Seattle, often referred to as the Emerald City on account of the lush green vegetation, is a city of a little over 700,000 people in Washington State. Those unfamiliar with Seattle and the Pacific Northwest are often surprised to find out Seattle is not on the Pacific Coast, but is rather a port city on the Puget Sound, situated between the Olympic Mountains to the west and the Cascade Mountains to the east.
Seattle is a growing city with easy access to nature and offers an incredible array of things to do and places to explore. The downtown area, including the waterfront and Seattle Center is home to many tourist attractions, including Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. There are 500 parks within Seattle city limits which provide incredible views of the Puget Sound and miles of hiking trails. And outdoor activities abound within close proximity to the city, with hiking and skiing in the Cascades, and three national parks, Mount Rainier, Olympic and North Cascades within a couple hours drive.
When people think of Seattle, they often think of clouds and rain. It's a well deserved reputation, as Seattle typically has 150 days where precipitation is recorded and over 200 cloud days a year. However, the rain is usually light and Seattle receives less total precipitation than many other cities including Miami and Houston. If coming in the winter months, it's reasonable to expect cool (40's F) temperatures and a good chance of clouds and drizzle. Also note, Seattle is located pretty far north for the United States, and has short winter days.
While recent years have seen the months of May and June be warm and dry, a common Seattle refrain was summer starts just after July 4th and goes through the middle of September. Indeed, summers in Seattle are typically dry and sunny, with moderate temperatures (upper 70's F). For that reason, summer is the preferred time to visit Seattle.
The rain typically comes back in October, with November being one of the rainiest months (December and January average slightly more rain), and spring can be a mix of occasional spells of nicer weather mixed with typical rain and clouds.
Built for the 1962 World's Fair, Seattle Center is a 74 acre campus in the heart of Seattle. Its most famous landmark is the Space Needle; clocking in at 605 feet tall it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi when it was first built. Seattle Center houses a number of other educational and tourist attractions and is frequented by visitors and residents alike throughout the year.
The Space Needle is Seattle's signature landmark, its silhouette easily recognizable to Seattle natives and visitors alike. Built for the 1962 World's Fair, the Space Needle underwent renovations not too long ago that make it the only building in the world with a rotating glass floor. The Space Needle is open daily at 9am, and the elevators will quickly whisk you up to the top for amazing views of Seattle and the Puget Sound. The Space Needle also houses the Loop Lounge featuring cocktails and small bites.
Once known as the Experience Music Project (EMP), the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) building is hard to miss, as the Frank Gehry designed structure uses 21,000 stainless steel and painted aluminum shingles and is said to resemble a disassembled guitar. Perhaps the building is a tribute to Jimi Hendrix, a Seattle native, as MoPOP has the largest collection in the world of Jimi Hendrix memorabilia. The early years of MoPOP focused on music, with impressive collections and narratives built for the music genres like Grunge and HipHop as well as instruments like guitars. In 2004, the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame opened in half the building, providing a new showcase of how technology affects us.
The Chihuly Garden and Glass is an homage to Dave Chihuly, a famous glass artist born in Tacoma, WA. Chihuly's artwork appears in numerous locations and museums around the world, from the Smithsonian and Louvre museums to the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas. The Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle has the most extensive collection, with eight distinct galleries. Highlights include the glasshouse, a 4,500ft conservatory with a 100 foot long suspended Chihuly glass creation, as well as the garden, which pairs an impressive collection of trees and plants with Chihuly's artwork.
The Pacific Science Center is a not-for-profit institution inspiring interest and experimentation with science. It offers numerous science focused exhibits, many of which are hands-on, and appeals to all ages. Some of the more popular exhibits include tropical butterfly house, which allows you to walk among numerous species of butterflies and the laserdome which features a dazzling laser show accompanied by music. The Pacific Science Center also has two IMAX theaters, with the Boeing Theater measuring in at an impressive 60 feet high and 80 feet wide.
Seattle Children's Museum is geared towards younger children (up to ages 10) and features numerous hands-on exhibits spread out over 14,000 square feet of space. Popular exhibits include the Neighborhood Paws, where youngsters can practice their veterinary skills, and the Construction Zone, where the little ones can build houses, ships and more. The Pacific Science Center is open every day but Tuesday from 10am to 5pm.
