Seattle holds a special place in my heart. It’s the city I visited on my first solo vacation as a 20-year-old, except I arrived on Amtrak’s Empire Builder rather than by RV. Still, Seattle remains fascinating for all the things that can be done within a few hours drive of the city.
Consider all these wonderful things to see:
- Towering Mount Rainer
- The devastation of Mount St. Helen’s volcano
- The Hoh rain forest
- Vancouver, British Columbia
- The Pacific Ocean
- Microsoft headquarters
- The San Juan Islands
- Snoqualmie National Forest
- Gorgeous canyons
Driving into Seattle is a nightmare thanks to some of the most heavily gridlocked highways in the nation. It didn’t use to be that way. Traffic jams are a byproduct of the tech boom launched by Microsoft’s move to Redmond, Wash., in the late 1970s. So, it’s best to find a place to stay outside of Seattle and use it as a base camp. Here are a few RV parks in the Seattle area:
- Seattle/Tacoma KOA in Kent — One of the closest campgrounds to Seattle and Tacoma, but near the airport. Sites are small, but close to bus lines. www.koa.com/campgrounds/seattle
- Saltwater State Park in Des Moines — Located right on Pudget Sound, this park offers 47 campsites, but maximum site length if 50 feet. www.parks.wa.gov/578/Saltwater
- Maple Grove RV Park in Everett — Just 15 minutes north of Seattle, the park is close to the ferry terminals and Boeing. www.maplegroverv.com
- Harbour Pointe RV Park in Everett — Located a few blocks from the Cruise America outlet, and three miles from the Mukileto lighthouse. www.harbourpointervpark.com
- Lakeside RV Park in Everett — Situated on a trout stocked fishing lake, the park has 150 sites with 20-, 30- and 50-amp full hookups. www.lakesidervpark.net
- Eagle Tree RV Park in Poulsbo — Located on the Olympic Peninsula across from Bainbridge Island and a short drive to the ferry into Seattle, it’s closest to the Bremerton Naval Yards. www.eagletreerv.com
Once set up, there is an abundance of things to do in Seattle. I’d recommend heading downtown where parking is available at the James Albert Claypool Garage at a cost of $13 for 10 hours. It’s easy to find right next to Seattle’s landmark attraction, the Space Needle.
Featuring an outdoor observation deck 520 feet high that offers 360-degree views of the city, the Space Needle has been a city icon since it was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. Just below the observation deck there is a rotating restaurant. It’s pricey, with a minimum charge of $35 per guest, but worth the experience. www.spaceneedle.com
The Seattle Center is located at the base of the Space Needle, and is home to a plethora of family-friendly activities. Within the Seattle Center, you’ll find:
- Pacific Science Center — One of the country’s best science museums, its standing exhibits include a butterfly house, seven dinosaurs in a lifelike environment, insect village, and IMAX theater. www.pacificsciencecenter.org
- Chihuly Garden and Glass — The 40-foot “glass house” is home to a stunning array of colorful glass sculptures. www.chihulygardenandglass.com
- Seattle Children’s Museum — With 22,000 square feet of exhibit space, kids can spend a whole day touring this museum to gain a better understanding of science and the world around them. www.thechildrensmuseum.org
- Seattle Ducks — If time is short, consider taking a tour on the Ducks of Seattle, which are specially crafted vehicles that travel on land and water. It’s an excellent way to enjoy the Seattle skyline as well as drive past some of the city’s most historic sites. www.ridetheducksofseattle.com
From the Space Needle, it is a 1-mile hike to the popular Pike’s Place Market in downtown Seattle. A year-round standing farmers market, you’ll find the freshest fruit, vegetables and fish served up daily. It’s home to the world famous Pike Place Fish Market, known for its “talking” fish and staff that throw big fish back and forth. Pikes Place is a bustling market with hundreds of shops and places to eat. www.pikeplacemarket.org
Hint: Avoid the walk and take the monorail from the Seattle Center to the Westlake Center, three blocks from Pikes Place Market. Ticket prices are $2.25 per adult and $1 for kids age 5 to 12. www.seattlemonorail.com
Coffee lovers will be drawn to the original Starbucks, located a few feet from the main entrance to the Pikes Place Market. Expect a big line waiting for your tall caramel ribbon crunch frappuccino. www.starbucks.com/coffeehouse/store-design/1st-and-pike
Pioneer Square is Seattle’s original downtown with buildings dating back to the mid 1800s. An eccentric collection of art galleries and coffee shops, the area is home to Smith Tower, which was once the tallest building west of the Mississippi when built in 1914. Take one of the last manually operated elevators in America to its observation tower. (The tower is undergoing renovation in 2015). Click here for more information.
