The Emerald of the Pacific Northwest
Trip Cost ($ – $$$): $$
Time to Hit the Highlights: 4 Days
Must See: Seattle Center, Discovery Park, Pike Place Market, Local Wilderness
Time of the Year to Visit: Spring-Fall – you can come in the winter when there are less visitors, but be prepared for some rainy days.
- Ahh the Emerald City!! We’re lucky enough to call this amazing place Home, and we think you should call it your next vacation.
- Seattle has increased in popularity largely due to the successful companies headquartered throughout the city – like Amazon, Microsoft, Amazon and REI. This recognition has caused this seaside city to boom, but it’s original charm is still prevalent throughout the various neighborhoods.
- Come experience this green city that offers great culture, an incredible food scene and the best of nature between the Pacific Ocean and 2 incredible mountain ranges (Cascade and Olympic Mountains).
- For more information on Seattle, visit the city’s website here: https://www.visitseattle.org
- SeaTac International Airport (SEA) is a great place to fly into. It is now an Alaska Airline and Delta hub with lots of direct and connecting flights all over the US on almost every airline.
- SeaTac is also emerging as a great international airport with more international flights than ever!
- Once you land in Seattle it is ~20 minute drive to downtown Seattle without traffic. Warning: if you’re using rideshare it may take a while for your driver to arrive due to high rider demand and a poor rideshare setup at the airport (located in the middle of the parking garage lower level).
- Seattle is also a great stop, starting or ending point for a road trip. Consider including Seattle on trips that included destinations like Vancouver, BC (Canada), Portland, Oregon, and San Francisco, California.
- An alternative way to get downtown is to take the Link Light Rail from SeaTac. Follow the signs through the parking garage to the Rail Station where you can purchase a ticket.
- Whether you are looking for a hotel or a rental home, the most important requirement is location! There are a lot of great Seattle neighborhoods to consider and here are our recommendations.
- Downtown – close to the action, where most of the hotels are
- Belltown – just northwest of downtown and an easy walk to everything. We may be a little biased, since we call Belltown home, but it’s a great launchpad to reach a lot of great places in Seattle.
- Capitol Hill – for younger visitors looking to hit bars and stay up late, while still being close to downtown. This is also where you’ll find the largest concentration of gay bars.
- Upper Queen Anne – great views of the city with a neighborhood feel.
- Ballard/Fremont – the neighborhoods across the lakes with a very local, classic Seattle vibe. Ballard and Fremont feel the most hipster to us, so that’s great if that’s your scene.
Day 1 – Arrival and City Proper
Depending on where you’re coming from and when you may arrive in Seattle with a whole day in front of you, or just the tail end. If you’re just looking for some food and a bed, check out the Eating There section below for restaurant recommendations.
However, if you have the time and energy your first day to hit the ground running then head Downtown to kickstart your Seattle experience!
Spend your time exploring:
- Pike Place Market is on everyone’s list and for good reason. It’s quaint and a fun little market where you can check out local foods and crafts under unique neon signs. On the weekends it can be difficult to push through the crowds in this tight space, but if you do you’ll find some yummy restaurants, fishmongers (with tasty samples!), beautiful flower arrangements and a look at local artists’ crafts.
- The guys who throw the fish are easy to find as their stall is open and right under the iconic Pike Place Market sign. Be aware that they only throw a fish when someone buys one, so you could be waiting a while for that picture if there’s no takers.
- If you’re looking for a local snack to tide you over until your next meal (or maybe just something sweet) search for the Daily Dozen Donuts (around the corner from the fish throwing guys) – it will likely be the donut stand with the long line.
- There’s an entire lower level to Pike Place that is less crowded and has permanent shop fronts.
- The Gum Wall can be found on the south side of Pike Place down in Post Alley.
- For the coffee lovers looking to get a glimpse of where it all started, the original Starbucks is just across from Pike Place Market. There will likely be a crazy line to get into this very tiny shop, but fanatics would say it’s worth the wait.
- Elliot Bay Waterfront is just a two block walk down from Pike Place and boasts great views of the Sound, as well as the Seattle Great Wheel and Seattle Aquarium.
Day 2 – Neighborhood Exploration
A taste of local life
There are many amazing Seattle neighborhoods which makes it difficult to know how and where to spend your time. We have a few suggestions to narrow down your search, as well as activities or places to see in each neighborhood.
