Hands down, Seattle is one of my favorite cities in America. With so much to see and do in and around the city, it’s a one-of-a-kind place and hard to beat. From attending sporting events to eating at incredible restaurants, wine tasting in the many tasting rooms scattered throughout the city, and visiting wine regions nearby. In Seattle, you can be in the middle of the city with skyscrapers towering over you, or retreat to a quieter neighborhood feeling like you’ve escaped the tourists. You can spend time at the oldest running farmers’ markets in the world (Pike Place), take the ferry to a nearby island, escape to the mountains surrounding the city, day trip to the German town of Leavenworth or take kayaks out on South Lake Union. There is no shortage of activities to do in and around Seattle which is why it makes my list for must-visit places in the USA.
With this ultimate guide to Seattle expect to find information on transportation, restaurants, bars, day trips, and activities to do in and nearby Seattle. Let the fun begin!
The Ultimate Guide to Visiting Seattle – Everything You Need to Know!
Transportation in and Around Seattle
TRANSPORTATION TO/FROM THE AIRPORT
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SeaTac/SEA) services the city of Seattle. Its located a little over 10 miles from the center of Seattle and can take anywhere from 25 minutes to 1 hour by car, to go back and forth depending on traffic. If you’re planning on renting a car in Seattle you can pick it up from the airport (although I don’t recommend having a car in the city unless you’re planning a road trip). Or you can rely on Uber/Lyft to take you to and from the airport. If you’re using rideshare simply follow the signs from the airport to the specified parking lot. I recommend waiting to request your ride until you arrive at the right lot because it can be confusing if it’s your first time. Once your ride arrives they will pull into a specified parking spot, they will then text you which spot they are in and that is how you’ll find your driver. Typically the cost of an Uber/Lyft ranges from $30-$60 depending on the time of the day.
If you want to save money you can instead opt to take the Link Light Rail. Although it can take over an hour to get into the city (depending on which stop you’re getting off), using the light rail is infinitely cheaper. In Seattle, the price of a ticket is dependent on where you get picked up and where you get dropped off. Therefore the price of the ticket will vary but expect to pay from $2-$3. Once you leave the airport you’ll follow signs directing you to the Link Light Rail. You’ll end up in the parking garage, walking down a long hall until you come to kiosk machines where you can buy your ticket. While you don’t need to show proof of a ticket to board the train, I’d highly recommend actually buying the ticket because there is oftentimes security scanning tickets at different checkpoints. Once you have your ticket in hand you can proceed upstairs to where the train will pick you up. If you’d prefer to buy a ticket on your phone, download the app “Transit Go” before arriving.
Although they are currently adding on to the Link Light Rail, at the time of writing the train only goes north and south. It’s easy to navigate which train to get on because once you’re in the right spot there will be only two to choose from. One will be going further south past the airport to Angle Lake. And the other will be going north into Seattle.
TRAIN TRANSPORTATION WITHIN THE CITY
The Link Light Rail services Seattle from south to north. It is easy to navigate and cheap, making it a good option for public transportation. However, it doesn’t access neighborhoods such as Ballard, Fremont, or Bellevue so plan to take a ride-share or drive yourself around if you’re wanting to venture outside the center of the city. In order from south to north the light rail stops at Angle Lake, SeaTac Airport, Tukwila International Blvd, Rainier Beach, Othello, Columbia City, Mount Baker, Beacon Hill, SODO, Stadium, International District/Chinatown, Pioneer Square, University Street, Westlake, Capitol Hill, and University of Washington. As stated earlier the price of the ticket depends on which stop you’re getting on and off. Or there are different options if you plan to ride all day versus a single ride. Tickets are available to purchase at every station at kiosks or you can download the “Transit Go” app if you’d prefer a mobile version.
Tip: If you want to get on the train heading NORTH always look for the sign “to University of Washington”. If you want to go SOUTH, look for “to airport”.
Note: The city is currently adding onto the light rail to go further into the suburbs and even east towards Bellvue.
I would not recommend renting a car while in Seattle. The streets are congested, parking is limited, parking garages are few and far between. Plus, Seattle is an incredibly walkable city so between that and the light rail you shouldn’t need a car unless venturing outside the city center when in that case I’d recommend an Uber or Lyft. If you’re new to Lyft use code KYLEE45415 for $5 in ride credit. If you’re new to Uber use the code vi9bs for $2 off your first three rides.
