A Local's Guide to Visiting Seattle
Some of you might not know this about me, but I’ve spent more years of my life living in Seattle than anywhere else in the world. 16 years, to be exact! And, despite having not lived there since I was 17, I have been lucky enough to live just a short plane ride away which means I am able to still visit numerous times each year. So finally, I am putting pen to paper (or whatever the computer equivalent is) to let you in on all of my best kept Seattle secrets.
For those less familiar, Seattle, Washington, is a beautiful city in the Pacific Northwest, surrounded by mountains, forests, and water. While it gets a bad rap for its rain (it’s not even close to being the rainiest major city in the US), there are countless things to see and do there. So much so that the toughest part of writing this post was actually narrowing it down to a digestible amount of suggestions! If you are considering a visit, I highly suggest you do. It is truly a fabulous city.
So, without further ado, here is what should you see, do, eat and drink while visiting Seattle - from a “local’s” perspective!
WHAT TO DO
Seattle is home to so many great museums that are a wonderful way to spend your time while visiting. February is Seattle Museum Month which means if you book a room at participating hotels you get a museum pass for half-price tickets at 40 museums. With so many great options it can be hard to decide which ones to choose, but here are a few of my favorites:
Chihuly Garden and Glass - You should not leave Seattle without going here. It is absolutely fantastic and a must-see. My mom and I finally made it here over the holidays and we did not stop talking about it for days. In fact, my mom is already making my father go back with her! While Dale Chihuly’s work would look jaw-dropping anywhere and in any form, Chihuly Garden and Glass is much more than just a gallery. In addition to the eight galleries of the exhibition, there is a conservatory-like glasshouse and an outdoor garden (both of which you know I love). There is also a theater where you can watch videos of Chihuly’s process or observe regularly held glassblowing demonstrations.
Museum of Pop Culture - MoPOP is also at Seattle Center, making it ideal to visit either before or after Chihuly. Formerly the Experience Music Project, MoPOP now broadly focuses on contemporary pop culture. You will still find many exhibits on music (when I visited it was Bowie and Hendrix, for example) in addition to things like the “We Are 12” Seahawks exhibit and the “Scared to Death” exhibit about horror films.
One thing that makes MoPOP, along with many other Seattle museums, unique is how interactive it is. MoPOP currently has an exhibit called “Indie Game Revolution,” sponsored by Nintendo, which transports you into a virtual playground where you could spend hours playing fun games! There’s also Sound Lab, an exhibit where you can test out just about any musical instrument you can think of. And, don’t worry, there are soundproof rooms :)
Museum of Glass - Museum of Glass in Tacoma is the baby of Dale Chihuly and friend Philip Phibbs. Originally focused exclusively on Chihuly, it now features glass work by artists worldwide. There are some permanent collections in addition to changing exhibitions and, my favorite, even some outdoor art! The Fluent Steps piece outside is my favorite.
Museum of Flight - The Museum of Flight is yet another fantastic museum option, and I’m not just saying that because I travel for a living! It is the largest independent, non-profit air and space museum in the world. Over 600K people visit each year in addition to the 140K students that take part in its various educational programs. It features aircraft, spacecraft, artifacts, rare photographs, exhibits, experiences, and a world-class library. My sister, who still lives in Seattle, goes here every single year because she loves it so much.
Pacific Science Center - The Pacific Science Center brings science to life through hands-on activities, live science demos, and more. Admittedly I haven’t been here since I was younger, but I remember that I always loved it and therefore I do recommend a visit, especially if you have children. It is also very close to Chihuly, MoPOP, and the Space Needle.
Woodland Park Zoo - I was excited to see the Woodland Park Zoo make the list of Seattle Museum Month supported museums because this is yet another great place to visit! First and foremost, they are dedicated to saving animals and habitat so you can visit freely without worry. The zoo has more than 1,100 animals and 300 species and your visit actually helps save animals!
One of my favorite things about Seattle is that there are countless hiking options. The hikes there are among some of my favorite in the world, as they are beautiful from start to finish, featuring lakes, waterfalls, mountain views, wildlife, coastal views, beaches, trees, and more.
If you happen to think hiking is not your thing, I would still recommend giving at least one of my choices below a chance. I have brought friends back to Seattle with me who felt the same and after just one hike in the Emerald City they were converted to hiking lovers!
Rattlesnake Ledge is my favorite hike in Seattle because it is tough but the view at the end makes it all worth it! The trail takes you through a beautiful forest full of sky-high trees and is a favorite amongst locals and likely tourists as well, so don’t be surprised if it’s busy. Bring lunch or a snack because once you are at the top, you can sit on the ledge and take in the views. Please be careful, though, as people have fallen. The trail is around 4 miles round trip and moderately difficult, I’d say.
