What to Do in Seattle

What to Do in Seattle

Are you looking for tips on what to do in Seattle?

As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Hilary Billings, The Nomad GradHilary took her first trip to Seattle in 2008 for a swing dance/jazz weekend event and immediately fell in love.

Unable to resist the pull, she travels back to The Emerald City multiple times a year for good coffee and dancing.

Hilary takes us through the list of must-do’s and must-drinks of her favorite North American city.

Why Visit Seattle? 

Seattle is one of those cities that is recognizable just by a snapshot of The Space Needle or Pike Place Market (Pike’s Place). There are very few cities in the world as iconic as this one.

Some of the biggest corporations in the world, like Microsoft and Starbucks, were founded here. Then of course you have badass musical influences such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam hailing from this rainy city (obviously there’s something in the water).

Famous television sitcoms and dramas have been set here (Frasier- need I say more?). Then of course, there are those vampires rumoured to dwell just hours outside the city (but please confirm with Stephanie Meyer; she’s the expert).

what to do in seattle
Pike’s Place markets

Obviously pop-culture finds reason to obsess over Seattle and you should too. You can’t beat the beauty of the summer with cherry blossoms lining the
sidewalks. Just one taste of a bowl of clam chowder or a whiff of the coffee grounds wafting through the air and you’ll understand.

For a city with such a strange and unusual history, it’s steeped with culture and awesomeness. There a million reasons to love the land of McDreamy, but I recommend just visiting and deciding for yourself what makes you fall in love.

What to Do in Seattle

If it’s your first time in Seattle, make sure you hit the typically hyped tourist attractions. They’re necessary adventures, not to mention famous attractions for a reason.

Take a trip up The Space Needle, visit the first Starbucks and then take a gander through Pike’s Place. Make sure you hop on the brass pig and try some flavor infused honey sticks.

Feel free to use fruit humor when talking to the produce guys. It’s a ‘pearfectly’ acceptable form of communication.

What to do in Seattle
riding the pig at Pike’s place

Make sure you do The Underground Tour on one of your first days in the city. It provides great historical background as well as gives you the Reader’s Digest version of its surly past. It’s not something you’ll do again but you’ll start to notice and appreciate the little nuances downtown (like the skylights in the sidewalk) that you wouldn’t have noticed before.

What to do in Seattle
underground tour

Take a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island to get a different perspective on the city as well as to experience some local living. It’s homely charm will make you think you’re walking through a fairytale.

Of course if you’re really adventurous, Mount Rainier awaits only a short drive away. Take a hike if you’re up for climbing one of the country’s most dangerous and active volcanoes. I prefer to view it from the plane but I’m not nearly as ballsy as some of you hiking enthusiasts!

what to do in seattle
Mt Rainier

Best Neighborhoods to Explore

Capitol Hill is definitely my favorite area of Seattle. You can find anything and everything to do on this hill. Each bar has more flavor and atmosphere than the last. The eateries are just as unique.

The second-hand stores and novelty shops are bound to delight and you will even find a century’s old ballroom packed with couples dancing to jazz music weekly. What more could you ask for?

Where to Eat in Seattle

Mind-Blowing Beverages

If Seattleites know how to do anything well it’s coffee (it’s why I love them so). Starbucks, Tully’s, and Seattle’s Best were all founded here. And while you can’t go wrong with any of these choices, I recommend trying one of the smaller but equally delicious cafes like Victrola.

what to do in seattle

You can’t visit Seattle without trying a triple layer cappuccino and Victrola has a great one. It’s 1/3 espresso, 1/3 milk, and 1/3 foam. They are more expensive than a traditional cappuccino but I promise the extra few cents are worth the deliciousness waiting in your cup.

Afternoon Bites

Seattle is full of healthy options for lunch dining. I am a fan of The Honeyhole on Pike Street. They have sandwiches for everyone, including awesome vegetarian options.

Dinner Dining Delights

Want to treat yourself to the ultimate seafood experience? Have a bowl of clam chowder or lobster bisque at Ivar’s Acres of Clams. The fish couldn’t be any fresher and you’ll adore the waterfront views. It’s the perfect upscale dining experience after a day of fun on the pier and exploration at The Seattle Aquarium.

