The Emerald City is one of neighborhoods. Find urban streets full of shopping and nightlife to wooded enclaves less traveled by tourists—below, a pocket-sized overview of Seattle neighborhoods worth visiting.
Just north of downtown sits Belltown, with a transition that isn’t even noticeable, aside from a few less skyscrapers. The eclectic vibe in this neighborhood results from its varied history. Cheap land brought in businesses serving visiting sailors before it became the haunt of artists, musicians and entrepreneurs. Then, a construction boom created density with condominiums and upscale businesses—and the neighborhood continues to change today. Find boutiques, restaurants, bars and clubs in this vibrant area, as well as the Olympic Sculpture Park, which stretches along Elliott Bay.
Possibly the most vibrant and urban neighborhood in the city, Capitol Hill, which sits northeast of downtown on the east side of Interstate 5, is also the historical hub of LGBTQ culture. It was once envisioned as the capital of the state—which ultimately remained in Olympia—and many of the stately houses built for politicians remain. In addition to shopping, dining and nightlife, Capitol Hill is home to Volunteer Park, which has a conservatory and art museum, and the Lake View Cemetery, where many of Seattle’s first families rest.
Pioneer Square, just south of downtown, is one of the oldest neighborhoods in Seattle. Find beautiful, historic buildings filled with art galleries, shops, restaurants, bars, offices and apartments. Besides being the name of the neighborhood, Pioneer Square is also the name of a park at 100 Yesler Way, where you’ll find an iron pergola from 1909, a Tlingit totem pole, a bust of Chief Seattle and turn-of-the-century street lamps. Pioneer Square is also home to Seattle’s famous underground, the sidewalks beneath the city. Created when Seattle rebuilt atop itself after the great fire of 1889, there are a few tour companies that will take guests underground.
From Pioneer Square, the International District sits just southeast. Made up of Chinatown, Japantown and Little Saigon, the streets are filled with the color and smells of authentic shops and restaurants. The rich history of the neighborhood stretches back to the 1880s, when immigrants from across Asia came to Seattle and settled in the area. The International District is home to the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, with multiple exhibits and fantastic guided tours of the neighborhood.
South Lake Union
Home to Amazon.com’s headquarters, this neighborhood, located appropriately at the southern shores of Lake Union, is changing at a rapid pace. In addition to offices, find a variety of restaurants, bars, shopping and attractions. Along the lake, find Lake Union Park, a beautiful, open space with artwork, walking paths, spots to sit and, on warm days, a splash pad. It’s also where you’ll find the Museum of History and Industry and the Center for Wooden Boats, a hands-on maritime museum where you can rent boats to explore Lake Union.
Named for the popularity of the Queen Anne style of home built in this area, this neighborhood is full of restaurants, attractions and beautiful old homes—it’s a good spot for a walk with surprising views all over. There are numerous public staircases all over Queen Anne hill, including the oldest in the city. Because it sits on a hill, there are two business districts. Lower Queen Anne sits at the base of the hill and is also the neighborhood with Seattle Center (home to the Space Needle, EMP Museum, Chihuly Garden and Glass, arts organizations and plenty more), while upper Queen Anne spreads out along the top of the hill.
Established in 1889, Ballard was its own city until residents voted for annexation by Seattle in 1907. The area, on the northwest end of Seattle, prospered because of lumber and shingle mills along the waterfront—the area is bordered by Puget Sound, Shilshole Bay and Salmon Bay. You'll still see vestiges of the Scandinavian heritage around the neighborhood, which feels like a small town in the big city. Ballard has been growing in recent years, creating an influx of new buildings filled with shopping, restaurants and apartments, juxtaposed against the historic buildings with even more shopping, restaurants and nightlife.
South of Phinney Ridge, just west of Aurora Avenue North, you’ll find Fremont, the self-proclaimed “Center of the Universe.” This arty, eclectic neighborhood is home to the Fremont Troll, among other public artworks. It’s also the spot to find Gas Works Park, which sits at the northern end of Lake Union and offers sweeping views of downtown Seattle. Flanked by the popular Burke-Gilman Trail, it’s a busy spot for runners, walkers and bicycle riders. Heading uphill from the water, find plenty of shopping and dining in the busy neighborhood.
Phinney Ridge and Greenwood
On the western side of Aurora Avenue North, is the Woodland Park Zoo, part of the Phinney Ridge neighborhood. Extending north from the zoo, Phinney Ridge has a number of restaurants and bars as well as shopping. It blends right into the Greenwood neighborhood, and the two are sometimes referred to as Phinneywood. Full of families, the neighborhoods are growing, with lots of great food and small businesses. Greenwood is also the home of Taproot Theatre, one of Seattle’s most popular regional theaters.
As the name implies, this neighborhood is home to the University of Washington. Small, independent stores and restaurants have sprung up in the area surrounding campus, which lies along Portage and Union bays. (Husky Stadium overlooks Union Bay and Lake Washington; for a great view, drive across the Highway 520 floating bridge.) The other community anchor is University Village, an outdoor shopping and dining complex just north of the University.
Situated just west of I-5, Green Lake not only has, well, a gorgeous lake and a park (the inside, paved path is 2.8 miles while the outer path is 3.1 miles) but also the nine-hole Green Lake Pitch & Putt, the Seattle Public Theater, the Green Lake Small Craft Center, where you can rent paddleboats, kayaks and the like, and some excellent restaurants and shopping along the eastern side of the lake. At the southern tip of the lake is Woodland Park, with multiple sports fields, a small track and walking paths.
This historic industrial area of town is south of downtown Seattle. Find vintage stores, restaurants and bars, art galleries and more. It’s a creative community with the popular Georgetown Art Attack happening the second Saturday of every month. Georgetown is also home to the iconic Hat and Boots, a gas station-turned-artwork the community saved from destruction, and the Museum of Flight, a fantastic spot to view all kinds of airplanes and artifacts from space flight.
Located on the northeast border of Capitol Hill, just south of the Montlake Cut, Madison Valley is a small neighborhood with gorgeous homes and a main thoroughfare full of independent businesses. Once known as Little France due to the number of French restaurants, it now has a variety of options for delicious dining. Things move at a slightly slower pace than some other Seattle neighborhoods, making this a good spot to come for a bit of relaxation. The largest attraction near the neighborhood is the Washington Park Arboretum, a 230-acre refuge of gardens and walking paths.
Southwest of downtown sits West Seattle, the city’s largest neighborhood. A mix of adorable beach town and typical city neighborhood, there is plenty to do. For one of the prettiest views of the city, head to Alki Beach in West Seattle. For a truly Seattle experience, take the King County Water Taxi to get there. Inland, find another commercial district along California Avenue, full of shopping, dining and nightlife, including Seattle’s beloved record store, Easy Street Records.