Customers at Pike Place Fish Company in Seattle, Washington. This market, opened in 1930, is known for their open air fish market style.

Best Things to do in Seattle

BY Fifty Grande Editors | August 19, 2020

Welcome to Fifty Grande’s Best of the U.S. Bucket List series. This is your one-stop travel guide to the best, most unique and quintessential experiences of a city, state or event. Want to know how to “do” Seattle? We’ve got you covered. Curated by experts, vetted by in-the-know locals, this is all you need to have the best trip ever. If we’ve written a Bucket List, we recommend you go. If it’s on this list, it’s the best the city has to offer right now. Consider this your one-stop answer to “What are the best things to do in Seattle?”

 

Nestled between glorious national parks and coastal waterways, Seattle offers a unique blend of natural beauty, tech startups, beverage innovation and plenty of eccentricities. It’s a place known for flying fish, floating houses and as the hometown of Starbucks, Nirvana, Microsoft and the Space Needle.  It’s a rainy, gray mess most of the time, but no one seems to care. The city’s population has jumped by 28% over the past 10 years, and it consistently ranks in the top 10 places to live in the country. If Seattle were human you’d be confused whether to label it a hipster, a techie or an outdoorsman, but you’d be drawn in by its charm. It’s a town of many interests, a jack of all trades, so it’s got something for everyone. Here’s how to see and experience the best of Seattle right now. 

 

You’re here for coffee

Maybe it’s the rain, or maybe it’s the aesthetic of a steaming cup overlooking the Puget Sound, but Seattle is unquestionably America’s coffee capital. This is in part as it’s the birthplace of a mega-corporate coffee behemoth Starbucks, which is pretty much everywhere in the states. (Comedian Dennis Miller had a joke that went something like, “I saw that Starbucks opened a new location…inside another Starbucks!”) But Starbucks is just part of the Seattle coffee culture, and the city has enough craft shops to keep you up for days. 

Starbucks Roastery, Seattle
#1
Starbucks Roastery, Seattle

Starbucks Reserve Roastery

1124 Pike St, Seattle, Washington, USA

This isn’t the drive-thru cup of Pike’s Place you’re used to. It’s more of a sit-and-taste store than a quick coffee schlepper. They have a library of small-batch and single-origin roasts to sample. 

Analog Coffee, Seattle
#2
Analog Coffee, Seattle

Analog Coffee

235 Summit Ave E, Seattle, WA, USA

A cozy shop in Capitol Hill that serves pour-overs and has cold brew on tap.

Espresso Vivace, Seattle
#3
Espresso Vivace, Seattle

Espresso Vivace

532 Broadway East, Seattle, WA, USA

They helped pioneer the practice of latte art, and they’re still one of the best at it. This is the spot for anyone in desperate need of a good latte or cappuccino. 

Have lunch in space

Not exactly space, but the Space Needle, Seattle’s most iconic building, is way, way up there. Not only does this oceanside spire look like a UFO landed on it, but its observation deck offers breathtaking panoramic views of the city. If you’re not afraid of heights, step onto The Loupe, the world’s only rotating glass floor, where you can look down 500 feet to the ground. If that sounds terrifying, you can always opt for food and drinks at The Loupe Lounge or Atmos Café.

Space Needle, Seattle
#4
Space Needle, Seattle. Shutterstock

Space Needle

400 Broad St, Seattle, Washington, USA

Go on a dumpling crawl

Take a deep dive into the Asian community’s cultural history at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. And what better way to learn about Asian culinary tradition than tasting it yourself? The museum offers guided “dumpling crawls” that give participants a tour of the Chinatown-International District’s best savory starch pillows.

Chinatown, Seattle
#5
Chinatown, Seattle. Shutterstock

Chinatown-International District

Chinatown/International District, Seattle, WA, USA

The city’s hub of Asian communities, known for its dim sum restaurants, sushi houses, ramen and Bruce Lee’s favorite Seattle restaurant, Tai Tung.

Get lost in nature

Ever wonder why they call Seattle the Emerald City? Just look around. It’s flanked by forests and mountains. Hikers, bikers and swimmers will have no shortage of options. Seward Park and Discovery Park are beautiful nearby options, and Seattle offers nice beaches too, perhaps none better than Alki Beach. But if you’re willing to travel a little, that’s where the true adventure lies.

