This post is based on a mail I send in response to anyone asking me about Seattle. It’s not an exhaustive summary of the beauty to be found around Seattle, nor is it a listing based on priority. I hope it gives some ideas on the things you think you’d enjoy most in the city. And for those who asked, the above photo is actually taken from Lincoln Park, a city park in West Seattle. Enjoy!
As you’re considering going to Seattle, I wanted to share with you a list of things that are really interesting to visit during your trip. Some of these are major tourist attractions, some of them I don’t think most tourists would ever discover without a helping hand from a local.
“Seattle was ranked most popular, with 57 percent finding the land of Starbucks and Microsoft a favorable place. Some people like Seattle so much they’re just marrying it — well, one woman got hitched to a Seattle warehouse.”
Hope these things come in useful!
1. Space Needle
The icon of downtown Seattle. If you want a nice photo of it, and the sun is clear, drive up to Capitol Hill on Denny, but turn left on Melrose Avenue, so you end up right next to the highway. Great views of the Space Needle, the flatter downtown area surrounding it, and views of an impressive Olympic Mountains backdrop (snow-capped until usually May).
2. Gasworks Park
Well known from the movie “Sleepless in Seattle”, this is the epic place to visit and watch the city from. You can go on a sunny afternoon, when everyone is out, and couples are hanging out on the little hill overlooking the city, and watching sailboats rush away from the float planes, which land with scary regularity. Or, go around midnight (my favourite time, even though technically you’re not permitted in the park that late), climb the hill in the darkness, stand on top of the clock, and have the most amazing view of Seattle anywhere, ever, and its reflection in lake Union. During the day, you will see the old, rusted Gasworks installation still present in the park, and on Saturday mornings, people practice Parkour there quite often.
3. Smith Tower
Lesser known viewpoint for downtown Seattle. The top room was gifted by the last Empress of China, and has a viewing deck. Much cheaper than the Space Needle, and much closer to actual downtown, however also much lower. This used to be the tallest building on the West Coast.
4. Columbia Center Tower Club
The highest tower in Seattle has a top level club, which is sometimes accessible. Look up the details, as access requirements vary. They have a viewing deck which is only open during business hours. Being the second highest structure on the West Coast, the tower is also host to the largest firefighter competition in the world, in which over 1500 of them race to the top in full gear.
5. Saint Mark’s Cathedral
A wonderful cathedral on top of Capitol Hill, which can be seen throughout the city. Every Sunday evening at 9:30, there is a choir performance, which is truly magical. Definite recommendation, and usually void of tourists.
6. Kerry Park
This is the place where the stereotypical tourist shots of the Space Needle with a Mount Rainier backdrop are taken. Still an absolutely fantastic view, so I would not skip it. On icy winter days you will want to be careful driving up the hill.
7. Pike Place Market
The market. Buy fish, or see large Alaskan fish thrown between vendors! 🙂 There are a few nice breakfast places here, with views over Puget Sound, but somewhat overpriced.
8. Post Alley
A small alley which starts one block away from Pike Place Market, and is filled with European style restaurants, some with outside seating. Highly recommended. Facebook has their office on the corner of this street.
9. Gum Wall
Some Seattle silliness.
10. Seattle Public Library
Designed by a Dutch architect, this is a fantastically futuristic looking building. No need to really go inside, though it’s a pretty cool library with wonderfully odd staircases.
11. Center for Wooden Boats
Go there on Sunday afternoon for free boat rides in home-built wooden boats, on Lake Union. You can also take workshops here that allow you to build your own boat.
12. Underground Seattle tour
My sister and her boyfriend loved this. Part of downtown Seattle has actually been built on a much older version of Seattle, and you can still visit some of the houses that were overlaid with the current city, by going underground. Worth a visit, though very touristy.
13. Benaroya Hall
The Seattle symphony- a little bit smaller than the one in SF (2500 seats as opposed to 2700), but they have a great music director, and a balanced set of performances each year.
In the extended city
14. The Fremont Troll
A large troll, under a bridge, holding a car. Must visit. Nice stop near Gasworks park and the Fremont neighborhood, where there’s a Google office.
15. Kenmore Air San Juan Scenic Air Tour
Seattle is famous because of its float planes. For 199$ per person you can take a two hour flight from Seattle to the San Juan islands, a famous marine spot in Puget Sound, and back. They have shorter tours, and trips to Anacortes as well, which are cheaper.
