I’ve done the Vancouver to Seattle drive countless times for day excursions and weekend getaways, so I know the route like the back of my hand. While you might not consider this a road trip since it’s only a three-hour drive, the truth is it’s often much longer because it’s very rare to encounter no traffic. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been stopped in unexpected traffic on this route, whether it’s slogging through the city of Vancouver, being stopped at the border, or hitting traffic further south in Washington.
That’s why I’ve learned to explore how to break up the trip and where to take a break if I’d rather not be stuck in my car. There are tons of worthwhile stops along the way to break up the drive, including great restaurants, attractions, and even hotels if you want to make it a mini vacation. I’m referring to little towns ideal for taking a break, vistas that provide a taste of the natural beauty, and neighborhood breweries where you can have a good beer.
This guide will give you all the details on how to make the most of your Vancouver to Seattle road trip, including specific stops in each town, so get ready to take notes for the next time you do this drive!
Tips for a Vancouver to Seattle Road Trip
Apart from being a fantastic road trip idea for couples, this journey is family-friendly and great for solo adventurists.
How Far Is the Drive From Vancouver to Seattle?
When planning a road trip from Vancouver to Seattle, there are two routes you can take.
The first is the pleasantly quick two-and-a-half hour (if all goes well with traffic) journey, going directly along the I-5 S. This route covers 142 miles and can easily be done in one morning or afternoon. It’s a good option if you’re pressed for time, as you can still stop and see many beautiful attractions.
Alternatively, if you’re up for the ultimate adventure, the even more stunning yet longer seven-hour route travels along the coast through forested islands and lush national parks. This 214-mile route pretty much follows the BC-99 before merging back with the I-5.
What Documentation Do I Need?
Remember that you’ll be crossing the Canadian border into the US, so the first thing you should consider is that you’ll need your passport and the necessary documentation.
This includes your driver’s license (if you’re in the driver’s seat), plus the vehicle registration and insurance papers. If you’re hiring a car through a rental company, make sure you can show your rental agreement.
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How Many Border Crossings Are There?
There are four main border crossings on a Vancouver to Seattle road trip. From west to east, they are: Peace Arch, the Pacific Highway, Lynden/Aldergrove, and Sumas/Abbotsford.
Peace Arch is considered the ‘main’ crossing from Canada into Washington. Although it’s also the busiest, it’s probably the best option if you’d like to stick close to the coast on your road trip.
What Should I Know About the Border Crossing?
With no congestion, crossing the border can take anywhere between 10 and 30 minutes. Whether you’re on a time constraint or not, it’s wise to consider potential border delays. I’d recommend that you factor 45 minutes into your journey to get across the border.
During the week, peak hours are usually between 3 pm and 4 pm. Generally, it’s best to avoid traveling on the weekend, as this is the border crossing’s busiest time.
If you find yourself waiting in line, here are some road trip trivia questions to entertain you and your comrades. Not sure when the borders are open or closed? Be sure to check out the various border crossing times here before starting your trip.
Another fun trip is the Seattle to Banff road trip.
When Is the Best Time of Year To Visit Seattle?
The warm summer months of June, July, and August are some of the best times to visit Seattle. You can take full advantage of the sunny, warm weather through Seattle’s abundance of water-based activities that will leave you with the vacation of your dreams.
If you’re not a fan of the sweltering heat, September to early October is also a great time to visit the city. You’ll experience more pleasant temperatures and fewer crowds than in the sweltering and packed peak summer months of June, July, and August. Visiting during these times will also allow you to fully enjoy all that Seattle (and the stops along the way) has to offer.
Vancouver to Seattle Road Trip Map
Here’s a visual representation of everywhere you’ll stop:
11 Stops on a Vancouver to Seattle Road Trip
Even though these two magnificent metropolises are only a short distance apart, there are plenty of attractions along the way. Depending on your vacation aspirations, you’ll find plenty of exciting things to do, plus some beautiful sights.
Here are 10 fantastic stops worth visiting on your Vancouver to Seattle road trip. Trust me, you won’t want to miss out on these.
1. Richmond, BC
Just south of Vancouver lies Richmond, a city known for its vibrant multicultural arts scene. What makes Richmond special, though, is that it’s a city entirely of islands.
