Washington State, officially known as the State of Washington (not to be confused with Washington, D.C.), is the 42nd state of the United States. Located in the northwestern corner of the continental U.S. in a region known as the “Pacific Northwest,” it is bounded by Oregon to the south, Idaho to the east, the Canadian province of British Columbia to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west. Established in 1889 out of the Oregon Territory, as of 2020 it is home to 7.6 million people, making it the 13th most populous state overall while being 20th in land area.
In most media, Washington is often stereotyped as being a perpetually cloudy, rainy place populated by flannel-wearing hipsters and disaffected California expats drinking coffee in Seattle or hunting for Bigfoot (who is actually protected by state law, believe it or not, in the off chance it exists). In reality, the state covers a wide range of geography and climates, from oceans, forests, lakes, mountains, plains, dry steppe, and outright desert. So too are the people diverse, with significant minorities of Hispanics, East Asians, and Native Americans to name a few, all from a wide array of different backgrounds. The state (much like neighboring Oregon) is divided, both geographically and culturally, by the Cascade Mountain range, with the west being known for its prolific liberal politics while the eastern half is generally more conservative, which often creates enough friction for the latter to sometimes try to secede, so far with no success.
While Washington’s economy has historically relied on timber harvesting, resource extraction, and agriculture, these days it has also grown to be a technology hub with major corporations such as Microsoft, Starbucks, Amazon, Nintendo of America, and Boeing having their roots here, along with being a general gateway to and from much of the Pacific. Given its strategic location,note it’s also home to a rather large number of military bases, including one of the country’s two nuclear submarine bases and a military relay station. With all this in mind, it should come as no surprise that Washington has left its mark on mainstream culture and the arts.
European exploration of the area began in the late 1700s, with Spanish, Russian, and English explorers all variously surveying (and claiming) parts of the area until the territory, now called the Oregon Territory, fell under British control in 1790. They wasted no time setting up fur trading posts. Famously, Lewis and Clark explored the area as part of their 1804-1806 expedition. The territory would soon become a condominium between British Canada and the U.S., but territory disputes continued until the 1846 Oregon Treaty set the boundary along the 49th parallel, as well as around some islands so that Britain could keep Victoria.note Settlers arrived into the area via the Oregon Trail, with some settling in present-day Washington. The Washington Territory was granted statehood in 1889.
The state can be roughly divided up into five distinct regions:
Aberdeen in particular has something of a “tough” streak, on account of its past as a salty port at the end of a railroad attracting all sorts of hooligans in its heyday; this is where infamous serial killer Billy Gohl did his dirty work. Since then, the town has cleaned up its image considerably, now billing itself as a gateway to the region’s mountains and beaches. It is also the hometown of two members of Nirvana, lead singer Kurt Cobain and bassist Krist Novoselic, as well as AEW star Bryan Danielson, best known for his time in WWE as Daniel Bryan.*
The region is far and away the most populous in the state, with most of the major cities being located here. Seattle is the largest by far, with a population in excess of 750,000 (making it the 18th largest in the country, with the 15th largest metro area when including the entire region). Seattle is the home base of Amazon and Starbucks, while nearby Redmond hosts Microsoft, Federal Way has Weyerhauser, North Bend has Nintendo of America, and Boeing’s manufacturing plant is in Everett (Boeing itself is headquartered in Chicago, however). Besides Seattle, other big cities in the area include Everett, Bellevue, Kent, and Tacoma. Seattle and Tacoma are among the largest commercial shipping ports in the U.S., while Everett boasts the Everett Naval Shipyard, part of the large amount of military infrastructure in the region which also includes Joint Base Lewis-McCord, the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton, Naval Air Station Whidbey, the Jim Creek transmitter station in the hills east of Everett, and Bangor Submarine Base in Hood Canal, one of two in the U.S. (the other is in Savannah, Georgia) and home to a sizable chunk of the country’s nuclear stockpile. The state capital, Olympia, is located at the southern end of Puget Sound and is home to The Evergreen State College. Bellingham to the north is the largest city between the Seattle Metro and the Canadian border.
To the south lies Vancouver, Washington (not to be confused with Vancouver, British Columbia, a short distance across the border to the north). It is the 4th largest city in the state, helps form the Portland-Vancouver Metro area, and for all intents and purposes is closer to Oregon culturally and economically than to the rest of the state. Lewis and Clark passed by the future city during their expedition, and it was named in honor of a historic fur-trading outpost, Fort Vancouver. A common joke/piece of advice to people moving to the area is to live and work in Vancouver and do all your shopping in Portland, since the former has no state income tax while the latter has no state sales tax.