Olympic National Park, Seattle. Shutterstock
#6
Olympic National Park, Seattle. Shutterstock

Olympic National Park

Olympic National Park, Mt Angeles Rd, Port Angeles, WA, USA

Home of vast old-growth forests and the Olympus Mountains, this park covers nearly the entire Olympic Peninsula and contains glacier-capped mountains, temperate rainforests and coastline.

Bainbridge Island, Seattle
#7
Bainbridge Island, Seattle. Shutterstock

Bainbridge Island

Bainbridge Island, WA, USA

A 35-minute ferry ride over lets you trade towers and pavement for trees and log cabins. Bainbridge Island offers beaches, hiking trails and more rustic accommodations. That one-day trip might roll over into two or three. Maybe you’ll spend the rest of your vacation there.

Lake Washington, Seattle
#8
Lake Washington, Seattle

Lake Washington

Lake Washington, Washington, USA

This is a primetime spot for watersports, perhaps none more fun and accessible than paddleboarding. There are plenty of places to rent boards and take quick introductory lessons. Lake Washington lies just east of the city, and it’s big enough that you can find some solitude if that’s what you’re after.

Cool hotels

Hotel Max, Seattle
#9
Hotel Max, Seattle. Shutterstock

Hotel Max

620 Stewart St, Seattle, Washington, USA

Hotel Max exemplifies the Pacific Northwest’s status as a breeding ground for American rock, whether Jimi Hendrix in the ’60s or Pearl Jam and Death Cab for Cutie in recent years. Seattle is also the hometown of Sub Pop Records, the famed indie record label that signed Nirvana and boasts beloved indie acts like Fleet Foxes and The Postal Service. In honor, the Hotel Max boasts a floor devoted to the Sub Pop’s heritage, including providing record players outfitted with Sub Pop favorites and accenting rooms with music decor. 

Edgewater Hotel, Seattle. Shutterstock.
#10
Edgewater Hotel, Seattle. Shutterstock.

The Edgewater Hotel

2411 Alaskan Way, Seattle, Washington, USA

Another Seattle hotel entrenched in music history, this waterfront property once banned Led Zeppelin after their rambunctious members caught 30 sharks swimming in the Pacific below and, naturally, trashed their rooms. Today The Edgewater keeps their foothold in music history alive with a calendar of live music and suites devoted to Pearl Jam and The Beatles, the latter of which famously stayed there at the apex of Beatlemania. 

Trek to Fremont, the center of the universe

Any neighborhood with the balls to call itself the “Center of the Universe” is worth checking out. 

Fremont
#11
Fremont

Fremont neighborhood

Fremont, Seattle, WA, USA

Strolling around, you’ll probably stumble upon one of many public art pieces, like the Fremont Troll — an 18-foot-tall concrete sculpture under N. 36th St. — or the controversial Lenin statue. Spend an afternoon exploring quirky shops and an evening drinking at local breweries (Fremont Brewing, Hale’s Ales, etc.), or have a picnic in Gas Works Park, a patch of green space that surrounds a former gasification plant.

Go winery hopping

Napa Valley often hogs the spotlight among West Coast wine destinations, but don’t overlook the Pacific Northwest. Seattle’s unpretentious wine scene doesn’t pamper pinky-raisers, but it doesn’t skimp on quality either.

Chateau Ste. Michelle
#12
Chateau Ste. Michelle

Chateau Ste. Michelle

14111 NE 145th St, Woodinville, Washington, USA

The area’s oldest and most famous winery. They have a beautiful estate and make a killer Riesling.

Columbia Winery
#13
Columbia Winery

Columbia Winery

14030 NE 145th St, Woodinville, Washington, USA

Another “founding father” of the Washington wine industry with a pretty cool estate. Snag a bottle of their Syrah or Vigioner. 

SODO Urbanworks
#14
SODO Urbanworks

SODO Urbanworks

3931 1st Ave S #2236, Seattle, WA

Features several small-production wineries alongside craft breweries and eateries.

Live music mecca

Seattle’s rep as a music mecca is alive and well. See a show at a legendary local spot.

