Seattle’s more than phallic landmarks and rainy days. Don your slicker and soak in the scenery: framed by Mount Rainier and the Puget Sound, this rapidly-growing tech hub’s a paradise for outdoorsy types, music lovers, and hopbeasts alike.
One of the last stops in Americas Westward expansion, Seattle is precocious for such a young city. The population is forward-thinking and inclusive, with liberal ideas and a zest for trying things a different way. If it's raining, Seattleites go for a hike, if it's summer, they'll throw a flannel on. The last decade has seen the resident population explode and there's no end in sight — so something must be right. "Come as you are" to this this coffee-drinking, raincoat-wearing, grunge-loving, whale of a city.
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Ask a local and they will tell you there are two seasons in the Pacific Northwest: summer, and the rest of the year. As one of the five rainiest major cities in the US, Seattle is cloudy or partly cloudy 294 days out of the year. Summer is an exception. Between May and September, bright skies and cool breezes abound, perfect for strolling city streets or hitting the hiking trails. The rainy season starts in October and temperatures are generally mild during the day (mid-60s) but can dip into the low-40s in the evening. Of course it's pretty wet. Seattleites have as many different words for rain as eskimos do for snow (mizzle, drizzle, mist, drench). Make sure you prepare properly by wearing layers. An umbrella might out you for a tourist, but pull on a warm Filson beanie and you should be snug as a bug.
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It takes effort to live here in the winter, but visiting is not so bad; snows are mild and infrequent, but that rain doesn't quit. Pack your duck boots and take advantage of better hotel rates and shorter lines. Ultimately, the best time to visit is the spring; temperatures can climb into the high 50s but lingering rains hold summer crowds at bay. It is also prime blooming season: people flock to the University of Washington to witness the cherry blossom trees and to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival in March and April respectively.
Seattle is an easy place to visit without a car. The public transportation system is extensive and even residents have been ditching their automobiles. Over the last decade Seattle has experienced the biggest drop in car ownership of all 50 states, while public transit ridership surge. It helps that the footprint of the metropolitan area is relatively small and most popular neighborhoods are walkable and clustered together.
If you are going car free, the Link light rail is a great option to get around. It cuts north-south through the city from 5am to 1am, Monday through Friday and 6am to12am Sundays and holidays. Fares depend on how far you need to go but are generally low (between $2.25 and $3.25). Over 200 bus lines cover the city and surrounding areas, for $2.75 per ride and all are equipped with bike mounts. All bus lines operate on different schedules; some can run as early as 5am, while others lines have night owl service available. Schedules are available and updated daily for all bus lines.
In downtown, streetcars run Monday through Saturday from 5am to 1am with limited service on Sundays and holidays. Fares are $2.25 per ride or $4.50 for a day pass. Mostly just for fun a Monorail cuts east-west through the center of Downtown for $3 (kids 5 and under ride free). Check King County Metro for fare payment information as there are a variety of ways to pay. Buses accept exact change on board but for most for modes of transit, you will want an ORCA card. They can be loaded with a cash value or unlimited rides for 7- and 30-day periods.
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Dockless public eBikes and scooters are becoming hugely popular as Seattle looks to alleviate its growing citizenry's transportation concerns. Bike shares from Lime and JUMP are available throughout the city. Download the company apps and ride for as little as $0.25 per minute; prices vary depending on the company and unlocking fees, (Lime, $1) may apply. You can pick up, drop off, and ride the bikes on any street or sidewalk (except where it is expressly prohibited) but be careful, helmet laws are particularly stringent here.
For the large number of waterways that cut through the city, Seattle also has a large ferry and water taxi system in place. Schedules vary seasonally (especially the taxis) so check for arrival and departure times before you head out, but generally ferries run seven days a week from 5 or 6am to between 9pm and 2:30am. Water taxis run weekdays only and operate anywhere from 5 and 7am to 8 or 9pm. Tickets cost between $4 and $8 make it a cheap and easy way to cover a lot of ground while taking in impressive city views.
If you plan on hitting the parks or mountains, cars are your best (and sometimes only) option for getting outside the city. Rental agencies are available at the airport and throughout the city proper. Keep in mind rush hour is notoriously hectic, street parking is limited, and garages are expensive in the denser shopping districts. Taxi cabs are also an option (flat rate starts at $2.60) as well as major ride hailing services like Uber and Lyft. As always, Uber/Lyft provide a fixed price depending on distance and demand.
US dollars is the official currency. Major credit cards are accepted almost everywhere but it's not a bad idea to keep some bills on hand for small transactions or picking up the tab at the rare cash-only establishment. With the high concentration of tech startups, Seattle is often used for beta testing cashless apps; Bitcoin is accepted at an above average number of establishments.
Seattle's pop culture hit the spotlight in the 1990s when Michael Jackson was deposed on the billboard charts by local band Nirvana. And while the scene had percolated in colleges and local clubs for years, Nirvana cemented grunge music as a genre and put Seattle on the map. They were followed into the mainstream by bands like Mudhoney, Soundgarden and Pearl Jam, who played slow, gritty, low-fi anthems rejecting conformity. Today, fans still flock to the area to visit sites considered sacred to the growth of the genre —whether they've been bulldozed or not.
