Beyond the Observation Deck: Visiting Seattle's Space Needle

What you'll see from the top, and how to find it when you're back on the ground.

Since 1962, visitors to Seattle have been stepping into elevators and whizzing up 520 feet to the Observation Deck of the Space Needle. Built as a show piece for the World’s Fair, the Needle remains an icon of the city.

A variety of ticket options are available: CityPass will give you access to the Space Needle twice in 24 hours, as well as a host of other popular attractions worth visiting. There is also a Space Needle/Chihuly Garden and Glass duo pass, if you’d like to see Dale Chihuly’s permanent exhibit at Seattle Center, just steps from the Space Needle. If you’re only interested in the Space Needle, consider buying the day/night passes, which give you access to the Observation Deck twice in 24 hours. The view changes dramatically at night, and is quite beautiful.

Space Needle Observation Deck
Space Needle Observation Deck (Courtesy Space Needle, LLC)

Whatever option you choose, the Observation Deck gives visitors a 360-degree view of the city. But what, exactly, are you looking at? Following, a few favorite spots to see from up high, as well as how to find ‘em when you’re back on street level. (Directions start at streets around the Space Needle.)

Queen Anne High School
Queen Anne High School condominiums (©Stacy Booth)

Look north and you’re looking at Queen Anne, where you’ll notice a grand white building at the top of the hill. Formerly Queen Anne High School, this building was converted to condos in 2007. Built in 1909, with additions in both 1929 and 1955, the building is on the National Register of Historic Places and is an official City of Seattle landmark. If you’d like to get a closer look, head north on Fifth Ave. N. Turn left on Highland Drive, right on Third Ave. N and left on Galer St. The building will be on your left.

Museum of History and Industry
Museum of History and Industry (©EITico68/Flickr)

Turn your gaze northeast and you’ll see Lake Union. At the southern end sits the Museum of History and Industry, while the north end is home to Gas Works Park. MOHAI’s new home at Lake Union Park beautifully displays the permanent collections and temporary exhibits about the Emerald City, with views of Lake Union both inside the museum and out. To visit the museum, head north on Fifth Ave. N, turn right on Mercer St. and left on Westlake Ave. N. MOHAI sits just beyond Valley St. at the southern point of Lake Union. Across the lake you’ll see Gas Works Park, an old manufacturing plant in the first half of the 20th century. Now, it is one of the most popular parks in the city. It has amazing views of downtown, Lake Union and the surrounding neighborhoods, as well as picnic spots, a play area and restrooms. To get to Gas Works Park, travel north on Fifth Ave. N, turn right on Mercer St. and left on Westlake Ave. N. You’ll skirt the west side of Lake Union, and then travel north across the Fremont Bridge. Turn right off the bridge to N. 34th St., then turn right on Burke Ave. N. Gas Works Park has a parking lot right off of N. Northlake Way. 

Cherry blossoms at the University of Washington
Cherry blossoms at the University of Washington (©Joe Mabel/Flickr)

Just past Gas Works, a bit further east, the University of Washington sits on Union Bay. The campus of UW is beautiful any time of year, but is a must-see when the cherry trees are blooming in the spring. There are plenty of art installations and gorgeous buildings to photograph. UW is also home to the Henry Art Gallery and the Burke Museum. Head north on Fifth Ave. N, and turn right on Mercer St. Take Interstate 5 north, and exit at N.E. 45th St., where you’ll turn right at the end of the exit. N.E. 45th St. goes right past the front entrance of campus. You can’t miss the giant W on your right.

Saint Mark's Episcopal Cathedral
Saint Mark's Episcopal Cathedral (©Razvan Orendovici/Flickr)

Capitol Hill unfolds from the eastern view of the Observation Deck. Just across I-5, Saint Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral peaks out. This cathedral, in addition to regular worship services, has a couple of events that attract people of all beliefs. On Sunday evenings, Cathedral Yoga takes place starting at 6 pm. At 9:30 pm on Sundays, the cathedral fills with people of all ages for the weekly Compline, where group of men chant the Office of Compline. It offers a chance for meditation, and is also broadcast on local FM station 98.1. To visit the cathedral, head east on Denny Way to Capitol Hill. Turn left on Broadway E, following the curve where Broadway turns into 10th Ave. E. The cathedral is on the left just after E. Highland Drive.

Seattle Aquarium
Seattle Aquarium (Courtesy Seattle Aquarium)

Look south to see downtown Seattle and the Waterfront, where you’ll find the Seattle Aquarium, in addition to Pike Place Market. Exploring this area is easiest on foot. Take Fifth Ave. back downtown (or ride the Seattle Center Monorail), and walk southwest on Pike St. to get a pretty view of Pike Place Market’s entrance. Explore the Market for a few hours or a day—there is so much to see. When you’re ready to head down to the Waterfront, take the Pike Street Hill Climb down to Western Ave., and then down again to Alaskan Way. The Seattle Aquarium is across the street, and is definitely worth the visit. See otters, jellyfish, and a huge variety of native species at the Window on Washington Waters exhibit. (The Seattle Aquarium is also included in a CityPass.)

Olympic Sculpture Park
Olympic Sculpture Park (©Benjamin Benschneider)

Southwest views include Olympic Sculpture Park and Myrtle Edwards Park—the grain terminal on the waterfront sits between Myrtle Edwards Park and Centennial Park. For an up-close view, head southwest on Broad St., which curves left at the water and turns into Alaskan Way. Park anywhere along the street and walk north. You’ll first walk through the Olympic Sculpture Park (the path along the water skirts the park, while climbing up puts you into the middle of the park). Continue on the waterfront path to walk through Myrtle Edwards Park and Centennial Park. The path continues all the way to the Magnolia neighborhood, and is very popular with bikers, walkers and runners. It offers fantastic views of the water, including Mount Rainier when the sky is clear.

The Observation Deck offers a fantastic overview of the city, letting you take in the layout and topography. There is plenty more to explore than what is laid out here. While you’re at the Needle, consider having a meal at SkyCity, the revolving restaurant, and shop for souvenirs at SpaceBase, the store at ground level. If you’re on the hunt for something that says “Seattle,” there is no better spot than the gift shop at the Space Needle. From T-shirts and key rings to golf tees and coffee mugs, there are designs here you won’t find at other stores around town.