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Best Things to Do in Seattle

Amid natural wonders, Seattle offers abundant culture and alfresco fun


Situated between two major mountain ranges on the banks of Puget Sound, Seattle exists in a virtual wonderland for outdoor recreation. Amidst all of this nature, though, Seattle is also a smart and sophisticated place, known for technology and airplanes as much as for salmon and Sasquatch. Activities and attractions here match that dichotomy.

The city’s commitment and connection to its marine surroundings are on view at the kid-friendly Seattle Aquarium, or visitors can choose to get out on the water, either by sea kayak rental, riding the Washington State Ferry system or by taking a trip to San Juan or Vancouver islands via FRS Clipper. There are a multitude of scenic waterfront and woodland parks at which to enjoy the region’s natural beauty, and the piece de resistance is Mt. Rainier National Park, where visitors can get up close to the namesake peak, hike, camp or picnic.

In Ballard, The Chittenham Locks, where ships travel from the Puget Sound to Lake Washington and Lake Union, exemplifies Seattle’s dependence on its waterways and educates the public about salmon conservation. On the cerebral side, Seattle museums offer enlightenment on aviation, history and industry, art and science. And here, even music and sci-fi get time in the spotlight, thanks to the 140,000-square-foot Frank O. Gehry-designed Museum of Pop Culture (or MoPOP, formerly the EMP) at Seattle Center.


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If you're ever going to visit a venue dedicated to the magic of music, Seattle is THE place to do so. This intriguing museum celebrates the history of rock and roll. With more than 100,000 items, MoPOP has one of the biggest collections of contemporary pop culture historical objects, showcased in the ultra-modern Frank Gehry-designed building (which resembles a smashed guitar). Among the displays are Janis Joplin's floral bell-bottoms and a leather jacket once worn by Elvis Presley. At 5,384 square feet, Sky Church, a performance arena erected to host concerts by world-renowned musicians, is also part of the complex. Recent exhibits celebrate talents ranging from Pearl Jam to Prince.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: If you're going to visit a venue dedicated to the magic of music, Seattle is THE place; this museum celebrates pop culture in beautiful ways.

Corinne's expert tip: While capacity is limited, reserved a timed ticket ahead of time. Check out events like virtual movie viewings at: https://www.mopop.org//exhibitions-plus-events/events/.

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Golden Gardens
Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting

West of Ballard, visitors find one of Seattle's best treasures in any season: Golden Gardens beach. Located on Puget Sound, this popular public park offers extraordinary views of the water and the nearby Olympic Mountains. The park includes wetlands, beaches, hiking trails, as well as picnic and playground areas. The park is bisected by the BNSF Scenic Subdivision railway line. Golden Gardens offers strolls along a rugged coastline, hikes through forest trails, sunbathing on sandy beaches, fishing from a pier and a boat launch. In summer months, sandy volleyball courts fill with active folks, while the waters fill with swimmers, kite-surfers, kayakers, sailors and other nautically-inclined guests. Nighttime brings beach bonfires and the occasional impromptu concert. The park is also home to an off-leash area for dogs in the upper northern portion of the park.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Relish one of Seattle's best gems: Golden Gardens beach, a popular public park that offers extraordinary views of the water and the nearby Olympic Mountains.

Corinne's expert tip: Before or after you've dug your toes in the sand, grab a bite at nearby Ray's Boathouse, known for its stellar sunsets and delicious seafood dishes. Better yet, pick up Uneeda burgers or picnic goods from Marketime Foods in Fremont, or swing by Un Bien on the way to the beach.

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Woodland Park Zoo
Photo courtesy of Woodland Park Zoo

Woodland Park, known for its exceptional non-profit zoo "dedicated to saving animals and habitat," has a lot of other things going for it. Located on approximately 90 acres, the multipurpose park and recreation space is just southwest of Green Lake and north of the Fremont district. Separated into two parts by Aurora Avenue, the part on the west of Aurora is largely occupied by the Woodland Park Zoo, but it also has picnic space, a formal rose garden, an open space, and a play area for children. Summertime visitors will want to check out the alluring lineup of talented musicians who take over the Zoo Tunes calendar. (To visit the zoo, the advanced purchase of timed tickets is highly recommended.)

