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  • Allyson Rychlak

Coffee, Mountains, and Fresh Air: Quick Guide to Seattle, WA & Olympic National Park

Seattle, Washington's largest city, is known for its coffee culture (as the birthplace of Starbucks), tech scene, landmarks like the Space Needle and Pike Place, and more. The Emerald City's rainy climate allows for lush evergreen surroundings; its location within several hours of three magnificent Pacific Northwest national parks makes it a hub for any adventure-lover. While we only had time to check off Olympic, we'll be sure to return for the other parks (Mount Rainier and North Cascades, each under three hours from the city). Keep reading for highlights in this guide of Seattle and Olympic National Park.


Olympic National Park's Ruby Beach, with iconic sea stacks in the background


Seattle

Things to do:
  • In the center of downtown, Pike Place is one of Seattle's most famous attractions, and for a good reason. It's one of the longest-running farmer's markets in the country, and if you're lucky, you'll catch a famous fish toss in the fish market. There is a variety of vendors with flowers, food, crafts, jewelry, drinks, and more, and we strolled through both when the market first opened and at the end of the day to avoid the crowds.

While fish throwing was expected, the beautiful flower arrangements in the market were a lovely surprise

  • Walk around Capitol Hill, a neighborhood a stone's throw away from downtown with fun restaurants, coffeehouses, and shops. Don't forget to check out the Elliott Bay Book Company, one of the best independent bookstores in the city.

  • Seattle is famous for its ferry boats (as any Grey's Anatomy fan knows), so take a 35-minute trip to Bainbridge Island for shopping, parks and trails along the water or in nature, fabulous food and wine options, and more. Although cars can be brought on the ferry to check out the island, visitors without cars can walk along Winslow Way for shops and restaurants. Our favorite parts of the day included the farmer's market (10-2pm every Saturday, April - November), brunch at Amelia Wynn Winery Bistro, pastries and tea at Blackbird Bakery (and Pegasus Coffee), and wandering in and out of the shops on Winslow, including Eagle Harbor Book Co. Bainbridge was a highlight of our trip, and I only wish we had more time to spend on the island.

Pegasus Coffee, a quintessential spot on Bainbridge Island

  • Visit the Space Needle, a Seattle staple that was built in 1961 for the 1962 World Fair. While this was one of the more touristy things we did on the trip, it was a check off the bucket list. Go at sunset for beautiful views of the city, Mount Rainier, and the Puget Sound. Another attraction that can be paired with the Space Needle admission is Chihuly Garden and Glass museum, highlighting studio glass of artist Dale Chihuly.

Pair the Space Needle tickets with Chihuly Garden and Glass admission for ~$60 per person


Places to eat and drink:
  • It's hard to go wrong with any coffeeshop in Seattle, but here were our favorites: Ghost Alley Espresso (right beneath the steps of Pike Place, and next to the famous Gum Wall), where you should try the Salty Nut latte; Victrola Coffee Roasters in Capitol Hill, and Good Weather Bicycle and Cafe also in Capitol Hill. We stopped by Anchorhead Coffee too, where I tried a blackberry crumble latte, but wouldn't recommend this spot above the others. Tip: Unless you're a Starbucks mega-fan, skip the Reserve in Capitol Hill (where lines were wrapped around the street) and the original location by Pike Place to opt for smaller, Mom-and-Pop shops.

  • Indulge in an urban winery & tasting at Browne Family Vineyards in Pioneer Square, an eclectic neighborhood with a variety of shops and restaurants just south of downtown Seattle. We tried local Washington wines from the famous Walla Wall region of the state and enjoyed the atmosphere here before dinner on our first night.

Washington is famous for its reds, especially Syrah, and red blends

  • Snag a coveted reservation at The Pink Door, hidden along Post Alley near Pike Place, or try for a walk-in when the restaurant opens for dinner at 5pm. With Italian-American inspired influences, The Pink Door boasts not only fantastic pasta and seafood dishes and exceptional service, but entertainment as well. Performances can change monthly, yet expect a rotating schedule of trapeze and aerial performances, jazz ensembles, singers, tarot readers, and more. This was a highlight of our time in Seattle!

