18 Things to Do on the Olympic Peninsula
The 3,600-square-mile Olympic Peninsula is surrounded by water, with the Pacific Ocean to the west, the Strait of Juan de Fuca to the north and the Hood Canal to the east, all highlighted by the soaring Olympic Mountains sitting at its heart. Those who are fortunate to be living in Port Ludlow, the “Gateway to the Olympic Peninsula,” enjoy easy access to all this magnificent region has to offer, from sailing, boating and fishing to hiking wild shorelines and temperate rainforests, wildlife-viewing and so much more. This is a true outdoor lovers’ paradise, home to some of the nation’s most remote wilderness areas and unspoiled shorelines, yet it still provides a wealth of cultural activities, along with fantastic restaurants – many of which serve some of the best fresh seafood on the planet – and, a mild climate with more sun than Seattle in many areas to do it all in, thanks to the Olympic Rain Shadow.
There is so much to do here, you may want to start your own personal “bucket list,” as it could take a lifetime to experience it all.
Drive the Olympic Peninsula Loop
One of the top things to do if you’re new to the area, as well as for those who’ve been here a while and haven’t experienced it, is to take a scenic drive on the loop highway, the Olympic Peninsula’s only major route. From Port Ludlow, connect with it on highway 101 at the junction with 104, traveling counterclockwise through Sequim, Port Angeles and eventually Aberdeen, veering off at Highway 12, just west of Olympia, before connecting with 101 north along the Hood Canal. This is a great way to get a taste of what the area has to offer, before taking a more in-depth look at some of the favorite spots. You’ll pass through lavender farms that surround the small town of Sequim, and you can take a detour into Olympic National Park, heading up to Hurricane Ridge to enjoy a jaw-dropping panoramic view of the San Juan de Fuca Strait out to the San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island in British Columbia. Just a bit further west lies one of the most stunning lakes in the country, Lake Crescent, with its deep, striking emerald waters quintessentially wild, surrounded by lush greenery and numerous cascading falls. Venturing to the west coast, you’ll discover wild, driftwood-strewn beaches where the roaring waves of the Pacific crash onto the sand – at low tide, peek into the tide pools that are often filled with colorful anemone, starfish, hermit crabs and other sea creatures.
Explore Marrowstone Island
Marrowstone Island is just 15 minutes from Port Ludlow, connected by bridge to the mainland, and offers a host of outdoor activities, historic sites and even a picturesque vineyard for wine tasting. Flagler State Park is arguably the main attraction, offering miles of trails as well as extensive walkable saltwater shoreline and 19th-century historic military fort buildings. Pick up offerings at the roadside farms and flower stands and sample the tasty handcrafted wines at Marrowstone Vineyards, a winery that enjoys a fabulous setting atop a hill overlooking the Puget Sound, the Cascades and Whidbey Island. It not only hosts a tasting room, but it has its own art gallery which displays the works of local artists. Mystery Bay Farm offers award-winning goat cheeses as well as public tours where you can learn about turning milk into cheese, meet the goats, enjoy a cheese tasting and tour the milking parlor and cheese making facility. If you arrive for the 6 a.m. or 6 p.m. milkings, you can even help milk the goats.
If you want to enjoy fresh clams and oysters, visit the Clam and Oyster Company, and be sure to stop by the Nordland General Store which sells a number of locally-produced items.
Fort Worden State Park, Port Townsend
Port Townsend is just a half-hour’s drive away, making Fort Worden State Park, one of the state’s finest, easily accessible as well. There are endless trails to explore, gorgeous sandy beaches to walk and lounge on, and the glistening waters of Admiralty Bay for an amazing paddle, you can rent kayaks onsite and watch for marine life like otters, dolphins and seals. If you want to explore the park on two wheels and don’t have a bicycle, you can rent one and pedal out to Point Wilson lighthouse or another of other points throughout its more than 500 acres. At the Marine Science Center, you can get up close to the underwater world without getting wet, and if you’re a history enthusiast, you can check out the Puget Sound Coast Artillery Museum which focuses on Harbor Defenses of the Puget Sound. At the end of Officer’s Row, tour the Commanding Offer’s Quarters, filled with late Victorian-era furnishings that offer a glimpse in the life of an officer and his family.
Port Townsend’s Northwest Maritime Center
The Northwest Maritime Center celebrates the maritime heritage of this Victorian seaport town, offering maritime education programs as well as kayak rentals and free boat tours. The Center hosts a wooden boat chandlery, a coffee shop and chairs for simply sitting and watching the world go by.
Port Townsend Farmers Market
The Port Townsend Farmers Market is open from April 1 to mid-December every year on Saturdays from 9 a.m. until 2 p.m. and is considered one of the state’s best markets of its size. Shop for high quality local produce and seafood, including smoked salmon, local honey, goat cheeses, ciders and all sorts of homemade delights, as well as flowers, herbs, handcrafted goods and more. You can enjoy a delicious meal while listening to live tunes and mingle with locals who come from throughout the community and well beyond.
