You’ve already seen the Space Needle, and you’ve had a piroshki (or six) at Pike Place Market.
But there’s so much more to Seattle than the seriously touristy stuff. Whether you’re a long-time resident looking for new ways to get acquainted with your city, we’ve compiled this list of all the coolest things to do in Seattle — including hidden gems.
You don’t have to venture far from home to scratch that wanderlust itch. From family-friendly daytime activities to nightlife, restaurants, and more, here are the best things to do in Seattle.
Why We Love to Travel
So why do we love to travel in the first place? Well, we’ve already said that a huge appeal is the new-ness a place has to offer. Getting to experience cultures that are different from our own or eating cuisine that is not what we’re used to are amazing ways to grow as individuals and learn about others. Seeing how other people live helps us keep an open mind and even gather inspiration to bring back into our daily lives.
Travel is also a great way to get away from the day-to-day. Breaking up our routines with a fun trip definitely recharges the batteries and helps prevent us from getting burnt out.
But again – you don’t have to go far from home to get this perspective!
Benefits of Traveling Locally
While the culture an hour away from your home might not be drastically different from what you’re used to, you can still gain a deepened sense of appreciation for where you’ve laid your roots. Plus, traveling locally has a lot of benefits:
- More cost-effective. Local travel is certainly a budget-friendly way to explore! Many activities and parks are free or have a low cost of entry. For day trips, you can also pack your own meals to save.
- Eco-friendly way to travel. Travel is hard on the environment, but putzing around your area is more sustainable than air travel.
- Quick trips. Getting out locally means you can do it more often! Long weekend trips are a lot easier to take when the destination is a short drive away.
- Easy to plan. Preparing your itinerary for a local getaway will likely save you some time and stress.
- More convenient. Especially if you have little ones, sticking close to home may be much more convenient than far-off destinations. If you forget something, have an emergency, or need to cut the trip short, being close by definitely has its benefits.
Explore Local: Seattle, Washington
Seattle is well-known for its position in the tech industry and is home to millions — and draws even more people as visitors each year. But if you’re looking for the best local eats and adventures, here’s where to look.
*Note: Some of the suggestions may not be doable due to coronavirus closures, but keep this list handy for when things start opening back up more! Be sure to check individual pages for specific operation details.
State Parks in Seattle
Getting outside for fresh air is a great way to clear your head and get to know the city. Here are some state and national parks in the greater Seattle area.
- Dash Point State Park may be a small park, but it’s a great getaway for city dwellers. Although it’s not quite 400 acres, it offers stunning views of Puget Sound and is also a great option for people looking for water-based recreation opportunities.
- Saint Edward State Park is set on the eastern shore of Lake Washington and is a popular venue for weddings and other events. The site was once a Catholic seminary, so it’s still got the big, beautiful stonework buildings that make for such great photos, and it’s also the perfect spot to while away an afternoon hiking, biking, or kayaking.
- Saltwater State Park gives city folk the opportunity to take a beach vacation without the “vacation” park; it’s only a half hour’s drive from the center of the city (barring the Seattle traffic, of course). Visitors can enjoy wading in the shallows along the shore and see the unique life that exists in the tidepools, along with participating in more standard beach day fare, like building sandcastles.
National Parks in Washington Near Seattle
- North Cascades National Park is a bit of a drive from Seattle proper, but the views and hiking opportunities make it more than worthwhile. Approximately one-third of all glaciers within the continental United States are located within the North Cascades National Park. You can get up close and personal with some of the 312 glaciers present, but you’ll need both a backcountry permit and the energy and fitness for a long hike!
- Mount Rainier National Park is the wilderness set aside around the towering 14,410-foot mountain of the same name, which on a clear day you can see looming over the Seattle skyline. Getting to the top of the mountain takes some serious outdoor skills — the kind that requires pick axes — but there’s a lot of accessible hiking around the base of the mountain.
