By Glenda Winders
Mention the state of Washington and people’s minds run to Seattle, with its Pike Place Market, mountain views, coffee culture, Space Needle and music scene. And yes, that’s all there for the taking. But after you’ve spent some time in this stunning city, move on to see what else the Evergreen State has to offer.
You don’t have to go far to get to Tacoma, another exciting city that’s so close to Seattle it shares the SeaTac Airport with its larger neighbor. Art is central here, which should come as no surprise; this is, after all, the hometown of internationally known glass artist Dale Chihuly.
“Tacoma is a waterfront city that has maintained its industrial heart as it has been transformed into a world-class arts destination with a focus on glass,” says Matt Wakefield, senior communications manager for Travel Tacoma. “Many of our artists use blowtorches, not paintbrushes.”
What to do
Should you drive into the city center via Interstate 705, you’ll pass under the Bridge of Glass, a 500-foot pedestrian bridge laden with Chihuly’s glass works. Designed by architect Arthur Andersson, the bridge is divided into three parts: the Seafoam Pavilion, a ceiling filled with 2,364 pieces of glass; the blue Crystal Towers, each of which contains 63 pieces of glass; and the Venetian Wall, filled with the artist’s pieces in a kind of open-air museum. At night, the bridge is beautifully lighted.
Inspired now to create some glass art of your own? Several studios teach hour-long, one-day or longer workshops on glassblowing, so visitors have extra-special souvenirs of their time in Tacoma. Some of the top studios are Area 253 Glassblowing Studio, Puget Sound Mobile Glassblowing and Tacoma Glassblowing Studio.
The Tacoma Museum District allows you to see six major museums within a short walk or a free ride on the Tacoma Link light rail. Check out the Tacoma Attractions Pass for the most economical way to see them all. Here you’ll find LeMay-America’s Car Museum, which, with a collection of more than 3,000 automobiles, motorcycles and trucks, is the largest automotive museum in North America. Also here are the Washington State History Museum, the Children’s Museum of Tacoma and the Foss Waterway Seaport, which celebrates the city’s rich maritime heritage. The Tacoma Art Museum provides all types of regional art from painting to pottery and, yes, glass. Then walk across the bridge to the Museum of Glass to take in more gorgeous pieces.
Ready to get outside? Tacoma is especially proud of Metro Parks Tacoma, which in 2019 won a gold medal from the National Recreation and Park Association and the American Academy for Park and Recreation Administration. The park system’s crown jewel is Point Defiance Park, 760 acres that include beaches, an old-growth forest, six botanical gardens and the only zoo-aquarium combination in the Pacific Northwest. Five Mile Drive will take you past all of the best attractions, or park and hike on a massive network of trails. Ruston Way Waterfront is another place to go for trails and beaches.
Where to eat
Tibbitts Fern Hill was recently named by Yelp as one of the 100 best places to eat in the United States. It’s a tiny, intimate space where the chef uses a basic oven and two single-burner butane camp stoves to come up with such dishes as the Lobster Bomb (champagne-soaked lobster, avocado, potatoes, sherried fennel, scrambled eggs and candied bacon topped with hollandaise and fresh greens), Salted Caramel Banana Pancakes and Chicken Cordon Brie Crepes.
Or try Wooden City, a hipster spot that serves upscale American food and wood-fired pizza along with creative cocktails and craft beers. For fine dining there’s Pacific Grill downtown, which specializes in Pacific Northwest fare, and you’ll want to have at least one meal on the waterfront, so head for Harbor Lights. It offers a wide selection of seafood, too, as well as other tempting items if you’re not in the mood for fish.
Where to stay
Hotel Murano is a glass-art-themed boutique hotel right downtown. From here you can walk to the museums or to the Tacoma Convention Center if you happen to be here on business. The Marriott Tacoma Downtown hotel, which will connect with the center by skybridge, is scheduled to open this summer.
The Silver Cloud Inn – Tacoma Downtown is currently the only waterfront hotel in town, but the company is set to open Silver Cloud Tacoma at Point Ruston Waterfront this year.
You can’t be in this corner of the state and not visit one of its most famous landmarks. And once you’ve arrived at Mount Rainier National Park and its surrounding communities, you’ll find a ton of fun outdoor activities to keep you busy.
“With 25 glaciers, over 150 waterfalls, miles of trails along alpine meadows and scenic drives through old-growth forests, it’s easy to understand no trip to Washington state is complete without a Mount Rainier experience,” says Meilee Anderson, marketing consultant for Visit Rainier.
