Seattle is a city chocked full of landmarks, both well known and not so known, as some are major tourist attractions and others are historical places that have been designated as landmarks. From famous landmarks like the Space Needle and Pike Place Market to pieces of Seattle’s history, here are nine Seattle landmarks worth visiting.
Space Needle and Wider Seattle Center
This one is obvious—but you can’t miss the Space Needle when you visit Seattle. It’s just kind of there. Everyone knows about it and most newbies to the city stop by to at least get up close and personal, if not go to the top (the view is worth it, especially on clear days). The Space Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and it serves as the centerpiece to the Seattle Center, which was also built for the same World’s Fair and contains a few other landmarks worth seeing. Consider this one a batch deal. After your trip to the Space Needle, also stop by the Pacific Science Center, the Seattle Armory, the Kobe Bell, Horiuchi Mural and the International Fountain, all of which are on the official Seattle landmarks list.
Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is iconic, and it’s right smack in the middle of the action of downtown Seattle. It’s one of the oldest continuously operated markets in the US as it opened in 1907 and has just kept on trucking ever since. And where most landmarks are simply something to see, you can eat and shop your heart out at this one. Enjoy the history, read some plaques, but also don’t miss tasty stops like Beecher’s or Daily Dozen Doughnuts or Piroshky Piroshky. After that, watch Pike Place Fish Market employees toss a few salmon around (you have to wait until someone buys a fish, but it doesn’t usually take too long) or get a beverage at the first Starbucks location, both near the entrance to the market.
Volunteer Park is a large park and almost like Seattle Center in that there are several landmarks worth seeing here. First, the glass conservatory built in 1912 and modeled after London’s Crystal Palace. The park is also home to the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM), which is both a Seattle landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places. Built in 1933 in Art Deco style, the building used to house the Seattle Art Museum until 1991, when the primary collection moved downtown. Volunteer Park is also the location of a few noteworthy sights not on the landmark list, such as the Black Sun sculpture (“The Doughnut”) in front of SAAM and its adjacent to Lake View Cemetery where Bruce and Brandon Lee are buried side by side.
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard, more fondly known as the Ballard Locks, are not only a landmark, but they’re a fun place to visit that offers an inside view to the maritime traffic that surrounds the city. The Locks help boats make their way from the saltwater of the Puget Sound to the freshwater of Lakes Union and Washington, as well as adjust for a height difference. Watch as boats load in, tie down, and go up or down as the water level adjusts. It can be surprisingly entertaining. Located in Ballard right on the Ship Canal, the Locks are surrounded by a park that’s a lovely place to stroll, and if you cross over the Locks, and go down the set of stairs on the far side, you can watch migrating salmon through underwater glass windows.
Several of Seattle’s Theaters
Several of Seattle’s theaters are on the Seattle landmarks list, and they all deserve a visit, most likely as you go to see a show at them or go on a tour (almost all have free tours once a month for the public to join in). At the top of the list is the Paramount Theatre, which opened in 1928 and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. The theater started as a movie theater and vaudeville venue. Today, its owned by STG Presents, which also owns and operates the Moore Theater and Neptune Theater, which are also historical Seattle landmarks.
Seattle is a maritime city with a rich maritime heritage, and one of the best ways to explore that history is to step aboard the Virginia V, which is docked behind the Museum of History and Industry and Center for Wooden Boats in South Lake Union. The Virginia V is a wooden hull boat that was part of a group of vessels called the Mosquito Fleet, which served as vital transit throughout the Puget Sound. Virginia V was constructed in 1921 and entered service in 1922, running between Elliott Bay and Tacoma until 1938. In the years after that, it did everything from running girls to camp on Vashon Island to carrying war workers to Keyport Naval Torpedo Station. Today you can tour the boat, book it for private events or spot it at events.
The Chief Seattle sculpture in Tilikum Place near Seattle Center is easy to walk past, but since it’s on the way to so many places, it’s worth a stop. The statue is a life-sized sculpture of Seattle’s namesake—Chief Sealth (anglicized to Seattle), which was placed in Tilikum Place in 1912 and was the city’s second piece of public art. Chief Sealth was a Suquamish and Duwamish chief who lived from 1786 to 1866 and became known for negotiating with and forming partnerships with white settlers. He is buried in the Suquamish cemetery, and his oldest child, Princess Angeline, is buried in Lake View Cemetery next to Volunteer Park.
St. James Cathedral
Located in First Hill, St. James Cathedral is still a functional Roman Catholic cathedral to this day. Construction on the St. James Cathedral began in 1905, and it was designated a city landmark in 1984. It was designed by local architect James Stephen and formerly part of the Diocese of Nesqually (the spelling has changed to Nisqually in modern times), which later became the Diocese of Seattle. The structure has suffered some damage over the years, including the collapse of its 60-foot dome under the weight of snow in 1916—and the dome was never rebuilt. Today, the cathedral is a place of worship, but visitors can also enjoy the beautiful stained glass or watch for events to attend.