Seattle’s most popular tourist attractions are pretty well known—and indeed if you’re visiting the city (or even if you’ve lived here for a long time and haven’t gotten to know the sights that make the Emerald City famous), you should see the main sights. However, Seattle is more than Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. Seattle is a city with an amazing park system, a great maritime heritage and a place to find some really innovative architecture.
Below you’ll find a list of the most popular tourist attractions, as well as some lesser-visited attractions where visitors will get to see not just what other visitors see—but what locals do for fun (and most of what locals do is a whole lot less crowded than what all the tourists do).
Checking out the Usual Offenders
If you haven’t done the usual round of tourist attractions before, then you should at least do a fly-by to see what the excitement is all about. The Space Needle will get you a great view of the city (but so will plenty of other viewpoints for much cheaper), but if you don't go up, it's still great for an up-close photo op. Seattle Center is home to tons of attractions, too. Visit the EMP Museum, take the kids to the Pacific Science Center, or catch a dinner show at Teatro Zinzanni.
The Seattle Waterfront area is also a must-see. Pike Place Market is located close to the water so it’s a natural pairing. Grab lunch at the market and stroll among the vendors and then venture down to the water where you can stop by the Seattle Aquarium or take a ride on the Great Wheel.
Many visitors also add one of Seattle’s museums into the lineup and they’re all worth a visit. See world-class art and special exhibitions at Seattle Art Museum, focus in on Asian art and history at the Seattle Asian Art Museum, or stop by the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) for a closer look at what makes Seattle unique.
But once you’ve seen the usual suspect, branch out! Find out what makes Seattle such an awesome place.
Go See A Game
Depending on who you are, seeing a game may or may not be at the top of your tourist attraction list, but if it’s not, it should be. There are few other places where you’ll see exactly how enthusiastic Seattleites are about their sports teams (well, maybe a sports bar on a game day). The Seattle Mariners play baseball at Safeco Field, the Seahawks play football at CenturyLink Field, and the Seattle Sounders play soccer at CenturyLink Field as well.
Visit A Park
Parks may be overlooked as tourist hotspots in the face of flashier destinations, but the Northwest is known for its nature and parks allow you to enjoy a snapshot of that. Seattle has several large parks especially suited to this purpose. Discovery Park is filled with trails winding through woodlands and along natural shorelines, as does Washington Park Arboretum. Volunteer Park is more groomed, but has the added bonus of being the location of the Seattle Asian Art Museum and a water tower you can climb and see out over Seattle for free.
Explore Alki Beach and West Seattle
The best thing about taking a jaunt over to West Seattle is that you get to take a ferry to get there. This is a cheap way to get out on the water and see a less touristy side of town. You can catch the West Seattle Water Taxi at Pier 50 along the Waterfront. You can either ride it right back to downtown Seattle, or you can wander around West Seattle. From the dock on the West Seattle side, you can either walk or catch local shuttles or buses to explore West Seattle and Alki Beach Park.
See the Fish and Boats at Ballard Locks
Located in the Ballard neighborhood (which is also a lot of fun to explore), the Ballard Locks manage boat traffic between the Ship Canal and the Puget Sound. Watching boats load into the locks can be surprisingly entertaining. You can also cross to the far side of the locks and venture underneath to watch salmon swimming up a salmon ladder during various salmon seasons, which happen on and off throughout the year.
Get Lost in Seattle Public Library
Yes, it’s a library, and yes, it is very cool. The Central Library building was designed by Rem Koolhaus and Joshua Prince-Ramos, and is known for its funky and cutting-edge design. The library is a lot of fun to explore due to boldly painted hallways and escalators, and it’s also not a bad place to catch views of the city if you go all the way to the top. For photographers, you can get a lot of interesting photos in and around this structure.
Wander the University of Washington Campus
Locally known as UW, this campus is a great place to explore on foot. Relatively few people venture here who aren't students or on campus for a purpose, but beautiful buildings and fountains punctuate the campus, but some highlights are seasonal. In spring, UW is one of the best places to view cherry blossoms!
Stroll through Capitol Hill
Checking out a neighborhood can be a lot of fun, and one of the best for getting a great slice of Seattle life is Capitol Hill. Volunteer Park with its many attractions and great views is a must-see. Next door to the park, you’ll find a cemetery where Bruce and Brandon Lee and buried. Wander the streets of the neighborhood and you’ll come across tasty neighborhood bakeries, cool bookstores (don’t miss The Elliott Bay Book Company), a great art supply store (Blick Art Materials), cafes galore and great nightlife if you come back once the sun goes down.