Seattle Travel Guide

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Updated: September 21, 2022

The Space Needle in Seattle, Washington.

Seattle is home for most of the SD Team. This is our guide to the best of our hometown.

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Map of where Seattle is located.

How big is Seattle?

Seattle has a population of 737,000 and is the 18th largest city in the United States. It has a land area of 83.9 sq. miles and 142.7 sq. miles when including lakes, rivers, and seawater within its boundaries. For comparison, Manhattan has a land area of 22.8 sq. miles. Seattle sits on the Puget Sound, an inlet of the Pacific Ocean. Downtown Seattle is approximately 95 miles from the Canadian border, 120 miles from Vancouver, BC, and 140 miles from Portland, Oregon.

What is the best time to visit Seattle?

The best months to visit Seattle for great weather are June, July, August, and September. July and August have the consistently driest and sunniest weather. June and September are a little more variable but have the advantage of smaller crowds and lower prices. April, May, and October have more rain and cloudy skies than the summer months but as long as you bring along a raincoat and some warm clothes they’re still great times to visit. November through March are legitimately cool and damp but sunny days and balmy weather are not uncommon and if your interests are focused on the Seattle museum or theater scene then the winter months are an ideal time to visit.

What are the best things to do in Seattle?

Pike Place Market is the best thing to do in downtown Seattle.

Staying near Pike Place Market is highly recommended for first time visitors to Seattle. The market and surrounding area is a mecca for great food, boutique shopping, and local charm. It’s the centerpiece and hub of activity for most tourists to the city.

1. Pike Place Market • Downtown
If you can only do one thing in Seattle, this should be it. Food, flowers, and fun shops – all in the heart of downtown, with a view over the Seattle waterfront. Favorite shops: Market Magic ShopGolden Age CollectiblesIndi ChocolateMetsker MapsDeLaurentiMarket Spice. Favorite eats: Place PigalleMatt’s in the MarketEllenos YogurtBeecher’s Handmade CheeseDaily Dozen DonutsJack’s Fish SpotPike Place ChowderOld Stove Brewing. • map

2. Water Taxi to West Seattle • Waterfront
A cheap and easy way to get out on Elliott Bay, and enjoy amazing views of the downtown skyline. The taxi leaves Pier 50 every half hour or so, and crossing time is 10 minutes. On the West Seattle end, grab a drink and a snack on Marination Ma Kai’s patio before heading back, or take the free shuttle up to Alki Beach. • map

3. Ferry to Bainbridge Island • Waterfront
Take a beautiful 35-minute ferry crossing (that departs right from downtown Seattle) to a charming harbor town that’s walkable from the pier. Plan your return trip at sunset. While you’re there, don’t miss: Blackbird BakeryMora Iced CreameryBainbridge BrewingBainbridge Island Art MuseumBainbridge History MuseumHitchcock DeliBloedel Reserve. • map

4. The Space Needle • Queen Anne
Seattle’s most iconic landmark. It’s perfectly fine to just view it from the ground, but if you enjoy a good view, you’ll want to take the elevator all 520 feet up to the top. There’s a cafe at the top serving simple lunches, beer, wine, and treats. If you’re brave, head down a level to step out onto the revolving glass floor and (gulp) look down. • map

5. Seattle Aquarium • Waterfront
All things aquatic: touchable tide pools, giant octopus, jellyfish, puffins, seals, sea otters, and more. Their daily activity programs include educational talks, feedings, and interacting with divers in the entryway’s impressive dome tank. • map

6. Seattle Center • Queen Anne
Huge cultural campus that’s home to many of the city’s top museums and venues: Space NeedleMuseum of Pop CultureChihuly Garden and GlassPacific Science CenterSeattle Children’s MuseumSeattle Children’s TheatreMcCaw HallSeattle Repertory TheatreClimate Pledge Areana (formerly Key Arena). The Center also hosts Seattle’s biggest festivals: FolklifeBumbershootBite of SeattleWinterfest. There’s a fun interactive fountain, and better-than-average food court that features some terrific local offerings. • map

