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City Guide: Everything You Need for a Perfect Trip to Seattle, WA

The high-tech boomtown offers natural splendor, fascinating history, and free-spirited fun to curious visitors.

Bainbridge Island ferry passengers look out on the Seattle skyline views, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy of Visit Seattle
Photo caption
Passengers take in the views from aboard the Bainbridge Island Ferry.

From scruffy lumber town to buzzy metropolis, Seattle is no stranger to rapid urban growth. Yet the city’s appeal can still be found in its panoramic skies, evergreens, and Puget Sound shores.

Seattle Underground

Beneath the bustling streets of Pioneer Square you can still find the tin ceilings and brick foundations that survived the town’s bawdy logging past. After a fire took out the entire city center in 1889, Seattle raised the streets and rebuilt over the ashes of burned-out buildings. The real draw of Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour is the guides who retell local history with humor and style.

Insider's Tip: Walk through Pike Place Market and around the waterfront before your tour to beat the crowds.

Views from the Water

Any ferry will give you skyline vistas, but the Bainbridge Island Ferry shows the city’s best side before dropping you a short walk from the gourmet treats at Mora Iced Creamery, sweet and savory baked goods at Blackbird Bakery, and craft-rich window-shopping. Or take the 10-minute water taxi ride across Elliott Bay to West Seattle where you’ll find Marination, a popular Korean-Hawaiian fusion restaurant with excellent fish and chips, at the start of the dock. When you’ve had your fill, take the free shuttle to Alki Beach to relax on the sand.

tunnels and sidewalks beneath Seattle's Pioneer Square seen on Underground Tour, photo
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy of Underground Tour
Photo caption
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour reveals Seattle’s hidden past through subterranean tunnels.

Local Shops

The weird, wonderful Archie McPhee novelty store has been selling rubber finger puppets, boxing nuns, and bacon bandages for over 30 years. There’s nothing here you need, but who cares? Kids love it. Want something more grown-up? Head to Revival on Capitol Hill for vintage fashion, jewelry, and work by local artists.

Live Radio

KEXP is the on-air voice of the city’s independent music scene and an avid proponent of all kinds of new tunes. See the influential radio station in action as it broadcasts near the Space Needle at Seattle Center. The public Gathering Space has a café, a record store, and the KEXP front desk, where you can sign up for in-studio concerts or the daily tour.

Read more: VIP Weekend in Seattle for Music Lovers

A Taste of Old Seattle

Georgetown is the rare neighborhood that still feels like old Seattle. Ramble alongside the weathered brick warehouses to discover hidden delights. Fran’s Chocolates is housed in the original Rainier Brewery building; drop in for a taste and admire the airy space. At the funky Georgetown Trailer Park Mall, vendors sell vintage whatnots, local art, and cake (yes, cake) from a courtyard of retro trailers.

Read more: The best of Seattle's neighborhoods

People sit outside of La Marzocco Café and the KEXP gathering space in downtown Seattle near the Space Needle, picture
Photo credit
Photo: Courtesy of La Marzocco Café
Photo caption
Patrons enjoy snacks, excellent coffee, vinyl browsing, and deejayed music at La Marzocco Café in the KEXP Gathering Space.

Capitol Hill Nightlife

The city’s LGBTQ nexus is the heart of Seattle’s welcoming bar scene. Kitschy Unicorn is fun with its bright carnival decor and arcade games. For the ultimate in cocktails (there’s a $650 Sazerac on the menu), head to Canon, home of the largest whiskey collection in the Western Hemisphere. Big Mario’s has slices of New York–style pizza up front and a classic dive bar in the back.

Cozy Hangouts and Coffee Shops

The Elliott Bay Book Company on Capitol Hill is a sprawling temple to the written word—don’t miss the local author section in the front. There’s a café on-site, but you can also take your books around the corner to Caffe Vita and settle in for meticulously roasted coffee, quiet reading, and people-watching.

Raw oysters with mignonette on ice beckon at Bar Melusine in Seattle, WA, photo
Photo credit
Photo: Brooke Fitts
Photo caption
Raw oysters with mignonette on ice beckon at Bar Melusine.

Puget Sound Flavor

The Sound’s abundance extends to its creative chefs. Edouardo Jordan’s JuneBaby is stacking up awards (including a James Beard) for its Southern cooking with area ingredients, down to the rhubarb in the flip, a frozen dessert served in a Dixie cup. At Renee Erickson’s brightly appointed Bar Melusine, the food is French Atlantic, but the Hama Hama oysters come from Hood Canal waters. Mutsuko Soma’s Kamonegi features Northwest seafood and soba noodles often made from regionally sourced buckwheat.

Asian Influences

The Wing Luke Museum documents the role Seattle’s Asian Pacific immigrants continue to play in the region’s culture. Take the Historic Hotel Tour, where time seems to stand still. Walk through the 1910 general store at street level before heading up to the austerely furnished boardinghouse, which brings to life the personal past of the community that helped shape the city.

Insider's Tip: You also don't want to miss Seattle's family-friendly Museum of Flight.

Nearby Places to Explore

More don't-miss destinations in Seattle.

How about a weekend in Vashon Island, WA?

There's plenty of green beauty in Olympic National Park.

Lake Chelan has more than just apples. Discover Washington wines.

Seattle's Ballard Neighborhood: Explore this former Scandinavian and fishing hub. 

It's all about the water in Seattle's Lake Union Neighborhood.

Tacoma, WA: 5 things we love. 

Up Next: Best city for visitors—Portland or Seattle?

If you're planning on traveling to Seattle, Washington, talk to the Vacation Experts for free at AAA Travel.

This article was first published in Fall 2018. Some facts may have aged gracelessly. Please call ahead to verify information.