North Bay. The beach front destination offers Pacific Ocean waterfront to the west, with the protected North Bay waters to the east. Outdoor activities in the area include hiking the nature trails, beach-combing, and renting mopeds or go-carts. Bird watching is popular in this important migratory area. Natural areas include Damon Point and the North Jetty. At the Coastal Interpretative Center you’ll find displays on the area’s natural and cultural history. Enjoy waterfront dining for seafood or steaks, and visit the local Elk Head Brewery.
Ocean Shores, WA 98569
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Located at the southern end of Puget Sound, Olympia is the capitol of Washington state. The capitol campus includes the 1909 Governor’s mansion and the legislative building. Visit Percival Landing Park alongside the waterfront boardwalk to view the public art. At the Billy Frank Jr. Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge over 200 species of birds have been seen as they migrate through this crucial estuary habitat. Olympia is known for its excellent farm-to-table dining, handcrafted coffees, beers and desserts. The Olympia Farmer’s Market is the second largest in the state of Washington and offers everything from organic vegetables, fruits and meats, to fresh flowers and handmade crafts.
Olympia, WA 98501
15. Olympic National Park
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Washington state’s Olympic National Park is a designated International Biosphere Reserve and World Heritage Site. The park offers diverse natural beauty, opportunities for outdoor recreation and education. Day-trippers will enjoy hikes of varying lengths and difficulties, boating or fishing along Olympic’s many rivers and lakes, or the Pacific coast. Wildlife viewing is best at dawn and dusk and species include goats, bears, deer and elk, salmon, whales, and birds. There are four visitor centers and one ranger station within the park. The main Olympic National Park Visitor Center displays exhibits on natural and cultural history, which includes the award-winning film, Mosaic of Diversity.
3002 Mount Angeles Road, Port Angeles, WA 98362, Phone: 360-565-3130
16. Port Townsend
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Port Townsend’s motto is “America’s coolest small town” and it just might be. The historical Victorian era village is located between the Salish Sea and Puget Sound. Port Townsend boomed in the early 19th century as a port town with a quickly growing waterfront commercial district. It’s now recognized as one of only three Victorian era seaports on the National Register of Historic Places. Explore the Jefferson Museum of Art and History or join one of their walking tours. The Fort Worden State Park is located at land’s end and offers beaches, open plains and wooded hills. The park is also home to the Centrum, a non-profit arts venue which draws thousands annually for performances and exhibits.
Port Townsend, WA 98368
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Portland, Oregon is just a three hour drive from Tacoma and offers an eclectic mix of experiences for every type of traveler. Portland’s top sites include the Lan Su Chinese Garden, a botanical delight based on Ming Dynasty style gardening. The International Rose Test Garden is the oldest public rose garden in the United States. In the hills above the Rose Garden is Portland’s Japanese Garden. The 12 acre space includes an authentic Japanese tea house. Try Portland’s famous Voodoo Doughnuts, have a cup of coffee from Stumptown Coffee Roasters, and browse the selection at Powell’s City of Books.
Portland, OR 97221
18. San Juan Islands
Washington state’s San Juan Islands are a cluster of islands in the Salish Sea known for their wildlife and classic Pacific Northwest natural landscapes. Orcas Islands, one of the largest, is home to an old growth forest and the Moran State Park. On San Juan Island, you’ll find Lime Kiln State Park and the seaside village of Friday Harbor. Orca whales are frequently spotted from a lookout within Lime Kiln. Lopez Island is home to the Spencer Spitz State Park and Lopez Village, where you’ll find quaint cafes and a historical museum. Get to the islands via ferry, water taxi or sea plane.
San Juan Islands, WA
Seattle is a hip urban city on Puget Sound, surrounded by the natural beauty of evergreen forests, water and mountains. Perhaps its most iconic landmark is the Space Needle, built for the 1962 World’s Fair. At Pike Place Market enjoy fresh food, drink, flowers and locally-made crafts. See the fish throwing at the world famous Pike Place Fish Market. Get to know the diverse neighborhoods of West Seattle and its beach vibes, Capitol Hill and its foodie restaurants, or the history and art of Pioneer Square. Outside of the urban core, enjoy thousands of acres of Seattle park land, or take a cruise through Puget Sound.
Snoqualmie is a hilly, rural region located just west of Seattle. The area is famous as the shooting location for the cult classic television show, Twin Peaks. Fans worldwide travel to Snoqualmie to see many of the show’s landmarks, such as the Great Northern Hotel, aka the Salish Lodge and Spa, and the Double R Diner, or Twedes Café. Snoqualmie Falls, however, is the area’s best known landmark. The breathtaking waterfall descends nearly 300 feet over granite cliffs
Not to be confused with its British Columbia namesake, Vancouver, Washington is south of Tacoma, just north of Portland. The waterfront city is located at the north shore of the Columbia River and offers history, culture, outdoor recreation, charming shops and a lively craft beer scene. Historic sites date back to the settlement of Fort Vancouver and the Native American fur trade. The Clark County Historical Museum gives an overview of the area’s past. Arts include the Vancouver Orchestra, a summer concert series at Esther Short Park, and June’s Recycled Art Festival. Vancouver is home to over 190 parks and the Ridgefield National Wildlife Refuge, for no shortage of outdoor enjoyment.
Vancouver, WA 98661
22. Vashon Island
Seattle’s Vashon Island is reached by ferry, and an easy trip from Tacoma. Many visitors consider the picturesque ferry ride among the highlights of their trip. Once on the island, Vashon offers simple one-lane roads, rural landscapes, ocean views and the sense of being completely removed from the urban Seattle landscape. KVI is the 37-square mile island’s only sandy beach. Bring a picnic, rent a kayak of enjoy beach-combing and fishing. Visit the iconic 1915 Point Robertson Lighthouse, surrounded by grassy planes and driftwood. It’s possible to circumnavigate the island by bicycle or car along a 25 mile route through the city and into the countryside past Misty Isle Farms.
Vashon Island, WA 98013
23. Whidbey Island
Washington state’s Whidbey and Camano islands are located just outside of Everett, north of Seattle. Enjoy outdoor activity such as hiking, fishing, or a visit to the area’s many beaches. In town, sample the various restaurants and shop independently owned local boutiques. Bass fishing takes place the island’s many lakes, while salmon and sturgeon are popular salt-water catches. With over 40 public oyster and clam beaches, you’ll see people clamming and crabbing along the shoreline when in season. Hike over 40 miles of trails, or rent a bicycle or kayak. In town, enjoy the many galleries full of work by local artists, inspired by the area’s natural landscape. Try mussels, clams or oysters at local restaurants, paired with local wines.
Whidbey Island, WA 98239
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Woodinville, Washington is a small agricultural town less than 2 hours north of Tacoma. Nestled in a picturesque river valley, the area is known for its high density of artisanal winemakers, craft brewers and distilleries. Enjoy wine tasting in the warehouse district, or take a chauffeured-driven tour of the many local wineries. Annual food and wine events include autumn’s Sammamish Valley Harvest Celebration and summer’s Chateau Ste. Michelle Concert Series. Are restaurants espouse the farm-to-table ethic, or visit the farms directly, many of which offer markets and harvest events. Recreational opportunities include kayaking, horseback riding, and a ropes course at the Adventura adventure park. For a more relaxing experience, spend the day at the highly rated Spa at Willows Lodge.
Woodinville, WA 98072
What are the 24 Best Day Trips from Tacoma?
The 24 Best Day Trips from Tacoma according to local experts are: