When you think of Seattle, Washington, there are a few things that might come to mind. The iconic Space Needle is sure to be on the list, or perhaps it might be a famous institution like Starbucks, Microsoft, or Amazon. When you think of the backdrop to some of the USA’s most famous places and companies, though, there’s a good chance you’ll think of rain.
Seattle is almost synonymous with rain. Its location between the Pacific Ocean, the Olympic Peninsula, and the Cascade Range is responsible for its well-deserved reputation as one of the dampest cities on earth. Although plenty of cities receive more rain each year—and some places, such as Pittsburgh, see more rainy days—when you think of Seattle, you think of gray skies and umbrellas. And that’s why we packed some rain gear when we had the chance to spend a few days in Washington’s Emerald City last November, so named for the lush landscapes that benefit from its famously soggy atmosphere.
Seattle is the kind of city that draws many types of travelers. It was the capital of grunge in the 1990s, and it’s a coffee lover’s paradise. It’s a great starting point if exploring Washington’s outdoor scene is on your itinerary, and it’s an easy place to find incredibly fresh seafood. Whatever it is that draws you to Seattle, there are dozens of fun things to keep you entertained. Here are 15 things to do in Seattle that we hope you’ll enjoy as much as we do!
Things to See in Seattle
Seattle is a terrific place for sightseeing, and there are plenty of spots that are worth a visit—and a photo or two!
► The Space NeedleThe quintessential Seattle icon is the Space Needle, and any visit to the Emerald City should include a stop to see it in its full glory. We’ve seen impressive towers all around the world with varying degrees of height and notoriety; from the Leaning Tower of Pisa to the Eiffel Tower in Paris, and from the Sky Tower in Auckland to the Tokyo Tower in Japan, there’s a reason they dominate both skylines and tourist itineraries—and the Space Needle is easily among the most famous (we even saw a semi-replica during our visit to Gatlinburg—and as they say, imitation is the most sincere form of flattery!).
Technically an observation tower, the landmark is the central piece of the Seattle skyline. Towering 605 feet high above the ground, the Space Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and has since become a symbol of Seattle and the Pacific Northwest. The Space Needle is open late, and the observation deck has a cafe, gift shop, and interactive exhibits that can add a lot of dimension to your visit. You can purchase tickets ahead of time through the Space Needle website, and you’ll find multiple ticket options to customize your experience based on the length of your visit. No trip to Seattle is complete without a visit to the top of the Space Needle, so plan to include it on your list of things to do in Seattle and save a couple of hours to both admire it from the outside and take in the view from the top!
More Information: SpaceNeedle.com
► Enjoy the View from Kerry Park
The Seattle skyline is truly picturesque, and there’s no better spot to get the perfect skyline photo than Kerry Park! Located at 211 W Highland Dr, Seattle, WA, the park offers a beautiful panoramic view of the city, and on a clear day you’ll easily be able to see Mt. Rainer towering over the city in the distance. There is plenty of parking in the area, including free parking on side streets, and the park is just as popular with locals as it is with tourists seeking an Instagram-worthy shot!
► Statues: Jimi Hendrix, Lenin, and a Troll
Art can share a city’s personality with you, and we love to seek out interesting, informative, or simply fun statues when we travel. We’ve enjoyed seeking out interesting statues in places like Bratislava, Slovakia and Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, and Seattle especially has a few noteworthy statues to check out during your visit.You can unleash your inner rockstar and pose for a photo with Seattle-native Jimi Hendrix on the corner of Broadway and East Pine Street (1604 Broadway, Seattle, WA 98122). The guitar legend was born in Seattle, and the statue (officially known as the Electric Lady Studio Guitar) is a must-visit for fans of Jimi Hendrix and his music.
If you’re a history buff (like we are!) be sure to check out the Lenin statue of Fremont. Built in the 1980s for Czechoslovakia, the statue was purchased by an American after the fall of communism, and it was brought to Seattle where it eventually found a home in the Freemont neighborhood. We saw many communist statues and relics during our visit to Sofia, Bulgaria, and the Lenin statue could easily be placed with those we saw in Sofia’s Museum of Socialst Art.
Of course, if you’re visiting the Freemont Lenin statue, you will also want to walk just a few extra blocks over to see Freemont’s other famous statue: the Freemont Troll! Possibly the most famous statue in Seattle, the 18-foot tall troll lurks underneath a bridge (naturally) and appears to be holding onto a car. The Freemont Troll is easy to find, and it’s often the center of attention for visitors hoping for a photo and kids who use it as an urban jungle gym to climb on.Freemont has some great cafes, bars, and restaurants, so we recommend grabbing a coffee and taking a stroll to visit both statues. They’re not far from each other and it’s a fun way to spend a morning as you check off a few things from your Seattle vacation list!