My other favorite ultimate dining experience is The Steelhead Diner located just steps from Pike’s Place. Don’t let the name fool you. You’re in an array of aromas and flavor, even with perfected seasonal desserts to please your palate. Service can be slow but the food is oh-so worth the wait.

what to do in seattle
Steelhead diner

Where to Drink in Seattle

I’m not a big fan of drinking but Capitol Hill makes bar hopping easy. With them being squished together in close proximity, you can down shots at one bar, high-five your friends, and then stumble ten feet to the next bar to high-five new friends.

While you won’t find the bartenders overly friendly (they’re hipster like that), you’ll be sure to meet visitors from around the world sampling brew.

I enjoy spending time at The Tin Table conveniently located across from The Century Ballroom. The ambience is groovy, quiet, and laid back. During the week you’ll find dances of all kinds hopping across the hall. Have a drink and then have a dance. And if you get too drunk you can always just stare at the pretty blue glasses.

what to do in seattle
Tin Table

Best Places for a Night on the Town

Who doesn’t like a night of good food and dancing? Start by having a drink at one of the bazillion pubs off of Pike and Broadway. Then mosey on over to The Century Ballroom for a night of dancing and jazz/salsa/or swing music (depending on the night).

what to do in seattle
Century Ballroom

After you’ve worked up a sweat and an appetite, walk downstairs to Molly Moon’s Ice Cream Parlor. I don’t care what time of year it is. You must try one of their delicious homemade flavors that’s made in the back of their shop. I recommend the lavender-honey or strawberry-balsamic.

Also make sure you treat yourself to a fresh waffle cone. The sweet smell of the cooked sugar will make your heart melt, even if the weather is freezing.

what to do in seattle
Molly Moons Ice Cream

Where to Stay in Seattle

There are tons of options but I’m a big fan of The Silver Cloud Hotel. They have a chain of boutique hotels situated all over Seattle, but I love their Broadway location. Their room prices are decent, even given their prime locale and a big breakfast is included.

During peak season rooms will run about $130/night. And even though this is kind of expensive for backpackers like me, you’re guaranteed a level of quality when booking with this chain.

If you’re looking for something waterside, I recommend the appropriately name Edgewater Hotel. This hotel offers up local charm and warmth on a platter. The price per night will depend on what type of ‘package’ you book (they offer a wide array from honeymooners to family getaways). Their cheapest rooms run $200/night during peak season.

what to do in seattle
Edgewater Hotel

Markets and Shopping in Seattle

Make a visit to Pike Place Market a must

Uh- yeah. But I’m biased. I could probably spend days in Pike’s Place eating myself to happiness. Plus all the fresh flowers, kitschy knickknacks shops, and interesting international markets gives it such color and vibrancy.

But my thoughts are controlled by the mini deep-fried doughnuts available by the pig. They are mindnumbingly yummy. If you eat them you will only think amazing things about Pike’s Place. Consider yourself warned.

what to do in seattle
Flowers at Pike’s Place

Downtown Seattle also has some great shopping. You’ve got streets lined with mainstream designers and a mall full of credit card comas waiting to happen (complete with movie theater).

But I prefer the unusual shops of Pioneer Square. Here you can find crystal shops that put a price on mysticism and hipster guitar centers full of vintage Fenders and vinyl records. I promise you there’s a specialty shop for every unique soul in this wonderfully weird district.

what to do in seattle
Pioneer Square

Getting Around Seattle

The bus system is very reliable, consistent, and cheap. I highly recommend it if you’re going to be navigating all the typical tourist attractions. Downtown and Capital Hill themselves are not large areas but they’re set up much like San Francisco. Taking the bus can be beneficial to your knees instead of hoofing it up-and-down Skid Row.

The Light Rail is also a great way to get from the Sea-Tac airport to downtown Seattle.

Finding WiFi in Seattle

It better be, what with it being the home of Microsoft and coffee shop sitters! Pretty much every coffee shop has free WiFi or WiFi time available with purchase. I have yet to find a location that does not offer internet access.

But if you do happen upon one of those dark unicorns, make sure you cry, “Heretic!” The Seattleites will run to your rescue with pitchforks. Treason like this is rarely tolerated by the steadfast locals.

what to do in seattle
Coffee and WiFi

Best Time of Year to Visit Seattle

Peak season is definitely March through August. Because of all the rain you are guaranteed the prettiest flower blooms, best weather for outdoor activities, and variety of festivals during the height of the summer.

If you’re brave and decide to visit during the fall/winter off-season, be sure to bring a waterproof jacket and rain boots.

Best “insider” Tip

Don’t trust the cab companies when they say your taxi is on its way. People steal taxis like it’s going out of style. Plus they normally take at least a half hour to reach you anyway. I recommend learning the bus routes and utilizing those as much as possible.

