I’m getting married soon, which means I’ll be having guests in from out of town. Some of them have asked me “what the heck should I do when in Seattle and not at your wedding?” I started to write up some notes for them and decided, why not publish this for the world to see?
There are a lot of things for tourists to do while visiting Seattle, though the region’s notoriously damp weather does limit the enjoyment of certain activities. While there are many more things to do than what’s listed here, these are things I’d personally recommend to friends and family from out of town.
A Seattle Walking Tour
For my wedding, I arranged a room block at the Hampton Inn & Suites – Downtown Seattle, which are actually located north of what most locals would consider the “true downtown.” For the sake of this reason, my recommended walking tour starts at this hotel…
Walk a couple blocks west to The Seattle Center, which includes:
- The Space Needle – as Seattle’s most iconic landmark, it’s sort of a must-see for any tourist… of course, it’s way overpriced to get a bird’s eye view, and it’s unlikely you’ll stay up there for more than ten minutes. Alternatively, you could eat at the rotating restaurant (which saves you the cost of the trip to the top), or head over to the Sky View Observation Deck in the Columbia Center, which offers even a better view of Seattle.
- EMP Museum – if you like music and/or science-fiction, the Experience Music Project has plenty of both.
- Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum – a museum featuring beautiful blown glass.
- Pacific Science Center – a little more oriented for children, but this science museum has lots of exhibits as well as IMAX movies. I’d skip for the sake of time.
For starters, don’t spend too much time to the Seattle Center. To get to downtown, you can either walk south along 5th Avenue (25 minutes) or catch the Monorail from the Seattle Center, which will take you directly to Westlake Center.
- While the Monorail was originally intended to be a legitimate transportation option, it currently only has two stops and primarily serves to funnel tourists back and forth between the Seattle Center and downtown Seattle. Still, it’s a fun one-time ride.
Once at Westlake Center (shopping district), you can head west toward the water on Pine Street until you hit Pike Place Market.
- Westlake Center – while there are plenty of malls to the north, south and east of Seattle, Westlake Center and the surrounding blocks are the best place to find major retailers and other outlets in downtown.
- Pike Place Market – a must-see place for any tourist, the Pike Place Market is a quirky, multi-level market full of fresh food vendors, weird shops and the infamous “fish toss” place, which is another tourist staple. Highlights include:
- Original Starbucks – if you want to visit the location of the very first Starbucks, here you go.
- Gum Wall – they just removed 20 years of gum from the wall, but people are already attempting to build it back up. It’s one of Seattle’s quirkier tourist attractions.
- Post Alley – this alley runs through the market and contains plenty of shops and restaurants, as well as the Gum Wall.
- Fish toss – the aforementioned fish toss is located just below one of the famous “Pike Place Market” signs.
After exploring Pike Place Market, head all the way down to the Seattle waterfront (which is undergoing massive construction, unfortunately). The ferry terminal to Bainbridge Island and Bremerton (on the Olympic Peninsula) is also located here.
- Aquarium – pretty self explanatory. Skip if you’re in a rush.
- Ye Olde Curiosity Shop – a must-visit for any tourist, this weird little odds-n-ends shop offers gag gifts, as well as shrunken heads and real mummies.
- Seattle Great Wheel – one of the more noticeable elements on the Seattle skyline, the Great Wheel gives you a terrific view… it’s also quite expensive.
- Argosy Cruise – harbor cruises.
- Tillicum Village – this four-hour tour includes an Argosy Tours boat trip to and from Blake Island, where you get to experience a Native American performance and a grilled salmon meal.
From Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, cut over to 1st Ave. and then head south until you hit the Pioneer Square neighborhood, which is “old town.” Basically, there are a lot of old buildings, the two sport stadiums and a lot of homeless people, who are largely harmless.
- Seattle Underground Tour – Highly recommended, this offbeat and entertaining tour takes you below the streets of Seattle, where you can see the original storefronts and saloons that were abandoned after city engineers decided to move street level up a story (to overcome the constant flooding parts of downtown experienced). The tour takes 75 minutes and is located at the corner of 1st and Yesler.
- Safeco Field stadium tour – if you like baseball, you can take a backstage tour of Safeco Field, home to the Seattle Mariners. The stadium is located 10 minutes by foot south of Pioneer Square.
- CenturyLink Field – I don’t think they do tours, but this is the home of the Seattle Seahawks and Seattle Sounders (soccer).
From Pioneer Square, cut over to 5th Avenue on Jackson Street (south of the Underground Tour, north of the stadiums). You’ll now be on the edge of the International District. There aren’t a lot of things to do here, but there are a ton of legitimate Asian restaurants and the Asian food market Uwijamaya (on 5th and Weller).
To return north, you have several options:
- Take the Light Rail – from 5th and Jackson, you can proceed to the bus tunnel and catch the Light Rail train north back to Westlake Center (costs $1 per person, I think), and then catch the Monorail back to the Seattle Center.
- Walk – if you want to walk, you can go north on 5th Avenue all the way back to the Seattle Center. This will probably take 35 – 40 minutes.
Things to do outside downtown Seattle
There are plenty of other things to do in Seattle, but that require a car or other mode of transportation, including:
- Museum of Flight – located 25 minutes south of downtown, this Museum, set against one of Boeing’s main production facilities, is a really cool place to visit if you like aircraft. You can go inside a Concord jet, visit a Space Shuttle simulator and other things.
- Ballard Locks – For boats to travel from Puget Sound to Lake Union, they must pass through the Ballard Locks, which regulate the two levels of water. You can watch various boats pass through, watch salmon travel up fish ladders and occasionally see seals as well. Ballard is located 15 minutes north of downtown Seattle.
- Fremont Troll – you can quickly swing by the Fremont Troll, who lives under the Aurora Bridge. Fremont is located 15 minutes north of downtown Seattle.
- Bruce Lee’s grave – located 15 minutes to the east of downtown, you can visit Bruce Lee’s gravesite at the Lake View Cemetery.
- Kerry Park – this popular park is really just a small strip of land, but most photographs you see of Seattle–with Mt. Rainier in the background–are taken from this park. The park is just north of downtown Seattle.
- Alki Beach – located in West Seattle and 25 minutes from downtown, this semi-sandy beach offers plenty of restaurants and fantastic views of downtown Seattle.
- Discovery Park – the largest park in the Seattle area, Discovery Park is an old military installation and offers plenty of hiking/walking and cliffside views of Puget Sound. You can also walk down to the water and explore tidal pools, etc.
- Bainbridge Island (40-minute ferry ride) – take the ferry from downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island, which offers a small downtown as well as scenic drives. The island is located directly across the water from Seattle, and connects to the Olympic Peninsula.
Places to visit beyond Seattle
Though there are many things to do in Seattle proper, Seattle’s strength lies in the access to nature outside the city itself. If you have more time and a vehicle, consider:
- Mt. Rainier (2.5 hour drive each way) – this dormant volcano is one of the most visible elements of Washington State.
- Mt. St. Helens (3-hour drive each way) – in 1980, Mt. St. Helens erupted so violently that half of the mountain literally exploded and slid into the valley below. The Johnston Ridge Observatory offers amazing views of the crater and the surrounding areas, which still express the desolation of the eruption.
- Deception Pass (1.5 hour drive each way) – this State Park offers beautiful views of Puget Sound, especially from the bridge which stands 177 feet over the fast-flowing waters.