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Best Things To Do in Seattle

AOL PICK from our Editors
Surrounded by hills and fronted by the sparkling waters of Elliott Bay, Seattle enjoys a gorgeous setting and lots of attractions for a long weekend or an entire week. The city’s bustling, historic Pike Place Market is the heart of Seattle. Just down the steps from the market, the waterfront attracts strollers, ferry riders and families touring the Seattle Aquarium. The Seattle Art Museum and Benaroya Hall (home of the Seattle Symphony) are situated along 2nd Avenue. To the south, the Pioneer Square area offers sporting events and art galleries, as well as the renowned Underground Tour and the Klondike Gold Rush Museum. Farther south, beyond downtown, the Museum of Flight displays a superlative corps of aircrafts. At the north edge of downtown, the Seattle Center, site of the 1962 World’s Fair, holds opera, drama and ballet venues, the Space Needle and several swell museums. North of the city, Fremont is a quintessential Seattle enclave with boutiques, bars and quirky public art. On Phinney Ridge, above Fremont, the Woodland Park Zoo is one of the nation’s best. Ballard, west of Fremont, is the city’s newest trendy neighborhood, with wine bars, restaurants and boutiques lining a quaint brick historic district; nearby are the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, a popular free attraction.

Pike Place Market

Neighborhood: Downtown
It’s no overstatement to say that Pike Place Market is the soul of Seattle. Built in 1907 and saved from destruction by public vote in 1971, the market hosts hundreds of craft vendors, farmers’ stalls, cafes and eclectic businesses. Visitors, residents and chefs alike throng to the market to buy produce directly from farmers. Out-of-towners ogle as fish purveyors toss salmon, kids pet the Market’s mascot, “Rachel,” a bronze pig; fellows buy flowers for their sweethearts; and everyone lines up for fresh-out-of-the-hopper doughnuts. Creaky ramps lead down to a potpourri of tiny shops selling everything from spices to magic wands, and street-corner buskers add to the confetti-like swirl of sights and sounds.

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Pike Place Market  

Seattle Waterfront

Neighborhood: Waterfront
Seattle’s fortunes revolve around the deep-water harbor of Elliott Bay. Where Gold Rush—era ships once tied up to wooden wharves, today there are immense cruise ships. Strolling the city’s waterfront promenade, you’ll encounter ferries and tour boats and watch massive container vessels and tugs churn past. The wharves lining the inner harbor now hold import and souvenir shops, seafood restaurants and attractions such as the Seattle Aquarium (Pier 59) and the Seattle Waterfront Arcade and Carousel (Pier 57). At the north end, Myrtle Edwards Park offers a broad swath of lawn, beach access and a bike trail. And we're partial to leisurely strolls in the city’s new outdoor Olympic Sculpture Park next door.

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Tillicum Village

The 45-minute narrated cruise from downtown to Blake Island is just the beginning of one of Seattle’s most enjoyable excursions. Upon arriving at Tillicum Village—a re-creation of a Northwest Coast Native American dwelling—visitors tread a shell pathway to a longhouse where they watch as whole salmon is roasted over an alder-wood fire. After feasting on clams, salmon and berries, guests enjoy a performance by Coast Salish dancers wearing richly colored traditional regalia and dramatic carved headpieces. The dances aren’t just for show—they relay myths and legends passed down from generation to generation.

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Tillicum Village  

Seattle Aquarium

Neighborhood: Waterfront
A visit to the Seattle Aquarium, on the waterfront just below the Pike Place Market, creates the awesome sensation of going beneath the waters of Puget Sound, especially in the 120,000-gallon Window on Washington Waters, where divers offer three shows daily. Other standout attractions are the Pacific Coral Reef exhibit; the massive underwater Dome inhabited by sharks, octopi and other denizens of Puget Sound; and a marine mammal exhibit with harbor and fur seals and playful sea otters—including adorable Lootas, star of a children’s picture book (on sale in the gift shop, of course).

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Pioneer Square

Neighborhood: Pioneer Square
South of today’s downtown, Pioneer Square is the original Seattle. The 19th-century brick and stone buildings here are shaded by mature trees; it’s an appealing place for a walk, especially in summer, although the district is showing signs of decline—you’re likely to encounter more than a few empty storefronts and street people. Several spots are worth a stop; start with the compact Klondike Gold Rush Museum and Waterfall Park, a quiet nook whose manmade waterfall offers misty respite (219 S. 2nd Ave.). Then make your way through some of the art galleries Pioneer Square is known for; an Art Walk every first Thursday creates a party atmosphere as throngs wander the district. Crowds are common in Pioneer Square after games at nearby Safeco and Qwest fields, and since Pioneer Square’s nightlife is legendarily rowdy, you may want to avoid it after 9PM—unless rowdy's your thing, of course.

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Bill Speidel's Underground Tour

Neighborhood: Pioneer Square
Seattle was originally a full story lower than it is today, but high tides took a toll on streets and waterfront businesses. Incredible though it sounds, residents chose to raise the entire town by a floor in the 1870s. Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, in Pioneer Square, takes visitors down into the leftover narrow tunnels, where they can peruse vintage storefronts and other details from the buried past. The stories about old Seattle that your guide regales you with are the coolest part of the experience. The tour is not for the claustrophobic—or for those in high-heels

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Space Needle

Neighborhood: Queen Anne
When the 1962 World’s Fair opened in Seattle, the futuristic Space Needle became the city’s icon. The slender, mushroom-shaped structure is beloved by visitors who are whisked upward 500 feet by a glass-walled elevator. On top, the rotating SkyCity restaurant treats diners to 360-degree views, and the observation deck features informative displays, telescopes and a café. The Needle can be time-consuming (in peak season the 43-second trip to the top can require an hour-long wait) and costly ($18 round trip), but the views of the city, Mount Rainier, Puget Sound and the Cascade Range and Olympic Mountains are phenomenal.

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Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (Ballard Locks)

Neighborhood: Ballard
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (a.k.a. the Ballard Locks) offer a close-up look at yachts and fishing boats passing between Puget Sound and inland lakes as the water level rises or drops. A "fish ladder" provides neat underwater views of salmon working their way upstream to spawn. June through September, you can see massive fish leaping out of the water in front of the spillway; you might even see a sea lion in pursuit. Terraced lawns here are ideal for picnicking, and the surrounding Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden is great for strolls, with weekend band concerts in summer.

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Woodland Park Zoo

Neighborhood: Phinney Ridge
Woodland Park Zoo, in the North Seattle neighborhood of Phinney Ridge, is one of the best urban animal parks in the nation, and a pioneer in naturalistic enclosures. Start with the fun new Humboldt Penguin exhibit, then cruise the other highlights: Northern Trail, with majestic Roosevelt elk, energetic river otters and imposing grizzlies; Tropical Asia zone with its award-winning Elephant Forest; and African Savanna, with lions, hippos and giraffes. Kids will enjoy the zoo’s Family Farm, vintage carousel and Zoomazium, a nature-themed play space.

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Museum of Flight

Neighborhood: South Seattle
Seattle’s deep aviation roots trace to 1917, when William Boeing began building airplanes in a local barn. That original red barn is now part of the fascinating Museum of Flight, whose collection includes more than 150 historic air and spacecraft. Touring the world’s fastest jetliner, the Concorde, is a kick. But we got the biggest thrill reenacting a World War Two-era dogfight in one of several flight simulators.

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