The Best Time to Visit Seattle

Downtown Seattle

@ Didier Marti/Getty Images

Hands down, the best time to visit Seattle is during the warm, dry summer months — June, July and August. While Seattle has plenty of things to do any time of year, summer is when the skies are most likely to be clear, meaning things like views from the Space Needle or a trip out to Mt. Rainier will yield the most reward. And while popular activities in the area like hiking or visiting the city's parks can be done in the winter, spring or fall, it’s always better to be able to leave the raincoat at home.

But like all things Seattle weather, there is not a firm boundary on summer. The late spring and early fall can jump into the summer spirit some years with May and October often warm and dry as well, but it depends on the year. If you can’t make a visit to Seattle happen during the summer, don’t feel like you’re missing out too much if you come during the spring or fall. However, if you’re coming for a vacation, maybe just skip the winter unless you like being drizzled on for days on end.

Rainy Season in Seattle

When you’re figuring out the best time to visit Seattle, the number one factor to consider is: does what you want to do involve the weather? If so, you are probably aware that Seattle gets some rain in the winter. This ranges from relatively dry years to years where it rains every day for months on end. If you want to get out on a hike, visit Mt. Rainier or the coast, or even just kick back along the shorelines or at the parks right in the city, then consider visiting anytime other than the rainy season, which can start anywhere from September and last until about March.

However, also keep an eye on the weather in general as you’re planning your visit as some years are dry throughout the winter, and some years get more rain all year long (thanks, El Nino and La Nina).

Crowds and Costs

For the most part, you won’t see wild swings in hotel cost in downtown Seattle, but if you’re planning to get out of the city and stay on the coast, near Mt. Rainier or in the Olympic National Park, then prices do change. Summer is peak season for the coast and mountains so hotel costs do go up. On the other hand, so do crowds. If you visit Mt. Rainier in July or August, you will need to factor in your arrival time. Getting there right around 9 a.m. means sitting in long lines at the main Nisqually Entrance.

However, like the price of hotels, crowds in Seattle don’t fluctuate quite as much. You will find lines at major tourist attractions like the Space Needle in the summer, but you’ll likely find the same lines in the fall and spring. Lines in winter will be shorter or even nonexistent, but some attractions aren't fully worth it in the winter. For instance, if the day is rainy and overcast, you won't be able to see Mt. Rainier or far into the distance from the Space Needle.

Popular Festivals and Events

Seattle has some awesome festivals and events and, with the exception of some holiday happenings, these take place largely in spring, summer and fall — with summer taking the lead. If you’re coming into town for one of the big festivals, like Seafair, and you want to stay right downtown, book well ahead. However, if you’re flexible about staying nearby, then you’ll have no trouble finding rooms even during huge events. But, be warned, Seattle traffic can be pretty bad so staying farther away during a large event means you’ll be sitting in it.

This is especially true for games at Safeco Field at CenturyLink, July 4th at Gas Works Park, and some of the larger Seafair events where there is nowhere near enough parking for the masses. Either book well ahead to stay near the epicenter of these events, or look into public transportation.

January

January is not Seattle’s finest time of year by any means with chilly and usually wet weather in spades. Bring a raincoat and waterproof shoes. You’ll still find people outdoors here and there, but even locals mostly stay inside. Still, if you’re looking for a deal on hotels, this is a better time to find them than in spring, fall or summer, but be warned that hotels are cheaper because enjoying Seattle is just not as pleasant in the winter.

Events to check out:

The Polar Bear Plunge at Matthews Beach Park is the perfect way to start the year…if you enjoy running into freezing cold water and then running back out again before you get hypothermia.

February

The weather in February is really a toss up. Some years, cherry blossoms start to pop out this month and the sun does as well. Other years, February feels a whole lot like January. Indoor activities like local shows at the 5th Avenue or Paramount Theaters, wandering Pike Place Market, or going out to eat at one of Seattle’s many, many delicious restaurants mostly trump outdoor adventures this month. But with Valentine’s Day in the mix, the timing couldn’t be better. However, do expect massive crowds at most nicer restaurants on Valentine’s Day and plan to make reservations if you’re going out that day.

Events to check out:

The Seattle Boat Show is an extravaganza of all things – you guessed it – boat related. Expect sailing lessons, boat rides, kids activities, boats for sale and more.

The Lunar New Year celebration in Chinatown-International District brings on amazing food, dragon and lion dances, martial arts and cultural performances, and more.

March

March also can go back and forth between beautiful days and returns to the cold, rainy weather of winter, but if the cherry blossoms didn’t pop out in February, expect them this month! You’ll see cherry blossoms all around town, but head to the University of Washington campus to see one of the most beautiful displays. Keep that raincoat in your luggage, but maybe put some sunglasses in there too. On clearer days, March can be a great month to venture out to the city’s parks and hiking trails (Discovery Park is always a good choice) to enjoy signs of spring around every corner.

Events to check out:

Emerald City Comic Con is a large pop culture con complete with tons of cosplay; visiting artists, actors, writers and other high-profile guests; vendors galore; and more.

Seattle St. Patrick’s Day Parade is everything you’d expect from a parade on St. Paddy’s – lots of green, marching bands, and all things Irish. Top it off with a visit to a local Irish pub.

April

Like March, April goes back and forth between sunny and rainy days. If you’re looking to visit during the Northwest’s off season, this is usually the last month of the year where you’ll find cheap(er) hotels near the beaches, Mt. Rainier or other waterfront locations.

Events to check out:

The free International Children’s Friendship Festival and is run by children, for children. Performances showcase world cultures through music, dancing and art.

Twice a year, Seattle Restaurant Week brings affordable three-course menus to participating restaurants around town. It’s a great way to try some place new without breaking the bank.

