Islands, Puget Sound, Washington
Concierge.com's insider take:
Puget Sound has a string of gorgeous islands, all easy day trips from the city, and all with their own distinct personalities. Washington State Ferries runs trips to all islands; note that spots on popular car-ferry routes can fill up quickly during high season (206-464-6400; www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries).
The easiest island to pop over to is Bainbridge Island. The ferry ride (35 minutes) to and from the island is an attraction in itself, as you get unparalleled views of the skyline, with Mount Rainier looming to the south. Bainbridge is something of an exclusive bedroom community, so it's not as bucolic as some of the other islands, but it's lovely in its own right and has everything from cute little ice cream shops to its own winery. There are two state parks (one on either end of the island) and several other protected areas and gardens, including the Bloedel Reserve, which shouldn't be missed; reservations are required to visit (206-842-7631; www.bloedelreserve.org).
Vashon Island (15 to 35 minutes by ferry, depending on which dock you depart from) is only 12 miles long; you could easily bike the whole thing in a day. Expect to find organic farm stands, galleries, and at least a few old-school hippies. Walks along the beach are a favorite activity out here, as each shore provides views of either the city and the Cascade Range or the Olympic Mountains.
Above Puget Sound in the Strait of San Juan de Fuca is the massive San Juan archipelago. Though many people come to the San Juans to relax, even more come to kayak, hike, play golf, or go whale-watching. The San Juans are extremely popular tourist destinations, so expect lines for the ferries and crowds at B&Bs and restaurants in the summer. San Juan Island is the place to go to book a whale-watching tour or charter a boat; Frday Harbor, the island's main town, is also the commercial hub for the archipelago. Orcas Island is the most spectacular of all the islands. Moran State Park has tons of trails that include everything from lakeside ambles to summit hikes. Orcas also has quite a few pricey inns and resorts perfect for a romantic overnight trip, with Rosario Resort & Spa, in a converted seaside mansion, being the most luxurious (360-376-2222; www.rosarioresort.com). Washington State Ferries to the San Juan Islands leave from Anacortes (one and a half hours north of Seattle); if you want to leave directly from Seattle, the Victoria Clipper has limited service to Friday Harbor (206-448-5000; www.victoriaclipper.com).