Seattle’s Chinatown-International District is more than a Chinatown—there’s no one dominant culture here. While the area started as Chinatown in the 1800s, today it’s a mishmash of many cultures coming together to create something awesome… and often delicious—the restaurants in this district are many and worth exploring.
Any day of the year, this unique Seattle neighborhood is an excellent place to go out to eat, visit a museum or duck in to a shop—the stores in the International District range from the huge Japanese grocery store Uwajimaya to smaller specialty stores. While the area is not always a bustling place and might be quiet if you stop by on an average afternoon, make no mistake. This neighborhood knows how to throw a good party and is worth keeping an eye on for events.
Here are the top things to do in Chinatown-International District.
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Like most Seattle neighborhoods, Chinatown-International District has all kinds of shops and stores. You’ll find small herb shops, a few galleries, as well as some really stand out shopping opportunities. If you only go to one store in the area, go to Uwajimaya. It’s huge. It’s filled with amazing groceries and ready-to-eat foods. You’ll find sushi, Japanese snacks, raw ingredients, imported goods and more. You’ll also find a food court with everything from Hawaiian to Chinese to Korean to Japanese food on the menu. Whether you're grocery shopping or looking for a place to eat, Uwajimaya has got you covered. Also located within this large store, Kinokuniya is a Japanese bookstore stocked with manga, anime and plushies galore, but also amazing Japanese school and office supplies, toys, collector items and random goodies.
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Go to a Museum
Don’t expect dry, stuffy, large museums here. The Wing Luke Museum has a focus on Asian history and culture, including everything from Bruce Lee to the Korean-American experience. The museum is on the small side, but the exhibits are interesting and included in the price of admission is a tour through a historic hotel and other spaces around the museum.
The Seattle Pinball Museum is also located in the district, but don’t expect placards and exhibits about pinball. Instead, dozens of vintage pinball machines and beer constitute this “museum.” Not your average museum, but it’s a lot of fun!
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Go to an Event
This neighborhood loves to party! Throughout the year, major events take to the streets and celebrate all kinds of happenings. A few not to miss include Bon Odori, which is part of Seafair. Bon Odori is traditionally about honoring your ancestors, but is fun for all whether you feel like honoring your ancestors or not. Count on Taiko drums, yummy food, a beer garden and literal dancing in the streets—join in if you’d like!
Dragon Fest is another top event here, and is a grand culmination of food, tours of Chinatown-International District, performances and markets. If you love anime, also look for the Sakura Con Anime Costume Contest. Dragon Fest usually takes place in July.
Yet another is the Night Market and Autumn Moon Festival when, on an evening in September, more than 30 food trucks gather in the International District to offer tastes of all kinds of Asian dishes. There’s also live entertainment, shops stay open and more.
Finally, don’t miss the Lunar New Year celebration. While... there are many happenings in and around Seattle celebrating the Lunar New Year, if you’re looking to go big or go home, this is it.
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Go out to Eat
It goes without saying that if you enjoy any sort of Asian cuisine, Chinatown-International District is a great place to find it. Wander the streets and peek at menus or food displays in the windows, but there are a few places that rise above the rest. If you seek dim sum, look to Harbor City or Jade Garden. If you seek great Vietnamese food or pho, try Green Leaf Vietnamese. For awesome noodle dishes, Mike’s Noodle House is the place. There’s even one of Seattle’s most inventive pizza places in the area—World Pizza, with its stellar flavor combos and great vegetarian options. For traditional Japanese cuisine, don’t miss Maneki.