For those who haven’t spent much time in Seattle, it may be easy to associate the city with rainy weather, high-priced coffee and the early 90s grunge movement. But for anyone in the know, Seattle has so much more to offer than Starbucks and cloudy skies. A region that started as a logging and shipping hub has steadily transformed into a center for technology and Internet empires, thanks to companies like Microsoft and Amazon.
Seattle holds the title of the largest city in the state of Washington and it is also one of the fastest growing major cities in the United States, as of 2015. Once you visit, it won’t be hard to see why. Seattle honors its history and local surroundings by combining the natural splendor of the Pacific Northwest with a cool, hip urban metropolis. With the seemingly endless dining options, stimulating sightseeing opportunities and exhilarating outdoor activities, it won’t take long for you to fall in love with this vibrant city.
MUST-SEE SITES. Seattle is the ideal place for anyone who appreciates the excitement of a dynamic metropolitan area, paired with the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. The two settings blend seamlessly to create a unique destination with plenty of sightseeing options to engage every visitor.
Your first stop should be Pike Place Market, Seattle’s most iconic attraction. Open year-round, Pike Place Market is one of the oldest continuously operating farmers markets in the country and stretches across nine acres, with around 500 shops, restaurants and vendor stalls. Be sure to make a stop at the Fish Market while you’re there to watch the fish mongers toss orders to the clerks at the counter.
Coffee lovers can also visit the original Starbucks and purchase exclusive Pike Place Market Starbucks merchandise that is only available at this location. Prepare for a wait to get your caffeine fix, though. Lines stretch out the door by mid-morning. Set aside plenty of time to visit the various vendors, listen to local buskers along the cobblestone streets, and pose for a photo under the iconic neon Pike Place sign or next to the market mascot Rachel the Pig, a 550-pound bronze piggy bank. If you’d like some additional guidance, you can also take a tour of the market and learn some fascinating history along the way.
For a different historical experience, visitors should travel to Pioneer Square, known as Seattle’s original downtown. This area was originally the city’s main port and lumber center, before being destroyed in a fire in 1889. Today, the area is known for beautiful neoclassical buildings and Renaissance Revival architecture, and some of the best downtown eateries. If you’re interested in learning even more about this notable district, you can embark on an underground city tour, which will take you through a network of narrow passages and basements beneath the bustling city streets above.
If you’re looking for a bird’s-eye view of the city, be sure to stop at one of Seattle’s newest attractions, the Seattle Great Wheel. This Ferris Wheel sits 175 feet above Pier 57 and has fully enclosed, climate-controlled gondolas which allow for year-round riding. You will be able to take advantage of breathtaking, expansive views of the skyline, Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. If you want to travel even higher into the sky, the Space Needle is an obvious must-see. Seattle’s most well-known structure provides visitors with views of Mt. Rainier, Puget Sound, and the Olympic and Cascade Mountains.
EXPERIENCE THE FLAVORS. When visiting the Pacific Northwest, it only makes sense to sample some fresh seafood. Head over to The Walrus and the Carpenter, a low-key neighborhood oyster bar that is popular with locals and consistently makes various “Best of Seattle” lists. The sleek white marble countertops, understated design elements and casual atmosphere complement the classic menu options.
The restaurant offers several different types of fresh oysters, sourced from locations throughout Washington, British Columbia and Alaska. The Walrus and the Carpenter also offers up steamed clams, grilled octopus, scallops, and an extensive drink menu, featuring inventive cocktails, locally brewed beers and a large selection of wines to wash it all down. Delancey, another popular hot spot, specializes in simple wood-fired pizzas with a focus on sourcing their ingredients from local producers. Try one of their specialty pizzas or select your own seasonal toppings, and be sure to complete your meal with one of their famous salted chocolate chip cookies.
