View of downtown Seattle from the Bainbridge ferry. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel
Seattle ranks No. 2 among this summer’s top travel destinations in the United States, according to Allianz Partners, just behind Orlando.
We are so lucky to live in this beautiful city that everyone wants to visit. Whether you’re going to be hosting out-of-town friends, or planning to explore all the corners of your hometown, save this cheat sheet.
We’re serving up the lowdown on top Seattle tourist attractions, from iconic landmarks to under-the-radar gems. When people think of Seattle, they think: rain and coffee. Ha, surprise! Summers here are glorious, but you already knew that. Now get out there and enjoy it.
1. Space Needle
You can’t come to Seattle and not go to its most famous tourist attraction, the Space Needle. The iconic structure, built for the 1962 World’s Fair, was renovated in 2018. Standing on the revolving glass floor is quite a trip. Below, don’t miss out on the thrilling Artists at Play playground. Seattle Center is also home to the Anne Frank Tree, one of 11 saplings propagated from the original chestnut tree Anne Frank wrote about in her diary.
The best view of the city, however, isn’t from the top of the Space Needle. Head up Queen Anne Hill to Kerry Park, where you’ll get that postcard-perfect panorama with the Space Needle and Mount Rainier.
2. Pike Place Market
The Pike Place Market Secret Garden is truly a hidden gem. To find it, turn left just before you reach Maximilien Restaurant. From this rooftop garden, you get great views of downtown, and it’s the perfect quiet spot to enjoy a picnic from the market. All the herbs and vegetables grown here are donated to the Pike Market Food Bank.
3. Amazon Spheres
The Seattle metro area is the birthplace of business giants Boeing, Microsoft, Costco, Nordstrom… and Amazon, of course. Anyone passing by can pick up a free banana at the online retailer’s South Lake Union headquarters, weekdays from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
The public is also invited to visit the Amazon Spheres, a newer Seattle tourist attraction. The Spheres are open to visitors the first and third Saturdays of each month, 10 a.m.–6 p.m. You’ll need to reserve free tickets online. Inside the globe-shaped greenhouses are tons of gorgeous rainforest plants, meeting spaces and a doughnut shop!
4. Ferry ride to Bainbridge Island
The cruise business is big in Seattle. The arrival of giant cruise ships marks the summer season around here, but our favorite “cruise” is the 35-minute ride on a Washington State Ferry to Bainbridge Island. Beautiful views of the water, a cute little walkable village on the other side — and the best ice cream ever (Mora’s Iced Creamery). Plus, it’s cheap: Kids ages 18 and younger ride free, adults pay $9.45 for a walk-on round-trip ticket.
Bonus: Ferry riders sometimes spot orcas!
5. The great outdoors
They don’t call it the Emerald City for nothing. Seattle’s showpiece park, 534-acre Discovery Park, is just 15 minutes from downtown, but it feels like a world in itself. In 2009, a wild cougar even found its way to the forested bluff. We love taking the Loop Trail for a 3-mile tour of the park; turn off the Loop Trail onto the South Beach Trail to reach the beach and the lighthouse, a beautiful spot from which to catch a sunset.
Runner-up is Alki Beach in West Seattle, a sandy beach that feels more like Cali (complete with a palm tree) than it feels like the soggy Pacific Northwest.
6. Mount Rainier
You have a narrow window in July and August to drive up to Paradise to see the delicate subalpine meadows on Mount Rainier. Lots of other people have the same idea. The National Park Service is considering requiring reservations. For now, based on experience, we will tell you that you need to be at the Mount Rainier National Park entrance gate before 10 a.m. or you’ll be out of luck for a parking spot. Mount Rainier is a 2.5-hour drive from Seattle. Plan accordingly.
7. Grunge and the Seattle music scene
Seattle was the center of the ’90s grunge scene, home to bands Nirvana, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam. Go to MoPOP if you want to see memorabilia.
Go to 4230 Leary Way N.W. in Ballard if you want to see the now-shuttered studio Reciprocal Recordings, where Nirvana recorded a demo. Pearl Jam front man Eddie Vedder still lives in West Seattle; you might spot him out and about in Lincoln Park.
Nirvana fans gather next to Kurt Cobain’s house every year on the anniversary of his death, April 8. Two benches at Viretta Park, next to Cobain’s house in the swanky Denny-Blaine neighborhood, serve as an unofficial memorial. In slightly more recent Seattle music scene fun facts, you can occasionally spot Dave Matthews picking up from soccer practice.
8. Hometown hero: Bruce Lee
The martial arts legend called Seattle his home, and his favorite restaurant, Tai Tung Chinese Restaurant in the Chinatown–International District, has a booth dedicated to him. Bruce Lee and his son, Brandon Lee, are buried side by side in Lake View Cemetery on Capitol Hill, about halfway up the hill in the cemetery.
9. ‘Sleepless in Seattle’ and on-screen landmarks
Tom Hanks was just at Benaroya Hall in May for a Seattle Arts & Lectures event. If you missed the actor in person, you can see him on-screen in the classic rom-com “Sleepless in Seattle,” which is marking its 30th anniversary this year. Today, Sam Baldwin’s houseboat on the west side of Lake Union is a private residence. Kayak, motorboat or stand-up paddleboard on by to check it out. Psst, The Center for Wooden Boats offers free monthly public sails that pass by the famous houseboat.
10. Chihuly and art in Seattle
There’s an entire museum dedicated to the Pacific Northwest’s famous eye-patched glassblower, Dale Chihuly. Find it right under the Space Needle. Chihuly Garden and Glass is truly beautiful, though quite spendy.
We enjoy art on a budget, and there’s no better place for that than Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park, right on the waterfront. World-class art with a view of the Olympic Mountains, open daily dawn to dusk, and entirely free. Admission is also free at the Frye Art Museum on First Hill, a jewel box of a museum that hosts avant-garde shows.
For free tickets to a whole slew of art museums, history museums and cultural museums, all you need is a library card. Seattle Public Library’s Museum Pass program offers free tickets to the Henry Art Gallery, the Seattle Art Museum, the National Nordic Museum, MoPOP, MOHAI and more. All for the user-friendly price of $0.