Sometimes we get so locked into the idea of a dream trip being far away that we ignore the stunning beauty here at home. There’s so much to see in this country, you don’t always have to cross continents to satiate your wanderlust.
Washington State is one of the most diverse geographical areas on the planet. From pebble-covered beaches to mossy rainforests; from craggy mountains to one of the most “liveable” cities on earth — this place feels like its own little planet. A planet where seafood is revered, weed is legal, and sweeping views are the norm.
Here are nine things to consider as you ponder taking a trip:
Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park may just be the most spectacular and unique national park in the country. It’s definitely the only one that doesn’t have a road cutting through it — get ready to hike in. That makes a huge difference in the amount and type of tourist you get there (I’m looking at you street-clothes-wearing in nature, yoga-posing “travelers” snapping Instagram photos).
The park also boasts four separate regional zones: coastal, high alpine, dry forest, and the world’s densest temperate rainforest. There are no ski resorts. There are no regular resorts. Just wilderness, trails, ancient forests, lakes, streams, meadows, beaches, abundant wildlife, and glacier-plated mountain peaks. You can truly find peace and solace in these mountains.
San Juan Islands
The San Juans are teeming with wildlife, farmer’s markets, vineyards, breweries, and some of the planet’s friendliest locals. You can go high-end and stay in a resort, or just pull up to a beach and camp on the sand. Rent a boat and try to spot orcas. Worried about carbon emissions, then rent a kayak and paddle with the orcas. The San Juans are in the rain shadow of the Olympic Mountains, so they receive far more days of sun than the Puget Sound, which means a lot less rain on your tent. Between the camping and access to marine life, the San Juans are also a great place to take the kids. They can eat locally made ice cream while parents drink locally brewed beer.
Note: The San Juans also boast the largest concentration of bald eagles in the continental U.S. So, America, f*ck yeah!
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Columbia River Gorge
The canyon formed by the Columbia River flowing toward the Pacific is 4,000 feet deep and 80 miles long. What’s amazing is that in those 80 miles you cross dry forests and temperate rainforests and end up in dry grasslands and eventually desert, all within a 90 minute drive of each other. With Oregon and I-84 on the southern side of the Gorge, it’s more pleasant to take Highway 14 on the north side. The Gorge has been inhabited for over 13,000 years. You can see ancient Native American hieroglyphs and stop at vineyards along the canyon slopes. Plus, if you’re sober enough, you can always pop over to the Oregon side of the river and go to even more wineries and breweries in great towns like Hood River.
Also, mention “The Gorge” to any windsurfer or kitesurfer and they’ll lose their godd*mn minds. It’s one of the best spots on the planet due to the canyon’s tunneling effect.
Most people who love food, also love seafood — and Washington’s fresh seafood is a huge selling point. Salmon is probably what people most associate with Washington seafood, and that’s fair. Have you tried the smoked salmon chowder at Ivar’s? Dungeness crabs, Hama Hama oysters, prawns, shrimp, sea urchin, halibut, white sturgeon, steelhead, clam, razor clams, gooey ducks?
This is still the sort of place where the ocean is like a supermarket (and unlike so many places on Earth, the shelves aren’t bare yet). You can eat great seafood in dive bars on the Hood Canal, or in a Tom Douglas restaurant in Seattle. You like to fish? Want to go clamming in the mud flats? You can do that too!
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We’re not talking Southern fried chicken. Washington is all about the down-and-dirty, buy-it-in-a-gas-station, or tavern, Broasted Chicken and Jo-Jos. In the grey and green woods of Western Washington there is a pretty hearty tradition of battering eight pieces of chicken, battering some large potato wedges, and throwing the whole lot in a broaster. Once it’s cooked to crispy perfection, you’ll be eating some of the moistest and most flavorsome chicken this side of the Mighty Mississippi. Don’t forget to get a side of garlic-y sour cream and chive dipping sauce, and you’re set.
There are numerous taverns that do only this to accompany their beer–no burgers, no pizza, just broasted chicken and jos. If you’re in Seattle, then hit up Howell Street Grocery. It’s divine.
Seattle has the oldest continuously running “farmer’s market” in the country. And it’s pretty fun, even when it’s full of tourists. Where else can you get fresh Dungeness crab or prawn salad, fresh uni, oyster shooters and smoked salmon bellies in your hand for all under $5 each? That’s not to mention the great farmer’s markets you get in the San Juans, or Port Townsend, or Vashon Island — though, they too are awesome.
This is the land of artisanal cheeses, local ciders, beers and wines, smoked and cured meats, and veggies still covered in farm-dirt. In summer, you can find huge fruit and veg stalls off the I-90, Highway 2, Highway 12, and the I-82. If you arrive in SeaTac and are heading over the mountains to the east, you’ll start seeing huge signs for FRUIT and VEGETABLES along the road. Stop. At. These. Places. You can get cases of freshly picked peaches, apples, hops, grapes, and a massive abundance of other produce. All fresh. All picked from the farm literally surrounding the barn you will be standing in.
Want to source a specific hop for your next home brew, but don’t want to pay shipping, handling, and middle man fees? Go to Eastern Washington. Most of the fruit, vegetables, and grains are sold in bulk. And generally it’s far cheaper than your local supermarket. Plus, you get the added benefit of meeting the people who actually grow and handle your food.
Washington is the second largest wine producing region in the U.S., ranked behind California — with some 31,000 acres devoted to grapes. Over 850 wineries produce bottles every year in 13 geographical locations across the state. Eastern Washington has the perfect climate for growing grapes in what’s called the Rain Shadow. This is a weather system that is created when the clouds loose all their moisture as they ascend over the Cascade Mountains, which means sh*t-tons of rain for the Puget Sound, but perfect grape growing weather for the leeward side of the mountains. Rieslings and Cabs are the most widely grown varieties. However, almost all varieties of grapes are grown somewhere in Washington’s wildly diverse landscape.
There are 275 breweries in a state with nearly half the population of Los Angeles, ranking Washington second in the U.S. for craft breweries, again, behind only California. Seventeen new breweries were licensed last year alone. But the majority of Washington’s breweries make very small batches, and rarely ship their beer across state lines. So you gotta go to them.
Incidentally, the Yakima Valley also grows 77 percent of ALL the hops used in the U.S. beer market. So if you want to source some fine hops for your home brew, Washington is the place to go. Between 2013-2015, the state added another 5,000 acres to its ever expanding fields of hops. So the varieties available are truly staggering.
You can legally purchase and consume marijuana in Washington State. So…yeah.
Seattle also hosts The Hempfest. This all around chilled out event regularly draws in over 250,000 people along the beach in Seattle. When it was founded in 1991, it drew a crowd of 500 people who wanted legal marijuana. Eventually, they won.
Now, you can eat great food, drink and smoke to your heart’s content while listening to a show on one of the many stages. You can also experience the end of the drug war first hand (hyperbole alert!) by hitting up a cannabis shop and buying legal, recreational products. Just don’t toke and drive.