City Guide: Everything You Need for a Perfect Trip to Seattle, WA

Local seafood, inviting coffee shops, and a thriving music scene offer plenty to visitors.

Bainbridge Island ferry passengers look out on the Seattle skyline views
Passengers take in the views from aboard the Bainbridge Island Ferry.
Courtesy Visit Seattle

From scruffy lumber town to buzzy metropolis, Seattle is no stranger to rapid urban growth. Yet the city’s appeal can still be found in its panoramic skies, evergreens, and Salish Sea shores.

Seattle Underground

Beneath the bustling streets of Pioneer Square you can still find the tin ceilings and brick foundations that survived the town’s bawdy logging past. After a fire took out the entire city center in 1889, Seattle raised the streets and rebuilt over the ashes of burned-out buildings. The real draw of Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour is the guides who retell local history with humor and style.

Insider's Tip: Walk through Pike Place Market and around the waterfront before your tour to beat the crowds.

Views from the Water

Any ferry will give you skyline vistas, but the Bainbridge Island Ferry shows the city’s best side before dropping you a short walk from the gourmet treats at Mora Iced Creamery, sweet and savory baked goods at Blackbird Bakery, and craft-rich window-shopping. Or take the 10-minute water taxi ride across Elliott Bay to West Seattle where you’ll find Marination, a popular Korean-Hawaiian fusion restaurant with excellent fish and chips, at the start of the dock. When you’ve had your fill, take the free shuttle to Alki Beach to relax on the sand.

tunnels and sidewalks beneath Seattle's Pioneer Square seen on Underground Tour, photo

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour reveals Seattle’s hidden past through subterranean tunnels.

Courtesy Underground Tour

Local Shops

The weird, wonderful Archie McPhee novelty store has been selling rubber finger puppets, boxing nuns, and bacon bandages for over 30 years. There’s nothing here you need, but who cares? Kids love it. Want something more grown-up? Head to Revival on Capitol Hill for vintage fashion, jewelry, and work by local artists.

Live Radio

KEXP is the on-air voice of the city’s independent music scene and an avid proponent of all kinds of new tunes. See the influential radio station in action as it broadcasts near the Space Needle at Seattle Center. The public Gathering Space has a café, a record store, and the KEXP front desk, where you can sign up for in-studio concerts or the daily tour.

A Taste of Old Seattle

Georgetown is the rare neighborhood that still feels like old Seattle. Ramble alongside the weathered brick warehouses to discover hidden delights. Fran’s Chocolates is housed in the original Rainier Brewery building; drop in for a taste and admire the airy space. At the funky Georgetown Trailer Park Mall, vendors sell vintage whatnots, local art, and cake (yes, cake) from a courtyard of retro trailers.

People sit outside of La Marzocco Café and the KEXP gathering space in downtown Seattle near the Space Needle, picture

Patrons enjoy snacks, excellent coffee, vinyl browsing, and deejayed music at La Marzocco Café in the KEXP Gathering Space.

Courtesy La Marzocco Café

Capitol Hill Nightlife

The city’s LGBTQ nexus is the heart of Seattle’s welcoming bar scene. Kitschy Unicorn is fun with its bright carnival decor and arcade games. For the ultimate in cocktails (there’s a $650 Sazerac on the menu), head to Canon, home of the largest whiskey collection in the Western Hemisphere. Big Mario’s has slices of New York–style pizza up front and a classic dive bar in the back.

Cozy Hangouts and Coffee Shops

The Elliott Bay Book Company on Capitol Hill is a sprawling temple to the written word—don’t miss the local author section in the front. There’s a café on-site, but you can also take your books around the corner to Caffe Vita and settle in for meticulously roasted coffee, quiet reading, and people-watching.

Raw oysters with mignonette on ice beckon at Bar Melusine in Seattle, WA, photo

Raw oysters with mignonette on ice beckon at Bar Melusine.

Brooke Fitts

Puget Sound Flavor

The Sound’s abundance extends to its creative chefs. At Renee Erickson’s brightly appointed Boat Bar, the food is French Atlantic, but the Hama Hama oysters come from Hood Canal waters. Mutsuko Soma’s Kamonegi features Northwest seafood and soba noodles often made from regionally sourced buckwheat.

Asian Influences

The Wing Luke Museum documents the role Seattle’s Asian Pacific immigrants continue to play in the region’s culture. Take the Historic Hotel Tour, where time seems to stand still. Walk through the 1910 general store at street level before heading up to the austerely furnished boardinghouse, which brings to life the personal past of the community that helped shape the city.

picture of visitors checking out the view of the Seattle skyline from the Loupe, the Space Needle's new revolving floor

The Space Needle's new glass floor, the Loupe, gyrates, thanks to 12 motors and 48 rollers. 

Rod Mar

Space Needle of the Future

Sixty years ago, Seattle World’s Fair organizer Edward Carlson dined in the rotating restaurant of a Stuttgart TV tower while visiting Germany. Impressed, he doodled its design on a place mat and brought the idea back to Puget Sound. Thus, the Space Needle was born. Construction wrapped in only 400 days, and the tower opened just in time for the fair’s kickoff.

The World’s Fair ended but the Needle remained, its silhouette defining the city’s skyline, with few changes, for decades. Then in 2009 a team of architects began designing upgrades. “We spent almost 10 years planning because every aspect was so precise,” says Karen Olson, Space Needle chief marketing officer. Now, after the $100 million renovation, the tower incorporates 176 tons of glass. On the observation deck, steel walls have given way to floor-to-ceiling windows. Outside, cable fencing has been replaced by glass panels. One level down, a revolving glass floor lets patrons see the street 500 feet below. “Now it looks sleek and modern,” says Olson. “And we have the most thrilling view in town.” —Mary Frances Hind

Chihuly's Garden and Glass

Over the years, Dale Chihuly, a native of Tacoma, Washington, has pushed glassmaking to extremes of shape and scale. The Mille Fiori (Thousand Flower) room features radiant stalks that twist their way toward the ceiling. Nearby, golden starfish and purple urchins seem to drift in a blue kelp forest. Puget Sound sunlight (if you’re lucky) adds beauty to a 100-foot vine of orange, yellow, and red blossoms that trail along the roof of a barn-size glasshouse.

In a garden outside, fuchsias and dogwoods mingle with surreal glass sculptures, including The Sun, an exuberant burst of red and yellow flames. There’s even a café decorated with vintage radios and accordions.—Chris Woolston

Take Flight

If incredible machines make your heart soar, spend a day at the Museum of Flight, where you can gape at the remarkable aircraft and spacecraft on display, including the supersonic Concorde; a replica of the Fokker Dr.I, a famous World War I fighter plane; and an Apollo command module.

Skyline Views

For an unparalleled panorama of the Seattle's skyline, head to Kerry Park in the historic Queen Anne neighborhood, named for its iconic hill. This small green patch packs a big punch on clear days, when snowcapped Mount Rainier comes into view.

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