Last updated on November 12, 2019
We like to do stuff. Theater, art, museums, just walking around. And I like to be a tour guide. When friends come to town I often volunteer to be their tour guide around town. Here’s the stuff (working from the heart of the city out) I wouldn’t miss if you have time.
There's a map at the bottom of this page so just scroll down to see where everything is.
On Tuesday, June 19, 2018 the Seattle Times ran a front page article that the first place to visit when you come to Seattle is the Columbia Tower, Seattle's tallest building. Read the article for yourself by clicking here and decide. We still have not been there but will report as soon as we do.
Pike Place Market. That’s where to start. Just spend the morning walking around. Weekends are best but weekdays will be less crowded. It’s the place that everyone wants to go. No one we have ever taken there buys stuff (well maybe some trinkets) but not a lot else. If I lived closer to downtown I would buy all my vegetables there. Make sure to have your pictures taken with the Rachel the Pig, the market’s official mascot. Then right behind Rachel you’ll see the famous Pike Place fish tossers. You have to have heard of them. Just hang out long enough and they’ll start tossing. You can also see the original Starbucks as well as find about a gazillion places for a quick lunch.
We recently (March 2017) took a superb food tour with Savor Seattle Tours. They have numerous tours but I chose Bites and Booze, a chance to sample food and cocktails at five downtown establishments within a 10 minute walk of Pike Place Market. We loved it and highly recommend it. They have numerous other tours you can try as well. UPDATE: We took another Savor Seattle Tour. Here is what I put on Trip Adviser about that one:
We had previously taken a tour with Savor Seattle and had Justin as our guide. Since they have many different tours, when friends were coming from the UK we decided to take them on a Pike Place Market tour and this time wound up with Judson as our guide. We really didn't think we could get any better than Justin, but Judson proved us wrong.
Tour started in the Market Theatre behind the Gum Wall and our first stop was Daily Dozen Donuts. Not incredible but certainly OK. Kind of wasted calories as they are just donuts. Then on to Ellenos Greek Yogurt and WOW! I could eat there all day. Great samples. This was followed by Pike Place Chowder (really delicious), Chukar Cherry (so good we went back and bought some more), Beecher's Cheese (my favorite of the day...got cheese curds, Flagship cheddar and OMG--Mac and Cheese), Piroshky-Piroshky (yummy) and finished up at a Tom Douglas joint, Ettas (great for seafood).
All I can say is that we had a TON of food (don't eat breakfast or make plans for dinner), learned a bunch about the Market (we live here and have been there hundreds of times) that we didn't know and were thoroughly entertained and fed.
We can't wait to go back and do another tour with Savor Seattle. Judson...and Justin are both super. PS: You get a bunch of freebies too.
We can't say enough good things about Savor Seattle. Just superb tours.
The Pioneer Square area is a bit of a walk from downtown hotels but it is where Seattle got started. Do the Underground Tour. (It takes about 90 minutes and can be a lot of fun if you are into history. I did it in July 2011 with my brother and his family and it was a good time. Good tour guides and lots of corny jokes. A great gift shop at the end where you can find almost anything Seattle. Another thing to do in Pioneer Square is go to the top of the Smith Tower. We did this last spring on an architectural tour of downtown called Lions, Tigers and Bears led by the Seattle Architecture Foundation. (They offer a bunch of great tours if you want to know something about the architecture and history of downtown–click here).
But you don’t have to be on a tour to go to the top of Smith Tower. They have a great observation deck and the price is about half of the cost of going up the Space Needle and you get a view from the other end of town. In fact the view is almost better depending what your interests are as you can look directly down into both stadiums and out to Elliott Bay.
Another thing that many people may not realize is that parts of downtown are part of a National Park. At the corner of 2nd Avenue and Jackson Street you will find the Klondike Gold Rush National Park. Yup, just like Zion, Yellowstone or Yosemite, we have a National Park right in the middle of the city. Now, there are no entrance fees, gates or any other normal National Park stuff but they do have some great exhibits, maps and lots of rangers to help enhance your visit to Seattle.
