No matter what you’ve heard, it does not rain all the time in Seattle. Just most of the time. But Seattleites carry on, and, rain or shine, Seattle is one of the most beautiful and exciting cities on the West Coast. There is something happening all the time. While some people think that Seattleites are unfriendly, almost anyone will be happy to chat with you, or help you out when you are lost. They just probably won’t start a conversation. It must have something to do with wanting to get out of the rain.
It is easy to get lost in Seattle, because of the hills and the bridges and the one-way streets. But tourist maps are available everywhere, and as long as you know where you are, you can find your way around. So, as our best most helpful hint: always remember – “The Needle is North, and the Water is West.” If you can see the Space Needle, or Puget Sound, then you can figure out where you are. Oh, and one more hint: don’t bother with umbrellas unless they are really sturdy. The wind will turn them inside-out in a minute. Wear a good raincoat with a hood instead.
When to go
Visiting Seattle really does depend on your tolerance for rain. November through March can be very windy and rainy – occasionally even snowy. And, because of the many hills in Seattle, snow brings the city to a standstill. Because the many tall buildings and the constant sea breezes, at times visitors feel like they are standing in a wind tunnel. The average winter temperatures are 47 degrees, with February being the coldest month, while the average summer temperatures are in the 70’s. But a sunny winter day is absolutely beautiful in this city. May through August (Spring and Summer) are great times to visit. Washington State also has a nice weather secret: the Indian Summer. The months of September and October are often warm and fantastic, and, with the cruise ships gone, you can have the city to yourself.
Here is a list of
things to do
Space Needle and Seattle Center
The most famous landmark in Seattle is the
It is what people think about when someone mentions Seattle. Even though it was built as a temporary structure as part of the 1962 World’s Fair, it’s still there, and it is as popular as ever. It is 605 feet tall, and has an observation deck at 520 feet. It can be windy up there, so bundle up! The Space Needle also has a rotating restaurant at 500 feet, and a banquet facility at 100 feet. When you are at the top of the Needle (as it is called in Seattle) you will be looking down into Elliott Bay, which is part of Puget Sound. The far-off mountains that you see are the Olympic Mountains and, of course, looking to the South, on most days you can see the famous mostly extinct volcano – Mount Rainier.
The Space Needle is part of the
which was also part of the World’s Fair. And it is still the center of activity in Seattle. Annual Festivals, like Folklife, Bite of Seattle, Bumbershoot and the Seattle Film Festival – just to name a few – are held on the spacious grounds. Sports and concerts are held at the Key Arena, and the Seattle Opera and the Bagley Wright Theater are on the grounds as well. You can visit the Pacific Science Center, the Skatepark, the International Fountain (a great place to cool down on a hot summer) the Chihuly Garden and Glass Center, or the EMP (Experience Music Project). There are so many things to do at the Seattle Center, it would take days to mention them all. So take the Monorail from downtown Seattle (which, by the way, goes through the EMP) and hop off and see for yourself.
Pike Place Market
has been around since 1907, and it not just a stop on the tourist map. It is a mulit-story, part open-air, part covered market that is used daily by the people of Seattle. It features year-round produce from local farmers, fresh fish, crafts, and has over 200 small stores and restaurants. It is, in fact, one of the largest daily craft markets in the United States. And it is the location the original Starbucks! Yes – it’s still there. Right there at 1912 Pike Place Market! So make sure you drop in and grab a latte, and take a picture to prove you were there. You can buy food, produce and flowers from local farmers, fish from local fishermen, crafts from local artists, and have a great meal. Food choices range from world famous sit-down restaurants with million dollar views, to brew pubs and stand up oyster bars, or deli and take-out.