Richmond boasts a historic fishing community, so I’d definitely recommend strolling through the beautiful Fisherman’s Wharf — a maze of docks, boardwalks, and boats. The wharf is one big floating seafood market with a range of fantastic seaside bars and restaurants. It’s the perfect place to grab some lunch and enjoy a cold beer under the sun.
If you need to find some zen before continuing your journey, pay a visit to the International Buddhist Temple – one of the largest Buddhist temples in North America. The temple is open to the public, so take some time to amble through lush gardens and over dragon bridges, all while admiring exquisite shrines.
Looking for another Canadian adventure? You’ll love the drive from Vancouver to Banff.
2. Fairhaven, WA
Fairhaven Village is located on the south side of Bellingham. This fascinating little town is adored for its picturesque Victorian-era architecture, quaint cobblestone streets, and old mountain logging trails. The old-town charm is coupled with an eclectic vibe, making for an unforgettable experience.
Located on the site of a former brothel, Stone’s Throw Brewing is a must-visit in the town. From fruity IPAs to crisp lagers to fizzy ciders, the brewery is a one-of-a-kind destination for beer lovers and adventure enthusiasts. Their atmosphere is only further backed by their motto, The Closest Pint to Adventure.
Calling all passenger princesses and princes (and bookworms in general) – in need of some reading material for the journey? If so, definitely pop into Village Books and Paper Dreams, a renowned award-winning multi-level independent bookstore and gift shop that sells new and used books.
3. Orcas Island, WA
Orcas Island is the largest of the San Juan Islands in the Pacific Northwest. Apart from being the definition of pristine wilderness, it’s one of the best places in the world to (you guessed it) spot wild orcas. These whales are known to frequent the island’s waters year-round, which would make an amazing sight during your Vancouver to Seattle road trip.
If you’ve got a few hours to spare, check out this epic Orcas Island whale-watching tour that boasts guaranteed sightings from April to September. The three to four-hour tour includes a professional guide to ensure you learn all you can about this intriguing part of the world. Just remember that the tour will only go ahead depending on good weather.
Apart from whale-spotting, Orcas Island is also a hub for local artists. You’ll find numerous works for sale at the Forest Ceramic Gallery, Crow Valley Pottery, and Orcas Islands Artworks.
The island is ideal for hiking, kayaking, swimming, and fishing with its clear waters, lush forests, and pebble beaches. You can access the island via a car ferry or simply leave your vehicle behind and walk straight onto the boat.
4. Whatcom Falls Park, WA
Also located in Burlington, but worthy of its own mention, is Whatcom Falls Park. At 241 acres, it’s the perfect pit stop if you’re looking to stretch your legs amongst some greenery.
There are four sets of waterfalls and an impressive series of scenic hiking trails. If you’re up to stretch your legs further and do a spot of trail walking, the four-mile Whatcom Creek Trail Loop is perfect. As I said, it’s a fantastic place for a break and to soak up some nature on your way down to Seattle.
I’d even recommend grabbing a sandwich from Da Vinci’s Classic Subs and heading over to Whatcom Park for a leisurely picnic. It’s the perfect stop for families or those traveling with furry friends, with playgrounds, barbeque grills, picnic tables, restrooms, and an off-leash dog area.
5. Chuckanut Drive Scenic Byway, WA
Chuckanut Drive is Washington’s State’s Big Sur, and you’ll definitely want to see it on your road trip to Seattle from Vancouver. (sidenote: interested in discovering more about the original Big Sur in California? Check out this incredible Los Angeles to Big Sur road trip).
This scenic 22-mile drive runs between Burlington and Bellington and will take you along some of Washington’s most beautiful coastline. Expect long, winding roads and expansive mountain and sea views. Not only is it a refreshing visual break from the sometimes mundane I-5, but there’s plenty to do and many fantastic spots to stop along the way.
Be sure to stop at Taylor Shellfish Farms to see fresh oysters being hauled from the sea. Go to Chuckanut Bay Gallery and Sculpture Garden to shop if you’d like to shop for some beautiful hand-crafted gifts. You can also pull over at Dogfish Point Viewpoint for the best views of the whole area.
6. Burlington, WA
Musical entertainment and a prosperous farming community are evident in Burlington. It is the perfect town for your mealtime pitstop. Home to over 50 restaurants spanning a range of cuisines, you’re bound to find something that tickles your taste buds when driving from Vancouver to Seattle.
