Looking for all the must-do things to do in Seattle? Well, I’ve got them for ya!
Seattle is one of my all-time favorite cities. You can’t go wrong with all the green (all that rain really does make the city beautiful), and the amazing views of the surrounding water and mountains. And because it is only a 2 hour flight away from San Francisco, I find myself coming back over and over again – 7 times in 6 years, in fact.
Seattle often gets overlooked because of its reputation as a grey, rainy, and muted city, but I think there is something for everyone to love there. Here are the top 12 things to do in Seattle, along with some of the best tips to make the most of your trip!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase or booking, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.
When to go to Seattle:
Seattle is famous for its gloomy weather and rain. There are only an average of 150 sunny days per year in Seattle. So ok, it does rain a lot in Seattle. However, when they say it rains a lot in Seattle, most of the time, it’s this misty, drizzly type of light rain – there are only an average of 90 days per year with any measurable precipitation. Gloomy grey skies are common here, but that wasn’t much different than being at home, since I live in the foggiest part of San Francisco.
That said, when you happen to be here on one of those 150 sunny days in the year, you can’t complain. The city really is beautiful. The best and most popular time to go to Seattle is in the summer months, specifically June-August. The average highs are comfortably warm in the low to mid 70s Fahrenheit. This is also Seattle’s tourist high season, and pricing for flights and hotels will reflect such. I have also found that May is an excellent time to go – it is starting to warm up at this point, and it is not as crowded or expensive as it is in the summer.
Yes, winters are rainy here, and it can get cold, with highs in the 30s. Snow is rare, but happens on occasion. However, I have been to Seattle in the middle of the winter, and still had a blast here – it is a perfect excuse to leisurely enjoy a cup of coffee in one of Seattle’s many excellent cafes, check out some of their museums, or hang out in a cool bookstore.
How to get to Seattle:
Seattle is served by Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (aka “Sea-Tac”), which offers flights to many major domestic and international destinations. Sea-Tac is located about 13 miles outside of the city. One of the most convenient (and cheapest) ways to get into city center is to take the Link light rail. Once you exit the terminal, go up to the pedestrian bridge connecting it to the parking garage. You will find signs for the Link station here. The Link makes stops in SoDo, the Chinatown/International District, Pioneer Square, University Street, Westlake, and was extended in 2016 to also stop in Capitol Hill and the University District.
The fare is only $3.25 – from the two furthest stops (Sea-Tac to University of Washington), the entire trip takes 44 minutes. It is about 30 minutes from the airport to downtown Seattle. Trains run every 15 minutes from about 5am to midnight (with service starting later on the weekends). For schedules, see here.
You can also get to Seattle via train, which can be a great, scenic option if you want to explore other Pacific Northwest cities. Seattle is a stop on the Amtrak Cascades route, which continues north to Vancouver, and to Portland in the south. The trip takes about 4 hours in either direction. It is also the terminal of the Amtrak Coast Starlight route, which starts in Los Angeles.
You can also take Bolt Bus from Portland – the trip takes about 4 hours (depending on traffic), and you can find fares as cheap as $1, depending on when you book!
Seattle is also a popular port city for Alaskan cruises.
How to get around in Seattle
My favorite way to get around in Seattle is simply to walk – many of the city’s most popular tourist attractions are located within walking distance of each other. I’ve walked from Belltown to Capitol Hill, which generally covers many of the spots on this list – it’s a long walk, but it’s doable! Seattle is apparently known as a city with hills. This notion seemed ridiculous to me, since I live in San Francisco, and THAT is definitely a city with hills. The hills in Seattle are definitely not as monstrous as the ones in San Francisco, but there are definitely some mini hills all throughout the city. It gives you a workout after consuming all the delicious food here (my favorite reason for visiting the city)!
If your feet get too tired, or the weather just sucks, or you just don’t care to walk, there are a few options for getting around. Seattle has a relatively well-connected and easy-to-use public transportation system. The Link light rail has numerous stops in the city that are near several points of interest- SoDo, Stadiums, Chinatown/International District, Pioneer Square, University Street, Westlake, Capitol Hill, and University of Washington.
