Seattle, Washington's state's biggest city, offers a unique mix of metropolitan flair and natural beauty. Situated on the Puget Sound and home to several urban lakes, the city's natural spaces and parks are a welcome reprieve for both locals and visitors. However, you don't have to be outdoorsy to appreciate the Emerald City's splendor. Famous attractions like the Space Needle and Pike Place Market, as well as the city's thriving art and food scene, will keep culture buffs busy too.
Home to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center, the Seattle Center is the hub of the city's cultural activity. Here you'll find the famous Space Needle, the Chihuly Gardens and Glass architectural exhibit, and museums like MoPOP and the Pacific Science Center. With plenty of things to see in this expansive facility, families can keep themselves busy for days. Check out the International Fountain or enroll the kids in a fun day camp. Catch the Seattle Center Monorail from downtown and back again for the full experience.
There's no better way to experience Seattle’s local vibe than to hang out at Pike Place Market. Marvel over the impressive fresh seafood vendors, sample some in-season produce, buy a bouquet of flowers, and eat at a trendy restaurant. Pike Place Market is conveniently located right on the Sound, making it the perfect dockside lunch stop to sit and watch the scene. After you eat, stroll down to the Seattle Aquarium or take a ride on the Great Wheel.
Downtown Seattle is walkable (as long as you don’t mind a hill or two), fairly compact, and filled with shops, restaurants, and theaters. Stop by the Westlake Center for coffee or a peek into the shops. Take in a musical show at the historic 5th Avenue Theatre. And don't forget to enjoy a few oysters on the half shell (a Seattle delicacy). Tankard & Tun will fix you up right and give you a microbrew to accompany your raw-bar spread.
Just down the ramp from Pike Place Market’s main entrance sits the Gum Wall—a quirky Seattle attraction that allows you to leave your mark on the city. And it's just what it sounds like—a big wall with colorful gum stuck all over it. This 50-foot wall started collecting its samples in the mid-1990s when people waiting for shows needed someplace to put their spent gum. Today, you can create your own gum designs on this icky wall. And while you're at it, grab a selfie in front of the melting gobs of goo.
See the Animals at the Zoo
Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo houses both local Pacific Northwest animals and exotic species from around the world in natural habitats. Families will enjoy wandering around exhibits on Humboldt Penguins, Assam Rhinos, and the African Savanna. Visiting the zoo over the holidays, when it's decked out in Christmas lights, makes a special treat. It's a feel-good visit that supports the zoo's conservation initiatives, too.
The Seattle Underground offers you an up-close look at the city's original footprint. After the Great Fire of 1889, the city rebuilt itself on top of its former structure. Venture underground to see antique storefronts and streets that are preserved like a time capsule. The tour leaves out of Pioneer Square and offers quirky humor and history snippets along the way.
The Seattle Art Museum offers visitors a view of ancient American and Mediterranean art, as well as modern and contemporary works. It also features rotating exhibits throughout the year. Don't want to pay the admission fee to see fine art? Check out the museum's Olympic Sculpture Park, open from sunrise to sunset (no fee required), and located on the water next to the Myrtle Edwards Park. Or you can visit most of Seattle's museums for free on the first Thursday of each month during specified hours.
Filled with trails winding through woodlands and along natural shorelines, the Washington Park Arboretum is a nature lover's paradise. This park is run by the University of Washington's Botanic Gardens and offers seasonal highlights throughout the year. In the winter, check out the year-round blooms of the Camellia collection; azaleas and rhododendrons line the fragrant pathways in spring; summer boast hydrangeas and magnolias; and fall produces the vivid colors of the sour gum, Buckeye, and witch hazel trees.
While there are tons of ways to get out on the Puget Sound or one of Seattle's lakes, Argosy Cruises offers a special trip. Their harbor cruises, venturing from the docks on the downtown waterfront, give you a unique one-hour vantage point from which to view the city's iconic landmarks. You can also take a cruise through Ballard Locks, or on Lake Washington or Lake Union, to see houseboats, seaplanes, and Bill Gate's waterfront home.
Football fans will enjoy catching a Seahawks game (or preseason training) at CenturyLink Field. The fans are ferocious, making for one of the loudest football games you'll ever attend. Seattle’s resident soccer team, the Sounders, also play at CenturyLink. Baseball fans can head to T-Mobile Park for a Mariners game. And while the Sonics left town long ago, the Seattle Storm still bring their basketball game to the city, in perfect female style.
While Seattle is filled with theaters large and small, the Paramount Theater, home of the Seattle Theater Group, is the city's benchmark. This playhouse showcases Broadway shows, concerts, dance performances, and more. Together with its sister theaters, The Moore and The Neptune, the group delivers over 600 performances a year. National acts and Broadway shows sell out fast so be sure to book tickets before your stay. You can also take a free tour of all three historic theaters, complete with architectural highlights and plenty of stories.