Poo Poo Point is a lesser known trail (I think) but was one of our main hiking spots while in high school. The top of the trail has a paragliding launch point and I often find there are guides up there offering to take you with them (for a fee, of course). Poo Poo is 7.2 miles round trip and on the tougher end of moderately difficult.
Snoqualmie Falls is a beautiful 268-foot waterfall and popular tourist attraction. Since I love to get my endorphins flowing as often as possible, I like to hike down to the falls prior to grabbing brunch at Salish Lodge above. It is very easy and just 1.4 miles round trip.
Denny Creek is another family friendly option with a natural water slide area! We used to go all the time as kids. It’s 6 miles round trip but to get to the slides is just 1 mile (2 round trip).
Diablo Lake is an area I have admittedly never hiked, but if there’s one place that’s on my list it is this. Do yourself a favor and google it - the water is so bright and turquoise you won’t even believe it’s in the Pacific Northwest.
In addition to great museums and hiking trails, Seattle is home to one of America’s most iconic markets, one of the largest Ferris wheels, and a wine country known for creating world class wine.
Pike Place Market - I try to stay away from things too cliche, but you can’t skip Pike Place Market. Watch the fishmongers throwing fish around, pick up a huge bouquet of fresh flowers for cheap, visit the gum wall and the first Starbucks, pick up some cheese at Beecher’s, dine or grab a beer at rumored-to-be-haunted Kells, and stop by Brooke Westlund Studio and Gallery for some beautiful and unique art to remember your trip by.
Volunteer Park Conservatory - an extremely photogenic greenhouse built in 1912. One of my favorite photo spots!
Go to a game - Even if you aren’t a huge sports fan, Seahawks, Mariners, and Husky games are so much fun. If any of the teams are in town, I would go. There’s also soccer and hockey if those are more your scene :)
Visit Kerry Park - arguably the most iconic view of Seattle. For more good views, Alki Beach and Gas Works Park.
Explore my hometown, Bellevue, and/or Kirkland (especially great on a nice day!)
Walk or run the path at Green Lake
Take a ferry to Bainbridge Island and check out more of the museums participating in Seattle Museum Month located on the island.
Kayak or Stand Up Paddle Board on South Lake Union or through the arboretum
Ride the Seattle Great Wheel, one of the largest ferris wheels in North America
WHERE TO EAT
The food scene in Seattle is yet another major selling point for visiting the city, in my opinion. They have restaurants of every variety, with new ones popping up constantly, so you will never have trouble finding what you are looking for. Here are the ones that I find myself going back to time after time:
Umi Sake House - a Japanese sushi restaurant and sake bar. The #1 restaurant I recommend to friends visiting!
Westward & Little Gull Grocery - a nautical restaurant located right on Lake Union, especially perfect on a sunny day! It has the most beautiful views of the city, an Instagrammable outdoor AND indoor space, and delicious food including local oysters. You can arrive by car, foot, boat, kayak, or paddle board. And that, my friends, is as Seattle as it gets!
Mr. West Cafe Bar - an absolutely beautiful cafe and bar serving coffee, beer, wine, and food!
Salish Lodge - another spot we’ve been going to our whole lives yet I never tire of. Just about every time I have friends or family in town, I take them here. It offers jaw-dropping views of Snoqualmie Falls from the comfort of a warm, indoor seat. My favorite is brunch, which is offered everyday from 7am to 2pm. Get the Washington Dungeness Crab Eggs Benedict and the Bloody Mary. They “marinate” their vodka with different spices and herbs so their Bloody Mary is especially good! Note: this is in Snoqualmie, about 30 minutes east of Seattle.
Cactus - my family’s unanimous favorite for Southwestern and Mexican food. There are locations in Seattle, Kirkland and Bellevue. My mom orders the butternut squash enchiladas every single time, my sister never goes without at least one prickly pear margarita (I prefer the Mamacita, their “skinny” version), and I absolutely love the prawn and kale salad. You really can’t go wrong here.
Canlis - a fine dining restaurant and a true Seattle landmark. In addition to the fantastic food and gorgeous Lake Union view.
Dick's Drive-In - a local, fast-food burger joint and true Seattle staple. It first opened in 1954 and it seems little has changed since then! They offer a very simple menu and stepping into or walking up to any of their six locations makes you feel like you are traveling back in time. Their burgers are made with 100% beef, delivered fresh and never frozen, and their buns are made fresh daily, too. It’s no wonder they were named “America’s Most ‘Life Changing Burger'” back in 2012. To get the real Dick’s experience you should head there after a night out on the town! They are open daily until 2am.
I hope that the above recommendations have helped you come up with a Seattle itinerary to fit your needs. Don’t forget that during the month of February you get half-price tickets at 40 museums when you book a room at one of the hotels participating in Seattle Museum Month. It’s a steal of a deal, if you ask me!