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Rain or Shine: Four Great Day Trips from Seattle
by Carol White


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There are few places in the United States more beautiful than Seattle on a sunny day, but therein lies the rub - "a sunny day." Alas, Seattle is famously rainy, but hey - that's what windshield wipers are for! Put an umbrella in the trunk or put a hat on your head like the locals and join Carol White on four day trips outside Seattle.

A view of downtown Seattle, the starting point of many a wondrous roadtrip

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iStockPhoto.com/Jeremy Edwards

 

One measure of a road tripper's commitment to adventure is his desire to drive in the rain. Fair-weather road trippers close the sunroof and hunker down to wait for bluer skies. That's a good plan - unless you're in Seattle, where the wait could be long. Seattle gets 150 days of rain a year, on average - nowhere near as rainy as, say, Arkansas or Hawaii, but wet enough to take some gleam off the open road.

But think of those other 200 days of the year! I've lived in the Pacific Northwest for more than 50 years and I can tell you the region offers some of the best sightseeing in the country. Take these four day trips out of Seattle, and you'll see what I mean.

 

Tacoma
30 minutes to the city

Thirty minutes south on Interstate 5 brings you to Tacoma, Wash., a city of many faces. Long considered the stepchild of Seattle, Tacoma has come into its own in the last few years with a revival of its downtown area and the opening of some interesting new attractions.

My favorite place to visit is the Dale Chihuly Museum of Glass, on Dock Street. Chihuly, an internationally known glass artist and native son of Tacoma, has lent his tremendous talent to the museum as well as to many of the buildings around town and around the world. You can watch the glass blowers blow the signature bowls and other objects that Chihuly has made famous, or you can wander through the museum and gift shop, but the highlight for me is the Bridge of Glass, which begins at the museum. This 500-foot-long pedestrian bridge links downtown Tacoma to the waterfront, spans an interstate, and is filled with beautiful glass pieces everywhere you look. A walk across the bridge is worth the trip to the city.

If you want to try your hand at glass blowing, head on over to the Tacoma Glassblowing Studio on South 23rd Street. You'll quickly discover how difficult it is to make those masterpieces as you huff and puff and twist and turn the glass, but you will leave with one of your very own creations.

Be sure to leave time for a drive along the waterfront on Ruston Way, which will take you past many of the sights of Commencement Bay - the hardworking shipyards, the tony restaurants and the abundant wildlife - before taking you to the city's wonderful public space, Point Defiance Park. Point Defiance is home to Tacoma's zoo and aquarium, a rose garden, a gorgeous five-mile drive and much more. It's a great place to while away an afternoon. The locals really use this park and you will often encounter special events there, especially in good weather.

On your drive back to Seattle, take a detour off the interstate at Exit 147 (follow the signs) and head for Redondo Beach, a quaint, old-fashioned beach off the beaten path yet close to city life. If you time it right, you can enjoy a nice evening meal at Salty's and watch the sun set over Puget Sound.

 

Snoqualmie Falls
30 minutes to the falls

Traveling east from Seattle on Interstate 90, you'll pass through beautiful fir forests and sprouting bedroom communities as you climb the foothills of the Cascades. In less than 25 miles, exit at State Highway 18 and continue a few miles to famous Snoqualmie Falls, which drop an impressive 270 feet. A good trail leads to the bottom and there is a handicap-accessible viewing platform near the top.

 


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Next door is the famous Salish Lodge & Spa, where Phil and I spent our honeymoon in the early 1990s. With a fireplace in every room, luxury linens on the beds, spa tubs opening to the view and impeccable service, it is as romantic today as it was then. Be sure to ask for the private booth in the dining room that sits nearly on top of the falls - you'll feel a million miles away yet pampered. Their spa is done in a tranquil Asian décor and is well worth a visit for relaxing treatments. My favorite is the hot rock massage, but the signature "rain drop therapy" gets points for cleverness.

Day trippers looking for outdoor adventure will find plenty nearby. There is hiking at Mount Si, horseback riding around Tiger Mountain Outlook, and kayaking and whitewater rafting on the Snoqualmie River. Nearby North Bend, made famous as "Twin Peaks" in the TV series of the same name, has a charming downtown area with many restaurants and memorabilia from its tele-famous days.

On the way back to Seattle, stop at Lake Sammamish State Park in Issaquah for a picnic and swim in the lake, or for a hike over three miles of trails.

 

Mount Rainier National Park
2 hours to the park

No visit to Seattle is complete without a trip to Mount Rainier National Park. Looming over the city at 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the tallest mountain in the Pacific Northwest. The park encompasses more than 200,000 acres and is divided into five areas. The most accessible and popular area is Paradise, whose historic Paradise Inn has recently undergone a two-year renovation; a new visitors center has also been erected to help serve the park's 2 million annual visitors.

It's here in the park that you really appreciate the Northwest Coast's storied rainfall. Without it, these lush valleys, beautiful rivers and snow-capped peaks wouldn't have you out of your vehicle every two minutes for a photo. You almost can't turn around without encountering another spectacular view to frame in the lens.

If you are a hiker, you can hike stretches of the 90-mile trail that encircles the mountain. If you prefer a less strenuous visit, I recommend starting a motor tour at the Nisqually entrance on the southwest corner of the park, which you can reach via State Route 706 from Ashford. From here you can circle more than half the mountain, heading east and north past wildflower meadows, tumbling waterfalls and herds of elk and other wildlife before leaving the park at the northeast corner, on State Route 410 for the drive back to Seattle.

 

Ferry Rides - 30 minutes or more

Serving both foot traffic and vehicle traffic, Washington State Ferries are a major part of the area transportation system - and great fun for visitors. You will need reservations for vehicle crossings at peak times, and you can make them on the Web site.

One of my favorite ferry trips is to Bainbridge Island, a 35-minute crossing with frequent service. Bainbridge is known for its arts scene and has many galleries and art stores in and around the town of Winslow, which also has a famous playhouse and many restaurants (I love the Rose Café at Bainbridge Gardens).

Another short crossing, but equally fun, is by water taxi from Pier 55 to Seacrest Dock in West Seattle. The taxi leaves very frequently and accommodates both cars and pedestrians. From the dock, head over to Alki Beach for lunch and shopping. The ferry is met by the local bus but you can easily walk from the dock to town, and there are spectacular views back to Seattle. For fun, hop on the bus and tour the entire island in less than an hour. The bus runs a continuous loop and you won't find a friendlier group of locals anywhere than on the West Seattle bus.

The Seattle area holds so many places of interest that I find myself going back to the area time and again. No matter which way you head from downtown, you'll find something new to do.

Carol White
5/29/09


 

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