Seattleites don’t use umbrellas but don’t view this as a competition. Feel free to pack one if you’re planning on spending a lot of time outside (just don’t ask them what they think about you carrying one).

Invest in some sturdy rain boots and a weatherproof jacket for walking around. The goal is to stay dry. If you stay dry, you won’t be nearly as cold as
you think. And after running through your first downpour, I think you’ll realize why these Seattleites are such hot beverage freaks.

I love Seattle because ______?

For me, Seattle is a blend of everything that’s great in the world. The city is brimming with delicious espresso, culture, art, open-mindedness, jazz music, and intellect. It has three-story bookstores and libraries that are built to be pieces of art, for goodness sake.

The entire city is filled with a salty breeze from The Harbor and all the food is made with quality and ingenuity unmatched on the west coast.

There’s just something about Seattle that feels like happiness. It’s got a very distinct vibe and flavor and I love that. You’ll never be bored. It’s a place where people aren’t afraid to be themselves and that resonates deeply with me.

what to do in seattle
penguin hugs

Some cities just look and feel like every other city, but Seattle gets my seal of approval for its originality and personality. And I double dog dare you to find another city like it.

Happy Adventuring!

More Resources for Seattle

Check out these helpful travel guides:

About the Author

Hilary is a Las Vegas local and world traveler. When she’s not at home working on productions or taming lions, you can find her boarding down volcanoes and living in remote villages.

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Do you have any tips on what to do in Seattle?



Caz Makepeace is the co-founder of y Travel Blog and has been traveling the world since 1997, first solo, then with her husband, and now with her two daughters. Get her free email series on the 4 best ways to reduce travel costs. Follow her on Google+

32 Comments on “What to Do in Seattle”

  1. Your photos take me back! Lived downtown for 2 years and it instantly became my favorite US city. My preferred market was Uwajimaya (Asian market) and there’s so much more – if you go again see the neighborhoods of Freemont and Ballard to name two or hit the Olympic Sculpture Park, spend an hour at the butterfly pavilion or go walk the sandy beach of Golden Gardens.
    Maria Acceleratedstall recently posted..Fluff and Fold
    Maria Acceleratedstall recently posted..Fluff and Fold

  2. So glad you enjoyed the photos, Maria! I’m so happy to hear someone else is a Seattle convert. Also great locales and choices. =)

  3. Definitely hit up Ballard. Some of the best food in the city is there. Also Madison Park. Discovery park is a great place to escape for a hike in the city, but if you need to clock some miles head to Green Lake to run the loop around the lake. After Green Lake head to Zoka Coffee for some of the best roast in the city. The city is an amazing place to live. My favorite months? August and September because there is no rain. October because it is the perfect autumn month!
    Keryn @ walking on travels recently posted..7 Ways to Celebrate Holiday Events: Seattle Edition
    Keryn @ walking on travels recently posted..7 Ways to Celebrate Holiday Events: Seattle Edition

  4. I’m itching to get to that part of the USA!!! Looks so awesome!
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..A Photographic Look At My Adventures In 2012 + Giveaway
    Andi of My Beautiful Adventures recently posted..A Photographic Look At My Adventures In 2012 + Giveaway

  5. Hi Hilary,

    I’ve never been to Seattle, I always hear great things about this place! I need to plan something fast.

    I think my favorite USA city is Washington, I just love it!

    Thanks for sharing all this information!

    Hope you come to Mexico soon!

  6. I love Seattle! Molly Moon’s is fantastic. I will have to check out Victrola next time.
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..The Brooklyn Bridge in Photos
    Stephanie – The Travel Chica recently posted..The Brooklyn Bridge in Photos

  7. Thanks for the great tips! I haven’t spent much time in Seattle yet, but would love to go back. The pike Place fish market is definitely on the list, along with some good seafood and I loved your suggestion about Bainbridge island.

    My husband would love it…he hates people who carry umbrellas with a passion!
    Shanna Schultz recently posted..So Long and Thanks for all the Fish: The Market in Bergen Norway
    Shanna Schultz recently posted..So Long and Thanks for all the Fish: The Market in Bergen Norway

  8. You have such an amazing blog! This is exactly what I was looking for. Staying in Northgate hotels makes most of these options fall within a short walking or riding distance!

  9. Great pictures, they really show the true character of Seattle! Did you happen to visit a North Seattle Mall during your trip?

