Earlier this month, I had the pleasure of spending five whole days in Seattle.
Super exciting as I’ve never spent more than 24 – 48 hours here. Seattle is only a couple of hours away from my homecity via plane, and since I love taking advantage of long weekends, this was the chance to really get to know the city.
So what’s this Pacific Northwest city all about? In a nutshell, it’s known as the emerald city, rain city or jet city and you may have heard that it’s the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix, Starbucks, Boeing, Microsoft and Amazon.
Aside from the big name attractions (Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, and the Seattle Premium Outlet Mall–about 45 minutes north in Talulip, WA), there are actually some pretty interesting and unique things to do in Seattle.
On a local level, I discovered there is so much more to this city than I initially thought there was.
In some ways, Seattle is like Vancouver but with a few differences–Seattle is clean, but maybe a tad bit grungier. Downtown Seattle is definitely a mix of classy high rises and office buildings but with poverty-stricken areas scattered throughout.
I may be biased since I consider Vancouver my second/third home, but Seattle feels like Vancouver’s second cousin–they’re related and from the same family (in this case the same area), but they feel totally different when it comes to the people and the overall city vibe.
Anyways, if you’re simply looking for a nice long weekend getaway, Seattle has a lot to offer. The culture here is rich with music, art, sports and food, and the weather is usually pretty mild.
So lets break it down–on your next visit, sure the big attractions are worth seeing, but here are a few unique things to do in Seattle too:
1. Explore Capitol Hill
I completely fell in love with this neighbourhood. There are so many funky cafes, shops and stores to check out especially along Pike and Pine street. Every block offers something different and you definitely won’t go hungry.
It’s away from the bustle of downtown, and it’s LGBTQ friendly with a trendy and hip vibe. You really feel like part of the community strolling through the streets, and it’s a great place to find some of the best places to eat.
2. Visit Uwajimaya Village & Kinokuniya Bookstore
The village and bookstore is located in the International District where you can either grab something to eat or shop for Asian goods. Kinokuniya is one of the largest bookstore chains in Japan and there are now many locations around the world (none in Canada yet unfortunately). You’ll find an assortment of goodies here from English books, anime, plushies and toys to Asian texts/magazines, pens or stationary and plenty more. If you’re looking to get your Japanese fix, this is the place.
3. Go on the Seattle Underground Tour
I’m always skeptical about tours but this one caught my eye as I was browsing a brochure shelf. It wasn’t something I absolutely had to do in Seattle, but after wandering through Pioneer Square and coming across Doc Maynard’s Public House (the starting point of the tour) I thought, what the heck? Let’s do it.
So for about $20 per person, a guide will take you on a 75-minute underground tour of lies below Seattle’s streets. While the beginning of the tour is kinda cheesy, it was interesting learning more about Seattle’s history and why there used to be this whole other world below street level.
4. Find the Post Alley gum wall in Pike Place
Some people may find this place disgusting but to me, as long as it smells alright and seems interesting, I’m all for checking out obscure and weird places like the Post Alley gum wall. It’s neat because the brick wall of the Market Theater box office (located in the alley) is almost completely covered by chewing gum.
People even design and turn their gum into artwork all along the wall. How can you find this place? It’s a bit tucked away from the rest of Pike Place but if you walk down Union Street to the very end where there’s a set of stairs, go down those stairs and to your right you’ll see the sign for Post Alley.
5. Relax at Volunteer Park
I noticed downtown Seattle doesn’t have a lot of green space, one big difference compared to Vancouver. But up in Capitol Hill, there’s a giant park with plenty of space to chill out on a blanket or two. There’s also an art museum, conservatory, wading pool and a reservoir at this park.
Climb the old water tower for a free view of downtown Seattle. There are also display panels on the walls where you can read more about how the park came to be. During the summer there are often outdoor concerts or theatre performances in the park so be sure to catch one if you can!
6. Check out the Seattle Asian Art Museum (if possible on Free First Thursdays)
So this is the Asian art museum in Volunteer Park, which is affiliated with the Seattle Art Museum located downtown. It was a complete coincidence, but I was here on the first Thursday of the month, which means free admission for everyone.
Check the SAM website for more info about free days as I believe the second Thursday of the month is free in the evening. Expect to spend at least an hour here or more, especially if a particular exhibition catches your attention like Chiho Aoshima’s did for me.
7. Find Bruce Lee’s grave
Adjacent to Volunteer Park is Lake View Cemetary, the final resting place of martial arts legend Bruce Lee and his son, Brandon Lee. This is a first for me as who goes and visits celebrity grave sites?
Well, if you’re a fan of Mr. Lee or enjoy the slightly off the beaten path adventures, then you’ll want to go and find his headstone and pay a little respect.
It can be tricky to find when there’s no people around–and you definitely don’t want to walk in on someone else’s funeral–but to find the grave, walk straight up the hill until you reach the road again. Look for a flag pole and the “Logan” headstone (like in the photo above), then on the other side of the road you should be able to see the Lee headstones–there will be a stone bench and some bushes also surrounding and marking the area.
8. Visit the Bill & Melinda Gates’ Foundation Visitor Center
Get a feel for what the Microsoft mastermind and his wife do outside of the tech world. The visitor center is gorgeous and finely displays the work Bill and Melinda do on a global level. If you’re near the Space Needle or plan on being in this area, make a stop here as it’s just across the street from the EMP museum. Admission is free and you’ll find some interactive elements the younger kids can play with.