The Market gets very crowded during the tourist season, especially when the cruise ships are in town. A really good time to go is in the early morning before the crowds arrive. You can stand at the Pig – a huge bronze piggy bank named Rachel – and have your picture taken under the famous clock while flying fish wiz by in the background. Fish markets are famous in the Market for the tendency of the stall workers to toss huge fish across the stalls, and (with any luck) over the heads of people standing nearby. Don’t stand too close or you may be asked to join in, or get splattered with fish scales. It’s all part of the show. And, if the weather is too cold, just go down to the other, lower levels of the Market. You can do all of your shopping sheltered from the weather. It is a 9 acre site, so there is plenty to see. With side streets, alleys and permanent shops included, you could spend hours there . And the really cool thing is, if you keep going down, you will end up on the Seattle Waterfront.
Unlike many large cities, the
in Seattle is geared towards fun and shopping, and not industry and dry-docks. It is a great place for souvenir shopping, sightseeing and eating. It is a beautiful waterside walk that ends leads to the Myrtle Edwards and the Sculpture Parks. There is a great walking/bicycle trail there as well. You can eat at a number of waterfront restaurants, find a sitght-seeing cruise – even catch a ferry boat to the San Juan Islands or Canada.
For those of you seeking more excitement, you can ride the “Great Wheel” at Pier 57. The 42 gondolas on the 200 foot high wheel are heated, so don’t worry about the weather. Of course, the famous Seattle Aquarium is on the waterfront, and, if you like your seafood really fresh, you can stay at the Edgewater Inn at Pier 67 and fish from your room! And, finally, you can go down to Coleman Dock and catch a ferry.
Washington State Ferries
Washington State Ferry
system is the largest ferry system in the United States . While you are visiting Seattle, you can just walk down the hill and jump on one. From Coleman Dock (aka Pier 53) you can take a Seattle to Bainbridge (Winslow) Ferry that is about 40 minutes each way, or the Seattle to Bremerton Ferry that takes about an hour each way.
Either trip is beautiful, offering the opportunity to see lovely beaches, quaint houses, majestic mountains, pristine marinas, islands, sailboats and other marine traffic, and, if you are lucky, a pod of Orcas or a visiting whale. With a round trip ticket, you can get off the boat and visit Winslow or Bremerton, and then catch the next ferry back to Seattle. Or you can just stay where you are in your nice warm seat, or on the perfect deck chair. As a walk-on passenger, you never need a reservation.
Chinatown – International District:
Seattle does not have a “Chinatown” per se, but it does have a huge “
Chinatown – International District”.
Most Seattleites have always referred to this area as the “International District” because it has restaurants stores and businesses from many parts of the world. Even though it started out as a Chinese area of town, businesses resenting Vietnamese, Korean Pacific Islander, Cambodian, Thai, Laotian and Hmong cultures are found in the District.
So many great restaurants are in this area that you can smell them when you are on the freeway – which is absolute torture when you are stuck in traffic, really hungry, and you can smell the scent of tasty food on the wind. Ahhhh! It is a pedestrian-friendly part of town, with good eats and great shopping around every corner. Some huge Asian markets are located in this district, and, of course, the Lunar New Year Festival is celebrated here.
Sports and SODO
While you are in the area, you only have to cross under the 1-5 Freeway to be at the sporting heart of
. The Sports Stadiums are located in the
(“South of Downtown”).
Century Link Stadium
is here – home to the Seattle Seahawks Football Team. The professional soccer team, the Seattle Sounders, also plays at the Century Link. And although the venue hosts other events, like concerts and the Seattle Boat show, it is best known for being the place where Seahawks fans make so much noise that they register on the Richter scale. Safeco Field, where Mariner Baseball is played is also in this area. Other sports venues in Seattle are the Husky Stadium at the University of Washington, and the Key Arena and the Memorial Stadiums, both at the Seattle Center.
Pioneer Square, which is really a triangle, is located on the edge of the SODO area. It is a really cool shopping and eating area, and some funky city tours (like the Underground Tour where you can see the original storefronts of pioneer Seattle). And, not to be missed: the WORLD HEADQUARTERS of Starbucks is located in the SODO at 2401 Utah Street.
