Getting Oriented

Most of the major towns are along—or not far from—the Interstate 5 corridor, stretching from the capital city of Olympia, 60 miles south of Seattle, and on north to Bellingham, 90 miles north of Seattle and the last city of any size before the Canadian border. Many of the cities along the route are ports on Puget Sound. There's even more waterfront out on the Kitsap Peninsula, which is sandwiched between this corridor and the Olympic Peninsula. Three other outlying areas include the western edge of the Skagit Valley, an important agricultural area; Snoqualmie, in the foothills of the Cascades east of Seattle via Interstate 90; and the towns around Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens, which are south of Seattle and just east of the Interstate 5 corridor.

  • Cascade Foothills and Snohomish County. Short jaunts off the Interstate 5 highway include attending a county fair in Puyallup and winding down a day of hiking or biking near Snoqualmie Pass with a snack in the cute town of Snoqualmie. North of Seattle are two notable port towns, Edmonds and Everett. Edmonds has more of a seaside vibe, with waterfront parks and trendy downtown restaurants, and a ferry terminal serving the islands of Puget Sound. Everett, on the other hand, is devoted to flight, with a Boeing factory tour and a collection of vintage airplanes its main attractions.
  • Bellingham and Skagit Valley. The laid-back, outdoorsy college town of Bellingham is about as close as this area comes to bustle. Although not as tranquil as the central part of the state, the area is about picturesque roads less traveled: the farm roads that connect La Conner and Mount Vernon and the bike and hiking paths that wind through state parks.
  • Kitsap Peninsula. The smaller, less industrial port towns provide beach parks plus glimpses of the region's Scandinavian and logging pasts—a nice snapshot of coastal Washington life that’s more accessible than the Olympic Peninsula.
  • Tacoma and Olympia. Immortalized in song by Neko Case as the "dusty old jewel in the South Puget Sound," Tacoma is shining far more brightly these days, with a walkable waterfront that includes several impressive museums and a burgeoning restaurant scene. Farther south is the capital city Olympia, which is the perfect mix of quirky and stately.
  • Mt. Rainier Environs. Washington’s rugged southern Cascades region is famous for two massive volcanic peaks, Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens. Small, remote towns are strung along winding, forested country highways that meander through this dramatic area within day-tripping distance of Olympia and Tacoma, even Seattle.

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