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 Seattle Aquarium. As an alternative, though, visitors can choose to get out on the water, either by sea kayak rental or by riding the Washington State Ferry system. There are multitudes 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.


This slumbering volcano is the most heavily glaciated mountain in the United States outside of Alaska. At 14,417 feet, it is the fifth tallest peak in the continental U.S. Because of its northern locale, glaciers and extreme weather, Washington State's prime peak is used by many mountaineering groups to train for ascents of the world's most challenging climbs. In warmer months, flocks of climbers challenge the summit's less strenuous routes, and throughout the year a variety of activities are available to extreme athletes and vacationing families alike. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails wind through the dense forest past placid lakes and frothing waterfalls. The scenic Wonderland Trail encircles the entire park. There are also plenty of short, spectacular day trips for hiking in summer or snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. Lodging is available at the historic Paradise Inn (check up-to-date info online), where the visitor center offers meals and interpretive natural history.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Mount Rainier National Park offers unfathomable natural beauty and a prime destination for adventurers of all levels.

John's expert tip: One of the tallest peaks in the United States, Mt. Rainier is a training destination for international climbing parties, but during mild seasons on basic routes, the trek is accessible to climbers of most skill levels. Families will enjoy also visiting the nearby Northwest Trek Wildlife Park.

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Museum of Flight

Informational and historical exhibits distinguish this museum, which appeals to aspiring pilots and to those whose feet have never left the ground. Displays in the Red Barn, where Boeing's first planes were constructed, chronicle the history of flight up to the late 1930s. In the six-story Great Gallery, more than 20 planes hang from the ceiling and cause guests to gape in amazement. Additional sights include a mock air traffic control center, an early Air Force One presidential plane and a Blackbird, the fastest plane ever built. Furthermore, the outdoor airpark lets visitors explore some of the museum's largest planes. Other amenities include complimentary guided tours, a variety of free films, a cafe and a museum store.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: Informational and historical exhibits distinguish this museum, which appeals to aspiring pilots of all ages.

John's expert tip: While the museum's schedule and capacity are limited, book ahead for timed-entry tickets.

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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:

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Washington State Ferries
Photo courtesy of Washington State Ferries

With the largest ferry fleet in the United States, the Washington State Ferry system operates 22 boats. Lining up to drive a vehicle onto the deck of the vessel is just the beginning of a truly Northwest experience. Onboard, get out of the car and enjoy educational and interpretive signage around the ship. Grab a latte or hot chocolate to warm your hands, and step out into the brisk salt air on the open passenger deck to take in the passing bay, mountain and island views. Just two possible itineraries for a day trip to explore Puget Sound from the main Seattle terminal include the Seattle-Bainbridge Island run or the route for Fauntleroy-Vashon Island-Edmonds. The fleet's biggest boats travel between Seattle and Bainbridge; the island offers a combination of rural charm and sophisticated amenities. In the summer months, heading to the San Juans are a must. Fares vary seasonally by route.

Recommended for Best Attractions & Activities because: The Washington State Ferry system operates 23 boats, shuttling passengers across Washington's beautiful waterways to a variety of stunning destinations.

John's expert tip: With such a water-focused culture, there is no better way to sightsee in Puget Sound than boarding a ferry. Riding your bike with Washington State Ferries (WSF) means you get priority loading and unloading on most sailings. Take a day trip to Bainbridge or an overnight to Vashon, where gems like Gravy restaurant and the cozy, boho-chic Lodges on Vashon await.

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Woodland Park Zoo
Photo courtesy of Jeremy Dwyer-Lindgren/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. Timed-ticket entry is currently required; advanced purchase 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: Tip: CityPASS makes it easy and affordable to visit five top Seattle attractions, including the Woodland Park Zoo.

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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. 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.

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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, guests must reserve a time slot prior to arrival.)

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: Check up-to-update info online; while museum capacities are limited, visitors must reserve a time slot prior to arrival. Spend an entire day 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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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: The museum's schedule is currently abbreviated; check online and book ahead for timed tickets. 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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Pike Place Market

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 alluring to stay. Check out to support the recovery of this iconic site, or have Market goods delivered across the county via Savor Seattle's seasonal boxes (

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, Little Fish, 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