- Olympic National Park is one of the largest and most diverse of the more than 60 national parks across the country, so don’t expect to see it all in one go. That said, whether you’re looking for a getaway into the rainforest or to partake in some alpine hiking, you can find it all in this epic wilderness. (Psst: Twilight fans won’t want to miss a trip to Forks, Washington on the way!
Best Hiking Trails
Seattlites are lucky to live in a lush landscape surrounded by all sorts of outdoor recreation opportunities. Hiking is a particularly popular pastime, for good reason, but it can be difficult to figure out where to start given the multiplicity of options in the area.
Although it’s by no means comprehensive, here are some of the best hiking trails in Seattle.
The largest city park in Seattle, Discovery Park is home to a variety of hiking trails, spanning more than eleven miles, fit for adventurers of all fitness levels. Lighthouse Loop may be the most popular and is an easy 4.4-mile trek that winds you past this historic building as well as visiting some prime wildlife habitats. On the other end of the park, you can connect the South Beach and Hidden Valley Loop Trails into a slightly more challenging 2.4-mile scenic journey.
Tiger Mountain State Forest
Just an hour outside of the city, this state forest offers a ton of diversity in the way of outdoor recreational opportunities. Hikers in particular can choose from relatively easy adventures, like the Tradition Lake Loop Trail, or get real by summiting the eponymous mountain, which is accessible via a 15-mile one-way climb that gains more than 2,300 feet of elevation. (In other words: make sure you’re prepared!)
Gazzam Lake Nature Preserve
If you’re up for a ferry trip across the sound, Gazzam Lake Nature Preserve offers unparalleled opportunities for wildlife viewing and really feeling like you’ve gotten away from it all, even though it’ll only take about an hour or so to get there. The main trail wends about 7 miles roundtrip and gains about 500 feet in elevation, making it a doable venture for many, and is also a great place to get up close and personal with some of the area’s seabirds.
Local Insider Tips From Carly Avery:
Elliott Bay Trail
If you’re into picturesque views of the skyline while running along the waterfront, you’ll want to pick this one. There is no bad view from the Elliott Bay Trail. You’ll see the Space Needle, the Port of Seattle cranes, the stadiums, and (if it’s a good day) Mount Rainier, not to mention all the fun things along the way like fishing piers, a grain shipping facility, and a rose garden. Start at the Olympic Sculpture Park and run until the path curves, then double back and you’ll hit around three miles total. Bonus points if you stop and do a few pull-ups on the bars halfway through!
Best Restaurants in Seattle
With all that hiking and exploring, you’re sure to work up an appetite. Fortunately, Seattle has one of the premier dining scenes in the whole country, let alone the west coast. Here area few spots not to miss.
Opened back in 2008, Spinasse has been serving up authentic tastes of Italian dishes from the Piedmont region in the north of the country — and gaining critical acclaim for its interpretations. Easily one of the best Italian restaurants in Seattle, this is not one to miss.
Tucked in the Madison Park neighborhood, this is the perfect spot to stop for breakfast before a trip to the Arboretum. Offering a variety of vegetarian and vegan fare, Cafe Flora is also well-known for its baked goods; don’t miss the cinnamon rolls, which are both good and ample, or the beignets.
Fogón Cocina Mexicana
Family-owned and -operated, Fogón Cocina Mexicana offers a variety of fresh and authentic Mexican eats from flautas to tamales to street tacos, all served alongside delicious tequila-based cocktails and house-made tortilla chips. It’s considered one of the best Mexican restaurants in Seattle!
Seattle is a city that’s known for its Asian cuisine — so much so that it’s difficult to pick which are the very best of its many sushi restaurants. But if you find yourself smack-dab in the middle of downtown, Nijo Sushi is a great option that’s easy walking distance from the Bainbridge ferry, and it’s got a great happy hour menu to help you save money while filling your belly.
Farm’s Reach Cafe
It’s not every day you’re going to want to take a ferry ride just to have a meal… but if you’re in for a weekend adventure out of the city proper, we highly recommend you stop by Farm’s Reach Cafe for its fresh baked goods and build-your-own breakfast burritos.