The Best Places to Stay in Seattle
When searching for a hotel in Seattle, I would recommend staying in one of the following neighborhoods:
Pioneer Square – To be in the middle of all the action, Pioneer Square is ideal for its history and proximity to Elliott Bay and where the ferries come and go. There is a light rail station here – Pioneer Square.
Suggested Stay: Best Western Plus Pioneer Square
Downtown – To be in the heart of Seattle, near the major landmarks, where it’s congested yet easy to get just about anywhere. There is a light rail station here – Westlake.
Capitol Hill – Further north, stay in Capitol Hill if you are looking for a good restaurant/bar scene without hoards of tourists. There is a light rail station here – Capitol Hill.
Suggested Stay: Hotel Sorrento (located in First Hill, near Capitol Hill)
Fremont – Located north across Lake Union, stay in Fremont if you’re looking for an escape from the busy city. Here expect to find great restaurants, breweries, boutiques, and near parks and green space. There is not a light rail station here.
Suggested Stay: Airbnb
If you’re still having trouble finding a hotel that suits you, my preferred method of searching and comparing is booking.com
The Best Things to See and Do in Seattle
Without a doubt, Seattle is one of the most “hopping” cities I’ve had the pleasure of living in. There is something to do every single night of the week from bar trivia, to concerts, festivals, and more. There is something for everyone when you come to Seattle. Interested in art? Chihuly Garden and Glass. History? The underground ghost tour. Food? Don’t get me started on the incredible restaurant scene. Drinks? Depends – wine, beer, or cocktails? Take your pick because there happens to be a bar for every type of person.
Below you’ll find a shortened list of the highlights of Seattle. In some of these categories, I have written more expansive blog posts that go into more detail if you’re looking for even more information aside from the highlights.
PIKE PLACE MARKET
A Seattle staple? The world-famous farmers market – Pike Place Market. Pike Place is the oldest, consistently run farmers’ market in America. It’s filled with shops, food stands, restaurants, hidden bars, bubblegum walls, shows, and more! It’s a fun way to spend the day but can get overwhelming with the crowds of people. For more ideas on things to see and do in Pike Place, read my guide: Everything You Need to Know Before Visiting Pike Place Market.
Ride the elevator to the top of the iconic Seattle Space Needle. In 1962 this unique structure was built for the World Fair and has stayed standing ever since. A nice addition to the skyline, the Space Needle has an elevator taking you to the top of the city and overlooking the Puget Sound, the downtown skyline, Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges, Elliott Bay, and more. The Space Needle is located in the Queen Anne neighborhood and is open Monday-Thursday 10 am-7 pm, and Friday-Sunday 9 am-7 pm. The price of a ticket to the top is $32.50-$37.50 (price varies depending on age), but note that if you choose to also do the Chihuly museum you can bundle your ticket for a cheaper price.
CHIHULY GARDEN AND GLASS
Take a walk through Chihuly Garden and Glass, a museum showcasing the glassworks of Dale Chihuly. This museum has been open since 2012 and is located next to the Space Needle. It’s a maze of colorful and intricate glassworks that have been shaped and molded into incredibly stunning structures. Dale’s works are also shown around the world (at the time of writing he has an art installation in Venice, Italy). The museum is open Monday-Thursday 11 am-6 pm, and Friday-Sunday 10 am-6 pm. The price of a ticket is $32 (price varies depending on age and time of visit), but can be combined with the Space Needle ticket for a cheaper price.
RENT AN ELECTRIC BOAT
For a more unique activity, opt to rent an electric boat on Lake Union. This is a fun way to spend an evening watching the sunset from the water. You can bring your food and drink so why not make it a party? I suggest take-out and wine as you cruise alongside other boats, kayakers, paddleboarders, and even seaplanes! Note that you are responsible to drive the boat and that there is no refund if it rains (there are plastic window covers in this situation).
TAKE A FERRY/WATER TAXI
Another way to fill your time is to head to the water for a ferry ride! If you walk down towards Pioneer Square/downtown to the waterfront, you’ll see where the ferries come and go. You can take a ferry to West Seattle (approx 5 mins), to Bainbridge Island (approx 30 mins), or around Elliott Bay.
