Things to Do in Seattle
Pioneer Square, where Seattle’s founders first settled in 1852, has evolved into one of city’s prettiest downtown neighborhoods. Filled with streets lined with trees and restored Victorian buildings, the area is listed on the Nation Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood takes its name from a small triangular cobblestone plaza near the corner of First Avenue and Yesler Way, officially known as Pioneer Square Park, and features a bust of Chief Seattle, an ornate pergola, and a totem pole.
During the day, Pioneer Square buzzes with locals and visitors perusing the antique shops and art galleries. When you’re not shopping or marveling at cutting-edge art, you can visit the Seattle Underground, a network of underground passageways and basements that are remnants of the original building here, many of which were destroyed by fire in 1889.
More than just the second largest lake in all of Washington State, Lake Washington defines Seattle as a town intimately tied to the water, and it’s here that residents come to connect with their natural surroundings. Plenty of shoreline let visitors swim, picnic, hunt for clams and crawfish, and just generally relax and play. Floating platforms allow swimmers to rest and sunbathe, and the Madrona Park is a nice wooded area that slopes down to the beach and offers a changing station. Other attractions include the Kurt Cobain bench – a nice de facto cultural memorial also serving as homage to Seattle’s large music scene.
If Seattle takes credit for the birth of the grunge movement and thus leading garage bands into what is now all-star rock fame, then it only serves as fair that the museum dedicated to all things rock and roll be located in Seattle’s boundaries. For a city that loves music, the Experience Music Project was a foregone conclusion. Attached to and now incorporated with the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, a trip to the EMP Museum offers more than an introspective into passing memorabilia – it’s a look at the outreaches of our collective imagination made manifest by rock gods and science fiction greats. Designed by wildly famous architect Frank Gehry and funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the surreal jellyfish-like structure is as much a part of the interest in the museum as the exhibits themselves.
Glass artist Dale Chihuly was born down the highway a bit in Tacoma, but he has left his glittering mark on the city of Seattle in many places – perhaps nowhere more than the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum at Seattle Center.
The museum opened in 2012 and features four different areas. The Glasshouse is just what you'd expect from the name – a 40-foot glass-covered building with Chihuly's famous flower-like sculptures hanging from the ceiling. The entire piece is 100 feet long. The Garden is, as you'd expect, an outdoor space with Chihuly glass sculptures in different places. Inside the Exhibition Hall you'll find a Chihuly retrospective covering his career, showcasing his often monumental glass artwork beautifully. The Theater shows videos about Chihuly's art and his work.
In a city surrounded by water, the Seattle Aquarium acts as a touchstone for all who desire to experience the heartbeat of the underwater world without getting wet. An Associate of Zoos and Aquariums-certified center, this public aquarium is located on Pier 59 of Seattle’s vibrant waterfront. Spend the day discovering the elusive Pacific Octopus, gaze at the 120,000-gallon exhibit, immerse yourself in an underwater dome filled with life, or wiggle your finger at playful sea otters – this aquarium is one of the best in the country. Don’t miss the touch tanks and daily dive shows where divers explore the underwater world wearing special masks which allow them to speak to the aquarium attendants, thus making a visit to the Seattle Aquarium truly an interactive experience.
In Woodland Park, up the hill from Green Lake Park, the Woodland Park Zoo is one of Seattle's greatest tourist attractions, consistently rated as one of the top 10 zoos in the country. It was one of the first in the nation to free animals from their restrictive cages in favor of ecosystem enclosures, where animals from similar environments share large spaces designed to replicate their natural surroundings.
The Woodland Park Zoo thrills with superb attractions including such exhibits as a tropical rain forest, two gorilla exhibits, and an African savanna. One of the best exhibits is the brown bear enclosure, which realistically resembles an Alaskan stream and hillside. Another highlight is the elephant forest, where the zoo’s pachyderms have plenty of space to rumble around. For kids, there’s the farm-animal area and the interactive Zoomazium, where kids can see what its like to be wild animals.
Inspiring a lifelong interest in math, science, and technology, the Pacific Science Center is a museum of delight, wonder and mystery. By exploring the inner depths of what makes this universe tick, the Pacific Science Center gives visitors a chance to be bedazzled by the diversity of life in a tropical butterfly house, gaze at the stars in the planetarium, test your puzzle solving skills in the Puzzle Palooza, or explore hundreds of hands-on exhibits that both exemplify and glorify the science of exploration. Occupying approximately 7 acres of the north side of Seattle’s famed Seattle Center, the Pacific Science Center is a 21st century museum designed by Minoru Yamasaki - the selfsame architect that designed the World Trade Center in New York City. Be sure to catch a show at the IMAX or the Laser Dome – one of the largest laser shows in the country.