The Crocodile, Seattle
#15
The Crocodile, Seattle. Via thecrocodile.com

The Crocodile

2200 2nd Ave, Seattle, Washington, USA

“The Croc” has been a mainstay of the local scene more or less since 1991 (it closed and changed ownership between December 2007 and March 2009). It’s now partly owned by Alice in Chains drummer Sean Kinney and Portugal. The Man guitarist Eric Howk. It’s hosted all the major local stars you’d expect as well as a variety of national artists. Even better: They serve pizza.

Columbia Theater, Seattle
#16
Columbia Theater, Seattle

Columbia City Theatre

4916 Rainier Ave S, Seattle, Washington, USA

What started as an early 20th-century vaudeville theater is now a laid-back, multi-genre venue with amazing acoustics. 

Big Freedia performs at Neumos, Seattle. Via Neumos Insta
#17
Big Freedia performs at Neumos, Seattle. Via Neumos Insta

Neumos

925 E Pike St, Seattle, Washington, USA

Slightly larger than the other two listed here, Neumos is a hip spot that hosts some great indie rockers. 

See one-of-a-kind art installments

These aren’t your standard paintings on stark-white walls. They’re seeds from the minds of bold Seattle innovators. Check them out. 

A sound garden located at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Seattle. Shutterstock
#18
A sound garden located at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Seattle. Shutterstock

A Sound Garden

7600 Sand Point Way Northeast, Seattle, Washington, USA

A peculiar yet very cool public art installment situated on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) campus. Yep, it inspired the name for ’90s grunge legends Soundgarden too. When the wind passes through these 12 steel towers, you’ll be treated to a mellow symphony of soft-toned sounds. It’s not “Black Hole Sun,” but it’s still a charmingly odd artistic experience.

Tourists admire the Glass flowers in the conservatory sunlight of the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, Seattle, Washington
#19
Tourists admire the Glass flowers in the conservatory sunlight of the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, Seattle, Washington. Shutterstock

Chihuly Garden and Glass

305 Harrison St, Seattle, Washington, USA

Dale Chihuly is hands down one of the world’s best glass artists. His works are included in 200+ museum collections worldwide. And he got his start at the University of Washington. His exhibit in the Seattle Center includes a garden, Glasshouse and an indoor art gallery, all graced by his stunning creations. If you’re lucky, you might catch a live glass-blowing exhibition in the theater area.

Go underground

Not underground like hip, invite-only music venues (although Seattle has those too), but literally underground. After the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, Pioneer Square in downtown Seattle was rebuilt two stories higher. And now, you can descend into the depths and take a walking tour of the ruins. Two of the most popular are Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour — which blends history and humor — and Beneath the Streets, which focuses primarily on history and architecture.

Watch fish fly

It’s most famous for the fishmongers who toss around their fresh catches, but Pike Place is home to a whole spread of amazing food, like smoked salmon sandwiches, clam chowder, spicy noodles, Greek yogurt and much more. Incredible food and a show.

Customers at Pike Place Fish Company in Seattle, Washington. This market, opened in 1930, is known for their open air fish market style.
#20
Customers at Pike Place Fish Company in Seattle, Washington. This market, opened in 1930, is known for their open air fish market style. Pic: Shutterstock

Pike Place Market

85 Pike St, Seattle, Washington, USA

Run a museum marathon

If museums were water, Seattle would be drowning. On second thought, they’d be perched on a floatie. Point is, there are a lot. And they encompass everything from sea life to bad art. Want something traditional? Try the Seattle Art Museum or the Seattle Aquarium. Then move to something a bit more niche.

Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle
#21
Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle. Shutterstock

Museum of Pop Culture

325 5th Ave N, Seattle, Washington, USA

If you’re looking for exhibits on tattoos, indie video games, horror movies, etc., go here. If not, still go here, because it’s fascinating.

Museum of Bad Art, Seattle
#22
Museum of Bad Art, Seattle

Museum of Bad Art

5828 Roosevelt Way Northeast, Seattle, WA, USA

For something just plain odd, go for the Museum of Bad Art, which honors the kitschy, tacky and so-bad-they’re-good masterpieces.

Bonus Tip: You don’t have to go out of your way, but keep your eye out for “Henry Murals."

These whimsical paintings grace buildings, alleys and vehicles and feature cartoony animals doing unexpected things, like a seal riding a bike or a unicorn playing guitar. They’re fun little treasures to find along the way.