City Guide to Seattle
How to see the best of the best in Seattle, my college town, my home.
People associate Seattle with a few things – Kurt Cobain & Jimi Hendrix, seafood, and rain. Yes, Seattle has a vibrant music scene, and the seafood is some of the absolute best in the nation. But no, it does not rain everyday. In fact, summers in Washington are hot, sunny, and gorgeous. We love our flannels and Birkenstocks in this upper left part of the USA, but anyone who is from Seattle knows that the Pacific Northwest is so much more than that.
Seattle is beautiful and full of character. Downtown looks out over the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains and you can see stunning Mount Rainier around almost any turn. Only in Seattle can you drive an hour out of town and catch a ferry up to the San Juan Islands, go skiing in the mountains, or hike up some of the state’s most extraordinary trails. Seattle (& Washington) has it all – here’s some of the many reasons why.
What to See & Do:
Pike Place Market: Pike Place is one of the oldest public markets in the country. All kinds of vendors come to this daily market to sell produce, fish & meat, fresh flowers (my favorite), jewelry, and more. During an excursion to Pike Place, it’s pretty much mandatory to watch the seafood market employees toss huge fish to each other between the stalls, and pay a visit to the Market Theater Gum Wall. In late 2015, 20 years worth of gum pieces were cleaned from the site, but immediately after the takedown, new pieces decorated the wall.
Downtown Waterfront: This area is a short walk from Pike Place, is lined with shops and restaurants, and of course, hosts a beautiful view of Elliott Bay. Ferries dock and depart from the southern end of the waterfront, and the middle is home to the Seattle Great Wheel, a ferris wheel with spectacular views of the city. If you’ve never done this before, it’s a must. Towards the northern end is the Seattle Aquarium and the Olympic Sculpture Park.
Space Needle & Seattle Center: The Space Needle is a defining characteristic of the Seattle skyline. A quick elevator ride takes you up to the top of the tower, where you can see panoramic views of the entire city. The Space Needle is part of Seattle Center, where you can also check out the International Fountain. The Experience Music Project (EMP), a bizarrely colorful building dedicated to pop culture, is right around the corner. Seattle Center hosts several music, food, and cultural festivals, including Bumbershoot and Bite of Seattle. KeyArena used to be the home of the Seattle SuperSonics (RIP), but now hosts events such as concerts and even the Amazon Corporate holiday party. And, fun fact: a piece of the Berlin Wall sits in Seattle Center.
Gasworks Park: One of the most famous parks in Seattle, Gasworks is well-known for its unique design: an old gasification plant sits on its lawn. The park looks out over Lake Union and downtown Seattle and is a popular place to relax and soak up the view of the beautiful city.
University of Washington & the U-District: This neighborhood has its own quirky charm. The University of Washington is especially gorgeous in the spring, when 30 Japanese cherry blossom trees decorate the Liberal Arts Quad. In lower campus, when walking down to Drumheller Fountain, you’ll notice a clear view of Mount Rainier. Much of the university is designed in a Collegiate Gothic style, best exemplified by Suzzallo Library, which looks like a building from the world of Harry Potter & Hogwarts. Husky Stadium is right on Lake Washington, and is often described as, “the best setting in college football” (Go Dawgs!). After a football game students flock to “The Ave” for a convenient and cheap meal at one of the endless restaurants on University Avenue. To find some great some shopping or happy hour, University Village is the place to go.
Visit the Backstreets:
• Pioneer Square is one of the oldest parts of downtown, is near the stadiums, and is home to the Smith Tower. For a $7.50 admission fee, you go to the observation deck see a view of Seattle that is different from, but rivals that of the Space Needle.
• Stroll around Green Lake, a small lake in north Seattle. Go here if you are in need of some dog-watching.
• The International District is in the southern part of downtown, and is divided into Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Saigon.
• Visit Kerry Park in Queen Anne. This park hosts my favorite view of the Seattle skyline.
If You Have the Time:
• Go to a Mariners or Seahawks game (Go M’s, Go Hawks!). Seattleites are passionate about their sports teams. Safeco Field has a shockingly good view of Seattle from the cheap upper seats. Seahawks tickets are expensive, but the games are unbelievably fun and the atmosphere in the stadium is always electric.
• Visit Golden Gardens Park. With a view of the Olympic Mountains, Golden Gardens is my favorite sunset spot in all of Seattle.
• Rent canoes or kayaks and paddle around Lake Washington or Lake Union. One of the best parts of Seattle, and Western Washington in general, is how many lakes and beautiful natural wonders there are to enjoy.
• Take a water taxi between downtown Seattle and West Seattle/Alki Beach.
Here is a shortened list of just some of my favorites – in order of potential options for breakfast, lunch, dinner, then treats.
• But first, coffee: Seattle is home to 1,118 coffee shops, and only 424 of them are Starbucks.
• Portage Bay Cafe: First-timers have to utilize that trip to the breakfast bar – load up on as much fresh fruit and whipped cream as you would like to go with your waffles, pancakes, or french toast. Their signature phrase is, “Eat like you give a damn”… Enough said.
• Beecher’s Handmade Cheese: Go here for their “World’s Best Mac & Cheese”. Also, ask for a sample of their Flagship cheese. Just do it, you won’t regret it.
• Pho: Pho Than Brothers is my favorite, but there are good pho places literally all over Seattle to try this Vietnamese noodle soup.
• Sushi: Dragonfish Asian Cafe and Sushi Kappo Tamura are some of my go-to sushi spots, but again, there are good places all over the city.
• Paseo’s: The line is guaranteed to be long, but this restaurant is most famous for their delectable Caribbean sandwiches and is a must-visit.
• Farmer’s Markets: The entire state of Washington has great Farmer’s Markets, and everyday there is a different one happening in one of Seattle’s neighborhoods.
• Ray’s Boathouse: Overlooking the Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains in Ballard, Ray’s is an awesome option for lunch, happy hour, or dinner. Their seafood dishes are divine!
• The Pink Door: This Italian-American restaurant is a favorite of locals and visitors alike.
• Molly Moon’s & Hello Robin: The classic and unique ice cream flavors of Molly Moon’s are so, so good. Hello Robin, their sister shop, sells some of their flavors sandwiched between two freshly baked cookies of your choice. Need I say more?
• Fainting Goat Gelato: A cute little shop in the Wallingford neighborhood, their gelato and sorbets are so delicious it’ll (almost) feel like you’re in Italy.
• Dick’s Drive In: Seattle’s equivalent to In-N-Out Burger, come here for a burger & fries and maybe even a late-night milkshake.
Bars & Nightlife:
The city is filled with young people, both students and professionals. Capitol Hill is a favorite among college kids; this area is packed with endless bars, and you’ll have a good time no matter where you go. Other neighborhoods to visit include Fremont, Ballard, or Queen Anne.
The freeways are often packed with terrible traffic at almost any hour of the day. Plan ahead if you’re trying to get to the airport, or anywhere else important.
The majority of the time I drive around the Seattle area, but Uber is widely-used throughout the city and is a great alternative if you don’t want to try the public transit system. Public transit goes all over Seattle, and University of Washington students ride for free with the use of their student ID card. Recently, the “Link Light Rail” came to Seattle and transports riders all the way from the U-District to the airport in Sea-Tac. Many Seattleites ride their bikes all over the city to skip traffic nightmares and also to help do their part to save the environment.
There’s a saying I read online a while back: “I want to live by the ocean but also in the forest, but also in the mountains, but also in a big city, but also in the countryside…” My answer to that dilemma is Seattle. It will always be Seattle.