For food suggestions, keep scrolling down to the Eating There section for a breakdown of food favorites in each neighborhood.
Grab a bike (Spin or Lime Bike), bus, streetcar or Uber to get around the city quickly. Those daring to walk can take on the challenge, but be sure to wear some comfy shoes as Seattle is no stranger to hills and bridges.
Spend your time exploring:
Belltown is an extension of downtown. You’ll find the most high rise residential buildings here compared to other neighborhoods, and it is a very easy walk from Downtown, Queen Anne, almost anywhere around Lake Union.
- The Olympic Sculpture Park is located along Elliott Bay and is a nice green space with art littered throughout the paths. This is an enjoyable walk and can be access from Downtown by walking along the bay.
- The Seattle City Center is quite possibly the best known place in Seattle as it is home to the Space Needle and Chihuly Glass Museum, as well as the Pacific Science Center, Children’s Museum, KeyArena, Museum of Pop Culture and many theaters with performances. You can spend a whole day here or just pick your favorite spots to enjoy.
- You can buy tickets at each museum or at self-serve kiosks throughout the center. Individual tickets can be purchased for attractions or suggested bundles for popular pairings are available.
Just north (and uphill!!) from Belltown is the quaint neighborhood Queen Anne. This neighborhood is split into Lower and Upper Queen Anne, with the majority of it being residential. At the top of the hill there is a cute downtown area on a one-road strip.
- If you are brave enough to venture up the hill to Upper Queen Anne then you have to check out Kerry Park. Contrary to its park name, it’s not a large Park for running around, but rather an amazing lookout of the Space Needle, Downtown Seattle and Mount Rainier (on a clear day).
Located at the northwestern tip of Seattle, Magnolia is primarily a residential neighborhood (with beautiful homes!), but at its northern peak there is the wonderful Discovery Park.
- If you’re only putting one city park on your list, make it Discovery Park. Here you can go for a little hike and walk to the edge of the peninsula for view of the Olympic Mountains. Be sure to walk down to the West Point Light where you can enjoy the beach and water.
Across the Salmon Bay from Magnolia you’ll find Ballard. Ballard somehow feels more classic Seattle than other neighborhoods. Here you’ll definitely get that hipster vibe you may be craving.
- The Ballard Locks or as they’re officially named, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, are a popular attraction that showcases how boats are transported from Lake Washington and Lake Union to the Puget Sound and vice versa. In this area you can also see a Fish Ladder and the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden.
- The 87-acre Golden Gardens Park is situated on the Northwest side of Ballard along the coast. This is a great spot for a cookout, bonfire, swim or even just a stroll with expansive Olympic Peninsula views.
- If you’re lucky enough to be in town on a Sunday then you should definitely head over to Ballard for the Sunday Farmers Market. Whether you need fresh produce or just want to pick up a local bit or craft, the Sunday Market has it all! For a delicious treat find the Duck Egg Sandwich! Yum!!
Fremont is right next to Ballard and gives off a similar vibe, but with a more condensed downtown area.
- The most popular attraction in this neighborhood is the Fremont Troll. You may recognize this large sculpture under the bridge from the movie 10 Things I Hate About You. So channel your inner Julia Stiles and strike a pose with the Troll.
- Just a little SouthEast of Fremont is the beautiful Gas Works Park. This 19 acre park used to be home to Seattle Gas Light Company’s gasification plant and some of the old rusted structures are still there for you to see.
To the Northeast of Downtown is Capitol Hill. This neighborhood is more spread out than some of the other areas, with several pockets of activity.
- Many people make their way to Capitol Hill to grab a cup of Starbucks Reserve from the Starbucks Roastery. Basically the Roastery is a large, fancy Starbucks that serves a special food and drink menu. Perfect for your Instagram.
- Our favorite way to explore Capitol Hill is to simply walk (or bar crawl!) the streets. There are so many shops, restaurants and bars that’ll call to you to come in. If you don’t know where to start, find Broadway and work your way down the street.
Day 3 – Day Trips
Time to see what’s outside the city
The city of Seattle has a lot to offer, but the attraction of this Pacific Northwestern town pulls people beyond the city limits. What makes Seattle amazing is there’s so much to do outside and something for every level of outdoor enthusiast.