For the uninitiated, MoPOP is a great place for general overview of grunge and the greater music history of Seattle. Original artifacts, photographs, and interactive displays celebrate the bands and the issues that emerged from the scene.
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From the gold rush of the 1800s to the World's Fair in 1962 (for which the iconic Space Needle was built), Seattle has always had its eyes on the future. Today is no different: Big Tech has invested heavily in the area and the city is now considered a legitimate rival of Silicon Valley. Tech giant Amazon is headquartered here and has significantly invested in housing and infrastructure to attract top talent for its workforce. Companies including Zillow, Redfin, and Rover also call the city home. It's safe to say that it's a point of pride that Microsoft founder Bill Gates was born here (his company is headquartered in nearby suburb Redmond). While many of the offices of these companies are private, visitors interested in exploring the impact of technology on our world can do so at the interactive Living Computers: Museums + Labs in SoDo.
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Like any port city, cultures from all over the world have converged in Seattle. Immigrants from Japan, Hawaii, and China have long-established communities here, bringing with them diverse culinary tastes and techniques. You can see this in places like Ma'ono, a fusion restaurant specializing in Korean-Hawaiian-Southern food (trust us, it works).Not only that, but Seattle does a magnificent job of representing all aspects of the local food, wether your'e looking for craft breweries, internationally renowned eateries, or innovative vegan surf and turf.
More so than any single cultural group however, the most profound impact on local food offerings has come from the sea. Seattle's proximity to the Pacific Ocean means fish and shellfish are available in abundance. Depending on the season, Pacific oysters, Dungeness crab, Penn Cove mussels, and salmon are on menus all over, served up every way from fresh to fried. Sample the freshest fare at local institutions like the oyster bar at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel Downtown or the 100 year old Maneki in the International District. If you prefer your seafood well done, Emerald City Fish & Chips is consistently one of the city's best lunches. For great seafood and cocktails hit Westward, a great happy hour with a nautical theme or The Walrus and the Carpenter up in Ballard.
If you can't make up your mind, start with historic Pike Place Market. Seattle's prime attraction is in fact a celebration of food, and is home to a farmers market that has been in continuous operation since 1907. Meat, produce, crafts, and live entertainment are taken in daily by swarms of locals and tourists alike. Many of the local restaurants procure their seafood from this celebrated open air fish market. The transaction is a show in itself: vendors are known for wrapping then tossing fish at buyers.
Seattle bars are tailor-made for popping in for a drink between downpours. The city loves a good speakeasy, with several hidden spots located in the downtown area (Alibi Room, Knee-High Stocking Co) and some off the beaten path (The Back Door). But dive bar culture is king in the alt-rock nation. Check out Twilight Exit or Dottie's Double Wide for some 1970s kitsch and strong drinks. Order a Rainier to blend in with the locals. Cheap and reliable, Rainier — much like it's mountain namesake — casts a long shadow over the competition. But don't worry, beer snobs, solid local breweries are popping up as well. Stoup Brewing and Fremont Brewing are among the more than 60 new brewers that have entered the competitive landscape in recent years.
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It would be a disservice not to single out the coffee culture here. Home to Starbucks and Seattle's Best as well as countless independent cafes, Seattle is a leader in java lifestyle and aesthetic in the United States. Fans of Starbucks should undoubtedly visit the brands first location here. It is still in operation one block from where it opened in 1971.
If you've already been to a Starbucks and want to try something different check out Cafe Presse in First Hill, Kurt Farm Shop in Pike, Milstead & Co. in Fremont or Anchored Ship in Ballard. The list goes on and on, you might just want to try your luck and wander into one. Chances are it will not disappoint.
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Rows of cute shops and tempting wares are tucked away in almost every neighborhood in Seattle. The dress code here is iconic (flannels, cardigans, knit beanies) and you may find yourself tempted to incorporate a few rugged, Filson pieces into your wardrobe. Up north, the Fremont and Ballard neighborhoods offer more eclectic options. The bohemian-chic crowds visit Burnt Sugar in Fremont for funky upmarket finds, while actual hippies prefer the Fremont Vintage Mall for cool second hand styles. Lucca Great Finds in Ballard is a warm, wooded gift shop so cool you might want to move in.
Downtown, Pike Place, Pioneer Square, and First Hill are glittery shopping meccas. If you have cash to spare, luxury brands are clustered together with art galleries and home good stores. The shops trending hardest lately are in Capitol Hill though. As Seattle's de facto cool neighborhood, Capitol Hill is packed with merchants you've been hearing about on Instagram. Bookstores, home goods, and clothing boutiques in this area are sure to soothe all your FOMO worries.
