Explore the city from A to Z. (Courtesy Space Needle)
Deciding what to do in Seattle can be a challenge—theater, museums, attractions, dinners and cocktails quickly fill calendars. Here, a guide to exploring the city in alphabetical order.
Art Museums and Galleries
Seattle’s art scene is beautifully diverse, with museums and galleries showcasing regional, national and international pieces across the city. The largest museum in town is the Seattle Art Museum, with a large permanent collection and rotating exhibits. Also check out the Frye Art Museum, with both permanent and traveling exhibitions and free admission and the Henry Art Gallery, with rotating exhibits of contemporary art. Another fun activity for art lovers is Seattle’s art walks; neighborhoods have monthly evenings of art and community.
The airline company started in Seattle in 1916 is still going strong, and visitors can tour the factory where 747s, 777s and 787 Dreamliners are assembled at the Future of Flight’s Boeing Tour.
Or, see where it all began at the Museum of Flight—the original two-story barn that served as Boeing’s first headquarters was relocated here. Today, tour the barn to see historic exhibits about the company.
This caffeinated beverage is ubiquitous around Seattle. Starbucks began here, and you can visit the original location at Pike Place Market. Beyond that, the city is full of charming coffee shops. Also at the market, Local Color serves Caffe Vita coffee and also displays art and gifts from local artists. The Fremont Coffee Company, in Fremont, is in an old house—enjoy a cup of coffee in one of the many cozy nooks available. One of downtown’s newest coffee shops is Anchorhead Coffee. Find both hot drinks and the company’s cold brew.
In the last few years, distilleries have popped up around Seattle. These spots are creating some fabulous spirits both popular (whiskey, vodka, gin) and more obscure (aquavit, other heritage liqueurs). Many bars around the city feature local spirits in cocktails; be sure to ask what is available. Many distilleries offer tours of their facilities and it’s an interesting way to learn what goes into creating the product.
Stretching along the shores of Seattle from Alki Beach in West Seattle north to West Point in Magnolia, Elliott Bay is a bustling hub of water activity. Many spots throughout the city—from rooftops to sidewalks—provide views of the water, but if you’d like to get out on the bay, options include the King County Water Taxi, which travels from downtown’s waterfront to Alki Beach; Argosy Cruises, with sightseeing options on the bay and beyond; and the Washington State Ferries, with routes to Bainbridge Island or Bremerton that travel across Elliott Bay.
A visit to Seattle isn’t complete without dining on fresh fish. Salmon, cod and more fill dinner plates around the city.
A few good places to investigate for a fish fix include Ivar’s Acres of Clams and Anthony’s Pier 66 on Seattle’s waterfront with great views to accompany dinner; Anchovies & Olives for Italian-inspired seafood; or Etta’s for fresh fish overlooking Pike Place Market.
Seattle is a popular spot for glass art, with a climate friendly toward year-round use of a hot shop.
Chihuly Garden and Glass is the home of celebrated local artist Dale Chihuly’s works, while smaller glassblowing studios such as the Seattle Glassblowing Studio have working hotshops, classes and retail, making them fun spots to visit.
In Tacoma, the Museum of Glass has 13,000-square-feet of gallery space plus a working hotshop with demonstrations.
Hiram M. Chittenden Locks
Connecting the saltwater of Puget Sound to the freshwater of lakes Union and Washington, the Ballard Locks, as they are commonly called, are a fun place to see maritime traffic up close. This National Historic Site is free to visit and open daily from 7 am-9 pm.
Ice cream in winter? In Seattle, yes. It’s a bit of an obsession in this town, with shops serving housemade creations across the city.
Favorites to check out include Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream with unique seasonal flavors and handmade waffle cones, Full Tilt Ice Cream with a variety of flavors in both dairy-full and dairy-free options plus pinball and beer and newcomer Frankie & Jo’s with housemade nut-based ice creams in original flavors.
Seattle has a surprisingly robust jazz scene. If you’re looking to attend a show while in town, peruse the calendar at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, a spot with shows almost nightly; Tula’s Restaurant and Jazz Club, featuring a variety of subgenres in the packed lineup; and Egan’s Ballard Jam House, an intimate venue with mostly weekend shows and inexpensive or no cover charge.
Take a flight on a seaplane for a truly Seattle experience. Kenmore Air, flying seaplanes around the Pacific Northwest since 1946, offers scenic flights from Lake Union. Take to the skies over Seattle, ride along on a flight to the San Juan Islands or even take a day trip or overnight to spots like Victoria, British Columbia.
Seattle’s Lake Union is a busy hub of activity, from sailing and stand-up paddle boarding to bicycling and running.
At the north end of the lake find Gas Works Park, with panoramic views and a large play barn as well as a former gas works plant. On the south end, the busy South Lake Union neighborhood has plenty of dining as well as the Museum of History & Industry. There’s also a six-mile trail around the lake for walking, biking or running.
Seattle is surrounded by mountains—the Olympics sit to the west and the Cascades to the east. Looming over everything is Mount Rainier, visible on clear days to the southwest. There is plenty of mountainous hiking as well as skiing and snowboarding at area resorts including Crystal Mountain, Stevens Pass and The Summit at Snoqualmie.
