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The 20 best things to do in Seattle

The best things to do in Seattle will please everyone from museum fans to outdoor types and more

Written by
Jonathan Thompson
Annalise Mantz
Krista Diamond

Despite its reputation for rainy days, Seattle is not a place to hole up indoors. There are so many things to do in Seattle that even locals have plenty of opportunities to discover something new. The culture capital of the Pacific Northwest — set on the Puget Sound with the stunning Mt. Rainier visible on clear days — is packed with everything from renowned museums and beautiful parks to buzzy neighborhoods and popular attractions. Seattle is also a jumping-off point for visiting Washington wineries or exploring the dramatic natural beauty of the region (or even traveling to Vancouver).

A perfect day in Seattle must start with coffee, of course. It’s the land of Starbucks after all, but also a wealth of amazing smaller and independent coffee shops. After that, choose from typical spots like the Space Needle or Pioneer Square, then explore museums, gardens, markets and more. If you’re feeling adventurous, get on the water for a boat tour or some kayaking. You’ll definitely work up an appetite to dine at the best restaurants in Seattle. Whatever your pleasure, the list of things to do in Seattle has something for you.

Best things to do in Seattle

What is it? Seattle’s oldest neighborhood (it’s where the first settlers built their homes), Pioneer Square boasts some incredible architecture, art galleries, cafés and bookstores.

Why go? It's one of the best places for soaking up Seattle history. Check out the outstanding Klondike Gold Rush museum  to learn about Seattle's involvement in the 1890s mass migration to Canada’s Yukon region. Then try Smith Tower; built in 1914, this was the tallest building on the West Coast for years, and the views from the 35th floor are still spectacular. And if you're into something that seems a little more secret, sign up for a Bill Speidel's Underground Tour, where (as the name suggests), you'll journey underground to dark tunnels and winding subterranean passageways. 

  • Attractions
  • Belltown

What is it? Originally constructed to be part of the 1962 World's Fair, this Seattle landmark is arguably one of the most iconic. Not only does the attraction provide exceptional panoramic views of downtown, but also of the Puget Sound, the Cascades and Olympic Mountains. 

Why go? A recent renovation added even more oomph to this Space Ace flying saucer. Feeling brave? These upgrades included Skyrisers (tilting glass walls that provide the illusion of floating in open air) and the Loupe, the world's first revolving glass floor. Head to the cafe to raise a glass. 

  • Art
  • Belltown

What is it? A unique visual experience, the Chihuly Garden and Glass showcases the epic work of Northwest glass artist Dale Chihuly with a series of mind- and glass-blowing indoor and outdoor installations.

Why go? The sculptures range from the elegant to the extravagant, particularly in the garden, where plants and glass pieces tangle in a blaze of colors. Refraction means it’s a completely different experience in different weather conditions—but permanent Instagram gold.

  • Shopping
  • Pine Market

What is it? A famous market and a must-see, no matter the length of your trip. Not only is it Seattle's most visited landmark (impressive for a market, right?), but it's also a great place for foodies to indulge in tasty grub. 

Why go? Sleuth out the rosy entrance to hidden local favorite the Pink Door, which serves up deliciously fresh Italian grub. Other great options for sit-down lunch include Pike Place Chowder—serving some of the best clam chowders this side of Boston—and Lowell’s, where you can tick the Seattle Joe’s Scramble (sausage, spinach and mushrooms) off of your gastronomical bucket-list. Skip over to the other side and you'll discover another one of Pike Places secret foodie havens The Crumpet Shop, though they have been known to sell out by lunchtime. 

  • Things to do
  • Downtown

What is it? This nearby island is the antithesis of the skyscraper-stuffed city, with 150 acres of gardens, ponds and meadows to explore in the beautiful Bloedel Reserve.

Why go? Like NYC’s Staten Island Ferry, the Bainbridge Island Ferry is a great way to eyeball a significant amount of Seattle’s highlights swiftly—and cheaply. But before you take the 35-minute ride back, stop for a treat at one of the West Coast’s finest ice cream parlors, Mora Iced Creamery, where flavors include cheesecake with raspberry jam and mojito.

Tour Olympic National Park.

What is it? Located a short drive from downtown in Tukwila, the Seattle Barista Academy offers three-hour classes for javaholics.

Why go? If you’re a fan of the black stuff, the epicenter of the North American coffee scene is the perfect place to get your hands dirty. Learn everything from beginner latte art to how to brew the perfect espresso in the span of an afternoon. Pro tip: Better book well in advance to avoid disappointment.

  • Restaurants
  • North Admiral

What is it? Born from a popular food truck, Marination Ma Kai serves up mouthwatering Hawaiian-Korean fusion food, at an ace location on the glistening waterfront. 

Why go? Board the West Seattle water taxi at Pier 50 and 15 minutes later you’ll arrive in Seattle's take on the tropics. With jaw-dropping views from its patio, this restaurant almost makes you feel like you're on an island, rather than in the PNW. For eats, opt for a pork katsu sandwich with kimchi (beware the spice, though) or say aloha to some sexy (their word, not ours) tofu tacos.

  • Attractions
  • Downtown

What is it? The Seattle Great Wheel, on Pier 57, is one of the largest of its kind in North America and gondolas are fully enclosed for rain-or-shine rides.

Why go? The views from Seattle’s 175-foot-high Ferris wheel more than compensate for its corniness. From the top you’ll enjoy a grand panorama of the city, the Pacific Ocean and—if you’re lucky—the Olympic Mountains. First opened in 2012, it's not a particularly old landmark, but that hardly matters. Besides, not only can you expect fantastic views when you're going for a ride, but the wheel istelf lights up, providing the Seattle skyline with a little bit of razzle dazzle.

