In no way is this a comprehensive list of all the absolutely singular experiences to be had in Seattle, but it’s a start. Let’s go!
Open year-round, this is Seattle’s most iconic attraction — and it’s filled with tasty treats. There’s so much to love about Pike Place Market. Aisles of gleaming fruits and vegetables, tables overflowing with fresh floral bouquets, and booth after booth selling all manner of locally made jewelry, clothing and gifts. It’s also a great place to enjoy many fantastic eateries serving prepared dishes. When you’re not sure what kind of food you’re in the mood to eat, just head to Pike Place Market and sample a little of everything or hop on one of several market tours that focus on food, history, or a little of both. There’s also the whole fish-throwing thing, too.
Located in downtown Seattle on the corner of First and Union, the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) presents items from its collection as well as traveling exhibits. If you’re exploring the permanent collection, you’ll want to see the Native & Meso-American collection with works by the area’s original inhabitants. Other highlights include contemporary works by Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol; European masterpieces of portraiture and sculpture; and Asian pieces dating back to the second century. The Seattle Asian Art Museum, in Volunteer Park, features noteworthy collections of Chinese, Korean, and Southeast Asian art, and its Japanese art collection is among the most distinguished outside of Japan.
One of the best free attractions in Seattle, the Olympic Sculpture Park is open year-round and features sculptures from artists such as Richard Serra, Alexander Calder, Mark di Suvero and Louise Bourgeois. It is located in a former industrial site, and the grounds make use of many native plants as well as eco-friendly features such as rainwater collection systems and a salmon habitat. A z-shaped path cuts through vast expanses and grassy meadows, connecting with beach-side trails and bicycle paths.
Both an architectural masterwork and a functional library, the Seattle Central Public Library stands as a testimonial to Seattle’s progressive, informed nature. Nearly 10,000 panes of glass fused with over 4,500 tons of steel make this sustainable building a standout for locals and tourists alike. But don’t just admire it from the outside; for wide interior vistas and eye-popping spaces, you’ll want to treat yourself to a self-guided cell phone tour of the building’s highlights by dialing 206.686.8564. Maybe even check out a book!
Head south of the downtown core, just east of Pioneer Square and you’ll discover Seattle’s International District, rich with authentic eats, captivating cultural experiences and intriguing shopping. Shaped by the many Asian cultures that have settled in this part of town over the past 100 years, the ID has grown to be one of Seattle’s most diverse and vibrant communities. Today, the neighborhood is thriving with an array of flavorful Asian cuisines, myriad shops selling everything from fresh fish to traditional herbs, and cool cultural festivals—like Dragon Fest and the Night Market & Autumn Moon Festival—throughout the year. Learn more about the District in the Asian American Heritage Guide to Seattle.
Welcome to the birthplace of Seattle. Laying claim as the city’s “first neighborhood,” Pioneer Square is a richly historic place known for its Renaissance Revival architecture, First Thursday art walks, night life, delicious lunch spots, and quirky boutiques. Explore the depth and beauty of Seattle’s first historic district, and even go below the city streets for an underground tour to visualize Seattle as it once was in its gold rush days.
For a view of the Seattle skyline that simply cannot be beat, head up the south side of Queen Anne Hill to the city’s most well-known lookout, Kerry Park. A photo from here is postcard-perfect with ferries crossing Elliott Bay, the city skyline with the Space Needle in the forefront and, if weather conditions are favorable, a fantastic view of Mt. Rainier.
Welcome to the homes of our biggest professional sports teams. Football fans from both this nation and abroad will admire the open-air CenturyLink Field, where you’ll find the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks (NFL) playing in the fall and winter. In the spring and summer, raise your scarves for the Seattle Sounders FC (MLS), the team that earned Seattle the title of “Soccer City USA”. Just south of CenturyLink Field, the Seattle Mariners circle the bases each season in their quest for World Series glory at Safeco Field. Fan tours are available at both facilities, so head on down and give it up for the blue and green!
(Temporarily closed for renovations through Fall 2015) Once the tallest building west of the Mississippi, the Smith Tower has offered Seattle’s best views to the public for over 100 years. Elevator operators whisk visitors in an old-fashioned copper and brass elevator car to the 35th floor where you’ll step into the past as you enter the historic Chinese Room. Enjoy the sights of Seattle from inside or outside on the Observation Deck that provides 360° views of the city.
From every angle you’ll see the best of Seattle, including the Space Needle, Great Wheel, Columbia Center, sports stadiums, Pioneer Square, the International District, as well as our natural surroundings, including Mount Rainier, the Cascade Mountains, the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound.
