Having lived abroad in Europe for the last six years, I’ve lost track of how many times someone has asked me where I’m originally from. Being born in Washington, and then moving to Ohio, Nevada, and then back to Washington for high school- the only place that’s ever felt like, “home-home”, is Washington.

But knowing the exact geography of the United States is hard for people who didn’t grow up there. The easiest thing to do has always been (and probably always will be) to say, “Oh I’m from Seattle.” (I’m not.) And much to my surprise, Seattle isn’t as well- known of a city as one would be led to believe. Sure, people know “Sleepless in Seattle,” and “Twilight” but if they had to point on a map where Washington is, chances are, they wouldn’t know where to start.

When describing Washington state, it’s easiest to hit on the “winners.” This includes but is not limited to: Starbucks, Pike Place Market, Amazon, Boeing, the ocean, apples, and more coffee. After being away for six years, and only visiting for two to three weeks at a time – it’s sometimes easy to think that this is in fact, all Washington has to offer.

The reality is though- that couldn’t be further from the truth. Washington state is a gold mine in the Pacific Northwest. It is a jaw-dropping beautiful treasure that is booming with fascinating projects and individuals. Working for Explore Washington State has given me the opportunity to discover and uncover things about my home state that, otherwise, I’m not sure I would have been curious enough to find out about.

My favorite task at Explore Washington State is running the Instagram account. Through this little app on my phone and laptop, I’ve learned about people like, The Musical Mountaineers– two friends who hike up a mountain with their violin and keyboard strapped to their backs and then play some of the most beautiful music you’ve heard. Would I have found out about them if I hadn’t been looking? Maybe, but chances aren’t that high seeing as my personal Instagram searches include, “toddler outfits,” “healthy family meals,” and “food porn.”

But it isn’t just through Instagram that I’ve learned more about Washington. It’s through researching the dozens of cities and towns we provide information about. If ever you’re at a Trivia Pub Quiz, and the question is, “How many schools are located in ____ in Washington state?” Chances are, I can answer that. Or more interestingly- about each town and areas median income, home cost, and industry. Being armed with this information allows me to better advise people where they should visit on vacation, or even move to.

Our state is filled to the brim with places that you might have never heard of, but should know about. Below are my top 5 favorite things or places in the state that more people should know about!

 

  • SPARK Museum of Electrical Invention in Bellingham. This museum is truly something special as every member of the family will learn something new through hands-on activities, creatively designed exhibits and inexpensive admission price. Absolute highlight? Their Tesla Coil MegaZapper show! This museum deserves five stars for how much fun they make learning about electricity.
  • The Wenatchee Pybus Market is also on my list of for a plethora of reasons. This is a one stop place for a cup of delicious coffee at Café Columbia, an even more delicious vegan taco salad at South, and an ice cream to finish it off at Ice. But it’s more than just food- although their fresh produce, fresh meat & seafood and cheese counter are hard not to love. No, here you can even get your bike repaired, grab a book from the free library, do a wine tasting and check out their local merchants before leaving. This public market is arguably more family friendly than Pikes Place, for the simple reason that its small enough to keep an eye on your kids but large enough to not overwhelm other guests with our wild-eyed toddlers.
  • Ordering a Mikes Deluxe at MSM Deli in Tacoma. Seriously- it doesn’t matter if you’re from Tacoma, driving through Tacoma, or absolutely hate Tacoma… MSM Deli makes one of the best, if not THE best sandwiches I’ve ever had. This small deli/ convenience store is well known for their tasty subs and have a somewhat cult following.
  • If you have people visiting from out of town, or commute up to Seattle for work- you’re going to need a cup of joe either way. One my personal favorite little cafes is located on California Ave in West Seattle. Hotwire Online Coffeehouse. Every cup of coffee I’ve ever had here has been held to the same standard, and was exactly what I ordered. With the usual suspects: cappuccino, drip, cold brew, etc- you can also pick up fresh pastries, choose from 4 alternative milks without extra charge, or order one of their “house specials.” And if that out-of-towner you’re showing around doesn’t drink coffee (GASP) well, they can grab a smoothie, Italian soda, or loose-leaf tea.
  • Finally- one of my last favorite things to do in Washington when I’m home on a visit, is to just be in our nature. From Mt. Rainer to Saddlerock Mountain, to the San Juan Islands, our state is popular for outdoor sports for a reason. Rock climbing, bouldering, mountain biking, hiking, skiing, snowboarding, horseback riding, and so much more are all possibilities year round here. If I had to choose my favorite outdoor activity here, it would be a simple walk along the water. Alki Beach in West Seattle, down at the waterfront in Tacoma, ocean side in Ocean Shores, or along the Columbia in Wenatchee- it doesn’t matter where, they are all gorgeous and fresh.
    (Photo from @topomountainman via Instagram) 

 

While I love living in Europe, and the opportunities it has provided me- home is always home. And I’ve yet to have a cup of coffee here that can meet Washington state standards.