  • Attractions
  • Rainier Valley

What is it? This park covers all of the Bailey Peninsula, and its lush, old-growth forest (some of the trees are more than 250 years old) is a popular escape from the urban jungle.

Why go? A forested 300-acre peninsula jutting out into Lake Washington, Seward Park is only a 20-minute drive (or taxi ride) from downtown Seattle, but feels like a completely different world. With beaches, boating, tennis courts and hiking trails, it’s an excellent day-trip option for all ages.

What is it? Washington prides itself on its wine—and Chateau Ste. Michelle, less than 20 miles from Seattle, is the state’s oldest and most celebrated winery.

Why go? A turreted French-style mansion surrounded by 105-acre grounds, Ste. Michelle produces chardonnay, cabernet, merlot, riesling and other varietals that visitors can taste in regular tasting sessions. If you visit during the warmer months, don't miss the popular summer concert series on the winery's pristine lawn.


What is it? De libertas quirkas,” or “the freedom to be quirky,” is the unofficial motto of Fremont, Seattle's indie enclave. 

Why go? Home of the Fremont Troll, the hip nabe has some of the best vintage stores and independent boutiques in the Northwest. Among the highlights are PIPE + ROW, an expertly curated boutique known for its unique accessories, and Show Pony, which champions local designers and is a mine of affordable fashion. if you're into record collecting, don't miss Jive Time where you can pick up used vinyls for a fraction of the retail price. 

  • Attractions
  • Parks and gardens
  • Adams

What is it? Officially named the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, these labyrinthine waterways linking the Puget Sound with Lake Washington and the Ship Canal are one of the city's most popular attractions.

Why go? On sunny days, people flock to the waterside and the neighboring Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden—one of the most beautiful green spaces in the city. If the sun is out, many people will just kick back dockside or stroll on the swinging walkways to watch the boats come and go.


What is it? Self-taught chef Tom Douglas remains MVP when it comes to Seattle’s restaurant scene, gracing the city with a number of fabulous restaurants.

Why go? Whether you opt for triple coconut cream pie at Dahlia Lounge, thin-crust wood-fired pizzas at Serious Pie, Greek-influenced cuisine at Lola or seafood at the Seatown Rub Shack and Fish Fry, you'll taste some seriously good grub. 

What is it? The Rainy City’s reputation may be exaggerated, but when the weather looks menacing, simply duck underground to roam forgotten subterranean passages with expert guides.

Why go? For a sub-sidewalk circuit of the city, book the Beneath the Streets tour. Setting off from Cherry Street, the one-hour walk snakes under Pioneer Square, past beautifully preserved 19th-century architecture and into the earliest roots of Seattle. You can now also explore underground Seattle in a whole new light too, by joining a Red Light District Tour. Expect to come face to face with Seattle's underbelly, including discussions about prostitution, gambling, vice and drinking.

  • Museums
  • Belltown

What is it? MoPOP is Seattle’s tribute to the history of Northwest music, from Jimi Hendrix to Nirvana and much more. 

Why go? Celebrating pop culture and science fiction, the exhibition space is wrapped inside a fluid Frank Gehry design. Play in your own virtual rock band while learning about the region’s rich rock legacy or geek out in the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. 

What is it? The 90-minute Future of Flight Aviation Center and Boeing Tour covers the past, present and future of human flight in a state-of-the-art museum and gives you entry to the Boeing factory.

Why go? You get to go behind-the-scenes at the facility where the famous Boeing aircrafts are made and tested. At a sprawling 98 acres, this is officially the largest building in the world (measured by volume)—and the place where Boeing developed the Dreamliner.

  • Museums
  • South Lake Union

What is it? Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry covers the region's heritage through a colossal collection of four million artifacts. 

Why go? In 2012, this Smithsonian affiliate relocated to its grand new home in the city’s Naval Reserve Armory, over in Lake Union Park. The bigger premises allows the museum to display more of its collection, including outstanding pieces like the Petticoat Flag—an 1856 American flag sewn by women during the Battle of Seattle—and Boeing’s first commercial airplane (the 1919 Boeing B-1).

  • Museums
  • Central Business District

What is it? The Seattle Art Museum (SAM to its friends) is one of the city’s unmissable highlights. 

Why go? The extensive permanent collections of Native American and Pacific Northwest artwork are worth the visit alone, but it’s the diverse, lively temporary exhibitions that keep locals and visitors returning time and again. If you can, try to time your visit to include the first Thursday of the month, when entry is free, and leave time to check out the nearby outdoor art at Olympic Sculpture Park. 

  • Art
  • International District

What is itLocated on South King Street in the Chinatown-International District, the Wing Luke Museum is dedicated to exploring the culture, art and history of Asian Pacific Americans.

Why go? The museum is particularly strong on folk art and oral history, but also curates a number of fascinating neighborhood walking tours. Of course, there’s plenty of love for Seattle’s most famous Asian Pacific son, the mighty Bruce Lee, in an exhibition that includes some of his poems and personal possessions.

  • Music
  • Central Business District

What is it? Triple Door—a beautiful 1920s vaudeville theater that had stints as a burlesque house and blue movie theater—is well worth checking out.

Why go? Now one of the Northwest’s top live music venues, it combines world-class acts with an award-winning restaurant, Wild Ginger. If you don’t want to commit to a full concert experience, the no-cover Musicquarium Lounge is great for pre-dinner happy hour cocktails and a taste of local music before moving on down Union Street.

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