We’ve all experienced it. Even though you have lived in the Puget Sound for years (or maybe your whole life) and never have a problem figuring out what to do with your own time, you have friends or family in town for a few days. “What should we do while we’re here?” they ask. For some reason you are completely stumped. Well, consider this handy cheat-sheet:
For the out-of-town guest here for just a day or less, there’s no better bang for your buck than the tremendous view of the city, Puget Sound and Mt. Rainier (if you’re lucky) than this popular viewpoint on the top of Queen Anne. Combine with a dinner, drink or coffee at any one of the hill’s great spots, and you are already showing off Seattle at its best.
Summer only, you say? Well, obviously there is a bit more to enjoy about Alki when the sun is out and the water is still insanely cold but starts to flirt with your feet. But even off-season, this is one of the area's best beaches for strolling and taking in the gorgeous views of the city and surrounding islands. Consider combining with a water taxi from downtown. For the more ambitious, replace this jaunt with the less accessible beach at Discovery Park.
Pike Place Market
A cliché, but for a reason. The Market is more than a mere curiosity, it truly functions—and thrives—as a bustling public market. Amuse yourself with the fish throwers, but if you’re buying go for the higher quality nearby fish stands. Always ask what is in season and never be afraid to smell the wares. Skip the line at the original Starbucks (wherever your guests are from, they have a Starbucks too) and try the Mee Sum Pastry stand instead.
Boeing Factory Tour
If you want to really understand the Seattle area, you have to understand our relation to aerospace. While Microsoft has perhaps eclipsed Boeing as the premiere Seattle brand, is Windows really more exciting than the world’s most awe-inspiring passenger aircraft? Take a jaunt up to Everett and enter the world’s largest building (by volume) to see 30,000 incredibly skilled and dedicated craftspeople building tomorrow’s jetliners. If you’re entertaining kids, consider the Museum of Flight instead.
While both Tacoma and Seattle have fine zoos, neither are really that different than your average big city zoo. But Eatonville’s Northwest Trek near Tacoma is one of a kind. An immersive 435-acre wildlife park with dozens of animals including grizzles, bighorn sheep, cougars, moose, elk, caribou, bald eagle and more American favorites. If the sound of grizzlies scares you, don’t worry, in the more than 40 year history of the park, exactly zero visitors have been eaten.
Mount Si is perhaps the ideal day hike. Only minutes from the city, you find yourself very much in the wilderness and facing a challenging uphill climb. Glimpses through the trees on the way up only hint at the promise of what’s to come, and after about two hours you reach the "haystack." The base of the haystack is the the typical stopping place and affords wonderful vistas of the Cascades, Olympics and all points in between. The adventurous can scramble up the rocky haystack to the true top of the mountain, while the more mellow can simply enjoy a well-deserved lunch.
Bellevue Botanical Garden
In Seattle visits, Bellevue is often overlooked. Sure it’s considered one of the best places to live in America, but it possesses none of the famous landmarks, historic industries, or major cultural institutions of its neighbors. But Bellevue’s Botanical Garden flies under the radar as possibly the best free thing to do in the entire region. Whether you know the names of the plants or not, it’s a gorgeous walk, whether alone or with that special someone. Just keep this one between you and me.
Why not SAM itself, you might ask? SAM is a local treasure, but is seriously playing catch-up with older cities' much bigger collections and might underwhelm your out of town guests. Our Olympic Sculpture Park however is truly one-of-a-kind, though, and free of charge. Uniquely situated against the water and on top of a major arterial and railroad tracks, the park manages to be both remarkably tranquil and consistently exciting. Some of the sculptures can be seen hundreds of yards away. Other pieces sneak up on you, prompting a sense if intimate discovery.
A highlight for kids is the massive cross-section of a real sixty-foot long nurse log.
Take a journey to Seattle's neighbor to the south: Tacoma. Tacoma's downtown core is home to five museums all located within close proximity to each other, which makes this a worthy stop for that reason alone. Visit the Tacoma Art Museum, Museum of Glass, Washington State History Museum, LeMay - America's Car Museum and the Children's Museum of Tacoma all in one day for a museum extravaganza. Tacoma also has an amazing waterfront along Ruston Way dotted by parks and capped off by Point Ruston that is fun to visit anytime, but especially lovely on hot days.
Edited by Kristin Kendle.