I was hoping to have this post finished before I moved from Seattle, however, with all the packing that was going on, that just wasn’t going to happen. But, better late than never, right?
Despite living in Seattle for nearly three years, I know that I didn’t see or do half of all the cool things in the city. However, from the half of cool things that I did see or do, I thought I would share with you my favorites. And trust me, if you only manage to do a small handful of the things on this list, you will be happy and feel like your Seattle trip was worthwhile. Just click on any of the titles to be directed to a website to learn more about each item. Happy travels!
Probably one of the best things about the city is that you can do so much there for free! This was definitely nice when I had visitors in town and I was trying to stay budget friendly while playing tour guide. Anything on the list that requires an admission will be denoted with a dollar sign ($) next to the name. How much you decide to spend on food or souvenirs is your own business!
Pike Place Market is probably the most notable Seattle attraction after the Space Needle. You can find everything from fresh fish, blooming flowers, handcrafted art, and a million other oddities here. If you decide to go, be sure to visit Pike Place Fish where they notoriously throw the fish through the air, the first Starbucks which is across the street from the market, and grab plenty of free samples of jam, honey, nuts, and oils, vinegars, and tea! I would also advise that you go on the weekend. Although the crowds will be harder to deal with, you’ll find more vendors out and tons of entertaining street performers!
2. Gum Wall
Although the gum wall isn’t exactly hidden, it’s not out in the open and isn’t well publicized, so unfortunately, most Seattle visitors end up missing it. The gum wall is located in an alley that goes under Pike’s Place Market. While some find the gum wall disgusting, I find it fascinating and love picking out other’s artwork in the gum. Plus, if you like the smell of bubblegum, this is one delicious smelling alley! Make sure to bring a quarter so that you can buy a gum ball from the candy dispenser and make your own contribution to the wall!
The troll under the bridge is probably one of the most weirdly unique landmarks to Seattle and should be high on anyone’s list of places to go and see in the city. Everyone always gets a big kick out of it!
Oh, Gasworks, where to even start with you? Gasworks is a park on the north side of Lake Union. It offers up great city views, eccentric landmarks, and a hill devoted entirely to kite flying. My favorite way to enjoy Gasworks is to grab some food from a nearby grocery store and sit on Kite Hill and people watch. It’s the perfect impromptu picnic! If you go on the weekend, be on the look out for nights in armor. Some local LARPers (Live Action Role Players) use the park to practice their dueling skills – complete with swords, shields, and crazy weapons!
5. Alki Beach
Located in West Seattle, Alki Beach is away from the city center and offers great views of both the city and the Olympic mountains to the west. While the beach is great at any time during the day, I would highly suggest visiting late in the afternoon and sticking around to watch the sunset. Beautiful!
Two beaches in the same list? Yes. Golden Gardens Beach is north of the city and is quite different from Alki, necessitating that they both make it onto the list. Golden Gardens is a large park that has equal sandy beaches as it does grassy fields. While you won’t have any city views from this beach, the Olympic mountains provide a pretty nice backdrop. You can also watch the large ships and small sailboats coming in and out of Seattle. Good luck finding parking on a sunny day – I think the entire city of Seattle flocks to this park when the weather’s nice!
7. Ferry to Bainbridge Island ($)
I first got the idea to visit Bainbridge Island after seeing it featured on Giada’s Weekend Getaways. It only costs a few dollars to board the ferry on foot, or you can choose to drive your car straight on to the ship for a little extra moola. The ferry ride only lasts for a half hour and offers great view of the city and Mt. Rainier on a clear day. If travelling by foot, you can walk straight into town Bainbridge and explore the quaint small downtown feel. If you brought your car, a trip to one of the local wineries should be made. Whatever you do, you MUST stop at Bon Bon Confections and try their fudge! If you’re looking for a place to eat, Cafe Nola offers a nice vibe and is where Giada choose to eat when she visited the island!
(photo courtesy of my cousin, Erica – the pretty redhead)
There are two locations within Seattle for Sonic Boom Records – both unique and funky. Stop in to meander through rows upon rows of albums which will bring out the inner Indie person inside you. Check out their website before you visit to see when the next upcoming free in-store performance is. SBR is awesome at getting artists and bands to perform at the actual store. Sometimes the act is a complete unknown or it could be somebody famous that’s giving a free preview show before their actual concert. Such a cool way to immerse yourself into Seattle’s music scene.
I’ll be the first to admit, I was a little underwhelmed the first time I visited Ballard Locks, but mostly because I had no clue what to expect. After going a few times now, I can tell you that what you can expect to see quite a few boats and ships of all sizes passing through the locks, which is the divider point between Lake Union and Puget Sound. There’s also a botanical garden area that can be beautiful when in full bloom. Bring some extra food to feed the birds and this can be a lovely way to pass an hour.
10. The Center of the Universe (also known as Fremont)
If you’ve ever wondered where the center of the universe was, wonder no more. Fremont is the most unique, off-the-wall, artsy, free-spirited place I have ever been to (they actually mark out where the center of the universe is!). Keep your eyes wide open while walking around since you never know who or what you’ll run into on any given day (naked bicyclists, prophets, or just really, really awesome people). Pick up a tourist map for free almost anywhere to make sure that you see all the kooky sites.
(photo courtesy of my friend, Chris)
11. Seattle Library
I know, I know. Who wants to visit a library for fun? But trust me, the Seattle Public Library is anything but boring. It’s a multi-story architectural wonder and comes complete with a gift shop, coffee bar, and modern interior design.
