There is so much to do in Seattle, that when visiting, it can be overwhelming on where to go or what to do first. Whether you are an outdoor person or someone who’d rather stay indoors, there’s a lot to do around town. But like the city itself, the weather in Seattle is unpredictable. It can be beautiful one day and rainy the next, so it’s a good idea to have an arsenal of plans just your vacation plans change suddenly.
To help with your planning, we’ve rounded up the best indoor and outdoor activities and separated them into three areas in town: Seattle Center, the waterfront and Pioneer Square. And just to round things out, we threw in a bonus of some of the city’s best parks to explore as well. So whatever your time or budget, there is something here for you to do today.
305 Harrison St., Seattle WA 98109
Originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the Seattle Center has changed quite a bit over the years and honestly, the most recent transformation is city park’s best. Throughout the grounds you’ll find many attractions, museums, art galleries, performing art spaces, eateries, public art, fountains, lots of green spaces and of course the iconic Space Needle. Here are some the best places not to be missed here:
– Space Needle
Think of the Space Needle as a giant push pin marking the spot for the Seattle Center. Standing at 605 feet tall with a 520 foot spaceship “top house,” it is the ultimate observation tower. In 2017, the Needle closed for a major refurbishment making her look better than ever.
The observation deck’s railing was replaced with glass walls and see-through benches that make you feel as if you’re floating on cloud. Inside, The Loupe is the world’s first and only rotating glass floor offering 360-degree views out of the elements.
You can also enjoy snacks and espresso at the Atmos Café or a glass of wine in the Atmos Wine Bar or the Loupe Lounge. On the ground level, stop by the SpaceBase gift shop to find that one-of-a kind souvenir.
– Chihuly Garden and Glass
Located just feet from the Space Needle is the Chihuly Garden and Glass featuring the works of world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. While some call the space a museum, Chihuly thinks of it as more of an exhibition of some of his best work. Over 1,340 individual pieces of hand-blown glass is featured here.
While not a great place for kids (and their parents) who have a hard time seeing things without touching them, the exhibition is full of wonder for those who can. It features eight indoor galleries, a glass house and beautiful outdoor garden that blends real plants with glass work.
This isn’t just a nice little garden with some impressive art pieces, it’s really an awe-inspiring experience that changes throughout the year. Some of Chihuly’s largest works of art are featured here representing trees, plants and flowers.
There is also a theater that shows short videos on the artist’s working process, a community “hot shop” with live demonstrations and a bar decorated with 25 of Chihuly’s personal collections and 36 signature drawings.
– Climate Pledge Arena
There is almost always something happening at the Climate Pledge Arena. It is the official home of NHL’s Seattle Kraken, WNBA’s Seattle Storm and Seattle University’s Men’s Basketball. It is also used for many concerts and family events.
The arena is the first net zero carbon-certified arena in the world. 12,500 plants and trees, including a “living wall” can be found on-site. 15,000 gallons of rain-water is used to resurface the ice rink.
Behind-the-scenes tours sharing information about how the original 1962 building was transformed into the most sustainable arena in the world, views of team locker rooms, star dressing rooms and even the owner’s suite.
– MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture)
Located within Seattle’s most unique building structure is the Museum of Pop Culture or MoPOP. The 140,000-square-foot building, designed by Frank O. Gehry, is always up for a debate. Is it an eyesore or a work of art?
Founded by Microsoft’s co-owner Paul Allen, MoPOP was originally home to the Experience Music Project and Allen’s Sci-Fi Museum. It was rebranded in 2016 to include more pop culture elements. However, there are still plenty of elements celebrating music including the world’s largest collection of artifacts of Seattle’s Jimi Hendrix and the band Nirvana.
The museum is home to numerous exhibits with interactive elements celebrating music, movies, fantasy, science fiction, horror and more. Over 700 instruments were used in creating the sculpture “If VI was IX: Roots and Branches which looks like a tornado of guitars which serves as a centerpiece.
Permanent exhibits include the Guitar Gallery, the hands-on Sound Lab where you can try different instruments, Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction, Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic, the Science Fiction + Fantasy Hall of Fame and more.
