The Pacific Northwest is often described as a wonderland, and once you visit, you’ll almost certainly agree. The Pacific Northwest is generally considered to run from the Oregon coast all the way north to Canada’s British Columbia. Because there are so many things to do in the Pacific Northwest for both urban explorers and outdoor enthusiasts, it’s incredibly popular with travelers.
Owing to the unique climate and geography of the region, ranging from the wet and humid rainforests you’ll see on day trips from Seattle to the dryer, low-lying wine regions of Canada’s Okanagan Valley, there’s a mind-blowing amount of things to do in the Northwest.
The region is well known for amazing trails, hiking, and outdoor recreation, which means there are activities for every level of athlete and any age. Even if you’re not into nature, towns like Astoria and Seattle are rich in history and culture.
Whether it’s because of the fantastic amount of things to do in the Northwest, the unparalleled beauty of the area’s mountains and valleys, or the creativity of area chefs and artists, the PNW is often a highlight of any West Coast vacation.
1: Explore Stanley Park in Vancouver
As the largest public park in Vancouver, the 1,000-acre space includes Canada’s largest aquarium, 17 miles of forest trails, lagoons and lakes where native flora and fauna live, and a running and biking trail on a seawall next to the Pacific Ocean.
Groups traveling with kids or older adults may want to tour the park on the vintage tourist train or taking a gentle walk between the totem poles made by First Nations people from around the province.
If you decide to explore the park’s trails, be sure to grab a map that shows the location of the massive “monument trees.” These conifers, some of which are nearly 800 years old, were spared from logging operations in the 1800s and now stand as some of the tallest trees in Canada.
2: Whale Watch on the Juan De Fuca Strait in Victoria
The San Juan Islands are one of the best destinations in the world to go whale watching. While other regions certainly have their share of amazing Cetaceans, the Juan de Fuca and Haro straits have an unrivaled number of different whale species in one area.
From your high-speed zodiac boat, you’re likely to spot killer whales (it’s one of the best places to see orcas in the world), humpbacks, greys, and the smaller minke whale. Because the zodiacs move quickly and sit low to the water, you may also spot seals, sea lions, sea birds, and maybe some playful river otters.
Cruising through these bodies of water is an adventure, and it’s hard not to feel the excitement as you bounce across waves and along stunning shorelines in search of these magnificent animals. The zodiac boats are eco-friendly and offer the best chance of finding whales, but larger boats with more amenities are available if you want to sip a hot toddy while listening for the sound of a distant blowhole.
3: Step Inside Larger-Than-Life Art in Seattle
If you’ve ever seen a giant glass sculpture or chandelier that took your breath away, there’s a good chance it was either by Dale Chihuly or designed to look like it was. The Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum in Seattle will leave you in awe at the artist’s creativity. The museum features rooms filled with larger-than-life sculptures and gardens where tall flowers and glass installations intermix to leave you wondering which is the actual piece of art.
It’s not your standard art-hanging-on-a-white-wall museum—it’s more like stepping inside colorful pieces of art. Seeing the works of Dale Chihuly is one of the most unique things to do in the Pacific Northwest and is a can’t-miss activity for art lovers.
4: Picnic in a Rolling Vineyard in Willamette Valley
Oregon’s Willamette Valley has quickly become one of the most famous wine regions in the U.S. For a taste of laid-back luxury, book a tour to visit a few of the wineries in the rolling countryside just south of Portland.
Two exceptional places to visit in the northwest are Plum Hill Winery and Apolloni Winery, both of which offer a variety of wines and expert-guided wine tastings. When you book a tour, be sure to choose one that includes a gourmet picnic lunch to pair perfectly with your reds, whites, and rosés.
5: Pass Through a Working Waterfront Lock in Seattle
Possibly Seattle’s most famous site, the Fisherman’s Terminal represents the history and heart of the city. It’s near the Pike Place Fish Market, the 100-year-old open-air market where fishmongers throw giant fish between themselves from behind the counter. Pike Place is also home to the original Starbucks coffee, locally famous street performers (called buskers), and historic Pioneer Square.
A tour of Fisherman’s Terminal usually involves both land and sea, and a great way to see the waterfront district is with a gentle cruise through the marina. You may even be able to sail through Ballard Lock and experience the ingenious example of maritime creativity first-hand.
Be sure to leave time to try some of the tastiest and freshest seafood you’ll find in North America, ranging from clam chowder to fish tacos to melt-in-your-mouth fish and chips.
6: Tour a Real-Life Castle in Victoria
Though this part of the world may not be known for castles, visiting one is definitely one of the best things to do in the Northwest. Craigdarroch Castle in Victoria has enough stained glass, carved woods, French influences, and gilded details to rival any of Europe’s castles.
Now a national historic site, the property was constructed by Scottish coal baron Robert Dunsmuir in the late 1800s. The family was exceedingly wealthy, though they had their fair share of scandals and drama, which you’ll learn about during your extensive property visit. Between the home and the on-site museum, you’ll get an incredibly fascinating peek into the lives of the ultra-wealthy in the late 19th century.
7: Walk Across a Treetop Suspension Bridge in Vancouver
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park is not your average park, and visiting this stunning outdoor playground is one of the best things to do in the Pacific Northwest. The main draw is the 450-foot-long bridge, which rises more than 200 feet above the Capilano River. First built in 1889, the bridge has since been reinforced and offers a bird’s-eye view of the forest (along with endless photo opportunities.)
