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Washington, in the north-western extremity of the United States bordered by Canada and the Pacific Ocean, offers a unique opportunity for visitors to blend the fun of a vibrant city vacation with an exciting wilderness experience, all within a relatively short distance of each other.
In the scenically set young city of Seattle, hugging the shores of the Puget Sound, high-tech attractions both educate and entertain at the foot of the city's famous landmark, the soaring Space Needle. It is just a step from the waterfront of this dynamic metropolis onto a ferry, which transports you to the wild windswept Pacific beaches, or the emerald green islands of the Sound.
Travel inland to explore national parks, three within easy reach of Seattle, most set around the peaks of the volcanic Cascades Mountains and sporting forests, rivers, lakes and glaciers. In summer the green western wilderness areas draw thousands of hikers, climbers and cyclists, while in winter the skiers head for the slopes.
The north-eastern part of the state, across the barrier of the Cascades Mountains, is desert-like with warm, dry air and a landscape befitting the gateway to the Rocky Mountains. The southeast is carpeted with wheat fields and dotted with historic towns while the central Columbia River Plateau is a rugged area, sculpted by glaciers and ice age flooding, characterised now by wheat fields, lakes, and orchards. Washington is a diverse and beautiful state that can truly claim to offer something for everyone.
The busting Pike Place Farmers Market in downtown Seattle has provided the local people with producer-priced goods for decades. Today, more than 100 farmers and fishmongers continue the tradition, with a focus on local and organic food. They're joined by more than 150 local craftsmen and artists, along with street performers, dozens of restaurants and numerous speciality shops. Interestingly, the world's first Starbucks coffee shop opened here in 1971, and is still brewing up its famous beverage on the original site. At the north end of the market, Victor Steinbrueck Park provides a popular grassy place to lounge in the sun. Events are hosted at the market, such as the May Flower Fest Market and Sunset Supper at the Market.
Anyone who has seen a picture of the Seattle skyline will be familiar with Seattle's internationally recognised symbol, the futuristic Space Needle. Visitors can get to the top of the historic landmark using one of the elevators that travel at ten miles an hour, reaching the observation deck within 43 seconds. Visitors can ascend the 607ft (185m) building as far as a revolving observation deck 520ft (158m) above the city, where high-powered telescopes are positioned to allow you to pick out the city sights. There is a revolving restaurant on top of the tower that allows visitors to take in every part of the panoramic views while enjoying a meal.
Housed in a bizarre building at the base of the Space Needle is one of Seattle's most popular attractions, the Museum of Pop Culture. Its exhibit on Jimi Hendrix features artefacts associated with the rock legend, remaining the biggest drawcard at the museum. Other collections include the general history of American popular music, and another dedicated to Seattle's other famous musician, Kurt Cobain. Displays range from the first electric guitars to interactive rooms where visitors try their hands on turntables or playing instruments. A Science Fiction Hall of Fame honours the lives, works and ongoing legacies of some of the world's most influential science fiction writers, amongst them Ridley Scott, George Lucas and H.G. Wells. The museum is also the venue for numerous concerts.
Jonathon Borofsky's massive steel kinetic sculpture Hammering Man stands outside the Seattle Art Museum. And what sits within are ranges of exhibits covering European and American art, from ancient art to contemporary pieces. Currently the museum has over 23,000 pieces, with recent acquisitions of artists like Graves, Trabellesi and Hokusai. Free guided tours of the different collections are offered. The museum has a focus on collecting and exhibiting art from around the world, covering many cultures and time periods including Mesoamerican art and Aboriginal Art. The Asian Art Museum is affiliated to the original and is located at 1400 East Prospect Street, filled with Asian art from as far back as the 2nd century, while the Olympic Sculpture Park is a permanent outdoor exhibition of sculptures, including Eye Benches I, Father and Son and Schubert Sonata.
South of downtown, the district of Pioneer Square features more than 20 blocks of historic buildings, galleries and a great nightlife. The Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park recalls the days when Seattle was a jumping off point for hopefuls heading for the goldfields. Another visitor favourite is the unique Underground Tour, taking in the sunken storefronts of the original 'Skid Road' where timber used to be slid down to the steam-powered mills on the shores of Elliott Bay. On the first Thursday of every month, all art galleries and museums remain open for the evening, serving snacks and drinks and allowing visitors to mingle and visit while looking at the artwork on display.