– Pacific Science Center
Truthfully, the Pacific Science Center has seen better days, but still serves as a great place for families to explore science with interactive exhibits and experiences. Catch a movie at one of the two IMAX theatres (one of which is the state’s largest screen) or lay back and enjoy a laser dome show.
Explore the planetarium, real creatures in the Tropical Butterfly House or fake ones in the Dinosaurs: A Journey Through Time exhibit. You’ll also find exhibits about the planet, the human body, garden, a Tinker Tank Makerspace and more.
– Seattle Monorail
Another throwback to the World’s Fair, the Seattle Monorail offers service to and from the Seattle Center to downtown’s Westlake Center Mall and actually travels through the MoPOP building. It only takes about three minutes to travel from station to station. It’s an easy way to see more of Seattle in one day without having to find more parking.
With the removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct, the Seattle waterfront is more picturesque than ever. It is home to some of the city’s move popular attractions including the iconic Seattle Great Wheel, the aquarium, Ivar’s Acres of Clams restaurant, the Olympic Sculpture Park and the newer WNDR Museum. Whatever the weather, the waterfront is synonymous with Seattle.
– Pier 57 – Miner’s Landing
1301 Alaskan Way, Seattle, WA 98101
Pier 57, aka Miner’s Landing, is a hub of activity with amusements, restaurants and gift shops. Most notably is the Seattle Great Wheel which is a sight to see during the day or night with its 500,000 LED lights. The 175-foot-tall structure is the tallest Ferris wheel on the West Coast. It features 42 climate-controlled gondolas with enough room for eight people each. You can even book a private dining experience (up to four people) if you really want to go all out.
Similar to Disney’s California’s Adventure’s “Soar’in” attraction, Wings Over Washington takes guests on an aerial adventure via an indoor “flying theater.” This state-of-the-art attraction takes you through the sights and smells of the Olympic National Forest, Mount Rainier, the San Juan Islands, Snoqualmie Falls and more. It is impressive as it is beautiful.
Hop aboard a custom-designed catamaran for a Salish Sea Boat Tour. These one-hour long cruises offer an audio tour of Seattle and the surrounding areas. The boat is equipped with two full-service bars that also serves salmon meals, sandwiches and snacks.
Pier 57 is also home to an indoor carousel featuring 30 hand-painted jumping horses, the Klondike Arcade (pinball anyone?), the Pirate’s Plunder gift shop and four restaurants.
– Seattle Aquarium
1483 Alaskan Way, Seattle, WA 98101
Perhaps the most impressive thing to see at the Seattle Aquarium is the Underwater Dome where you are surrounded with a 360 degree underwater view within the 400,000-gallon tank. Here you’re likely to see schools of salmon, lingcod, sharks, rockfish and dogfish.
Then again, the most popular attraction is probably the charming marine animal exhibits including otters and harbor seals. Or check out the 25,000-gallon tank filled with warm-water puffers, tangs, wrasses, triggerfish and more. If you’re lucky, you might even see an aquarium diver feeding the fish.
– Ye Olde Curiosity Shop
1001 Alaskan Way, Seattle WA 98101
“Be amazed. Be Amused. Be Curious.” says the Ye Olde Curiosity Shop’s website. First opened in 1899 (although not at its current location), this is not your average gift shop. In the early days, owner J.E. Standley opened his free museum and curio where fisherman and sailors would stop by to buy or sell items of “immense interest.”
Come see “Sylvester” and “Sylvia”, two human mummified bodies, dozens of totem poles, East Asian weapon, jade carvings and more. You’ll also find a lot of kitschy souvenirs too.
– WNDR Museum
904 Alaskan Way, Seattle, WA 98104
Holding on to the truth that “we are all artists”, WNDR (pronounced “wonder”) is unlike any museum that you’ve ever seen. It is a showcase and a blending of art and technology where the viewer (you) get to be part of the art. It’s an interactive museum where you are welcome to touch (almost) anything just to see what happens.