If you are a sports fan, just south of Pioneer Square is the SoDo (South of Downtown) Neighborhood. Here you’ll find Century Link Field, home of the Super Bowl Champion Seattle Seahawks and Sounders FC Soccer team and one of my favorite places in the city, Safeco Field, home of my beloved (but heartbreaking) Seattle Mariners. Both stadiums offer a great stadium tour all year long. I have to admit that I have not done the Century Link tour but I have heard good things. We have done the Safeco tour and it was great. See all the backstage stuff. And if you are lucky enough to see a game with any of those teams go for it. They may not all be winning games but the stadiums are beautiful. I have been to a number of major league ballparks and Safeco is gorgeous. Century Link (at game time) is known as being the loudest place in the world. The crowd once registered on the University of Washington seismograph.
If you want to catch a game at either stadium, a great way to get last minute tickets is on your phone. Grab the GameTime app and put in Seattle and you will see tickets to all our local venues at great prices. If it isn't a Yankee or Blue Jay (the Canadians come down in in droves) game then you will find great tickets at great prices. I use this app all the time and it is great. The ticket is on your phone and have never had a problem getting into Safeco.
The Seattle Art Museum is wonderful. We have been members off and on for years. It was the first place I ever took Kathleen after we met. You can do the entire museum in under two hours unless they have a big traveling exhibit. We have seen exhibits of Edward Hopper paintings, DaVinci’s codex, Picasso and more. Click the link to see what is there now.
Down by the water(front)
The Olympic Sculpture Park is near the water and is wonderful--and free. You can walk through the entire park and marvel at not only the sculptures but all of Elliott Bay as you do. A truly great day if you have good weather.
The Sculpture Park is a great way to get down to the Seattle Waterfront. You wind your way back and forth through the Sculpture park and take a leisurely, not-too-steep ramble and wind up at one end of the Elliott Bay waterfront, right next to the Edgewater Hotel. This is where the Beatles stayed in 1964 when they took the famous pic of them fishing out their hotel window. You can still do that but they don’t encourage it. Of course you have to get a room first.
As you head south on the waterfront you will pass Pier 66, the departure point for some big cruise ships in the summer and then the Seattle Aquarium. We last visited in fall 2014 and if you have kids with you, it’s great fun. If there are just adults in your party and aren’t an aquarium person, you may find it’s spendy for what you get. We did it on a Groupon and still felt underwhelmed. Total time to see everything unless you really love fish is about 2 hours.
Continuing down the waterfront you will hit all kinds of touristy places. Our experience is that the restaurants down here leave much to be desired. Either chains or very tourist oriented. If you want chowder, go to Ivars. It’s a Seattle tradition. Kathleen can’t eat clams so we have never been. If you have to have lunch and don’t fish, there is a Red Robin on the pier and they do a decent hamburger. But if I needed lunch there I would head up the Pike Place Hill Climb and wind up at Pike Place Market.
Before you get to Red Robin you will find Argosy Cruises. If you want to see Seattle from the water, this is the place. There are a bunch. of them including one that leaves the harbor and goes through the Ballard Locks into Lake Union. You really get to see a bunch of Seattle. We bought an annual pass when we first got together and have done all their tours. A great way to spend a sunny afternoon. Keep in mind it will be cold out there if it’s a typical day.
Music, music, music
If you are a music lover you can do that too. If classical, then trying to find a concert at Seattle's premier concert hall, Benaroya Hall while you are in town is a must. The hall itself is so gorgeous and the acoustics are superb. We go at least once each year and love it. If you are coming to town anytime during the holiday season, make a point to see the Seattle Men’s Chorus at Benaroya while you are here. I can't say enough good things about the chorus and their partner chorus the Seattle Women's Chorus as well as their small, adjunct groups Captain Smartypants and Sensible Shoes. If any of them are performing when you are here, SEE THEM!
