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A Guide to Seattle: What to Do & See

(Updated January 2017)

My first visit to Seattle was in the summer of 2014, when I was living just a ferry-ride away on the other side of the Puget Sound. Soon after, I moved to Seattle proper and spent a few months living in the heart of downtown. With plenty of time to explore the city and its many neighborhoods, I found my list of favorite places getting longer and longer.

Seattle is filled with so many different things to do, I almost didn’t know where to start. There are plenty of museums for those interested in culture; gardens for those that love plants; tons of outdoor activities of beautiful outdoor spaces; and of course some classic tourist attractions that can’t be missed.

This is part 2 of a series of guides to Seattle. This one is all about what to do and see in the city–including some of the major attractions, and a few you may not have heard of. This is by no means an exhaustive list, just some of my favorite places. Part 1 is dedicated to the best places to eat & drink in Seattle.


Visit the Museums

Seattle has a lot of great museums covering art, music, history, technology, and more. No matter your interest, you’ll find a place to spend a morning or a full day learning something new. If you are planning to visit the museums, try to schedule things around Free Museum Day. On the first Thursday of every month, many museums throughout Seattle offer free admission to all visitors. If you take advantage of this, expect larger crowds—but if you need to save some money, it’s totally worth it. Check here to see which museums are a part of First Thursday.

Seattle Art Museum // 1300 1st Ave

The Seattle Art Museum , or the “SAM”, is located downtown. It houses an extensive collection of art from all regions of the world, including a beautiful collection of art from the Pacific Northwest. Suggested admission is $20 for adults. Closed Mondays & Tuesdays.

Asian Art Museum // 1400 E Prospect St

An extension of the Seattle Art Museum, the Asian Art Museum is home to the SAM’s Asian collections. It is located in Volunteer Park in the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Suggest admission is $9. Closed Mondays & Tuesdays.

Frye Art Museum // 704 Terry Ave

The Frye Art Museum showcases art from the 19th century onward. Admission is always free. Closed Mondays.

Museum of Pop Culture // 325 5th Ave N

Formerly known as the EMP (Experience Music Project), the Museum of Pop Culture features exhibits on music, film, science fiction, and pop culture. MoPOP is located in the Seattle Center, near many other cultural institutions. Adult admission is $25.

Museum of History and Industry // 860 Terry Ave N

You’ll find the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) in the South Lake Union neighborhood. Learn about the history of Seattle and the surrounding regions. Admission for adults is $20.


Explore Seattle’s Green Space

Seattle is a major outdoor city. Sitting on the Puget Sound, just north of Mount Rainier and west of the Cascade mountain range, the city is ripe with beautiful views and incredible landscapes. All around the city, you’ll find parks, lakes, beaches, forests. There are so many beautiful parks in Seattle–the best place to spend a sunny summer afternoon.

Discovery Park

Discovery Park has it all. Over 500 acres, this park has forests, beaches along the Puget Sound, and more than 10 miles of walking trails. It would be so easy to spend a full day here just enjoying nature, and it’s right in the city. Don’t miss the West Point Lighthouse on the beach.

Lake Union

Lake Union is right smack in the middle of the city, with distinctive neighborhoods on each side. Surrounded by greenspace, the lake is home to many sailboats and yachts and is one of the best places to see Seattle’s maritime culture. There is also direct access from the lake to the Puget Sound via the Lake Washington Ship Canal. You’ll find Lake Union Park on the south side of the lake, and Gas Works Park on the north side.

Volunteer Park

Volunteer Park covers 48 acres in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and is home to the Conservatory and the Asian Art Museum. Spend an afternoon here having a picnic or visit the museum.

Golden Gardens Park

This coastal park in Ballard is a popular hangout for locals in the summer. The sandy beach and views of the Puget Sound make Golden Gardens the perfect spot for barbecues and bonfires.

Kerry Park

Kerry Park is a small space in the Queen Anne neighborhood. Located way up on a hill, this is one of the best spots to get a view of the city–you can even see Mount Rainier in the distance on a clear day. Walking up here from Lower Queen Anne is also a nice little workout.


Support the Arts

The arts are important in Seattle. While usually known for its music scene, the city is also home to artists of all types, whether writers, painters, dancers, or poets. Just about everywhere you go, you’ll find galleries, music venues, theater companies, art & cultural centers, movie theaters, and more. Take some time to support the arts while you’re in Seattle and learn a little something about the artists that call this city home.

Go on an Art Walk

Art walks are a time when galleries and arts organizations within a neighborhood come together to promote themselves and each other. They are usually held once a month and include events, artists’ receptions, and sometimes food/drink to bring people in to see the art. Some popular art walks are held in Pioneer Square, Fremont, and Belltown. Find more here.

Performing Arts

Attend a play put on by one of the many theater companies in the city, like the Seattle Repertory Theatre. If you like classical music, see a performance by the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall.

Concerts

Seattle is filled with music venues, from large theaters to tiny hole-in-the-wall bars. Major bands from all over the world, iconic artists, and local up-and-comers all play shows on any given night. The Paramount, Moore, and Neptune theaters are top venues for major music acts. If you like folk, see a show at the Tractor Tavern in Ballard. The Crocodile in Belltown always has great indie and rock bands, as does Neumos in Capitol Hill.

Film

Film is another popular medium in Seattle. There are lots of theaters that play classic, cult, and independent films. Go see a movie at SIFF Cinema or the Grand Illusion Cinema.


Be a Tourist

No one wants to be a “tourist” anymore, but some of the spots designated as tourist territory have been labeled so for a reason: they’re really cool places that everyone wants to see. You’ll definitely find the out-of-towners in these spots, but you’ll also find a lot of locals.

Pike Place Market

Pike Place is a Seattle landmark. Every guide will tell you to go, and this one is no different. Yes, it will be crowded and noisy, but I guess that’s part of the fun sometimes. Take a walk through the market (which is huge by the way) and you will see so many different shops and items for sale. There’s also tons of good food that you don’t want to miss.

The Waterfront

The Seattle Waterfront runs along Elliott Bay from the ferry terminals to Myrtle Edwards Park. The main attractions of this area  include Waterfront Park, the Seattle Aquarium, and Pier 57. Pier 57 is home to restaurants, vendors, and the Great Wheel, which gives you a phenomenal view out over the water.

Olympic Sculpture Park

The Olympic Sculpture Park is operated by the Seattle Art Museum, featuring large sculptural works throughout a small park and along the freeway. It’s a relatively big outdoor space with gravel walking paths overlooking the water. It’s free and open to the public, and it’s a peaceful spot to watch the sunset.

Seattle Center

The Seattle Center is a huge complex of cultural institutions, museums, restaurants, shops, and more. THIS is true tourist territory. That being said, there is a lot of cool stuff here. It’s home to the MoPOP, the Pacific Science Center, the Chihuly Gardens & Glass, the Key Arena, the iconic Space Needle, and much more. It’s so easy to spend a day here without running out of things to do and see.


This guide was created in 2015 and was subsequently updates in January of 2017

Read next: A Guide to Seattle // Where to Eat & drink

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