  10. I can’t wait to explore this part of the US. There’s something very cool about the Pacific Northwest… and I don’t mean the weather. ;)
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted..40 Tips to Help You Travel Smarter, Cheaper, Safer, Lighter and, errr… Awesomer!
    Bethaney – Flashpacker Family recently posted..40 Tips to Help You Travel Smarter, Cheaper, Safer, Lighter and, errr… Awesomer!

  11. We just moved to Seattle last summer. Yes, the winter was BRUTAL! So much grey. So little sky. But it is by far the most breathtakingly beautiful city. It’s been such a blast to explore with my kids. I adore living next to Puget Sound. We’ve explored so many beaches, lakes, and other nooks and crannies. Love it! Haven’t made it to the underground old Seattle yet. Definitely on the bucket list, along with a whale watching trip!

  12. Roxana

    Your photos took me back to a family vacation in October 2002. Three glorious weeks with no rain whatsoever. The leaves in so many colors were just wonderful. I live in Puerto Rico, so the change in scenery was outstanding. I did almost everything you mention, (sadly no Underground Tour ) and I enjoy every single place we went.

    The Science Center and Kids Museum, steps away from the Space Needle, is a must if you have kids. The Ballard Locks were specially nice. We drove north and visited Olympic Game Farm, an experience we never had.

    I am planning to take my daughter again and again to such a beautiful and charming city.

  13. heather ess

    It’s the Pike Place Market. Not Pike’s place.

  14. Seattle is such a beautiful city, especially in the summer time. But what would be a memorable stay without getting to know Seattle areas? If you’re visiting Seattle, make sure you get to know areas from Capitol Hill to Ballard. They have some really cool activities (bars, rock climbing, beaches, etc.) :)

  15. It’s called Pike Place Market. Not Pike’s Place.

    • YES, it is called PIKE PLACE MARKET…I wonder why the author did not reply to 2 comments about this error, as she did to others? Or why it wasn’t corrected in the article?

      • Hillary has used the more colloquial Pike’s Place. From my research online it seems as if this is an accepted reference, perhaps more local talk.

        We like more informal posts on this blog as it helps the reader feel like they are more amongst friends.

        But since, out of a 2000 word post offering extremely helpful tips on Seattle, people can’t help but pick out one reference that is really not a mistake , I have added Pike Place Market.

        Perhaps you’d like to share why you think Seattle is awesome. You might be able to add a tip that is not in this post that would really help our readers. I know they’d appreciate it a lot. I’m certainly keen to visit and learn more.

        • (1) RE: ” From my research online it seems as if this is an accepted reference, perhaps more local talk.”=It is NOT acceptable. It is NOT local talk–Locals know the correct names of places. Please tell where online you found reference to this error. (2) RE: “people can’t help but pick out one reference that is really not a mistake.”=What do you mean people can’t help it? It IS a mistake. 3) RE: “I’m certainly keen to visit and learn more.”= If you haven’t visited, how can you comment? (4) RE: “Perhaps you’d like to share why you think Seattle is awesome.”=Everything about Seattle is awesome and it would take volumes to describe who, what, where, why, and how. My point in commenting on your error was not to tell what I think of Seattle, but to correct what YOU think, which is wrong, and to have you correct the information that your readers will assume is the truth. (5) RE: “We like more informal posts on this blog”=Are you saying that informal means errors are all right? Your error of publishing the erroneous “Pike’s Place is NOT “more colloquial,” and your saying so makes it even more of a mistake. ** BY THE WAY, where is my original comment for the first reply? I posted 2 identical replies for both of the commenters, who called attention to your error.

          • I deleted your other comment because I did not realize you had replied to it, I thought you had posted it the second time because the first one had not been approved yet, so you thought it must not have gone through. It happens all the time. There’s really no need for you to post the reply twice.

            I want to visit Seattle and learn more about it for when I go. Not sure your response to 3. Maybe you are confusing me with the person who wrote this post, Hillary Billings. I haven’t been to Seattle, but am very keen.

            I have no problem with names being called the right thing, which is why I corrected it in the page. I also have no problem with people letting me know so I can fix it. You have a pretty awesome post here on things to do in Seattle. It would have been great for you to comment on that first, perhaps leave a suggestion or two and then say, btw I’m not sure if you knew but Pike’s Place should be Pike Place Market. And then I say, “Oh gosh thank you so much for letting us know. Btw, love your tip.”

