Things to do in Seattle, WA

Get Your Bearings in Seattle

By Corinne Whiting
Seattle Expert

See & Do
Stay
Eat
Party
Shop

Things to See

Seattle offers the best of both worlds: a plethora of indoor options plus easy access to the area's spellbinding great outdoors. After you check off the Space Needle and monorail, get your dose of arts and culture; explore the downtown Seattle Art Museum, Capitol Hill's Seattle Asian Art Museum, the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture on the UW campus and, for something different, the Experience Music Project Museum in Seattle Center. Outdoor buffs enjoy Discovery and Magnuson parks, the beaches in West Seattle and north of Ballard, plus alfresco sports that range from kayaking to paddle boarding.

Hot Tips:

Great spots for picnics include the Olympic Sculpture Park and Gasworks Park; especially in summer months, look out for outdoor concerts and other fun happenings at these locations!

Where to Stay

Seattle's best lodging choices can be found in the bustling downtown area, within a ten-block range of Pike Place Market. From here, visitors can easily walk to some of the city's “must-see” tourist attractions plus an array of restaurants, shops, bars and music venues. Wander down the hill to the waterfront for majestic mountain views, waterside strolls or ferry rides to Alki beach or Bainbridge Island. Find other hotels around the perimeter of Lake Union or in smaller neighborhood locales (although these might require a rental car or the frequent use of a taxi).

Hot Tips:

For an inexpensive and pleasant way to get to and from the airport, take the Central Link light rail from downtown's Westlake Station.

What to Eat

Although Seattle's hottest dining zones include Capitol Hill and Ballard (think choices from upscale French to down-home BBQ), fantastic options can be found in nearly every neighborhood. Head to downtown's waterfront for some of the city's finest seafood (many restaurants offer outdoor seating options), the International District for authentic ethnic dishes featuring genres from Chinese to Cambodian, Fremont for its plethora of Thai eateries or Queen Anne for some of Seattleites' go-to favorites. Downtown, you'll find more traditional steakhouses, while nearby Belltown has some pubs with a focus on surprisingly tasty, locally-sourced dishes.

Caution:

When visiting highly popular restaurants like The Walrus and the Carpenter (a Ballard oyster bar), carve out a few extra hours to wander around or grab cocktails at a nearby bar after your name is on the waiting list.

Hot Tips:

Many Seattle bars and restaurants also offer a late night happy hour (typically from 9 pm on) featuring specials on food as well as drinks.

Places to Party

One cannot truly experience Seattle without checking out one of its main claims to fame: music! Find venues in nearly every neighborhood ranging from intimate holes-in-the-wall to sophisticated concert halls that offer live music any night of the week. Cocktail connoisseurs will relish the city's many hip watering holes (the highest concentration found in Ballard), while hop lovers will go wild for the city's ever-expanding local brewery scene (many of which are also located along the Fremont-Ballard corridor). Theaters and comedy clubs proliferate the city—many entertaining crowds downtown and in Capitol Hill, which bustles especially on weekend nights. 

Avoid:

Walking around alone in neighborhoods like the Central District or other quieter zones late at night; when in doubt, take a taxi to your destination.

Take It or Leave It:

The dress code is very casual in this Pacific Northwest outpost; jeans will do at just about any establishment!

Where to Shop

Shoppers enjoy unique boutiques in chic Upper Queen Anne, funky Fremont and Capitol Hill, a zone that brims with character. Larger shopping meccas include City Centre, Westlake Center and Pacific Place, and a bit farther afield (near Ravenna), visitors find University Village. (Many nearby suburbs are home to larger malls, too.) Market Street in Ballard hosts an array of clothing, specialty and gift shops, and downtown's Pioneer Square features art galleries and antiques emporiums. Weekend markets sell local wares all year long; head to farmers and fleas markets in Fremont and Ballard, among other animated, pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods. 

Best Local Souvenir:

At Pike Place Market, find chocolate-covered Rainier cherries, packages of smoked salmon and artwork and jewelry made from such found items as sea glass and driftwood.

Things to do in Seattle


Seattle is known for...

Five of Seattle's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Water:

The Pacific Northwest’s largest city is surrounded by water and boasts a historic seafaring culture. Founded on the harbor of Elliott Bay and reaching only 450 feet above sea level, Seattle’s collection of neighborhoods is located between Puget Sound to the west and Lake Washington to the east. Seattle’s rainy reputation aside, with ship canals, locks, marinas, islands, bays, lakes, rivers and creeks dotting the landscape in every direction, much of this major seaport’s identity (Mariners & Seahawks anyone?) is tied up in fishing, sailing, scuba diving, kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing, and commuting by ferry. You simply haven’t seen Seattle until you’ve seen it from the water.

2. Coffee:

Seattle’s reputation for being a city fueled by coffee, and lots of it, may have something to do with a little company called Starbucks. Founded in 1971, Starbucks was followed in the region by (most notably) Seattle’s Best, Tully’s, Top Pot, Cherry Street, Peet’s, Caffe Ladro, Victrola and Espresso Vivace. The city’s thriving coffee shop scene is also fortified by a dizzying array of independent local artisanal espresso roasters and cafes. Most people have their favorite shop, their local shop, their on-the-way-to-wherever shop and the interesting thing to note is that there’s no saturating this market. There cannot be too many places to stop and grab a cup. Not here, not ever. Long live caffeine.

3. Nature:

Surrounded by 13 national parks in the State of Washington including the Mount Rainier, North Cascade, Olympic, San Juan Island, and Lewis and Clark National Parks, Seattle is home to a general population of rock-climbing, mountain-hiking, bike-riding, snowboarding, all-season-camping eco-conscious nature enthusiasts (and not coincidentally the birthplace of the national retail sporting good and outdoor recreation gear corporation, REI.) Whether it’s beaches, glaciers, waterfalls or rainforest you’re after, you can find it here. Even in town it’s difficult not to stumble upon natural settings for outdoor activity such as Green Lake, Discovery Park, Alki Beach, Seward Park and the Burke-Gilman Trail. Just step outside and take a look around.

4. Food:

Home to critically acclaimed chefs including Jason Stratton of Spinasse, Ethan Stowell of Staple & Fancy, Maria Hines of Tilth, and Tom Douglas of Lola, Seattle has a reputation for being serious about food. The acts of growing, preparing and eating all elevated to near art form status without being pretentious to the point of excluding the everyday Seattleite. It’s a farmer’s market, locavore and seafood culture. Seattle area residents generally like to support their friends and neighbors by buying what the area has to offer and eating what our surroundings inspire.

5. Families:

Making a 2009 Forbes list of America’s Best Cities for Families, Seattle raked as the seventh-most-affordable city in which to raise a family. If all the strollers and dogs out on the sidewalks at any given time are any indication, Seattle is certainly living up to that assessment. Adding to the stroller posse are an increasing number of the city’s substantial LGBT population (Seattle ranks second behind San Francisco with 12.9% of citizens polled identifying as gay, lesbian or bisexual.) And with 53.8% of the city’s population over the age of 25 holding a bachelor’s degree or higher and consistently being ranked in the top two of America’s most literate large cities, it’s no wonder people feel comfortable with the education prospects of raising children in Seattle. The countless family-friendly fairs, festivals, markets, restaurants and activities such as those provided at the local zoos and aquariums, are also great support for local moms and dads. As an added bonus, at well over 120 in the city of Seattle alone, a playground is always just a stone’s throw away. And because dogs are people too (and family members not to be overlooked) it’s worth mentioning that Seattle is regarded as a fairly dog-friendly city.