Free Things to Do in Seattle

Seattle on a Shoestring: Free & Affordable Activities, Rich With Delight

Sometimes you just want to experience a city's indulgent riches without emptying your bank account. Thankfully, Seattle is a city where doing that is a feasible goal. Here, natural beauty abounds, so sometimes soaking up the city's finest points means simply heading up the region's steep hills (or toward the water....or into thick patches of forest...). Choosing from alfresco excursions can prove a challenge since there's such an abundance of options, but urban sites like Discovery and Gas Works parks are pretty much a guarantee. If you happen to have a bit more time to spare (and a car at your disposal), consider road tripping to Olympic National Park or Mt. Rainier, where the sites and hues prepared by Mother Nature will steal away your breath.

But Seattle also offers up culture for free, too, at spots like downtown's iconic Pike Place Market, the Seattle Art Museum's Olympic Sculpture Park and the gathering space-cafe-music venue home of beloved radio station KEXP. Certain venues and museums typically come with a fee, but if you stay on the ball and do your research, you can find certain days and times (like first Thursdays of the month) when free events are on offer, too. (Side note: if you're determined to see the city's most popular tourist sites as well, like the Space Needle, find deep discounts available through purchasing a CityPASS.)


Some of Washington's most magnificent scenery can be found within this national forest's expansive boundaries. The rugged--and at times harsh--landscape encompasses the Cascade Mountains as well as an active volcano in the form of Mt. Baker. Beginning in mid-September, the forest's flora slowly change from bright greens to reds and oranges, providing an attractive contrast to the area's coverage of conifers. Huckleberry, mountain ash and heather offer a patchwork of warm colors, often reflected in the forest's many lakes. Since the forest is so extensive, a driving tour is an ideal way to see as much fall foliage as possible in a relatively short time. Try the Mt. Baker Highway or the North Cascades Highway for some unforgettable views.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Outdoor enthusiasts also travel a couple hours to Mt. Baker, where some of Washington's most magnificent scenery can be found.

Corinne's expert tip: For science buffs: Mount Baker, also known as Koma Kulshan or simply Kulshan, is an active glaciated andesitic stratovolcano. (For outdoors lovers: Check out the skiing here in snowy months!)

Read more about Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest →

This slumbering volcano is the second-tallest mountain in the continental United States after California's Mt. Whitney. Because of its northern locale and more 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 queue up to 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 dense forest and past placid lakes and waterfalls. The scenic Wonderland Trail encircles the entire park, catering to long-range backpackers. There are plenty of short, spectacular day trips, as well, whether hiking in summer of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. Lodging is available on the mountain at the historic inn at Paradise.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Enticing day trips from Seattle include Mount Rainier National Park, a prime locale for awe-inspiring hiking, skiing and wildflower viewing.

Corinne'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.

Read more about Mount Rainier National Park →


Find breathing space at Magnuson Park, an urban, 350-acre park on Sand Point at Pontiac Bay, Lake Washington. This park, the second largest in Seattle, includes pieces of Seattle's military past (it's situated on a former Navy airfield). Today visitors enjoy boating, walking, kite flying and, last but not least, swimming. The beach here includes a tiny pebble shoreline, the perfect gateway to refreshing waters that average 67 degrees during summer months (from June until Labor Day). Grassy flats west of the beach provide perfect lounging territory, and guests can also find a children's wading pool, picnic shelters and tables (perfect for a BYO feast) nearby.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Magnuson Park, a 350-acre park on Sand Point at Pontiac Bay, Lake Washington, is a favorite spot for Seattle families and dog owners.

Corinne's expert tip: Dog lovers unite! The Magnuson off-leash area contains 8.6 acres and is the only one inside city limits with water access (Lake Washington's freshwater shoreline). Before or after your strolling, head to Magnuson Cafe & Brewery, "a modern American brewhouse restaurant that is all about community."

Read more about Magnuson Park →

Green Lake Park
Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting

This local park accommodates a host of joggers, in-line skaters and sunbathers that exercise and bask along the greenbelt that circles Green Lake, the park's picturesque centerpiece. A favorite of locals, the park's plentiful green space and open water in the midst of an urban landscape creates a true oasis. The park also serves as a natural preserve for hundreds of species of trees and plants, as well as for numerous birds and waterfowl. Seattleites also make good use of the expansive athletic fields or visit the park for boating, picnics and swimming. Make sure to visit Green Lake Small Craft Center (check up-to-date hours first), which is located at the southwest corner of the park and offers rowing, canoeing, kayaking and sailing classes.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: This local park accommodates a host of joggers and cyclists exercising, plus those relaxing along the greenbelt that circles Green Lake.

John's expert tip: The 2.8-mile path around the lake provides a perfect recreational spot for runners, bikers, skaters, and walkers, but more serious athletes often test their abilities on the unpaved 3.2-mile, outer-loop track. Grab picnic provisions from PCC, or a coffee for the stroll from Retreat or other nearby cafes.