► Kurt Cobain Benches
If you’re a Nirvana fan and you’re visiting Seattle, the benches in Viretta Park adjacent to Kurt Cobain’s former house provide a peaceful setting to reflect and pay respects to the late Grunge pioneer. Located at 151 Lake Washington Blvd E, parking is not easily accessible, and it’s important to note that Cobain’s former house is currently a private residence. If you plan to visit the park please remember to respect the privacy of the community.
If you would like to visit a more official memorial, consider a trip two hours southwest of Seattle to Kurt Cobain Memorial Park, which is located in Aberdeen, Washington. We visited Aberdeen and wrote about the park in a separate post. Whether Aberdeen is a day trip from Seattle or a stop on a longer Pacific Northwest itinerary, it’s a worthwhile destination for Nirvana fans.
Our Post: Kurt Cobain Memorial Park
► NOAA “A Sound Garden”
You’ve probably heard of the Seattle band Soundgarden, but did you know they got their name from an actual location in Seattle? The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is home to an art display known as “A Sound Garden,” which is made up of 12 steel towers, each climbing 21 feet high. Each tower has an organ and a weather vane that creates an eerie tone when it comes in contact with the wind. This video from YouTube provides a sample of the sound you can expect to hear if you’re visiting on a windy day.
A Sound Garden is open to the public, but you will need to provide an ID and request a visitor pass at the NOAA security entrance to gain entry. The site is closed on weekends, but you can see it from the walking trails around Magnuson Park, which is next door to the facilities. The trails will get you pretty close to the exhibit and it’s easy to see through the fence, but the winds were calm when we visited so we can’t say whether or not you can hear the sounds from there. It’s still an interesting place to visit if you get a chance.
Seattle Tours, Museums, and Shops
If you’re looking for things to do in Seattle, consider checking out some of the museums or taking a tour! Here are a few of our favorite spots around town.
► Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)Located steps away from the Space Needle, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) is a fun and interactive addition to your Seattle vacation itinerary! Originally called the Experience Music Project (EMP), the museum is full of exhibits showcasing everything from video games and science fiction movie relics to interactive musical activities, guitar towers, and musical exhibits and artifacts from some of Seattle’s most famous musicians. Fun fact: I attended the grand opening as a guest of my friends in the band Filter, and I was able to meet Dave Grohl, Krist Novoselic, Eminem, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Kid Rock, and others backstage! Visiting the EMP is still one of my favorite things to do in Seattle to this day.
More Information: MoPOP.org
► The Seattle Waterfront
We always enjoy visiting aquariums during our travels, and they have become one of our go-to spots over the years when looking for a way to beat the heat or escape bad weather for a few hours. We’ve battled jetlag with a visit to the SEA LIFE aquarium in Sydney, made the most of some bleisure time during a business trip to San Diego (SeaWorld), and enjoyed an air conditioned experience during the heat of a Baltimore summer. The Seattle Aquarium is another place where we have great memories. Located along Pier 59 in the popular Seattle waterfront area, the aquarium has exhibits on the local marine life of the Pudget Sound region as well as hands-on experiences with tide pools, an underwater dome viewing area, and many more attractions.
More Information: SeattleAquarium.org
After you’ve visited the aquarium, walk down the pier and check out Ye Olde Curiosity Shop to pick up some unique souvenirs. The shop has been open since 1899, but this is not your usual souvenir shop. Sure, they have the standard essential Seattle souvenirs, but you’ll also see everything from shrunken heads and bigfoot memorabilia to Pacific Northwest Native American art and novelty gag gifts. There’s a good chance you’ll find just the right trinket to remind yourself of all of the fun things to do in Seattle!
More Information: YeOldeCuriosityShop.com
► Boeing’s Future of FlightWhile Seattle is often known for coffee, grunge, Microsoft, Amazon, and rain, you may not realize it’s also home to one of the most important names in modern aviation. Pacific Aero Products Co. was founded in Seattle in 1916, and the company eventually became known as The Boeing Company. While the official Boeing corporate headquarters moved to Chicago, Illinois in 2001, the roots of the company can be traced back to Seattle. If you’re an airplane enthusiast, consider driving 30 minutes north of Seattle to tour Boeing’s Future of Flight facility and experience the jet assembly process up close. You can watch the actual construction of Boeing jets like the 747, the 787 Dreamliner, and the 767 before they take to the sky, and the facility has interactive exhibits to explore during your visit.
