The largest city in the Pacific Northwest grew up in a spectacular waterfront setting wedged between the Cascade and Olympic mountains. Even when the sun’s not shining (when it’s drizzly, as locals say, not rainy), Seattle attracts outdoorsy adventurers to its urban parks and hiking and biking trails.
Yet the Emerald City also supports an outsize number of museums, theaters, music venues, and bookstores (it recently ranked first in America for the number of arts-related businesses per capita). And Seattle restaurants increasingly subscribe to a mission of the house-made, grass-fed, and organic—another sign of the city’s deep connection to its natural beauty.
So fuel up at the nearest coffeehouse, then set out to explore Seattle’s top attractions.
This nine-acre public park presents modern art set against a backdrop of the Puget Sound and nearby industrial train tracks, whose whistles sometimes echo poignantly. It’s a scenic spot to hang out among huge sculpture installations from Louise Bourgeois, Mark di Suvero, and Alexander Calder. This outpost of the Seattle Art Museum (about a mile away) includes a café and offers tours and events like parties with live music and food trucks and free summertime yoga.
Originally opened in 1952, the modernist building underwent an extensive remodel in 1995 that also prompted a reevaluation of the curatorial vision. The Frye has since grown into one of the most forward-thinking museums in Seattle (bonus: it’s free). Some galleries focus on temporary exhibits of next-level art, while the main rooms showcase 19th- and 20th-century oil paintings from Charles and Emma Frye’s founding collection, hung floor-to-ceiling. Save some time for the carefully curated museum store of avant-garde jewelry, housewares, and found objects.
Credit: Terry Rishel / Courtesy Chihuly Garden and Glass
You could easily spend a full day at this 74-acre park complex, brushing up on music history at the Experience Music Project, falling into the Wonderland-like Chihuly Garden and Glass, and heading up to the top of the Space Needle. Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the center is headquarters for a clutch of arts organizations and entertainment venues. A ride on the mile-long monorail (heading to and from the center of downtown) is a retro treat.
Yes, it’s one of the Emerald City’s top tourist spots, but Pike Place is also a true neighborhood market bursting with gorgeous local produce, riotous flowers, and famous flying fish. Buskers line the stretch of cobblestoned street, lined with shops, restaurants, and coffeehouses, including the original Starbucks. The arcade levels below offer even more discoveries (vintage clothes, a magic shop). When you need to refuel, take your pick: Emmett Watson’s for oysters and a bowl of clam chowder, Market Grill for a grilled halibut sandwich, or Beecher’s for mac and cheese.
This stretch of green cuts into the precipitous rise of Queen Anne Hill and has become a favorite haunt of both serious photographers and Instagrammers looking to capture the classic Seattle skyline panorama (Space Needle, Mount Rainier, Elliott Bay ferries: check, check, check). In other words, this is the place to watch the sun set. Local residents may wander into your shot, walking their dogs before dinnertime.
Preserved underneath the present-day Pioneer Square neighborhood are its original passageways and storefronts—a lucky by-product of the hasty rebuilding following the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. Amazingly, their existence was considered merely rumor until revitalization efforts spearheaded by Bill Speidel in the late 1950s revealed the truth. He created this guided underground tour through the hilarious, grimy history of the area’s pioneer culture (con artists, gamblers, madams) that’s totally fascinating and just a bit scatological.
Water beckons everywhere in Seattle, and sooner or later you just need to be gliding on it (preferably while drinking a hot chocolate). The easiest way to achieve this lazy seafaring bliss is hopping on a ferry to Bainbridge Island, 30 minutes each way. The ride’s a favorite of locals and tourists alike (not to mention island-dwelling commuters). Cruise right back to the city, or make a day of exploring Bainbridge, whose bakeries, galleries, and bike trails are well worth a disembarking.