Another great musical venue is the Triple Door. A small house (under 200 people) that features live music and great food. It is underneath Wild Ginger across the street from the aforementioned Benaroya Hall. We see Captain Smartypants there at least once a year. The usual music lineup is very esoteric from jazz to blues to rock. Check out their calendar on their website.
Or if you like jazz, try Dimitriou's Jazz Alley which has excellent jazz most nights. For more music choices I will have to defer to my kids (in their 30s) and will ask them and add their info later. And always check Ticketmaster to see who might be in town when you are here. Really big acts might be at Key Arena (lousy acoustics) or down in Tacoma at the Tacoma Dome (even worse acoustics). If it’s summer you might you might check to see if there are any outdoor concerts at Century Link Field or on the eastside at Marymoor Park or Chateau St Michelle during the summer.
Theater is our choice
If you like theater as we do, Seattle is a great place to see a play. The two big houses for road show musicals are the Paramount and the 5th Avenue. Both get most of the new and revival shows that come to town. Check their websites to see what’s coming while you are in town.
If you (like us) would rather see a straight play (no music) there are all kinds of theater companies all over. Our favorite is right downtown, ACT (A Contemporary Theater) which has four theaters in one building on the corner of 7th and Union. There always seems to be something going on, just about every night of the week. So if you are downtown and want to be entertained (could be theater, dance, music, etc.) then check their calendar. Most of their shows are VERY reasonable. The theaters were gorgeous and the building is historic but has been extensively remodeled inside. We have been in every theater in the building and there truly isn’t a bad seat in any of them. It is walkable from any downtown hotel. If you are in town during the holiday season, they do an annual, excellent production of A Christmas Carol that is a Seattle holiday tradition.
The other major theater company is Seattle Rep. They are located at the opposite end of town in Seattle Center. They have two theaters and you can get there from downtown by monorail from Westlake Center to just the other side of the Space Needle.
The Seattle Center and the Space Needle. Still fun. The former EMP (Experience Music Project) is cool and now called the Museum of Popular Culture (MoPop) if you like the history of rock or science fiction but we think it's overpriced. I would definitely ride the monorail to the Seattle Center just to see MoPop. It was designed by Frank Gehry and people either love it or hate it. The joke is that it looks like the Space Needle took off it’s clothes and just dumped them in a pile by it’s feet. The MoPop is that pile of colorful laundry.
New to the Seattle Center in the last few years is the Chihuly Garden and Glass, a gorgeous structure that houses some of the most beautiful blown-glass in the world. Check out the pics on their website and if that's something that interests you, you won't be disappointed.
And speaking of the The Space Needle, the viewing area is worth the money on a clear day. Even a partly cloudy day. We have been told that the over-priced restaurant at the top has improved. We were last there in 2017 with friends from England and it was still ho-hum and the service was so-so. Go at your own risk. And if you like risk, they have added glass floors so you can now sit at dinner and look straight down to the ground...not me!
Also at the Seattle Center you will find Center House (The Children's Museum in the basement is great for kids), the Pacific Science Center, two iMax theaters, an amazing GIGANTIC musical fountain and a number of other venues for performing arts and sports. If you are a basketball fan and here in season catch the Seattle Storm our WNBA team at Key Arena. If you love opera check your dates for the Seattle Opera who perform at McCaw Hall on the north side of Seattle Center. When McCaw Hall isn’t hosting the opera, they are hosting the ballet. So if ballet is your thing, try the Pacific Northwest Ballet company if they have a show ongoing when you are here.
Don’t Miss This! YEAH! TEATRO IS COMING BACK!
