From a thriving art scene to lots of outdoor recreation, these are the things you can't miss when visiting Seattle.
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People who say you can't have it all probably haven't been to Seattle. The city is like a choose-your-own-adventure book of spectacular experiences. From unparalleled views of the Puget Sound and Olympic Mountains to world-class museums, parks, and fresh seafood, the Emerald City is a dream for all kinds of travelers. And the expansive array of outdoor activities, from kayaking to picnicking in the parks or on the beach, only add to the appeal of this eco-conscious destination.

To help you plan a memorable getaway to the northwest city, here are 24 of the best things to do in Seattle, according to a local.

Monorail and EMP Museum designed by Frank Gehry at Seattle Center.
Credit: Getty Images

Visit the top of the Space Needle.

The Seattle skyline is defined by the iconic Space Needle. Tall and slender, with a top that flares into the shape of a flying saucer, it's a beautiful thing to behold. To get the full experience, ride the elevator to the top and take in panoramic views of the city, water, and mountains from the rotating glass observation deck. Make your visit even more memorable with reservations for drinks and culinary pairings at The Loupe Lounge.

Stroll through Pike Place Market.

For more than 100 years, Pike Place Market has been Seattle's go-to spot for fresh fish, produce, flowers, and artisan goods. Even if you don't plan to shop, be sure to set aside some time to stroll through and take in the sights and smells of one of the nation's most famous public markets. And don't leave without pausing to watch the sellers throw fish to customers at the seafood market.

Spend the afternoon at The Museum of Flight.

Set aside a few hours to visit The Museum of Flight. It's one of the largest independent air and space museums, with 23 acres of more than 160 airplanes and spacecrafts, countless artifacts, interactive displays, and exhibits. The collection is spread out both indoors and outdoors, which means it's a great stop regardless of the weather. There's even a children's Flight Zone with hands-on activities for young visitors.

Experience art al fresco at Olympic Sculpture Park.

Olympic Sculpture Park offers nine acres of world-class art in a stunning outdoor setting with sweeping views of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. You'll find everything from a whimsical sculpture of a giant eraser by Claes Oldenburg to Richard Serra's mammoth steel masterpiece, "Wake." Best of all, admission is free and it's open from sunrise to sunset every day of the year.

Feel the sand between your toes at Alki Beach.

Alki beach during golden hour in Seattle with people lining the beach watching the sunset
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Located on the West Seattle peninsula, Alki Beach is one of the prettiest places in the city, with a long stretch of sand and views of the Seattle skyline. While you'll see plenty of people simply relaxing in their beach chairs, it's also a great spot for those wanting to stroll the sidewalks, play volleyball, enjoy the playground equipment, and frequent the neighborhood bars and eateries across the street.

Geek out at the Museum of Pop Culture.

The experience at the Museum of Pop Culture begins before you even walk through the doors. Designed by Frank O. Gehry, the building is a swirling marvel of textures and colors meant to evoke energy and music. Inside, you'll find permanent and rotating exhibits dedicated to local musicians like Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam; the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame; and areas focused on iconic films, gaming, and other conversation starters.

Drop a paddle in the water.

Seattle is a great place for kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding. In addition to the stunning views, there's also the chance you might catch a glimpse of a sea lion or whale. But make sure you are comfortable out on the water, as Puget Sound and Lake Union are both working bodies of water, so you'll be sharing the space with everything from giant barges to seaplanes. It's a unique experience that blends breathtaking natural beauty with the pulsating activity of a vibrant city.

Take a ferry to Vashon Island.

A teenage boy and his younger sister look over the railing of a ferry moving through Puget Sound towards Vashon Island in the Seattle Washington area
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Vashon Island is often overlooked by tourists, so chances are you'll be catching the ferry with locals. Largely rural and unspoiled, the island is a haven for farmers and artists who love living in close proximity to downtown Seattle, but prefer to lay their heads in a place where they can hear the owls hoot at night. It's a fantastic spot for a day of beachcombing, visiting art galleries, or biking, followed by a delicious meal in one of the cafes.

Sip your way through Seattle's urban wineries.

In Washington, most of the wineries can be found in the eastern part of the state. But you don't have to leave Seattle to experience Washington wine country. In recent years, a number of wineries have formed a vibrant urban vino scene. Sodo Urban Works is home to 10 local wineries, including Structure Cellars, Nine Hats Wines, and Sleight of Hand Cellars, so you can easily walk from one to another. If you only have time to visit one, you can also stop by the Browne Family Vineyards tasting room in Pioneer Square.

Cheer on a local sports team.

Seattle takes sports seriously. Locals are wild about college athletics and, of course, pro teams like the NFL's Seahawks and NHL's Kraken. Fans here are known for making lots of noise, which makes for electric energy and an enthusiasm so contagious you simply have to pound your feet and clap your hands, even if you aren't a local. If you have a chance to see a sporting event in Seattle, take it.

Check out the Hiram M. Chittenden Ballard Locks.