Westlake is one of the main transit hubs in town. From here, you can hop on a monorail to Seattle Center, or take a streetcar to South Lake Union (there is another route that serves Pioneer Square, International District, Capitol Hill, and First Hill). You can also take one of many bus lines here that will get you out of the main downtown area. There are also express buses that will get you to points of interest in Ballard and West Seattle. You can also easily get to Belltown, Capitol Hill, Fremont, and the University District from here.
You can get an all-day transit pass for $8, which covers all transit options except the monorail and ferry – however, you will have to also purchase the ORCA transit card. Off-peak bus/streetcar fare is $2.25 across all zones; during peak commuter hours, that goes up to $2.50 for travel within one zone, or $3 across two zones. For routes and more information, check out the King County Metro site.
Seattle is also served by Uber and Lyft, which is another convenient way to get around. Fares are relatively cheap compared to other major cities (i.e. Seattle and San Francisco). This is the best way to get around late at night.
You can also drive, but it is more of a hassle in the central parts of Seattle. However, if you want to take advantage of some of the great outdoor activities available just outside of Seattle (i.e. Mt. Rainier), you will need to have a car.
WHERE TO STAY IN SEATTLE
There are many accommodation options in Seattle to suit any style, taste, and budget. You can also find options in several different neighborhoods, depending on what you’re looking for.
In terms of convenience, I recommend staying relatively close to downtown Seattle. This is where you will find the largest concentration of hotels, and transit options are very easy and convenient. It is also a great starting point for walking throughout the city. Belltown, lower Queen Anne, and Capitol Hill are also ideal neighborhoods to stay in that are relatively central, and both offer an endless array of great dining and nightlife options.
For a more local experience, you can opt to stay in Ballard, Fremont, or the University District, which also has great hotel options.
Here are some of my picks for recommended hotels, based on price point:
Of these I have stayed at the Moore Hotel, the Ace Hotel, and Hotel Max. The Moore is a great value – and you can’t beat the location. It is less than a 5 minute walk from the Westlake station, making it super easy when you get in from Sea-Tac, and it is only a few short blocks from Pike Place, making it an ideal starting point for all your Seattle adventures. It is very basic, but it is clean and a great place to stay, especially if all you need is a place to rest your head at night.
I’ve always been a fan of the Ace brand, so I had to stay at the one in Seattle. It is in true Ace fashion, a super hipster chic place to stay. I didn’t find the Seattle location to be as hip and stylish at the other ones I’ve been at, but it is still a fun place to stay. The Belltown location is convenient, and also a great starting point – and the neighborhood is super fun with lots of great dining and nightlife options.
Hotel Max is a fun, funky boutique hotel with a bit of attitude. It is inspired by the local music scene – they even have a room dedicated to Sub Pop, which is Seattle’s very own iconic indie music label! They also put an emphasis on art, so you’ll see some great art displayed in the lobby, including an iconic Warhol Campbell’s soup can piece. The best part of staying at Hotel Max? They have a craft beer happy hour in the lobby every day, featuring some of Seattle’s best craft brews (in my opinion, the BEST reason to stay there)!
I’ve also stayed in Airbnbs in Seattle,. Staying in an Airbnb is great if you want more of a local experience. They also tend to be cheaper than staying in a hotel (I find that hotel rates in Seattle tend to be on the higher side). You can use this link to get $40 off your first stay.
WHAT TO BRING TO SEATTLE:
A jacket: As I mentioned earlier, the Pacific Northwest region, and especially Seattle has the reputation for being rainy. While most of the time, that just means it’s kinda misty and drizzly, sometimes it does pour. To be prepared, I’d pack a lightweight, packable jacket that you can roll it up and keep in your bag! I would recommend something like this one for women, and this one for men.
An umbrella: And, speaking of the rain – an umbrella is a must at all times, except in the summer! Be prepared with a collapsible travel umbrella like this one!
Comfortable shoes or boots: You will want to wear comfortable shoes during your stay in Seattle you will probably be walking a lot! The city is actually more hilly that you would think it is, so you will definitely want a pair of comfortable shoes. Getting cute but comfy flats like these or these are a must as you explore the city!
In the winter, you’ll want boots that keep you warm and dry, because again, rain (and sometimes even snow). These boots are a must for me every day in the winter, both at home and when I’m traveling – they will help your feet stay comfy, dry, and warm as you walk around the city all day!