The Burke Gilman Trail is one of the city's best hiking trails for those that like cutting through town on a level and paved path. You can also grab some quick exercise at Discovery Park or at the Washington Park Arboretum. But if you really want to go all out, head to Issaquah’s Duthie Hill Mountain Bike Park to enjoy 120 acres filled with miles of mountain bike trails for all ability levels.
The streets of Capitol Hill are filled with Seattle-centric shops, hangouts, and nightlife venues. While there, pop inside the Elliott Bay Book Company, the city’s largest book store. Before getting lost in aisles of books, enjoy the store's cafe or one of their many events and book signings.
Exploring the neighborhoods in Seattle is a great way to uncover each area's distinct characteristics. But, Fremont is an especially fun district to hang out in. The Fremont Troll under the Aurora Bridge is a giant sculpture that makes for an awesome photo op. Fremont is also home to the Fremont Rocket sculpture, a tail boom that looks like a missile, and the old Communist-era colossus of Lenin. All are within a block of each other and not far from the Theo Chocolate Factory, where you can book a mouthwatering tour.
Real foodies will dig Seattle's food scene. In fact, you can shape your entire trip around the city's hotspots. To start, book a table at Tom Douglas' Etta's to enjoy a market-driven seafood experience. This local chef also has several other restaurants located in or near downtown. In fact, his Dalia Lounge offers upscale American fare and offers a "quintessential Seattle dining experience." For something more casual, duck into Dick’s Drive-In for a burger or Molly Moon’s for homemade ice cream. And, of course, you can just nibble your way through Pike Place Market.
Seattle loves its beverages. And if you’re a cocktail fan, Seattle's speakeasies offer some of the best spots to explore the local drink scene. Enjoy a handcrafted microbrew from the widely-distributed Pyramid Brewing Co. next to the stadiums. Or sample hyper-local microbrews at Pike Brewing Company (near Pike Place). Unpretentious wine bars, like Left'Bank Seattle, offer a neighborhood feel and serve superior glasses of wine at a fair price.
If you prefer the mall experience, Westlake Center and Pacific Place (both located in downtown) are filled with the usual finds like Nordstrom Rack, Zara and the Pacific Northwest's own lululemon. But across the 520 Bridge, at Bellevue Square, you can shop at Nordstrom's, Anthropologie, and eat at stand-alone restaurants or the food court. To the south in Tukwila, enjoy the Westfield Southcenter Mall with its range of mid-level stores and a whole wing filled with Asian eateries, Seafood City, and an Asian grocery store.
For women, the Olympus Spa in Lynnwood lends a unique opportunity for indulgence. This women-only day spa boasts a number of pools, an infrared steam room, and dry saunas, as well as treatments such that include Korean body scrubs and facials. Most of the clientele participate in the spa's services in the buff (and in the true Korean spa tradition). So, if modesty is your preference, you may want to look elsewhere.
Year-round happenings, from cultural festivals at the Seattle Center to holiday celebrations, grace the Seattle scene. Keep an eye out for Bumbershoot in September, one of the area's biggest concerts. The Fremont Solstice Parade is full of costumed bike-riders. Northwest Folklife boasts folk music, food, dance, and crafts. Bite of Seattle celebrates the local food scene. And Seafair, Seattle’s ultimate summer gatherings, holds festivities in dozens of citywide neighborhoods.
The University of Washington is more than a just college campus. It’s a beautiful oasis of trees and historical buildings amidst an urban setting. Check it out on your own or drop by the visitor’s center for a guided tour. For a special treat, visit the campus in the spring when the cherry blossom trees are at their peak.
Adults can spend an evening at one of Seattle’s 21-and-over movie theaters. Kick back with a drink in hand while watching a favorite Hollywood flick. Cinerama offers something more than your average movie theater. With props, chocolate popcorn, yummy concessions, and laser projection in a historic theater, this venue gives you an out-of-the-box movie-going experience.
No trip to Seattle is complete without an afternoon spent at Ballard Locks. Watching boats load into one of the busiest locks in the world is oddly mesmerizing. While you're there, cross over the locks to watch the salmon ladder in action. July and August are the best times to see different species like Sockeye, Chinook, Coho, and Steelhead. Check the tides and book a tour for the best viewing experience.
Several beaches lie within city limits, including Alki Beach Park and Golden Gardens. And, typical of the Pacific Northwest, the water isn’t especially warm, but you can still stretch out on the sand or enjoy beach volleyball on a sunny day. Pop on a wetsuit and take a dive in the sound or check out the small swimming beaches on Lake Washington, if you prefer warmer water.
iFLY Seattle is not your typical skydiving experience. Located in Tukwila, iFly lets you try skydiving in a controlled indoor wind tunnel. Armed with a wind suit, ear protection, goggles, and a helmet, you can experience what it's like to soar through the air, no plane jumping required. They offer coaching, a flight school that teaches skills progression, field trips, and birthday parties. Take a rainy day and head inside at iFLY.
