Bellevue serves up the best of all worlds—metropolitan amenities, minus the big-city hassles. Close to such noteworthy attractions as Pikes Place Market and Chihuly Garden & Glass, Bellevue exists as a place apart. From the Sky View Observatory—the tallest public observatory in the Pacific Northwest—you can enjoy unparalleled views of Bellevue and its fellow neighbors on the east side of Lake Washington. When you’re ready to set out and explore, you’ll discover the charms of these nearby towns, as well as a trio of spectacular national parks, all within easy driving distance of Bellevue.
Southeast of Bellevue, at the south end of Lake Sammamish, lies the welcoming community of Issaquah, surrounded by what the locals refer to as the Issaquah Alps. The north slope of Cougar Mountain hosts an eight-acre zoo featuring reindeer, cougars, and more. Nearby Tiger Mountain is a favorite launching pad for paragliders and mountain bikers. At downtown’s Issaquah Depot Museum you can hop on the Valley Trolley and ride to Gilman Boulevard. There, you’ll find shopping and dining at Gilman Village, created from rescued mining and farming buildings.
Issaquah also takes pride in its Village Theater, which has been presenting professional musicals, in addition to original works, for more than 40 years. For a quintessential diner experience, head to Triple XXX Root Beer, where they serve all the classics—and their own root beer, of course. Stop by Boehm’s Candies and Chocolates for a tour and handmade Swiss chocolate.
Bordering Bellevue to the northeast, Redmond is home to both Nintendo and Microsoft; make a stop at the Microsoft Visitor Center to test out the latest Xbox games. Downtown Redmond is growing, with a new park and a number of mixed-use projects in the works. The Eastside Symphony and the SecondStory Repertory theater company contribute to the vibrant performing arts scene, while sculptures pop up throughout the city. The Marymoor Park Amphitheater plays host to a popular summer concert series. From Lionel Ritchie to Beck to Willie Nelson, entertainers run the gamut, and festival-goers enjoy relaxing picnics, with beer and wine available for purchase. May through October, don’t overlook Redmond’s Saturday Market—one of the oldest and best in the area.
The city is sometimes referred to as the Bicycle Capital of the Northwest; gear up at Edge & Spoke and Redmond Cycle. If you’ve worked up an appetite, head to the Tipsy Cow for a grass-fed beef burger and local brew.
Just north of Bellevue, you’ll find Kirkland, which offers a vibrant waterfront scene along the eastern shore of Lake Washington. Home of the Seattle Seahawks until 1985, Kirkland also served as the original headquarters of Costco. Today, the city boasts an amazing number of parks and beaches. Rent bikes from Kirkland Bicycle Shop and ride (or walk) the Cross Kirkland Corridor, a 5.75-mile crushed-gravel rail trail. Quench your thirst at Chainline Brewery, located along the Corridor. Hungry? You can never go wrong with Anthony’s HomePort Kirkland, which offers beautiful views of Hunts Point and the Seattle skyline. If the weather’s not cooperating, head to Flatstick Pub to sample Washington craft beers and play a round of mini golf. Literary types should head to Bottle and Bull, which celebrates all things Hemingway. Art aficionados flock to artist-owned Parklane Gallery and Ryan James Fine Arts.
Mount Rainier National Park
1.5-hour drive from Bellevue
Established in 1899, Mount Rainier National Park offers a true subalpine experience, with plunging waterfalls, dramatic glaciers—more than 25 of them—and, of course, the iconic 14,410-foot active volcano, Mount Rainier. At lower elevations, you’ll encounter peaceful valleys, meadows, and acres of old-growth forest. The Wonderland Trail encircles Mount Rainier and offers hikers numerous trailheads at which to hop on or off the trail.
Paradise, on the mountain’s south slope, is the park’s most popular destination, with the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center. Consider the short drive to Longmire, where a 1916 home that once held the park’s headquarters now houses a history museum. Pull over between Longmire and Paradise for a short walk to Christine Falls.
North Cascades National Park
2-hour drive from Bellevue
At more than 500,000 acres, North Cascades National Park is a wilderness of rugged mountains and hundreds of lakes and glaciers. Designated in 1968, the park is divided into northern and southern sections by State Route 20. Almost the entire park is protected as wilderness, and its appeal is in its remoteness. At the southern end of the park, you’ll find Lake Chelan, a popular summer destination. Gray wolves and more than 200 bird species call the park home. Look for bald eagles as you canoe the Skagit River, or take a guided boat tour. Most camping inside the park requires arrival by foot, horseback, or boat, and a permit is needed. Car camping is also available in the front-country campgrounds. Heavy snows severely limit visitation in the winter; check for road closures.
Olympic National Park
2.5-hour drive from Bellevue
Head west to Olympic National Park to bask in the magic of old-growth forests, bubbling hot springs, dramatic snow-capped mountains, and gorgeous wind-swept beaches. Situated on Washington’s Olympic Peninsula, the area was named a World Heritage Site in 1981. Hikers and backpackers enjoy the myriad trails that wind through the lush green Hoh Rain Forest. Visitors marvel at the wild and rugged beaches at Ruby and Rialto, complete with sculptural sea stack formations. Plan ahead to snag a spot at popular Kalaloch Beach Campground.
After a walk through the forest, soak up nature at the hot springs of Sol Duc. Hike, ski, or snowboard along Hurricane Ridge. April through September is the warmest and driest time of year, with wildlife viewing at its peak March through June—look for elk, whales, and birds of prey. Get oriented and learn more about the park at the visitor center in Port Angeles.