Matt’s in the Market provides diners an authentic Seattle experience. Overlooking the famous Pike Place Market sign, the quaint restaurant boasts expansive windows offering great views of the market below and features a menu inspired by its iconic location. During lunch hours, start with some homemade chips and dip or deviled eggs, and cap it off with a plate of steamed mussels and clams. In the evenings, choose between some of the freshest local seafood available.
Breakfast and brunch enthusiasts will want to make a stop at The Wandering Goose. Known for its fluffy homemade biscuits, diners can choose between various biscuit sandwiches piled high with creative toppings. Try the Big Trouble, topped with peanut butter, banana, honey, and bacon (if you can handle it), or the Sawmill, consisting of fried chicken, sawmill gravy and cheese.
Anyone with a sweet tooth should be sure to visit one of several Molly Moon’s locations throughout the city. This charming local ice cream chain prides itself on using ingredients almost exclusively from the Pacific Northwest and creates unique flavor combinations like honey lavender and balsamic strawberry, while also incorporating new flavors that change with the seasons.
TAKE IN THE NIGHTLIFE. For night owls, it will be a relief to know that the fun doesn’t have to stop when the sun goes down. Seattle is home to plenty of cocktail lounges, wine bars and breweries. As with many of the city’s restaurants, Seattle bars and cocktail lounges serve up a heavy dose of local pride with their spirits.
Beer enthusiasts should head over to Fremont Brewing, voted the “Best Local Brewery” in Seattle Weekly’s 2015 reader poll. The family-owned craft brewery opened its doors in 2009 and offers an impressive selection of award-winning year-round and seasonal beers.
For the best selection of local liquor, make a stop at Sun Liquor Lounge, where you can indulge in a flight of daiquiris or sample one of their many innovative cocktails. Sun Liquor is so serious about mixology, they even built a distillery to produce their own line of spirits and bitters. They also offer tours and open their bottle shop and tasting room to visitors.
If you’re still craving more cocktails, Canon is a can’t-miss stop. This classic cocktail bar won the title of “Best Cocktail Bar” in 2015 and has been ranked as one of the world’s best bars. Boasting the western hemisphere’s largest spirit collection, Canon doesn’t mess around when it comes to their mixed drinks. The sheer number of bottles lining every wall and stretching up to the ceiling is remarkable in its own right. The cocktail list is extensive, to say the least, and Canon also offers a vast wine and beer selection, along with cocktail flights and a menu featuring a wide array of small plates.
VENTURE OUTDOORS. It would be a shame to visit Seattle and not take advantage of the great outdoors. To get a true feel for the city’s outdoor life, rent a kayak or a stand-up paddle boat and take a trip around Lake Union, located right in the middle of the city. Share the lake with the seaplanes that take off in the water and the houseboats that line the shores. You can also participate in guided tours, including sunset and full moon paddles.
For a different view of the city, be sure to take advantage of the Washington State Ferry system, which is the largest in the United States. After exploring the shops and restaurants along the Waterfront neighborhood, hop on a ferry and travel out onto Elliott Bay. Ferries travel to and from the Olympic Peninsula and Bainbridge Island, and both routes offer striking views of the skyline.
Visitors who prefer to stay on dry land may want to opt for a scenic bike tour. Head to the South Lake Union neighborhood and travel down quaint streets and recreational trails that provide expansive views of the scenic lake and feature interpretive signs that celebrate Seattle’s rich history.
If you have time to take a detour outside of the city, Mount Rainier National Park is the perfect day-trip destination. Mount Rainier stands over 14,000 feet tall and is actually an active volcano. Visitors can become fully immersed in the striking natural environment by taking a train ride, going on a hike, checking in at a vistor’s center or enjoying a leisurely meal at a quaint mountain inn.
SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE. Whether you’re a foodie, a history buff, an outdoor enthusiast or just someone who enjoys a good drink in a lively atmosphere, you’re sure to find something to pique your interest in Seattle. So eat, drink, explore and enjoy the natural beauty of this truly unique Pacific Northwest paradise.
The author is a Cleveland, Ohio-based PCT contributor.