Local Insider Tips From Carly Avery:
This is one of the original food trucks of Seattle, and still one of the most popular. You can never really go wrong with a giant burrito, and El Camion makes one of the best. Or you could go with some delicious, authentic fish tacos – I can’t recommend them enough. Just make sure there’s extra room in your to-go bag for every sauce they have to put on the side. They’re all great.
Craving pizza and beer? Of course you are. And while Lower Queen Anne is a bit of a wasteland when it comes to good dining, The Masonry gets big thumbs up on its wood-fired pies, constantly-changing beer list, seasonal soups, and salads. Oh, also: They’ve got great sandwiches at lunchtime, a record player that plays one great vinyl after another, and onsite parking. Maybe go at odd hours, though, because it gets busy and there’s no host or option for reservations (or check out their newer Fremont location, which is larger – and right on the water).
Fun Things to Do in Seattle
Wondering what are the best things to do in Seattle this weekend — or beyond? Whether you’re bringing the kids or looking for a more adult-friendly adventure, here are some things to keep you busy in the city.
For Kids and Families
There are plenty of things to do in Seattle with kids and families; the following suggestions are just the beginning.
Pacific Science Center
This independent, non-profit science museum offers interactive exhibits on a rotating basis. While parents will have their own fun learning about the world, kids can get really amped up thanks to the Pacific Science Center‘s events and programs built specifically for younger audiences.
The Seattle Aquarium is considered one of the premier aquatic environments in the country, and once you visit, you’ll see why. The entire family can get up close and personal with — and learn all about — creatures like the Pacific octopus, the tufted puffin, harbor seals and more.
Seattle Children’s Museum
The Seattle Children’s Museum is where imagination comes alive — and it really lives up to that tagline. From emulations of everyday life like the Eye Clinic and the Construction Zone to more specialized exhibits, like the Tribal Tales community learning space, there’s so much to see, do, and explore here… and they offer great yearly membership package options, as well.
Cheap Things to Do in Seattle
Want to see the city without spending an arm and a leg? It may cost more than you expected to go up into the Space Needle, but there are plenty of things to do that don’t cost very much at all. Here are a few to start with.
Washington Park Arboretum
With 230 acres of blossoms and blooms to explore, the Washington Park Arboretum is the perfect place to pass an afternoon if you’re looking for a nature excursion that doesn’t require a drive — and it’s totally free, to boot. The only section that requires an entry fee is the Seattle Japanese Garden, which is well worth the $8 ticket ($6 for Seattle locals with valid ID!).
The Elliot Bay Book Company
Seatllites tend to be the type for whole meandering a bookstore is a great afternoon diversion — and if you’re at the Elliot Bay Book Company, you can easily spend the afternoon or even longer. Its multi-level storefront is stocked with just about every book you might desire, and they also host a variety of literary events as well.
Grand Illusion Cinema
There’s nothing like a trip to the cinema to while away a rainy Pacific northwest day. If you’d like your film with some charm, we recommend checking out the Grand Illusion Cinema, which is the oldest continually running moviehouse in the city, offering up classic, rare, foreign and campy flicks in a quaint, retro setting.
What to Do in Seattle At Night
Looking for something to do after hours? Here are some classic Seattle options to consider once darkness falls.
The Great Wheel
Easily at the top of the must-do list of things for couples to do in Seattle, The Great Wheel is thrilling and romantic all at once. The view gets even more breathtaking at night, when the city is all lit up and shining, and you can even upgrade to the VIP Glass Bottom cabin if you’re celebrating something really special.
Theodor Jacobson Observatory
The “observatory” bar inside the Space Needle might get all the press, but if you’re after stargazing rather than cocktail-sipping, the Theodor Jacobson Observatory — or TJO — is what you’re after. Use of the dome telescope is offered for reservations, and there’s also a series of public talks given by UW undergraduates majoring in physics or astronomy. (Psst: Keep one eye cast downward, too; the building itself is a point of interest, given it was built all the way back in 1895. The 6-inch refracting telescope is also more than 120 years old!)
