Where to Find the Best Views in Seattle

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Where to Find the Best Views in Seattle

Admittedly, visiting the Space Needle, the landmark as synonymous with Seattle as Starbucks and ferryboats, and heading up to its deck or revolving restaurant is pretty much a guaranteed impressive view. But there are other ways to get iconic views of the Emerald City.

From historic boozing to paddling through the Ballard Locks to flying in a seaplane—here’s how to get the best views in Seattle.

Kristin Conard is a writer, teacher, runner and occasional climber living along California’s central coast, and she wrote an award-winning book on Kansas’s trails.

1. Smith Tower Observatory Bar

Smith Tower Observatory Bar opened in the summer of 2016 on the 35th floor of the 38-story Smith Tower. The historic structure was the tallest building west of the Mississippi from 1914 to 1931. You can reach the revamped speakeasy-style bar near the top (a private residence encompasses the top three floors) by an operator-manned elevator. The drinks are themed (and a tad pricy) but along with them, you get a 360-degree view from high above Pioneer Square. You'll need to get tickets before you go up because of limited elevator space, but while you're waiting, there's a series of interactive Prohibition-themed exhibits.
Photo by Kristin Conard

2. Gasworks Park

Gasworks Park may be the world's only park on the site of a former gas production plant. On the National Register of Historic Places, the park integrates parts of the old plant into the landscape; some of the plant wreckage was used to create the Great Mound. Not only is it an ideal place to fly a kite (earning it the nickname Kite Hill), it's a great spot to appreciate the unexpectedly photogenic abandoned gas production plant and panoramic views of Lake Union and the skyline.
Photo courtesy of Seattle Parks, by TIA International Photography

3. Westward & Little Gull

At Westward & Little Gull along the north shore of Lake Union, you can appreciate the skyline from an Adirondack chair next to a fire pit. Even better, you can arrive from the water and tie up at the private dock (land arrivals are also acceptable). The food is a mix of Mediterranean and Northwest inspired dishes, from boar ribs to black pepper orecchiette with foraged mushrooms.
Photo by Sarah Flotard

4. Kenmore Air

Take to the skies in a floatplane with Kenmore Air. The bumpiest part will likely be simply taxiing along the water—distract yourself from choppy waves by waving at passing paddle boarders. The scenic flights take you over the sound and Elliott Bay, get you views of Mount Rainier (in good weather), and take you above the Space Needle.
Photo by Kristin Conard

5. Kayak

Go from the sky to the sea, or rather, the bay, and paddle out with Ballard Kayaks. The Puget Sound tour will give you the chance to see seals and sea lions. They've also got a Ballard Locks tour where you get to head through the historic locks that reshaped the landscape of Seattle. And with Alki Kayaks, you can see the Seattle skyline from Elliott Bay—choose from a tour during the day, at sunset or at full moon.
Photo courtesy of Visit Seattle

6. The Nest

The Nest at Thompson Seattle opened May 2016. This rooftop bar has a touch of Miami lounge feel to its décor and its crowd—a swanky see and be seen vibe, if you will. Basically, it's a place where they have cocktails on tap and hand craft their ice. Their indoor and outdoor seating areas mean you can raise your $15 cocktail to the Puget Sound year-round.
Photo courtesy of Nic Lehoux

7. Volunteer Park

The Olmsted Brothers (sons of the famed Central Park designer) designed Volunteer Park in the early 1900s. Amid the 48 acres is the Seattle Asian Art Museum, a conservatory, a reservoir, a popular wading pool, and a water tower complete with an observation deck. Climb the 107 steps to the top of the tower that's the highest point on Capitol Hill to enjoy a free view out over the city. Granted, bars will be in the way, but some rock climbers take to the outside of the tower for more unobstructed views (we don't recommend it).
Photo courtesy of Seattle Parks, by TIA International Photography