7. Museum of Flight • Tukwila
Fantastic air and space museum that’s packed with interactive and educational exhibits, including airplanes and shuttle trainers to tour, flight simulators, a 3D movie theater, and guided tours of Boeing Field. There’s a play space for the littles, a decent cafe, and a great gift shop, to boot. Located a 20-minute drive south of downtown, in Tukwila. • map

8. Woodland Park Zoo • Phinney Ridge
Feed a penguin or giraffe, get up close to a grizzly bear, or watch the penguins at play. This is an award-winning zoo with over 1,000 different types of animals. It’s 92 acres, but easy to navigate – and the #5 bus will get you there from downtown in under a half an hour. • map • (206) 548-2500

9. Great Wheel • Waterfront
It’s that big ferris wheel that’s right on the waterfront, and views from the top are amazing, especially on a sunny day. Rising 175 feet, and extending 40 feet out over Elliott Bay, this one’s not for the faint of heart. Those looking for a more thrilling experience can rent the one glass-bottomed gondola – or buy a combo ticket that includes admittance to Wings Over Washington, the virtual flying ride next door. • map • (206) 623-8607

The Great Wheel on the Seattle waterfront.

The Great Wheel offers marvelous views of downtown Seattle above the shops and restaurants of the waterfront district.

10. The Underground Tour • Pioneer Square
A fun crash course into Seattle history, exploring the subterranean city that used to be. Tour groups are large, and the spiel can be kitschy, but the guides know their stuff. (If you prefer a smaller group size, try Beneath the Streets.) • map • (206) 682-4646

11. Savor Seattle Food Tours • Downtown/Capitol Hill
Seattle’s best food tour company has something for everyone. Sample local chocolates, cocktails, Pike Place Market favorites, or gourmet restaurant bites. Tours offered year round. • various locations • (206) 209-5485

12. Kush Tourism • SoDo
An in-depth look at local marijuana commerce and culture. You’ll visit a glass-blowing studio for a pipe-making demonstration, a marijuana grow facility, a production facility where extractions and edibles are produced, and a retail shop. • map • (206) 587-5874

13. Bon Vivant Wine Tours • Woodinville
Get picked up at your hotel and whisked away to wineries and tasting rooms in Seattle, nearby Woodinville or Bainbridge Island, or farther afield across the Cascade Mountains. Groups are small (no more than 10 people), and private tours are available by request. • various locations • (206) 524-8687

14. Argosy Cruises • Waterfront
Seattle’s best boat tours: Visit the working harbor, journey through the Ballard Locks to see the floating homes on Lake Union, float past Bill Gates’ house on Lake Washington, or cruise out to Blake Island State Park for smoked salmon and a Northwest Native American storytelling show (summer only). • map • (206) 623-1445

15. Kenmore Air Scenic Seaplane Tour • Lake Union
See it all from above. Float plane tours are offered of Seattle, Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens, and the San Juan Islands, and can be combined with whale watching and kayak tours. Planes are stable and comfortable, and experienced pilots make take-off and landing a breeze. • map • (866) 435-9524

16. Victoria Clipper • Waterfront
Seattle’s only whale watching excursion that departs from downtown (March-October), Clipper Vacations also offers day trips to San Juan Island and Victoria, British Columbia. • map • (800) 888-2535

17. Alki Kayak Tours • West Seattle
Guided kayak tours of Elliott Bay and Alki Point in West Seattle. They offer daily sunset tours that are especially popular in the summer months, and a nighttime paddle during full moons. • map • (206) 953-0237

18. T-Mobile Park Tour • Pioneer Square
An hour-long behind the scenes look at the home of the Seattle Mariners. Visit the press box, dugouts, owner’s suite, and more. For an insiders’ look at where the Seahawks and Sounders play, take a Lumen Field tour. • map • (206) 346-4000

What are the best bars and clubs in downtown Seattle?