Though the bridge is the park’s namesake, it’s not the only attraction. You can take an interpretive walk through a temperate West Coast rainforest, stroll across several more treetop bridges and walkways, or listen to a free guided ranger talk.
To learn more about this history of the forest and region, visit the Kia’palano First Nations cultural center and read about the early explorers who built the bridge in the park’s Story Centre. The park is simply beautiful and offers a chance to stand amongst giant trees deep in the heart of the Pacific Northwest.
8: Express Yourself Through Glass in Astoria
If you’re inspired by the beauty of British Columbia, one of the best things to do in Astoria, Oregon is to visit the Fernhill Glass Studio to express your creativity through glasswork. At this popular studio, you can learn the art and science behind glass-blowing before getting some pointers and trying to blow your own glass art piece.
While sculptures and highly detailed pieces can be difficult for beginners, paperweights are relatively easy, and an expert will be on hand to instruct you in choosing colors and proper glass-blowing techniques. The Astoria Riverwalk is nearby if you want to explore more of the town after visiting the studio.
9: Explore an Abandoned Underground City in Seattle
Though Seattle was established in 1851, much of the modern city dates back closer to 1889, the year of the great fire that destroyed much of Seattle’s business district. Fortunately, only one person was killed in the blaze, but the fire completely destroyed more than 25 city blocks. The town was rebuilt on top of the destroyed buildings, which created an entire “underground city.”
Stepping under the hustle and bustle of Seattle is one of the most unexpected things to do in the Pacific Northwest. If you sign up for an underground history tour, your adventure will start by learning about the history of the famous buildings on the surface before dipping underground to see the squares and stroll the main thoroughfares of the former city. Most tours focus on history and humor rather than scary stories, so the tours should be suitable for most children.
10: Get a Bird’s-Eye View of Vancouver
If you’ve never been to Vancouver before, a great first stop is the Vancouver Lookout. The huge observation deck rises more than 550 feet into the sky and offers 360-degree views of the entire city, plus Vancouver Harbor and beautiful Vancouver Island.
To reach the viewpoint, you’ll take a speedy 40-second ride in a glass elevator. One ticket is good for admission for the entire day, so you can visit in the morning, tour the city, then come back for a sunset view. The Vancouver Lookout is near the harbor and not too far from other popular sites like Granville Island, Gastown, and the Museum of Vancouver, so it makes sense to include it as part of a day spent exploring the city.
11: Browse a Seaside Evening Market in Victoria
Sidney-by-the-Sea, just 30 minutes north of Victoria, is a refuge for artists and artisans, farmers, and those who prefer a slightly more relaxed pace of life.
Every Thursday night in the summer, Sidney-by-the-Sea hosts a downtown street market. The adorable small-town festival makes everyone feel like a local, with food and drink vendors, live music, activities for kids, and dozens of booths from local creators. It’s one of the best things to do in Victoria if you plan to pick up a few souvenirs, love live music, or just prefer small oceanfront towns to larger cities.
12: Photograph a Famous Rock in Cannon Beach
If you thought California was the only state on the West Coast with great beaches, think again. The stunning town of Cannon Beach, just half an hour outside of Astoria, is one of the best places to visit in the Northwest. Photographers will love spending time on the beach taking pictures of the famous 235-foot-tall Haystack Rock, while the nearby town of Seaside has an artsy main street and boardwalk perfect for strolling with a latte in hand (Pacific Pearl Coffee is a local favorite.)
The beach is also a well-known place to spot ocean creatures in tidepools along the shore. Visit before or during low tide, and interpretive volunteers on the beach will help you identify the animals in the tide pools and swimming (or flying) just off the shore.
13: Head Into the Mountains Near Squamish
As you might imagine from a region of the world with such massive mountains and lush forests, you don’t have to go too far out of the city to experience impressive natural terrain. To spend time outdoors while in Vancouver, take a ride on the Sea to Sky Highway, so named for the jaw-dropping views during the drive as you climb into the mountains near Squamish, B.C.
You’ll find Shannon Falls near Squamish, a waterfall with a cascade more than 1,000 feet tall (that’s more than five times the height of Niagara Falls.) After the falls, make a stop at the Sea to Sky Gondola, which will carry you nearly 3,000 feet into the mountains with stunning views of the Howe Sound during the ride.
From the top, you can cross the 300-foot suspension bridge above the trees or take a gentle nature walk before taking the gondola back down the mountain.
14: Bike Along the Waterfront in Astoria
While in Astoria, why not stretch your legs on a riverfront bike tour? The ride along Astoria’s waterfront is mostly flat on wide, paved paths, and passes by the picturesque harbor. Astoria was once known as “the most wicked place on earth,” and you’ll learn how it gained this moniker if you take a guided tour of the lovely harbor.
While cycling, plan to stop for lunch at one of the many fresh seafood restaurants near the water. While sitting outside (and while cycling!) keep your eyes on the water, as it’s possible to see rare seabirds and the large California sea lions that call the Columbia River home.
Stretching for more than 700 miles, there’s an incredible amount of things to do in the Pacific Northwest, and the best way to experience all this area has to offer is on a Pacific Coastal cruise.
You’ll spend your days in port exploring the rugged wilderness, wandering through charming towns, museums, and wineries, and admiring the unparalleled beaches and Pacific Ocean vistas. On board, you’ll experience the incredible venues, unparalleled service, luxurious accommodations, and world-class dining that will make your vacation an experience of a lifetime.
Browse cruise itineraries on our website and start planning your next trip to the stunning Pacific Northwest today.