Top 10 Things to See and Do in and Around Seattle

Until recently I hadn’t spent much time in the Pacific Northwest and now I’m trying to figure out why it took so long to discover this beautiful part of the United States.  Our trip began with a couple days in Olympic National Park (more on that coming soon!) before heading to Seattle.  I found that there’s such a wealth of things to see and do in the city (and eat – also coming soon!) and that it’s extremely walkable with easy to navigate public transportation options.  Like most first time visitors we spent a lot of time at the Seattle Center, the huge arts and culture complex originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair.  Not only is it home to the city’s iconic Space Needle, but you’ll also find a ton of museums, theatres, stadiums, gardens, eateries and other public spaces.

I love when a first impression is an awesome impression, which was definitely the case for Seattle.  As much we were able to experience during our first trip, by no means is this an all-inclusive list of everything the city has to offer.  And if you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing like we did, I highly recommend you check out the CityPASS.  The pass covers 5 attractions – the Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour, Museum of Pop Culture OR Woodland Park Zoo and Chihuly Garden and Glass OR Pacific Science Center – offering tremendous value (it basically pays for itself after 3 visits).  Be sure to comment below with any other favorite things to see and do in Seattle.  We’ll definitely be back soon.  :)

1. Space Needle
Visiting the Space Needle is a given for any trip to Seattle.  Originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the Space Needle is the city’s most iconic attraction and offers some of the best views of the skyline and surrounding area.  In precisely 41 seconds, an elevator sweeps you up 520 feet to the observation deck, which underwent a major renovation in 2018 resulting in 360-degrees of nearly unobstructed glass that makes it feel as if you’re floating above the city.  Additionally, the lower deck restaurant was replaced with a first-of-its-kind rotating glass floor for a unique look below.  As a bonus, if you have the CityPASS you can return a second time during the last three hours of operation on the day of your visit, giving you an opportunity to take in a sunset and the twinkling lights of the city from high up.  It’s a truly incredible experience day or night.

2. Pike Place Market
A Seattle institution since 1907, Pike Place Market is the longest continuously operating farmers market in the country.  This historic market spans a total of 9 acres along the waterfront and is the year-round home to hundreds of shops, vendors and restaurants.  It’s a sight for all the senses – from flying fish, flowers and fresh fruit to a wall of chewing gum and a lucky pig (or two), plus tons of specialty and craft stalls and the site of the very first Starbucks (more on that later).  To say there’s something for everyone would definitely be an understatement.  Also, be sure to check out the market’s iconic clock and neon sign, which dates back to 1937 and is said to be the oldest neon sign on the West Coast.

3. Chihuly Glass and Garden
Located at the Seattle Center next to the Space Needle this unique exhibition space is borderline magical.  Housing the work of Washington native and artist Dale Chihuly, visitors are treated to a collection of both indoor and outdoor spaces displaying Chihuly’s gorgeous blown glass sculptures.  First make your way through a handful of illuminated galleries before heading outside to muse at the dreamlike garden and light-filled glasshouse.  If you’re lucky you might also catch a live glassblowing demonstration.

4. Museum of Pop Culture
If you like movies and music then you’ll love MoPOP.  Step inside the striking Frank O. Ghery-designed building and take a deep dive into popular culture with its huge collection of artifacts, highly-immersive exhibits and hands-on activities.  Go behind the scenes of TV, film and literature genres ranging from fantasy to sci-fi and horror, play the latest video games from indie developers and trace the history of local music icons like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Jimi Hendrix.  Then hit up the interactive Sound Lab where you can put yourself in the middle of the music making process with guitars, keyboards, drums, mixing and more.

5. Seattle Aquarium
Spend a day with the fish and other ocean life at Seattle’s amazing aquarium.  A great spot for kids and adults alike, you’ll see everything from marine mammals and birds (otters and seals and puffins, oh my!), as well as octopus, jellies and tons of fish, almost all of which are native to the Puget Sound region.  Other highlights include touch pools and the Underwater Dome, plus daily feedings and diver shows in the giant Window on Washington Waters tank.

6. Harbor Cruise
One of the best ways to see Seattle’s skyline is from the water and a handful of sightseeing tours offered by Argosy Cruises, including its popular 1-hour narrated Harbor Cruise.  The boat departs from Pier 55 and travels in an 8-mile loop around Elliot Bay along the city’s waterfront and busy shipping port, plus it features a full service bar and snacks available for purchase.  Also nearby on the waterfront at Pier 57 you’ll find other activities like the Seattle Great Wheel and Miner’s Landing family-friendly entertainment complex.

7. Pioneer Square
Seattle’s first neighborhood where historic meets hipster is packed with culture, from its distinctive architecture to the concentration of restaurants, shopping, galleries and more.  Discover the city’s past at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, explore the area’s underground streets or check out the view from Smith Tower’s 35th floor Observatory (it was the first skyscraper in the city and at one point the tallest building west of the Mississippi!).  Pioneer Square is also a great place for nightlife, or for a more relaxing experience be sure to seek out a spot at the tree-lined Occidental Square.

8. Starbucks
Seattle is known for its coffee culture (the gray weather is a perfect match), and perhaps the best known coffeehouse associated with the city is Starbucks.  Many first time visitors will flock to the place where it all began, the original Starbucks at the corner of Pike Place and 1st Avenue in the Pike Place Market.  Here you can see the chain’s original mermaid logo (and often a crown spilling out onto the cobblestone street), but if waiting in lines aren’t for you there are hundreds of other locations throughout the city.  In Seattle you’ll also find Starbuck’s first Reserve Roastery in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, a different sort of coffee experience where you can see beans being roasted and try different menu items not available at other Starbucks.  And if Starbucks isn’t your thing, not to worry as there is no shortage of good coffee in Seattle.

9. Various Parks
With so much green space in and around the city, it’s no wonder Seattle is called the Emerald City.  And while there are too many parks to list (it’s home to nearly 500!), some top spots worth checking out include Centennial and Myrtle Edwards Parks (as well as with the nearby Olympic Sculpture Park) along the waterfront, the Gas Works Park on Lake Union and Volunteer Park with its Victorian-style greenhouse conservatory in Capitol Hill.  High up on Queen Anne hill is Kerry Park (also called “postcard park” because of its small size and postcard-like views of the Downtown skyline), and further north in the Magnolia neighborhood you’ll find Discovery Park (the city’s largest green space featuring forest and beach trails, open meadows and a rocky coastline complete with a lighthouse at the tip of the peninsula overlooking the Puget Sound).  For kids (and kids at heart) imaginative Artists at Play playground at the Seattle Center is not to miss.

10. Olympic National Park
Although not in Seattle, Olympic National Park is definitely worth adding to your trip if you have the time.  Located about 3 hours from the city on the Olympic Peninsula, this 922,651-acre is a magical wonderland of mountainous peaks, mossy rain forests and coastal beaches.  From hiking through diverse landscapes to kayaking on a lake or relaxing in hot springs, Olympic offers activities for every type of traveler.  It’s a place that is nothing short of incredible.  You can read more about my 2 days in Olympic National Park here.


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