Best things to do in Seattle – suggestions from a local
Tucked away in the upper west of the USA, Seattle is not quite as close to San Francisco as some suspect and much closer to Canada than many realise. The 1993 film, Sleepless in Seattle, placed it on the map to many for the first time, and it’s more recently been associated with Starbucks, Amazon, Bill Gates, crime dramas and rainy days. Brits rarely ask about the rain, since they believe that nowhere in the world could it rain more than in the UK. When I’m asked to describe Seattle, I ramble on about evergreen trees, snow-capped mountains and sun-shiny islands reached by ferry boat. Sometimes I talk about the quaint neighbourhoods, active lifestyle, and great coffee and seafood. To keep things balanced, I usually mention the frequent cloudy days, horrible traffic and the increasingly daunting problem with homelessness. Otherwise, Seattle can simply sound too good to be true.
But on a good day, it really can feel too good to be true. I grew up there, and it’s safe to say, like many locals, I took it for granted. I happily live in London now, but consider myself lucky to call Seattle my home-away-from-home and the place I’m able to return to time and again to see family.
If you’re fortunate enough to be visiting the Emerald City, you might want to put these places on your list.
The Space Needle
Built for the 1962 World Fair, the Space Needle remains an iconic Seattle landmark and the most recognisable aspect of the skyline. There is a rotating restaurant at the top and an observation deck that offers stunning, 360-degree views of the city and the Puget Sound.
Chihuly Garden and Glass
Conveniently located next to The Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass showcases the incredible glass work of renowned artist Dale Chihuly. His work can be found in more than 200 museum collections worldwide – including a few places in London, and Kew Gardens has now hosted his work twice – but the museum in Seattle has the most exquisite indoor and outdoor display. Photographs can’t do justice to the magical experience of light, texture and colour.
Day trips and excursions by boat
As the saying goes… life should be about enjoying the journey, not just the destination. In this case, both are great. On an Argosy Cruise from the Seattle waterfront, you’ll arrive in Blake Island State Park, where visitors can enjoy a salmon lunch and a show that depicts the story of the Native Americans of the Puget Sound area. If that sounds a bit touristy for your taste, Washington State ferries are used by commuters, day-trippers and tourists alike, and day trips and excursions by boat make for an enjoyable way to do a little island hopping.
Less than 30 miles from downtown Seattle, you’ll find Snoqualmie Falls, a 270-foot thundering waterfall in a gorgeous natural setting. You can hike in this area, but one of the main attractions (besides the falls) is the restaurant at Salish Lodge. Make a booking in advance for breakfast or brunch and be sure to order the pancakes. If you’re up for a bit of a splurge, stay overnight and enjoy the spa, too. I can recommend the hot-stone massage.
I’m sure Instagram has made Kerry Park very popular in recent years. Day or night, you’ll find one of the best views of the Seattle skyline here. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Rainier looming in the background. Along the waterfront, the Olympic Sculpture Park is free and open to the public and consists of nine acres of outdoor art sculptures and a beach. Situated on the Magnolia Bluff, overlooking Puget Sound, Discovery Park is the largest Seattle city park and offers a city escape with bountiful hiking trails.
Seattleites are either boating fanatics, hiking fanatics, or both. There are beautiful hiking spots closer to the city, but perhaps none as majestic as Mt. Rainier National Park. It will take almost two hours to get there from the city, which is do-able as a day-trip, but staying somewhere nearby overnight would be better. It’s possible to camp, fish, bike and hike in various parts of the 369 square mile reserve, but my favourite area is called Paradise, where wildflowers, mountain views and small cascading waterfalls perfectly embody its name.
Pike Place Market
Seattle’s Pike Place Market is one of the oldest in the US and is a multisensory experience that deserves a wander. It can become extremely crowded on weekends and during the summer months, but there are plenty of winding alleyways and indoor and outdoor spaces in which to escape. Watching the fishmongers toss fish into the air is a fun experience and, for a beer with a view, visit Old Stove Brewing at the base of the market, overlooking the water. Across from the market, on 1st and Pike, you’ll find the original Starbucks, which opened in 1971 and has been decorated to preserve how it looked at that time. Under the market, in Post Alley, is the intriguing and equally disgusting gum wall where people have been sticking gooey gum for over 20 years…!
Pacific Science Center
More than a museum, the Pacific Science Center is one of the best places to spend a rainy day in Seattle, especially if you’re there with kids. From dinosaurs to butterflies, and from IMAX films to a laser dome, you can easily spend a full day there, taking part in lots of interactive experiences.
Seattle Underground Tour
An unusual attraction found in Seattle’s historic Pioneer Square is Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, which takes you on a stroll through the forgotten city that was entombed when the city was rebuilt on top of itself after the Great Fire of 1889.
One of the busiest boating locks in the US and a historical treasure, The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, or Ballard Locks, are a fascinating place to spend an afternoon. By guided tour or on your own, visit a museum, stroll through botanical gardens and watch salmon migrate upstream. Also, there are many great restaurants nearby. For seafood try Ray’s Boathouse, for breakfast visit Portage Bay Café, and pick up a coffee and some baked goodies at nearby Firehouse Coffee.
Zoo and Aquarium
Renowned for its wildlife conservation efforts and large, leafy animal enclosures, Woodland Park Zoo is hands-down one of the best zoos in the country. If you’re there during the summer, be sure to check out the Zoo Tunes summer concert schedule.
Helping to educate the public about the awesome responsibility of protecting and restoring marine habitats, The Seattle Aquarium is also top-notch and another great place to take kids.
By: Mandy Haakenson
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