While originally built in 1936 to house the 146th Field Artillery and its half-ton tanks, the Armory is now home to the Food and Event Fall with various vendors serving breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as tasty snacks. You will find a mix of local food vendors hawking pizza, fish and tacos, as well as well known chains like Subway and Starbucks. It's the go to spot for food if spending the day at the Seattle Center.
While the Seattle Center has youngster focused activities like the Pacific Science Center or Seattle Children's Museum, if the little ones still need to blow off some steam, there is an outdoor playground, known as the Artists at Play playground, with swings and large play structure next to Museum of Pop Culture. No tickets required, as the playground is open to all and considered one of the best Seattle playgrounds.
The Monorail debuted in 1962, one month before the World's Fair, and was financed and constructed by the private company Alweg Rapid Transit Systems, who were able to recoup their costs and generate a profit by transporting 8 million people during the 6 months of the World's Far. It is now owned and operated by the city of Seattle, and runs half a mile from Westlake Center to Seattle Center with no intermediate stops, and is a convenient way to access Seattle Center from downtown Seattle.
Sandwiched between the Puget Sound, Lake Washington and Lake Uinion, Seattle has a lot of waterfront! This section deals with the downtown waterfront area, which has a number of tourist attractions and things to do. And with the new park scheduled to be open in 2024 as a result of the Viaduct being torn down a number of years ago, this area is definitely worth visiting.
The Seattle Great Wheel is a kids' favorite activity down by the waterfront. All ages will enjoy the scenic views as the full enclosed gondolas go up to 180 feet in the air. The Seattle Great Wheel lights up at night, with light shows on the weekend. Each gondola seats up to eight people, and parties of six or less may be required to combine with other groups when the lines are long. For your own gondola, go during off hours and reserve the one VIP gondola.
The Seattle Aquarium features a number of animals, exhibits and daily activities designed to entertain and inform all age groups. One can see and learn about otters and octopuses, watch staff feed the seals and learn about marine life in our local waters through the Window on Washington Waters exhibit. The Seattle aquarium is open year round, and features a number of open air spaces, so dress appropriately in the off-season.
The Seattle waterfront has numerous piers containing shops and restaurants There is a nice boardwalk connecting all the piers, but note there is currently quite a bit of construction as the elevated freeway, also known as the viaduct, was torn down and is being replaced by a new waterfront park. The piers also offer a chance to spot wildlife like porpoises, dolphins, orcas (killer whales), gray whales, humpback whales, watch the ferries arriving into Pier 50 and watch people try their hand at catching fish and squid.
Want some of the best views of the Seattle skyline? Consider taking a day cruise around the Puget Sound. Argosy Cruises offers 1 hour and 2 hour tours on the harbor and Ballard Locks. The Salish Sea Tour offers 1 hour Elliot Bay tours complete with full service bar and food aboard a catamaran. While Sailing Seattle offers 1.5 and 2 hour tours aboard a 70 foot sailboat.
The Salish Sea is a great place to go on whale watching tours, with Orcas, Gray Whales and Humpback Whales making appearances throughout the year. There are a number of companies around the Puget Sound offering whale watching tours, however FRS Clipper is the only company with boats leaving from Seattle. Conveniently located at Pier 69, they have half day tours available from May through October, and Gray Whale Watching tours during the annual migration to Alaska in March and April.
The Puget Sound has one of the largest ferry systems in the world, with Seattle serving a number of destinations including Vashon Island, Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, and Southworth. There are a variety of ferries in service, with the larger ferries offering rides to pedestrians, bikers and automobiles, while some of the smaller ones are passenger only ferries. Ferries are run by both Washington State Ferries as well as Kitsap Transit. Bainbridge Island is a popular day destination for visitors to Seattle, and who knows, you may even be able to see some resident Orcas, dolphins or porpoises on your journey!
The Olympic Sculpture Park is run by the Seattle Art Museum and at nine acres is the largest green space in downtown Seattle. The park features a wide variety of sculptures from various artists, and is a great place to unwind after a day spent exploring the city. The park is open from dusk until dawn every day of the year, and there is no cost to enjoy the park.
