Nestled between the Cascade Mountains to the east and Puget Sound to the west, the Seattle area is filled with opportunities for day trips under $100. Three National Parks are within a two- to three-hour drive from downtown, the Cascade Mountains offer incredible hiking opportunities, Lake Washington and Puget Sound have numerous beaches and the city offers many parks for exploration. A ferry ride takes visitors to islands within Puget Sound or the Olympic Peninsula. The area is dotted with wineries, parks and museums. Whether watching a sunrise or sunset, locals and visitors can enjoy the culture and beauty of the Emerald City, all at an affordable price.

Mount Rainier from the meadows at Paradise (Credit, Karen Ulvestad)

Mount Rainier National Park
39000 State Route 706 E.
Ashford, WA 98304
(360) 569-6575

Mount Rainier National Park is a 90-mile drive from Seattle that takes two hours (to the park entrance). The mountain is seen on clear days from many locations in the city. This is the largest volcano in Washington State, and is most often visited in July and August. The meadows above Paradise come into bloom during these months, and the mountain rises above the bright-colored blossoms. The mountain is a great place to hike, climb or get away from the city. The wilderness is pristine, and the views are exceptional. Park entrance fees are $15 per car, and are good for seven days. An annual pass is available for $30. Camping fees are separate from entrance fees.

Sunset at San Juan Islands (Credit, Karen Ulvestad)

San Juan Islands
Anacortes Ferry Terminal
2100 Ferry Terminal Road
Anacortes, WA 98221
(888) 468-3701

The San Juan Islands are about 90 miles to the ferry terminal and 1.75 hours north of Seattle. These islands spread out north westward from Anacortes. The Washington state ferry system has several routes through the islands for visitors. The main islands are Lopez, San Juan, Orcas and Shaw. The islands sit in the “banana” belt, and have more sunshine than Seattle. These islands are teaming with marine mammals and other wildlife. It is common to see Bald Eagles, Orca, Dolphin, and Harbor Seals. The islands are accessible via state or private ferries, and private boats. Walking on the ferries is a great way to travel between the islands ($12.45 per person), and a bike is wonderful way to explore ($4).

Pike Place Market
1st & Pike St.
Seattle, WA 98101
(206) 682-7453

Pike Place Market is a lively farmer’s market in the heart of downtown Seattle. It is home to restaurants, artist’s stalls, stores, art galleries and the famous fish market with “flying” fish. Various aspects of the market open at different times. It opens at 6 a.m. for breakfast, and the restaurants close at 1:30 a.m. During the summer, the market offers The Pike Place Market farmers market weekends and their extended markets (on downtown neighborhoods). The market offers a variety of opportunities to enjoy the culture of Seattle without spending a lot of money. Pike Place can be reached via car or public transit. Parking is located on the west side of the market at the Public Market Parking Garage.

Related: Getaway Guide: One Tank Trip To San Juan Islands

Seattle Waterfront
Alaskan Way
Seattle, WA 98104

The Seattle waterfront sits on the shores of Elliott Bay on the west side of the city. The waterfront is home to the famous Edgewater Inn, Seattle Aquarium, Olympic Sculpture Park and Myrtle Edwards Park. The original Ivar’s Acres of Clams is on Pier 54, and worth stopping by for a cup of clam chowder. The famous Ye Olde Curiosity Shop is a free museum and gift store first opened in 1899, and is located on Pier 54. Other places to visit include the Waterfront Arcade, Waterfront Park, or a scenic tour of Seattle or Tillicum Village a Northwest Native American cultural center.

The Seattle skyline from Alki Beach (Credit, Karen Ulvestad)

Alki Beach Park
1702 Alki Ave.
Seattle, WA 98116
(206) 684-4075

Alki Beach is located in West Seattle. The beach is 2.5 miles long, offering a boardwalk, beach and magnificent views of the city. It is a great place to exercise, play on the beach or in Puget Sound, or watch the ferries or a sunset. The Olympic Mountains sit to the west, and sunrise turns the mountains beautiful pinks and sunsets cast orange across the city buildings. Parking for the park is along Alki Ave. S.W. or small parking lots along the avenue.

Related: Best Flying Adventures Near Seattle

Karen Ulvestad is a mother and professional writer/photographer, who lives in the greater Seattle area. She graduated from the University of Washington with a BA in English Composition. Her background is in fitness, travel, photography and writing. She continually researches locations to visit, and/or entertainment opportunities for family outings and/or photo shoots. Her work can be found at