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Located on approximately 90 acres in Seattle's Phinney Ridge, Woodland Park is a non-profit zoo dedicated to saving animals and habitat.

John's expert tip: Music lovers will want to consider the lineup of Zoo Tunes, a beloved concert series that is a true sign of Seattle summer. Tip: CityPASS makes it easy and affordable to visit five top Seattle attractions, including the Woodland Park Zoo.

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Museum of History and Industry
Photo courtesy of MOHAI

The Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), located in vibrant South Lake Union, is a "must" for any first-time Seattle visitor. As the largest private heritage organization in Washington state, the venue is devoted to teaching and preserving the diverse history of Seattle, the Puget Sound region and the country. If you count historic photos and artifacts as art, MOHAI's permanent exhibit "Essential Seattle" is a must-see on any Emerald City art tour â€" from both a photographic and historical perspective. A fun and informative way to learn about Seattle, the display documents the city's history from the day Captain George Vancouver's ship first sailed into Elliott Bay in 1792 to the present, taking visitors through key events that shaped the modern city, with a focus on the fascinating and diverse people and characters that helped shape this unique region. (Currently, advanced time tickets are recommended.)

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The fascinating Museum of History and Industry explores the city and region's past, present and future; be sure to save time to explore Lake Union.

Corinne's expert tip: If looking for region-specific gifts by local makers, check out the museum store. You can easily spend an entire afternoon wandering the lakeside region where this museum is located; if the weather's nice, go for a paddle at the neighboring Wooden Center for Wooden Boats, or grab lunch at nearby waterfront cafes.

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Situated on Magnolia Bluff overlooking Puget Sound, this expansive urban park--the largest in Seattle --offers two miles of beach trails and nine miles of winding footpaths. Ostensibly a bluff-top reserve, Discovery Park protects a remarkable urban wilderness and is a great place for nature-watching. The Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center (check online for current closures), which features art and cultural exhibits, is also located at the park, as is a marine reserve. An 1881 lighthouse, the oldest in the area, can also be found here. Offering breathtaking views of both the Cascade and the Olympic mountain ranges, the park's remote site includes protected tidal beaches as well as open meadow lands, dramatic sea cliffs, forest groves, active sand dunes, thickets and streams.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Situated on Magnolia Bluff overlooking Puget Sound, this expansive urban park offers two miles of beach trails and nine miles of winding footpaths.

John's expert tip: The park can be reached by car or public bus; access park entrances via the East and South parking lots. One of the most popular trails, the Discovery Park Loop Trail, is a designated National Recreation Trail that measures 2.8 miles long with an elevation change of just 140 feet.

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Seattle's Tall Ship
Photo courtesy of Seattle's Tall Ship

Starting up again at the start of May, Seattle's Tall Ship takes passengers out on the city's twinkling waterways aboard the Bay Lady, an 85-foot-long traditional, gaff-rigged schooner. The family-friendly ship can accommodate up to 87 passengers and has two onboard bathrooms, an onboard drink and snack bar, plenty of outdoor seating and a cannon, too. Choose between the two-hour Seattle Harbor Sailing Tour around the Puget Sound (that departs from their downtown dock at Pier 66 Bell Harbor Marina), two-hour sunset sails that show off this city in all her glory (for 21-plus patrons) or the Brews Cruise (21+) that pushes off on select Thursdays.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Starting up again in May, Seattle's Tall Ship takes passengers out on the city's twinkling waterways aboard the Bay Lady, an 85-foot-long traditional, gaff-rigged schooner.

Corinne's expert tip: For a special treat, book a 2- to 6-hour private charter that can also include open bar and catering packages.

