Road Tips

How to be a tourist in your own backyard with minimal effort

By Lisette Wolter-McKinley October 20, 2020


This article originally appeared in the November/December 2022 issue of Seattle magazine.

The North Bend area was packed during a recent sunny weekend. 

Motorists flocking to Rattlesnake Lake Recreation Area near the Cedar River Municipal Watershed circled frantically looking for parking spaces, blocking traffic for several blocks. Just a few miles northeast, at Tinkham Campground on the south fork of the Snoqualmie River, all 47 campsites were full. Even a lesser known nearby hiking trail, Cedar Butte, was bustling with activity.

Because of Covid-19, “People are taking more car trips,” says Angie Lepley, founder and CEO of Bothell-based Tangerine Travel. “They’re looking for quick vacations and escapes.”

Washington state boasts an abundance of accessible options for quick getaways. Here are several convenient destinations for those looking for a brief escape, as well as a unique way to unleash your inner hippie.

Vashon Island 

Visiting Vashon Island might not seem glamorous or adventurous, especially if you live in the Seattle area. However, the Lodges on Vashon has made Vashon an unlikely yet convenient destination. Vashon Island is an unassuming but glorious place full of country roads, rocky beaches, farmland, a lighthouse and a vast array of shoreline parks. Sure, taking the ferry from the Fauntleroy Terminal is a bit more challenging with the West Seattle Bridge shut down indefinitely, but it’s worth the hassle.

It’s easy to become smitten with all the thoughtfully planned public spaces scattered throughout the Lodges on Vashon. The rooms feature a thoughtful coordination of artwork, plants, accessories and furniture, from the alcove bed with trundle to the fireplace and deep tub, to the personalized soap, hanging air plant on the wall and succulents.

A simple itinerary might include a leisurely five-minute morning stroll to the main drag to find breakfast and do a little exploring. There you will find local artwork at Hinge Gallery, pastries as large as your head at Snapdragon and plenty of visual inspiration at every turn. An afternoon could easily be spent enjoying lunch at The Hardware Store Restaurant, exploring Point Robinson Park while taking in the stunning views of Mount Rainier, searching for the perfect rock or shell to add to your collection, and driving down country roads in search of an honor farm stand. 

A favorite place to hang out at the Lodges on Vashon is the Pavilion, a covered but open-air space with heat lamps, overhead lighting and an outdoor fireplace. This space is free for guests but is also available for rent. Hours could be spent curled up in a swinging chair reading a good book or playing the ever-popular ladder ball on the lawn. The Public House is another space perfect for an intimate dinner with adjacent outdoor BBQ, or as an indoor space to hang out or play games on a drizzly day. 

The overriding theme of a stay at the Lodges on Vashon is simplicity, in design, style and life in general. Once settled into a courtyard suite, it’s easy to notice a distinct difference between the pace of life on the island versus home. Vashon should be in the forefront for a quick, easy and unexpected weekend getaway.

Lodges on Vashon: 17205 Vashon Highway S.W., Vashon, 98070

North Cascades

There are few places more beautiful in the fall than eastern Washington’s peaceful North Cascades, with their warm, dry air and day-after-day of brilliant blue skies. Other times, the day begins cool and crisp, and frost or even snow might be part of the experience. To be prepared, plan to overdress and throw in a hat, gloves, scarf and shorts for good measure. 

Before heading out for a day of hiking, stop at the Mazama Country Store to grab one of its famous breakfast sandwiches and delicious cookies. Spend the afternoon exploring the area and the cute little town of Winthrop. No visit would be complete without a pit stop at Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe for a stash of decadent treats like the chocolate dipped Oreos or caramels. Browse Trail’s End Bookstore for the latest selection of books by local authors and pop into Gathered Boutique for a thoughtful gift of clothing or jewelry made by an independent designer or artisan. End the day with salad and pizza at East 20. 

When it comes to places to stay, consider the Freestone Inn. The Freestone is 15 miles west of Winthrop in Mazama on a sprawling property called Wilson’s Ranch. It has 36 units, all with expansive views of the lake or forest, and offers an array of accommodations, including one-and two-bedroom condos, freestanding cabins, and more traditional king and queen bed.

Each unit features a private deck, veranda and fireplace. There are also freestanding studio, one- and two-bedroom cabins dotting the sprawling property of Wilson Ranch. 
The Freestone Inn is family friendly, but also a great option for a romantic getaway.   