16. Jet City Improv on Friday nights
I used to practice improv here. It’s a nice place any day of the weekend, but it is especially fantastic on the last Thursday, Friday and Saturday of each month. They have a performance then called “Twisted Flicks“, which is an old, 60’s or 70’s horror movie, which is then put to live music and an improv performance. So you could be watching Dracula, with the sound off, and improv artists making up a new story as the evening progresses. FANTASTIC!
17. Discovery Park
A gorgeous, large park just off of the neighborhood of Magnolia. You can walk down to the water, follow the beach, and end up at a little lighthouse. There’s also a radar dome located, so it’s fun for romantics and geeks alike.
18. Seward Park
My personal favorite park, on the Bailey peninsula within the city limits. Quite far away from downtown, but on sunny days you have great views of Mt Rainier on the backdrop of Lake Washington.
19. Museum of Flight
Right next to Boeing Field, an airport where you’ll today see many 787’s waiting to be repaired, there is the Museum of Flight. See an SR-71 Blackbird, or even sit in it, or enter a retired Concord airplane.
20. Alki Beach “Statue of Liberty”
Alki Beach is the main beach on the cozy, marine neighborhood of West Seattle. They have a small statue of liberty, which is a central gathering point for many people. An especially nice way to start the day on a weekend morning, as you can have a coffee at Starbucks, overlooking the ferries heading to Bainbridge island.
21. Vashon island
Vashon island is, well, odd. It’s entirely owned by rich landowners from Seattle, often having earned their big money at Microsoft. The island is filled with farms, and very small towns. There are great little local, vegan restaurants, and overall it’s a very laidback place to visit. Most people that live in Seattle never go here, but there is plenty to see on the island. Take the ferry there from Lincoln park, so you have an opportunity to take the WA Ferries.
22. University of Washington
UW has a very pittoresque campus, with beautiful flowery trees. By far the nicest college campus I’ve seen in the US. More information on a walking tour is here:
The arboretum is quite far away from downtown, but is a beautiful walk. Especially nice is that you can walk under the highway, and all the way to the waterfront. Very romantic spot, and worth the detour when it’s not cold outside.
24. Golden Gardens Park
The only real nearby beach in Seattle, Golden Gate Park is a local favourite for sitting by the ocean, having an evening barbecue, or otherwise soaking up the sun. Especially nice is that the beach is right off the Shilshore Bay marina, which means that every few minutes, sailboats come in from daysails on Puget Sound. Really beautiful spot. A few times each year, there is a massive drum circle on the beach to encourage the ocean to heal from abuse (the year I participated, it was organized for the first time due to the oil platform fire in Louisiana, and they’ve done one every year since).
A bit of a drive
25. Snoqualmie falls
Big waterfalls in the mountains. Worth a visit. I actually still haven’t made it there, it’s pretty touristy though.
26. Hurricane Ridge on the Olympic Peninsula
Probably the closest real mountain ridge near the city, but still an hour’s drive or so away (+ferry). Very scenic area.
27. Langley, WA
A small “writer’s enclave” on Whidbey island. Along the way to Deception pass, this tiny town has a few very nice restaurants, and is a really cosy place in general to visit. Really has the laidback “Washington state town” feeling. Once a year, they organize a “murder play”, in which the entire city participates, and where visitors come in as teams to try and discover who is the murderer, and how the story fits together. They were the original ones to do such as “murder mystery weekend”, and now they sell their stories to other towns as well, across the US and even abroad.
28. Skagit Tulip Festival
Very big set of tulip fields outside of the Netherlands!
This is a very popular festival, usually in the month of April. Worth renting a bicycle, and driving from field to field (though in the most popular time, there are too many cars, and a bicycle may not be comfortable). You can combine this in a daytrip with Deception Pass and Mt Erie. There’s also a small town called Lynden near the Canadian border, which is inhabited by actual Dutch people, and where they sell Dutch candy.
A serious drive
28. Deception Pass
Deception Pass is a small straight connecting Skagit bay with the Strait of Juan De Fuca (the main shipping channel into Seattlefrom the ocean). This place has massive currents, and is a very dangerous place for boaters. The bridge is fantastic, and you can walk all the way down to the water, and see the majestic appearance of it from down near the water side. It’s also an amazing place to watch small boats trying to safely make it across. This is a real highlight of any trip to the area, though it is easily a daytrip (but you can combine it with other things, such as Mt Erie).
29. Olympic Peninsula beaches (La Push)
About 3-4 hours away from Seattle, these beaches are not what you’d expect from a beach. Bad weather, heavy winds. Interestingly, most of the area around it is actually rainforest! There are interesting hikes in the area, a standout being the 10 mile hike through the Hoh rainforest to the base of the Olympic mountains.