May

May is one of the best months to get out and about if you enjoy festivals or getting outdoors. The weather tends toward sunny or lightly overcast, and the summer festival season starts to kick off.

Events to check out:

Seattle International Film Festival is one of the largest film festivals in the country, but it’s a lot more laid back than its contemporaries. The focus tends to be on indie, foreign films and documentaries. This event often goes into early June as well.
Northwest Folklife is a free festival at Seattle Center that has a little bit of everything – world culture, music, lots of food, vendors and family fun galore.

June

June is a great time to enjoy just about anything in Seattle. Festivals are plentiful. The weather is all around pretty pleasant. Parks and local outdoor pools are enjoyable, as are hikes through city parks like Discovery Park or trips out to Mt. Si or other farther afoot treks.

Events to check out:

If you want to see Seattle’s quirkier side, the Fremont Solstice Parade is the way to go. The entirely non-motorized parade is open to public participation and focused on artistic expression. Oh yeah, and you might see some nudity.

All ages and free, PrideFest fills Seattle Center with LGBTQ with music, arts and culture, and four stages.

July

If there’s an ideal month to visit Seattle, July might just be it. The weather is usually warm and dry (locals often say summer doesn’t start until after July 4). Yes, you’ll run into a few more crowds or lines at major attractions, but lines are not generally prohibitively long…unless you’re at the Space Needle and then you’ll need to make the call on whether the lines are worth the view for you. Consequently, if you enjoy views, July is the month you’re most likely to spot Mt. Rainier in the distance on any given day, and you can catch glimpses of it from the Space Needle, the beach at Discovery Park, and other spots around town.

Events to check out:

Seafair is not one lone event, but dozens of street festivals, block parties, and major events that take place throughout July and August. If you’re in town any part of July, check out what might be happening under the Seafair umbrella.

If you seek Seattle’s largest July 4th fireworks, then you seek the Seafair Summer Fourth. These take place at Gas Works Park and are some of the nation’s largest fireworks. The day is filled with family fun at Gas Works Park, and the fireworks are visible from several other points around town if you want to skip the crowds.

The Bite of Seattle is a free festival at Seattle Center that brings in food vendors from around the area. Try a variety of foods and kick back to listen to some live music.

August

August is generally much the same as July – warm and dry and a great time to visit Seattle as well as surrounding areas. There are also plenty of festivals and happenings taking place this month, too, including Seafair.

Events to check out:

Seafair Weekend is one of the summer events not to miss. Yes, it’s crowded. Yes, getting there can be a hassle as parking is pretty much a no go. But watching the hydroplane races and the Blue Angels is a Seattle tradition.

Seattle Art Fair brings together not only the general public, but also art collectors, galleries, museums and other institutions into one big art celebration.

September

While fall doesn’t technically start until later September, early September generally starts to feel like fall in the Northwest. Leaves start to turn. Events heralding in the end of summer kick up their heels. Rain also returns in September and while it’s not usually enough rain to stop locals from having whatever adventures they planned to have, for visitors it may serve as a deterrent. Bring a hat, rain jacket and/or an umbrella with you starting in September and pretty much continuing until May.

Events to check out:

The Washington State Fair is one of the largest fairs in the country and it’s worth a visit. Located in Puyallup, about 40-60 minutes south of Seattle, the fair is filled with fair food, rides, games, animals, headlining concerts, smaller shows and more.

Bumbershoot is a large music festival with several stages and talent ranging from headliners to local acts.

One of the preeminent Oktoberfests in the area, Fremont Oktoberfest even has family and dog-friendly days.

October

October is a great month to enjoy the autumn side of Seattle. The town knows how to celebrate the autumn with festival fun and several haunted houses that go up in the area. Also don’t miss out on visiting a pumpkin patch or touring a corn maze, but do bring some boots along with you as rain and corn mazes mean mud.

Events to check out:

Great Pumpkin Beer Fest is the place to be if you love pumpkin beer…there are more than 80 varieties represented!

Seattle Restaurant Week happens twice a year and features many of Seattle’s nicer restaurants serving up three-course meals for a set price.
GeekGirlCon has a focus on women in science, technology, arts, literature, comics and games.

November

Truth be told, November is not the most pleasant month to visit Seattle if you don’t enjoy rain and wind, but at the same time, the end of the month is the start of the holiday season and downtown Seattle becomes something special then. Holiday lights displays come out around every corner. Downtown Seattle gets decorated to the nines. So maybe avoid early November unless you’re here for business or family. Save you visit until after the holiday lights come out.

Events to check out:

Start your day with the Macy’s Holiday Parade and end it with the Macy’s Tree Lighting in downtown Seattle. It’s festive and fun for the whole family, especially if you have kids who love Santa as he makes an appearance in the parade.

Festival of Trees is a display of some of the most beautiful Christmas trees you’ll ever see. Sales of the trees and tickets to a gala raise funds for Seattle Children’s Hospital.

December

December is generally rainy and cool to cold, and yet it’s a fun time to visit Seattle. Holiday happenings fill just about every weekend. Visit Christmas lights displays, enjoy a holiday show at one of the local theaters, or sip on special winter brews at local microbreweries.

Events to check out:

The Christmas Ship Festival is a unique way to enjoy the season. Argosy Cruises decks its boats out. Riders can enjoy snacks and a choir on board. Others come to meet the Christmas Ship at ports around the Puget Sound (a different one each night) and listen to the choir from shore.
Christmas lights displays take place everywhere from Seattle Center to Woodland Park Zoo, from Bellevue Botanical Garden to Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium in Tacoma.
Like many cities, Seattle’s Pacific Northwest Ballet puts on a production of The Nutcracker each year.

It’s a tradition and a beautiful holiday show for many.