Washington Road Trips: Olympia to Bellingham

There are few better ways to witness the inspiring beauty and vast diversity of this state than by hopping in a car and hitting the road.

Coasting Along: Olympia to Bellingham

Travel north on I-5 (ideally during non-rush hour time periods) to explore some of the state’s coolest cities—with plenty of surprises waiting in between. Even the urban stretches of this roadway can offer striking vistas, while brief detours just beyond city limits can offer hidden gems.

STOP 1: Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge

Not long after departing the state capital Olympia, halt for light hiking, including a picturesque boardwalk, at what’s considered the last unspoiled major estuary of Puget Sound. In addition to the 200-plus species of birds that visit the refuge over the course of the year, harbor seals, otters, salmon, and many other animals also call these expansive tidal flats home.

STOP 2: Tacoma Art Museum

Map a pit stop for culture at this impressive venue, where a collection of more than 5,000 works emphasizes the art and artists of the Northwest and broader western region. Highlights include the largest retrospective collection of Tacoma local Dale Chihuly’s work on continuous view, the most expansive assemblage of studio art jewelry by Northwest artists, and a captivating display of Japanese woodblock prints.

STOP 3: Seattle Center and Pike Place Market

Washington’s biggest city offers countless attractions, but it’s easy to hit some of the most notable on a whirlwind tour. Start with a stroll through historic Pike Place Market to check out artisan wares, fresh farm produce, and the famous fish throwers, then walk uphill to Westlake Center to catch the monorail to Seattle Center, which boasts a bevy of family-friendly sites, including the Pacific Science Center, Seattle Children’s Museum, the Museum of Pop Culture, and the iconic 605-foot-tall Space Needle, which was recently renovated to allow even more spectacular panoramic views.

STOP 4: Hibulb Cultural Center & Natural History Preserve

Stop in Tulalip to visit this fascinating center dedicated to sharing the history and culture of the Tulalip Tribes, including the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, and Skykomish peoples who are native to this region. Check out exhibits of art and artifacts, marvel at traditional carved-wood canoes, and listen as gifted storytellers share tales that have been handed down over generations in the longhouse.

STOP 5: Samish Oyster Bar and Shellfish Market

South of Bellingham take a detour off the highway to explore some of Skagit County via the scenic Chuckanut Drive. Stop at this seafood market to treat yourself to oysters at picnic tables overlooking Samish Bay. Shuck ’em and grill ’em yourself on the public barbecues or let the pros prepare them for you.

By Corinne Whiting