GO ON A TOUR OF SEATTLE’S UNDERGROUND
If you’re interested in learning a little bit more about the history of Seattle (it’s quite fascinating), perhaps Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour is for you. You’ll be taken underground to the old streets of Seattle before they were built upon. You’ll learn why the city was destroyed by fire and what it took to rebuild into the city it is today as you walk through the interconnecting tunnels of the underground. The price of a ticket is $22 (varies depending on age).
Happen to be visiting Seattle during the rainy season? Don’t fret! There are still plenty of things to do even in the dreaded rain. Read this post for ideas on things to do in the rain.
The Best Restaurants to Eat at in Seattle
The restaurant scene in Seattle is my favorite thing about the city. With world-class food, you can find cuisine ranging from Ethiopian to Thai, seafood, Italian, and more! For a comprehensive of the best restaurants to eat at in Seattle, make sure to check out A Foodie’s Guide to Seattle. Or if you have a sweet tooth make sure to check out, The Best Places for Dessert in Seattle.
The Best Cocktail Bars in Seattle
As far as the night scene goes in Seattle, it isn’t the best. There are a few cool bars to check out and tons of options for breweries and places to go for wine tastings during the daytime. But once night hits, the city doesn’t come alive as other cities do. For a more comprehensive list of cocktails, wine and beer, make sure to check out Drinking in Seattle.
The Best Breweries in Seattle
As far as breweries go, Seattle has an incredible beer scene. With the Ballard neighborhood and Fremont neighborhood being the crux of all things beer, you’ll want to spend time in these areas if you’re looking to brewery hop. Otherwise, you’ll find my top breweries listed below:
Fremont Brewing – A lively brewery with tons of outdoor seating; Located in Fremont
Perihelion Brewery – A fun atmosphere with indoor and outdoor seating complete with outdoor fire pits and a tasty food menu; Located in Beacon Hill
Optimism Brewing Company – A huge indoor brewery with a courtyard, games, and at times a food truck; Located in Capitol Hill
The Best Wine Bars & Tasting Rooms in Seattle
Another thing that Seattle really has going for itself is the wine scene. Washington, in general, produces incredible wine and you can find Washington tasting rooms located right in the city. Below you’ll find my favorite places for wine.
Bar Ferdinand – A small and cozy restaurant serving only wine; Located in Capitol Hill
Petit Soif – A new wine bar in Seattle, Petit Soif gets most of their wine from abroad and serves it alongside a small food menu; Located in Beacon Hill
Sodo Urbanworks – An industrial space made up of multiple sides by side wine tasting rooms; Located in Sodo
Bottelhouse – An incredible and cozy wine shop that has both indoor and outdoor seating accompanied by small plates; Located in Madrona
Neighborhoods to Explore
Seattle is made up of multiple neighborhoods all with something unique to offer! Below I dive into which neighborhoods are worth spending time in and what the highlights of each neighborhood are.
A grungier part of Seattle, I prefer to visit Ballard if I’m in the mood for beer! One of the best “beer” parts of the city, Ballard has 11 breweries in just 5 miles. Away from the city, you also get more of a local sense in this neighborhood. You aren’t faced with skyscrapers or trendy shops, just good old-fashioned breweries and laid-back restaurants. Plus on Sundays from 10 am-3 pm they have an incredible farmers market worth checking out. The light rail does not stop here.
Even more off the beaten path, Beacon Hill is becoming one of Seattle’s hottest neighborhoods. With new restaurants and bars coming in, Beacon Hill is quickly expanding. What was once mostly known as being a residential neighborhood, Beacon Hill is now becoming known for its food scene. Quite a few new restaurants have popped up in the area in the past couple of years including two of my favorite restaurants in Seattle, Homer’s and Bar del Corso. The light rail does stop here.
In my opinion, Capitol Hill is the trendiest neighborhood in Seattle. Here is where you’ll find the bars open late, people walking around being their authentic selves, incredible restaurants, and more. It’s close to downtown and the tourist attractions but far enough away to not feel suffocated by tourists. Capitol Hill is where I’ve lived and spent most of my time in Seattle! I almost know it like the back of my hand and for that reason, it holds a special place in my heart. For fun I like to go bowling at Garage, for drinks I like to hit Liberty, Optimism, or Bar Ferdinand (depending on my mood), and to eat… the options are endless! Although I do frequent Momiji, a sushi restaurant. The link light rail does stop here.