I’d recommend popping into the famous Train Wreck Bar and Grill, an establishment serving up some heart-warming, stomach-filling comfort food made from fresh, locally sourced ingredients. They also have some great craft beers on tap – remember, it’s a 21 and older-only restaurant.
Plus, Burlington will have you covered if you need some gear for your upcoming adventures. Whether you’re after water shoes, a new fishing rod, or a rain jacket, the small town boasts an impressive array of sporting shops to satisfy your every outdoor desire.
7. The Skagit Valley, WA
If daffodils, tulips, and farmers markets are up your alley, take a short detour to Skagit Valley on your Seattle road trip from Vancouver. Oh, and be sure to have your camera ready for this one!
If you’re lucky enough to be in the valley in April, you’ll witness millions of blooming tulips, forming a brazen blanket of color over hundreds of acres of farmland. Picture this: tulips of every color, shape, and variety in full bloom right before your eyes. The annual Skagit Valley Tulip Festival is held from April 1st to the 30th in Mount Vernon, and it’s the largest of its kind in the entire USA.
During March, the town of La Conner hosts a similar festival – only this time you’ll see daffodils. Equally as beautiful as the tulips, the La Conner Daffodil Festival is world-renowned for its beautiful blooms. Be sure to buy a bouquet on your way out for a colorful piece of memorabilia.
Driving from Seattle to Crater Lake is another beautiful road trip to go on.
8. Mount Vernon, WA
With scenic beauty, an agricultural atmosphere, and historical charm, the riverfront town of Mount Vernon is a great place to visit on your road trip. Once here, you can enjoy peaceful riverside walks, a vibrant arts scene, plus lots of colorful flowers.
The town has a wonderful farmers market on Saturdays, so be sure to pick up some baked goods and fresh local honey. The market operates from 9 am until 2 pm for 22 weeks starting in May and ending in October.
Mount Vernon is a great place to stop over for the night, so a dinner and a movie here is always a great idea. I’d recommend eating at Il Granaio Authentic Italian Restaurant – it’s probably the best restaurant in town, and the food here is just superb.
After, catch a movie or a live performance at the historic Lincoln Theatre (you can see what’s on via their online calendar).
You can also take a side trip to the cute small town of La Conner, which is full of shops and restaurants that you’ll love exploring on your Vancouver to Seattle road trip.
9. Hibulb Cultural Center, WA
Indigenous tribes and their history have long been rooted in Washington State. In fact, there are 29 federally recognized indigenous tribes in Washington, plus a further three tribes that the American Library Association recognizes.
This brings me to the Hibulb Cultural Center – an interactive establishment that aims to revive, restore, and protect the stories of the Tulalip Tribes. Take a step back in history and immerse yourself in the tribe’s traditional culture and spiritual values through a number of interesting collections and exhibitions.
The center is approximately 23,000 square feet and sits on 50 acres of natural preserve. It’s a must-visit if you’re even a little curious about Indigenous peoples’ fascinating history, stories, and culture. It’s located just off the I-5, so it’s easily accessible and a perfect pit stop to broaden your horizons and expand your historical knowledge.
10. Whidbey Island, WA
Put the hustle, bustle, and pollution of metropolitan cities behind you as you head for a serene escape on Whidbey Island. As you drive over the Deception Pass Bridge, which connects the island to Washington, you’ll be greeted with miles of lush forests, sandy beaches, and rippling rivers.
As the largest isle in Washington State, Whidbey Island offers peaceful landscapes and plenty of outdoor opportunities. Venture through Deception Pass State Park to uncover scenic hiking trails and idyllic picnic spots.
Once you arrive at West Beach, go beachcombing to collect souvenirs of driftwood and seashells. Feeling a little tired after all the driving? Slip on your bathing suit and run into the icy water for a dip that’s bound to leave you feeling refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the journey!
11. Chihuly Garden and Glass, WA
If you’re after an experience so unique, so bright, and so bold – head to Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle. This renowned museum showcases the work of legendary American glass artist Dale Chihuly.
Intricately adorned with colorful glass sculptures, you will surely be blown away (see my glass pun there?). The atmosphere here is almost psychedelic, with eight indoor galleries, a Glasshouse, and the opulent Garden. Some even say it’s worth going to Seattle just to spend a few hours wandering around the colorful establishment.
Witness thousands of sculptures that appear to defy gravity and push the boundaries of creative expression in exhibitions that seamlessly unite art and nature. Plus, there’s even an onsite bar where you can order some delicious craft cocktails and yummy bites to eat.