While in the neighborhood, be sure to visit the FREE Klondike Gold Rush National Monument and learn about the ore discovery that drew thousands of people to the area seeking fortune. www.nps.gov/klse
Then step way back in time with a tour of underground Seattle, where original storefronts, sidewalks and streets remain preserved as the city grew “up” around it. www.undergroundtour.com
A short walk down a long staircase from Pikes Place, you’ll find the Seattle waterfront. It’s home to the Seattle Aquarium where exhibits showcase marine life in Puget Sound culminating with a stop at the underwater dome that offers a 360-degree view of a 400,000-gallon tank filled with all kinds of fish. www.seattleaquarium.org
There are some unique souvenir shops in that area along with some reasonably-priced restaurants where you can enjoy a meal overlooking the sound. If Ferris wheels are your thing, the Seattle Great Wheel offers a 15-minute trip in a private gondola to a height of 175 feet for a stunning view of the city and the sound. www.seattlegreatwheel.com
There is a ferry terminal on the waterfront as well taking people to Bremerton or Bainbridge Island.
Outside Seattle, there is still plenty to do.
The Museum of Flight offers an opportunity to explore 150 historic aircraft and spacecraft artifacts from an Apollo 17 mission module, to Air Force One, to a supersonic Concord. Other exhibits include a spaceflight academy, birth of aviation and the advent of unmanned aircraft. Located south of Seattle in the Boeing complex. www.museumofflight.org
Get your geek on at the Microsoft Visitors Center in Redmond where you can view the first personal computer and catch a glimpse of the innovations under constant development by the computer giant. Located in Redmond, in building 92 of the sprawling Microsoft campus. www.microsoft.com/en-us/visitorcenter
Do not leave Seattle without experiencing a ferry ride. These unique ships shuttle passengers, cars and trucks all around Puget Sound. Many of the ferries have food service and drink options. It’s a very inexpensive way to view the Seattle skyline and the harbors. Watch closely and you might see a seal or other marine life, like whales, especially in San Juan Islands. There are a variety of ferry terminals depending upon where you’re headed. www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries
I personally recommend the trip around the San Juan Islands, where you board the ferry in Anacortes, an hour north of Seattle. It offers spectacular scenery on the way to Friday Harbor, where you can grab lunch and take the ferry back.
Another fun trip is the ferry from downtown Seattle to Bremerton where the USS Turner Joy, a floating naval destroyer museum, is docked a few blocks from the Bremerton terminal. www.ussturnerjoy.org The Puget Sound Naval Museum is also located near the Bremerton terminal where you can explore life on an aircraft carrier or submarine. www.pugetsoundnavymuseum.org
One of the nation’s best county parks is located in Tacoma. The 760-acre park is home to a zoo, aquarium, Fort Nisqually Living History Museum, botanical gardens, miles of hiking and biking trails, and a beach. As you drive around Five Mile Loop, you’ll enjoy stunning views of the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. www.metroparkstacoma.org/point-defiance-park
We haven’t begun to explore all the wonderful things to do in Seattle, where bike trails are plenty along with bike rental shops. On a bike you can enjoy the University of Washington arboretum, peek at Bill Gates 66,000-sqaure-foot mansion overlooking Lake Washington, and enjoy hundreds of houseboats docked along the shores. Seattle is a destination all to itself, but with all the activity in the surrounding area, plan on spending a week or two.