Washington's Cultural Attractions

Discover the legacy of the state’s first peoples, pioneers, and contemporary artists.
Washington Vacation
Washington Vacation

Native Allure

To learn about Washington’s beginnings, look no further than the storied tribes that have left their mark throughout the region.

Start on the Pacific Coast, near Ozette Lake, where archeologists discovered the remains of a Native American civilization buried and preserved by a landslide in 1750. The artifacts are now on display at Makah Museum in Neah Bay, a Native American reservation town in the northwestern corner of the state. Besides the ancient household items and pieces of art, the museum holds displays that explain how the Makah tribe once hunted whales from handmade boats.

Amid towering trees on the nearby Kitsap Peninsula, the Suquamish Museum displays baskets, carvings, and artifacts from the Suquamish people in a contemporary LEED-certified building. A few blocks away sits the gravesite of Chief Seattle, whom the Emerald City is named after.

At Tillicum Village on Blake Island in the middle of Puget Sound—accessible by Argosy Cruises’ private ferry from downtown Seattle—Native culture is brought to life in the form of an immersive entertainment experience. Guests dine on alder-fired salmon while watching traditional dances and listening to storytelling that has carried Northwest lore over centuries.

Head north to Hibulb Cultural Center, a 50-acre natural history preserve dedicated to the legacies of the Tulalip Tribes. Exhibits are labeled in both English and the Coast Salish language of Lushootseed. Enter the replica longhouse to hear recorded oral stories from the tribe’s storytellers. Yakama Nation Museum in Toppenish displays life-size dwellings and traditional attire from the Plateau People’s various tribes, while the Colville Confederated Tribes showcases its traditional dances, drumming, singing, and a teepee village during August’s Omak Stampede.

And proving that the influence of Washington’s first peoples is as lasting as it is far reaching, discover Native draws in terrains as diverse as the foothills of Mount St. Helens and the banks of the mighty Columbia River. Ariel’s Lelooska Museum offers living history performances of songs, dances, and ceremonial mask demonstrations, while Stevenson’s Columbia Gorge Interpretive Center Museum spotlights the Cascade Chinook with carved cedar totems, woven baskets, stone tools, ceremonial dress, and other rare artifacts.

History Lessons

Step back in time at engaging historical sites across the state. Fort Vancouver comes alive once again as a frontier fur-trading post—blacksmith shop and all—while the Whitman Mission National Historic Site in Walla Walla recounts the tragic story of an 1830-era missionary couple. Learn how Native Americans and Jesuit missionaries developed a close relationship at Saint Paul’s Mission in Kettle Falls, and trace the legacy of Seattle from its maritime heritage to its current ech-leaning ways at the Museum of History & Industry. Last but not least, Tacoma’s Washington State History Museum spares no detail recounting the story of the Evergreen State, from ancient civilizations and Oregon Trail pioneers to the advent of the railroad, industrialization, aviation, and beyond. Find more cultural attractions here.

Three Sculpture Parks Worth a Trip

1. Confluence Project

A series of six outdoor installations from Vietnam Memorial artist Maya Lin, Confluencetraces the journey of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark along the Columbia River to the Pacific Ocean. The four Washington installations include an inscribed walkway at Cape Disappointment, a land bridge, and a Nez Perce–inspired story circle sculpted into the land. The site-specific pieces link the natural world to its Native inhabitants. Ilwaco, Vancouver, Pasco, Clarkston; co

2. Olympic Sculpture Park

This nine-acre public park nestled along the shores of Elliott Bay features a wide range of contemporary works alongside lush lawns and wide walking paths. Two of the most notable pieces include Alexander Calder’s abstract The Eagleand Jaume Plensa’s meditative Echo. Seattle; 

3. San Juan Islands Sculpture Park

Wander 20 acres of outdoor art on the north side of San Juan Island, where more than 150 creations dot rolling hills and forest groves. Pieces rotate out after two years for an ever-changing art-meets-nature experience.