• Read about my favorite Seattle restaurants

1. Von’s 1000 Spirits • Downtown

Fun pub-casual atmosphere, solid menu (must try: their amazing sourdough pasta), and a giant wheel that’s spun every half hour to determine the drink special. Located on 1st near the Four Seasons Hotel. • map • (206) 621-8667

2. The Nest • Downtown

Excellent high-end cocktails at the best rooftop terrace in Seattle, perched atop the Thompson hotel with sweeping views of the waterfront and Puget Sound. Can get very busy on warm evenings, so go early or call ahead for reservations. • map • (206) 623-4600

3. Zig Zag Cafe • Downtown

Elegant and cozy watering hole with maybe the best craft cocktails in Seattle, a fantastic food menu, and an inviting patio under Pike Place Market. Late night menu until 1am. • map • (206) 625-1146

4. Alibi Room • Pike Place Market

Cozy, dark, and intimate with great late night pizza. Located in Post Alley, near the gum wall. • map • (206) 623-3180

5. Radiator Whiskey • Pike Place Market

Cozy and rustic tavern, with an impressive whiskey collection and an adventurous meat-heavy menu. Call ahead to order their popular smoked half pig head (serves 2-3). Tucked upstairs in Pike Place Market. • map • (206) 467-4268

6. The Crocodile • Belltown

Dive bar that’s legendary in the Seattle music scene as the “cradle of grunge.” Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Mudhoney, and Alice in Chains all played here in the 90’s, and the venue still hosts great live music seven nights a week. • map • (206) 441-4618

7. Bathtub Gin & Co. • Belltown

Authentic-feeling speakeasy, straight out of prohibition and hidden down a Belltown alleyway. (Check the website for location clues.) Great house cocktails, intimate setting. • map • (206) 728-6069

8. Black Bottle • Belltown

Casual gastropub, specializing in small plates. Excellent wine list, local beers, and creative cocktails. Outdoor seating in the summer months. Adults only. • map • (206) 441-1500

9. Flatstick Pub • Pioneer Square

Super fun games pub serving Washington beers and ciders. Indoor mini golf, cornhole, basketball beer pong, giant Jenga, and Duffleboard – a tabletop mix of mini golf and shuffleboard that you’ll only find here. Dogs allowed. There’s also a Flatstick in the South Lake Union neighborhood near Amazon. • map • (206) 682-0608

10. Damn the Weather • Pioneer Square

Cozy spot for seasonal small plates and innovative craft cocktails – and happy hour runs all afternoon long. • map • (206) 946-1283

11. Temperance Bar • Pioneer Square

An art-deco themed room with a view, Temperance is located in the historic Smith Tower observation deck. Take the antique elevator up to the 35th floor, and enjoy your cocktail alongside incredible vistas of Mount Rainier, the Space Needle, and the ferries on Puget Sound. • map • (206) 624-0414

12. Unicorn • Capitol Hill

Funky and bizarre carnival-themed bar with arcade games, photo booth, and specialty corn dogs. Fun weekly events include drag queen bingo and brunch. • map • (206) 325-6492

13. Toulouse Petit • Lower Queen Anne

Creole cuisine, twice daily award-winning happy hours, and decadent decor: floor to ceiling windows, beautiful wood and ironwork, and gold velvet booths. Also great for brunch. Located near Seattle Center. • map • (206) 432-9069

What are the main Seattle neighborhoods for visitors?

Most tourists will spend their time in Downtown and Pike Place Market. Belltown, Seattle Center, Lower Queen Anne, South Lake Union, and Capitol Hill are within walking distance to the northwest, north, and northeast from downtown. The waterfront (on Puget Sound), Pioneer Square, and the International District are within walking distance to the south and southeast from downtown. Ballard, Fremont, and Upper Queen Anne are a 10 to 15-minute drive to the north of downtown and are two inviting neighborhoods with few tourists and an authentic Seattle vibe.