(Note: the Chinese Room and Observation Deck are temporarily closed for renovations through Fall 2015. Please plan accordingly.)
A unique area of the city located along Alaskan Way, the Seattle Waterfront is active year-round. With dozens of paths, piers and public spaces, it’s always a great place to relax and enjoy a little people-watching as you absorb the local scene. Check out the stores in Miner’s Landing for gifts and souvenirs and grab a table at one of the well-known seafood joints for a Seattle-style dinner. The Waterfront is also a popular jumping-off point for water excursions in Elliott Bay and beyond. The Water Taxi to West Seattle leaves from Pier 50, Washington State Ferries depart for Bremerton and Bainbridge Island from Pier 52, and Argosy Cruises launch harbor and dinner cruises from Pier 59. Looking to go farther afield? Cruise ship passengers keep Pier 66 busy throughout the summer months and international travelers depart for Victoria, B.C. aboard Clipper Vacations at Pier 69.
(Note: portions of the Seattle Waterfront are temporarily closed for improvements through July 2015. Please plan accordingly.)
The Washington State Ferry system is the largest in the U.S., carrying more than 23 million passengers each year aboard 28 vessels operating from 20 terminals. From the Seattle Waterfront, ferries carrying up to 2,500 passengers and 202 automobiles travel to and from Bremerton on the Olympic Peninsula (60 minutes one way) and Bainbridge Island (35 minutes one way). Both routes offer panoramic views of the Seattle skyline and harbor and visitors often jump aboard for quick cross-sound sightseeing trips.
The Seattle Aquarium features a stunning 40-foot, 55,000-lb. viewing window that looks into a 120,000-gallon aquarium filled with salmon, colorful rockfish, vibrant sea anemones, and other native Washington marine life. Three times a day, divers take to the waters wearing specialized masks that allow them to interact with and answer questions from the audience. Other exhibits include two touching tide pools filled with sea anemones and sunflower sea star, a pacific coral reef exhibit, marine mammals and an underwater dome, the aquarium’s largest exhibit. The aquarium is located on Seattle’s waterfront at Pier 59.
The Seattle Waterfront’s newest attraction, the Seattle Great Wheel sits 175 feet above Pier 57 and extending nearly 40 feet over Elliott Bay. A view from the top offers sweeping panoramas of the city skyline as well as Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains beyond. Each of the gondolas is fully enclosed and climate controlled to allow for year-round riding, regardless of the weather.
One of Seattle’s treasures is an enormous, beautiful lake smack-dab in the middle of the city – and there’s no better way to discover the sights and sounds of Lake Union than by kayak (or maybe a stand-up paddle board, a.k.a. SUP). Rent your boat or SUP from Moss Bay (located along Lake Union’s south end) or the Northwest Outdoor Center (found along the lake’s west edge) and find yourself immersed what it means to be in Seattle. With seaplanes taking off and landing in the lake’s center, houseboats (including the world-famous “Sleepless in Seattle” houseboat) flanking the lake’s edges, and watercraft of all sizes in every direction, it’s a maritime dream come true.
Whether you’re looking for an incredible “flightseeing” experience or an island-hopping excursion, Seattle’s seaplanes are the ticket to an unforgettable adventure. Kenmore Air, which began their Seattle operation in 1946, is one of the oldest and largest sea plane operators in the world with a fleet of 25 aircraft. Take a seat on one of their regularly scheduled flights between Seattle and Victoria, B.C. (just one hour flight time!), or to Friday Harbor and other points in the San Juan Islands, Olympic Peninsula and British Columbia’s Gulf Islands. Charters, fishing trips and other packages including a 20 minute Seattle “flightseeing” excursion are popular offerings as well.
Seattle Seaplanes offers more options to lift off from Lake Union, including year-around sightseeing flights and “dinner flights” to popular restaurants and resorts in the San Juan Islands, Victoria, B.C., Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula and the towns of Port Ludlow, Port Hadlock and Poulsbo on the Kitsap Peninsula. Charters, special occasion flights and flight instruction are also available.
From its humble beginnings in 1911, the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) has grown into the largest private heritage organization in the State of Washington with a collection of over 4 million objects, documents, and photographs from the Puget Sound region’s past. MOHAI uses these artifacts along with cutting edge, hands-on interactive experiences to make history come alive through the unforgettable stories of the men and women who built Seattle from wilderness to world-class city. In addition to museum exhibits, MOHAI hosts a variety of award-winning youth and adult public programs and consistently collaborates with community partners on local events and activities. Ultimately, MOHAI strives to connect individuals with the region’s rich history and inspire them to continue to make the community a strong, vibrant, and sustainable place for all to enjoy.