Vancouver to Seattle Itinerary: 1 Day
On a tight time constraint during your Vancouver to Seattle road trip? No worries. Here’s a quick itinerary that will guarantee you’ll still see some fantastic sights – all in a day’s work (sidenote: I’d recommend getting an early start for this one).
From Vancouver, head 33 miles down to the Peace Arch border crossing via the Vancouver-Blaine highway/BC-99. Once through the border, travel down the I-5 until you reach the last Bellingham exit. Simply follow the signs from there.
Once on the beautiful two-lane Chuckanut Drive, stop for an early lunch at the elegant Oyster Bar – an eminent establishment serving fresh oysters and a seasonally inspired menu. Plus, they have the perfect award-winning wine to pair with your meal. While you dine, take in the magnificent views of the San Juan islands from the outdoor deck and seating area.
The end of Chuckanut Drive will take you through Burlington and back onto the I-5. Then, head down to the Hibulb Cultural Center and Natural History Preserve for an unforgettable educational experience. Next, head 16 miles down to Mukilteo, where you’ll catch a 20-minute ferry to Whidbey Island.
After spending the remainder of the afternoon exploring Whidbey Island, and upon your return to mainland Washington, drive the last 26-mile stretch down to Seattle.
Where to stay: The award-winning Belltown Inn, located in the trendy Belltown neighborhood, is great value for money. It’s centrally located to plenty of Seattle’s top attractions. (rates start at $170)
Vancouver to Seattle Itinerary: 3 Days
Keen to spend a little more time exploring? Here’s a three-day itinerary to help you get the most out of your road trip.
Day 1: Vancouver to Orcas Island
After leaving Vancouver, head 10 miles down to explore the city of Richmond. When you’re ready, it’s time to head 21 miles straight to the Peace Arch border crossing from Vancouver.
Once through, continue on the I-5 for 22 miles until you reach the Victorian village of Fairhaven. Stop for a delicious lunch at Stone’s Throw Brewery, and after, if you’re feeling up to it, head to Village Books and Paper Dreams to pick up a book on orcas. Trust me, you’ll want this for an upcoming stop.
Next, hop on State Route 20 W for 17 miles to get to the next destination – Anacortes. This is where you’ll catch the one-hour and 15-minute car ferry to Orcas Island. Take a look at the ferry schedule and purchase tickets beforehand to ensure you can get your vehicle on the ferry.
Where to stay: Book a room at the cute and cozy Kingfish at West Sound. In case you arrive a little late and tired, they have a stunning on-site restaurant with an impressive menu. (rates start at $211)
Day 2: Orcas Island to Mount Vernon
After you’ve spent the morning exploring beautiful Orcas Island (think: orca tour, hiking, fishing, swimming, beachcombing, etc.), it’s time to adventure on and catch the return ferry to Anacortes. You’ll be driving back towards the direction of Burlington, so consider stopping here for some lunch.
If you’d rather have lunch in Mount Vernon, it’s only four miles down the road from Burlington. You can spend the afternoon exploring the blissful blooms of Skagit County and taking lovely riverside walks. There are plenty of quaint markets and scenic hiking trails to keep you entertained for the afternoon.
Since you’re spending the night here, consider visiting one of the region’s wine farms, such as Pasek Cellars. Alternatively, opt for dinner at one of the local restaurants, followed by a show at Lincoln Theater.
Where to stay: For a waterfront escape, check out La Conner Channel Lodge. It’s almost halfway between Vancouver and Seattle, plus you’re just minutes away from the annual tulip and daffodil festivals. (rates start at $160)
Day 3: Mount Vernon to Seattle
On the last day, you’ll drive the Mount Vernon to Seattle stretch, which covers 61 miles. I’d recommend heading straight to Chihuly Garden and Glass for an unforgettable introduction to Seattle. Another fabulous perk of visiting this colorful establishment is that it’s next door to the famous Space Needle.
Relax, take in the sights, and enjoy the afternoon with craft cocktails or fresh pints at Chihuly Garden and Glass.
Where to stay: Less than a 15-minute walk from Chihuly Garden and Glass is the Mediterranean Inn, a stunning seaside hotel with bountiful ocean views. Each room is fully equipped with a kitchenette. (rates start at $180)
You’ll love all these stops on the Vancouver to Seattle road trip!