  • While in Capitol Hill, try two of our favorite restaurants from our time in Seattle: Terra Plata and Oddfellows Café + Bar. Sit at the upstairs, open air patio at Terra Plata for seasonal cocktails and "earth to plate" inspired dishes. Check out Oddfellows at any time of day (they advertise as a day to night café) for craft cocktails and natural wines, seasonal ingredients, and something for everyone to try.

Brunch at Capitol Hill's Oddfellows Cafe and Bar, with its own intimate open air patio

  • Other highly rated restaurants to check out, since we had limited room in our schedules and bellies: Spinasse (Northern Italian, Capitol Hill), Shaker + Spear (Seafood, Belltown), Sushi Kashiba (Sushi, Pike Place), Bateau (Steakhouse, Capitol Hill), and Champagne Diner (American, Queen Anne).

Additional tips:
  • Get to & from SeaTac airport to downtown Seattle via the Sound Link, which was $3 per person each way, runs every 15 minutes, and easily accessible on the Transit Go app.

  • Staying downtown by Pike Place was a perfect location for the few days we had in the city, and was close to quieter neighborhoods, attractions, and the ferry to Bainbridge.


Olympic National Park

Things to do:

Explore nature, of course! This park is massive and can be daunting to plan, but if you only have a few days, try to check off the highlights in this list by grouping them by location...


Northern Olympic:
  • Lake Crescent: Stopping here is a must for anyone driving along U.S. Highway 101. This glacier-carved lake offers multiple hikes (such as challenging Mount Storm King), stunning viewpoints, swimming and boating in the summer, and shockingly crystal clear water. At over 600 feet deep, Lake Crescent has only two remaining historic resorts, Lake Crescent Lodge and Log Cabin Resort on opposing shores.

The view from the pier at Lake Crescent Lodge; the water clarity was unbelievable!

  • Marymere Falls: Hike this 1.8 miles roundtrip, moss-laden trail to a 90-foot waterfall close to Lake Crescent. This was our first hike after we drove in from Seattle and was a great way to stretch our legs.

  • Sol Duc Falls: Find the trailhead for this 1.6 miles roundtrip hike at the Sol Duc Hot Springs and Resort, and follow a trail through beautiful rainforest to one of Olympic's most iconic waterfalls.

  • Hurricane Ridge: This is a bit of a sore subject, since I was most looking forward to this famous hike for sunrise, but life happens! The NPS closed the road to the trail the week before we arrived for trenching purposes, since the Day Lodge burnt in a fire in May '23. Check back on the NPS site for updates, and be sure to check this hike off your list for stunning views of Mount Olympus, the Strait of San Juan de Fuca, and Victoria, Canada. I will be back to conquer this hike!

  • Cape Flattery and Shi Shi Beach: Technically northwestern Olympic, Cape Flattery is the furthest northwest point in the contiguous U.S. We didn't make it here on this trip due to time (it's about 2 hours past where we stayed in Port Angeles) but the hike is known for its dramatic views of the ocean, accessibility at only 1.2 miles out-and-back, and bragging rights for the location.

Western Olympic:
  • Hoh Rainforest: The region receives nearly 140 inches of rainfall per year, giving the forest its lush green canopy and enchanting allure of mosses, ferns, and other species of plants and trees. This is one of the only remaining examples of a temperature rainforest in the U.S. and should not be missed on any trip to Olympic. The iconic Hall of Mosses trail is just under a mile long, and a slightly longer Spruce Nature Trail loops through both old and new growth in the forest at 1.2 miles out-and-back.