Freestone Inn: 31 Early Winters Drive, Mazama, 98833


It’s a well-known destination for a reason, and it bears repeating: If the natural beauty of Leavenworth minus the crowds and Bavarian-style kitsch is appealing, then look no farther than Sleeping Lady Resort. Located a mere mile-and-a-half from downtown Leavenworth, Sleeping Lady offers luxurious accommodations cozy enough to simply remain on the property during an entire stay. The resort features beautiful, wood-beamed vaulted ceilings, a warm and inviting color palette and rooms that give the feeling of escape from the outside world. Rooms are grouped in small clusters around the property, which makes them feel more like a private cabin in the woods and less like a hotel.

Sleeping Lady offers many options, including the Great Escape Package, which includes both a hearty breakfast and gourmet dinner after a day of adventuring. A wander through the property’s organic garden provides both relaxation and a sneak peek as to what fruits and vegetables might end up on the menu at the popular Kingfisher Restaurant & Wine Bar.

The location of Sleeping Lady Resort is idyllic and surrounded by mountains. Icicle Creek runs directly through the property. 

On site there is a rock pool (temporarily under construction), sauna, play barn and library. Leavenworth is breathtaking any time of year but fall stands out, from the foliage creeping up the mountainsides in swaths of color to the crispness of the morning and the chill in the evening.  Endless places to explore include shopping around Leavenworth with a towering cone from Whistlepunk Ice Cream Co. in one hand, to dipping your toes in the river or going on a beautiful day hike. For a quick change of scenery just pack up the car and head east of the mountains.

Sleeping Lady Lodge: 7375 Icicle Road Leavenworth, 98826

San Juan Islands

Lakedale Resort is an escape within an escape. It’s a place that will make you feel like a kid again. It’s a quiet place to reconnect with a spouse. It’s a place where family time and serenity are equally respected. The plan is simple: Pack a weekend bag, hop on a ferry, and spend a long weekend enjoying tranquil scenery and delicious food in one of the most beautiful places in America. 

The 83-acre Lakedale Resort offers several different sleeping accommodations, from rental cabins to lodge rooms, primitive camping sites, an Airstream, yurts and luxurious canvas tents. Each tent is equipped with a cooler, lounge chairs, cooking utensils, a bundle of firewood, matches and an open fire pit. Of all the canvas cottages, No. 6 is by far the definitive favorite. It’s located on the end and has a large wraparound deck over the lake. 

On a whim, forgo the comfort of a hotel room and stay in a luxurious canvas tent complete with hardwood floors, running water, electricity and a bathroom mere steps away from one of Lakedale’s three lakes. 

Whatever accommodations you choose, there’s no shortage of activities. You can pedal around the lake on a water bike, play an oversized game of Jenga or learn how to tie dye. Pay a visit to Westcott Bay Shellfish and bring back a bag of large oysters to barbecue, go whale watching or kayaking with San Juan Safaris, search tide pools at Cattle Point or grab fish and chips at Bait and hang out for an afternoon at Fourth of July Beach.

Lakedale Resort: 4313 Roche Harbor Road, Friday Harbor, 98250

Peace Vans

OK, Peace Vans isn’t a destination. It’s a journey. This Seattle company launched in 2012 as a Volkswagen Van restoration outfit. Peace Van Rentals was formed in 2016, offering restored camper rentals for families and weekend warriors. Earlier this year, Peace Vans began offering new Mercedes-Benz pop-top camper vans along with Mercedes Sprinter vans. Its website describes the company as “a family of businesses focused on your outdoor exploration.” Shortly after the state shut down last March, the company showcased some of its rental vehicles during a live broadcast on Facebook and Instagram.

Peace Vans is like a hotel on wheels. It offers fully stocked vans for even the most discerning of adventurers (think both big items like camp chairs and a portable table and small items like a French press and kitchen towels), so all a family must do is shop for groceries and pack clothing, toiletries and a few other random items for the duration of the trip. 

Peace Vans is so passionate about outdoor exploration that the company even offers a season pass program that allows customers to rent vans for eight nights between October 1 through March 30. The passes generally sell out.

“The versatility and reliability of our Peace Vans vehicles, paired with the nostalgia of this road trip icon, really makes this a super-accessible adventure for a wide variety of traveler,” says Peace Vans Rentals owner Harley Sitner.

Peace Vans:  2443 Sixth Ave. S., Seattle, 98134

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