Right across the street from McCaw Hall you used to be able to find one of my DON’T MISS Seattle activities, Teatro Zinzanni. If you told me you only had one night to splurge in Seattle, I would do Zinzanni. It’s a combination of Cirque de Soleil, dinner theater and the film Moulin Rouge. The food is a fantastic dinner designed by Tom Douglas. The food is GREAT! The entertainment is better. We have been seven times and will go again I am sure. They change their shows and menus quarterly so if you go and love it you can go back on your next visit. Zinzanni has reopened in the Woodinville Wine District!
South Lake Union
The hot new part of town in Seattle is South Lake Union. On the Eat page I mention some restaurants there and to be truthful beyond shopping there is not a ton to do there. But if you go all the way to Lake Union you will find some great boat tours including a paddle-wheeler and an old fishing ship that does “ice-cream trips” on summer Saturdays. There is a beautiful park and thanks to Amazon president Jeff Bezos that park houses the Museum of Science and Industry.
We had never been there before until the summer of 2017 and we were truly impressed. This is where you go to find the history of Seattle in an amazing setting. Superb exhibits detailing not only the typical history but all parts of it, especially the cultural history. Go here. It is worth it. I can't wait to go back and spend a bunch of time here.
Speaking of Amazon, as you walk down Westlake Blvd to get to the lake (or a restaurant or shopping) you will be walking right through the HQ of the internet behemoth. It’s where I go to visit some of my money. And if you prefer not to walk there is the South Lake Union Streetcar that runs from behind Westlake Center to the Fred Hutchison Cancer Center with a stop at most restaurants and
If you have a car—Go North
There is so much more to Seattle than the downtown core but you will either need a car or enjoy bus travel. First let’s go North. Drive up Westlake Blvd and cross the Fremont Bridge and stop in Fremont to see the Interurban statue , the giant statue of Lenin and the Troll under the Aurora Bridge in Fremont. It’s a great place to just walk around. Then continue on to Ballard where you will find the home of the Seattle fishing fleet you may have seen in the TV show “Deadliest Catch.”
Then head even further west to the Ballard Locks. The locks lift boats from Puget Sound up to the level of Lake Union and beyond that Lake Washington. There are also fish ladders there that when salmon are coming back to spawn can be amazing to look at. The locks themselves are very cool. You can walk across them and watch boats lifted and dropped all afternoon long.
If you like zoos we have one of my favorites just north of Fremont, the Woodland Park Zoo. We love taking our grandkids there. A must if you have kids with you. Great exhibits and habitats. The NW area (especially the wolves and bears) is beautiful.
If you love aviation, remember that you are in airplane country. Boeing has factories in Renton (an Eastside suburb) and Everett to the north. At the Boeing Future of Flight Tour in Everett they have an OUTSTANDING tour of the plant as well as a superb visitor center. Be aware that when you do this tour you are not allowed to take ANYTHING WITH YOU. No cameras, no purses, no cell phones, nothing. You can have NOTHING in your hands. This is because (or so we were told) a young boy leaned over a rail to take a photo of a jet and dropped his camera. It dented the nose cone of a 747 and cost more than $100,000 to fix. So be prepared. They do have lockers which are very secure.
If you have a car—Go South
The Museum of Flight is south of Seattle at Boeing Field. They have some amazing displays and planes on display. For aviation buffs it’s a must see. If you like aviation, this is a can't miss!
If you have a car—Go East
Come to the Eastside (that’s where we live) and cross a floating bridge on Lake Washington. Take I-90 out to Snoqualmie and see Snoqulamie Falls. Truly beautiful and easily accessible. If you have a night to stay and are looking for a very romantic hotel, check out the Snoqualamie Inn that sits right on top of the falls. It is fairly spendy so be forewarned. They have an amazing restaurant as well.
Then go back through the shopping mecca of Bellevue and recross the lake on the 520 toll bridge (the world's longest floating bridge) to get the complete floating bridge experience. On the way back on the 520 the big college on the right is the University of Washington so they could get off there if that interested them.
Come back soon as I am adding to this on a regular basis and will add more.