Often referred to by its full title, Washington State, to distinguish it from Washington, D.C., Washington offers rugged coastline, deserts, forests, mountains, volcanoes, and hundreds of coastal islands to explore. The Cascade Mountains bisect the state, with the damp forested coastal areas to the west, and pineforests, deserts and irrigated farmland of the Columbia River Plateau to the east.
located on the southeastern side of the Cascades; this region features canyons, deserts and steppes set in hillside valleys. Cities included within this region are Kennewick, Walla Walla, and Yakima.
beautiful mountains and fresh water lakes, outdoor activities galore, national parks (North Cascades National Park) and secluded getaways await travelers to the North Cascades region. Cities included within this region are Bellingham, Leavenworth, and Wenatchee.
on the west coast, with rain forests against a spine of dramatic mountains
Spokane, Cheney, Pullman
with Seattle, the state’s largest city; King County, filled with the Seattle metropolitan area, Tacoma, Olympia (capital), and the islands and waters between Seattle and the Olympic Peninsula
a scattering of forested islands in the serene waters adjacent to British Columbia. Ferries, private boats, kayaks, and orca (whales) criss-cross the waters, while float planes and bald eagles soar overhead
There are many cities in Washington; these are some of the more popular.
Most people in Washington speak English with a Pacific Northwest accent. This accent is considered very similar to general American. Washingtonians generally have little to no problem understanding different accents of the English language.
Washington is the thirteenth most populated state, but by comparison has the fourth highest Asian population. You may be able to find a Japanese or Chinese speaker, especially in the Seattle area. There is also a large Hispanic population. In some small towns east of the Cascades more than 50% of households speak Spanish at home.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, (IATA: SEA), called “SeaTac” by locals, connects Seattle to all regions of the world, with especially frequent transpacific routes. Competition is heavy on busy San Francisco Bay Area and Southern California routes. Non-stops to the following countries: Canada, China, United Arab Emirates, France, Germany, Iceland, Japan, South Korea, Mexico, Netherlands, Taiwan, and the UK. Transfers are required from the Caribbean and Central and South America.
Spokane International Airport, (IATA: GEG). Most flights go to Seattle, Portland (Oregon), Boise, Oakland (across from San Francisco), Salt Lake City, Los Angeles, Denver, Phoenix and Minneapolis. Seasonal flights to Chicago.
Portland International Airport, (IATA: PDX) is just one mile across the state line in Oregon from Vancouver. For Southwest Washington (i.e. anything south of Chehalis along I-5 exit 77) this is the (next) nearest major airport. One daily non-stop from Tokyo, Amsterdam, Calgary and Guadalajara. Plans are underway to include additional flights to Los Cabos, Germany and Iceland with additional airlines.
Vancouver International Airport (IATA: YVR) is in Canada 27 miles (44 km) from the border in Blaine/Surrey which is the border crossing to the USA from Canada. You will need the proper travel documents to (re)enter Canada and the U.S. to cross the border. For U.S. residents, going through customs twice probably isn’t worth it unless you also want to visit Vancouver so the next nearest American airport is in Bellingham (see below). For Canadians wanting to go to the San Juan Islands it may be the best choice. There are also direct international flights to/from Europe, Mexico, Cuba, Australia, and Asia. For travel across Canada the total airfare may come out cheaper for one to cross into the United States by Greyhound or by another bus line, fly across the North American continent and go back up into Canada on another bus, then fly across Canada as Air Canada has a near monopoly on domestic travel. For, example to get from Toronto to Vancouver one may take a bus from Toronto to Buffalo, fly across the United States to Seattle and continue on another bus to Vancouver.
Bellingham International Airport (IATA: BLI) is a regional airport about 90 miles north of Seattle and 60 miles south of Vancouver, Canada. Allegiant and Alaska Airlines have jet service to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Oakland, Mesa (near Phoenix), San Diego, Honolulu and Palm Springs (seasonal). There are many shorter flights (mostly to Seattle) with turboprop aircraft.