Locals refer to this marvel of engineering simply as the Locks. Connecting Lake Union to the Puget Sound, the ingenious, complex series of locks is preserved as a National Historic Site. It allows traffic to pass from one to the next without the saltwater of the sound contaminating the freshwater of the lake. On any given day, you'll see everything from leisure boats, enormous fishing vessels, and tiny kayaks making their way through. You'll also find a fish ladder, visitor center, and lush botanical garden.

Walk the pier at Miner's Landing.

The giant Ferris wheel at the end of the pier overlooking Elliott Bay is a well-known Seattle spot. Attractions like the Seattle Great Wheel, Wings Over Washington virtual flying exhibit, unique shops, and some of the best outdoor dining in the city can all be found on the Miner's Landing pier. Pro tip: If you plan to take in multiple attractions such as the Space Needle, Seattle Great Wheel, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Argosy Cruises, and more, you'll save a significant amount of money if you bundle them together with a Seattle CityPass.

Get dazzled in a glass garden.

Dale Chihuly is one of the most popular and influential glass artists in the world, and there's no better place to immerse yourself in his genius work than at Chihuly Garden and Glass near the base of the Space Needle. You'll find galleries filled with gorgeous floor-to-ceiling glass formations and lush botanicals living in harmony with Chihuly's masterful creations, as if they were created by Mother Nature herself.

Visit the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center.

When you step foot in Seattle, you're walking on the land of the Duwamish people. In fact, the city is named after Chief Seattle, revered leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes. At the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center, you can learn about the area's Indigenous history and cultural heritage through an ever-rotating calendar of exhibits, artifacts, and community events.

Take your love for coffee to the next level.

Starbucks was famously founded in Seattle, and though you'll generally see a long line of people outside the original Pike Place Market location, true aficionados will want to visit the flagship Starbucks Reserve Roastery. Here, you can learn about how coffee is grown and roasted, as well as participate in elevated experiences like tasting some of the world's rarest and most unique coffees.

Discover underground Seattle.

To find the most historic buildings in Seattle, you'll have to meander through the rooms, storefronts, and hallways underneath the city. Once at ground level, they were eventually abandoned when the streets were raised after a devastating fire in 1889. Bill Speidel's Underground Tour will safely lead you beneath the city streets, with fascinating — and often hilarious — tales of Seattle's history along the way.

Have lunch in the Chinatown-International District.

Seattle's vibrant Chinatown-International District is packed with restaurants just waiting to knock your socks off. Whether you're craving dumplings, baked goods, or noodles, the aromas on the street are heavenly. Be sure to also visit the excellent Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, which masterfully blends exhibits and storytelling.

Ride the monorail to Seattle Center.

Late in the day the Seattle Monorail leaving the Seattle Center.
Credit: Getty Images

If you want to leave downtown to visit attractions like the Space Needle, International Fountain, and Chihuly Garden and Glass, there's no need to get in your car. Just hop aboard the Seattle Monorail and travel via a rail above the streets. It's the best way to avoid traffic, not to mention one of the most unique modes of public transportation in the country.

Spend the night in a hotel with a view.

Seattle has its fair share of luxury hotels, but perhaps the most sought-after amenity in town is a room with a view of the water. The Edgewater Hotel is built on a pier above the water, and rooms have private balconies where you can wave to passing ships and ferries. The Inn at the Market is another fantastic option, with views of iconic landmarks like the Pike Place Market, Seattle Great Wheel, Puget Sound, and Olympic Mountains. The property also features a private deck where guests can relax and enjoy conversation by the fireplaces in the evening.

Take a cruise.

The Seattle skyline is even more beautiful from the water. Argosy Cruises' harbor cruise will take passengers on a narrated, hour-long tour of Elliott Bay, offering closer views of the shipping centers, waterfront, and jaw-dropping Olympic Mountains. Plus, with a full bar and snacks, this ship might be the best place to enjoy a cocktail in the city.

Get lost in the Seattle Art Museum.

It's easy to lose yourself in the many rooms of the Seattle Art Museum, which features a host of rotating exhibits and permanent collections celebrating various artists and cultures, as well as mediums such as African art, ancient American art, pottery, and furnishings. The museum also houses world-class traveling exhibits that spotlight legendary artists like Monet and Georgia O'Keeffe.

Meander through Pioneer Square.

Pioneer Square is full of interesting architecture and some of the city's most eclectic shops and restaurants. Browse and buy local art, antiques, books, and rugs all within a couple of blocks, and cap off your visit with a bite to eat and craft cocktail at one of the neighborhood's lively watering holes.

Have a picnic at Gas Works Park.

Outdoor structures at Gasworks Park in Seattle, Washington.
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Located on Lake Union, Gas Works Park is just about as funky as a park can get. This green space is located on the former industrial site of the Seattle Gas Light Company plant that used to power the city. The old mechanical structures rise out of the landscape like works of modern art, making for some of the most interesting views in the city. It's the perfect place for a picnic or walk as you watch seaplanes land in the water.

Eat like a local.

Seattle is famous for its culinary scene, and locals are equally enthusiastic about hot dogs with cream cheese as they are about tasting menus at renowned restaurants like Canlis. To make sure you enjoy the best of Seattle's food, try a little bit of everything. But if you must choose, ask your server or fishmonger what's in season, so you can dine on fresh seafood that was loaded onto the docks that morning.