The center of it all, downtown is where it’s at (and where you’ll run into most of the tourists!). Here is where you’ll find Pike Place Market, walk through the concrete jungle, run into the Amazon spheres, and you can even do some incredible shopping. The link light rail does stop here.
Fremont is also a neighborhood in Seattle that is packed with things to do, but further away from crowds that come with downtown. It’s the perfect place to spend the day! Once you cross the big blue Fremont bridge (connecting Fremont to Queen Anne), you’re once again swept away in a part of the city that feels quite different than the rest of the city. Where the troll under the bridge resides, I like to visit Fremont for its boutique shops and my favorite brewery in the city – Fremont Brewing. The light rail does not stop here.
Where to go if you love history. Pioneer Square is the oldest neighborhood in Seattle and was the “original downtown”. It’s known for its secret underground tunnels (the old Seattle), and for having an edgier vibe. Being near the water, Pioneer Square oftentimes sees lots of tourists and it can at times feel quite crowded. But don’t let this deter you – to get away from it, head to the top of Smith Tower for views over Seattle. Or pop into The London Plane for a light lunch in an Instagram-able interior. The link light rail does stop here.
Queen Anne is made up of two parts – Upper Queen Anne and Lower Queen Anne. This neighborhood is home to the glitzy and glamorous and is made up of both residential streets and commercial areas. I oftentimes venture to Queen Anne to get my tourist fix (it’s where the Space Needle, Chihuly Gardens, and Kerry Park are all located). I also head here for my favorite coffee shop: La Marzocco Cafe. The neighborhood is bordered by Lake Union and Elliott Bay on opposite sides, and downtown and Magnolia north and south. The light rail does not run here.
The Best Day Trips from Seattle
Although I love spending time in Seattle, it’s always nice to get away for a day or two! And with the majestic Washington mountains surrounding the area, there is no shortage of beautiful places to escape to. Even just getting out of the city and going on a drive is worth it to witness the beautiful scenery.
This small Bavarian town is located two hours east of Seattle and is well worth the trip. The beauty before you as you drive through the Snoqualmie Pass is enough reason to get in your car. But once you arrive in the town of Leavenworth you’ll see why its become so popular in recent years. German charm oozes out of every crevice of Leavenworth and it makes you feel as though you’ve escaped to Europe in a short two hours.
For more information on Leavenworth, read 24 Hours in Washington’s Bavarian Village – Leavenworth
30 minutes north of the city brings you to the wine region of Woodinville. Woodinville is best known for its compilation of tasting rooms where you are served Washington wine. If tasting rooms aren’t your scene, Woodinville also has two vineyards – Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Winery. With restaurants scattered in between tasting rooms, Woodinville is the perfect day get away from the city.
For more information on Woodinville, read Woodinville Wine Tasting – The Best Tasting Rooms to Visit
LENA LAKE HIKE
Three hours west, located in the Olympic Mountain range you’ll find the Lena Lake trailhead. The hike leads up to an alpine lake surrounded by peaks and valleys, making it the perfect escape if you’re looking to get away from the city for a day. The true highlight of the trip, however, is the oyster farm located nearby – Hama Hama Oyster.
For more information on Lena Lake and hikes near Seattle, read:
DECEPTION PASS STATE PARK
Located on Whidbey Island, Washington, Deception Pass State Park is nearly 80-miles away and will take an hour and a half to reach by car. Deception Pass is a strait marked by Deception Bridge which connects Whidbey Island and Fidalgo Island. The area is incredibly beautiful, with a small seafood restaurant located nearby and some amazing hiking trails.
For more information on Deception Pass State Park, read From Seattle: A Day Trip to Deception Pass State Park + Hiking Oyster Dome
While this comprehensive guide to Seattle is a good tool to use when visiting Seattle, truth is – it hardly scratches the surface. This city is made up of so much more that can only be felt and experienced in person. It’s a complex city with a melting pot of people and cultures. Rapidly growing, Seattle is one city you need to come to explore as soon as you possibly can.
If you want more suggestions on things to see and do in Seattle make sure to check out my Instagram page/highlight reel for more suggestions. Search for the hashtag #ppinwashington, or watch the highlights “Seattle Eats”, “Seattle Drinks”, “Seattle, WA”