"Emerald City of the Northwest" Top 5 Page for this destination Seattle by glabah
Seattle Travel Guide: 3,161 reviews and 7,737 photos
For those who prefer a step by step visit view, see my Visits to Seattle Travelogue.
Crammed into a narrow strip of land bewteen Lake Washington and Puget Sound, Seattle is the commercial center of the Pacific Northwest (at least on the USA's side of the border). With the Cascade Mountains on one side and the Olympic Mountains on the other side of Puget Sound, and Mount Rainier and other peaks visible from a number of locations, the city is certainly in a prized location.
If it is a clear day, I certainly suggest taking at least one ferry ride, which for a fairly small price (as this is written $7.50 for single walk-on passengers going to Bremerton or Bainbridge Island and return) offers great views of Seattle and the surrounding Olympic and Cascade mountains. The King County Water Taxi is even less expensive, but it is a very short trip from downtown Seattle to West Seattle.
There are a number of tours and tourist operators with basic Seattle tours, but one of the more unique ones is offered by Ride the Ducks, which has taken old "amphibious Duck" military craft and rebuilt them for tourist service.
Another clear day activity is the Columbia Center Sky View, which for $12.50 allows you to see a view of Seattle southward, including the port, Tacoma, Mount Rainier, and the Cascades and Olympic mountains. Located on the 72nd floor, the sky view is higher than the top of the Space Needle.
Though, if you don't mind climbing stairs and really want a cheap view, the Top Deck of the Watertower inside Volunteer Park has great views as well, and by far the most famous view of Seattle is probably the free view available from Kerry Park on the north side of downtown.
Of course the most famous viewpoint in Seattle is the Space Needle, but much has already been written about The Space Needle as a Must-See Activity and The Space Needle as a Tourist Trap. My own opinion is a good place to go at least once but many other things are a better use of time and money if either are in short supply.
Another viewpoint that is seldom mentioned today is Smith Tower, which was the tallest building west of the Mississippi in 1914. It still has an active viewing deck.
The Waterfront district is a popular tourist location, including Pike Place Market, an aquarium, and at the far north end the Olympic Sculpture Park and Myrtle Edwards Park, which is the start of a bike path leading north to several neighborhoods.
Two of the large once-busy piers on the Seattle waterfront have also been turned into an entire park, known simply as they have always been known: Piers 62 and 63. This gives the public a huge waterfront space, and at one time there were even concerts here.
There is one thing I can tell you about Seattle: by the time you read this, many of these tips may be out of date. This is because Seattle always seems to be changing. It has been like this for many years (read Steinbeck's "Travels with Charlie" section about Seattle, written about the Seattle of 1960, to find out just how far back this state of constant change goes).
The space needle once towered over downtown Seattle, and now there are several buildings that make it look like a miniature.
Old residential neighborhoods are quickly being replaced with high density commerical development. This photograph is of the new headquarters building for Amazon, which will soon make these little houses that once occupied this area of the city look very out of place. Areas that were very safe have fallen into disrepair and disrepute, only to be redeveloped and turned into stylish new neighborhood centers.
So, it is safe to say that in Seattle, things will always be changing. They always have, and they probably always will. It just means that those of us who write about Seattle will have their writings quickly go out of date!
If you are rebuilding the city, you might as well redecorate as well, right?
I have already mentioned the Olympic Sculpture Park, but there is Eccentric Artwork Scattered All Over Seattle. The most monsterous of these is Gas Works Park, which is the old city coal gas manufacturing facility turned into picnic places, public art, and playground equipment.
Gas Works Park is located in the Fremont area, which has a number of eccentric artworks in it. This includes the reasonably famous Fremont Troll and the statue of Comrade Lenin. Large, lesser known works include The Fremont Rocket and smaller works include Fremont Bridge Art. There are Fremont Guides available to help you find your way around this wonderful little area.
Naturally, there is also Eccentric Artwork at the Seattle Center, it being an eccentric place in many other ways.
