Often referred to as “Washington State” to distinguish from the U.S. capital, Washington is located in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States to the north of Oregon and west of Idaho. Western Washington is mild because of the warm currents coming off the North Pacific Ocean. This area has frequent cloud cover, considerable fog and drizzles. Summers are much sunnier, yet still mild. Seattle is the largest city of the Pacific Northwest region. Tacoma is a port city with several good museums downtown. Washington state is a great place for seafood, with salmon in particular being a specialty. A few major attractions include Columbia River Gorge, Mount Rainier National Park, Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, Olympic National Park (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and the city of Spokane. To explore most of Washington (outside of main cities), you will generally need a car because there is very little public transportation, especially to more remote locations. For more information, view the cultural learning guid below or visit experiencewa.com.
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Fort Nisqually Living History Museum. Photo by Michael D Martin.
Add some local history to your cultural exchange experience by visiting a nearby historical site or tourist attraction when living and working in the U.S.
Fort Nisqually Living History Museum in Tacoma educates the public by bringing the year 1855 to life with period clothing, historical reenactments and games, tours and much more.
Mount St. Helens National Volcanic Monument is a top attraction in Washington. Located around the site of the 1980 eruption, the monument allows visitors to see evidence of the eruption as well as the return of greenery and wildlife, and allows scientists to study and monitor the area. Climbing, hiking, camping, biking and cross-country skiing are available in the area.
The Northwest Railway Museum is home to a working railroad and many large and small artifacts from the Northwest railroad history.
Visitors can experience Native American heritage at Blake Island’s Tillicum Village. Cultural activities include a taste of traditional foods and a salmon buffet meal, a narrated cruise and a Native American-inspired show.
Find more Native American heritage sites around the state at the Washington tourism website.
The Space Needle is an iconic sight in Seattle and top destination for tourists. The Space Needle observation deck has a 360 degree view, allowing visitors to see the city, Puget Sound and surrounding mountains.
The Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour gives a behind-the-scenes look of airplane assembly in a working factory and a glimpse into the history of aviation design.
Adventure Outdoors has local tours of the Pacific Northwest, including Olympic National Park, Vancouver, Leavenworth and Cascade Mountain.
Alpine Adventures offers whitewater rafting trips from March to November, and bald eagle watching trips from December to February
Evergreen Escapes for half-day and overnight tours to places like Seattle, Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens, Olympic National Park and Columbia Gorge as well as longer multi-day tours
Ride the Ducks of Seattle runs “duck boat” tours, allowing visitors to see Seattle from the road and from the water
Savor Seattle offers popular food tours
Show Me Seattle uses a smaller tour bus to take passengers around the Emerald City
Tours of Seattle has many tours of Seattle and the surrounding area, including tours to Mt. Rainier, Leavenworth at Christmas, a winery tour, and Seattle City tour
Seattle Art Museum. Photo by conxa.roda.
The United States offers a wide variety of cultural learning opportunities through the arts. Dance, music, theater, opera, art museums and festivals are just some of the options available to international visitors who wish to learn more about the U.S. and its culture.
The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture is located on the University of Washington campus in Seattle. As the oldest museum in Washington, the Burke Museum aims to educate the public on the most significant issues of our time through exhibits, classes, events, a permanent collection and research facilities.
Seattle Art Museum (SAM) has three locations – the Seattle Art Museum Downtown, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, and the Olympic Sculpture Park. Together, SAM exhibits artwork from international and local artists in a wide range of genres, from sculpture to painting to photography and from many different countries.
The Northwest African American Museum in Seattle shares visual arts, music, literature and the history of African Americans in the Northwest and looks at the experience of African Americans throughout the United States.
Best of the Northwest is a fine art and craft show that highlights artisans, designers and craftspeople in Seattle.
Many Americans are passionate about sports – and not just baseball and football! Get a glimpse into this part of American culture by watching or participating in a favorite U.S. sport or recreational activity in your local area.
Professional Sports Teams
Major professional sports teams playing in Washington:
- Seattle Seahawks, an NFL (football) team playing at CenturyLink Field
- Seattle Mariners, an MLB (baseball) team playing at Safeco Field
- Seattle Storm, a women’s NBA (basetball) team playing at Key Arena
- Seattle Sounders FC, an MLS (soccer) team playing at Century Link Field
Ticketing websites for Washington sports:
- Ticketexchangebyticketmaster.com to buy or sell tickets from season ticket holders and fans.
- StubHub.com for tickets and last-minute deals.
College Sports Teams
College sports are a great way to see American sports and often for a cheaper price. College teams in Washington:
- Seattle Pacific University Falcons
- Seattle University Redhawks
- University of Washington Huskies
- Washington State University Cougars
The United States is home to a variety of landscapes and climates to suit all types of outdoor activities. The courageous traveler can find extreme sports and outdoor adventure tours, while others may want to keep both feet on the ground in a national park or forest. Whatever your interests, take advantage of the many outdoor activities available during your time in the United States.
Crystal Mountain Resort in Snoqualmie National Forest is a popular destination for skiing and snowboarding. Scenic gondola rides to the top of Mount Rainier are also available at the resort. To find out more information on the mountain, including lift tickets, ski and snowboard lessons and accommodation options, visit the resort website.
For information on all skiing and snowboarding options in Washington, visit Ski Washington to find resorts, weather conditions, ski events and more.