Seattle is well-known for its music scene, and there are so many options as far as venues and bars that it’s hard to go wrong. For the very best experience, we recommend asking a local for their opinion, though there are some old standbys, like Neumos and the Tractor Tavern, that host a variety of different artists and genres.
Free Things to Do in Seattle
Seattle is a lot of things, but it generally ain’t cheap. That said, there are still some fun options that don’t cost an arm or a leg… or anything, for that matter!
The Fremont Troll
Sculpted back in the early 1990s by local Seattle artists Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead, the Fremont Troll — otherwise known as the Troll Under the Bridge — was part of a restoration project to transform the area under the George Washington Memorial Bridge, which had become a dumping ground and haven for drug dealers. The structure is a mixed media piece, one ingredient of which is an authentic Volkswagen Beetle, and weighs an estimated 13,000 pounds.
On the west end of Salmon Bay, Ballard Locks is a working locks system that allows boats and other water vessels to pass back and forth between Puget Sound and Lake Washington. A National Historic Site, it’s free for visitors and also includes an attached salmon ladder exhibit.
Olympic Sculpture Park
It costs money to get into the Seattle Art Museum, of course… but the Olympic Sculpture Park on its lawn is free to meander through. The nine-acre park that hosts them is also downtown Seattle’s largest green space, and offers sweeping views of the various iconic downtown landmarks, like the Space Needle and the Great Wheel.
Best Gyms, Spas and Yoga Studios
Everyone needs a little R&R. Here are some Seattle-area gyms, spas, and yoga studios to keep you grounded and active.
A full-service gym offering a range of machinery and personal fitness training, Rival Fitness is a great place to start feeling stronger, faster, and better.
Seattle Yoga Lounge
With locations in Green Lake and Wenatchee, the Seattle Yoga Lounge is accessible to folks who live all across the city — and it’s got a matching variety of classes to choose from, too. Grab a day pass or sign on for an unlimited monthly membership to make a commitment to yourself you won’t regret.
Hothouse Spa & Sauna
Need a facial or a massage? Hothouse Spa and Sauna offers all of the above, along with private sauna rentals to help you sweat out the small stuff. (And the big stuff, too.)
Day Trips in Seattle
While there are plenty of things to see and do in Seattle proper, there are also a plethora of great spots perfect for quick getaways within an easy day’s drive.
While there’s not a ferry directly from the Seattle mainland to Port Townsend, you can take the Edmonds Ferry to Kingston and then drive about an hour to find this quaint seaside town, which is the perfect place to spend an afternoon walking around, eating, shopping, and people-watching. While you’re there, we highly recommend having a sip at Better Living Through Coffee, grabbing a bite at Banana Leaf Thai Bistro, and following it up with dessert from Elevated Ice Cream. (If you can catch a film at the Rose Theater, all the better!)
You probably already want to take the Snoqualmie Pass drive, which is a beautiful, winding mountain pass scattered with waterfalls and lookout points. And if you take the road as far as the town of Roslyn, you’ll find yourself in a quaint Washington town in the middle of nowhere — which was also the main shooting location for “Northern Exposure.” For instance, you can swing by The Brick, which fans of the show will better know as Cicely’s bar and restaurant, and have a drink. There’s also a Northern Exposure exhibit at the Roslyn Museum, and many of the locals will happily talk your ear off about all things fandom.
It’s a bit of a drive from Seattle, but Cape Flattery is the northwesternmost point in the contiguous U.S., and it’s also just straight-up stunning. A relatively easy “hike” of less than a mile, this trail offers sweeping seaside views punctuated by sea stacks, caves, and other unique geological formations.
We hope this post has transformed your understanding of Seattle and given you a few new ideas for exploring your own backyard next time you’re bored!
As a final reminder, some of these activities may need to wait until businesses fully reopen from coronavirus closures. However, there is still much to see and experience in Seattle that you can enjoy today! What are your favorite spots in Seattle? Send them our way to [email protected] or by tagging us on Instagram @rvshare and using the hashtag #rvsharelocal.