More Information: BoeingFutureOfFlight.com
► The Museum of Flight
If you’re looking for something a little closer to Seattle, the Museum of Flight is another great option for airplane enthusiasts. Located just south of downtown Seattle near Boeing Field (King County International Airport), the Museum of Flight showcases more than 175 aircraft and spacecraft along with exhibits that allow visitors to learn about the history of flight. Aircrafts on display at the museum include the Concorde, the SR-71 Blackbird, a Caproni Ca.20 prototype (an early fighter plane from World War I), and a human-powered Gossamer Albatross—just to name a few. The hangar and runway set up are similar to flight museums we enjoyed in Delaware and Washington, DC, and it provides a great chance to get up close to each of the aircrafts.
More Information: MuseumOfFlight.orgOne of the nicknames for Seattle is “Jet City,” and a visit to the Museum of Flight and Boeing’s Future of Flight illustrate the city’s connection to aviation. If you’re a flight enthusiast and you enjoy seeing real airplanes—historic and modern—you will want to be sure to include these stops on your list of things to do in Seattle.
► London Bridge Studio
Many of the biggest bands to come out of Seattle in the late 1980s and early 1990s recorded at London Bridge Studio, and the site is still active to this day. Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, Temple of the Dog, and Queensryche are just a few of the bands who recorded there, making it a terrific place to visit for Seattle music enthusiasts.
London Bridge Studio offers a one hour tour by appointment only, giving you a chance to learn about the place where so many impactful albums were made.
More Information: LondonBridgeStudioTour.com
Eat, Drink, and Be Merry (In Seattle)
Seattle has plenty of great options when it comes to restaurants, cafes, and dining experiences. Here are a few of the places we like to visit whenever we’re in town.
► Pike Place MarketThis is one of the city’s most popular attractions and Pike Place Market is on just about every list of things to do in Seattle for good reason; in fact, your trip to the Emerald City would be incomplete without it! The “Public Market Center” sign welcomes visitors to the most popular tourist destination in the city. Pike Place Market is one of the oldest farmers markets in the country, and you’ll find fresh produce, some of the best seafood in the country, and dozens of shops and stores for everything from antiques and jewelry to souvenirs and home goods.
More Information: PikePlaceMarket.org
One of the most notable attractions at the Pike Place Market is fish throwing, which happens right in front of the main “Public Market Center” sign. If you’re unfamiliar with the story, the local fishmongers will entertain the crowds of tourists by essentially playing catch with their fish. After a customer places an order for a fish, they’ll throw the fish to their colleagues who catch it and wrap it up to go. As we discovered, fish throwing only happens after a purchase is made, which means you may find yourself with a bit of a wait if you’re hoping to see it in action. If you’re staying locally and want to make a purchase, the crowd will be extremely grateful (as will the fishmongers!); otherwise, settle in and wait for the show.
Check out this video from Insider for a sample of the fish throwing in all its glory!
► The Gum Wall
A fun, slightly hidden location in Pike Place Market is located near the Market Theater sign by the main entrance. As you walk down the alley you’ll find the Market Theater Gum Wall, which is a giant wall of used chewing gum. Dating back to the early 1990s, some parts of the local landmark are covered in as much as 15 feet of gum. We watched in a mix of awe and disgust as people posed by the wall and even added their own colorful additions to the makeshift display. You’ve probably heard of lock bridges, but a gum wall is next-level! Also, it’s probably a good idea to consider using a little hand sanitizer after your visit.
► Seattle = CoffeeSeattle is considered one of the founding cities of coffee culture in the United States, and it has the history to go along with it. A little coffeehouse called Starbucks was founded in Seattle way back in 1971, and the original location is still in operation to this day. Located across the street from the famous Public Market Center sign, the very first Starbucks is officially known as the 1st & Pike store, and it boasts the company’s original logo and a lengthy line of caffeine seekers to go with it. With over 30,000 locations worldwide, you can find a Starbucks pretty much anywhere you go, but it all started at this location in Seattle. We love to collect city-specific Starbucks mugs during our travels, and it’s always fun to stop in and grab a souvenir for our collection! The original Starbucks store in Seattle is a must-visit for any coffee fan, and it’s a great place to go to learn about one of the most recognizable brands in the world.
If you prefer more of a low-key artisanal coffee (and especially if you prefer to avoid the lines outside the original Starbucks) you’ll have plenty of great coffeehouses to explore around town. In fact, after you’ve taken your selfie outside the original Starbucks, walk a couple blocks south to check out Seattle Coffee Works. You can get a quick coffee to go or hang out at the slow bar and learn about the coffee making process from the staff themselves.
