7 of Seattle's Urban Adventures

There’s a sea, sky, or land adventure for every taste here.

Photograph by Taylor Glenn
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A visitor leans against her Subaru Crosstrek and enjoys a sunrise view over Seattle's Elliot Bay.
Photograph by Taylor Glenn

A lushly green gem in the pacific Northwest state of Washington, Seattle offers the best of all worlds: a vibrant urban scene, lots of outdoor adventures to be had, and sea-sky-and-mountain scenery that can’t be beat. Here’s our list of what not to miss in the Emerald City.

Outdoor Adventures

Take Flight

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Visitors can arrange flights over Seattle with Kenmore Air Seaplanes at the Kenmore Air Harbor.

The most thrilling way to explore Seattle and its surroundings is by plane—a plane that takes off and lands on the water. Head to South Lake Union and the Kenmore Air Harbor Seaplane Base, where Kenmore Air sends its cheery yellow-and-white floatplanes up and off several times a day. There’s a 20-minute scenic tour of Seattle, which takes you over some of the city’s most famous sites, and a two-hour skip through the San Juan Islands. For even more adventure (of the regular plane variety), take a 90-minute flight to Mount Rainier and Mount St. Helens, the area’s resident volcanoes.

Sail Away on Lake Union

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The Emerald City is known for its array of adventures. Take time to enjoy a sailboat ride on the shimmering Lake Union.

Once you’ve seen Seattle from the air, it’s time to get out on the water. Rent a boat and spend the afternoon exploring Lake Union, the watery heart of the city. This freshwater lake, connected by ship canals to Puget Sound, covers 580 acres and its shores are lined with parks, marinas, shipyards, and scores of houseboats. (Remember Tom Hanks’s floating home in Sleepless in Seattle? That was on Lake Union.) The Center for Wooden Boats at South Lake Union rents all kinds of vessels—rowboats, canoes, pedal boats, kayaks, and traditional wooden sailboats—and offers sailing lessons. Best of all, every Sunday volunteer skippers take passengers out for free, rain or shine.

Kayak Elliott Bay

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Join a guided kayak tour on Elliot Bay and enjoy the city views afloat with friends or family.

There’s all kinds of action at Alki Beach in West Seattle: volleyball, sunbathing, strolling, and some great people-watching. But the best action is in the water. Join a guided kayak tour at Alki Kayak Tours and explore Elliott Bay, with incredible views of downtown, the Cascades, and the Olympics. Also on offer are sunset and full moon paddle tours, plus an overnight kayak-and-camp trip to Blake Island. If you’re not really the group tour type, you can rent kayaks and paddleboards from the shop and splash off on your own.

Urban Activities

Go Green at Gas Works

The Emerald City earns its colorful nickname with a lush tapestry of more than 485 parks and green spaces. One standout is Gas Works Park, a 19-acre stunner with picnic-perfect sweeping lawns, 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. 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).

Get a Pop Culture Fix

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This museum may not be your traditional adventure, but it is definitely a cultural thrill. The exhibits range from musical history to the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

Shimmering near the Space Needle is the ultrahip Museum of Pop Culture, a stainless steel and aluminum clad structure designed by Frank Gehry at the behest of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. 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 and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

Scale New Heights in Ballard

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If the weather isn't ideal for outdoor excursions, then you must visit Stone Gardens. This gym will get your heart racing and provides activities for all bouldering experience levels.

Raining? Well, it is Seattle, after all. Don’t let the drizzle fizzle your chances for an adrenaline fix—head to Stone Gardens in Ballard for a next-level indoor bouldering experience. The facility has a total of 17,500 square feet of climbing surfaces. There are two floors with beautifully designed areas for bouldering (climbing without ropes) and roped climbing, plus a 40-foot-tall outdoor wall, a weight room, and a pro shop. And if you’re not quite pro status, there are classes for kids and adults.

Off the Beaten Path

Fall for Snoqualmie

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Need to take a quick jaunt from the city? Look no further than Snoqualmie Falls. This landmark draws both locals and visitors for its beauty and iconic appearances in film.

Less than an hour’s drive from Seattle is beautiful Snoqualmie Falls, where the Snoqualmie River plunges 268 feet in a showy display. Take in the sight from the observation deck or head down a short trail to get a closer look. The falls are featured in the opening credits of David Lynch’s cult classic Twin Peaks (the original and the recent reboot), and several other exterior scenes for the series were shot nearby. Remember the Double R Diner and its famous cherry pie? That’s real-life Twede’s Café, just a few miles away in North Bend.

Nancy Gupton is a freelance writer, editor, and lover of books, music, and, of course, food. You can follow her on Twitter.