No doubt, this past year has provided many of us with renewed reverence for Mother Nature and her mystical, inspiring ways. In our opinion, there are few better places to explore that connection than along the sparkling waterways of the Pacific Northwest – especially in the summertime.
Here are a few of Washington state’s most wonderful summertime offerings:
Whale-watching excursions and island outings
While international travel across the Canadian border remains suspended, Seattle-area residents are thrilled to see the return of the San Juan Clipper, the only operator offering half- and full-day whale watching tours from the downtown Seattle waterfront.
At this time of year, passengers can glimpse mammal-eating transient orca whales, humpbacks and gray whales finishing their northern migration across the Salish Sea, plus a variety of playful seals, sea lions and swooping bald eagles.
Guests can also choose to enjoy the Clipper’s direct, fast ferry – featuring a brand-new interior – prime for weekend getaways that give sufficient time to explore magic-tinged San Juan Island. Once guests have slid onto island time, paddling and kayaking outings pushing off from the shores of San Juan grant up-close access to the region’s bounty of wildlife.
Hood Canal’s hottest happenings
At the westernmost tip of Puget Sound, Alderbrook Resort & Spa finds a tranquil home on Washington’s Hood Canal, one of the only fjords in the Lower 48. This welcoming waterside property, located less than two hours from Seattle, offers open-air activities ranging from Full Moon yoga sessions to games of outdoor B-I-N-G-O (Saturdays at 2 p.m.) and naturalist-guided hikes (Fridays at 2 p.m.). Plenty of aquatic rentals are available from the long dock that stretches over the oyster beach.
While summer packages create a seasonal draw, the enclosed saltwater pool (with open windows for added air flow) and on-site restaurant (with its women-led culinary team) prove highlights at any time of year. A few minutes away, Union City Market – the resort’s working marina – hosts interactive beachside feasts called Canal Cookouts featuring rotating themes along with ‘Appy Hour and weekend brunch.
Drive about half an hour to stop in for oysters at Hama Hama (they sometimes stock goods from neighboring Fjordlux, too), or pick up fresh seafood treats to go. Out of Brinnon, enjoy easy hikes on Murhut Falls and Ranger Hole trails. For a post-stroll treat, locals swear by the fish sandwich at the Geoduck Tavern, situated on the edge of Dosewallips State Park.
Coastal hikes and relaxation, too
Exploring enchanted stretches of the wind-whipped coast is a must-do on any Washington visitor’s itinerary. Seabrook, located less than a three-hour drive from Seattle in Pacific Beach, features family-friendly beach houses in a community that’s described by visionary Casey Roloff and a team of experts as a “thoughtfully-built new town founded on new urbanism design.”
The seaside property is a perfect base from which to explore Olympic National Park, which includes glacier-capped mountains, old-growth temperate rain forests and more than 70 miles of wild coastline. From Seabrook, day trip options include jaunts to Roosevelt Beach (5 minutes away) and Ruby Beach (a 1.5-hour drive each way).
Guests can take guided surf lessons with Pacific Coast Wonders at Point Grenville on the Quinault Indian Reservation, or enjoy SUP excursions on Lake Quinault. Buck’s Northwest also leads kayak and SUP tours through the Ghost Forest on the Copalis River, only 15 minutes from your beach home.
Back at Seabrook, enjoy a meal on the patio of Koko’s Restaurant and Tequila Bar, where you can watch the sun slip behind the shoreline’s windswept trees. Be sure not to miss the poblano-cashew enchiladas!
The Seattle-area summer scene
Savoring Seattle’s waterways can be done from dry land, thanks to an abundance of scenic patios serving up the region’s freshest seafood. Savor regional flavors and views of Elliott Bay (at Six Seven), Puget Sound (from Ray’s Boathouse deck) or Lake Washington (at the the Eastside’s Beach Cafe, in The Woodmark Hotel & Still Spa).
Those craving a bird’s-eye view of this water-centric city enjoy sightseeing flights offered by Seattle Seaplanes and Kenmore Air. And for those wanting to get out on the water, the options are seemingly endless. For a commute-with-a-view, hop aboard Washington State Ferries, the nation’s largest ferry system. Statewide vessels range from high-speed, passenger-only boats to those that carry up to 2,500 passengers and 202 automobiles (when running at full capacity).
On Lake Union, the Northwest Outdoor Center rents kayaks by the hour and The Center for Wooden Boats also offers rentals, plus free, one-hour reservations to take out one of the venue’s peapod rowboats. A newer offering making waves is Boatsetter Seattle – an online reservation platform that connects people to boat owners and licensed captains for 2- to 8-hour boat rental adventures.
Bellingham’s bounty, from boats to brews
About 90 miles north of Seattle, Bellingham offers small-town charm mixed with on-the-water Salish Sea fun. From here, guests book whale-watching tours and charters;, the Community Boating Center in Fairhaven rents out kayaks, SUP and keelboats; and new addition Moondance Sea Kayaking Adventures guides adventurers on half- and full-day escapades.
Mid-week is an especially prime time to enjoy waterfront quiet at Hotel Bellwether. When it comes to dining, Black Sheep serves up buzz-worthy tacos, while Boundary Bay Brewing remains a staple for pints and upscale bar eats (think grilled fish tacos, gumbo and yam enchiladas). North of Bellingham, Blaine’s Drayton Harbor Oysters lets seafood lovers dive into goods cultivated and harvested less than a mile from the shop.
Those wanting to support the Bellingham area’s farmers and makers from afar can order curated and build-your-own meal boxes from Acme Farms & Kitchen (the company currently delivers to Whatcom + Skagit County, Greater Seattle Area, Greater Portland Area and Greater Las Vegas Area, too).
Better yet? Skip the grocery shopping and order Acme’s Beach House Getaway Box ahead of time for your Washington trip; the collection includes fusilli with smoked salmon and peas, fish and chips, blackened salmon Caesar salad and crab benedicts.
Whatever you choose, we’re wishing you safe, soothing and sun-soaked summertime experiences – by, on and in the water.
10Best is a part of the USA TODAY Network — providing an authentically local point of view on destinations around the world — in addition to travel and lifestyle advice.