Most of these destinations require a car, which you can rent from the airport or a rental car local downtown. Local adventure companies provide day (or multi-day) tours with transportation to all of the National Parks and select destinations – check out Evergreen Escapes or Bicycle Adventures.
Spend your time exploring:
San Juan Islands – Ferry Required
Many people don’t know that the coast of Washington is littered with many islands. A popular set of islands are located north of Seattle called the San Juan Islands.
- Getting to the islands is a commitment, but worthwhile. It is a 2 hour drive to Anacortes Ferry Terminal (North of Seattle) where you can catch the ferry to your desired island destination.
- When you take the ferry you pay per person and per car. There is limited car space on each ferry (especially in the summer!) so be sure to purchase your tickets in advance or arrive early to get in line.
- Direct ferries to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island is only an hour ride.
- Once at Friday Harbor enjoy walking, eating and drinking at the Downtown.
- Drive the island and see the various parks including the English Camp and Lime Kiln Point.
- If you want to get on the water, try renting kayaks and searching for Orcas along the shoreline.
Bavaria in Washington? Yep! The town of Leavenworth has committed itself to this German theme and you’ll notice it as soon as you arrive.
- A 2 hour and 15 minute drive (via I-90E/97N all year or US-2 in summer) over the Cascade Mountains will transport you to Bavaria, Germany.
- Leavenworth is a great place to spend the day (or even a night) where you can enjoy wineries (in town and a short drive from the downtown area), pretzels, schnitzel, and of course beer!
Luckily you don’t have to drive very far from downtown Seattle to find a good hike. Snoqualmie National Forest offers a large variety of hikes within an hours drive from the city.
- Ira Spring Trail – 6.5 miles – A summer trail best done on a clear day for the best views of Mount Rainier. Officially Hilary’s favorite hike in Washington State.
- Lake Twenty-Two – 5.4 miles – Accessible all year long, but can be especially snowy in the winter so use caution.
- Poo Poo Point – 7.2 miles – A nice hike for everyone if you take your time. For the extra adventurous you can hang glide off to top in the summertime.
- Wallace Falls – 5.6 – A great hike for all levels. No need to hike beyond the second viewpoint unless you want the exercise!
North Cascades is Kevin’s favorite National Park and one of the least visited parks in the system! This means you’re not likely to run into many people on the trails.
- Just a 2.5 hour drive North of Seattle is pure wilderness. It is an easy drive, but make sure you have your directions pulled up as you may lose phone service as you get closer.
- If you’re not looking for a hike and just want an amazing view, head to the Diablo Lake Overlook to see the amazing blue water of this glacial lake.
- When heading out into the wilderness make sure you are always prepared with plenty of water and bear spray.
- Cascade Pass – 7 miles – This hike starts with a lot of coverage and switchbacks, but as you move along the trail opens up and lands you at a spectacular mountain pass that makes it worth the challenge.
- Diablo Lake – 7.6 miles – Probably one of the most beautiful lakes you’ll ever see, Diable is bright blue and this amazing color will make this hike fly by.
- Pyramid Lake – 4.5 miles – For a shorter, but still rewarding hike try exploring the Cascade Mountains on the way to Pyramid Lake.
Mount Rainier is a very popular National Park and for good reason. Hopefully it will be clear enough during your visit that you can see this incredible active volcano from Seattle, but if that’s not good enough, you can always get up close and personal!
- Only a 2 hour drive from Seattle, this 235,000 acre park is begging for you to come play on its trails.
- At some point in the park you’ll have to drive through a ranger checkpoint to pay for your entry which is usually around $40.
- Grove of the Patriarchs – 1.5 miles – An easy loop trail through some of the parks oldest trees (1,000+ years!).
- Skyline Loop – 5.5 miles – No need to do the whole loop if you don’t want to. This trail starts up in Paradise and takes you closer to the mountain for incredible views of the snowy peak and great views into the Cascade Mountain range.
Olympic National Park – Ferry Required
The most visited National Park in the area is Olympic National Park. People come from all over the world to see the picturesque beaches, breathtaking views and super cool rainforests.
