Seattle’s 650,000 residents are wedged into a hilly strip of land sandwiched between Lake Washington and the Puget Sound, and the toothy Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges. You’ll never be far from water, trees and, yes, coffee. On clear days (and there are more than you’d think) views abound. To the south, Mount Rainier looms, stoic on the horizon. To the north, the seemingly always snow-covered Mount Baker and Shuksan.
Visitors may wonder about seasonal affective disorder, but a local might tell you that the overcast skies are comforting (they also make blue-sky days brilliant). The following is a local’s classic weather spiel. “No, it doesn’t rain here all the time. Yes, it’s more of a drizzle. Actually, other cities in the U.S. get more rain. Yes, please leave your umbrella at home.”
Locals, however, have been diffused by the tech boom that’s only becoming more pronounced (Seattle is one of the fastest growing cities in America). Amazon and its ever-expanding South Lake Union campus is bringing tens of thousands of new employees to town; their cranes seem to be a permanent fixture at the edge of downtown. This is a stark contrast to the early 1970s when a population decrease prompted a billboard placed near the airport that read: “Will the last person leaving Seattle turn out the lights?”
Only about ten percent of Seattle’s residents live downtown, so the city’s neighborhoods—from Capitol Hill to the Central District and Wallingford to Queen Anne—have distinct vibes and styles that often match that of their residents.
If you plan to venture out of the city on your trip, then renting a car is a good idea. Otherwise, public-transit options are good enough to get you where you’re going. The bulk of the city’s attractions are close to downtown, so take the light rail from the airport to your hotel and then take the bus, or use the rideshare company Lyft to get from place to place.
Grab breakfast at Portage Bay Cafe in the University District near the University of Washington. It’s a popular spot so make a reservation in advance. You can’t go wrong with their giant, classic pancakes ($10.50), and they come with a trip to the breakfast bar, which has piles of fresh fruit, nuts, maple syrup and whipped cream. Take the 48 bus two miles north to Green Lake, a 250-acre lake in the middle of a residential neighborhood. Walk off your breakfast around the lake’s 2.8-mile perimeter or rent a kayak or stand-up paddle board from Green Lake Boat Rentals during spring and summer.
Swing by Gas Works Park, a converted gasification plant on the north shore of Lake Union. The grassy hills surrounding the rusty machinery offer views of the downtown skyline across the lake. Walk west for a half mile along the Burke-Gilman Trail, an 18-mile running and bike path, to the popular Fremont Brewing Company, a family-owned brewery founded in 2009. Order an Interurban IPA and sit inside around the fire or outside at one of many long picnic tables. Walk a few blocks up the hill to the infamous Fremont Troll, a large troll clutching a Volkswagen Beetle under the Aurora Bridge, before grabbing lunch at the homey RoRo BBQ. Order the pork ribs ($16.99) with a side of macaroni and cheese and succotash.
Visit the Seattle Art Museum downtown ($19.50, closes at 5pm) with collections ranging from local Pacific Northwest and Native American art to Islamic and Ancient Meditterranean. Their more than 24,000 pieces are held in a building designed by Robert Venturi. Grab dinner at the seductively lit Via Tribunali on Pike Street, one of Capitol Hill’s main drags. They’re known for their pizza so order the Dante, a thin-crust three-cheese pie with prosciutto, tomatoes and basil ($17).
After dinner, catch a show a few doors down at Neumos Crystal Ball Reading Room. Neumos hosts musicians of many genres, from indie rock to hip-hop to singer-songwriter from The Shins to Adele. Then, grab a Manny’s Pale Ale and play a round of pool across the street at the gritty Comet Tavern, a decades-old institution that reopened under new ownership last year. Before heading home, stop by one of the many hot dog stands—you can’t miss the inebriated lines—up and down Capitol Hill’s Pike Street at night. Order a hot dog with cream cheese, it’s a thing.
Stroll through Pike Place Market (above) as it opens and watch the vendors selling flowers, fruit and crafts as they set up their tables between restaurants and shops at the 108-year-old farmers market. You can watch the fishmongers throwing fish (or buy a fresh catch) at the Pike Place Fish Market, near the market’s entrance. For the sake of novelty, grab coffee at one of the first Starbucks across the street from the market and head down to the waterfront. Stroll about one mile north past the piers and through the Olympic Sculpture Park (free, open daily), a nine-acre outdoor green space for art that’s owned by the Seattle Art Museum.
Walk up the hill along Broad Street to the iconic 605-foot-tall Space Needle, built for the 1962 World’s Fair. It’s $19 and a 45-second elevator ride up to the observation deck for 360-degree views of the city and beyond, but worth it if it’s a clear day. Hit the Experience Music Project, a pop-culture museum with roots in rock and roll founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen ($22 if you buy online). If nothing else, walk around the building, a colorful, wavy structure inspired by electric guitars. If EMP isn’t your thing, head to the Chihuly Garden and Glass, at the base of the Space Needle, which showcases the world-renowned blown glass of Dale Chihuly ($18). Get lunch at Seattle institution and local favorite Dick’s Drive-In a few blocks away in lower Queen Anne. Its menu is simple: burgers, fries and shakes (the most expensive item, the Deluxe burger, is $2.90).
Take a ferry around sunset from the pier just below Pike Place across to Bainbridge Island and back (35 minutes each way, $8 round-trip). Enjoy the ride, grab a beer from the on-board bar, and take in the views from the upper deck as the sun sinks behind the mountains and the city skyline lights up. Eat dinner downtown at Chef Michael Mina’s RN74. It’s on the pricier side, but features an extensive wine list and fresh Northwest ingredients. You can’t leave Seattle without eating fresh seafood. Order the steamed mussels from Whidbey Island’s Penn Cove ($16) or the seared scallops with pork belly ($34).
Take a spin on the Seattle Great Wheel, a 175-foot-tall ferris wheel on the waterfront that opened in 2012 with bird’s-eye views of the Puget Sound and the ferries coming and going. If you’re after live music catch a show at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard, frequented by folk and country bands. Cowboy boots and deer skulls hang from the ceiling and a tire chandelier.
Fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), which is 14 miles from downtown and serviced by the major airlines. The light rail from the airport to the middle of downtown takes 40 minutes and costs $2.75. Tip: if you plan to ride the bus while in town, download the One Bus Away app (free) so you know exactly when your bus is coming.
Rent an Airbnb downtown or in the happening Capitol Hill district for around $100 per night.
The 76-room Inn at the Market is a boutique hotel near Pike Place, and each room has floor-to-ceilings bay windows (rooms from $219).
Anna Callaghan is a freelance writer based in Seattle. She’s written about things like selling her kidney on Facebook (pretty easy), Instagram yoga celebrities, and is an authoritative voice on camping hammocks.