Must-See Ways to Soak in the City's Culture, Beauty and Unique Charm

Putting together an itinerary for seeing all the best sights this vacation? Perhaps you've got a few hours to kill between business meetings and want to know the best stuff to see and do during your stay. Either way, our 10Best list should have you covered. While there are always great things to experience, there are typically things you wish you would have passed on as well. Space Needle located in the Seattle Center area is among our top picks for sightseeing in Seattle. Other must-see spots range from observation decks in historic towers to sprawling natural parks and even some quirky theme tours (think underground!). While you've likely heard of some of these suggestions before, others will offer brand-new perspectives on how to experience this city and all that the surrounding region has to offer. Since weather here can be notoriously finicky, there are indoor suggestions as well as those that send you alfresco into the beautiful elements. (And even when the gray and mist do descend here, you'll soon find that this doesn't deter locals from getting out into the Great Outdoors.) So throw on some good walking shows, pack a rain jacket (just in case), and be prepared to learn why so many have fallen in love with this spectacular city. 

10 Boeing Plant Tour
This tour, well worth the short trip to Everett, allows visitors to see just how precisely and intricately one million parts can be assembled into the world's most popular flying machines. The plant itself is so vast that it's rumored to have its own weather systems! To date, over two million visitors have experienced the displays, history, and actual assembly of Boeing 747s, 767s and 777s. Join the ranks of presidents, kings, sultans and heads of state who flock to this incredible plant that has literally changed the world of transportation. Children must be 4'-2" (127 cm) tall and accompanied by an adult. (425-438-8100, 800-464-1476)

9 Lakeview Cemetery
Set high above the city, Lakeview Cemetery affords incomparable views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Range. It's also where some of Seattle's most famous citizens have been laid to rest. Among the well-known are Bruce and Brandon Lee, father and son martial arts experts and film stars. Their gravesites, and others in the cemetery, attract thousands of tourists annually. Other notable grave sites include Princess Angeline, the founder of Nordstrom, John W. Nordstrom, members of the Denny Party like Carson Boren, Arthur A. Denny, David Swinson "Doc" Maynard and Thomas Mercer. The cemetery is adjacent to the north side of Volunteer Park, another popular area to wander in Capitol Hill. (206-322-1582)

Sure, there are multiple REI locations across the country these days, and of course you can shop for their gear online, but the Seattle flagship location of Recreational Equipment Incorporated is a destination in itself. Whether you're gearing up for a planned hike at Mt. Rainier National Park during your Seattle stay, looking for a kayak rental to ply Puget Sound, or are just a helpless outdoor gadget geek, this is your place. The sheer volume of the place and the amount of gear itself is a wonder, but before you get to the ice-axe handles of the giant wooden front doors, you wander along a miniature section of Northwest trail complete with pine trees, ferns and a waterfall. In addition to wowing first-time visitors, the area is meant for trying out hiking boots and mountain bikes before buying. Parkas can be pushed to the limit in the "rain room." And if it's climbing gear you've come for, check the performance of rock-climbing shoes and carabineers on the towering indoor climbing wall (reservations required). (206-223-1944, 888-873-1938)

7 Bainbridge Island Ferry
From Seattle's downtown waterfront, it takes only 35 minutes to arrive at Bainbridge Island. Along the way, you can enjoy all the wonderful sights that make Seattle such a unique city (the ferry ride itself is worth the journey!). The snowcapped Olympic Mountains, Seattle's skyline and the eastern view of Mount Rainier are all points of interest along the way. (It's also fun to watch all the car and bike commuters onboard.) Peak season is early May through mid-October. Once on Bainbridge Island, it's easy to walk to a quaint "downtown" strip that features some shops, eateries and coffee spots. The island also features wineries, an organic distillery and other popular destinations. (206-464-6400)

6 Fisherman's Terminal
The sight of 700 vessels heading into port after a long day on the water grants spectators a deep appreciation for a fisherman's work, dedication and patience. Long an important industry in the area, fishing in Seattle accounts for over 50 percent of the seafood caught in the United States. When the ships come in, the piers teem with curious onlookers, eager to see what crabbers and fishermen have hauled in from the sea. (Fans of the Discovery reality TV series "Deadliest Catch" will be especially excited to get an inside glimpse of this fascinating industry and its colorful characters.) (206-728-3395, 800-426-7817)

