With the arrival of Memorial Day weekend comes the unofficial start of summer. If it took you unawares, don’t worry: there is still time to plan a fun-filled getaway. Thanks to the many incredible destinations surrounding Seattle, it’s easy to take a spur-of-the-moment day trip that doesn’t require weeks of advance planning, hours and hours of driving, or even overnight lodging. Many of these destinations can be reached by ferry, train, or other forms of public transportation so you don’t have to worry about directions and parking.
Whether you’re in the mood for solitude in nature, the hustle and bustle of a city, or some small-town charm and friendliness, there’s a day trip here for you.
Here are our top ten destinations that you can visit from Seattle in a single day:
1. Vashon Island
Vashon Island is a peaceful paradise stuck in time. Adjacent to Seattle, it has no connection to the mainland. The only way to get to Vashon is by ferry or boat. Once you’re there, the stress of the city will melt away as you enjoy the restorative balm of nature and small-town living.
Getting there: It takes about 20 minutes to get to Vashon via the Fauntleroy ferry in West Seattle. You can walk onto the ferry or drive on. It is important to note that it’s easiest to get around the island with a car or a bike. Also keep in mind that the ferry is first-come-first-served and there can be a long line on weekends.
Things to do: Although Vashon enjoys a slower pace of living, there is plenty of fun and exploring to be had there. For food, drink, galleries, and shopping, check out the downtown hub of the island. (Just follow Vashon Highway SW from the ferry terminal for five miles—you’ll know you’re downtown when you start passing through the cluster of shops and eateries). You’ll also find several wineries and breweries on the island if you’re in the mood for a tasting or two. Head over to the connected Maury Island to see the historic Point Robinson Lighthouse. Hot tip: If you visit in July, you can catch the highly-anticipated annual Strawberry Festival. The 2022 Strawberry Festival in Vashon runs from July 15-17 so mark your calendar now.
2. Bainbridge Island
Bainbridge Island is the better-known version of Vashon. You’ll find the same peaceful expanse of nature, but perhaps a little bit more to do.
Getting there: The easiest way to get to Bainbridge Island is by taking the 35-minute ferry from downtown Seattle. You can walk on or bring your car or bike. Alternatively, you can drive to the island: there is a bridge that connects Bainbridge to the Kitsap Peninsula on the north end.
Things to do: There’s something for everyone on Bainbridge. If you’re in search of culture, there are several fascinating museums to explore. There are gorgeous beaches, parks, and hiking trails for the outdoorsy set. If you’d like to leave with a few souvenirs, there’s plenty of shopping to do. And, of course, Bainbridge is known for its cuisine. Be sure to visit one of its stellar restaurants or wineries. If you just want someone else to set the itinerary for you, consider signing up for Tour Bainbridge.
3. San Juan Islands
The San Juan Islands are an archipelago with three main islands: San Juan Island, Orcas Island, and Lopez Island. All three of these islands are served by ferries and offer plenty of tourist attractions, particularly seasonal whale watching. The hardest part will be narrowing it down to just one day’s worth of activities. Luckily their visitors’ website has a handy info page just for day-trippers.
Getting there: From Seattle to any one of the three main islands, you can take the Washington State Ferry from Anacortes or take a scheduled Kenmore Air flight. If you’re heading to San Juan Island, you have two additional options of either taking a Friday Harbor Seaplane or riding the Victoria Clipper from Pier 69.
Things to do: Your itinerary depends largely on which island you plan to explore. Orcas Island is the largest of the three and offers plenty of outdoor recreation. To make the best of your day trip, follow the Scenic Byway. On San Juan Island you can follow the Scenic Byway and explore the historic harbors, marinas, and lighthouses, as well as lavender and alpaca farms. Lopez Island is the most rural, slow-paced of the three, which makes it the ideal choice if you just want to relax and enjoy the quiet. Take your car or bike along the scenic main road to Lopez Village to find quaint shops and restaurants, or book a wildlife or recreation tour for the day.
Sometimes you want to get away from your city but you’re not an outdoorsy person. In that case, why not refresh your scenery by visiting a different city? Tacoma is a short drive away from Seattle so it’s easy to go and spend a day sightseeing, finish up with a nice dinner, and be back home well before midnight.
Getting there: From Seattle, take I-5 S for about 40 minutes. There are also public transportation options. You can take a bus, train, or ferry to Tacoma from Seattle; see the details here.