- The trip to the nearest Visitor Center requires you to hop on the Seattle to Bainbridge Ferry (Seattle Terminal located on the Sound Waterfront below Downtown) and then a drive to the National Park. The trip will take you just under 3 hours one way.
- Make sure to purchase ferry tickets in advance during summer months (or arrive early) as they can sell out.
- When heading out into the wilderness make sure you are always prepared with plenty of water and bear spray.
- If you’re not looking for long hikes, then just enjoy driving along Hurricane Ridge.
- Hurricane Hill Trail along Hurricane Ridge – 3.2 miles – This trail starts as a paved flat path at the end of Hurricane Hill Road that leads to panoramic views of the mountain range.
- Shi Shi Beach – 8 miles – The Olympic coast is breathtaking and if you’re willing to drive out there then hike to Shi Shi Beach for the day or camp there overnight. Make sure to get a camping permit at a Visitor Center in the National Park and a recreational permit (for hikers and campers) from the Makah Tribe in Neah Bay.
- Spruce Nature Trail in the Hoh Rain Forest – 1.2 miles – The Hoh Rain Forest cannot be missed and this trail is a great way to see it.
Seattle is surrounded by mountains that are perfect for skiing! If you’re in town during the winter and early spring months you may be able to hit the slopes.
- Mt. Baker – $62 adult day pass – Just under 3 hour drive Northeast of Seattle.
- Crystal Mountain – $80 adult day pass – Just under 2 hour drive Southeast of Seattle near Mount Rainier National Park.
- Summit at Snoqualmie – $89 adult day pass – 1.5 hour drive East of Seattle.
Day 4 – Last Stops and Fly Home
Goodbyes and Take off
If your flight doesn’t leave too early, you can try to squeeze in some last minute adventures.
If you have the time:
- Walk around and enjoy the original Seattle.
- Take the Underground Tour and learn about how the city was built.
- Sports fans will love taking in SafeCo and Centurylink Stadiums.
Getting to the airport usually takes 25 minutes without traffic or 40 minutes on the Link Light Rail. At popular times of the year (like holidays) there can be a backup driving into the airport.
- You will not go hungry! Seattle is notoriously a foodie town, as well as a city that boosts locally grown meats, fruits and veggies – so you know it’s fresh!
- Weekends can be popular for eating out, so reservations are recommended when possible.
- Shiku Sushi – Ballard
- Umi Sake House – Belltown
- Shiro’s – Belltown (hard to get a reservation)
- Momiji – Capitol Hill
- Sushi Kashiba – Downtown (next to Pike Place Market)
- Rays – Ballard (on the water)
- White Swan Public House – Eastlake (on the water)
- Fremont Bowl – Fremont (poke bowls)
- Rockcreek Seafood & Spirits – Fremont
- Westward – Northlake (near Gas Works Park, on the water)
- Hotel Albatross – Ballard (cocktails & poke bowls)
- Gather Kitchen & Bar – Ballard
- Un Bien – Ballard (cuban)
- Biscuit Bitch – Belltown/Downtown/Pioneer Square
- Local 360 – Belltown
- Some Random Bar – Belltown
- Rhein Haus – Capitol Hill (indoor bocce ball german bar)
- Witness – Capitol Hill (speakeasy)
- Heartwood Provisions – Downtown
- Radiator Whiskey – Downtown (BBQ next to Pike Place)
- Scout – Downtown (try the rooftop at night!)
- Flatstick Pub – Pioneer Square (indoor mini golf bar)
- Bounty Kitchen – Queen Anne
- Grappa – Queen Anne
- Reuben’s Brews – Ballard
- Cloudburst Brewing – Belltown
- Redhook Brewlab – Capitol Hill
- Old Stove Brewing – Downtown
- Fremont Brewing – Fremont
- Seattle has a reputation for being gray and rainy, this is a little exaggerated. It may rain while you’re here, but it tends to be short lived. Generally we have beautiful clear days, but it’s always good to be prepared as weather is unpredictable.
- The weather in the city tends to be pretty temperate all year with Winter days staying around the 40s and Summer days rarely reaching above 80.
- During the summer months be prepared to fight some crowds at popular tourist destinations like Pike Place Market and the Space Needle.
- If there’s so much to do and not enough time to do it, consider extending your trip or simply coming back another time for more fun!