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Nordic Heritage Museum
Photo courtesy of National Nordic Museum

In May of 2018, Seattle's fascinating Nordic Museum found a beautiful, newly expanded home in the Ballard neighborhood. The Nordic Heritage Museum is an internationally recognized venue dedicated to the heritage of the country's (and Seattle's) Nordic immigrants, including Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish Americans. It was founded in 1980 and can be found in the Ballard neighborhood of Seattle. The museum has plenty of artifacts and genealogy-focused literature for one to trace back to their Scandinavian ancestry. The Ballard neighborhood is also home to a couple of Nordic shops and bakeries, for those who care to continue their cultural tour.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Nordic Heritage Museum is an internationally recognized museum dedicated to the heritage of the country's (and Seattle's) Danish, Finnish, Icelandic, Norwegian and Swedish immigrants.

Corinne's expert tip: After touring the exhibits, pick up charming gifts in the building's welcoming shop, or grab a coffee and snack at Freya Cafe.

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Pioneer Square
Smith Tower
Photo courtesy of Smith Tower

This cultural icon and architectural wonder boasts a storied past that helps tell the history of downtown Seattle. The Pioneer Square venue, which will be celebrating its 108th anniversary this July 4, boasts a small museum and shop downstairs, and exquisite 360-degree panoramas from its 35th-floor Observatory Bar. This art deco, speakeasy-inspired space features ornate decor, incredible views, light bites and seasonal cocktails. A new springtime menu spotlights dishes like Taiwanese Beef Noodles and Kaffir Lime Pie, plus creative cocktails like the Leschi Lychee (Haku Japanese vodka, lychee syrup, yuzu) and the Yesler Old Fashioned (barrel-aged Woodinville rye, vanilla simple, black walnut bitters).

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: This cultural icon and architectural wonder in Pioneer Square offers exquisite 360-degree panoramas from its 35th-floor Observatory Bar.

Corinne's expert tip: Guests can ride up to the Observatory in the building's original Otis elevator.

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Waterfront
FSR Clipper
Photo courtesy of FSR Clipper

Those looking for a quintessential Pacific Northwest excursion should book an FRS Clipper adventure, with boats leaving from its downtown Seattle dock. Hop on a sleek, high-speed catamaran for a relaxing cruise to Victoria, British Columbia. (This is the only service transporting passengers between the two cities' downtown docks.) Other options include fast ferry service between Seattle and San Juan Island's Friday Harbor (ideal for day or overnight trips); this 3-hour-and-45 minute ride cruises through the Salish Sea and takes passengers past Whidbey Island and underneath Deception Pass bridge, before arriving in Friday Harbor. Magic-tinged whale-watching tours, launching this season on April 29, also leave from the downtown Seattle pier.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: For a quintessential Pacific Northwest adventure, book a whale-watching tour from downtown Seattle, or hop on a fast ferry to Friday Harbor or Victoria, B.C.

Corinne's expert tip: Visit the Clipper Vacations website to learn about seasonal package deals to Victoria, BC. (Be sure to read up on Canada's latest travel requirements before you depart.)

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Pike Place Market
Photo courtesy of Magic in the Market/Richmond Public Relations

The sights, smells and sounds have always made Pike Place a head-spinning whirlwind for first-time visitors. (Newest bonus: A couple of summers ago revealed the results of the site's $74 million MarketFront expansion project.) Yet most things here haven't changed. Fishmongers near the main entrance still entice buyers with loud hawking and dexterous salmon-throwing antics, the briny smell of fresh seafood filling the air. Countering that attraction are the rows of vibrantly colorful and aromatic flower stalls. Farm-fresh produce lines the aisles, and local artisans display their art and wares unique to the Northwest. Restaurants, breweries and specialty shops offer countless more reasons to stay.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Historic Pike Place Market is perhaps THE essential Seattle attraction. Support local farmers, makers and artisans as you wander among their colorful stalls.

John's expert tip: Check out Market expansion highlights, like 30,000 square feet of open public space that offer dazzling panoramas of Mount Rainier, the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. Discover artisan vendors that are newer to this new site, too, like Honest Biscuits, indi chocolate and Old Stove Brewing Co. (popular for beers and burgers/salads/pizzas, with a bustling patio and tasting room that features prime water views).

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Meet Corinne Whiting

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...  More About Corinne

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