When you’re immersed in your daily routine, it’s easy to forget that there are interesting towns just nearby. These offer a great opportunity for gallivanting out for new discoveries and adventures, whether you’re setting out for a full day or just part of one. So, when you’re hankering for a change of pace without straying too far afield, try a new town on for size. Here are some of my favorites within day-trip distance.
Home to Western Washington University, Bellingham has the feel of a small college town even though it’s the fifth-largest metropolis in Washington state. It has a great combination of laid-back culture, fantastic food, fun shops, and beautiful parks and hikes. Plus, at barely over 1.5 hours away by car (2 hours by BoltBus), it’s hard to justify not going.
Downtown Bellingham is fairly flat, making it easy to walk or bike. Even if you’re bike-free, if it’s a nice day, a visit to Whatcom Falls Park for a light hike up to a beautiful waterfall or Lake Padden Park may be just the ticket.
If you’re biking or driving, it’s also worth a visit to historic Fairhaven, an artsy neighboring town with fun shops and good restaurants, including Fairhaven Fish & Chips. While there, head over to Boulevard Park, grab a cup of coffee from the Woods Coffee in the park, and settle in on a bench or stroll the boardwalk to take in the panoramic views of Puget Sound and the San Juan islands. You might even spot a sea otter sunning itself on a warm day.
When you’re ready to head out for the evening, there won’t be any shortage of places to eat and drink. Thanks to my sister-in-law and her husband, our favorites now include Honeymoon Mead for delicious cider and mead, La Fiamma for excellent wood-fired pizza and rosemary lemonade, Fiamma Burger for fantastic burgers, fries, and milkshakes, or Boundary Bay Brewery for beers and great food (we really like the bangers & mash, yam enchiladas, and fish tacos).
If you still have room after dinner, try the excellent ice cream at Mallard. Their flavor combinations are fresh and unique, including Earl Gray, rhubarb, turmeric, cardamom vanilla black sesame, and avocado. (Don’t worry: if you’re not an adventurous ice cream person, they have more standard flavors as well! They also have some delicious non-dairy options.)
Regardless of how you’re feeling, though, the great part about Bellingham is that you can keep it urban, go full-on outdoorsy, or happily combine the two.
Leavenworth is a Bavarian-themed town about 2.5 hours’ drive east of Seattle. Due to having lots of twinkly lights and a beautiful snowy winter-scape, it receives a lot of traffic during the winter holidays.
It can sometimes get a bad rap for being hokey and touristy, but if you avoid tourist traps you can have a great visit. My recipe for success: steer clear of anything involving horse-drawn carriages and instead focus on great food, wandering around the town, and appreciating your surroundings. Surprise! Leavenworth isn’t just about themed architecture, but also is surrounded by some pretty incredible mountains and vistas, too.
While you’re there, visit a wine room (make sure to indulge in some mulled wine or Gluhwein if it’s fall or winter) or take a trip to a brewery. Grab some cheese from a local cheesemonger and phenomenal chocolate to snack on and wander over to a local park with your mini-picnic. Show the crowds who’s boss; even during during non-holiday seasons, Leavenworth easily has enough to occupy 3-4 hours, and you’ll have a stress-free visit avoiding all the other tourists.
A 2-hour drive by car, Port Townsend is both scenic and charming. Because it’s located on the Olympic Peninsula, it’s a great stop on your way to or from Olympic National Park and is surrounded by natural beauty. The town is also known for its historic Victorian architecture: in fact, it maintains a list of still-functioning historic buildings that you can visit. And, of course as the name implies, it’s a port city—so prepare for some beautiful views of the water, magnificent sunrises and sunsets, and lighthouses worth exploring.
If you like windswept bluffs, woodsy forest, creepy abandoned concrete forts, and lighthouses, a visit to Fort Worden State Park is the perfect combination of all of these. It’s a fantastic opportunity for photographers to practice their skills on a variety of different subjects.
If the port has you getting in touch with your piratical side, head to the Antique Mall, where you can easily lose hours hunting for treasure of a different kind.
When your stomach starts growling, if it’s a Saturday you should definitely head to the Port Townshend Farmers Market. Here you can wander amidst the flower, produce, and other vendors, sampling your way from stall to stall until you’ve had your fill.
Speaking of food, it wouldn’t be a post from me without several more recommendations. Stop by Pippa’s Real Tea for a truly wonderful English tea experience, including jammy dodgers, scones, and sandwiches. There’s a lovely outdoor area where you can sit on a warm day, and if it’s cold and rainy the indoor fireplace will keep you cozy with your warm cup of tea. If you’re looking for heartier fare, head over to Hillbottom Pie for a solid slice of pizza or warming cup of soup. And for a quick cup of coffee to wander around with or a satisfying dessert, Ground to Perfection Espresso has got you covered.
These are some of my favorite day tripping towns near Seattle. What are yours? Which ones would you put on this list?