The Museum of Flight consists of a six-story glass and steel construction, which was the original Boeing factory and used to be one of the mainstays of Seattle's economy. It covers the entire history of flight right up to the space programme. Inside is a collection of more than 130 aircraft, including a replica of the Wright Brothers' first glider and the original Air Force One used by Eisenhower. Other acquisitions include a British Airways Concorde and NASA's Full Fuselage Trainer. Temporary exhibitions keep things interesting, while restoration work on various aircraft is constantly ongoing at the museum, with 2 to 4 new acquisitions every year and about twelve aircraft being worked on at any one time.
About an hour's drive into the Cascades Mountains east of Seattle is the resort of Snoqualmie Falls, where the Salish Lodge and Spa is famous for having been the setting for many scenes from the hugely popular television series, Twin Peaks. The dramatic falls plunge 270 feet (82m) down a precipice into a pool of deep blue water. There are several hiking trails in the area and picnic sites with a view of the waterfall. Snoqualmie also contains four ski slopes: Alpental, Snoqualmie Summit, Ski Acres and Hyak. In the town of Snoqualmie is the Northwest Railway Museum and the historic Snoqualmie Valley Railroad, which runs steam train trips to North Bend between May and October.
One of the oldest national parks in the United States, Mount Rainier National Park was founded to preserve the lofty volcano. Known to Native Americans as Tahoma, its snow-capped peak draws thousands of climbers every year and can be seen from Seattle, some 90 miles (145km) away. The rest of the park is home to beautiful wilderness and gorgeous natural wonders, with plentiful spring wildflowers. There are five areas in the park for visitors to stay, each with a different level of development, some with basic campsites and others with extensive living centres. There are also several ranger-led activities throughout the year, such as guided snowshoe walks in the winter.
One Sunday morning in May 1980, Mount St Helens erupted, causing a massive landslide, devastating a vast area of forest and killing 57 people. The volcano continued erupting intermittently for six years but has not erupted again since. The area lies about 168 miles (271km) south of Seattle, preserved as the Mount St Helens National Volcanic Monument. Visitors are plentiful during the summer months, enjoying activities like walks and amphitheatre presentations, while in winter the mountain slopes provide cross-country ski and snowmobile trails. Climbers take on the journey to the crater rim and five visitor centres operate on State Road 504 on the west side of the mountain, providing information about the volcano and the environment.
Located on the waterfront, the Seattle Aquarium provides a window into the amazing marine life of the Pacific. The Underwater Dome is one of the largest exhibits, providing 360 degree views of creatures like sharks, sturgeons and skates while Marine Mammals features cute seals and sea otters. Touch pools contain animals like sea stars and urchins while live dive shows take place three times a day. Other exhibits at the Seattle Aquarium are Life Of A Drifter, Puget Sound Fish and Tropical Pacific. The aquarium has a big focus on environmentalism, taking care to educate visitors about marine conservation, while also hosting events for kids and Halloween.
A quintessential part of Seattle, ferrying is a culture and way of life to its residents with many commuting to work across the Union Lake and Elliot Bay areas. If possible, try to plan sight-seeing of the city around several ferry trips going from point to point, allowing for maximum sightseeing. Trips to local attractions like the San Juan Islands and Victoria in nearby Canada are on offer. But be sure to remember a passport and any other necessary and valid travel documents before embarking on a ferry ride to Victoria.
High on the cliffs above the Columbia River, the Gorge is one of the best music venues in the country. A 25,000 seater stage sits along a natural ravine and crowds are privy to both stunning views and the biggest acts. Visitors usually spend the night at Gorge campground in front of the venue so it's best to pack your own food and gear. Here, all manners of cars, campers and simple tents are scattered across for an often rowdy night of celebration. It also hosts the annual Sasquatch Festival each May.