Jefferson Museum of Art and History
The Jefferson Museum of Art and History serves as the county’s historical and art museum, based in Port Townsend, in the historic City Hall building. The 1892 building houses not only the museum, but the basement cells of the old city jail, where author Jack London spent a night on his way to the Klondike in the summer of 1879. Exhibits, like the horse-drawn Victorian hearse, and the original Haller Fountain, are displayed in the former municipal court room and the fire hall, as well as the jail spaces. You’ll learn about the early settlers and native inhabitants of the county, as well as its communities, born in waterfront forests more than 150 years ago, along with very interesting, juicy tidbits about the Ladies of the Night who were here around the turn of the century.
Puget Sound Express Whale Watching, Port Townsend
Head out on a whale watching tour with Puget Sound Express from the Point Hudson Marina. It offers a variety of tours throughout the year, including 4-hour tours running mainly in the summer that depart in the morning and afternoon, where passengers can view orcas, humpbacks, minke whales, porpoise, harbor seals, bald eagles and other marine life. In March and April, when the gray whales migrate from southern waters north to Alaska, passing through the Strait of Juan de Fuca, daily gray whale tours are offered too.
The Olympic Discovery Trail
If you want to get out and get active, get out on foot or on two wheels to explore the nearly 130-mile Olympic Discovery Trail, bordered on the south by the Olympic Mountains, and the north by the Strait of Juan de Fuca. It begins in Port Townsends, and ends at the shores of the Pacific. The wide, paved pathway can be used by hikers, walkers, bicyclists, and the disabled. Along the way, views include tranquil lakes, roaring rivers, fields and farms, as well as beaches, parks and national recreation areas. It also exhibits a diverse range of fauna and flora to enjoy.
Purple Haze Lavender Farm and Lavender Festival, Sequim
The Purple Haze Lavender Farm, as the name suggests, is a must visit for lavender lovers. It hosts gorgeous fields of lavender, with over 15,000 plants and more than 50 varieties, as well as a gift shop with a wide variety of lavender products. The varied shades of purple are dazzling, and the setting includes brilliant gardens, ponds and wetlands. It also gives visitors the chance to learn about America's agricultural roots and find out how lavender is used in aromatherapy, perfumery, culinary, floral and landscaping. If you've never tried lavender ice cream or a lavender mocha, you'll have the opportunity to experience it here.
Every year in July, Sequim hosts the Lavender Festival, which includes free self-guided farm tours, live entertainment and street dancing, an extensive selection of Olympic Coast and international cuisine, more than 150 arts and crafts booths, including many originated, handmade gifts and personal care items that are produced from the Sequim lavender harvest. You’ll discover everything from culinary ingredients, oils and lotions to pet apparel, eye pillows and lavender bouquet, along with some hard-to-find lavender plants.
Olympic Game Farm, Sequim
The Olympic Game Farm is an ideal place to visit with kids, although the grownups usually enjoy it too. If you’re looking for something to do with friends or relatives who are visiting, be sure to put it on your to-do list. One of the most popular attractions on the Peninsula, the farm worked exclusively with Walt Disney Studios for nearly three decades, filming many of their beloved nature films onsite, before opening to the public back in 1972. This is when it became a haven for retired Hollywood animals, as well as a place for "in-need" captive bred animals to live.
The farm is home to the famous waving bear as well as numerous llamas, elk, deer, reindeer, yak, zebra and even bison who make their way up to vehicles providing an up close experience. Visitors can also view lions, tigers, wolves, cougars, lynx and other animals. Located in a beautiful setting in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley, set against the backdrop of the Olympics, it’s incredibly scenic too.
Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, Dungeness
The Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge is just a few miles from the Olympic Game Farm. It protects eelgrass beds and tidal flats that serve as the home to an abundance of migrating shorebirds in the spring and fall, as well as flocks of waterfowl in the winter, making it a bird watcher’s paradise. The star attraction here is one of the world’s longest natural sand spits, Dungeness Spit, which serves to soften wild waves, forming a serene bay, beautiful beaches and tide flats. Visitors can take the short hike down to the Spit to enjoy the breathtaking panoramic views of turquoise waters and on a clear day, Mount Baker, keeping an eye out for bald eagles perched on driftwood or soaring through the skies, harbor seals and harlequin ducks. If you’re lucky, you might even spot an orca whale just offshore. If you’re up for the challenge, a 5-mile trek along the spit will bring you to the New Dungeness Lighthouse, open for public tours, which sits at its end.
Olympic National Park
There is so much to do in Olympic National Park, with several entrances located near the city of Port Angeles, it required a separate article that can be found here. This spectacular park offers everything from hiking, fishing, beachcombing and petroglyph-viewing, to biking, kayaking, canoeing, swimming, and more.
