Wanna get out of town with your sweetie but don’t know where to go? Well, good thing you happen to live in one of the greatest states in the U.S. for scenic road trips! While we do love Leavenworth and Orcas Island, crowds there are likely for holidays like Valentine’s Day, so we’ve rounded up a few off-track trips that you two will remember when you’re old and gray (hopefully, you know, together).
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Stashed up in tiny Ferry County, about 30 miles south of the Canadian border, is the Gold Rush-era town of Republic. With an unusual confluence of old-timey architecture and really good beer (at Republic Brewing Company), it’s definitely worth an overnight stay, maybe even two. There’s also a really good feed-n-seed store, Wild West Farm and Garden, with unusual seeds for gardeners (let your love bloom?). If you have an extra hour, stop by The Goat Farm to meet the goats and maybe even do a little hike with them. Just make sure you contact Wayne or Jenny before your visit! For a more leisurely trip, take the free six-minute ferry—nicknamed “The Gif”—across Lake Roosevelt and then head northwest through the Colville Reservation. It adds an hour to the journey, but it’s the most fun way to get there.
Both of these lakes offer all the outdoor sports and are spectacular to behold, but half of the fun here is about the journey. This trip only gets pretty once you’re south of Tacoma, but then boy, does it ever, with winding country roads and old farmhouses in excess. It’s about two hours each way to the former mining town of Mineral, for which its nearby lake is named, and for a while, you’ll see gigantic, splendiferous Alder Lake in all directions on the way. Once you’re in the lakeside town of Mineral, its only bar, Headquarters Tavern, is frozen in about 1932, and the karaoke on Saturdays is lit. Absolutely do not forget to stop en route at the Elbe Bar and Grill, in the village of Elbe, for the tallest, sloppiest, heart-attackingest patty melt of your life. Good lord.
Some Whidbeyans brag that their island is the biggest in the lower 48, but it’s not true at all—that’s Long Island. But Whibdey’s still a chonker, in fourth place at 168.67 square miles! It’s a long wiggly island, like a weird humpy snake, and there are three ways to board it: the ferry from Mukilteo, the ferry from Port Townsend, and the bridge at Deception Pass. If you have the time, it’s fun to start at the southern ferry dock at Clinton and take WA-525 through the whole island, all the way up to picture-postcard-worthy Deception Pass State Park in the north. This takes an hour each way—longer if you stop in all the sweet little towns, of course. Once ashore, the twee hamlet of Langley has kitschy shopping, fine dining (Savory, serving upscale comfort food, is easily our fave—no reservations except for Valentine's Day), and orca watching, along with dozens of colorful wild rabbits on every lawn. (Wanna see hundreds of bunnies at once? Breeze by the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds.) Double Bluff Beach is a dog-friendly favorite, and Freeland has fantastic thrifting. Try picturesque Greenbank Farm in the middle of the island for native gardens and farm-made cheeses, and Toby’s Tavern in Coupeville for fancy fish ‘n’ chips and Penn Cove mussels, served with a sweeping view of—you guessed it—Penn Cove.
Okay, this one’s NOT about the journey, which is just I-5, but Tacoma is teeming with all kinds of fantastic restaurants, bars, parks, architecture, and chill neighborhoody vibes. There’s so much to do! Though Tacoma’s wealthy in museums, you’ll find lots of hidden gems north of downtown. Start with an early breakfast at the historic, exquisitely refinished McMenamins Elks Temple, get a beer at the divey old Hob Nob, and then wander around Wright Park, an outdoor curated museum of unusual trees. Once you’re in the park, definitely don’t miss the totally free W.W. Seymour Botanical Conservatory, perhaps the city’s gemmiest secret gem. Pick up some new reading material at Destiny City Comics and King’s Books, sitting side by side, and poke around Pure Vintage next door, known for cool leather pieces and '80s tees. If you’re hungry again, grab a spot on the patio at the understated Le Sel Bistro and gaze out at the bay, or have a slice at Salamone’s Pizza. This will put you in the perfect position to take an evening guided tour of the French chateau-style Stadium High School, which began life as a lavish hotel in 1890 and was used as the filming location for 10 Things I Hate About You, a perfect date night movie on its own. Tours are available one Saturday a month, including Valentine’s Day weekend, February 18.
Walla Walla is wine country—nice and romantic to begin with—but for us, the even sexier attraction is Bar Bacetto, just 20 minutes north in Waitsburg, population 1166. Best known for their James Beard Award-winning work at Il Corvo and Il Nido, part-time Seattleites Erin and Mike Easton packed up and headed to the country last summer, and they’re still doing the same creative, immaculate pasta dishes, just on a smaller scale. If you can’t score a reservation here, Easton’s also co-produced the much larger Passatempo Taverna in downtown Walla Walla, to similar effect. While you’re in that part of the state, you’re right next to the Palouse, one of the most geologically unique areas in the nation. Riddled with stunning landscapes, the Palouse was formed thousands of years ago by loess (windblown silt) that created miles of gently rolling hills, which then grew prairie grass and sagebrush and wildflowers. In the warmer months, it’s an undulating ocean of flora that stretches out forever, but if you're up for an adventure and you've got four-wheel drive, you'll also find an impressive landscape in the winter—like Palouse Falls, which often freezes in the winter and is the official Washington State waterfall (who knew!). This trip is a five-hour drive each way, but if you live in Washington State and you haven’t seen the Palouse yet—or eaten the Eastons’ pasta, for that matter—you just gotta.
Of the state’s 29 ferry routes, we declare the privately run Stehekin Ferry the prettiest! About three and a half hours from Seattle, Lake Chelan is a long, skinny 50-mile alpine crevasse, the state’s deepest lake, with triangular mountain slopes crashing into the water at nearly 45 degrees, and Stehekin is its northernmost point. The ferry leaves from Field’s Point on the western shore, and the 105-minute trip is like being inside an illustrated book about Switzerland. You can see the mountain goats on the cliffs right from the boat. Once you arrive, you can hike—Stehekin’s included in the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area and connects to the Pacific Crest Trail—or just see the local sights from the paved road with your regular shoes on. Check out the Buckner Homestead Historic District or 392-foot Rainbow Falls, plainly visible from Stehekin Valley Road. No roads connect Stehekin to the outside world, and its only restaurants are at the Stehekin Valley Ranch and the North Cascades Lodge. It’s never a bad idea to pack some snacks as well. (If you stay at the Ranch, BYOB, because they don’t sell alcohol!) Or you can just stay in your room, gaze out at the cartoonishly beautiful view, and be deliciously alone—together.