In 1901, John W. Nordstrom, a Swedish immigrant who made $13,000 at a gold-mine stake in Alaska, founded Wallin & Nordstrom with friend Carl Wallin. This store would eventually become Nordstrom, Inc.
Seattle’s hometown luxury department store’s flagship location has been getting a facelift. In addition to a killer shoe department, find two restaurants, a coffee bar, a cocktail bar, a day spa and, of course, designer clothing for the entire family.
Don’t miss the chance to slurp down fresh oysters while in the Emerald City. There are plenty of spots to enjoy the bivalve mollusks, and favorites include the oyster bar at waterfront spot Elliott’s Oyster House, Seattle’s oldest oyster bar at Pike Place Market, Emmett Watson’s Oyster Bar and in Ballard, The Walrus and the Carpenter.
Pike Place Market
No visit to Seattle is complete without spending a few hours wandering the passageways of Pike Place Market. In addition to fresh produce and seafood, there are artists and crafts vendors as well as a variety of locally owned stores.
Don’t miss Eighth Generation with its selection of Native-made or designed gifts; Chin Music Press, a local indie book publisher and store; and Ventures, a store with locally made goods from artwork to jewelry.
Find a break from the noise and hustle of the city at downtown’s Seattle Central Library. It’s a fascinating building, with plenty of artwork, architectural elements and even a space for rotating art exhibits. Pick up a self-guided tour sheet from an information desk before exploring the blood-red fourth floor, the chartreuse escalators and the unique book spiral.
While Seattle is certainly famous for its rain, the weather doesn’t keep locals indoors. A good raincoat, a pair of boots and a hat are enough to keep you warm despite the drizzle.
Looking to add rain gear to your wardrobe? REI is headquartered in the area, and the massive flagship store is a fun spot to visit, with a huge selection of goods and a climbing wall. Rather invest in an umbrella? Check out Bella Umbrella at Pike Place Market. There’s a selection of both practical and beautiful umbrellas to choose from.
Seattle’s iconic structure opened in 1962 for the World’s Fair. Head to the Observation Deck for a 360-degree view of the city or make a reservation to dine at SkyCity, the Needle’s rotating restaurant. At the base of the Needle find SpaceBase, a large souvenir shop with a large selection of gifts.
Get out and explore—Seattle has plenty of well-maintained trails ready for walking, running and biking.
Green Lake has two trails around the lake. The inner, paved path is 2.8 miles while the outer, gravel path is 3.1 miles. Discovery Park is crisscrossed with trails through the woods, across beaches and around meadows. At 534 acres, the park is huge, but if you’re interested in a loop, the aptly named Loop Trail is 2.8 miles around. Finally, the Burke-Gilman Trail is a massive 27 miles long, stretching from Ballard to Lake Washington and then north to Seattle’s Eastside.
Head to Pioneer Square for this fun tour. The Underground Tour takes you beneath Seattle’s sidewalks in Pioneer Square to the original pedestrian passageways of the neighborhood. Learn how the underground was created after the Great Fire of 1889 as well as stories from Seattle’s rough-and-tumble early years.
Grab some photos for your Instagram account at a few of the best cityscape views around: Kerry Park in Queen Anne overlooks the Space Needle, downtown and Elliott Bay from the north, while Alki Beach has a panoramic view of downtown Seattle across Elliott Bay from the west.
Looking for a climate-controlled option? Sky View Observatory sits on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center and gives visitors a birds-eye view of the city from more than 900 feet in the sky.
In addition to a variety of restaurants (that come with fabulous views), the waterfront is where you’ll find the Seattle Great Wheel, the city’s Ferris wheel that extends over the water. With enclosed gondolas, it’s a comfortable ride year-round.
A new attraction at the waterfront, Wings Over Washington is a “flying theater” that combines video and movement to take visitors through some of Washington’s sites. Also visit Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, a spot that is part museum and part souvenir shop with shrunken heads, a mummy and more.
Hear masters on the xylophone and all other instruments with a concert from the Seattle Symphony. The internationally acclaimed symphony has a full lineup of concerts, from traditional to contemporary shows featuring popular local acts like Sir Mix-a-Lot and Brandi Carlile.
Yakima Valley Wine
East of the Cascades lies Yakima Valley Wine Country, home to more than 50 wineries and the vineyards that sustain them.
While it might not be possible to head east while in town, you can still try the award-winning wines from the region in Woodinville Wine Country, a spot full of tasting rooms just 30 minutes east of Seattle. Don’t miss Airfield Estates or Silver Lake Wines, both Yakima Valley spots with a Woodinville tasting room.
Woodland Park Zoo, located in Seattle’s Phinney Ridge neighborhood, has 92 acres to explore. Exhibits are roughly organized by geographical location, and you can see Humboldt penguins, Malayan tigers, giraffes and more. Don’t miss the Willawong Station, where you can feed Australian parrots or the Molbak’s Butterfly Garden with almost 500 North American butterflies.