Just about any kind of entertainment you can possibly wish to enjoy can be found in Seattle. Nightclubs and night spots of every variety abound in all parts of the city, though the more notorious ones are generally found in the Pioneer Square area. The famous
, where Pearl Jam and the Dave Mathews Band have both filmed videos is a great location for concerts and just general coolness.
The 5th Avenue Theater and the
are two of the larger venues for Broadway shows and rockin’ concerts, but the Seattle Center and Quest Field host huge concerts as well. Performing Arts (classical music, ballet) are usually performed at Benaroya Hall, the Seattle Opera House, or at Meany Theatre on the University of Washington campus. Seattle has a Symphony Orchestra, a National Ballet and a number of smaller playhouses and performance venues. On any given night of the week, there is going to be a play, a concert or live music going on somewhere.
Shopping in downtown Seattle is somewhat limited in area. The geographical center of the city is where you will find
. Many of the better shopping establishments are located within a few blocks of the Mall, with the really high-end stores located on 4th and 5th Avenues. One really great feature about shopping in Seattle is that most of the shopping areas are linked either by sky-bridges, or underpasses. So, you can cross from one block of shops by going across a 4th floor sky-bridge, or going though the metro tunnel from the lowest floor of one store to the lowest floor of another.
If you know your way around, you can go for blocks and blocks under the city without ever getting out in the rain. You just need to know which elevator, which escalator and which passage-way to use. The area around the Convention Center is particularly great to use when you want to get from area to area, but you don’t want to get soaked. The
has both an amazing sky-bridge and underground walkways. It’s like being on a treasure hunt!
Several annual festivals are so much fun that you really should consider them when you are planning to visit Seattle.
Opening Day of Boating
is held the first weekend in May, regardless of the weather. It features a parade of boats (usually dressed up per the theme of the year) and crew races. It is held along the Mountlake Cut and in Lake Washington and it is huge. The Folklife festival and Seattle International Film Festival are also held in May.
is a two month-long festival that includes tug boat races, Milk Carton Races, the Torchlight Parade (held at night) and ending with the arrival of the Navy Fleet and Hydroplane races in August. All events are accompanied by the SeaFair Pirates who will either attack you with (plastic) swords, carry you off if you are an attractive damsel, or, most likely, give you some candy.
(German for “Umbrella”)
is celebrated in September. It is a huge music, arts, crafts and eating festival held at the Seattle Center. And for just normal Seattle wackiness, the
Freemont Summer Solstice Parade
and Naked Bicycle Ride is held in the Fremont District the weekend of the Summer Solstice. (Fremont, home to the troll-under-the-bridge and an actual Russian statue of Lenin that nobody else wanted is the self-proclaimed “Center of the Universe”. No trip to Seattle is complete without a visit to this colorful District).
In order to make your visit more enjoyable, we need to give you some advice about getting around in Seattle. It does need a bit of explaining. There are many hills – big
hills – in Seattle, as well as several lakes and lots of bridges. Green Lake and Lake Union are right in the city, and Lake Washington and the Puget Sound are on either side. Traffic is generally very bad, and a lot of the roads that seem like they should go through are cut off – by the freeways (I-5 and 405 which run through Seattle) or a lake, or a hill, or a canal – you get the picture. The good news is that, in the Downtown corridor, busses are free. So if you need to go up or down 1st Avenue or 4th Avenue, just jump on a bus.
Streetcars are also available in parts of the city, and the bus tunnel under Westlake Mall will help you find connecting busses to get you to other parts of the city, like the University District. Seattle is also a very bicycle friendly city, with tons of bike lanes and parking for your bike. The only problem here, again, is the hills. Light Rail has been under construction for many years now in Seattle, so you can now get off your plane and take the Light Rail from SeaTac to the International District bus/train station then hop on a bus up to downtown Seattle. The bus comes out at the bus tunnel underneath Westlake Mall. So, if you are staying anywhere in Downtown Seattle, you really don’t need a car. Everything is within walking distance, and, if it is father there is a bus available at little or no charge.