More Information: SeattleCoffeeWorks.com
► Washington Wine Tasting
The state of Washington is home to more than 900 wineries, and if you enjoy trying new wine it would be a shame to visit the state without sampling a few varietals. The Washington Wine Tasting Room is the perfect place to stop by during your visit to Seattle. Located in Pike Place Market, the Tasting Room wine bar showcases more than 60 wines from a handful of Washington state wineries all under one roof. If you don’t have time to spend a day touring one of the great wine regions in Washington, this is the next best thing and a great way to broaden your knowledge of and palette for Washington wine!
More Information: TheTastingRoomSeattle.com
► Katsu Burger
Finding a good burger is pretty easy to do in the USA, but Seattle’s Katsu Burger puts a unique spin on an American classic. The mini chain features some pretty uncommon flavor pairings, including Tonkatsu sauce and wasabi on battered and fried burger patties. Paired with a side of wasabi coleslaw or nori fries, you might feel like the fusion meal is reminiscent of what you would find in an eclectic Tokyo neighborhood (and after our visit to Japan we wouldn’t have been surprised to find those burgers among the sushi and ramen shops we visited!). We found the burgers to be tasty and filling, especially after a day of exploring Seattle.
More Information: KatsuBurger.com
► Central SaloonSeattle has an excellent music scene, and if you’re interested in hearing some local bands or catching a show you’ll have plenty of venues to consider. The Crocodile and the Showbox are two of the most famous venues in Seattle to enjoy live music, but my personal favorite is the Central Saloon. Also known as “Central Tavern” or just “The Central,” it has a long history in Seattle’s music scene, and most of the big name Grunge bands came through these doors at one point or another. Some of the bands who performed at this venue include Nirvana (in their very first show in Seattle), Alice in Chains, Soundgarden, Sonic Youth, Mudhoney, Screaming Trees, The Melvins, and Mother Love Bone—the precursor to Pearl Jam. While definitely not famous, I was in a band that performed here back in 2003, and it was an amazing experience to be a very (very) small part of all that history.
Aside from the amazing musical history, Central Saloon is also Seattle’s oldest saloon—it dates back to the early 1890s! If you’re looking for great pub food, a well stocked bar, and a local experience away from the tourists, this is the place to visit during your trip to Seattle.
More Information: CentralSaloon.com
Hotels in Seattle
There are plenty of hotels to choose from in Seattle and nearby suburbs. Here are a couple places to consider.
► Edgewater Hotel
The location of this hotel is second to none. Set right along the waterfront, you’ll have both the perfect location for your stay in downtown Seattle as well as an amazing view. As an added bonus, the hotel has a long and fascinating history including famous stays by The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, KISS, the Rolling Stones, Ozzy Osbourne, David Bowie, and Pearl Jam. In fact, the hotel even offers luxury “Rock N’ Roll Suites” with a custom theme for the Beatles and Pearl Jam. It’s not cheap—expect to pay close to 1,000 USD (or more) per night, but for the hardcore dedicated fan or a traveler celebrating a special occassion it might just be one of the most memorable things to do in Seattle!
More Information: The Edgewater Hotel (Booking.com)
► The Sheraton Bellevue
During our last visit to Seattle we stayed in nearby Bellevue, Washington at the Sheraton. The hotel is just 10 miles east of downtown Seattle on the other side of Lake Washington, and it was the perfect mix of quality, price, and location for our brief visit. We enjoyed the comfortable room and were appreciative of the free parking, which left us with a bit more in our budget for the parking lots we needed to use at some of the other places we visited in Seattle.
More Information: Sheraton Bellevue Hotel (Booking.com)
We found the Sheraton Bellevue on Booking.com, which also offered a fully refundable rate in case our plans changed between when we booked and when we visited. Take a look at the deals on Booking.com if you are planning a trip to Seattle and see if there is a great hotel choice for you as well!
Map of Things to Do in Seattle
If you’re planning a trip to Seattle, take a look our map of the highlights and locations we mentioned in this post. We hope this helps you plan your own itinerary of things to see and do around town.
Seattle is a fantastic place to visit, and as we drove away from the city toward our next stop—Portland, Oregon—we couldn’t help but notice two key things: we had an incredibly varied experience combining some of our favorite interests, and we didn’t see a single drop of rain. It just goes to show that you’ll never know what you can discover in a new place until you plan a vacation there, and Seattle is one spot that is worth a few of your vacation days. When it comes to things to do in Seattle, you’ll find no shortage of fun ways to spend your time—and we know you will enjoy it as much as we did!
Are you planning a visit to the great Pacific Northwest? Check out these posts for more ideas!