Read more about Green Lake Park →

Gas Works Park

On the north end of Lake Union, you'll find what may be the most unique park in the area. The 21-acre industrial area, formerly the site of a gas plant, was transformed in 1975 into a recreational complex (a worldwide first). You'll find that there's plenty to do in the park, including kayaking, sailing, picnicking and bicycling. From atop the park's 60-foot hill (which underwent renovations in late 2014), visitors find one of Seattle's best views, and the park is a favorite place to view the city's Fourth of July fireworks display. The 200-seat picnic shelter can be reserved for special occasions. Some years, events enliven this space, ranging from beer festivals and yoga classes to silent disco parties.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Gas Works Park is a unique, beautiful urban space that offers grassy knolls for wandering, picnicking and kite-flying, too.

Corinne's expert tip: The extensive urban Burke-Gilman Trail runs past Gas Works parking lot and follows the Burlington-Northern Railroad 12.5 miles north to Kirkland Log Boom Park. Some years, events enliven this space from beer festivals and yoga classes to summer happenings like silent disco parties. Pick up treats to enjoy from nearby Fremont Brewery, Stone Way Cafe (soon moving to a new location across the street), Pablo y Pablo or Made in House (a short stroll away in the heart of Fremont).

Read more about Gas Works Park →

Golden Gardens
Photo courtesy of Corinne Whiting

West of Ballard, visitors find one of Seattle's best gems: 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 Free Things to Do because: One of Seattle's best features, Golden Gardens is located on Puget Sound. The beach offers extraordinary Olympic Mountains views (even from the parking lot).

Corinne's expert tip: Although bonfires are permitted here, they are meant to be built inside official fire pits (which fill quickly on summer evenings). Pick up picnic provisions from Fremont's Uneeda Burger or Ballard's Un Bien (for fabulous Caribbean sandwiches; their hours vary, depending on the season!). Ray's Boathouse is a perfect nearby venue for a post-beach seafood-centric feast, too.

Read more about Golden Gardens →

KEXP 90.3 SEATTLE venue
Photo courtesy of Melissa Wax/KEXP

To build the vision for its "New Home" venue in Seattle Center, KEXP reached out to peers like musicians, teachers, business leaders, politicians and heads of arts organizations. The beloved radio station says, "They encouraged us to remain authentic while continuing to innovate, to keep building community, to engage more music lovers and artists, and provide the public greater access to 'music that matters.'" The venue features flexible indoor and outdoor spaces to accommodate live performances and events, spaces for musicians to recharge, a bustling coffee counter and up-to-date equipment for the best possible programming. Members of the public enjoy the spacious community gathering space; KEXP offers 4,500-plus square feet for performances, dance parties, classes, lectures and more. Another highlight? A visible DJ booth.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Tune into 90.3 FM, or, when it's open, visit KEXP's dazzling downtown complex featuring live performances, a coffee shop, plus an ultra-friendly, community vibe.

Corinne's expert tip: Hopefully returning soon, find the schedule for free, live, in-studio sessions at Simply visit the info desk on the day of the performance to get a spot in the queue.

Read more about KEXP 90.3 SEATTLE venue →

Olympic Sculpture Park
Photo courtesy of SAM-Olympic Sculpture Park

Stroll through the grounds, and admire the fascinating large-scale works on display at this nine-acre green space that's just one mile north of the Seattle Art Museum. Extensive landscaping enhances the park's beauty, and a walkway, extending from the beach to Belltown, provides views of the Puget Sound and of downtown landmarks. Among the pieces on view, find "Eye Benches I, II, III" by Louise Bourgeois, a series of functional carved-granite benches that take the form of giant eyeballs. Also, find work from the height of famed sculptor Alexander Calder's career–-- "The Eagle" (1971), a huge, abstract steel sculpture that's bright orange and hard to miss. Check out seasonal cultural offerings here (free!), too.

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: The free Olympic Sculpture Park brings alfresco art to a stunning, nine-acre waterfront setting.

Corinne's expert tip: Afterward, stroll along the ever-evolving waterfront to grab a bite on the patio of Pub 70 or to see sites like the recently rebuilt Pier 62, designed to be a flexible park space with views of Elliott Bay, the Olympics and the Seattle skyline. A floating dock provides direct access to the water and will include art by artist Stephen Vitiello. New grating along the seawall increases light to the nearshore salmon habitat below.

Read more about Olympic Sculpture Park →

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

The sights, smells and sounds have always made Pike Place, which just celebrated its 115th anniversary, a head-spinning whirlwind for first-time visitors. (Newest bonus: Several years back 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 this iconic site, or have Market goods delivered across the county via Savor Seattle's seasonal boxes (; try the newest Markets Favorites collection!).

Recommended for Free Things to Do because: Historic Pike Place Market is perhaps THE essential Seattle attraction. Wandering the vibrant site costs nothing, yet you may find treasures to purchase en route.

Corinne'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. (with a bustling patio and tasting room that features prime water views).

Read more about Pike Place Market →

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 updates), 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 Free Things to Do because: Magnificent Discovery Park offers a great outdoorsy option within city limits. Go for a trail walk or run, then wander the lovely stretch of beach.

Corinne'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.

Read more about Discovery Park →


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