12 In North America/ Washington State

The Ultimate Guide – Things To Do in Seattle

Seattle is becoming more than just a pass-through city on the way to Alaska or Canada. While it is true that our grey winter days seem to stretch on for months without seeing that bright glorious orange orb in the sky that we all love so much, the other three seasons are what we Seattleites live for (and if you’re a snowbird, you also live for the winter!)

If you’ll be visiting Seattle, be sure to check out my post on Where to Eat in Seattle or visit my Washington State Archives page for all things Seattle and Washington!

Seattle is situated on the beautiful Puget Sound, which means that we are surrounded by both water and mountains, with the Olympics to the West and the Cascades to the East. On a clear day, you can see a handful of peaks and glaciers, including Mt. Baker, Mt. Rainier and Mt. Saint Helens. Because of Seattle’s excellent ferry system, there are myriad day trips awaiting you to neighboring islands, inlets and peninsulas. If you’ve got a car, you’re also just a 30-minute to 3-hour drive from some of the most spectacular hiking in the world.

Washington State

Throughout my time living in Seattle, I have spent my entire career in the travel & tourism industry. I spent two years as the Tourism Development Sales Manager for the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass, promoting tourism to the State of Washington, followed by working for Expedia (headquarters based in Seattle) in the offline activities division, so to say I am passionate about tourism is an understatement.

Below I will detail the many things to do in Seattle, including paid and free attractions, day trips, and things to do on a rainy day. 

Seattle Attractions

Below I’ll include a list and then I’ll elaborate on each one:

  • Alki Beach & West Seattle
  • Amazon Spheres
  • Argosy Cruises
  • Rent a Hot Tub Boat on Lake Union
  • Fremont Troll
  • Bike the Burke-Gilman Trail
  • Discovery Park
  • Gas Works Park
  • Green Lake
  • Golden Gardens
  • Hiram Chittenden Ballard Locks
  • Kerry Park
  • Lenin Statue
  • Olympic Sculpture Park
  • Take a Foodie Tour with Savor Seattle Food Tours
  • Snoqualmie Falls
  • Take a Ferry to a Neighbor Town
  • Rent Kayaks on Portage Bay
  • Center for Wooden Boats
  • Spend the Night at a Fire Lookout Tower
  • Visit UW (University of Washington) Campus, Especially During April for Cherry Blossom Season
  • Volunteer Park, Observatory & Conservatory

Things to Do on a Rainy Day:

  • Chihuly Garden and Glass
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Discovery Foundation Center
  • Elliott Bay Book Company
  • Frye Art Museum
  • MoHai (Museum of History and Industry)
  • MoPop (Museum of Pop Culture)
  • National Nordic Museum
  • SAM (Seattle Art Museum)
  • Space Needle
  • Seattle Underground Tour
  • Seattle Public Library & Hammer Man
  • Starbucks Roastery & Reserve
  • Go Climbing Indoors at Seattle Bouldering Project or Vertical World
  • Theo Chocolate Factory Tour
  • Relax at a Clothing-Optional Outdoor Sauna and Jacuzzi at Sacred Rain

Day Trips:

  • Bainbridge Island
  • Port Townsend
  • Port Angeles
  • Whidbey Island
  • Bellingham
  • Olympic Peninsula
  • Woodinville
  • Skagit Valley
  • Leavenworth
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Vancouver, B.C.

Alki Beach & West Seattle
You can take a water taxi from downtown, or simply drive your car across the West Seattle bridge. Once you arrive, you’ll immediately notice a complete change of pace to a slower, more laid-back friendly beach vibe. Eateries, cafes and fish & chip shops line the waterfront, in addition to a bike & pedestrian foot path that extends over three miles long. There’s even a mini Statue of Liberty!

Alki Beach Mini Statue of Liberty

Sasha and I are beach volleyball players, so this is where we spend the bulk of our summers, starting our day with Hawaiian coffee from Ampersand Cafe, playing all day long and swimming in the crisp calm waters, eating donuts from Top Pot, snacking on clam chowder from Sunfish (owned by two Greek brothers, so their kalamari is the real deal), and enjoying the long days where the sun doesn’t set until nearly 10PM.

Alki, West Seattle, Washington, Space Needle

This photo was taken in early June at 9:45 PM when the sun had just set and lights were beginning to come alive in the city landscape that is Seattle

Amazon Spheres – Admission is free, but you must make a reservation (they often book out several weeks in advance because they only do tours on the weekend.) Reservations can be made through their website here.