Located in Green Lake, the Woodland Park Zoo is a great place to take the kids for a day out exploring and meeting the animals. Kids will love the African elephants, Arctic foxes, sloth bears and red pandas or snowy owls, Chilean flamingos and golden eagles. There's also a fantastic variety of invertebrates such as spiders and butterflies, with over 1,100 animals from more than 300 species included in the zoo's collection. The animals' enclosures are carefully landscaped to include all kinds of interesting exotic plant life, and there is also a rose garden for peaceful strolling if the animals get to be a bit too much.
The climate in Washington varies across the state from east to west, and the state is divided both geographically and climatically by the Cascade Mountain range. The western part of Washington tends to be mild and humid, and is one of the world's rainiest areas, while the eastern region is cooler and drier with a more continental type of climate, experiencing hot summers and cold winters. Western Washington often experiences heavy cloud cover, fog and drizzle, and although summers tend to be sunny, they are milder than in the east. In the western area, average temperatures in summer can range from 44°F (7°C) on the slope of the Western Cascade Mountains (which experience some of the heaviest snowfall in the US) to 80°F (27°C) in the foothills, while winter temperatures range from 20°F (-7°C) on the western slopes of the Cascades to 48°F (9°C) along the Pacific coast. The average temperatures in Eastern Washington are more extreme, with summer temperatures ranging from a cool 48°F (9°C) on slope of the Eastern Cascades to 92°F (33°C) in the south-central part of the state and winter temperatures range from 8°F (-13°C) in the northeastern Cascades to 40°F (4°C) on the southeastern plateau. Rainfall in Seattle is usually heaviest from October to March.
A small restaurant across the road from the bustling Pike Place Market, Pike Place Chowder is famous for one thing: its delicious chowder. There's more than just your standard clam chowder fare though, as the restaurant serves five different varieties each day, ranging from New England Clam Chowder to Seafood Bisque to Southwestern Chicken and Corn Chowder, and even a vegan option! There are sandwiches, salads, and even fish tacos on the menu as well. A must for seafood lovers!
One of the best restaurants in Seattle, Canlis has been wowing diners since 1950 with its contemporary Northwest cuisine, and is a long-standing favourite for those celebrating a special occasion. The stylish interior complements its fine cuisine, and its wine list is one of the city's best. Canlis is famous for its steaks, but there are also favourites such as the prawns, oysters, and fresh fish, and the desserts are sublime. A tasting menu is available. Open for dinner Monday to Saturday. Bookings essential for Fridays and Saturdays. Dinner jacket required for men.
A cosy Parisian café that has won many awards, Café Campagne is popular for its weekend brunches, but also serves a delicious lunch and dinner, and has a wine bar with 40 wines available by the glass. The menu changes seasonally, but fare includes dishes like the French-style rolled omelette, lamb burgers, quiche, and a variety of salads and sandwiches. For dinner it is possible to have the fixed price three-course menu or a choice of meat and fish dishes from the regular dinner menu. Open for lunch Monday to Friday, dinner nightly, and for brunch on weekends until 4pm.
One of the most unique restaurants in the Northwest, the farmhouse styled exterior is decorated within by a rich and ornate décor. Herbfarm itself and its neighbouring farms grow much of their ingredients to create weekly changing nine-course meals complete with five matching wines. Lummi Island reef-netted sockeye in a squash with lemon thyme is a glimpse into the night's menu. Reservations are essential.
'The Met' is primarily a business venue, situated within the heart of the financial district in a historical building built in 1903. This traditional steakhouse has been a Seattle favourite for years, specialising in prime beef and serving up classics cooked to perfection, such as filet mignon, New York peppercorn steak, or the porterhouse steak, but there is also a good selection of pastas and salads. Meals are complemented by an excellent wine list. Open for lunch and dinner on weekdays, and dinner only on weekends. Reservations are recommended.
The spectacular bay side view over Puget Sound is a perfect complement to the fresh Northwest seafood on a menu that changes regularly to reflect what is locally and seasonally available. Favourites include the crab cakes, oysters, wild salmon, or any fish prepared in sake kasu. Upstairs there is a more casual and less expensive café with an outdoor deck that serves lunch, while the downstairs restaurant serves dinner only. Reservations are required.