Despite all the cities and suburbs, the region still manages to have some wide-open spaces, mostly family-run fruit, vegetable and dairy farms, forests, streams, as well as dozens of islands in Puget Sound and the Channel Islands further north, with the Sans Juan Islands in particular being a favorite getaway of Seattleites.
While the interior of the mountains bear no large towns, the eastern foothills are home to vast, lucrative agricultural lands fueled by fertile volcanic soils and made arable though irrigation thanks to the many large dams on the Columbia River, which at 1,243 miles is one of the West Coast’s longest and largest rivers, originating in the Rocky Mountain Trench in British Columbia and draining an area the size of France. The river also cuts through the mountains (on account of predating them), creating a sheer valley called the Columbia River Gorge through which ocean-going vessels can pass through a series of locks to reach ports as far up as Lewiston, Idaho on the Snake River, making the river an important economic engine for the region. The dams, which divert water for irrigation and allow vessels to pass, also generate electricity; combined with the area’s numerous wind farms, this makes the region a clean energy production hub, with the cities here having some of the nation’s cheapest power.
Going back to the agricultural fields, the valleys of the Wenatchee and Yakima Rivers are where the bulk of the state’s famous apple production occurs. The region also hosts beef cattle ranches, vineyards, and beer hop farms. Yakima is the largest city of the region, with other important towns including Wenatchee and Ellensburg, which hosts the fast-growing Central Washington University and was originally tapped to be the state capital before burning down in an 1889 fire, which is why it got the school instead.
The region’s most infamous offspring is the Hanford Nuclear Site, one of the main sites of the Manhattan Project and the birthplace of the atomic bomb dropped on Nagasaki. Decommissioned for years, the plant is now a Superfund Site that constantly threatens to leak radioactive waste into the Columbia River, impacting millions of people who live downstream. The nearby towns of Richland, Kennewick, and Pasco grew to service the plant and today are known as the “Tri-Cities”, which make up the largest metro in the area. Further north is the Gorge Amphitheater, a popular outdoor concert venue located in the middle of vast wilderness, while Pullman in the east hosts Washington State University, the biggest school in Eastern Washington and eternal rival of Seattle’s University of Washington (folks use the term “U-Dub” to refer to the latter and "Wazzu" or "WaSu" (pronounced “Wazoo”) to refer to the former).
Works set or shot in Washington include:
- Dante's Peak takes place in a fictional town somewhere in Washington and is heavily inspired by the Mt. St. Helens eruption (although interestingly, that eruption is mentioned In-Universe, and Dante’s Peak’s location is never really specified)
- Northern Exposure: Set in Alaska, shot in Roslyn.
- Sleepless in Seattle
- 10 Things I Hate About You: Set in Seattle, mostly shot in nearby Tacoma.
- Twin Peaks: Exteriors were shot in and around North Bend during the shows original run. Other than those and the Pilot, everything else was shot in California. The Return, however, did actually shoot both interiors and exteriors around North Bend and Snoqualmie.
- First Blood: Set in Washington, shot in British Columbia
- Rick and Morty takes place right outside of Seattle according to Word of God, although this isn't brought up in the series often.
- Grey's Anatomy: Set in Seattle, primarily filmed in Los Angeles
- Harry and the Hendersons
- Intensive Care: Set somewhere in Washington state, primarily filmed in The Netherlands. The results are rather unconvincing, to say the least.
- Vision Quest
- The Ring
- The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian: Set on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Eastern Washington.
- Mean Creek: The Film itself takes place in Oregon, but the scenes with the Creek were shot in Washington State.
- The Deer Hunter: Both of the films Deer Hunting scenes are supposed to take place in Pennsylvania, but were shot near Mount Baker in Washington State.
- Dog (2022) starts at the Joint Base Lewis–McChord in Tacoma, where the lead Jackson Briggs has to escort a Dog from there to Nogales, Arizona.
- State of Decay and it's sequel State of Decay 2 has two maps based in Washington State: "Trumbull Valley" and "Providence Ridge"; while the game itself was developed in Seattle.
- The first episode of Life Is Strange 2 is primarily set in Washington.