Seattle is a wondrous city, filled with art, culture, industry, and nature. It is very beautiful and there’s a ton to do! I lived in Seattle for one year (plus a summer internship), so I got to know the city quite well. From that comes this list, my choices for the top things to do in Seattle!
I should note that this list is based on how Seattle was in 2007-2008. Things may have changed since then.
15. Museum of Flight
The best airplane museum in one of if not the best aviation cities in the world, the Museum of Flight has tons aircraft on display, including: a Harrier, an F14 Tomcat, a Concorde, the first flightworthy 747, the first presidential jet (you can go inside this one), and that’s just what’s outside the building. There’s a bunch more inside, not to mention the barn William Boeing started his company in, which was relocated to (and is now part of) the museum.
14. Ballard Locks
Ballard Locks, located in the fisherman’s district of Seattle, maintains constant water levels for Lakes Union and Washington, a feature critical to Seattle’s early development. A result of this is that during low tide the Sound is actually lower than the lakes, requiring boats traversing the two to be raised or lowered the difference. The locks do this using the same technique as the Panama Canal, only on a smaller scale. The Locks also contain an incredible salmon run, allowing the fish to bypass the boats, survive the salt water to fresh water transition, and spawn upstream.
13. Coffee / Berry Picking
This one depends on when you’re visiting. Visit outside summer and Seattle will be covered in rain clouds, and since rainy weather is coffee weather, Seattle is a coffee headquarters. Seattle has more coffee shops per capita than any country in the US (1 shop per 2200 residents) and the city also is home to three of the country’s most prolific coffee chains: Starbucks, Tully’s, and Seattle’s Best.
If you’re not keen on rain weather, Seattle does have sunny days in the summer. Summer is also when Seattle’s berry bushes (blueberries and blackberries mostly) bloom all over the city. They are safe to eat and they are everywhere: on sidewalks, in parks, on intersections and along streets. They are also delicious.
12. The Music Scene / Capitol Hill
More rock music has come from Seattle than almost any other place in the US, the most notable being Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix. Today (and through most of its history), Capitol Hill is the center of Seattle’s music scene, and while Seattle might not currently be the #1 rock city in the US, it is still great and so are the culture and attractions in this part of the city.
11. Boating on the Sound
There’s Lake Union, Lake Washington, the entire Puget Sound, is there another city with as much water as Seattle? Water activities should definitely be taken advantage of here, including: boating, swimming, jet skiing, wakeboarding. If nothing else, drive I-90’s floating bridges, they are awesome!
10. The Everett Factory
Boeing’s Everett Factory, final assembly location for all of Boeing’s largest airplanes (747, 767, 777, 787), is thirty minutes north of Seattle and is also the biggest building by volume in the world. Each door pictured above is the size of a football field, the building could house the entire Disneyland resort, and when the building was first built, clouds formed under the ceiling and a moisture removal system had to be added to get rid of them. Boeing offers tours of the building from their nearby Future of Aviation Flight Center.
With the Seahawks and the University of Washington, Seattle is definitely a football city. But they have other sports too: the Mariners, while not one of baseball’s oldest teams, have a very rich history, and the Sounders are one of the most exciting teams in the MLS, with crowd-sizes averaging more than 44,000!
8. Downtown / Pioneer Square
While not as renowned as other downtowns in the US, downtown Seattle has a lot to offer, including a gorgeous waterfront, one of the most spectacular libraries in the country, and also numbers 1 and 6 on this list. Furthermore, next to downtown is Pioneer Square, the birthplace and former heart of Seattle, an area with great nightlife and a fascinating underground tour that explores Seattle’s founding and history.
There’s so much weird stuff in Fremont, all in exactly the right way. Great bars and restaurants, eclectic shops, and some of the best artwork in the city (including a Lenin statue from Russia and the famous Fremont Troll); the city even has an annual summer solstice parade, complete with naked body-painted bicyclists!
6. The Seattle Center
The Seattle Center is home to the Space Needle, the icon of Seattle and one of the most iconic landmarks in the US. If that wasn’t enough, the Seattle Center also houses: a Science Fiction Museum, the Pacific Science Center, Experience Music Project, the Kobe Bell Meditation Garden, a garden and glass museum, Memorial Stadium, KeyArena, Mercer Arena, Fisher Pavilion, Seattle’s top ballet/opera house, an IMAX theater, an outdoor amphitheater, several other live theaters, a skate park, a monorail, lots of outoor artwork, a playground, and a piece of the Berlin Wall. The Seattle Center is also where almost every festival in the city is held, the most notable of which is Bumbershoot, a three day art and music festival held annually over Labor Day weekend.
5. Mt Rainier
Only 55 miles from downtown Seattle is Mt Rainier, the most prominent and one of the most magnificent mountains in the continental US. The mountain, actually a volcano, has 26(!) glaciers attached to it and is a beautiful place, great for hiking, photography, adventure-trekking, and day or weekend getaways.
4. Microbrewed Beer
The Pacific Northwest has amazing beer and Seattle is no exception. There are so many breweries in Seattle that it sometimes seems like every restaurant brews its own beer. The most famous are Red Hook, Pyramid, and Elysian, but my personal favorite is Pike Brewing Company in downtown Seattle: try their IPA, it is award-winning and it is the best!
It’s cliche but it’s true: the salmon here is amazing. And not just watching them swim at Ballard Locks or being thrown around at Pike’s Fish Market; they are also delicious to eat! Seattle in general has very good food, but salmon is their specialty and it is a must.
2. The Downtown Skyline
Seattle has the best skyline I’ve ever seen, and at night it is simply out of this world. It is incredible: numerous skyscrapers all with unique designs, the Space Needle dominating its airspace and standing iconic in the sky, and all of downtown reflecting in the Sound and glowing brightly at night.
There are three primary viewpoints to check out Seattle’s skyline: Gasworks Park (view pictured above), a coal gasification plant turned award-winning city park (it is super-romantic at night); Alki Beach, one of the trendiest, most happening places in the city, and Kerry Park, a north-of-downtown park that provides an elevated view of the skyline, but it doesn’t provide reflections from the Puget Sound.
1. Pike Place Market
One of if not the greatest farmers’ markets in the US, Pike Place Market is a must for anyone visiting Seattle. The seafood is amazing, and so is the produce, flowers, bread, honey, jams… this place has everything you’d expect from the best farmers’ market, and then some. What’s the “then some” you ask? Pike Place Market also has arts and crafts, collectables, chocolates, souvenirs, and it is home to a gum wall, the city’s best buskers, the first ever Starbucks, the equally popular Piroshky Piroshky, and most famously, Pike Place Fish Market and its employees who catch and throw fish!
That marks the end of my Seattle top 15. As I said, I only lived here a year, but even so, I think this is a pretty good list. Think I missed something? Disagree with my rankings? Tell me about it in the comments!
Featured image photography by Alex Hendricks. Cropped. CC-SA 4.0