Nestled between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, and bordered by the Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Seattle is a stunner. Despite its rightful reputation for gray, rainy days, it makes a great place to visit, with plenty to do outside, great shops and restaurants, rich history, and even richer coffee. And if the sun comes out while you’re there, you’ll understand just why so many people are flocking to this Pacific paradise. Here are 10 places not to miss when visiting the Emerald City.
Short of your 10,000 steps for the day? Knock out 848 by climbing to the top of Seattle’s most iconic landmark—or take a high-speed glass elevator to the observation deck 520 feet above downtown. Built in an astonishing 400 days for the 1962 World’s Fair, the Space Needle’s sweeping views take in the Seattle skyline, Elliott Bay, and permanently snowcapped Mount Rainier. There’s a revolving restaurant at the top if you like a little spin with your lunch, or go at night to see the city alight.
Pike Place Market
If you’ve ever seen a rom-com filmed in Seattle, you’ve seen Pike Place Market. This is no mere tourist attraction, though—it’s a working market that brings in as many locals as it does out-of-towners. It sprawls over more than seven acres and includes food and produce stalls (watch out for fish flying overhead), a craft market, a warren of small shops, and scores of places to eat and drink. The very first Starbucks is here, as is the grossly mesmerizing Gum Wall.
You can spend an entire day exploring all that Seattle’s bustling waterfront has to offer. Amid the shops and restaurants (try Ivar’s for fish and chips or Elliott’s Oyster House for happy hour deals), there are other attractions. The Seattle Aquarium is a perennial favorite; there are the usual fishy delights but the stars are the playful sea otters. For a view with a thrill, take a ride on the Great Wheel, the largest observation wheel on the West Coast, or get out on the water with a ferry to the islands or an Argosy cruise of the waterfront.
Gas Works Park
Gas Works Park stands out in a city of outstanding parks. You might recognize it from 10 Things I Hate About You or the Amazing Race (or any of its countless other TV and film cameos). There are picnic-perfect sweeping lawns, a large hill with amazing views of Lake Union and downtown, a play barn for kids—and the rust-red remains of the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant. The industrial structures only serve to heighten the beauty of the green space around it—and make for incredible Instagram shots.
It’s impossible to narrow Seattle’s neighborhoods down to just one. These two stand out for their perfect combos of shops, restaurants, and personality. The self-proclaimed “center of the universe,” Fremont is a (slightly) gentrifying boho neighborhood that’s easily walkable. Don’t miss the Fremont Troll, an 18-foot-tall sculpture under Aurora Bridge, or the statue of Lenin that was brought here after the Velvet Revolution in Czechoslovakia. Hip Ballard is best known for its restaurants, bars, and shops. Try Bitterroot BBQ for hefty sandwiches and platters, La Carta de Oaxaca for authentic Mexican, or The Walrus and the Carpenter for oysters and atmosphere.
Museum of Pop Culture
That shimmering mirage near the Space Needle? That’s the Museum of Pop Culture, a stainless steel and aluminum-clad wonder designed by Frank Gehry. Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen established the museum in 2000 as the Experience Music Project, a paean to rock ‘n’ roll in the city that gave us Jimi Hendrix and grunge. Its focus has widened to include all aspects of pop culture with changing exhibitions, but music still has prominence. Don’t miss the Sky Church, the “throbbing heart” of the museum, and the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.
Museum of Flight
This Seattle gem is one of the best aviation museums in the world. Located at Boeing Field near Georgetown, the Museum of Flight features more than 160 aircraft and spacecraft, including a Concorde, the first Air Force One, and the Caproni Ca.20, the first World War I fighter plane (and the only one ever made). There are scores of interactive elements: an air traffic control tower overlooking Boeing Field’s busy runways, flight simulators, a mock NASA Mission Control, and more. The Boeing Company’s original manufacturing plant, the Red Barn, now holds historical exhibits and artifacts.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Chihuly Garden and Glass
One of Washington State’s most colorful exports is Dale Chihuly, a glass sculptor whose massive blown glass installations can be seen in museums and installations around the world. Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle Center near the Space Needle celebrates the artist and showcases his work in a beautiful location. The centerpiece is the Glasshouse, a 40-foot-tall conservatory that features a 100-foot-long glass sculpture. Eight other galleries spotlight more work, and a theater shows films of Chihuly in action. The displays continue outside in the Garden, where fanciful glass forms rise from flowers.
Even if you don’t love football, taking in a home game of the city’s beloved Seattle Seahawks is an unforgettable experience. At CenturyLink Field, the roar made by very, very exuberant fans set a record for loudest stadium noise. The sound actually registered on seismographs as a minor earthquake. Games often sell out, so book tickets before your trip.
Seattle is serious about coffee. Very serious. You can’t possibly try each place (unless you’re staying for a few years) but you can give it a good try. Start with Espresso Vivace in Capitol Hill, hailed by Emeril Lagasse as the best coffee in the country. You know the foam drawings on top of your coffee? Vivace owner David Schomer started that trend. In Pioneer Square, stop at Zeitgeist, an airy spot that also features local artists. For great coffee with a view of Puget Sound, try Storyville in Pike Place Market. In Belltown, there’s the unassuming Moore Coffee Shop, which offers some unusual drinks (taro latte, anyone?), and Top Pot, famous for its doughnuts. And even if you’re not a fan of the chain, the massive Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Capitol Hill is a beautiful space to see the roasting process up close.