From dining and nightlife to shopping and recreation, this is your guide to exploring the Emerald City like a Seattleite. If your goal is to blend in while experiencing the city, read on for our best tips.
First Step: Look Like a Local
Seattle might not be famous for its fashion sense, but there are definitely a few key items every Seattleite has in their closet. The trick, in Seattle, is to keep it comfortable, casual and layered. Oh—and waterproof, especially in the winter months.
Unless you’re traveling Seattle via bike, you probably won’t need a heavy-duty rain suit. While yes, it rains nearly every day in the winter, Seattle actually gets less rain than cities like Chicago or Miami: rain here is very light, and heavy rains or thunderstorms send locals running to windows to watch (or to basements to check for flooding). If you do want a raincoat, local company Freeman, which has a brick-and-mortar shop in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, makes some of the best around. The jackets come in a few different colors for men and women, and each is lined with cozy flannel. The store carries other men’s items from American-made brands in addition to the Freeman line, as well as bags, bath products and accessories.
Another good option if you want to add a few Pacific Northwest pieces to your wardrobe is REI. The company started and remains headquartered in the area, and their flagship store in Eastlake has everything you could possibly need, including a climbing wall (make an appointment on the website) and gear rental. Head upstairs for men’s and women’s clothing and shoes (where you can try your new hiking boots on a rocky trail). There is also a kids’ section if your littles need durable clothing ready for adventure.
Seattle likes to be comfortable, and thus, you’ll see jeans all over town, including on the office set. Many businesses reflect the city’s laid-back attitude in the dress code. If you’re going to wear jeans every day, then, might as well make it a really great pair. Mario’s has both a men’s and women’s denim expert that can help you find the perfect pair—though any of their stylists are up to the challenge. Denim labels include AG, G-Star and Paige. Browse around the rest of the store, too, for some great things from Prabal Gurung, Prada, The Row, Helmut Lang and much more.
Another favorite spot for jeans is Nordstrom, Seattle’s homegrown department store. With women’s, men’s, juniors and kids departments, the entire family can get a new pair of pants. Nordstrom associates are well prepared to help you find the perfect pair of denim amid the large selection. Brands include Rag & Bone, J Brand, True Religion, Joe’s, Diesel, Hudson and more. Stop by the downtown flagship location and find menswear on the Metro level, kids’ clothing on the top floor and womenswear in between.
While in Nordstrom, do a little shoe shopping: Seattlites love their boots, and winter brings out a large variety, whether short or tall, rain boots or leather. If you choose rain boots, Nordstrom carries Hunters, a favorite brand you'll spot all over town during rainy days.
University Village, or UVillage, is an open-air shopping center near the University of Washington. Even in the winter, locals come for the shopping and restaurants. (Umbrellas are available while shopping!) Visit the locally owned Sole Food for a new pair of shoes that are a good representation of Seattle: practical and comfortable while still stylish (think Frye, Camper, Fluevog). If it’s clothing you’re after, boutique Mercer carries women’s fashion that nods to current trends while remaining flexible for seasons to come, including a great selection of jeans. Bonus: UVillage is dog friendly, so you’re bound to see happy, furry, and probably well-dressed pups while walking around.
Next Up: Do Brunch Like a Local
We love weekend brunch in Seattle, and every person has a favorite spot. Here, a few of the best places for brunch in Seattle, because brunch is something you should do when you're on vacation.
Portage Bay in South Lake Union: This hot spot has a few different locations, but their SLU restaurant is one of the largest. Try their giant pancakes, which come with a trip to the extensive toppings bar, or get the Migas, a Mexican-inspired scramble in a flour tortilla. Portage Bay also has vegan and gluten-free options.
Skillet Diner in Capitol Hill: This spot takes diner food up a notch, with things like housemade biscuits and sage gravy that comes with smoked bacon jowl brown sugar sausage and pork belly and cornmeal waffles. Skillet opens at 7 am daily.
Pete’s Eggnest in Phinney Ridge: There’s usually a line outside this spot on the weekends. Pete’s serves classic brunch staples in a friendly, no-frills atmosphere. Try the chicken-fried steak and eggs or the Pete’s Special French Toast. Open at 7 am daily.
Toulouse Petit Kitchen and Lounge in Queen Anne: Delicious, New Orleans-inspired food makes up this menu. Try the beignets, or one of their many eggs benedicts, like the Dungeness crab or the oyster and bacon. They also have Creole breakfast classics and sandwiches and salads, if breakfast food isn’t your thing.
Taking It to the Next Level: Drinking Like a Local
Seattle has microbreweries scattered all over town and local beer on tap at almost every bar. Lately, bottle shops have grown in popularity, supplying a huge bottled selection as well as taps. Chuck’s Greenwood Hop Shop has more than 35 taps in addition to their bottle selection, and a daily food truck on site. West Seattle has The Beer Junction, with more than 1,300 varieties from around the world. Bottleworks in Wallingford has more than 950 brew varieties including seasonal and vintage selections. Rather find a bar? Here are a few favorites that have a good selection of local beer.