Mount Rainier National Park, home to the Mt. Rainier volcano, provides outdoor recreation opportunities in every season. Camping, hiking, fishing, biking, ranger-guided snowshoe tours, skiing and snowboarding, sledding and snowmobiling are some examples of outdoor recreation in the park. Visitors should bring rain gear and be prepared for changeable weather!
Olympic National Park contains three major ecosystems to explore, including coastal beaches, forests and mountains. Walking and hiking trails, backpacking, skiing, camping and cross-country skiing are all available in the park.
Find a full list of outdoor activities in Washington state at the Experience WA tourism website.
One of the best ways to experience cultural exchange is through food and cooking. Visitors will enjoy exploring the regional specialties and local cuisine during their time in the United States.
The Pacific Northwest is known for its local supply of fresh local food, including wild salmon, crab, mussels, oysters, mushrooms, Walla Walla sweet onions, caribou, elk and moose. When eating out, visitors will often find these local and seasonal foods on the menu.
Farmer's markets are the perfect place to find local Washington produce and artistan-produced goods, like jams, fresh cheese and bread. Use the Washington State Farmers Market Association directory to find your closet market and get shopping!
- Taste of Washington, March
- Vegfest, March
- Burien Strawberry Festival, June
- Bite of Seattle, July
- Blues and Seafood, July
- Wild Mushroom Celebration, October/November
The Paperboys performing at the Triple Door in Seattle. Photo by Andi Szilagyi .
For a unique and local perspective on American cultural, be sure to check out festivals and events near your cultural exchange program location. These events are a fun and interesting way to interact with locals and to learn more about American culture by experiencing it firsthand.
Seattle Chamber Music Winter Festival in January has six nights of classical music performances, including free 30-minute shows before many of the performances.
14/48: The World’s Quickest Theater Festival is a unique event held in Seattle at the ACT Theatre in January, when 14 10-minute plays are written, planned, rehearsed and performed in 48 hours.
The Seattle Improvised Music Festival is an event with musicians from around the world playing original, improvised music (music made up on the spot).
The Wintergrass Bluegrass Festival is a bluegrass and acoustic festival held in February/March in Bellevue, WA, just east of Seattle across Lake Washington.
Viking Fest is a celebration of Washington's Scandinavian heritage. The May festival takes place in Poulsbo and includes traditional food, dancing, music and other cultural activities.
The Sasquatch Music Festival takes place at the Gorge Amphitheatre in Quincy, WA over Memorial Day weekend in May. The event includes live comedy and concerts from many types of bands and musicians, including indie rock, alternative rock, electronic and hip-hop. Camping is also available at the festival.
Employers may be able to assist with housing during your time in the United States, but this is not always possible for all participants. When looking for housing during your cultural exchange program, consider the cost of the accommodation, the distance to your work place and the amount of time you will be in the United States.
It's also important to avoid fraudulent housing. It is highly recommended that you secure short-term housing upon arrival (e.g. in a hostel) and conduct your housing search once you are in the U.S. Never give your financial information to a stranger over the Internet. Browse the Housing Information guides for InterExchange participants below for more tips and advice.
General Housing Information
- Housing information for Work and Travel USA participants
- Housing information for Career Training USA interns and trainees
Washington Housing Resources
Some examples of housing and accommodation resources for Washington participants include:
- Craigslist - Washington
- American Homestay Agency
- Hostelling International
Public transportation options can be hit or miss, depending on your location in the United States. Buses are a common transportation option for short and long-term travel in the U.S., while some areas will also have trains, subways and other options. Visit the American Public Transportation Association website for a complete list of public transportation options in your local community.
SoundTransit provides regional buses, light rail service and commuter rails in the Seattle area. Use the Seattle Monorail for service between Seattle Center, next to the Space Needle, and Westlake Center Mall.
Washington State Ferries travel in the Seattle region and to locations as far north as the San Juan Islands.
Ski Resort Transportation
- Seattle Ski Shuttle takes passengers to and from Seattle and either Crystal Mountain or The Summit at Snoqualmie. Skiers and snowboarders looking to spend the day at a ski resort use the shuttle, so the bus only departs once in the morning from Seattle and leaves in the afternoons from the ski resorts.
- A list of ski shuttles to Crystal Mountain.
- Buses and shuttles to The Summit at Snoqualmie.
During winter, heavy snow storms can close major roads and highways. Check the Washington Department of Transportation website for updates or dial 511 on your phone.
Participants in Washington can use the following resources in case of an emergency or extreme weather event in their area:
Emergency Management Agencies
- Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) www.fema.gov and www.ready.gov
- Washington FEMA updates on Twitter @femaregion10
- National Weather Service
- Weather – Seattle
- Weather - Southeast Washington
- Weather - Spokane & Eastern Washington
Interact with others and expand your skill set by volunteering in your local community. Volunteer organizations are often looking for short-term volunteers or for individuals to help with a single event, making it a great option for InterExchange participants who wish to add to their cultural exchange experience during their time in the United States.
Volunteer as an Ambassador at The Summit at Snoqualmie and engage with guests about snow sports at The Summit. This volunteer position requires a specific time requirement, so be sure to read the ambassador manual before applying.
Seattle Humane Society needs volunteers in their animal shelters, in the community and at events. Volunteers can work with animals, with potential pet owners, in the office or with the public, depending on availabilty and your interests.
Washington State Parks look for volunteers for maintenance projects, office help and other specialized areas like historic research.
For a list of volunteer opportunities in Seattle, see the volunteer page at Seattle.gov.