Have you ever visited a city and instantly felt at home? That’s pretty much how I feel about Seattle. It has this completely indescribable atmosphere that I was drawn to instantly when visiting it for the first time when I was 12 years old. Since then, I’ve been back every few years. This spring, Henry and I made it back to the city where we started our honeymoon five years before. With every trip, we find something new to see and always visit a few of our favorite sites.
This past trip was a marathon visit where we attempted to pack in everything we loved about the city in just three short days. Some of the spots are obvious, others are from our favorite films, and a few take you off the beaten path. Here’s a list of our favorite places to visit, in no particular order:
1. Olympic Sculpture Park
There are a lot of parks on this list and each one offers something completely unique. Olympic Sculpture Park overlooks Elliot Bay and has several outdoor sculptures and art within walking distance of downtown Seattle. It’s close to the harbor but far enough away that most people don’t venture over. We visit this park on every Seattle visit and it’s always an escape from the people that swarm Pike Place and the waterfront area.
2. Museum of Pop Culture
This museum is unlike any other that I’ve been to. It is hands-on and allows both kids and adults to explore a variety of elements of pop culture. Henry particularly loved the music rooms. The museum is really something special and does not fit into the mold of what typically comes to mind when you think of a museum. Less reading, more hands-on. Plus, the building is an architectural masterpiece and totally instagramable! This museum is part of the Seattle City Pass, which will definitely save you some money if you plan on spending a few days in Seattle.
3. Kerry Park
This spring, we visited Kerry Park for the first time. It’s small and unassuming with a little green space and a jungle gym for the kiddos. What draws people here are the mostly unobstructed views of downtown Seattle- the best views of the city on land that we’ve come across. What was most surprising was the neighborhood – the park is surrounded by mansions and multi-million dollar homes. You’ll enjoy the view as much as driving by the dream-worthy homes.
4. Volunteer Park
Volunteer Park has everything – gardens, open green space, a reservoir, jungle gyms, a museum (Asian Art Museum, which is temporarily closed as of this post), and perhaps best of all, a small conservatory. It’s a beautiful park not far from the city center that’s great for an evening stroll or a picnic on a nice day.
5. Seattle Aquarium
The Seattle Aquarium is smaller than most, but has some real charm and a good use of space. It is focused on conservation and the sea life that can be found in and around Washington – specifically the Puget Sound. There are two touch pools filled with star fish and other tide pool life forms. The only large animals are seals and otters, but the underwater dome and jelly fish tanks are seriously cool. The aquarium is part of the Seattle City Pass, which is completely worth it if you plan on spending a few days in Seattle.
6. Space Needle
The Space Needle is iconic and it almost goes without saying that a visit to Space Needle is a must for anyone’s first visit to Seattle. We love going up to the viewing point and getting a birds-eye view of our favorite city. While a tourist destination, there’s a reason everyone comes here. We’ve gone back on every trip to Seattle, just because it feels right. If you go, book your ticket online in advance. There is timed-entry to go up to the top and there can be a long wait if you buy your tickets on site. The Space Needle is part of the Seattle City Pass.
7. Pike Place Market
Probably the second most iconic place on this list, a trip to Seattle is not complete without a visit to Pike Place Market. This is one place we like to come to on the first day of our trip so that we can bring a bouquet of flowers back to the hotel for the remainder of our stay. If you’re getting ready to embark on an Alaskan cruise, grab flowers for your room. You won’t regret it! Other than flowers, the market is filled with fresh fish, fruit, vegetables, and some artisan work. Parts feel very touristy, but others (like the fresh fish stands) seem very targeted to locals. The crowds are usually thick here, so be prepared to be rubbing against strangers.
8. Discovery Park and the West Point Lighthouse
Discovery Park was another new spot on our latest visit and we had no idea what to expect. It’s a huge park with miles of walking trails and a lighthouse that can only be reached by foot (unless you have a handicap sticker, in which case you can park in one of the few spots available near the lighthouse). We’re a sucker for trails and lighthouses, so this park was a natural fit. It’s definitely for the locals and was a little far out for most tourists to go.
9. Washington Park Arboretum
On a nice day, is there any better place to be than an arboretum? We love these parks and Seattle has a great one. At close to 230 acres on the water, it includes a botanic garden and miles of trail. It’s a little outside of the city, but absolutely worth the trip.
10. Seattle Japanese Garden
On the fringe of the Arboretum, the Seattle Japanese Garden is a small, tranquil retreat. It’s smaller than most Japanese gardens we’ve been to, but as with most things on this list, the quaintness is part of the charm.
11. Chihuly Sculpture Garden
Chihuly is a genius and the sculpture garden and gallery of his art is a must see when visiting Seattle. Intricate sculptures, landscapes, lanterns, and bowls play with color and light in amazing ways.
12. Freemont Troll
Remember the scene in 10 Things I Hate About You where Cameron (Joseph Gordon Levitt) and Bianca (Larisa Oleynik) are climbing on a weird sculpture under a bridge? That’s the Freemont Troll, which can be found in a great little neighborhood with awesome coffee and breweries just steps away. You’ll be among other movie buffs when checking out the troll, but it’s still worth the 15 minute drive outside of the city for a visit down memory lane. Watch the movie when you get back to your hotel and remember that it was made almost 20 years ago (yikes!).
13. Starbucks Reserve Roastery
Henry and I met when working at Starbucks 10 years ago. After working for about 6 years with the company, we’ve come to appreciate smaller, local coffee shops when on vacation. However, we had to see what all the fuss was about with this one. Wow. Starbucks really hit it out of the park with this place. If you only visit Starbucks once when in Seattle, make it the Roastery. You’ll get the opportunity to try top-of-the-line coffee and pastries that I haven’t seen at any other Starbucks location. We got a tasting of three different reserve coffees and it was fun to compare them side-by-side. It doesn’t hurt that the shop is located in my favorite part of Seattle, surrounded by several delicious restaurants (Tip: try Mamnoon across the street – it was our favorite meal in Seattle – and then head to the Roastery for after dinner coffee and dessert).
14. Seattle Public Library
It feels a little weird to visit a library in a town that you’re not from, but the Seattle Public Library is an architectural masterpiece. Take the escalator to the top and then walk your way down. The completely glass building does really cool things with light and is a great way to escape the rain.
15. Seattle Great Wheel
A relatively new addition to the Seattle waterfront (it was being built on our last visit to the city), the Great Wheel is the perfect way to spend a relaxing afternoon on a nice day. Its on the water, has great views of the city and surrounding islands, and is a fun and relaxing way to end a long day of exploring!
16. Post Alley
While technically part of Pike Place Market, Post Ally is a cute little street lined with shops and restaurants. It’s a known tourist spot so you’ll likely be among a throng of people on a nice day. But there’s just something about this street that has us coming back time after time.
17. Elliot Bay Trail
We’ve only walked on part of this trail, but if you’re the kind of person who likes to go on a run or bike ride on vacation, this is one place you can do it in Seattle. It runs along Elliot Bay and the railroad tracks and through several parks. It offers the best of both the industrial and the natural. The trail is paved and spans approximately 5 miles.
18. Capitol Hill
This is my favorite neighborhood in the city and is filled with a lot of great restaurants. Seattle University and a few other colleges back up along the neighborhood, so it has a bit of a college campus vibe. While we were staying close to Pike Place (view from our hotel below), we found ourselves in Capitol Hill every single day of the trip.
So who’s ready to go to Seattle now? I’m already ready to go back again…