One of Seattle's best Italian restaurants, Serafina is charming and romantic with a rustic ambience. The freshest ingredients are presented in a homey atmosphere that transports diners to the Italian countryside. Enjoy the bruschetta's, pasta dishes, or Serafina's signature dish, the eggplant rolled with ricotta cheese, basil, and Parmesan and baked in tomato sauce. There is live music on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday evenings, while live jazz on Sunday mornings makes this one of the most popular brunch spots in the city. Dinner daily, lunch Monday to Friday, brunch on Sundays from 10am. Reservations recommended.
Southeast Asian inspired food that now sets the benchmark for all Asian food in the Northwest, the Wild Ginger Restaurant is consistently chosen as a favourite among northwest dining awards and diners alike. The Chefs varied backgrounds reflect the eclectic Asian foods, and ingredients from Chinese to Indonesian and also provide a rare chance to mix great wines with Asian cuisine. Reservations are advised.
Local ingredients are thrown together to create a sumptuous Mediterranean-style menu at Andaluca. Dishes to try on the menu include the crab tower, stuffed dates, shellfish stew, or lamb dolmas, and end off with one of the tempting desserts accompanied by a dessert wine or port. Open for breakfast and dinner daily, and lunch Monday to Friday.
Overlooking Pike Place Market, Etta's is always packed with both locals and tourists, who come to savour the delicious crab cakes, oysters on the half shell, or Alaskan halibut. Besides a variety of fresh seafood dishes there are also other options such as beef burgers, Thai chicken salad, or lime leaf coconut curry. The breakfast menu offers a range of egg dishes, along with French toast, oats and granola with yogurt, while the brunch menu comes straight from the sea.
Ferries depart regularly from the Seattle piers, carrying passengers to the many islands in scenic Puget Sound. On the tip of the Kitsap Peninsula is Bremerton, with the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard Museum and the USS Turner Joy, and Bainbridge has its own winery. Winslow is a small historic town with fine restaurants and a great view of Seattle while Vashon Island is an artists colony. Further afield are the San Juan Islands, with their miles of unspoilt beaches and state parks. Travellers can go whale-watching, kayaking or cycling, or partake in a round of golf or a run on well-kept trails.
Outdoor enthusiasts revel in the wilds of the Pacific Coast, with its glacier-capped mountains, ancient forest and fascinating biological diversity. About 95 percent of the park is a designated reserve, protecting the unique ecosystem on the Olympic Peninsula. Visitors can go mountain biking, horse-riding canoeing and kayaking, as long as they bring their own kit. Fishing in the 3,000 miles (4828km) of rivers and streams is particularly popular, as is hiking. But the weather can be temperamental so travellers should dress accordingly. Also, it's unsafe to drink the water so bringing water is essential.
Large cruise ships regularly travel to major ports in Alaska, however a better, smaller option is the Alaskan Ferry. Departing from Bellingham Washington, these large ferries travel around the major coastal towns of Canada, the Gulf of Alaska, and the Alaskan Peninsula. The landscape is staggering, revealing hundreds of craggy forest-dense islands and coastlines. Eagles, killer whales, bears, and other wildlife are all part of the view.
The months of operation are May to September, when the weather is bearable and sunshine illuminates most of the 'night' hours, making the days long so there is plenty of time to fit in lots of sight-seeing. Costs vary greatly on length of voyage and accommodation. Most ferries rent cabins, but those in tune with Alaska's pioneer spirit can pitch a tent on deck or just use a blanket. However, if you do choose to go with a cabin, there are some very comfortable options available. It's possible to plan an extensive tour of Washington's, Canada's, and Alaska's coast lines, stopping off at various points of interest along the way. Special fares are available throughout the year upon request.
Located off the northwest coast of Washington, the San Juan Islands and the Gulf Islands are separated by nationality but form part of the same scenic archipelago. Much of the area is a surprisingly dry and sunny reprieve in the northwest, with little island communities, great wildlife and the open water providing a retreat from the mainland. Seemingly out of a Norman Rockwell painting, the islands contain many little farms and fisheries, and agri-tourism has become an important part of the island's tourist trade. The wine farms host guests in charming cottages overlooking vineyards, where they learn more about grape and wine cultivation. Friday Harbour is San Juan's largest town and an enchanting tourist destination.
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