Simply exploring Seattle's public places will yield some interesting results. My first up close encounter with Seattle artwork was the Steel Ping-Pong Table Sculpture in the South Lake Union area - completely discovered by accident.
Along with the outdoor art, there are FIVE art museums in Seattle. Seattle Art Museum is the main museum downtown. There is also the Frye Art Museum in the south part of downtown, the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park, and the Henry Art Gallery (really an art museum with admission tickets) at the University of Washington. The Chihuly Garden and Glass is dedicated to the works of Dale Chihuly, and is next door to the Space Needle.
Fremont and Ballard are two of the best districts to explore for dining out options. These are old industrial areas that have now become extremely popular localized areas. They were once independent cities, and some of my tips about Ballard and tips about Fremont I have put in separate sections dedicated to those locations.
If you go to Fremont, be sure to visit the infamous Fremont Bridge Troll, and Gas Works Park can be an interesting place too.
Seattle is located on a narrow isthmus between Lake Washington and Puget Sound. Starting in 1914 Seattle has had some of the tallest buildings on the west coast due to limited land. People used to driving everywhere may find Seattle annoying as limited land means limited parking and road space. Rapid pace of growth also means Seattle traffic sucks. I find using public transit far better than driving in the Seattle core. As distances aren't huge, walking works in places if you can handle hills.
Place for Nature
Despite huge efforts at high density development, there are also some wonderful places to find natural beauty even fairly close to the downtown concrete jungle.
Places include some fairly nice parks, including Volunteer Park and Discovery Park, which are accessible by city bus from downtown. Many of the islands in Puget Sound are less urbanized, and just catching a ferry across the sound to Bainbridge Island can give you a fine dose of nature. To the southeast of downtown there is Seward Park, which was identified as a significant opportunity for a park in 1903.
Ballard Locks were built for commercial and recreational shipping needs, but right next door to them are the Charles S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens.
Near the University of Washington campus (which has a few trails and scenic views in its own right), you will find the Washington Park Arboretum. Operated by the University, it features one of the most extensive plant collections on the west coast and includes the largest remaining wetlands in Seattle, located in what some maps call East Montlake Park. The UW also has a preserved natural area east of campus called the Union Bay Natural Area.
Even in downtown there are such efforts to create refuges from concrete and noise, such as Freeway Park and a chain of parks along the waterfront from the Olympic Sculpture Park through Myrtle Edwards Park and to Elliott Bay Park at the north end.
If you walk or bike several miles north on its bike path you will come to Discovery Park, with its views of the Olympic Mountains.
One of the best gardens to visit, especially when the fall colors are out, is the Kubota Garden on the south side of Seattle, and yet even though it is mentioned in a number of tourist books it doesn't seem to be a place most tourists have discovered yet.
Further away, such places as Saint Edwards State Park also offer nearby escapes from the city.
There are quite a number of excellent communities to visit that are not necessarily inside Seattle proper. I suggest taking a look at A Few Nearby Locations to see what they have to offer. Among other things, Seattle is quite close to three national parks: North Cascades, Mount Rainier and Olympic. Nearby state parks include Deception Pass (you will need a state parks pass to go to the state parks), and it is also easy to go to the San Juan Islands or Victoria BC by boat or Vancouver BC by train.
- Pros:Beautiful city in many locations and on a clear day you can see many snow capped peaks, close to several national parks, water recreation is extensive. Free transit in core of downtown on many routes.
- Cons:Auto traffic and parking can be a real pain. Water is quite cold in most locations. Industrial pollution has damaged many spots and made many types of fish unsafe to eat. Sprawl along highways give very bad impression of city if driving into it.
- In a nutshell:Seattle has great places, but it is difficult to enjoy if you spend much time driving due to concrete uglyness along roads and traffic congestion. Explore on foot or by boat for best views.
Some of the best views of the Seattle skyline are available in the much more suburban communities known as West Seattle... more travel advice
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