The Seattle Travel Guide

Updated: September 7, 2017

55 Things to Know About Seattle

the ultimate travel guide to Seattle, Washington
Where to stay, what to do, and how to get around in Seattle, Washington.

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The Basics

  1. Seattle is the largest city in the state of Washington, located 60 miles north of Washington’s State capital city of Olympia.
  2. Nestled on the shores of Puget Sound, Seattle maintains an active sea port, and is the fourth-largest container gateway in North America. Harbor Island on Elliott Bay is the nation’s largest man-made island.
  3. It rains a lot in Seattle, though not as much as most people think. The city averages 152 wet days per year, but generally this falls as a light drizzle; at 37 average inches, Seattle receives 2 inches less rain per year than the national average of 39. The weather in July through September is usually sunny and dry.
  4. Seattle sits between two mountain ranges, with the Olympic Mountains to the west, and Cascade Mountains to the east. The Canadian border is 110 miles north of Seattle.
  5. The four largest employers in Seattle are Boeing, Microsoft, the University of Washington, and Amazon.com.
  6. Seattle’s University of Washington is consistently ranked among the nation’s top universities and loveliest college campuses. The University’s waterfront Husky Stadium is known as the most scenic setting in college football.
  7. Visiting Seattle

  8. The best time to visit Seattle is June through August. In summer, Seattle is sunny, dry, and warm, with daytime highs generally around 75°F and low humidity. Flights, ferries, and tours all run with greater frequency during this time, however. Hotel and travel prices will be higher, and availability will turn scarce — so make reservations well in advance.
  9. Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) is located 15 miles south of downtown Seattle. The best and most reliable transportation from Sea-Tac to downtown is Seattle Town Car. Link light rail is the cheapest, at $3/ride.
  10. Seattle has two cruise ship ports, and both are located near downtown. Seven cruise lines call Seattle a home port, offering 7-day cruises to Alaska: Carnival, Celebrity, Holland America, Norwegian, Oceania, Princess, and Royal Caribbean.
  11. Seattle’s two sports stadiums sit just south of downtown in the SoDo neighborhood. Safeco Field is home to the Seattle Mariners MLB team, while both the Seattle Seahawks (NFL) and Sounders (MLS) play at CenturyLink Field.
  12. Seattle Neighborhoods

  13. Downtown Seattle is the most popular area for visitors to stay. It’s home to most of the city’s best (and most expensive) hotels, as well as lots of great shopping, dining, and entertainment options. Attractions include Pike Place Market, Seattle Art Museum, Westlake Center and Pacific Place malls, and Nordstrom’s flagship location.
  14. Belltown is adjacent to downtown, sitting just north of the city center. It’s known for nightlife and high-rise condos, and is home to the Olympic Sculpture Park. From Belltown, it’s an easy walk to both downtown attractions and Seattle Center.
  15. Pioneer Square is the historic heart of the city, and is where you’ll find Seattle’s oldest buildings and the Underground Tour. Pioneer Square is within walking distance to Seattle’s two sports stadiums, the ferry terminal at Colman Dock, and downtown attractions.
  16. Queen Anne is home to the iconic Space Needle, and the Seattle Center entertainment complex that incorporates the Pacific Science Center, The Museum of Pop Culture, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Key Arena, and the Seattle Children’s Museum and Theatre. Queen Anne hotels are generally less expensive than downtown.
  17. South Lake Union is a hi-tech hub, home to many prominent biomedical and technology companies, such as Amazon.com. South Lake Union is home to the Museum of History and Industry, the Center for Wooden Boats, and the seaplane company Kenmore Air.
  18. Seattle’s Waterfront neighborhood sits just west of downtown, perched aside Puget Sound’s Elliot Bay. This is where you’ll find the Seattle Aquarium, the Great Wheel, and the Wings Over Washington ride, as well as docks for Washington State Ferries, Argosy sightseeing cruises, the Victoria Clipper, and the West Seattle Water Taxi.
  19. Seattle Things to Do

