Iconic Neighborhoods & Local Favorites: A First Timer’s Guide to Seattle

Seattle — the ideal combination of stunning nature and unique urban landscapes — has adventure waiting around every corner. Nicknamed the “Emerald City”, Seattle truly sparkles with an endless supply of lush, green parks, and surrounded by water. With innovation at its core, this city has given rise to many well-known companies, such as Starbucks, Nordstrom, REI, Microsoft, and Boeing. Visionaries flock to the city for its palpable energy, and new and exciting ventures continuously crop up—from exciting eateries to innovative startups.

Seattle is an expansive city with many neighborhoods that all have distinctive personalities. Exploring a few of them is an excellent way for first timers to experience the city and discover favorite local spots. Below is a four day itinerary that will take you through some of the most iconic areas. When you’re ready for more Seattle recommendations, create a personalized itinerary using your interests and budget on Visit Seattle’s trip planner: mytrip.visitseattle.org.


First Day: Downtown

Courtesy Pike Place Market

Courtesy Pike Place Market

Begin your trip at Pike Place Market, a quintessential Seattle destination that boasts everything from beautiful bouquets of flowers to intricately crafted artisan products. Be sure to watch out for flying fish! The market is famous for its fishmongers who enjoy throwing fresh catches at customers. For breakfast, try a yummy scone at the Crumpet Shop or go for a cup of joe at the Original Starbucks (coffee connoisseurs might opt for these nearby cafes).

Take a walk down the Seattle Waterfront, which is especially breathtaking on a sunny day. Fifteen minutes Northwest of Pike Place Market, you’ll come across striking modern art at the Olympic Sculpture Park, which is not a sight to be missed. If your walk leaves you feeling a bit peckish, then Elliott’s Oyster House or Ivar’s Acres of Clams are both great options to taste some of Seattle’s legendary seafood.

Head back toward Pike Place Market and refresh yourself with a brewski from the Pike Brewing Company, an icon in the Seattle beer scene that sources everything they make locally (right down to the ketchup).

SAM Exterior - Photo: Hayden Campbell

Seattle Art Museum | Photo: Hayden Campbell

After, explore the city’s art scene at the Seattle Art Museum, known locally as “the SAM”. There you will find a large collection of local art as well as special exhibits featuring famous artists from around the world.

For dinner, enjoy a meal at the Steelhead Diner, a distinguished restaurant specializing in American and Cajun cuisine. Then, hit up the downtown nightlife scene, which includes cool music venues and bars such as the The Triple Door and Zig Zag Café.


Second Day: Seattle Center/Queen Anne

Courtesy Chihuly Garden & Glass

Courtesy Chihuly Garden & Glass

For your second day, explore the Seattle Center. Begin the day surrounded by delicate hues at the Chihuly Garden and Glass. Featuring eight galleries and a garden, this exhibit highlights the work of legendary glass blower Dale Chihuly.

For lunch, grab a bite at Skillet Counter, a food truck serving up burgers and other American-inspired grub.

Next, venture to perhaps the most popular Seattle icon, and enjoy a ride up 605 feet in the air. The Space Needle was built in 1962 for the World’s Fair and offers remarkable views of city and surrounding areas. On clear days (which are not as rare as you may think) you can ponder the Olympic and Cascade mountains, including Mount Rainier, and many of Seattle’s surrounding islands.

View from Kerry Park

View from Kerry Park

For another spectacular view, head up to Kerry Park. If you’re looking for the postcard view of Seattle (which includes the Space Needle), then this is definitely the place to go. Capture amazing shots of the Seattle skyline. To take in more of the Olympics and the Puget Sound, take a 10 minute walk West to the lesser-known Marshall Park and Parsons Gardens.

Eat dinner at Toulouse Petit Kitchen & Lounge and let your taste buds soar with flavors of French-Cajun cuisine. This is also a great place to grab a drink. If you enjoy the dive bar scene, then Ozzy’s will definitely be your cup of tea (or should I say glass of beer.) For more of a chic atmosphere, Triumph offers a large selection of wine, cocktails, and food, if you’re still hungry.