(photos courtesy of Erica)
Seattle has a large Asian population and is sprinkled with Asian influences all over the place. However, to get a more authentic experience, you should pay a visit to Seattle’s International District and check out the Uwajima Asian Grocery and Gift Store. The aisles are filled with Asian food items and products – most of which I’ve never seen before in my life. After you’re done perusing the store, you can check out the food court in the back and find authentic Asian cuisine or just snack on a colorful dessert item.
As the name suggests, Red Light Vintage and Costume is anything but ordinary. Part unique clothing store, part vintage thrift shop, and part costume store, you never know what you might come out of the store with! With the entire top floor dedicated to new clothing and costume items, you are bound to find something you like that will be reasonably priced. Check downstairs for the vintage clothing and dressing rooms where you can have fun with your friends trying on your wacky finds. Both my dress and my cousin’s dress in the photo below are from Red Light.
(photo courtesy of Erica)
Who says the bookstore is a dying breed? Elliot Bay Book Company is a favorite of many locals and has been a fixture in Seattle for many, many years. Just as large as a Barnes & Noble, Elliot Bay manages to hold onto their small, local shop feel. Under dozens of books, you’ll find post-it notes stuck to the shelves with hand written book reviews authored by actual staff members. Once you’ve picked out your reading material, mozey on into the café to find a secluded corner to spend the next few hours reading and sipping on an artfully created latte.
You guys already know my thoughts on this eatery. Cute. Charming. Cozy. Unique. Fun. It’s a little bit off the beaten path, but totally worth a detour for a funky breakfast or lunch experience. Grab a hot or iced coffee to-go on your way out and be sure to give yourself extra time to browse through the adjoining gift shop!
16. Experience Music Project ($)
For anyone who might not know, Jimi Hendrix, the great electric guitar legend, was born and raised in Seattle. At the EMP, explore a whole wing dedicated to him where you can view memorabilia such as some of his costumes, guitars, and hand-written lyrics. You can also learn more about the man by stopping into the small theater where they have performances and interviews playing. If Jimi Hendrix isn’t quite your thing and you’re more of a Kurt Kobain fan, you could instead learn about the history of the Grunge scene which was born right in Seattle. But if you’re really just not one for music history, head up to the top floor where there is a ton of interactive instruments and music equipment for you to let your inner-rockstar out on. This is always a favorite of any small children. And as an added bonus, the price of entry also gives you admission into the adjoining Science Fiction Museum. Don’t be afraid to let your inner nerd come out.
17. Seattle Aquarium ($)
Located along the Puget Sound piers and across the street from Pike’s Market, you’ll find the Seattle Aquarium. Boasting thousands of fish and living sea creatures, this is certainly a fun destination for any families with small children. From getting to touch sea urchins to watching an octopus eat, the aquarium is bound to amaze those of all ages. My personal favorite is the otter exhibit – those things are just darn cute! For the real marine enthusiasts, you can also check into participating in one of the aquarium’s workshops where you can go behind the scenes and even dissect a squid!
Alright, so this isn’t so much of a place rather than an annual event. SeaFair is an exciting month long celebration in July that culminates at the last weekend in July or first weekend in August with a weekend festival along Lake Washington. Main highways close down as almost the entire city crowds the lake’s shores to watch boat races and a stellar air show performance put on by the Blue Angels. If like me, you find yourself more interested in the planes rather than the boats, you can head over to Boeing Field afterwards where you can see the planes up close and personal and even meet a pilot if you’re lucky enough. But you know, whatever floats your boat. (Get it, boat? Haha)
I don’t think I’ve ever mentioned the cream cheese hot dog on here before, but here’s what you need to know: it sounds weird and gross (I know) but it is insanely delicious. Smooth, tangy cream cheese spread on a toasted gourmet bun with a perfectly grilled, juicy dog. I was incredibly skeptical when I first heard of this combo, but am a full-fledged believer now after trying it. To really round out the experience, you should also order your hot dog with grilled onions and then top with some mustard and hot sauce. On a Friday or Saturday night, you will find lines at least 10 people deep – all just waiting for Seattle’s own unique hot dog experience. You can find the street vendor carts in the Pioneer Square distract during the day or in Ballard, Fremont, Belltown, or Pioneer Square at night.
20. Museum of Flight ($)
Most people don’t realize that Seattle is home to one of the largest aviation companies in the world – Boeing. Stop by their Museum of Flight on the south end of the city for a fun learning experience of how the company got its start and grew into the company that it is today. Some fun facts: During World War II the Boeing factory painted an entire town on its roof. This was to throw off any spy planes flying overhead that could possibly be trying to scope out the factory location as a missile target. Another fun fact, during the 1920s, business slowed down to almost a halt. In order to avoid laying people off in the factory, Boeing started producing furniture to keep the business going. While at the museum, make sure you don’t miss viewing the first Air Force One plane across the street!
You’ll notice that the famed Space Needle did not make the list and that was definitely intentional. Although I think it’s cool to see, I think it’s a waste of money to actually go up in it. You can get much better views of the city elsewhere. And trust me, you’ll get enough glimpses of it throughout the city without making a special trip to go see it.
So there you have it, my top 20 recommended things to do and see in Seattle. For those that have been to the city before, do you think that there’s something missing from the list? And for those that haven’t visited Seattle before, tell me something that would make your top 20 list of your town or city!