One of Seattle’s top attractions is Lake Union, a freshwater glacial lake enhancing the aesthetics of the area while also offering a number of recreational activities. For those who want to be in the water, kayaking, standup paddle boarding and canoeing are popular activities. If you’d rather stay dry there are a number of things to do around Lake Union’s shores, mainly exploring the many scenic parks like Fairview Park, South Lake Union Park, North Passage Point Park, Gas Works Park, and Terry Pettus Park.
While at Lake Union you can also visit the Naval Reserve Building, home to the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI). Along with a permanent collection holding over 100,000 objects, -- some of which include Seattle artifacts, local inventions, maritime pieces, local artwork and historical textiles -- there are rotating exhibits, historical workshops and lectures, and public tours.
More Things to Do in Seattle
Puget Sound is a complex waterway of inlets, bays, and harbors that includes not only Seattle, but also the cities of Bellevue, Tacoma, Olympia, and a plethora of charming little towns and islands with a culture all their own. It is a region of sparkling blue waters, green forests, sandy beaches, and a relaxed pace of life. It’s a place where many Seattleites escape the bustling city life, get out on the water, and absorb the views of the Olympic Mountains.
Washington Ferries handle most of the traffic in Puget Sound, and you can get out on the water from Seattle Waterfront. Take a boat to Tillicum Village on Blake Island for a traditional Native Pacific Northwest dance performance, or sail to Brainbridge Island for an afternoon picnic. As you explore the Sound, you’ll come across old fishing villages turned yacht havens, and idyllic rural settings.
The fishy-smelling, heart of downtown Seattle is Pike Place Market. Each day, from dawn to dusk, the market bustles but not just with people perusing the fresh produce brought in by the farmers or the browsing stalls of fresh fish. The market is also brimming with good theater, as street performers entertain the milling crowds while more than 150 artisans and artist sell their creations.
The Main and North arcades of Pike Place Market are the most popular areas, with bellowing fishmongers, arts and crafts, and stacks of fruits and vegetables. Tiny shops of all descriptions are scattered throughout the market, along with dozens of restaurants. One of the most entertaining spectacles is the fish stall, where employees throw salmon and other fish to each other rather than passing them by hand. When a customer orders a fish, an employee at the ice-covered fish table picks up the fish and hurls it over the countertop, where another employee catches it and preps it for sale.
Seattle has a long history with aviation and it was here that the first ever Boeing aircraft was assembled and where the company used to have its headquarters for decades. It makes sense that the city also hosts one of the most interesting aviation museums in North America. The Museum of Flight shows the history of flight starting with the experiments of the Wright Brothers and progresses through the years with over 150 planes, helicopters and even some satellites, rockets, space station parts and lunar module mockups.
Located at the Museum of Flight are also some more well-known aircrafts that are worthy of a special mention. The first presidential jet ever, now better known under its call sign Air Force One, has transported presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon and can be visited at the Airpark.
Definitely make the Seattle Waterfront your first stop on a visit to Seattle, for it is one of the most popular attractions in the city. The bustling waterfront not only holds gift shops, candy stores selling fudge and saltwater taffy, sidewalk T-shirt vendors, and restaurants of all kinds, it’s also is the spot for some of city’s top attractions and piers tied with boats waiting to take you out on Puget Sound.
On the Seattle Waterfront, you can touch starfish at the Seattle Aquarium, watch your kids take a virtual kayak ride on Puget Sound at the Odyssey Maritime Discovery Center, or picnic in Waterfront Park, while taking in the breathtaking view across Elliott Bay to Olympic Mountains. If you want to get out on the water from the Seattle Waterfront, head to Pier 52 for the Washington State Ferries, Pier 55 for harbor cruises and trips to Tillicum Village on Blake Island, or Pier 56 for a boat to Chittenden (Ballard) Locks.
The Chinatown-International District, often simply referred to as the I.D., is the multiethnic center of Seattle’s Asian community. Coincidentally, it is also one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and thus, is chalk-full with plenty of history and culture. Some highlights include Kobe Terrace, a small terraced park on a hillside showcasing a urban community garden and Mt. Fuji cherry trees, the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience as well as the many cultural festivals that are held each year, such as the Lunar New Year celebration and Bon Odori.
Most people head to the Chinatown-International District because of the abundance of authentic restaurants though, which sell everything under the sun from dim sum to banh mi. Many of these eateries are tiny mom and pop type shops or food carts and offer completely authentic flavors and experiences.
Nature certainly has its miracles and you can see one of its highlights at the Chittenden Locks & Fish Ladder, locally known as the Ballard Locks, where you can see salmon fighting their way to their spawning grounds in the Cascade headwaters of the Sammamish River, which feeds Lake Washington.