This neighborhood favorite in West Seattle has 36 taps serving a good selection of beer—and usually a cider or two. They also have a huge bottle selection. There’s no food here, though check out the menu book and order in. See what’s on tap on their website.
With 15 taps, many of which have the neighborhood’s own microbrews, this is a good spot to stop while checking out Ballard. The bar doesn’t have a kitchen, but there are a number of restaurants that offer takeout nearby—this spot is in the heart of Ballard’s business district.
With German- and Belgian-style beer, German food and bocce courts, this hot spot on Capitol Hill fills to capacity quickly on the weekends. Stop in for brats and beer—they have 2-, 12- and 20-ounce pours as well as ½ and full liters. This spot is family friendly in the dining room and bocce courts until 10 pm.
Located in the heart of Belltown, this pub doesn’t have a gigantic beer list, but the carefully chosen selections are delicious and interesting. It’s a busy spot, with elevated pub fare on the menu and an upstairs with a pool table. And for an extra Seattle touch, this bar is dog friendly. (And pups get their own menu!)
Queen Anne’s neighborhood spot has a rotating list of seasonal beer, much if it from the Seattle area or Washington state. The website lists current brews. In addition to the regular food menu, there is also a gluten-free menu.
The Pro Move: Enjoying a Weekend Like a Local
Seattle winters are long and gray, with only the occasional break in rain. While visitors often comment that while it’s beautiful, with lush, green plants year-round, the lack of sun would be hard. While it isn’t ideal, here’s the local secret: it doesn’t rain hard enough, or get cold enough, to stop us from playing outside. Even in winter, you’ll see Seattleites running, hiking, cycling and—as close as an hour away—skiing, snowboarding and more. Below, a few favorite parks and hikes to visit while you’re here.
Pick a Park in the City
If you aren’t afraid of a little mud, Discovery Park is 534 acres of trails, woods, beach and beautiful views of Puget Sound and the Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges. An old military base, the park is now kept in a semi-natural state to provide a quiet break from the city. The Washington Park Arboretum, on the shores of Lake Washington, is 230 acres of gardens, trails and spots to explore. Visit the Japanese Garden, the Winter Garden or explore Foster Island, and stop at the Graham Visitors Center for information about the arboretum and a gift shop. Avoid muddy shoes at Green Lake, with its paved, 2.8-mile path. Grab a coffee and catch up with friends while getting a little exercise.
Get Out of Town
The beautiful hike to Wallace Falls, a little more than an hour northeast of Seattle, wanders through the forest on the west side of the Cascade Mountains ends with a 265-foot waterfall. Plan for a little mud and some snow and a lot of spots to stop and enjoy the view along the 5.6-mile round-trip. Good for beginners, the trail can be busy, so come early. The Wallace Falls State Park is actually a 4,735-acre park with shoreline along the Wallace River, Wallace Lake, Jay Lake, Shaw Lake and Skykomish River. Keep an eye out for wildlife while hiking. Because this is a state park, a Discover Pass is required: A one-day pass can be purchased at the automated pay station in the parking lot.
Because it is less than an hour from Seattle, Mount Si is a popular hiking spot. It is a gorgeous place to get a little exercise on well-maintained trails—it gains 3,100 feet in just less than 4 miles. Payoff is worth it, with expansive views of the Snoqualmie Valley, Seattle and the Olympic Mountains on a clear day. Make sure to continue past the lunch spot: Toward the right, there are steps, which climb even more to provide amazing views. Mount Si is a popular trail for those training for a ascent of Mount Rainier—you might spot hikers with weighted packs making their way up the trail. If Mount Si is too snowy, nearby Little Si provides a shorter hike. A Discover Pass is required at the trailhead.
Find hiking directions for both spots—and many more—on the Washington Trails association website.
The Practically-Born-Here Step: Talk Like a Local
If you want to live like a local, you’ll have to learn to speak like one. Here are some nicknames from around town that’ll help you fit in.
The Mountain: Mount Rainier. You’ll usually hear “the mountain is out today.” If someone says it, look southeast.
Udub: The University of Washington. Please note that it isn’t “you double-u” or U of W.
The Market: Pike Place Market. Also acceptable is The Pike Place Market, but Pike Market or Pike’s Place gives you away as not from here.
Nordy’s: Nickname for Nordstrom.
Pill Hill: Refers to First Hill, a neighborhood just south of Capitol Hill along I-5, where Harborview Medical Center, Virginia Mason Medical Center and Swedish Medical Center are located.
The CD: Shorthand for the Central District, a neighborhood southeast of Capitol Hill.
Tangletown: A neighborhood near Green Lake named for its curving streets.
Congrats, you're now as close to a local as you can be without renting a place in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.