Third Day: Capitol Hill

Volunteer Park

Volunteer Park

Spend the first part of your day reveling in a couple of Seattle’s beloved green spaces. Spanning almost 50 acres, Volunteer Park is a wonderful place to go for a run, play tennis, or bask in Northwest beauty.

All of this adventuring may work up an appetite. No need to worry, the Volunteer Park Cafe offers delicious meals, ranging from fresh salads to savory sandwiches.

Resume your exploring at Cal Anderson Park, which was named one of America’s Best City Parks in 2009. Play some outdoor chess and shoot some hoops or just kick back and relax.

Whether you’re a book worm or not, the Elliott Bay Book Company is worth exploration. This full-service book store has over 150,000 titles all placed on cedar shelves.

Starbucks Roastery, Omar Bárcena via Flickr Creative Commons

Starbucks Roastery | Photo: Omar Bárcena via Flickr Creative Commons

Seattle is an international hub for all things coffee and is home to one of the largest coffee companies in the world — Starbucks. For all those coffee lovers, Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room, dubbed the “Willy Wonka factory of coffee”, is a must-see. Take a tour and learn what goes into the intricate process of coffee roasting.

Extreme coffee enthusiasts should also check out some of these other local favorites. For a meal full of Northwest flavor, Sitka & Spruce definitely fits the bill. The menu changes daily, but offers dishes that use fresh ingredients from the Pacific Northwest.

Follow it up with arguably some of the best ice cream in town at Molly Moon’s. Choose from unusual homemade flavors, such as balsamic strawberry and honey lavender.

Capitol Hill’s Nightlife can be as crazy as you want to make it. For somewhere more laid back, Moe Bar has you covered. With $3 wells and $2 Tecate, their Happy Hour is pretty hard to beat. The Unicorn (and downstairs Narwhal) is a spectacle to behold (pro tip: if you have a birthday in your group, let the bartender know for a special surprise). For dancing and music, see what’s happening at Neumos. Break it down at Havana Social Club, or Grim’s.


Fourth Day: Ballard/Fremont

Start your morning off right with a heavenly croissant from Café Besalu. Follow the rich and buttery aromas to this family-owned bakery where you can find a delicious selection of pastries.

Ballard Locks, Yu-Hang Kuo via YouTube Creative Commons

Hiram M. Chittenden Locks | Photo: Yu-Hang Kuo via YouTube Creative Commons

Next, stroll along the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, also known as the Ballard Locks, and watch as ships are raised from sea level up into Lake Washington. Be sure to check out the fish ladder, where you can find salmon that are heading upstream to spawn. The adjacent Carl S. English, Jr. Botanical Gardens are filled with beauty and are definitely worth a visit.

Grab a delicious sandwich from Paseo, a small Cuban eatery that has been voted multiple times as the Best Sandwich in Seattle.

Make sure to save a little room for dessert! Satisfy your sweet tooth with a tour of the Theo Chocolate factory. Sample some of their chocolates and purchase some bars to bring home (though they may be calling your name for the rest of the weekend).

Fremont Troll, Roshan Vyas via Flickr Creative Commons

Fremont Troll | Photo: Roshan Vyas via Flickr Creative Commons

If you’re here on a Sunday, peruse the booths of the Fremont Sunday Market. This funky farmer’s market also includes a flea market/street festival. Nearby you’ll find a legendary and quirky neighborhood resident, the Fremont Troll.

After taking plenty of troll selfies, head over to Fremont Brewing Company for a cold one. Fremont’s nightlife is a blast! Continue bar hopping to 9 Million in Unmarked Bills and Nectar Lounge.

If you have more time in this spectacular city, there are many more neighborhoods to explore, including: the International District, Pioneer Square, Columbia City, Belltown, Greenlake, and more!


Want to find out what else there is to do in Seattle? Make a personalized day-­by­-day itinerary using your interests and budget in moments on the Visit Seattle trip planner!

About the Author

Grace Swanson

Grace Swanson is a Journalism student at the University of Washington and a marketing and PR intern at Utrip, a Seattle-based travel company. In her free time she is a hiking enthusiast, food lover, travel addict, and writer. Grace grew up in the Puget Sound area and loves to share the beauty she continuously discovers while exploring Seattle.

More Posts By Grace Swanson
Grace Swanson


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