Tri-Cities Airport (IATA: PSC) is a commercial airport located 2 miles northwest of the city of Pasco and is the third largest commercial air terminal in the State of Washington. Flights go to Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Mesa (near Phoenix), Salt Lake City, Denver, and Minneapolis (seasonal).
Horizon Air (which links to Alaska Air) has flights to five small cites in or near Washington State with infrequent daily service to Seattle-Tacoma.
Lewiston , Idaho (next to Clarkston, Washington) (IATA: LWS) Seattle-Tacoma
Pullman (IATA: PUW) Seattle-Tacoma
Walla Walla (IATA: ALW) Seattle-Tacoma, or Portland via Eastern Oregon Regional Airport (IATA:PDT) in nearby Pendleton
Wenatchee (IATA: EAT) Seattle-Tacoma, Portland (1 stop)
Yakima (IATA: YKM) Seattle-Tacoma, Portland
Amtrak offers several ways to enter and travel throughout Washington by train:
The Empire Builder runs between Chicago and Spokane, Washington, where it then splits, with half of the train continuing to Seattle, and the other half to Portland.
The Coast Starlight. Regarded by many as America’s most scenic train ride, the Coast Starlight runs between Los Angeles, California, and Seattle, Washington, stopping at many Washington towns including Seattle, Tacoma, Lacey/Olympia, Centralia, Kelso/Longview & Vancouver, WA.
Amtrak Cascades. The Cascades is a special service that operates between Seattle and Portland 4 times (6 times beginning in fall 2017) round trip daily. Twice daily from Seattle to Vancouver, BC and from Portland to Eugene using special high-speed Talgo rolling stock. Washington stops include Bellingham, Mt Vernon, Everett, Edmonds, Seattle, Tukwila, Tacoma, Lacey/Olympia, Centralia, Kelso/Longview & Vancouver, WA. Additional service to Eugene & Vancouver are on the Thruway Motorcoach buses.
For more information, see Amtrak’s website, Wikitravel’s article Rail travel in the United States, or the Wikipedia pages on each of this train services.
From British Columbia
Interstate 5 and the Peace Arch crossing is the main land port-of-entry to Washington from Canada. However this is only one of five land crossing points between the Lower Mainland region of BC and the Northwest Cascades region of Washington. See the Get in — by car section of Northwest Cascades region article for details.
Interstate 5 (and Interstate 205) provide access from the greater Portland area. Interstate 82 / US 395 provides access from eastern Oregon to the tri-cities area of Eastern Washington. For a more scenic entry, try taking US Route 101 along the Washington and Oregon coast, but be aware for the numerous speed traps in the small cities.
Interstate 90 is the main route in via Coeur D’Alene, but US 2 provides access to the northern parts of Idaho and Washington.
Greyhound has a number of bus stations throughout the state in metropolitan areas as well as the smaller micropolitan areas by way of the main interstate highways (5, 82 & 90). Passengers transfer buses in Missoula, MT; Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City or Sacramento to get to where they’re going.
To explore most of Washington (outside of main cities), you will generally need a car because there is very little public transportation, especially to more remote locations.
Most people get around the state by private automobile or buses but flying is still available if you’re in a hurry to get there. Intrastate service is only offered by Alaska Airlines (Seattle, Portland and various destinations in the state) and Delta (Seattle, Portland & Spokane).
Washington’s road network is well-maintained and cars are the quickest way to travel around the state. The main freeways are I-5, running along the west side of Washington through many of Western Washington’s population centers. I-90, running east of Seattle to Ellensburg and Spokane, and I-82, which starts at I-90 near Ellensburg and heads southeast through Yakima and Kennewick. Other US highways and WA state routes access all parts of the state. Rental-car agencies can be found in the larger cities.
