Seattle, WA

I lived downtown in Seattle for a year and a half and loved it. Amazing food, laid back vibe, plenty of live music venues, and incredible mountains and parks right on its doorstep. Yet most of what I heard before (and after) moving there was “ugh, isn’t it cloudy and rainy there all the time?”. I really believe Seattle is underrated as a destination city, despite a lot of increased growth in the past five years that seems to indicate more people are realizing how great it can be. What follows here is my short list of favorites around the Emerald City.

Quick Observations

Before we dive in, a short list of things to know about Seattle.

First, happy hour menus there have a high percentage of food options, more so than anywhere else I’ve been. Even high end restaurants have them. They’re a fantastic way to indulge champagne tastes on a beer budget.

Second, the Light Rail is a great method to get downtown from the airport. You can walk to the station from the airport (it’s connected to the parking garage), it’s a predictable 40 minute train ride to get downtown avoiding street traffic, and it only costs three dollars. I’ve done it many times and recommend it over Uber/Lyft unless you’re toting a lot of luggage or have a big family. Once in the city, you come up under Nordstrom and can either walk to your hotel or take a very brief connecting Lyft ride.

Third, locals don’t use umbrellas. At all. Many hotels will have them to borrow; since you’re going to stick out as a tourist anyway if you do carry one, save yourself the hassle and use theirs. 

Fourth, Seattle is a cruise hub to Alaska, so you have a large influx of those tourists from May to August in addition to regular tourist traffic. Hotel prices can double or triple in the summer months, so either book well ahead, use points, or travel in the shoulder season (April/September) for better deals.

Fifth, most of the city (neighborhoods including Downtown, Pike Place Market, Belltown, and north up to Capitol Hill) does have evident homelessness. Depending on the statistics you look at, Seattle falls somewhere around third in the country after NYC and LA, which of course have much higher populations. In my experience, it’s considerably worse in San Francisco where mental illness rates are higher, Seattle tends to have higher functioning homeless and homeless teenagers. It’s a matter of opinion, of course, but I’ve personally encountered more grifters/buskers in Seattle versus mentally ill or incoherent persons in San Francisco. I consider most of these areas to be safe to walk in during the daytime; at night, I still walk the higher populated areas like Belltown and Capitol Hill, but recommend avoiding Downtown/Financial and Pioneer Square as these areas are pretty empty after 5pm. 

Places to Eat

Brunch: Lola, 2120. Lola is a Tom Douglas restaurant, he owns quite a few others around the Seattle area. If you have trouble getting a reservation,  try 2120 as an alternative, they have a larger dining space and are still establishing themselves so tend to be less busy.

Snack: Dahlia Bakery, Top Pot Doughnuts. The fresh doughnuts at Dahlia Bakery are amazing, they’re a must-have. Don’t pay more for them at Dahlia Lounge or Lola, just be aware there’s no seating space in the bakery. The Flagship location of Top Pot at 2124 5th Ave is in a cool building with upstairs seating and a library vibe, it’s a nice place to stay a while.

Weekday lunch: FareStart. Good food, reasonable prices, and a great mission, training poverty-stricken youth and adults in food service and helping with job placement.

Gelato: Bottega Italiana. I usually love mint chip, but salted caramel is my fav here! 

Steakhouse: El Gaucho. It’s expensive, but I love this place. Dark interior, live piano, leather and tuxedos everywhere, amazing food and great service. Save money by hitting Happy Hour, it runs all night long on Sunday and Monday (with other hours throughout the week also). There are several dishes that are prepared or finished tableside and add to the show, including caesar salad and a mixed grill. 

Sushi: Umi Sake House. Incredible food with two different happy hours, 4-6pm and late night 10pm-close (10:30 on Fri/Sat.). 

Late night slice: Rocco’s. I won’t go into the details of how extensively my (New York native) friends and I tested the pizza in Seattle, suffice it to say that Rocco’s came out on top. 

Things to Do

Indoors

Chihuly Garden and Glass. Beautiful indoor glass sculpture museum next to the Space Needle. 
 
Cinerama. A single screen historic movie theater rescued by billionaire Paul Allen, upgraded to state-of-the-art equipment and with rotating exhibits from Allen’s collection of movie costumes and memorabilia. Try the chocolate popcorn, you’ll thank me.
 
Walk Pike Place market, buy flowers (really inexpensive), and explore all the different levels, not just the main one. 
 
Seattle Central Library. Stop in, admire the architecture of the building, and head up to the top observation level for a birds-eye view.
 
Museum of Pop Culture. Very cool exhibits from the history of music and movies, showcasing a lot of originals from Paul Allen’s private collection. Admission is expensive, there’s a discount for purchasing online, so definitely take advantage. For locals, there are a limited number of free passes available from the library
 
Triple Door. Live music, shows, and solid Asian Fusion food served from Wild Ginger above it. A great date night venue. 
 

Outdoors

Olallie State Park, aka Twin Falls. This place has is a great casual hike and an easy 45 minute drive from Seattle.
 
Mount Rainier National Park. Mount Rainier is an amazing spot and really worth a visit if you can make it work at all. A day trip there is quite possible, though it’s over a two hour drive each way – add time to the Google Maps estimate, they don’t account for the long winding road up to Paradise parking lot after the entrance. I don’t recommend visiting before May 1, because tire chains are required. Take the Nisqually: Southwest Entrance, check out the visitor center, pick a trail and start climbing. Know your limits and don’t venture too far out on the glacier without the right equipment. Cost-saving tip: if you have the annual national parks pass, it works here! 
 

Sightseeing

I’m not a huge fan of the Space Needle, but most will want to try it. There are $5 discounts if you go at specific times, details in the site FAQ. 

Starbucks has a flagship Roastery location with a lot of working equipment on display, it’s fun to check out. Note that it’s typically very busy, so be prepared for a wait if you actually intend to order coffee there.

Walk by the Amazon headquarters near 6th and Lenora, and check out the spheres if the timing works. They’re open to the public just two Saturdays a month, and only with an advance reservation. If you’re there midweek, there is a headquarters tour, including the spheres, Tuesdays and Thursdays at 10 am and 2 pm. 

Places to Stay

I prefer walking in Seattle, so I like having a location where I can easily access everything on foot. My favorite hotel is the Hyatt at Olive 8, it’s a modern building with good amenities and a fantastic spa, if you’re looking for that. I’ve also stayed at the Grand Hyatt and the brand new Hyatt Regency both in the same vicinity, each very good in different ways, as well as the Sheraton Grand Seattle. 

So much to do, so little time

This is usually what I’m saying whenever I go back to visit! Seattle is a vibrant city with a lot to offer that still has a small, accessible feel to it. It’s a worthwhile destination all on its own, so if you do find yourself traveling through for other reasons, leave time to explore.

I’ve had this list in email form for years and have forwarded it to a ton of people, so I’m happy to capture it here in more detail. Thanks for reading and feel free to comment! Seattle locals, any additions? 

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