Argosy Cruises for a cruise on Lake Washington and to see the famous houseboat from the movie Sleepless in Seattle.

Rent a Hot Tub Boat on Lake Union – yep, that’s a thing here. Grab your friends!

Fremont Troll – underneath the Fremont Bridge
Fremont Troll, Seattle

Bike the Burke-Gilman Trail (over 22 miles of trail that connects with other interurban trails)
LEFT: October with colorful autumn leaves
RIGHT: June when everything is green!

TIP: rent a bike through Seattle’s many bike share companies 

Discovery Park for nice walks/trail runs/bike riding.
TIP: go to the lighthouse for awesome views of Rainier when the mountain is out on a clear day.
Discovery Park Lighthouse, Seattle, Washington

Gas Works Park – Rent stand up paddle boards (SUPs) in the summer and paddle Lake Union, or go at night to see the city lights on a clear evening. If you’re into acroyoga, this is the spot to be during summer season when people are out in full force working on their yoga and acrobatic moves!

IMG_0932

Green Lake for a pleasant 3-mile loop run / walk, or during summer, rent paddle boats on the lake.
Green Lake Bubbles

Golden Gardens – Ballard
Great for sunset, beach volleyball and bonfires (first come, first served). Excellent views of leaves changing colors during Fall. The Burke-Gilman Trail ends here.

Hiram Chittenden Locks – Ballard
See the salmon swimming upstream between June – August.

Kerry Park – Queen Anne
Views of downtown and the most popular Seattle shot of the Space Needle.

Lenin Statue in Fremont

Olympic Sculpture Park

Savor Seattle Food Tours – Pike Place Market Tour, excellent for foodies!

Snoqualmie Falls – 45-minute drive from Seattle
TIP: Hike down to the bottom for a closer-up view of the falls.
Snoqualmie Falls, Washington State

Take a Ferry to Nearby Islands (keep reading below for day trip ideas)

Rent kayaks from Agua Verde Paddle Club and go out for a paddle on Portage Bay. Raining? Not to worry! They provide you with all the rain-proof and warm equipment you’ll need! Just bring your own rain jacket.

Center For Wooden Boats – there are free sails on Sundays – sign up before 10:00 AM

Spend the Night in a Fire Lookout Tower
Advance reservations are required, and some are so popular you’ll be placed on a waiting list. If you don’t mind a rustic outdoor adventure, this will be an unforgettable experience!

Heybrook Lookout - Washington State Fire Tower

Visit University of Washington (UW), especially during April when the cherry blossoms bloom.

Volunteer Park, Observatory & Conservatory – Capitol Hill

This is a great place to take a stroll in a giant open space to get a bit of nature within the city. There’s an observatory that you can climb to the top of and see the view of the Space Needle, as well as a conservatory, Seattle’s historic greenhouse.

Things to Do on a Rainy Day in Seattle

Visit one of Seattle’s many museums:

Chihuly Garden and Glass
With its grand opening in 2012, Chihuly Garden and Glass has continuously been one of the top-rated attractions on TripAdvisor. This exhibition is dedicated solely to the glass art of local artist and sculptor, Dale Chihuly.

Chihuly Garden and Glass & Space Needle, Seattle, Washington

The view looking up above at the Glasshouse juxtaposed with the Space Needle.

Bill & Melinda Gates Discovery Foundation Center (free – right across the street from Seattle Center)

Elliott Bay Book Company – Capitol Hill
In a time of online books and e-books, it’s refreshing and delightful to see that real brick and mortar book stores still exist. This bookstore used to call Pioneer Square home, but has now moved to the trendy Capitol Hill neighborhood. The squeaky wooden floors add to the charm.

Frye Art Museum (free, closed on Mondays)

MoHai (Museum of History and Industry)

MoPop – Museum of Pop Culture (located at Seattle Center right next to the Space Needle & Chihuly Garden and Glass)

National Nordic Museum – Ballard

SAM (Seattle Art Museum) & Olympic Sculpture Park along the Seattle waterfront

The Space Needle – Seattle Center

The Space Needle underwent a massive renovation from 2017 – 2018 to improve the guest experience. No more tacky lines obstructing the views! Now it’s floor-to-sky angled glass that makes you feel as if you’re falling into the sky. They now have the first and only revolving glass floor in the entire world.

Seattle Underground Tour
Did you know that there is a whole network of underground passageways underneath the city of Seattle (specifically Pioneer Square)? After the great fire of 1889, the town’s streets were regraded to two stories higher. On this tour, learn about the interesting (and hilarious) history of how Seattle came to be.
TIP: Do the daytime version. It’s informative, playful and interesting. We found the adults only X-rated night time version to be a bit lame.