A power bank + adapter: You’ll want to stay connected as you explore Seattle (and document all your memories!) and this power bank will help ensure that your phone never runs out of juice! I never leave home without mine, and it is a MUST on every single trip that I take – both in the US and internationally! If you’re from abroad, you may also need a power adapter to charge your devices – I always travel with this one.
THINGS YOU MUST DO IN SEATTLE
1. Eat your way through Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is one of the oldest continuously operating Farmers’ Markets in the United States and is an absolute foodie haven. You can find hundreds of produce stands, butchers, bakeries, seafood markets, flower vendors, craftspeople, and specialty food stores in this 9 acre historical district. I just love browsing the stalls and sampling ALLLLLL the food on my own, but if you want some insight into the history and significance of the market, you can also take a guided walking tour.
It is also home to the original Starbucks location, as well as 80 restaurants. It is also famous for fishmongers throwing fish upon purchase (you will see a crowd hovered around the Pike Place Fish Company, just waiting for this to happen). Bring your stomach – there is so much to feast upon here.
Some of my favorites at Pike Place: clam chowder at Pike Place Chowder, macarons at Le Panier bakery, piroshkys (a Russian pastry) at Piroshky Piroshky, chocolate covered cherries at Chukar Cherries, mac and cheese at Beecher’s, ginger beer (including a ginger beer-based cocktails and boozy floats) at Rachel’s Ginger Beer, donuts at Daily Dozen, and the gum wall (scroll down for more on that).
Need more inspiration on what to eat and drink in Seattle? Check out this post!
2. Go up the Space Needle
Originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the iconic Space Needle is considered a symbol of Seattle today. It is definitely one of the most touristy things you can do in Seattle, but I think it is something that is well worth it if you get lucky and are in Seattle when it’s super nice and clear out. I haven’t been up on a grey and gloomy day, so I can’t say if it’s worth paying to go up there when you can’t see as much, but I would say that it is a quintessential Seattle experience, and one you should do at least once to say you did it.
Enjoy sweeping views of the downtown Seattle, Puget Sound, Lake Union, the surrounding islands, and the Olympic and Cascade mountains. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Rainier, looking as majestic as ever.
Pro tip: You can buy a day/night ticket to see the views both in light and dark. I discovered (on accident) that the best time to go, is right before sunset – then you get both daytime and nighttime views, even with general admission. Keep in mind that there can be a line, so if you choose to do it this way, allow ample time to get to the top at the ideal time!
3. Admire the glass art at Chihuly Garden and Glass
You may recognize Seattle area native Dale Chihuly’s renowned glass sculptures – one of his most famous works is in the lobby of the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. At Chihuly Garden and Glass, you can admire Chihuly’s works in all its glory. The long-term exhibition at the Seattle Center features a gallery, a garden, and a glasshouse, featuring an incredible 100-foot ceiling sculpture that creates a unique view of the neighboring Space Needle. Chihuly’s works are truly breathtaking, and you also learn more about the artist’s life and works. It is definitely a one of the best things to do in Seattle, and one I never get tired of. There is also a night/dark combo ticket to see how the look of the glass changes
Get admission to both the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass here.
4. Spend time on the water
Seattle is surrounded by water, and some of the best ways to see the city are from a boat. You can go about this in several ways. One option is to rent a boat or kayak. Another is to take a ferry to one of the surrounding islands. Bainbridge Island, Vashon, and Bremerton are great options for a day trip to get away from the city, and spend some time on the water. You can also take a water taxi to beachy West Seattle.
You can also take a waterfront cruise around Elliott Bay, for spectacular views of the Seattle waterfront, and skyline, and the bay. Another option for is a cruise around Lake Union and Portage Bay, also offering sweeping views of the skyline, and a look into Seattle’s unique floating homes community. This cruise is one of the very few ways you can get to see the floating house that was featured Sleepless in Seattle (which still makes me swoon after all these years), which was kinda my original motivation for doing it. Any of these cruises are also a great way to relax and rest your feet after a long day(s) of sightseeing, while also getting to see the city in a unique way.