Things to do: Tacoma is a great place to visit if you love breweries, farm-to-table cuisine, and waterfront dining. If you love to shop, swing by the section of downtown called Antiques Row that is dedicated to antique and vintage sellers. Immerse yourself in culture by visiting the Theater District or the Museum District. Tacoma is also known for its glass art. The Chihuly Bridge of Glass is a must-see.
5. Snoqualmie Falls
The above scene may be familiar to you if you’ve ever watched the popular TV show Twin Peaks. The Snoqualmie Falls is one of Washington State’s most famous attractions, with 1.5 million annual visitors.
Getting there: Snoqualmie Falls is only 29 miles from downtown Seattle. It is easiest to get there by car.
Things to do: Once you’ve checked out the view of the 270-foot falls via the observation deck, you can explore the gift shop and go on a hike through the two-acre park. There is also dining and entertainment at the nearby Snoqualmie Casino. If you make an appointment ahead of time, you can enjoy the many relaxing amenities at the spa at the Salish Lodge.
This coastal city near the Canadian border is known for its waterfront port, breweries, and outdoor recreation. If you love kayaking, you should know that Bellingham was named “Best Paddling Destination in the US” by Outside Magazine.
Getting there: It takes about an hour and a half to drive to Bellingham from Seattle. You can also take a train via Amtrak.
Things to do: Beaches, scenic hiking trails, and outdoor adventures are plentiful in Bellingham. Alternatively you can sign up for the Culture Crawl quest and visit a series of galleries, museums, and theaters. And, of course, be sure to indulge in the many delicious restaurants and breweries in Bellingham.
7. Whidbey Island
Considered one of the better-kept secrets in the Puget Sound, the 50-mile long Whidbey Island is essentially a collection of small, charming harbor towns.
Getting there: To get to Whidbey Island, take a 20-minute ferry from the Mukilteo ferry terminal north of Seattle. You can also drive about two hours north of Seattle and get to Whidbey by crossing the Deception Pass Bridge.
Things to do: One of the most iconic attractions on Whidbey Island is the Deception Pass Bridge. Be sure to walk across and take in the awe-inspiring view. You can also go hiking, kayaking, or take one of the many Whidbey Island tours. Once you’ve worked up an appetite, there are lots of charming island eateries and breweries waiting to serve you.
Everyone in Seattle knows about Leavenworth (if you don’t, you must be new here). This Bavarian-styled village in the Cascade Mountains is typically most popular in the fall and winter months, but it is bustling year-round.
Getting there: Leavenworth is about a two-hour drive from Seattle. There is also a three-hour long Amtrak train ride that you can take if you prefer not to drive.
Things to do: There is so much to do in Leavenworth and in the surrounding area, whether you’re a foodie, an outdoor adventurer, or a connoisseur of wine and craft beer. You can have hours of fun simply by strolling through the charming Old-World Bavarian village that is packed with German restaurants and quaint shops, plus the famous Nutcracker Museum. There is also easy access to skiing, white water rafting, and more outdoor recreation.
9. Victoria, B.C.
Known as the City of Gardens, Victoria is the capitol of British Columbia and is beloved for its natural beauty and outdoor recreation. Although it would be ideal to make a full weekend out of it, you can take advantage of the day trip schedule offered by Clipper Vacations.
Getting there: You can take the Clipper Vacation Ferry from Seattle to get to Victoria; the trip takes just under three hours. If you prefer to fly, you can book a flight with Kenmore Air.
Things to do: Be sure to visit Craigdarroch Castle, the Royal BC Museum, Fisherman’s Wharf, Butchart Gardens, and the Parliament Buildings (open to the public for free tours). For food and drink, stroll along Inner Harbor; for shopping, visit historic Government Street. Finally, afternoon tea at the Fairmont Empress Hotel is a century-old tradition that you can enjoy during the summer months.
10. Mount Rainier National Park
You can’t live in Washington state and not visit Mount Rainier National Park at least once. One of the oldest and most visited national parks, it boasts waterfalls, fields full of wildflowers, and an inland rainforest.
Getting there: From Seattle, it takes about two hours to drive to the southwest Nisqually entrance of Mount Rainier National Park. You can also arrange shuttle service ahead of time, which is ideal for larger groups or those without a car. The easiest way to do a day trip to the park, however, is by booking a tour. These ten-hour tours will pick you up in downtown Seattle and then guide you through some of the highlights of the park, including Christine Falls, the Nisqually River, and Narada Falls.
Things to do: Other than the obvious activity of hiking, there are lots of ways to experience the beauty of Mount Rainier National Park. You can zipline through the forest, take a scenic gondola ride, go back in time to the Pioneer Farm Museum, or take in stunning 360-degree views on Suntop Lookout.