All of the state’s major east-west highways cross over the Cascade Mountains, which are subject to closure, delays, and studded tire or chain requirements in wintertime. In severe weather, it may be better to use I-84 just across the border in Oregon. This route goes through the relatively low elevation of the Columbia River Basin. On rare occasion, I-84 may also have weather-related problems where it passes north of Mount Hood. A 20-mile detour on Washington State Hwy 14 is available between I-84 Exit #44 Bridge of the Gods, and Exit #64 Hood River Bridge. Both have a small toll.
In urban areas (especially in Seattle) getting around by bus is fine but for most places, especially in small towns and in rural areas having driving is a must as (local) bus services are limited.
Washington State Ferries is the largest in the country. It has routes across Puget Sound and to Bainbridge, Vashon, Whidbey and the San Juan Islands. Inland, the state also offers some free ferries across the Columbia River. There are also some county-run ferries to smaller destinations such as to Anderson Island and Guemes Island.
Many ferry destinations are not islands without a bridge, but peninsulas where going by land would involve a very long detour. The most extreme example of this is the Port Townsend — Keystone route on State Hwy 20. Only five and a half miles via the ferry, becomes a whopping 217 miles (354 km) traveling by car!
Getting around by train on Amtrak is likely to be quite a hassle, especially with infrequent departures, slow travel times, inconvenient schedules and limited routes. For those who still wish to take trains to get around Washington, these are the main routes:
Mt. Rainier and Mt. St. Helens
Washington state is a great place for seafood, with salmon in particular being a specialty.
As with almost everywhere else in the U.S., the legal drinking and purchasing age of alcoholic beverages is 21. And as with most states, Washington uses loopholes in the federal law to allow underage drinking. Underage drinking of alcohol is allowed on private non-alcohol selling premises with parental consent. Underage drinking is allowed for religious purposes. Anyone under the age of 21 shall not be prosecuted for underage drinking if the underage drinker is succumbed to alcohol poisoning and is in need of medical assistance, but for obvious safety reasons this method is not recommended.
High qualitey Arabica coffee beans roasted with greater emphasis on taste and freshness, brewed with dripped water or “espresso” steam) arguably has its birthplace here. Starbucks and Tully’s are apparent brands that most associate specialty coffee with Seattle. However, many small local companies are the ones that have paved the way (and continue to do so) in pioneering the specialty coffee industry. When you visit Seattle, be sure to check out these renowned coffee roasters (in no particular order):
Cafe Allegro (Seattle’s original espresso bar, tucked away in an alley in the U-District), Espresso Vivace, Caffe Vita, Zoka Coffee, Victrola Coffee, Stumptown Coffee, Caffe Appassionato, Caffe Umbria, Caffe Fiore, Fonte Coffee, Pura Vida, Vashon Island Coffee, Lighthouse Coffee, Caffe D’Arte, Tony’s Coffee/Caffe Ladro, Top Pot Donuts & Coffee, Batdorf & Bronson, Mukilteo Coffee, Moka Joe Coffee, Pioneer Coffee
Washington is also the home to well-crafted local wines and “microbrewery” beers.
The western part of the state tend to be more tolerant to the LGBT group than the eastern part which is more conservative.
Washington has a large Asian population that is concentrated mostly in the western part of the state. Some understanding of the corresponding customs and culture may serve you well in these areas. Also, do not assume that no one around you speaks English (chances are they do, so watch what you say).
Do not litter along the freeways or highways. The fines for littering can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on the scenario. It is an offense that the state takes VERY seriously. If you are caught in the act you will know what the state means by the “Litter and It Will Hurt” signs which frequently decorate its roadways.
Like many western states, Washington State has had cases of hantaviral pulmonary syndrome, 41 confirmed cases in the state since 1993. Realistically, however, hantavirus is of very little concern to the traveler; but sensible precautions should be applied. Do NOT venture in a wild animal’s den or handle any dead animals; particularly rodents, as rodents seem to be the primary vector of the illness. There is no cure for the disease, treatment mainly consists of supportive therapies. The main defense against the virus is prevention.
For more information on prevention and transmission, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website on hantaviruses.
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