Like many cities, Seattle has a number of neighborhoods, many of which blend seamlessly together while others have their own special vibe. Seattle’s neighborhoods are worth exploring for their tasty restaurants, interesting shops, and attractions large and small.
Whether you seek the hustle and bustle of downtown, the quirky appeal of Fremont, or the international flare of Chinatown-International District, here are 10 of Seattle’s most interesting neighborhoods. It may not be on the list, but don't forget to check out Lower Queen Ann.
Downtown Seattle is the place it all starts and ends for many of the city’s visitors. This neighborhood is a no-brainer if you haven’t visited Seattle before, or even if you have. It’s where you’ll find the city’s biggest attractions, for the most part, from the Great Wheel to the Seattle Art Museum to Pike Place Market. It’s an especially easy neighborhood to explore on foot (as long as you don’t mind hills) as it’s fairly compact, and all the good stuff is within close proximity. Start with Pike Place Market and pick up a snack or lunch or dinner. Walk the waterfront and peek into shops, ride the Great Wheel, check out the Seattle Aquarium, or simply stare at the water. Take in a show at the 5th Avenue Theatre or Paramount Theatre. Or get some shopping done as there are stores and shops ranging from Macy’s down to locally owned stores. Downtown is also a really fun place to visit during the holiday season, as it’s lit up with twinkly lights.
Capitol Hill is a neighborhood with broad appeal. It’s known for its nightlife, and it does indeed have a strong nightlife scene with everything from Elysian Brewing Company (an excellent spot for some local beer) to nightclubs. But make no mistake, Capitol Hill is equally appealing in daylight. It’s home to several Seattle mainstays, including the city’s largest bookstore – Elliott Bay Book Company where you can browse or pop in for readings or special events – as well as music venue Neumos and stellar art store Blick Art Materials. Capitol Hill is also home to Volunteer Park, which is hands down one of the best and biggest parks in the city. Within its bounds, you’ll find a glass conservatory and the Seattle Asian Art Museum, as well as plenty of places to run and play for families with kids.
Belltown is right next to downtown and has turned into a great place to go out in the evening or at night. One of Seattle’s coolest cinemas is located here – Cinerama is a unique movie theater where you can catch first-run and classic films alike while you enjoy local beer, wine and cider as well as a full menu of snacks and bites to eat. Belltown is filled with nightlife venues both mild and wild, including Foundation Nightclub and Ora Nightclub, as well as Shorty’s which has classic games and pinball and food, or check out The Crocodile for some live music. Belltown is also a fine place to look for places to eat. Tom Douglas has a few establishments in the neighborhood – Dahlia Bakery, Lola, and Serious Pie – and Top Pot Doughnuts is here too.
Fremont is possibly Seattle’s most fun neighborhood. For one, it styles itself the Center of the Universe. It’s also got some of the most unique fixtures anywhere, from the Fremont Troll under the Aurora Bridge to a Communist-era statue of Stalin and the Fremont Rocket atop a neighborhood building. Fremont is fairly compact so it’s easy to walk and walking is the best way to go as you’ll pass by signs of the neighborhood’s famous quirk everywhere you go – unique buildings, public artwork, interesting shops. The Theo Chocolate Factory is also located here, and it’s open for tours so you can see how this fair trade, organic chocolate is crafted from start to finish. If you can’t make a tour, then visit the shop for chocolate samples. Fremont is a top spot to find delicious restaurants, laid-back night spots like the Fremont Abbey, as well as a place to check for larger events. The Fremont Oktoberfest and Solstice Parade and two major annual happenings that take place in this neighborhood.
Ballard was founded by Scandinavian immigrants in the 1800s and still carries some of its original Scandinavian heritage with it today. To best sample some of that heritage, watch for festivals like Syttende Mai (a traditional Norwegian holiday); Seafoodfest, which hearkens back to the fishermen of yore who helped make Ballard what it is; Viking Days; and Yulefest. Ballard is a stellar place to find fresh local food to eat, from the Ballard Farmers Market to its restaurants. And it’s becoming increasingly known for its microbrewery scene with Reuben's Brews, Maritime Pacific Brewing Company, and Hale's Ales all in the neighborhood.
Chinatown-International District toggles between a quiet place to have a delicious meal and a neighborhood filled with amazing festivals. On any given day, one of the best reasons to visit Chinatown-International District is for the food. Try a new restaurant or stop by Uwajimaya – a sprawling Japanese grocery store where you’ll find food counters galore, ready-to-eat foods, sushi, as well as a full lineup of Japanese grocery items, office supplies, and household items. But keep an eye on the events in this neighborhood as there are several amazing ones throughout the year, from Bon Odori during Seafair to the Night Market and Autumn Food Festival.
Next to Fremont but much less quirky, Wallingford is a laid-back neighborhood that’s perfect for a casual afternoon spent exploring shops along with lunch or dinner at one of the local restaurants. You’ll find a variety of restaurants and shops on N 45th Street, including a few local icons like the 45th Stop and Shop and Dick’s Drive Ins. N 45th is also home to Seattle’s first cat café – Seattle Meowtropolitan – where you can enjoy coffee, hang out with cats, or even partake in some cat yoga. Wallingford isn’t all shops and restaurants, though. Gas Works Park, one of the city’s most unique parks by far, is also here on the shore on Lake Union, and Woodland Park Zoo is just on the edge of the neighborhood, too.
The U District is named for the location of the University of Washington within its bounds, but it’s definitely not just for students. However, the student presence does lend a pretty casual feel to this part of town. A highlight of the U District is “The Ave,” or University Way, where you’ll find a hefty lineup of restaurants and shops. Don’t miss a stroll through the UW campus as it’s picturesque, especially if you visit during cherry blossom season—head for the Commons as you’ll find Seattle’s most spectacular cherry blossom display there. For entertainment, sports or cultural pursuits, you’ll find plenty to do, from the Burke Museum to the Henry Art Gallery to Huskies football games at Husky Stadium.
West Seattle is set apart from the rest of Seattle, located on the other side of Elliott Bay. Visit by taking the water taxi from the Seattle waterfront or drive over the West Seattle Bridge, but either way, expect a completely different vibe from the rest of town. Don’t miss Alki Beach Park, where you’ll find a sandy beach and a sweet view of the Seattle skyline. The streets around Alki Beach Park have shops and restaurants aplenty to explore, but this neighborhood has a few stand out food choices, including Salty’s (with one of the best views over dinner in Seattle), tasty Korean-Hawaii fusion at Marination ma kai, and sushi at Mashiko.
Georgetown is a former industrial area that has revitalized and is now a funky neighborhood worth visiting. It’s an especially great neighborhood for going out to eat and drink, especially if you like Mexican food. Try Fonda la Catrina or El Sirenito if you do. As with most of Seattle’s neighborhoods, there are plenty of shops to explore. If you love vinyl, look to Georgetown Records, while Fantagraphics next door serves up graphic novels and alternative comics in spades. If you really want to delve into the funky vibe that is Georgetown, check out the Trailer Park Mall—it’s just what it sounds like, a flea market-type atmosphere, but instead of booths or spaces, each vendor or display or artist brings in a trailer. It’s small, but the quirk is strong.