Seattle Public Library & Hammer Man

Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room – Capitol Hill


Wow, what a foodie experience! I must include a caveat here that I actually dislike the normal Starbucks chain. For being a Seattle-grown company, they are not as progressive as they need to be regarding environmental sustainability and how much plastic they use. Many of their drinks contain high fructose corn syrup and are way too sweet, contributing to the worldwide obesity pandemic. However, the Reserve is completely different; everything in their specialty beverages is made in-house, including the delicious pastries, flatbreads, salads and baked goods. I recommend sitting at one of the bars where the professional and knowledgeable baristas will contribute to your experience by explaining the processes of whichever beverage you selected.

Climb at SBP (Seattle Bouldering Project) or Vertical World
It seems that a good fourth of Seattleites are climbers! Check out one of the many indoor climbing gyms, perfect for a rainy or cold day.

Take a Tour of Theo Chocolate Factory – Fremont
If you’re not feeling the full tour, you can simply visit their factory in Fremont and sample your way through the store!

Sacred Rain Healing Center – feeling stressed or simply want to relax? This hidden gem in Ballard is a clothing-optional co-ed outdoor sauna and jacuzzi. You can also get a massage here, or just sunbathe in the nude. Unless you’re getting a massage, advance reservations are not required; simply show up and pay on the spot. There’s even a discounted punch card if you’re a local and plan to come frequently.

Day Trips From Seattle

Bainbridge Island (take the ferry) – see my blog post here on how to spend the perfect day in Bainbridge island

Port Townsend (take the ferry)
Start your day with a cup of Joe at Better Living Through Coffee, a café right on the water. Sometimes during harsh weather the waves splash up and hit the window making for an entertaining show. There’s full sun exposure if you’re lacking Vitamin D with windows all around. Other notable eateries include Sweet Laurettes, a bakery with excellent pastries and outdoor patio seating with sun, Velocity Café and The Blue Moose.

Port Angeles (take the ferry from Edmonds)
This is the jumping-off point for accessing Olympic National Park

Whidbey Island (take the ferry or drive)

Bellingham – 2-hour drive from Seattle
Be sure to take the scenic route along Chuckanut Drive and visit Taylor Shellfish Farms for a true taste of the Pacific Northwest. Next, hike Oyster Dome overlooking Lumi Island.

Taylor Shellfish Farms, Bellingham, Washington

While in Bellingham, be sure to make a pit stop at Taylor Shellfish Farm for delicious oysters and this awesome lighthouse made of the shells!

Olympic Peninsula (take the Kingston ferry)
For more information on visiting Olympic National Park and the coast, check out my Olympic National Park & Port Angeles blog post.

Woodinville

Great for wine and beer lovers!

Skagit Valley Tulip Festival (April 1- 30)

Leavenworth
Adorable Bavarian town on the Wenatchee river.
Leavenworth, Bavarian Inspired Town, Washington State

Portland, Oregon (2.5-hour drive South from Seattle)
Check out my Foodie’s Weekend in Portland blog post

Vancouver, Canada (2.5-hour drive North from Seattle)
Check out my blog post on Things to Do in Vancouver, B.C. including where to eat!

Hopefully this post has provided you with some good ideas for things to do in Seattle and Washington State!

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below! What would you add and what have I missed?

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The Ultimate Guide To Seattle

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12 Comments

  • Reply
    Nadia
    June 11, 2018 at 9:08 pm

    This is so comprehensive and useful! Sharing it with everyone I know in Seattle 😉

    • Reply
      culturalfoodies
      June 11, 2018 at 9:43 pm

      Aww, thank you so much for sharing, Nadia!! I appreciate that! 🙂

  • Reply
    Moani Hood
    June 14, 2018 at 5:28 pm

    Being a fellow foodie, this post 100% makes me want to start planning a weekend getaway to Seattle just to eat at all the delicious food places you recommended! I wanted to do the Theo tour last time we were there, but we were so short on time. I’m glad you included it as it reminded me about it. I have like 4 bars of Theo chocolate in the cupboard right now! Lol. I should know better than to read your posts on an empty stomach. Haha. I pinned this post to save for later. Such a great comprehensive guide!

    • Reply
      culturalfoodies
      June 14, 2018 at 8:53 pm

      Aww, thanks Moani, you’re the best! I hope someday we can time our visit to Seattle or Portland together and explore all the foodie and vegan things!! 🙂 We will do this soon on O’ahu!! I can’t wait!

  • Reply
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