This art museum is hard to describe but we’ll give it a try. The multimedia installation of “You Can Do Most Anything” by Andy Arkley contains 33 wooden brightly colored sculptures that light up and play music when you push its 16 buttons. Leigh Sachwitz’s “INSIDEOUT” is a 360-degree light and sound show set within a transparent garden shack. And the popular “Light Floor” is what is says it is and changes forms when one walks down the hall.
– Pike Place Market (gum wall, selfie museum, original Starbucks)
85 Pike St., Seattle, WA 98101
Continuously running since 1907, the Pike Place Market is one of the oldest largest public markets in the U.S. Here, there are over 450 shops run by local farmers, crafters, restauranteurs and business owners. It is known for its “flying fish”, fresh produce and street entertainers. It is here that you’ll find a literary saloon, the oldest comic shop in the world, a giant show museum and the very first Starbucks coffee shop.
One of the more unique “attractions” at the Pike Place Market is the infamous Gum Wall. It is said that in the 1990’s, people waiting in line to enter a nearby theatre began sticking their gum to wall. The idea caught on (get it?) and soon, putting one’s gum where it wasn’t supposed to go became a tradition.
– The Original Selfie Museum
92 Union St., Seattle, WA 98101
It’s not really a museum. The Original Selfie Museum is more of a photography studio art space where you can run wild among the various backgrounds and props. Pose between rows of gumball machines, munch on giant doughnuts, walk on the walls or take a call on an old-fashioned telephone. It is considered “the most Instagram-able place in the nation” by its owners.
Pioneer Square is Seattle’s oldest neighborhood and was the city’s original downtown. Now it sits just south of today’s downtown. It’s known for its unique architecture compared to the rest of the city. Comprised of historic brick buildings, art galleries, and energetic nightlife, Pioneer Square is an excellent destination for visitors to have a great time while learning about Seattle’s history.
– Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour
614 1st Ave., Seattle, WA 98104
According to Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, Seattle was ravaged by a great fire in 1889. It leveled about 25 blocks of wooden buildings. After the smoke had cleared, the city decided to have all new construction be built with stone or bricks. At the same time, it was decided to create retaining walls of eight feet or higher on either side of the streets that were damaged entombing what was left behind.
Today, the Underground Tour gives 75-minute walking tours under Pioneer Square allowing guests to get a glimpse of what old Seattle once was before the blaze. During the tour, you can expect to learn about the city’s early architecture and the Prohibition era’s impact on Seattle not to mention some colorful stories about the city’s more illicit activities.
– Merchants Café
109 Yesler Way, Seattle, WA 98104
Having been established in 1890, Merchants Café has the distinction of being Seattle’s oldest standing bar and restaurant. It was designed by W.E. Boone, a direct descendent of Daniel Boone! The downstairs is part of the original underground Seattle. While the building is old, the menu is pretty contemporary with several dishes named after Seattle history like Chief Seattle’s Salmon Burger, the 1962 Seattle Fair Chicken Sandwich and the Merchant’s Specialty Grilled Cheese.
– The Smith Tower
506 2nd Ave., Seattle, WA 98104
In 1914, Seattle received its first skyscraper and for years, it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River and remained the tallest building on the West Coast until the Space Needle was built. So while it is no longer a “big deal”, there is a lot of history here. Oh, if only those walls could talk. Today they do. Sort of.
The Smith Tower offers Talking Tours which gives insight to the structure’s past lives which includes tales of its connections to radio, rum-running and more. You’ll hear some provocative stories told by some interesting characters too.
The 45-minute talking tours include a guided tour of the exhibits, original Otis elevators, the 35th floor observatory and the main lobby. Guests leave with a souvenir postcard with stamp.
– Columbia Center
701 5th Ave., Seattle, WA
Built in 1985, Columbia Center is the tallest skyscraper in downtown Seattle and until 2017, was the tallest building on the West Coast. Standing at 937 feet, the center has 76 floors. While you can’t go all the way to the top, you can get pretty close. The Sky View observation deck is located on the 73rd floor, making it the tallest public viewing area in the state.