  20. Pike Place Market first opened in 1907, and is one of the nation’s oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets. The Market is open 363 days a year, closing only on Christmas and Thanksgiving.
  21. Aside from being the city’s most popular tourist destination, The Market acts as the heart of Seattle’s downtown community, providing social services such as a senior center, food bank, preschool, and medical clinic.
  22. Seattle Center – a large entertainment complex that also incorporates the Space Needle – was originally created for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, and remnants of the fair’s space-age theme remain in the Center’s mid-century architecture, sculpture, and the Monorail that runs from the base of the Space Needle into downtown.
  23. Aside from the Space Needle, Seattle Center’s campus also houses the Pacific Science Center, The Museum of Pop Culture, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Key Arena, and the Seattle Children’s Museum and Theatre.
  24. Seattle’s two biggest music festivals are held annually on the Seattle Center Grounds: Folklife on Memorial Day weekend, and Bumbershoot over Labor Day weekend. The Bite of Seattle, Seattle’s biggest food festival, takes place under the Space Needle in mid-July.
  25. The easiest and cheapest way to enjoy the Seattle skyline from the waters of Puget Sound is to take the water taxi to West Seattle. On the other side, grab a bite and a drink on the deck at Marination Ma Kai, or catch a free shuttle to Alki Beach.
  26. There’s a restaurant in the Space Needle! SkyCity Restaurant is a revolving dining room 500 feet above Seattle Center, and meal price includes admission to the Needle’s observation deck. Save room for the “Lunar Orbiter” dessert: an ice cream sundae served in a bowl of smoking dry ice.
  27. There’s more to Seattle than meets the eye – you can explore Seattle’s past via hidden subterranean passageways via Bill Spiedel’s Underground or the Beneath the Streets Tours.
  28. Seattle’s Great Wheel rises 175 feet from Pier 57 on the Seattle waterfront, making it the tallest observation wheel on the west coast. To make your trip up (and down) extra special, reserve Cabin #42, the VIP gondola, that comes with leather seats, a stereo system, and a glass bottom floor.
  29. Wings Over Washington, an indoor aerial adventure ride, is located right next to the Great Wheel, and ticket packages that include both rides are available if you purchase at the Pier 57 ticket booth.
  30. Admission to the Seattle Art Museum, along with most of Seattle’s other museums, is free on the first Thursday of every month.
  31. First Thursdays also mean the Pioneer Square Art Walk – the nation’s first – in which the neighborhood’s many galleries are open to the public for browsing – and many new exhibits open.
  32. The Seattle Aquarium’s most famous resident is Switch, a female giant Pacific octopus. You can watch an octopus feeding on the Aquarium’s YouTube channel, or a live action video feed via their Octocam.
  33. You can enjoy Seattle’s sports scene even when there’s not a game going on: behind-the-scenes public tours are available for Safeco (Seattle Mariners) and CenturyLink (Seahawks and Sounders FC) Fields, as well as the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium.
  34. A food tour is a delicious way to discover a new city, or learn more about your home town. In Seattle, I especially recommend Savor Seattle’s VIP Pike Place Market and Chocolate Indulgence tours, and Wing Luke Museum’s International District seasonal food tour.
  35. Seattle Hotels

  36. The best hotels in Seattle are The Four Seasons, Inn at the Market, and the Alexis Hotel.
  37. The best hotels near Pike Place Market are the Inn at the Market, The Four Seasons, and the Mayflower Park Hotel.
  38. The best boutique hotel in Seattle is the Inn at the Market.
  39. The best modern hotels in Seattle are The Four Seasons, Inn at the Market, and Thompson Seattle.
  40. The best historic hotels in Seattle are The Sorrento Hotel, The Arctic Club, and The Mayflower Park Hotel.
  41. The Best budget hotels in Seattle are The Moore Hotel and The Ace Hotel.
  42. The best hotel swimming pools in Seattle are at Hyatt Olive 8 (indoor) and The Four Seasons (outdoor).
  43. Getting Around Seattle