1. Downtown
Seattle’s downtown core is home to many of the city’s best (and most expensive) hotels, and loads of great shopping, dining, and entertainment options. Downtown Seattle includes Pike Place Market (which can feel like its own neighborhood) and borders the neighborhoods of Belltown, Capitol Hill, Pioneer Square, and the waterfront.
Best Stuff: Pike Place MarketSeattle Art MuseumNordstrom Flagship StorePacific Place Mall (eat at Din Tai Fung) • 5th Avenue and Paramount Theatres (broadway shows) • Benaroya Hall (Seattle Symphony) • The Triple Door (intimate music venue) • No Anchor (upscale pub fare) • Old Stove BrewingThe Nest (rooftop bar) • Zig Zag Cafe (cocktail lounge) • Matt’s in the Market (best restaurant) • Alibi Room (late night eats/drinks) • Sushi Kashiba

2. Belltown
Nightlife, high-rise condos, great restaurants, and boutique bars and shops. Belltown sits just north of Downtown, and has easy walking access to the Waterfront, Pike Place Market, and the museums and venues in Seattle Center.
Best Stuff: Bathtub Gin & Co. (speakeasy) • Serious Pie (serious pizza) • Lola (Mediterranean cuisine) • Dahlia BakeryThe Crocodile (dive bar & music venue) • Steepologie TeaBlack Bottle (gastropub) • El Gaucho (steakhouse) • Dimitriou’s (live jazz) • Wakefield Bar (small plates) • Rocco’s (pizza) • Jupiter Bar (beer, sandwiches, pinball) • Navy Strength (tiki bar)
Belltown is just north of downtown; 5-10 minutes walking distance.

A view of Belltown and downtown Seattle and waterfront.

A view of Belltown with downtown, Pioneer Square, and International District in the background and the waterfront just visible to the south. “Downtown” is occassionally used to mean this entire area (basically, central Seattle) but locals generally use it in reference the core of this urban area – the dense section filled with the largest business skyscrapers.

3. Pioneer Square
Seattle’s original downtown. A historic district that’s now home to art galleries, bars, and restaurants. Walkable to downtown, Colman ferry dock, and the sports stadiums.
Best Stuff: The Underground TourThe Smith Tower Observatory (and its 20’s themed bar, Temperance) • The Klondike Gold Rush Museum (free, and actually a small National Park!) • First Thursday Art Gallery WalkSalumi (artisan cured meats and sandwiches, weekday lunch only) • The London Plane (bakery & flower shop) • Il Terrazzo Carmine (fantastic old-school Italian) • Nirmal’s (Indian) • Damn the Weather (bar/inventive small plates) • Taylor Shellfish (oyster bar) • The Sovereign (underground Art Deco bar) • Good Bar (hand crafted cocktails in a former bank building) • Flatstick Pub (beer, games, and indoor mini-golf)
Pioneer Square is just south of downtown. Walking distance (5-10 minutes), or Light Rail.

4. International District
(aka Chinatown, Japantown, the I.D.) Great eats and shopping in this culturally diverse neighborhood.
Best Stuff: Wing Luke Museum (also gives excellent neighborhood tours) • Uwajimaya Village (international supermarket, food court, bookstore) • Seattle Pinball Museum (play all day for the price of admission) • Panama Hotel (historic tea house) • Kobo (high end shopping) • Boiling Point (Taiwanese hot pot) • Maneki (Japanese) • Phnom Penh Noodle House (Cambodian) • Green Leaf (Vietnamese)
The I.D. is southeast of downtown, just beyond Pioneer Square. Walking distance (15 minutes from downtown), Light Rail, or Bus #36/17/14.