Visiting art enthusiasts will not want to miss the impressive Seattle Art Museum in Downtown. A work of art in itself, the dynamic limestone building frequently rotates prominent international exhibitions alongside a collection of modern and classic art. The museum counts nearby Olympic Sculpture Park among its gallery spaces and as such, boasts an impressive collection of modern sculptural work as well. At the foot of the Space Needle lies the singularly unique Chihuly Garden and Glass, an imaginative display of towering blown glass flowers by local artist Dave Chihuly. At dusk the light hits the colorful oversized sculptures and puts on a display that gives Fourth of July fireworks a run for its money. On the first Thursday of every month, Seattleites head to Pioneer Square for the city's Art Walk, during which local galleries stay open late to show new artists' works.
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High up on the list of why locals love living here is Seattle's proximity to the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest. The generally mild climate makes spending time outdoors worthwhile in any season. In summer, find a trail to hike in the Cascade or Olympic Mountain chains where crystal lakes and ancient evergreen forests shimmer. Mass whale migrations occur in Puget Sound during the fall and winter months, with many tour companies offering opportunities to watch from boats, planes, and strategic points along the shore. The city park system is one of the most colorful in the country as well. Coming in at 500 acres, the largest is Discovery Park, tucked right on the Sound. It contains 11 miles of hiking trails along beaches, woods, and a historic lighthouse. Washington Park is smaller but magical azalea blooms in spring and the Japanese Garden's fall colors are not to be missed.
Seattle has certainly matured since its grunge music heydays but the city can still wail. Head to Belltown to catch a set at The Crocodile, where many a great grunge bands rocked out in the 1990s. Downtown, Re-bar and Showbox, still know how to put on a show. And in Capitol Hill, Neumos (formerly Mo's) consistently attracts innovative musical talent to its stage. If you've outgrown loud music, a few nostalgic locals have begun offering Grunge Tours of the area. Sights visited include former homes, including Kurt Cobain's final residence, recording studios, and public art dedicated to the city's musical heritage.
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Stay in Ballard or Queen Anne if you're looking for quieter neighborhoods with good walkability. At night, head Downtown for a lively theater scene. Many Broadway stars cut their teeth at the Moore, Paramount, and 5th Avenue Theaters. And inside Benaroya Hall, the Seattle Symphony plays to 500,000 people annually. A wealth of restaurants in the area are available for the pre- and post-theater crowds, or you can head to Queen Anne for Canlis, the crown jewel of Seattle's fine dining establishments. During the day take advantage of one of the extensive ferry and water taxi systems. Though also used as commuter lines, the boats offer great city views and fresh breezes during a warm, summer day. Routes to quaint residential communities on Bainbridge Island and Vashon allow for exploration of a quieter nature as well.
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Seattle has a great zoo and science center the entire family can enjoy. But take the kids to Ballard's Chittenden Locks for wonders you won't find anywhere else. There you can watch the tugboats usher sea traffic back and forth from the Puget Sound to the freshwater Lakes Washington and Union. For 100 years, this technological marvel has maintained the delicate ecosystems of the adjacent bodies of water while allowing millions of commercial traffic and recreational boats to pass through. Additionally, fish ladders — modular above-ground waterways — have been built allowing salmon migrations to carry on uninterrupted; viewing windows have been installed along the way. Catch migrating salmon year-round or come during late summer when millions travel to spawn.
For a rest, hit the Seattle Great Wheel Downtown. Rising almost 200 feet in the air, this futuristic Ferris wheel offers day or night views of the city and its surroundings. One ticket buys three trips around the wheel which can last between 15 to 20 minutes. VIP cabins can be purchased with leather bucket seats and a glass bottom floor.
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If you like your history quirky, Seattle has got you covered. Museums here dedicated to the Gold Rush and pinball machines are among the most popular. MoPOP — in addition to music artifacts — boasts an extensive collection of sci-fi, fantasy, and comic book memorabilia. Of course if you are looking for a more contemplative experience, Seattle's Northwest African Art and Wing Luke Museums offer deep dives into less represented cultural landscapes. Do not miss the Seattle Underground tour. After a devastating accidental fire burned Seattle to the ground in 1889, the city rebuilt itself 22 feet atop its own ashes. Tours wind through the safer underground remains of the original city and most hit a few places to eat along the way.
It came as no surprise to locals when the city was designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2017. Seattle loves bookstores and is home to several of some acclaim. Not to mention many of them are located in the heart of the busiest parts of the city. Capitol Hill is home to the famed Elliot Bay Book Co. (a massive independent retailer which has received a visit from the Obamas); Twice Sold Tales, which specializes in used books and resident cats; and also Ada's Technical Books where the books that line the shelves are specifically "for geeks." Pioneer Square hides secret specialty bookshop Peter Miller Architecture and Design Books, where you might find a signed first addition by your favorite author. If you don't feel like buying, the Central Public Library is an 11-story glass and steel marvel built directly in Downtown.
Ready to learn a few of Seattle’s secrets? Step inside one of these hidden gems and enjoy the craft cocktails and local cuisine you didn’t know you needed.
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