Of course, the Space Needle offers the most famous views of the city, but it also comes along with lines and crowds. Alternatively, Smith Tower (one of the oldest and tallest buildings in Seattle) pairs a great city view with local history and good eats from the bar and cafe at the top. Another stunning viewpoint can be had from the Sky View Observatory at the Columbia Tower—the tallest building in Seattle.
For another indoor flying experience, check out Emerald City Trapeze Arts. Adrenaline junkies can enjoy introductory trapeze instructions and try aerial circus stunts first-hand. Special events take place throughout the year, including New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day, when performers put on a show for guests paired with snacks and appetizers.
If you want an off-trail urban workout, try climbing the Queen Anne Public Stairs on Wilcox Wall. Built in 1915, the staired wall (complete with 785 stairs) was meant to be part of the Queen Anne Boulevard infrastructure. The boulevard was never built, but many of its structures are now used as jogging paths. From the top, enjoy views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains.
Seattle’s largest residential neighborhood has a laidback vibe, great local shops, and plenty of places to eat. Take a water taxi from downtown Seattle or hop over the bridge. Once there, visit Alki Beach Park, take photos of the Seattle skyline across the water, enjoy the local businesses, and stroll along the waterfront walkway.
Believe it or not, the Central Library is one of the most interesting buildings in Seattle. As soon as you see it—with its angular walls, deep red hallways, and bright yellow escalators—you’ll know it’s something special. Take in the view from the top floor, peruse the artwork located throughout the building, or hole up in a corner with a good read.
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center acts as an interpretive exhibit that showcases the foundation's initiative to reduce inequities related to poverty, health, and education. Explore exhibits on global change, fighting disease, and making a difference. The center also hosts various programs throughout the year focused on teaching design concepts and fostering teens to advocate for change.
Enjoy old-world charm right in the heart of the city with a visit to St. James Cathedral, built in 1905, and dedicated in 1907. The structure just might make you feel like you’re in a European city, with its Renaissance architecture and stained-glass collection. Take a tour or experience the more spiritual side of the cathedral by attending a mass or watching a choir performance.
Seattle area is a hub for the practice of artisanal glassblowing. And glass artist Dale Chihuly leads the charge (he’s from Tacoma and lives in Seattle). At the Seattle Glassblowing Studio, you can shop the galleries, watch live glassblowing, or attend a class that teaches you the art. This outing makes the perfect date night, especially for serious learners.
Seattle isn’t the most formal of cities, but you can still enjoy tea time at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in downtown. The Georgian Restaurant offers an elegant afternoon high tea from noon to 3 p.m. on the weekends. Enjoy a mother-daughter outing over the holidays, complete with a champagne bar. Or, bring your children to this special affair, complete with a kid's menu just for them.
If you’ve got a taste for gag gifts or general silliness, Archie McPhee’s is the place to go. This store in Wallingford is filled, top to bottom, with gags like bacon Band-Aids, clip-on man buns, and librarian action figures. Find hundreds of items you never knew you needed until you were inspired by this oddities store.
Seaplanes regularly take off from Lake Union in the heart of town, only adding to the unique city vibe. You can experience the fun, too, with an air tour by Kenmore Air. This small airline offers city tours, as well as transportation to and from regional locales, like the San Juan Islands. Hopping a seaplane is a pretty cool way to see the city or embark on a day trip offshore.
Seattle’s very own morning TV show is famous among the locals, airing every day on King Channel 5. And live tapings of New Day Northwest are open to the public Monday through Thursday mornings. Join host Margaret Larson as she chats with authors, sports stars, chefs, gardening experts, and musical guests. Submit a request to join the studio audience and reserve your ticket.
In the spirit of European street markets, the Fremont Sunday Market sets up shop every Sunday all year round. Vendors sell street food, crafts, art, and more in true flea-market fashion. Grab brunch at a food truck, then shop for antiques, vintage items, and imports. You never know what you find at this favorite local event.
The Duwamish Longhouse is a traditional cedar longhouse located at the mouth of the Duwamish River near an ancient village. This meeting place (officially on the National Register of Historic Places) provides a venue for official tribe business. However, the longhouse also hosts Native American workshops, demonstrations, and other public events.
Pay homage to one of Seattle’s most recognizable companies with a visit the Starbucks Roastery. And this visit is more than a trip to a coffee shop. Delve into the world of coffee in what appears to be a mini coffee museum. Try special roasts or spend time watching the roasting process up close. This is also a great spot to buy exclusive merchandise not found in stores.
Home to the grunge subculture, thrifting is a big deal in Seattle. In fact, thrift shops are located in almost every part of town. But the shops in the U-District are often the best, as here you’ll find plenty of trendy clothing finds catering to and donated by the students who live nearby.