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10 Things Not to Miss When Visiting Seattle

Christine is a former Seattle resident who is passionate about food, alternative health, travel and autos!

The Seattle Center and downtown taken from Kerry Park

The Seattle Center and downtown taken from Kerry Park

Seattle: The Perfect Summer Vacation Destination

I lived in Seattle for a few years and used to visit my grandparents on Whidbey Island in the summers. I would suggest trying to visit Seattle in July or August because it really does rain the rest of the year.

Seattle's iconic Pike Place Market

Seattle's iconic Pike Place Market

Destinations to Check Out

Here are my top 10 must-see destinations within the city and the surrounding area. These are in no particular order!

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market opened in 1907. It's one of the oldest public farmer's markets in the country and a very popular tourist destination. Not only is it in a great location on the waterfront, but it has ample shopping, several fresh produce markets and fish vendors, as well as some great restaurants.

One of the highlights is the fish market, where they yell and throw giant fish as people order them. A huge crowd will likely gather, and kids love it. Try Lowell's Restaurant & Bar—it has a great breakfast and lunch menu and a great view of the water if you sit upstairs.

Across the street from the market, you can visit the original Starbucks, though the line tends to be so long you might be better off taking a photo in front of the building. Instead, check out one of the other countless coffee shops around the city.

If you don't mind a short walk, in a direct line from the original Starbucks is the Starbucks Roastery and Reserve. There are only a few in the world, and they serve everything from pizza and sandwiches to espresso martinis. It can also be crowded, but it's a bigger establishment with more space to relax and enjoy your coffee.

Japanese Gardens

The Japanese Gardens are located in Washington Park Arboretum and are close to the Madison Park neighborhood. They are absolutely stunning and a great place for a picnic or walk. You can even participate in a tea ceremony in the traditional roji garden for an additional cost to your ticket.

Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)

This music museum was founded by Paul Allen, one of Microsoft's co-founders, and is right next to the Space Needle in the Seattle Center. Over the years, it's come to incorporate much more than music. The museum has extensive collections of clothing and handwritten lyrics from Seattle musicians Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, and there are immersive exhibits based on horror and fantasy films.

Many of the displays are very interactive. There's also a popular bar/restaurant in the museum called Culture Kitchen that attracts a young Seattle crowd. Additionally, MoPOP provides funding to KEXP, one of the best public radio stations in the country, so your money is going to a great place!

The famous Space Needle

The famous Space Needle

Space Needle

The Space Needle was built for the 1962 World's Fair. It features an observation deck at 520 feet, the SkyCity restaurant at 500 feet, and a gift shop at the bottom. You get panoramic views of the city's neighborhoods, lakes, and the Puget Sound. It's an endless display of lights at night!

As much as it's a must-see when visiting the city, it's expensive to go, and there can be a long wait to get up. Standing underneath and looking up is almost as impressive, so my suggestion is to look at it on your way to MoPOP—then you can say you saw it!

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Entrance to the Seattle Art Museum

Entrance to the Seattle Art Museum

Seattle Art Museum (SAM)

The Seattle Art Museum is one of my favorites. I like it because it's a bit smaller than other major art museums, but still usually has at least one great exhibit. I get overwhelmed at the New York museums, but this is a perfect half-day outing. It's conveniently located downtown—just a few blocks away from Pike Place Market.

There is art from all over the world, ranging from ancient Mediterranean and Aboriginal Australian to modern and contemporary exhibits. There is an extensive collection of Coast Salish art from Indigenous populations highly unique to the Pacific Northwest.

If you walk north along the city waterfront, you'll encounter Olympic Sculpture Park, a free, outdoor branch of the museum. The sculptures against the backdrop of Elliot Bay are gorgeous!

Gas Works Park

Gas Works is a public park on the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company and has large structures from the original coal plant. There are sections fenced off and surrounded by rolling, grassy hills that make for excellent picnicking. There is a great bike and foot trail. The view of Lake Union is beautiful, and you get a nearly panoramic look at the city's many neighborhoods. Downtown looks amazing from here, especially at sunset!

Madison Park

Madison Park is a fun, family-oriented neighborhood close to downtown with a few restaurants. In late summer (around August), it really feels like a beach town since everyone goes to "the beach," which is really just a long grassy area on Lake Washington. There are shops and restaurants right across from the water, as well as a playground and tennis courts.

Snoqualmie Falls

The Snoqualmie Falls are about 40 minutes east of Seattle, making this a fantastic day trip. There is a 2-acre park, hiking trails, and an observation deck to view the 270-foot waterfall. Visit the Salish Lodge to try out their great restaurant and the fantastic spa.

Green Lake

Green Lake is another popular park where you can rent a paddleboat, canoe, or just stroll around the perimeter. It's one of the most beautiful neighborhoods in Seattle, located further north than most of these other destinations. Try stopping by for lunch at the Bluwater Bistro or make a day of it at the Woodland Park Zoo.

Whidbey Island

Whidbey Island is a hidden gem in the Seattle area just being discovered by tourists. It's about an hour and a half outside Seattle via ferry, but you feel like you're in another world. It's a great place to relax or visit for the weekend. You can see Fort Casey towards the northern part of the island, or walk through abundant nature spots like the Meerkerk Gardens and Fort Ebey State Park.

Be aware that hotels are very limited and most people rent a house if staying overnight. And like all places around Seattle, the peak time for visitors is between July and August.

Where to Eat in Seattle

Seattle is often considered a foodie haven. Between the International District (with Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Saigon), Capitol Hill, Ballard, and Colombia City neighborhoods, there are so many choices for food. It can be hard enough deciding what area to check out, let alone where to eat.

There is a multitude of options for seafood, a range of sushi spots and Asian cuisine, and independent coffee shops. It seems like there are new places to try every day of the week!

Here are a few of my favorite restaurants, in addition to those mentioned above:

  • Wild Ginger: This is one of my favorites in Seattle and is right next to the Triple Door Jazz club.
  • Daniel's Broiler: This has the best happy hour in the city. There are three locations throughout the city, but you can pull up and dock your boat at the two located right on the water.
  • El Gaucho: A fancy steakhouse—it's good but expensive. Most people go there for special occasions!
  • Wasabi Sushi & Izakaya: Great sushi at a great location downtown.
  • Le Pichet: A great french brasserie with consistently good food.

Where to Stay

Here are a few of my favorite hotels in and around Seattle.

  • W Hotel: I stayed here right before I moved to San Francisco since they allow pets. It was great, and my cat seemed to like it too. The hotel is right downtown and is within walking distance of the market and SAM.
  • Hotel Monaco: I stayed here with friends, and I love this hotel. It's part of the Kimpton Group, and the rooms are very large. They also use all green cleaning products. Instead of smelling like bleach when you come home at 2 a.m., it smells like oranges, which is a major bonus! It's also right in the center of downtown, and staying here allows you plenty of access to the city's sights.
  • The Boatyard Inn: This is in Langley on Whidbey Island, the island north of the city. There are very few hotels in Whidbey, and though The Boatyard only has a few rooms, it's great. The rooms have kitchens, plenty of space, and are on the water. Plus Langley is a great little town with antique shops, coffee houses, and an organic grocery store.

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