Salt Creek Recreation Area, Port Angeles
Located about 15 miles west of Port Angeles, the Salt Creek Recreation Area is one of the Olympic Peninsula’s top sites for viewing wildlife, with a wide variety of birds, mammals and marine animals that can all be seen from vantage points throughout the park. Its shoreline is a marine life sanctuary, and at low tide the Tongue Point tide pools provide unbeatable viewing of intertidal marine life. Grey whales can often be spotted at the north end of the park in Crescent Bay – watch for the heart-shaped spots or a tail fluke. Tongue Point, the rocky peninsula that appears during low tide at the northwest corner of the Park, and the shoreline to the east, is a great place to bring binoculars and look for minkes, orcas and humpbacks, as well as harbor porpoise and dolphins. Interpretive signs set near popular vantage points help out with identification.
Cape Flattery Trail, located on the Makah Nation at Neah Bay, offers the chance to stand on the most northwesterly tip of the contiguous lower 48 States from its end. You’ll find four observation decks along the .75-mile trail with breathtaking views of interesting rock formations, seabirds – including puffins, marine mammals like orcas and gray whales, along with a dramatic marine landscape that includes the Pacific’s intensely-colored turquoise waters, the entrance of the Strait of Juan de Fuca and Tatoosh Island.
Cape Flattery, Neah Bay
For some of the most dramatic scenery and the chance to stand at the northwestern-most point in the U.S., take a road trip out Neah Bay. The .75-mile Cape Flattery Trail, leads through lush, moss-covered forest and features four observation decks, all with magnificent views of striking rock formations that rise up out of the brilliant azure sea, as well as seabirds, including puffins and the chance to view orcas, gray whales and humpbacks that pass by. You’ll also be able to see Tatoosh and Vancouver Islands.
While you’re here, view the over 500-year-old Makah Indian artifacts at the Makah Museum and pay a visit to scenic Hobuck Beach on the Makah Reservation. Open to the public year-round, it hosts the Hobuck Beach Resort, where visitors can rent kayaks, surfboards, stand-up paddleboards, and bikes. The resort also makes a great place to stay if you want to stick around for a while, with everything from tent and RV sites to cabins.
These days, Forks is all about the Twilight book series, and even if you aren’t a fan, if someone visits you who is, it may be worth visiting so they can tour the sites featured in the books written by Stephenie Meyer. The Forks Chamber of Commerce Visitor Center offers free Twilight packages that will provide you with everything you need to know. It includes trivia tests based on all of the books, and a Forks Twilight map so that you’ll be able to see where all the sites are located.
Next door to the visitor center is the Forks Timber Museum, which celebrates the town’s logging history. It showcases tools, and the history of logging, including a 10-foot-tall chainsaw-carved cedar statue known as “The Logger,” that’s surrounded by name plaques honoring past timber workers. Other exhibits highlight Indian culture, pioneers, agriculture and the history of Forks.
Ocean Shores is a popular tourist destination with a wealth of things to do, including spending time on the beach, digging for clams, flying a kite, beachcombing and winter storm watching. A wide variety of entertainment is available too, especially when it comes to live music. If you’re a fan of Irish/Celtic music, don’t miss the largest Celtic music festival on the west coast – it takes place every year in October, featuring six stages, four venues and some of the finest musical acts from both near and far. A variety of workshops are hosted too, including Irish dance, bagpipes, tin whistle, bodhran, storytelling and more, many of which are taught by the musicians featured at the festival.
Located on the furthest southwestern reaches of the Olympic Peninsula, Long Beach and its 28 miles of sand, is one of the most visited Pacific Northwest oceanfront towns. It proclaims itself to be the “World’s Longest Beach,” and while that may not be technically true, it is outstanding when it comes to all sorts of activities on the sand, including kite flying. This is where the internationally-renowned annual Washington State International Kite Festival is held every August, drawing visitors from across the globe. It also hosts a World Kite Museum and Hall of Fame. Visitors can also enjoy a variety of activities geared for all ages, making it a great spot to bring extended family. Year round there are carnival rides, games, bumper cars and a carousel. You can even rent a bicycle built for two, or a three-wheeler and cruise the beach.
If you like cranberries, learn about over a century of cranberry cultivation in the area at the Cranberry Museum, which offers a self-guided walking tour through the cranberry bogs, as well as the chance to taste cranberry tea and purchase an array of cranberry products.
Cape Disappointment State Park
You won’t be disappointed with a visit to Cape Disappointment State Park, set near Washington’s border with Oregon. This 1,882-acre park faces both the Pacific Ocean and the Columbia River, hosting everything from sheltered bays and wetlands to driftwood filled beaches, hiking trails and lighthouses. As explorers Lewis and Clark roamed this very land during their 4,000-mile journey across the country to the Pacific in 1805, it also hosts the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, which provides an outstanding overview of their arduous trip with a focus on their time in this area.