30. Mount Rainier
About a 3-4 hour drive, you can, on sunny days, see this mountain all the way from downtown Seattle. Very pretty sight. The National Park itself is well worth a visit.
31. Mount Baker
Major skiing area about 3 hours away from Seattle, and a very pretty volcano. Easier to climb than Mount Rainier, but not by much. Still requires an overnight trip and experience. You can actually see Mt Baker from downtown Seattle, when you cross the floating bridge to go to Redmond/Kirkland/Microsoft, on your right.
If you ever wanted to try skidiving, there is an operation close to the mountain. This is where I jumped the first time. The entire jump down you see Mt Baker and its brethren in the Northern Cascades National Park. That national park also offers great hiking opportunies- a real highlight is an overnight hike to Sahale Glacier, and camping at the bottom. You can hear the cracks in the ice overnight, and have views of real “mountains” all around you.
32. Mount St.-Helens
The only volcano in the US to erupt in the recent history, this is much closer to Portland than to Seattle, and about a 4-5 hour drive.
33. Mt Erie (near Anacortes)
A nice hill right next to Anacortes. You can hike up, or drive up, and enjoy views from the entire Skagit valley.
34. Whale watching (near Anacortes)
Many operations do whale watching from Anacortes. Worth a trip, and if you don’t see whales, you get a free ticket for a repeat visit.
Cheapest meal in Seattle. A local burger joint, very popular with the kids. You’ll have to wait in an old-fashioned 60’s line if it’s busy. Famous from the Sir Mix-a-lot song “Posse on Broadway”, see the clip at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBPpy_SVV_0as of 3:16.
Extremely expensive, but great food and gorgeous views of the waterfront, if you manage to get a good table. Only place I ever paid more than 500$ for a meal for two people. Sad thing is, it may have been worth it 🙂
Fantastic, organic food in a home-style restaurant. Had one of the nicest first dates ever here, food-wise. It’s expensive, but much cheaper than Canlis, and worth it.
4. How to cook a wolf
Italian inspired food. This is fairly close to Kerry Park, and may be a good dinner option afterwards. I have not been, but heard many great things about it.
Korean-French fusion cuisine in a nifty little neighborhood called Wallingford. Not overly expensive and one of my friends referred to this as “the best meal he had since he moved to Seattle”.
6. Ray’s Boathouse
Slightly cheesy, American sea-food restaurant, but fantastic views of Puget Sound. It is also right next to the marina, so you may see sailboats pass by. Great choice for a dinner after visiting Golden Gardens Park. I actually like this one quite a bit.
7. Salty’s on Alki
Even a little bit more cheesy, but nicer views, as you can see downtown Seattle from the restaurants. This is the place where I’d take my family when they visited Seattle, so they could see the city across the water. Also took customers there quite a bit.
Twice a year, Seattle has “restaurant week”. During this week, all top notch restaurants in the city offer a full three course meal for only 25$. Highly recommended.
1. Canon: Whisky and Bitters Emporium
Cute little bar on Madison Street, close to where I used to live. Lots of whiskeys and cocktails on tap. There’s quite a wait to get in during weekends, it’s best to come a little bit later.
2. Rob Roy
An intimate bar experience in downtown Seattle. Good drinks, and it’s usually pretty quiet and a nice place to hang out.
3. Bathtub Gin & co
Hidden in a small alley, this place has very smart bartenders, which actually know the difference between Gin and Genever!
4. Capitol Hill
Capitol Hill is a neighborhood, but it is filled with great little bars. Stroll along broadway in the evening, and watch gay and happy people walk around. Go home before it gets too rowdy. It’s pretty safe, but this is still considered “the mission” of Seattle.
Classy, old luxury hotel, a few blocks away from downtown in First Hill. From what I hear the facilities are not 100% anymore, but the atmosphere of the building makes up for it. Neighborhood is ok, right in between hospitals, so not very nice, but also not bad. My old favorite breakfast place is right across the street (the corner cafe).
Downtown luxury hotel. Ideal location to do things downtown, but very expensive. The W is a chain, but a very, very nice one.
Silver Cloud Inn
Silver Cloud Inn is inexpensive, and reasonably well located. It’s a chain, and you can stay at one right across from the water (which is otherwise badly located). I’d recommend staying at the Silver Cloud Inn on Broadway, as it is right on the corner of Broadway and Madison, which means your taxi trips to downtown and back (or walks) will be inexpensive and fast.
Very cheap. You cannot book online. This hotel is “haunted”, and is no longer being kept up well. Neighborhood is OK, but late at night not great. It is in the middle of the city, though, so easy to get everywhere.