5. Snap a photo of the view from Kerry Park
Ever wonder where to get that postcard shot of the Seattle skyline with the Space Needle in the foreground from? This is the spot. Located on top of a hill in Queen Anne, you really cannot go wrong with the view here – it is picture perfect and quintessential Seattle. This is one of the best photo ops in town! Grab your camera, admire the view, and snap a bunch of photos. On a clear day, you can also see Mt. Rainier peek through, making the view even more perfect. Definitely one of the best things to do in Seattle.
6. Say hi to the Fremont Troll
Located under the Aurora Bridge in Fremont, the Fremont Troll is a public art piece that was built in 1990 as the winner of a competition to rehabilitate the area under the bridge. The piece has its roots in Scandinavian folklore. He’s a bit strange, but he’s also cool (and HUGE), and you should definitely go say hi to him!
7. Hang out at Gas Works Park
Gas Works Park is built on the site of an old coal gasification plant of the Seattle Gas Light company. It houses numerous remnants of the plant, which provided gas for energy to the city of Seattle for 50 years, and is the sole remaining coal gasification plant in the United States.
It also has lots of grass hills and incredible views of Lake Union and the Seattle skyline. It also hosts various events and festivals, and you can find lots of people picnicking and flying kites here on a sunny day. Definitely a cool, unique park to check out.
8. Spend some time at the library
The Central Library location of the Seattle Public Library is an architectural spectacle that is definitely worth a visit. It will definitely be one of the beautiful and most architecturally unique libraries you’ll ever see in your life. The 11-story steel and glass buildings have won numerous awards. The facilities were created to redefine the traditional library experience and transform it into a modern day “information store” that presents all media forms, not just books, equally and legibly. Take a self-guided tour around the facility, sit and read some books (there are several reading rooms), or just stop by to enjoy the view from the 10th floor viewpoint – whatever you do, you can’t miss seeing the unique details of the architecture here.
9. Take a walk at Olympic Sculpture Park
The Olympic Sculpture Park is a 9-acre sculpture museum and park owned and operated Seattle Art Museum. It features both permanent and visiting installations, and offers gorgeous views of the surrounding water and mountains. It’s got the perfect combination of unique art, open green spaces, and beautiful waterfront views. Perfect for a leisurely walk, and for experiencing the unique art and natural landscape of the area. This is another one of those places I have to stop by every time I’m in Seattle, to take a walk, breathe in the fresh air, and contemplate life (or something like that). It is definitely one of my favorite things to do in Seattle.
10. Admire the views on the waterfront
Okay, so the Seattle waterfront may be overrun with tourists and full of kitschy souvenir shops and mediocre restaurants – but you can’t beat those city and bay views from here. My personal favorite viewpoint is from Pier 69 (pictured above).
From there, keep walking south on Alaskan Way. You can also go for a ride around the Seattle Great Wheel, which is the tallest Ferris Wheel on the west coast and offers panoramic views of the city and Elliott Bay.
11. Take a photo in front of the gum wall
The gum wall is located in front of the theater in Post Alley in Pike Place. It is one of two such walls in the United States (the other one is in San Luis Obispo, CA), and considered to be the second germiest attraction in the world. It started when theater patrons started sticking their gum to the wall; no matter how many times it was cleaned off, the tradition seemed to stick (pun intended, haha). In 1999, it was declared a tourist attraction, and all efforts to clean off the gum stopped…that is until November 2015, when over 2000 pounds of gum were scraped off.
I never really know whether I should be super grossed out by it, or super fascinated by it, but I do still stop by here every time I’m in town to snap a photo in front of it. I just couldn’t bring myself to add my own piece of gum on the wall (even though I’m blowing bubbles here) because….come on guys, that’s, like, REALLY gross.
12. Check out the locks in Ballard
Also known as the Hiram M. Chittaden Locks, this series of locks lowers the water levels of the freshwater Lake Union and Lake Washington, and reverses the river flow, and levels it off with the water levels of the sea water of Elliott Bay. It handles the most boat traffic out of any lock in the United States, and is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Seattle. You can watch the boats pass through, watch the fish go up the fish ladder, or explore the surround park and gardens. Or, for a unique experience, you can take a boat tour that actually goes through the locks.
Have you been to Seattle? What are your favorite things to do there?
Want to read more about Seattle? Check out the most Instagrammable places in Seattle!
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links. This means that if you make a purchase or booking, I may receive a small commission at no additional cost to you.