To explore the best Seattle has to offer, use this handy guide to plan your next adventure in the Emerald City.
The Air Up There
Set a good foundation for your vacation by getting the lay of the land. The tallest building to do that from is the Columbia Center, whose Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor rises more than 900 feet in the air, giving an unparalleled perspective of the city.
Closer to the ground but with views just as dazzling, Smith Tower opened 103 years ago in Pioneer Square as the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Here it’s about the journey as much as the destination—the original brass elevator that takes you to the Observatory is still manually run by elevator operators.
For a ride that’s even more thrilling, take a spin on the Seattle Great Wheel, which juts out 40 feet beyond the end of Pier 57 on the waterfront.
To go even higher, Kenmore Air’s scenic seaplane tours that leave from Lake Union make quite an impression.
Once you’ve gotten your bearings, add a little history for context. The Museum of History & Industry, better known as MOHAI, tells you everything you need to know about the area’s origins and influence, from a musical presentation on how the Great Seattle Fire started to a display featuring local grunge bands that shot to worldwide fame—perhaps you’ve heard of a little group called Nirvana?
One of the city’s most formative events was the 1962 World’s Fair, which brought us the Seattle Center, the iconic Space Needle and the Monorail, an official historic landmark that still ferries more than 2 million passengers a year.
After you’ve taken a ride, switch to human-powered transport on a walking tour with the Wing Luke Museum. Explore the International District through the eyes of a local, take a special 2.5-hour rice-themed tour or discover Bruce Lee’s Chinatown—where he launched his first martial-arts studio. If you’d like a little caffeine with your stroll, Seattle by Foot offers a Coffee Crawl that will get you up to speed on the java scene’s pioneers and what’s brewing now.
By this point, you've discovered that water plays a major role in Seattle’s history and culture. All those inlets, lakes and bays may make it more difficult to get from point A to point B, but they definitely make it prettier, too.
Get out on the water with Argosy Cruises, which offers narrated sightseeing tours, or hop in an old-fashioned vessel with the Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union, where on Sundays volunteer skippers take visitors out for free.
To watch boats make the switch from saltwater to freshwater or vice versa, head to the Hiram M. Chittenden (aka Ballard) Locks, where the water level can change up to 26 feet as kayaks and big ships alike make the transition.
Only in Seattle
Round out your vacation with some experiences you can only have here. Washington native Dale Chihuly may be known around the world, but there’s no collection of his work as extensive as Chihuly Garden and Glass—a gorgeous museum at Seattle Center dedicated to his glassblowing art.
While libraries are commonplace in every city, design-forward ones like the steel-and-glass Seattle Central Library are not. Don’t miss the views from the 10th floor or the eye-catching corridors on the fourth.
On the quirky end of the spectrum, the Fremont Troll under the Aurora Bridge is a favorite, and yes, that’s a real VW Beetle in his clutched hand.
Catch a Mariners game at beautiful Safeco Field (order the garlic fries), and leave your mark by adding to the Gum Wall in Post Alley, right under Pike Place Market. If you haven’t been to the market yet, it’s the heartbeat of the city and a must for any trip. Buy a one-of-a-kind souvenir, nibble on fresh produce samples, and watch the fish fly.
For guided exploration, take a tour with Savor Seattle to taste some of the market’s highlights including piping-hot cinnamon-sugar donuts, rich macaroni and cheese and incredibly flavorful Greek yogurt.
For one last parting shot, take your camera to Queen Anne’s Kerry Park, which offers a postcard-perfect view of everything you’ve just experienced. You may not be able to pack Seattle in your suitcase but you can certainly take home the memories.