The downtown core is where you will find most of the area's hotels, as well as a mix of office buildings, shops and restaurants. Throw in Pike Place Market and a couple other staple Seattle tourist attractions, makes it a popular place to spend part of the day touring Seattle.
Pike Place Market is perhaps best known for the fish throwing at the Pike Place Fish Market, however there are numerous other interesting vendors, restaurants and shops located throughout the market. In operation since 1907, Pike Place Market is one of the oldest continuously operating markets in the United States, and supports over 160 craftspeople, 70 farmers and 60 buskers.
Who knew a wall plastered with chewed gum could be a tourist attraction, but given its location within Pike Place Market, this gum mural is a quintessential tourist stop. While the origins of the gum wall can be traced back to the early 1990's when patrons and performers stuck their gum to the wall, the provenance of the thousands of pieces of gum added throughout the years are more hazy. And don't forget your gum, as the wall needs constant additions!
Billing itself the "the most instagram-able place in the nation", the Selfie Museum provides a number of different spaces with professional props and lighting to ensure you take the perfect selfie. Move over Space Needle and Pike Place Market, there is a new selfie background in Seattle!
The Seattle Art Museum, referred to as SAM and not to be confused with the Seattle Asian Art Museum in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, is open Wednesday through Sunday. The Seattle Art Museum boasts an impressive collection of nearly 25,000 pieces of art from around the world, and also features a rotating array of exhibits throughout the year.
Not nearly as famous as its cousin the Space Needle, the Sky View Observatory in the Columbia Tower is nonetheless a great place to take in the view of Seattle. Situated on the 73rd floor, at 902 feet it is the tallest public viewing area in the Pacific Northwest, and also features a cafe and bar.
Seattle has a number of things to do outside of the core downtown area, with certain neighborhoods like Ballard and Capitol Hill being attractions in their own right.
Located in the Ballard neighborhood, the Hiram H. Chittenden Locks are one of the most popular tourist attractions in Seattle, with over a million visitors per year. In addition to watching boats rise and fall within the locks, there is a large botanical garden that makes a perfect place to a picnic, a visitors center with exhibits about the locks and a fish ladder complete with a viewing area where you can watch the salmon migrate.
Seattle has easy access to a wide variety of outdoor activities, both within city limits as well as the surrounding areas.
There are a number of basketball courts available throughout the city. Many of the courts are part of the Seattle parks system, and open to all during daylight hours, while some community centers also feature indoor basketball courts, as well as many schools have outdoor courts available during non-school hours. Seattle Basketball Courts
Many of the parks in Seattle have baseball fields, with a number sporting synthetic surfaces in place of grass, providing a mud free experience during the rainy season. Some of the fields even have lights available. You will also find baseball fields at certain Seattle public schools. Use our guide to determine how to reserve the field of your choice. Seattle Baseball Fields
Sandwiched between the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, there are a ton of trails throughout the region to enjoy, from an easy family hike to one of the many waterfalls in the area, to backpacking trips along the Pacific Crest Trail. Add in three National Parks within a day's drive, and you have one of the best locations to hike in the United States. Let's not forget that within the city of Seattle sit a number of parks with hiking trails, many of which will make you forget you are in the city! Best Hikes in Seattle Easy Hikes Near Seattle
Pickleball has its roots in the Puget Sound, being invented on Bainbridge Island in 1965. Pickleball's popularity has exploded in the last ten years, and more and more courts are popping up in Seattle. This includes tennis courts that have pickleball line markings, as well as courts dedicated to pickleball. Seattle Pickleball Courts
Looking for a net to shoot on, or a field for a friendly pickup game of soccer? Seattle Parks and Recreation maintains a number of soccer fields with goals, and you will also find soccer pitches at public schools throughout the Seattle area. Seattle Soccer Fields
Seattle Parks and Recreation has 100+ concrete tennis courts in 22 different parks throughout the city, with the The Amy Yee tennis Center featuring 10 indoor courts in addition to its 6 outdoor courts. Additionally, a number of Seattle schools have tennis courts, and of course there are private tennis facilities located in the city as well. Seattle Tennis Courts