For any Star Wars fans: Return of the Jedi was filmed in Hoh, which served as location for the forests of Endor

  • Kalaloch Beach and Tree of Life: Park at Kalaloch Campground to see the famous Tree of life, a Sitka spruce that is hanging onto an eroding coastal bluff by its last limbs.

A stream in the Tree Root Cave underneath washes out the soil underneath each year, leaving many questioning how the tree keeps growing. Mysterious!

  • Ruby Beach: Located just north of Kalaloch Beach, travelers could walk this beach for miles on a nice day. Ruby Beach is known for its unique rock formations, tide pools, sea stacks, and driftwood. This was truly breathtaking.

  • Forks, Washington: Calling all Twilight fans! While Forks is the setting for Stephenie Meyer's Twilight saga, not a single scene was filmed in the actual town. However, you can drive by the Forks Chamber of Commerce and see Bella's pickup truck parked outside, as well as a handful of other Twilight-themed attractions throughout the town and surrounding area. I'm pretending as if I didn't devour those books when I was twelve...

  • Rialto Beach: My friend who visited and recommended Rialto for our trip called it "menacing" and boy, was she correct. The seas were quite rough the day we visited, but this beach is beautiful and a must-see when touring the Olympic beaches. Similar to Ruby Beach, Rialto is known for its dramatic sea stacks, scattered driftwood, tide pools and wildlife, and extremely strong currents. Check the tide charts before hiking Hole-in-the-Wall, a popular 3.3 mile out-and-back hike.

Rialto is definitely not a swimming beach; the tides are important when hiking along the shore


Places to eat and drink:
  • Break up the drive from Seattle to Port Angeles with a stop for food and local cider at Finnriver Farm & Cidery near Port Townsend. Finnriver offers tastings, food trucks, tours of the orchard, and more.

Washington's official state fruit is the apple, aptly designated as the state produces nearly 90% of the country's apple crop. No wonder hard cider is popular here.

  • While Port Angeles and the surrounding towns of Olympic are not exactly known for their culinary expertise, there are a decent number of options. Some Port Angeles and Sequim (a neighboring town) restaurants our hotel, the Olympic Lodge at Ayers, recommended: Spruce, Nourish, Alder Wood Bistro and Wood-Fired Pizza, Kokopelli Grill, and Next Door Gastropub. Our hotel offered a continental breakfast each morning, which was a highlight before we set out to hike.

  • Lake Crescent Lodge: Book a reservation for dinner, or sit on the front patio for drinks, at this historic hotel built in 1915. We agreed that if we returned, we would stay at this lodge with gorgeous views of the lake.

A Washington red, of course, and the Lodge's speciality honey and lavender cocktail

  • Granny's Cafe: Located off Highway 101, Granny's Cafe was included in virtually every guide I read while planning our trip in regards to food. Come for home-style meals, locally sourced burgers, and comfort food.

  • Creekside Restaurant at Kalaloch Lodge: Lunch here was a great way to break up our day (and dry off) after visiting Hoh and Kalaloch Beach in the morning. Brownie points for spectacular ocean views.

Additional tips:
  • Be prepared to drive. A lot. The park is incredibly biodiverse and beautiful, but that is because it covers many climate zones and is spread out. Planning the itinerary in advance can help, so you can maximize your time in each area of the park.

  • It will rain! Bring rain gear and be prepared to get wet. Layers will be your best friend in this park, since once you're moving and grooving on a hike, you'll warm up fast.

  • Since options for food are a bit limited, I'd pack granola bars, snacks, or even lunch for your excursion days.

  • On our way back from Olympic Lodge in Port Angeles to SeaTac, we stopped at Point Defiance Park in Tacoma, where we walked around a 760-acre urban park overlooking the Puget Sound, as well as the park's beautifully maintained Rose Garden.

The Dahlia Trial Garden, one of the largest official trial gardens throughout the U.S. and Canada


As always, feel free to reach out when planning a trip to Seattle and Olympic for recommendations. Thank you for reading!

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