9. Explore the EMP Museum
Formerly known as the Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame (EMPISFM), this museum has an impressive collection of interactive exhibitions including rock music, sci-fi, indie games, horror and fantasy, pop culture and more. Founded by Microsoft’s co-founder, Paul Allen, the EMP Museum is conveniently located near the Space Needle and you can easily spend all afternoon here.
10. Check out the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room
If you think this is just an ordinary Starbucks, think again. As soon as you walk in, you’ll instantly realize this place is special. The roastery here is one-of-a-kind as this is where small batches of rare and precious beans are roasted become part of the Starbucks Reserve family.
This means that these beans are only available at select stores and for a limited amount of time. You can walk around and see the roasting machines, or enjoy a lovely lunch at the adjoining Serious Pie restaurant. You’ll also find high-end coffee and tea merch and the chance to taste a selection of Starbucks coffees.
11. Go on the Boeing Tour
If your an avid or frequent traveller via plane (or even if you’re not), I highly recommend paying a visit to the Boeing factory if only to witness and appreciate the machines that carry us safely over mountains and oceans. It’s about half an hour away from Seattle in Everett, but well worth the trip even if you have to rent a car or book through a tour company.
Since we were carless in Seattle, we booked through Customized Tours for $70 per person and they picked us up at a hotel downtown. If you do have a car though, you can easily drive here without making any reservations and the adult price will be about $20 during peak season. To save a buck or two, reserve in advance if you can.
There’s a lot that goes into putting these massive machines together and the tour gives you a behind-the-scenes look at how these planes are assembled. The facility itself is actually the largest building in the world, and it can fit all of Disneyland with extra room leftover.
12. Watch a Seattle Mariner’s game
Let’s be honest–I’m not a huge fan of baseball. Watching a baseball game is something I wouldn’t normally do at home, but this is my first time watching American baseball and for what it’s worth, it was a nice day and the atmosphere was energetic enough to make things interesting.
Plus, the garlic fries for $7 are intense. It’s probably the biggest serving of fries I’ve ever had–order one of these and it will definitely keep you occupied in case the game doesn’t.
13. Visit the Elliott Bay Book
I heard about this place through word of mouth and it just so happened it was also in the Capitol Hill area–see how great this community is? Again, if you’re looking for some places to grab a bite to eat, check out my post on where you need to eat in Seattle, which mentions a lot of places in this area.
Anyways, the bookstore is in this lofty building that feels like a giant cabin. It’s way bigger on the inside with cedar bookshelves and a cozy cafe tucked away in the far back corner. It’s been around since the 70’s and has over 150,000 titles.
14. Play board games at the Raygun Lounge
This was one of the places we saw while walking back to our B&B in Capitol Hill. On the outside, it looks like a place for the nerds and geeks of the gaming world, but you don’t have to know a thing about games to check this place out. You can play board games here for free if you buy a drink or order some food.
If you’re looking to kill some time in the late afternoon, buy a drink and try out a game you’ve never heard of before. Beware: it may get busy in the evenings and you may feel intimidated to come here as that’s when the real gamers come out to play and have tournaments etc. But I’m sure the people are friendly enough that they could teach you a thing or two about a particular game.
15. Check out the Nordstrom Rack
There aren’t very many discount stores in downtown Seattle which is why most people head to the outlet mall, but if you’re looking to do some shopping downtown the Nordstrom Rack has a ton of discounted designer bags, shoes and clothes. Head to the flagship Nordstrom downtown and the Nordstrom Rack is across the street at Westlake Centre.
16. Visit the Daiso at Westlake Center
In Japan, Daiso is a popular franchise of 100-yen shops. Basically it’s like a dollar store selling Japanese snacks and goods. After getting off the monorail at Westlake Center, there’s a Daiso hidden in the corner just off the escalator on the second level.
17. Watch a movie at Pacific Place Mall
Hit up all the museums? Shopped out? Not in the mood for food? Well, something I’ve come to enjoy while travelling is seeing a movie in another city or country. Yes, it’s something you can do right at home, but the experience of seeing a movie in a different place is actually rather interesting.
The food you’ll find is always slightly different, and the layout of the movie theatres are also unique. We watched Mission: Impossible Rouge Nation here and it was a nice way to rest our legs for a bit after a day of non-stop walking and exploring.
18. Eat at the Crab Pot
There are some places worth going to over and over again, and the Crab Pot in Seattle is a must for me. It may not qualify as unique as I’m sure a lot of visitors have heard of this place, but it’s fun to hammer your way through crab shells, wear a bib, and get your hands messy eating the bucket of seafood that gets thrown onto your table. While you can order dishes on plates, the signature thing to do here is order a seafeast, sit back, and enjoy. The Crab Pot is located at Miners Landing next to the ferris wheel.
Other things I would’ve liked to have done but didn’t get a chance to do:
- Rent a bike and explore the streets of Seattle along the seaside.
- Wander around Georgetown–Seattle’s oldest neighbourhood.
- Spend a day at Ballard starting with the Ballard Sunday Farmers Market and checking out the locks.
- Find the Fremont Troll lurking under the George Washington Memorial Bridge aka the Aurora Bridge.
What other unique things have you done in Seattle?