Watching the salmon climb the fish ladder is pretty exciting. You can watch the fish from underwater glass-sided tanks or from above (nets are installed to keep salmon from over-leaping and stranding themselves on the pavement). In the past, the fish runs at Chittenden Locks & Fish Ladder have attracted sea lions that try to swallow the salmon as they go by. On the northern entrance to the Chittenden Locks & Fish Ladder is the Carl English, Jr., Botanical Gardens, a charming arboretum and specimen garden. Trails wind through gardens filled with mature trees and flower gardens. Flanking the gardens is a small museum and visitors center documenting the history of the locks.
Seattle, topographically, has many ups and downs, but one of the steepest hills in the city is Queen Anne Hill. Accordingly, the neighborhood took a while to be completely developed because understandably, in the early days of the city, nobody felt like making the long trek up the hill just to build a home. Developers eventually offered a two-for-one deal – buy two plots of land for the price of one – to kick start population of the hill. Due to the many Queen Anne style homes built shortly afterwards by a number of the city’s elite who came here to construct their big mansions, the entire hill was named after the beautiful architectural style.
West and East Queen Anne Hill are more quiet residential areas compared to the adjoining Lower Queen Anne and the busy downtown, but there are still plenty of unique locations to be discovered.
Touting itself as the “Center of the Known Universe,” it’s hard to beat this signature Seattle neighborhood’s charms. Known for a funky, irreverent, imaginative environment, Fremont is a bastion of Seattle creative-types and a hotbed for interesting Seattle landmarks. See the Fremont Troll – a giant concrete troll molded under the Aurora Bridge, a slew of murals painted across walkways and bridges throughout the area, the controversial and engaging Vladimir Lenin stature in Fremont’s commercial district, or the 50’s era Cold War rocket still poised for takeoff. Sure, there are a lot of things to see in Fremont, but the best part of this old beatnik neighborhood is the attitude of the freewheeling people and the many shops, restaurants, and pubs they inhabit.
One of Seattle’s premier destinations for wine, art, and festivals, the Seattle Center is the 74-acre heart of all events in the Seattle area. Originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair, this vibrant hub of activity for Seattle holds some of the area’s best attractions. The Seattle Space Needle (once the tallest building west of the Mississippi) is here, as is the International Fountain, the famous Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, as well as the Kobe Bell, Mercer Arena, and the Pacific Science Center. Great for a family day in the park, for catching one of the numerous music concerts or cultural events, or for visiting the center’s many restaurants, the Seattle Center is one stop that you can’t miss.
Fishermen’s Terminal is the home port of most of the North Pacific and Puget Sound fishing boats, many of whom spend several months on the open sea before returning to Seattle. It doesn’t come as a surprise, that one of the main attractions of the terminal is the fresh fish. On big boards, the catch of the day – be it salmon, halibut or crab – is advertised and ready to be taken home and thrown in a pan. But those who can’t wait that long can also get their seafood fix at one of the restaurants right at the port. Chinook’s, Bay Café and the Highliner Pub offer great views of the Fishermen’s Terminal and are also popular hangout spots for the crews.
At the very center of Fishermen’s Terminal, hundreds of names are inscribed on a big bronze and stone memorial to commemorate all those who have died at sea and to serve as a reminder of the dangers of commercial fishing.
One of the many expanses of open greenery in Seattle, the Olympic Sculpture Park is a wide swath of open space aimed at providing the people of Seattle an easily-accessible park in which to view some of the greatest modern sculptures of our time. Arguably much more of a park than a museum, Olympic Sculpture Park plays host to numerous social activities, dances, and public performances throughout the year. People come here to walk or jog the hiking path, view the waterfront, have a picnic on a nice sunny day, or just wander around and explore the modern art.
Situated on the Seattle waterfront, the Olympic Sculpture Park is one of Seattle’s most picturesque and widely beloved parks.
Seattle is surrounded by plenty of incredible nature vistas and beautiful sceneries, but visitors don’t necessarily need to go much further than Pioneer Square to find a bit of nature in a peaceful garden setting. The Waterfall Garden Park was planned by the Japanese designer Masao Kinoshita to commemorate the birthplace of the United States Parcel Service (the UPS) and is one of Seattle’s best hidden secrets. Tucked away between Main Street and Second Avenue, the small oasis is a modern interpretation of a Japanese garden with lots of granite, brick, steel and potted plants surrounding the 22-foot-high, man-made waterfall splashing over huge rocks.
The roar of the waterfall and the softer tinkle of the surrounding stream drown out all the noise of Seattle’s concrete jungle and form a very compact, albeit effective urban oasis.
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