5 Chittenden Locks & Carl English Botanical Gardens
Originally built in 1911, these locks offer a fascinating lesson in technology from days gone by. Observe ships and sailing vessels as they enter the locks and -- following a series of mechanical adjustments -- depart into either the sound or the lake at a completely different water level. You can learn all about the locks' history in the visitor center; from March to November, guided tours are also offered. In addition, visitors may look through a viewing glass to see salmon run from fresh to salt water in season (June through October and March through April). Also, be sure not to miss the seven-acre Carl English Botanical Gardens, which present nearly 2,000 varieties of plant life. Operated by the US Army Corps of Engineers. (206-783-7059)

4 Underground Tour
When Seattle's 1889 fire leveled part of the city, officials decided to raise the city to a higher level, both metaphorically and literally. The portion left behind (and beneath) is now subject matter for a tour of Seattle's past, especially its unsavory part. The network of abandoned rooms and paths is interesting, but the stories and tales of prostitutes, thieves, and prominent residents really brings the area to life. This tour provides a fascinating glimpse into the city's heritage. The tour begins inside Doc Maynard's Public House, a restored 1890s saloon, and continues through historic Pioneer Square to three different sections of Underground--about three blocks total. The tour ends in Rogues Gallery, the gift shop. (206-682-4646)

3 Lake Washington Cruise — Kirkland
Ahoy matey! One of this city's best features? All of its beautiful bodies of water. So one of the best ways to experience this city? Well, come on abroad and see for yourself! Argosy Cruises offers this scenic Lake Washington tour that leaves from the public docks at Marina Park in Kirkland. The relaxing 1½-hour cruise highlights stunning scenery and includes interesting tidbits about the area's history and most famous residents. Snacks and beverages are available onboard, and free parking is available in Peter Kirk Municipal Library garage. Argosy also offers a variety of wonderful cruises departing from downton Seattle. (206-623-1445, 800-642-7816)

2 Olympic National Park
Olympic National Park provides Seattle visitors with a huge range of recreation options in a compact area. About an hour to an hour-and-a-half southwest of Seattle on Washington State's Olympic Peninsula, the nature preserve centers around the Olympic Mountains and its system of rivers and valleys to the Pacific Ocean. Hiking, backpacking, kayaking, or just touring by car, it's easy to check out the varying microclimates and zones within the park, which is encircled by U.S. Highway 101. So whether it's crunching along a dirt and gravel trail up a mountainside, padding over fragrant pine needles along a path deep in the temperate rainforest, or finding solid wet sand to save energy exploring along rugged Pacific Ocean beaches, this natural wonderland offers it all. ((360) 374-5450, (360) 565-3131)

1 Smith Tower
Once the tallest building in Seattle, the circa-1914 Smith Tower still fascinates observers with its wonderful views. In the heart of Pioneer Square, Smith Tower has, for nearly 100 years, provided the "southern bookend to Seattle's skyscrapers." The original brass-and-copper elevator cars carry you up 35 stories to an open-air observation deck where you're granted fantastic views of Seattle and the surrounding mountains. The tower's Chinese Room makes for an interesting diversion. Adorned with carved woods and Asian furnishings, the room also features the "Wishing Chair," which reputedly has the power to grant women who sit and ask to be married their wish within the year. (206-622-4004)

Corinne hails from the other Washington, where she caught the travel bug early on. Corinne studied abroad in Strasbourg, France (undergrad) and in Edinburgh, Scotland (graduate school). She's backpacked around Australia, taught English in Argentina and explored (so far!) countries from Cambodia and Egypt to Turkey and China. Corinne served as associate editor at Where magazine for five years; as a freelancer, she now writes for publications like National Geographic Traveler and Amtrak's Arrive. Here in the lovely Northwest, she's  attempting to debunk the rain myths, up her coffee and live music quotient and find her Zen near/on the water.

Read more about Corinne Whiting here.

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Maps and Directions

Boeing Plant Tour 10Best List Arrow
Type: Tours and Excursions
Neighborhood: Everett
Lakeview Cemetery 10Best List Arrow
Type: Sightseeing
Neighborhood: Montlake
REI 10Best List Arrow
Type: Attractions, Classes or Instruction
Fisherman's Terminal 10Best List Arrow
Type: Outdoor Activities, Sightseeing
Neighborhood: Interbay
Chittenden Locks & Carl English Botanical Gardens 10Best List Arrow
Type: Attractions, Gardens, Tours and Excursions
Neighborhood: Shilshole
Underground Tour 10Best List Arrow
Type: Sightseeing, Tours and Excursions
Neighborhood: Pioneer Square
Olympic National Park 10Best List Arrow
Type: Day Trips, Great Views, Outdoor Activities, Parks, Recreational Facilities, Reserves
Neighborhood: Outside the city
Smith Tower 10Best List Arrow
Type: Attractions, Great Views
Neighborhood: Pioneer Square