What to do
The trails Anderson mentioned go for 260 miles and serve all levels of hikers. They will take you past wildflower-filled meadows, to crystalline lakes or to Silver Falls at Ohanapecosh, the most dramatic of the many falls in the park. At 93 miles, Wonderland Trail goes completely around the mountain and will take you several days to accomplish. Or walk at sunrise with a park ranger who will explain the spectacle you are seeing.
You’ll find 63 species of mammals in the park — among them bears, cougars and elk — as well as 16 species of amphibians, five species of reptiles and many birds. For more animal adventures, visit 725-acre Northwest Trek to board an off-road vehicle for an up-close encounter. They also have a ropes course, zip-lining and a 30-foot climbing wall. How about seeing the mountains at sunrise or sunset in a hot air balloon or a glider? Paddle-boarding on Alder Lake? Mountain biking and mountain running?
Or take in the temperate, moss-filled rainforest at Carbon River, have a picnic in one of the park’s four designated areas, go horseback riding. Star gaze at one of the visitors centers. Take a drive on either Chinook Byway or White Scenic Pass Byway for views of forests, mountain peaks and waterfalls without leaving your car. Travel 18 miles on the Mount Rainier Railroad, which will deliver you to a logging history museum. You can even arrange to ride up-front with the engineer and the fireman.
A gondola ride will take you to Crystal Mountain, where you can play 30 holes on a disc golf course, take a horseback ride or join a yoga class.
Where to eat
While you’re at Crystal Mountain enjoy a meal at Summit House, Washington’s highest-elevation restaurant at 6,872 feet; Old World gourmet cuisine and fine wines at Alpine Inn; or tapas, lunch and dinner at Kelly’s Restaurant and Lounge, where all ingredients are local and fresh. Back down the mountain head to Basecamp Bar and Grill, where you can work up your appetite for pizza, burgers and craft beer on a climbing wall. Copper Creek Inn offers seafood and steaks, and the Historic Mint serves 28 beers on tap. Griffin and Wells serves seasonal local fare with a gourmet touch. Wildberry Restaurant features American mountain cuisine as well as Himalayan dishes from Nepal. This seems like an unusual combination until you learn that the owner, Lhakpa Gelu Sherpa, holds the world record for being the fastest to climb Mount Everest. His wife, Fulamu Sherpa, is the chef.
For a traditional park meal, there’s National Park Inn, where you’ll find bourbon buffalo meatloaf, cedar plank red trout and homestyle pot roast. Those in the know say to save room for the legendary blackberry cobbler and ice cream. Another possibility is Paradise Inn, with its many windows for viewing the panorama of scenery outside. Its menu is similar to that at the National Park Inn, but the most popular meal is the Sunday brunch, which features a carving station, smoked salmon and fresh fruit, among other brunch favorites.
Where to stay
The National Park Inn and Paradise Inn also offer lodging, and so do three hotels atop Crystal Mountain: the Alpine Inn, the Village Inn and the Quicksilver. Nearby the park are lots of other choices with names and amenities that scream “charm.” The Hobo Inn is actually a string of rail cabooses from all over the world. Stormking Cabins offer yurt-style accommodations, each with its own hot tub, and Deep Forest Cabins are tucked thoughtfully into the forest for absolute privacy. Coming with a group? Check out Jimmy Beech House, which has been newly remodeled with accessibility in mind, or Wonderland Lodge that sleeps nine. The Overlook has three bedrooms. River View Cabin sleeps six and comes with a hot tub and — true to its name — gorgeous views.
Whittaker’s Bunkhouse was built to accommodate loggers but now has private rooms as well as a shared hostel area. Nisqually Lodge boasts of “rustic splendor” and will send you on your way each morning with a hot breakfast. Little Bears Cabin welcomes your pets. And the list goes on, with small towns on the park’s periphery ready to put you up for the night, whether you’re looking for a house to rent, a cozy chalet or a full-on hotel.
SAN JUAN ISLANDS
If instead of lots of options to see and do, you come to Washington to get away from the noise and busyness of daily life, the San Juan Islands will prove to be just the place.
“It’s easy to be seduced by ‘San Juan Islands time’ in a place without bridges, malls or stoplights,” says Barbara Marrett, communications manager for the San Juan Islands Visitors Bureau. “It’s a place to regain health and perspective with fresh foods, hiking, biking and forest-bathing.”
What to do
Getting there will be part of the fun. You can fly directly from the SeaTac airport or bundle your trip with a whale-watching experience and fly from downtown Seattle on the Whale Plane. Take a ferry from Seattle or go by bus, train, shuttle or car to Anacortes and enjoy the four-hour ferry ride to the islands.