5. Capitol Hill
One of Seattle’s most hip and vibrant neighborhoods, known for its nightlife, counterculture, LGBTQ scene, old stately homes, and great food and drink.
Best Stuff: Volunteer Park (leafy green space with a tropical conservatory) • Elliott Bay Book CompanyPuzzle Break (escape room) • Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting RoomMelrose Market (artisan food stalls, shops, restaurants) • Neumos (live music) • The Garage (pool hall & bowling) • Bateau (French steakhouse) • Ba Bar (Vietnamese street food) • Omega Ouzeri (Greek) • Stateside (French/Vietnamese) • Spinasse (Italian) • Taylor Shellfish (oysters) • Mamnoon (Middle Eastern) • Oddfellows CafePlum Bistro (vegan) • Nue (international street food)
East across the freeway from downtown. Walking distance (20 minutes uphill from downtown), Light Rail, First Hill streetcar from Pioneer Square, or Bus #49/11.

6. Upper Queen Anne
Upscale residential neighborhood with high-end boutiques, leafy parks, great views, and stately homes. Lower Queen Anne and Seattle Center are down the hill from Upper Queen Anne and closer to downtown.
Best Stuff: Kerry Park (iconic Space Needle viewpoint) • Blue Highway GamesMeadow (women’s clothing & home decor) • Queen Anne Dispatch (clothing, shoes, jewelry) • Stuhlbergs (stationery, toys, gifts) • How to Cook a Wolf (Upscale Mediterranean small plates) • Hilltop Ale HouseVia Tribunali (Neapolitan pizzeria).
Located up a very steep hill just north of Seattle Center. Bus: #2/3/4/13/29.

7. Fremont
Funky fun neighborhood with bars, diners, high end restaurants, shops, and oddball sightseeing.
Best Stuff: The Fremont TrollTheo’s Chocolate (they do cool tours) • Fremont Vintage MallFremont BrewingMilstead & Co. (coffee) • Nectar Lounge (live music) • George & Dragon PubUneeda BurgerJoule (Korean) • The Whale Wins (European)
Located north of downtown and Lake Union. Bus: #5/28/40/62.

Hip neighborhood in Seattle.

Ballard neighborhood in north Seattle.

8. Ballard
Trendy and family-friendly neighborhood packed shops, restaurants, bars, breweries, charming streets, and maritime history. Staying at the Hotel Ballard is a great way to experience the area’s local vibe.
Best Stuff: Ballard Locks (boat elevator and salmon ladder) • Golden Gardens Park (beautiful Puget Sound beach and marina) • Ballard Farmer’s Market (Sundays, year-round) • Nordic MuseumThe Sunset and Tractor Taverns (live music) • Un Bien (Caribbean sandwiches) • Walrus and the Carpenter (oysters) • San FermoNo Bones Beach Club (vegan tiki bar) • Ray’s (seafood & water views) • Ballard Pizza CompanyLa Carta de Oaxaca (Mexican) • King’s Hardware (pub grub) • Li’l Woody’s BurgersPercy’s & Co. (cocktail apothecary) • Local breweries: StoupReuben’sJolly Roger Taproom
Located northwest of downtown and west of Fremont. Bus: #40/44/D-Line.

Do I need a car when visiting Seattle?

It’s pretty easy to get around Seattle without renting a car, and much cheaper. Seattle has a comprehensive transit system that includes bus, train, light rail, streetcar, monorail, ferry, and water taxi – and they’re all payable via the same reloadable Orca transit card. Light rail runs every 10 minutes from the airport to the downtown corridor, University District, and points beyond; taxis and Lyft/Uber are plentiful and easy to obtain for short trips that fall outside of a convenient transit zone. Because downtown parking is expensive and hard to come by, and freeway traffic is usually a mess, we don’t recommend renting a car unless you’ll be taking a day trip far from the city – and then, only for the day.

How long should I spend in Seattle?

3 days is enough to cover all the local must-do sights like Pike Place Market, the Space Museum, a ferry trip to Bainbridge Island, and a museum or two, and to take good advantage of Seattle’s excellent restaurant scene. Add another day or two for a day trip to the San Juan Islands, Mount Rainier or Olympic National Park, Victoria B.C., or wine tasting in Woodinville – it’s easy to find good tours and charters to all of these local-ish spots from downtown Seattle.

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