            Just a personal gripe of mine. From my years of teaching experience, children listen better to your feedback and respect you more when you point out their mistakes between some positive words. It just makes for a healthier exchange.

            But, of course at the end of the day you were right! Thank you for pointing out our mistakes and making today a good learning day for us.

            Now, I really would love to know something you can recommend about Seattle. Where is your favourite place to eat and why? I’ve heard nothing but good things about the city and am super keen to learn more. We should be going there on our road trip around the States in 2 years. What should we put on our list of things to do and see? Food is always a biggie for us and our readers.

  16. These are some fantastic suggestions and tips. Seattle is an incredible city. We love wandering through the different neighborhoods (Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, Magnolia, etc.) to experience the different views, restaurants and people. The Emerald City is easily one of the most diverse places we’ve ever been, and that’s what makes it so unique. If you’re looking for specific “things to do in Seattle,” check out our website: http://seattlebloggers.com!
    Seattle Bloggers recently posted..Gum Wall | Seattle’s Stickiest Attraction
    Seattle Bloggers recently posted..Gum Wall | Seattle’s Stickiest Attraction

  17. Loved the article and LOVE Seattle. Check out this article for another perspective: http://www.theessentialdestination.com/north-america/seattle-usa/
    Joel recently posted..One day in Chicago
    Joel recently posted..One day in Chicago

  18. My favorite places to eat in Seattle are Jak’s and Paseo. Volunteer Park is one of my I favorite places and a ferry ride to Alki beach is also pretty amazing.

    And just an FYI, locals usually call Pike Place “The Market” and the pig’s name is Rachel.

  19. The MUST EAT ice cream in Seattle is definitely Bluebird Microcreamery & Brewery in Capitol Hill, Fremont and Greenwood. Not only do they have the best ice cream in town, they they also brew their own microbrew (very Seattle) and specialize in beer floats!

  20. I live in the greater Seattle area and own several large hooded rain coats. I use my umbrella for standing on the sidelines watching the kids play sports.
    i have spent the night at the Edgewater Hotel and thought the restaurant was poor however there are several other fantastic places along the waterfront to eat. Ivar’s is a favorite. Pike place is more than meets the eye, be a little snoopy and check out it’s multi levels as well as across the street you can easily spend the whole day exploring all the little shops and restaurants.
    Pioneer Square offers a wide variety of pubs and bars with live music from blues to grunge for some easy bar hopping fun.
    Don’t forget we have the Super Bowl Champs and the LOUDEST stadium around for some fantastic football.
    If you make it to Ballard check out the Locks.
    A ferry ride is a must, you can take a high speed one to Vancouver B.C. or the San Juan Islands for a day or an overnight excursion. Or a quick round trip to Vashon or Bainbridge on a Super Ferry is just as fun.
    You can ride to the top of the Space needle for free if you dine in the restaurant, however it is quite spendy but you can always just order a drink and appetizer or coffee and dessert so you can relax and enjoy the 360 deg. View from the revolving restaurant for a fraction of the price of dinner.
    If you can’t drive clear to Mt. Rainier maybe you can go to Snoqualmie falls instead. I like the lounge for appetizer and drinks with a view because again the restaurant can be pricy.
    The water plays a big part in our lives, whether we’re trying to stay dry, viewing it’s splendor or gliding across it in a boat jump on in and get wet in Seattle!

  21. It is simply Pike Place, not Pike’s Place. It truly is a lovely city though. Have you checked out charming Wallingford? Or Discovery park? Fremont is also fun to go through and they have a great farmer’s market! Another favorite is Bakery Nouvea over in West Seattle. Going in you feel as though you have been transported to the bakeries in Paris!

  22. We will be spending 4 days in Seattle in mid June. I am so pleased I found these ideas / travel tips for Seattle. I shall use them as great resources for our time in this city. Thanks! – Cowra, NSW, Australia.

  23. I agree with a lot of what the author is saying. But he missed sooo much more on the to do list. I’ve been in Seattle and the puget sound area for 30 Years. You will not find anywhere else like Seattle. Yes, pike place is cool. But extremely crowded. Capital Hill is fun but no where near Ballard or Fremont. Don’t forget about the Ballard locks. The food is amazing everywhere, but the outlining cities offer so much more. These places are usually one bus ride away. Places like Ballard, Greenwood, Fremont, shoreline, edmonds, lynnwood. These are a small amount of cities that boarder Seattle. Give me a shot. Oh and go for a ride on “The Ducks”!

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