The Washington State Ferry serves all four of the main islands: Orcas, San Juan, Lopez and Shaw. Shaw has no amenities for visitors but makes a great place for a bicycling day trip. Orcas is home to Mount Constitution, a part of Moran State Park, which offers 38 miles of walking and hiking trails. This is the most densely forested of the islands, where you’ll find the epicenter of the local slow-food movement as well as an oyster farm, an organic preserves maker, a vineyard, distillery and brewery. Enjoy some of the food and libations, then explore the galleries for pieces by the artists who live here.
Friday Harbor on San Juan Island is the most happening place in the islands. The ferry lands here, and then it’s an easy walk to the Whale Museum, the San Juan Islands Museum of Art, and the San Juan Historical Museum and Museum of History and Industry. Art abounds here, too, with the new San Juan Islands Museum of Art, the San Juan Islands Sculpture Park, San Juan Community Theatre and Island Stage Left, which performs Shakespeare under the stars. Studio tours and seasonal markets add to the pleasure of shopping for locally made objects. This is also where you’ll connect with all kinds of tours: whale- and wildlife-watching, zip-lining, kayaking and the shuttle bus that will take you around the island.
Two lighthouses surrounded by extensive waterfront parklands provide more outdoor fun. Lime Kiln Lighthouse is located in Lime Kiln Point State Park, also known as Whale Watch Park, because it is a great place to watch whales from the shore. San Juan Island National Historical Park has two parts, English Camp and American Camp, on opposite sides of the island. This is where troops were stationed during the bloodless “Pig War” in which the United States and England squabbled over the border between Vancouver Island and Washington in the 19th century.
Lopez is the quietest of the islands. There’s no public transportation, but bicycles, which are available for rent, provide a great way to get around. Hitchhiking is also a possibility. This is the most rural and agricultural of the islands, so your bicycle will take you past century-old farmhouses as well as sheep and cattle grazing along the road. San Juan Islands National Monument offers hiking along waterfront and inland trails and camping at state and county parks. Visit seals and sea lions at Shark Reef Park or explore the tide pools at Agate Beach Park. You will also find a few art galleries and an eclectic mix of shops.
Where to eat
Orcas Island is all about fresh: Try the Inn at Ship Bay for a farm-to-table menu that includes island-raised Mangalitsa pork. Doe Bay Café at Doe Bay Resort puts the emphasis on vegetables, serving food from its organic garden, and The Kitchen uses fresh local ingredients to create a cuisine with a pan-Asian flair.
On San Juan Island there’s Tops’l Seafood and Sushi and Madrona Bar and Grill for locally made pasta and small plates. Duck Soup Inn serves dishes such as curried goat and mushroom lentil pate in a country setting by a pond, and Market Chef serves fresh, local food and is open only for lunch.
Start your day on Lopez Island with cinnamon rolls and other bakery items from Holly B’s Bakery, a favorite with visiting boaters. Haven Kitchen and Bar is on the waterfront, and Setsuni Noodle Bar makes its own pasta. Chef Nick Coffey at Ursa Minor works closely with local farmers, fishermen and foragers to create dining adventures that change with the seasons.
Where to stay
Rosario Resort on Orcas Island is on the grounds of a historic mansion, which houses the bar and restaurant. Also here are organ recitals and history talks most days in the summer. Waterview rooms and suites are located on the property as well as indoor and outdoor pools and a spa. Kingfish Inn also has water-view rooms and a chef in the dining room. At Pebble Cove Farm you can collect your eggs for breakfast and pick from an organic garden. Outlook Inn in the village of Eastsound offers lodgings that vary from a historic hotel to luxury waterfront suites and has an excellent restaurant.
Roche Harbor Resort on San Juan Island also offers a variety of lodging choices, from luxury suites to miners’ cabins, and hosts an artists village in the summer. Tucker House B&B is a collection of bungalows and rooms in downtown Friday Harbor where the owners make excellent breakfasts. Earthbox Inn is a retro motor inn that will lend beach-cruiser bikes to use while you’re staying there.
On Lopez Island look for Lopez Farm Cottages and the camping and glamping sites it offers, which are dotted around a meadow. Lopez Islander is family-friendly and has a waterfront restaurant. Edenwild Boutique Inn on Lopez Island was built in 1989 by actor Tom Skerritt and is now operated by a young family.
We leave you with one final thought
Washington is second only to California in wine production, so you might want to do some wine-tasting while you’re in the state. If you drive to Anacortes to catch the ferry, you’ll pass Woodinville, which is home to some 90 wineries. Head for the Warehouse District, where you can walk to 40 wineries within one mile. The Hollywood Schoolhouse area has 20 and Woodinville Road many others. Stop on your way out for something to enjoy while you’re in the islands or on your way back to the airport for a Washington memory to enjoy at home.