Offering 360-degree views, Sky View gives panoramic views of Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, the Cascades, the Olympics, Elliott Bay and the city’s other big observation tower – the Space Needle. While there, enjoy snacks, coffee, a local beer or a glass of wine in the Sky View Café and Bar.
The Best Parks
It’s hard to believe, there are actually over 485 parks within the Seattle city limits. Trying to narrow down that list to a small handful of “best” park is no easy task, but we feel good about our choices.
– Woodland Park Zoo
5500 Phinney Ave. N., Seattle, WA 98103
Located in the Phinney Ridge neighborhood, Woodland Park Zoo is a wildlife conservation and zoological garden which is home to over 300 animal species. Among the many exhibits and buildings, the park features 7,000 trees, 50,000 shrubs and herbs and over 1,000 plant species.
Founded in 1899, the zoo has learned a lot over the years by tearing down tradition zoo cages and replacing them with landscapes the represented natural habitats and with them, a number of awards.
Today, the zoo is divided into 11 different sections: African Savanna, Ambassador Animals, Assam Rhino Reserve, Australasia, Molbak’s Butterfly Garden, Humboldt Penguin Exhibit, Living Northwest Trail, Temperate Forest, Trail of Adaptations, Tropical Asia and Tropical Rain Forest.
The zoo hosts “Zoo Tunes” concerts in the summer, features a Zoomazium learning center for kids as well as a 100-year-old historic carousel with one chariot retrofitted to accommodate wheelchairs!
– Washington Park Arboretum
2300 Arboretum Dr. E., Seattle, WA 98112
Located at the University of Washington’s Botanic Gardens, the Washington Park Arboretum contains 230 acres of unique plants sourced from all corners of the earth, making it a particularly engaging environment to enjoy, regardless of the season.
Consider practicing “forest bathing” to for relaxation as you explore. Don’t feel like walking? Opt for a one-hour Tram Tour where you’ll learn about the city’s “outdoor living museum”
Within the Arboretum is a 3.5 acre urban sanctuary know as Seattle Japanese Garden. Winding gravel paths encourage you to experience the garden slowly and take in its surroundings including a central pond with koi fish, lanterns, bridges and more.
– Kerry Park
211 W. Highland Dr., Seattle, WA 98119
The charming Kerry Park is nestled on one of the highest hills in the Queen Anne neighborhood. Although small, this public park offers spectacular views of Seattle’s skyline, Mount Rainier and Elliott Bay. It is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike for sunset viewing. The large sculpture pieces make suitable framing too.
– Gas Works Park
2101 N. Northlake Way, Seattle, WA 98103
Established in 1975 at the site of a former Seattle Gas Light Company, Gas Works Park offers beautiful views of the city and an awesome spot to fly kites – if you’re into that sort of thing. Many original structures, including the iconic gasification towers, remain intact. You would think that these structures would be unsightly, but they actually add a sort of “steampunk” aesthetic to the park.
According to Seattle.gov, although beautiful, access to Lake Union if forbidden as the lake sediment contains hazardous substances, so no swimming or fishing is allowed here. However, the park does offers a sweet play area.
Gas Works is easily accessible from the Burke Gilman trail and is a great pit stop for bicyclists riding the 18-mile bike trail.
– Green Lake Park
7201 E. Green Lake Dr. N., Seattle, WA 98115
Seattle’s Green Lake Park is a favorite destination among the locals due to its 2.8-mile walking/biking loop, swimming area, wading pool, access to local coffee shops and restaurants, green grass and cool shady spots. The paved trail is split with two lanes – one for walkers and runners and the other for bicyclists and the water is great for boating, swimming or just relaxing watching the ducks.
Green Lake is also home to the Seattle Public Theater offering about four play performances a year.
– Olympic Sculpture Park
2901 Western Ave., Seattle, WA 98121
Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park is an outdoor, urban art museum that spreads out over nine acres on Seattle’s waterfront. Just follow the gravel pathway to find some 20 larger-than-life sculptures to ooh and ahh over. Or in some cases, scratch your head. But still…