Hop aboard the Seattle Center Monorail for the 2-minute ride of a lifetime! A Seattle icon since its futuristic debut at the 1962 World’s Fair, our Monorail carries roughly 2 million passengers between Westlake Center and Seattle Center each year. A great option for shuttling between the downtown shopping core and the many attractions at Seattle Center, the Seattle Center Monorail is a fun and retro way to go!
Most definitely a bucket list item for many, the Space Needle is certainly Seattle’s most iconic structure. Journey skyward for amazing views, fine dining and an experience you’ll never forget. At a height of 605 feet, the Space Needle boasts fabulous 360 degree views that include Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound, the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, the beautiful city of Seattle and beyond.
Located at Seattle Center in an absolutely stunning building designed by renowned architect Frank O. Gehry, EMP Museum is dedicated to the ideas and risk-taking that fuel contemporary popular culture. With its roots in rock ‘n’ roll, EMP serves as a gateway museum, reaching young and old through its collections, exhibitions, and educational programs, using interactive technologies to engage visitors. Here you can discover the influential history of Nirvana, tap into Jimi Hendrix’s Seattle roots, and even pick up the instruments of your choice in their state-of-the-art interactive Sound Lab and discover your own Seattle sound. Count me off! 1, 2, 3, 4!
With five buildings of hands-on science exhibits, a delightful and informative tropical Butterfly House, two IMAX® theaters (one with IMAX® 3D technology), laser light shows and a planetarium, Pacific Science Center is one of the city’s gems that is perfect for all ages. First serving as the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair’s U.S. Science Pavilion, the Science Center was designed by Seattle-born architect Minoru Yamasaki, including the towering Gothic arches and court of reflecting pools that make the museum part sanctuary, part educational oasis.
Located just beneath the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass traces the art and career of world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. The centerpiece of Chihuly Garden and Glass is certainly the Glasshouse. A 40-foot tall, glass and steel structure covering 4,500 square feet of light-filled space containing an expansive 100-foot long sculpture in a color palette of reds, oranges, yellows and amber. Made of many individual elements, it is one of Chihuly’s largest suspended sculptures. The perception of the artwork varies greatly with natural light and as the day fades into night.
Long acclaimed for its outstanding Balanchine repertoire, Pacific Northwest Ballet (PNB) is equally noted for its contemporary edge and regularly electrifies audiences with new works. Widely recognized as one of the country’s premiere regional dance companies, PNB delights audiences under the artistic leadership of Peter Boal, a well-regarded former dancer with a distinguished 22 year career with the New York City Ballet. The sheer brilliance of the choreographers and dancers will leave you captivated.
Quack, laugh and learn as wacky Coast Guard certified Captains take you on a one-of-a-kind tour on Ride the Ducks of Seattle. See the waterfront, Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market and the downtown shopping district before you SPLASH into Lake Union. It’s a party on wheels that floats, but it is also highly informational, allowing riders to soak up trivia about Seattle’s history along the way. This amphibious land/water tour is great for all ages, so grab your Quacker and hop aboard!
As the longtime home of major airline manufacturing companies, Seattle is no stranger to the miracle of flight. Little wonder that one of the finest aviation museums in the nation is located here. More than 150 historic artifacts are on display at the Museum of Flight, including the legendary SR-71 Blackbird (capable of speeds up to Mach 3 and altitudes above 85,000 feet), an original Concorde jetliner and the actual 707 jet used as Air Force One during the ’50s, ’60s and early ’70s. Many of the exhibits are hands-on and perfect for kids, including flight simulators, a control tower and the Kid’s Flight Zone, where they can strap on flight gear and test their piloting skills.
Not everyone knows it, but wine country is just a stone’s throw from Seattle. Just 30 minutes outside the city, Woodinville is home to dozens of local wineries, cellars and tasting rooms where visitors can sip varietals from across the state. Among the world class wineries, you will find award-winning cuisine, beautiful mountain vistas and miles of walking and biking trails. Several tour operators offer guided tasting excursions to Woodinville, leaving from Downtown Seattle, so you can sip and enjoy safely all day long.
There is only one place in Seattle where you’ll get a chance to set eyes on a chuckwalla, a wallaroo and a kookaburra. Or maybe you’re looking for a sloth bear, a green acouchi or a prehensile-tailed porcupine. No matter what kind of creature you’re crazy to see, the Woodland Park Zoo is the place to go when you want a glimpse of exotic wildlife. It also features award-winning exhibits such as the Northern Trails, which focuses on animals of the Northwest, Western Canada and Alaska, and the Trail of Vines, a stellar primate showcase.