  44. Use Link Light Rail (cheap) or taxi (easy) to get to downtown hotels. The taxi queue is a 1 minute walk from the baggage carousels in arrivals – just follow the signs. There’s rarely a wait.
  45. Seattle is a pedestrian-friendly city, and most points downtown are easily walkable. Certain parts of the city are built on a steep grade, however, and the hilly streets can be a challenge for folks with mobility issues. The University of Washington’s Access Map is a handy tool to plan a more easily-walkable route around town; showing which streets are steepest, and which sidewalks are blocked due to construction.
  46. If you’re staying near downtown, having a rental car can be more of a burden than a benefit. It’s tough (and expensive) to park downtown, and daily hotel parking rates can really add up.
  47. It’s easy to get around Seattle using the region’s Link light rail system, the Seattle Streetcar, and Metro buses. Use the Trip Planner to determine your route, and pay for all of them using refillable Orca cards.
  48. Link light rail runs from SeaTac Airport through downtown and up to the University of Washington in Northeast Seattle. It has station stops at the sports stadiums, the International District, Pioneer Square, downtown, and Capitol Hill.
  49. The Seattle Streetcar has two different lines; one running from downtown to South Lake Union, and one from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill, via the International District.
  50. The Seattle Monorail runs from Westlake Center in downtown Seattle to the base of the Space Needle in Seattle Center, and is the best way to get to the Space Needle from downtown (and vice-versa). It’s a five minute ride that’s fairly inexpensive, and is a fun relic from Seattle’s space-themed 1962 World’s Fair. The Monorail is privately owned, so fare is not transferable from other modes of transport.
  51. Metro buses go everywhere, and are generally reliable. Trip Planner can help you determine what bus to take and where to catch it, and the One Bus Away app will track your bus’ progress.
  52. Taxis and ride share services (like Lyft and Uber) are plentiful in Seattle, and and easy to find when public transit’s not an option. Save renting a car for day trips outside of the city.
  53. Amtrak’s newly-refurbished King Street Station is located just south of downtown in Pioneer Square. This station is a stop on Amtrak’s north-south running Coast Starlight and east-west running Empire Builder routes, the Amtrak Cascades line that runs between Eugene, OR and Vancouver BC, and the Sounder regional commuter train.
  54. Daily ferry service runs from Colman Dock on the Seattle waterfront to Bainbridge Island and the city of Bremerton on the Kitsap Peninsula.
  55. The King County Water Taxi shuttles passengers back and forth between Pier 50 in downtown Seattle and two terminals: Seacrest Park in West Seattle and Vashon Island. Public transportation is accessible from either spot, with free shuttles running from Seacrest Park to Alki Beach and the West Seattle Junction shopping district.
  56. When to Visit Seattle

  57. The best weather in Seattle is from late June to early September. July and August are the busiest months when hotels are full and restaurants are crowded. May, June, September, and October usually have nice weather and fewer tourists making them great months to visit if you’re not after hot summer weather. Most of Seattle’s best attractions lend themselves to enjoying even with a little rain which makes Seattle a good year-round destination.
  58. The skiing, snowboarding, and snowshoeing season in Seattle’s nearby mountain areas usually lasts from late November until April or May.
  59. Whale watching season near Seattle falls between March and October, with the species of whale you’re likely to see varying by month within that range. The first gray whales appear in the region in March and April. Orcas are common in the summer months of May through September, and humpback whales are most often seen in October and November.
  60. July, August, and September are the best months to visit Mount Rainier National Park, when the snow has melted and hiking trails are open. Mountain wildflowers are at their peak around early August, and fall colors are best in the first half of October. Many park areas and roads are closed throughout the winter (mid-October/early November through June), though the road to Paradise stays open year round for those who wish to see the mountain by car.
  61. Nearby Snoqualmie Falls are at their best in the spring, when the river’s full and running at greatest capacity. If you can swing dinner or an overnight at the Salish Lodge & Spa while you’re there, do.

See Also

2 questions and comments

  1. Which underground tour?

    Hi. I’m visiting Seattle soon and am interested in taking one of the underground tours you mention. Which one do you recommend? Thanks.

    1. AnneAnne Post author

      It depends on your taste for schtick. The Bill Spiedel tour is heavy with it, tour groups are larger, and there’s a heavy-handed exit through the gift shop at the end. That said, it’s a fun (and funny) tour that manages to pack a lot of historical information into a short period of time. Choose Beneath the Streets if you prefer a smaller group size and prefer in-depth history to a jokey narrative. Have a great time!

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