Seattle's neighborhoods are stippled with hills and filled with fabulous views. The downtown core is mostly business-oriented, although the northern section, Belltown, features numerous condos, bars and restaurants. Immediately south of downtown, historic Pioneer Square offers leaf-lined streets and brick buildings, and the International District is a compact slice of Asia. The waterfront is the domain of the city’s aquarium and tour boats and ferries plying Puget Sound. Eastward, Capitol Hill is a major urban nightlife district; north of downtown, Queen Anne overlooks the culture-filled Seattle Center; farther north, across the Lake Washington Ship Canal, are the trendy neighborhoods of Ballard and Fremont.
Strolling Capitol Hill’s Central Street, Broadway, you’re likely to see a diverse mix of hipsters, goths and other bohemians. The most vibrant parts of the hill are Broadway, with its restaurants and funky shops; the Pike-Pine corridor, with vintage clothing shops, coffee houses and nightclubs, including the standout dance pavilion Century Ballroom; and restaurant-laden 12th Avenue. At the north end of the area, Volunteer Park is a splendid urban oasis with broad lawns, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, a botanical conservatory and one of the best views in the city.
Also known as Chinatown, this is the city’s most colorfully ethnic neighborhood. Compact and populated by Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese and other Southeast Asians, the ID’s charms include store windows with hanging roast ducks; baskets of Asian vegetables and spices spilling out of hole-in-the-wall storefronts; and family-owned Asian restaurants. Among its cultural treasures are the new Chinatown Gate, the fire engine-red Chinese pavilion in Hing Hay Park; a megalopolis of imported groceries and goods at Uwajimaya; and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience.
Westlake Center, a multilevel shopping mall with a famous neighbor named Nordstrom, is at the center of downtown; from here the east-west streets of Pike and Pine lead to the rightly famous Pike Place Market overlooking Puget Sound. The Seattle Art Museum and Benaroya Hall (home of the Seattle Symphony) sit across from each other on 2nd Avenue. Just north of the Market, Belltown, with its numerous nightclubs and restaurants, comes alive in the evenings. At the north end of downtown, Seattle Center is home to the Space Needle and a trio of excellent museums: the Pacific Science Center, the Children's Museum, and the Frank Gehry—designed Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum, with its unique dual focus on pop and Sci-Fi.
On the northern edge of the Lake Washington Ship Canal, Fremont is populated by artists with a keen sense of humor: Dubbed “The Center of the Universe,” its streets yield sights such as a giant troll clutching a VW bug; a rocket; and a seven-ton statue of Lenin. The Fremont Sunday Market overflows with arts and crafts, and the neighborhood’s annual Solstice Parade is a no-holds-barred fringe-fest. Neighborhood high points include an organic, fair-trade chocolate factory; vintage shops; and the city’s best-loved bike path, the Burke-Gilman Trail. At nightfall, youthful partygoers flock to numerous bars and pubs.
With Scandinavian fishing and logging roots, this neighborhood—north of downtown—was once where you were as likely to hear Norwegian as English. With the rediscovery of its lovely brick historic district at the turn of the 21st century, Ballard has undergone tremendous change, replete with the hallmark of all gentrification, soaring new condominiums. The influx has turned Ballard into a hip urban village with new restaurants opening weekly; numerous upscale wine bars; fun but pricey boutiques; and a celebrated Sunday Farmer’s Market. Among Ballard’s charms are the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks; the Nordic Heritage Museum; a waterfront promenade and marina; and the popular Golden Gardens Park at the end of the promenade.