Washington State never ceases to amaze me. Living Seattle, I am never more than an hour away from the beach or from the mountains, city or country. Seattle is the bustling, creative, and eccentric hub of the state, attracting all kinds of people, occupations, music, and interests.
I have lived in Seattle for 5 years, having come here to attend university. I grew up only a few hours to the north in the San Juan Islands, but desired a change of pace. I had never considered myself much of a city girl until I moved here, but I quickly fell in love and felt comfortable calling Seattle my home. Over time, I have become familiar with both the tourist sites and hidden gems. I decided to compile a list of my own favorite things to do in Seattle, in the hope that others will see what I see in this amazing city.
1. Bike riding along the Burke Gilman Trail
The summer before my freshman year of college, I worked by butt off at three jobs and was able to save up to buy my very own bike. I love getting exercise and being outdoors, so I was constantly looking for new routes and trails. The Burke Gilman Trail runs from Ballard, through University District, and ends in Bothell.
It is about 27 miles long, but is perfect for riding your bike from one park or shopping center to another. It is very scenic and well-maintained, so it’s great from just a stroll or exercise. I love to stop at the Fremont Canal and watch the boats, or grab a breakfast sandwich at Solsticio Café.
2. People watching at Green Lake
As an introverted artsy-type, there is few things I like more than people-watching and drawing in a public park. In the summer months, Green Lake is a great place to catch some rays, get exercise, or walk a furry friend. There’s also a place to do stand-up paddle boarding (SUP) or rent a rowboat. I like to set up a picnic either alone or with friends and see what people cross my path. It tends to get very busy on sunny days, so on those days I can walk about 20 minutes from my house or take the bus. The lake is also a beautiful scene for drawing, if you are artistically inclined.
And you are only a few blocks away from good food.
3. Tour the University of Washington campus
I must admit by personal bias here, but I believe the University of Washington has one of the most beautiful campuses in the country. More than just the architecture, it houses a whole area of Japanese cherry trees which blossom in the spring, becoming a peaceful place to relax and take pictures. There are many historical buildings and statues, which makes the place seem like more of an outdoor museum than a university.
There is a gorgeous rose garden with stone benches surrounding the UW fountain. On a clear day, the fountain perfectly frames Mount Rainier in the distance. There enough to see on a self-guided tour, so no need to spend any money on this one. But, I am always one to encourage venturing to University Way, where one can find restaurants from the Vietnamese variety to Ethiopian.
4. Bar Crawl in Capitol Hill
By far, Capitol Hill is my favorite area to go out, grab a bite, and get my dance on. This LGBTQIA-friendly district is home to my favorite dance clubs and bars in Seattle. On a Friday night, I like to catch the guest-list at Q Nightclub, a swanky club that booms house music, hosts popular DJs, and even throws in some fire-dancers and performers once in a while. If EDM isn’t your style, make your way to Rhein Haus, a Bavarian-inspired pub with large beer steins and bocce ball. This joint is huge, so feel free to bring all your friends and chow down on some amazing soft pretzels and brats.
For the more something a little more quirky, hit up the Unicorn. The Unicorn has fantastic drinks, such as my personal favorite, “The Cheap Date”. There are arcade games to play, raunchy décor, and popular karaoke nights. And, if it’s your 21st birthday, you get to wear the nearly 2 foot long unicorn horn, which is bedazzled with rhinestones and glitter. This is the place to go to have a wild time.
Finally, I love to end my night at R Place, as it has no cover after 1 am. R Place is a happening gay bar, complete with mainstream hits and go-go dancers (of all genders). The drinks are run-of-the-mill but by the end of your bar crawl, this is the perfect spot to let loose and dance like no one is watching.
5. Kayaking on Lake Union
One of my favorite things about Seattle is its close proximity to water, whether it be Golden Gardens, Alki Beach, or Lake Washington. I love swimming, going for boat rides, or simply looking at the view. With so many options available, Seattle is never lacking of places to go kayaking, and Lake Union is my preferred place to get on the water. For approximately $15 per person, you can rent a kayak for an hour or more, venturing under the Fremont Bridge and down the canal, or to the east around Gasworks Park.
There’s always choice to share a kayak with a friend, but for those of us with a competitive side, it can be even more fun to race along the water full speed. A huge plus is that you get a great panoramic view of the city, including the Space Needle and Queen Anne Hill. Don’t forget to take lots of pictures, but be careful not to drop your camera in the water!
6. Splashing Around in Seattle Center Fountain
Did I mention that I like water? With so many lakes and beaches, it can be hard to choose your ideal swimming spot. If the idea of salt water makes you say “Ew”, perhaps consider venturing to Seattle Center for a day. The International Fountain is one of the many famous sites in Seattle, but it is highly interactive as well. During the summer months, the fountain is in full force, and draws large crowds of tourists and families. Don’t let that deter you though, because once you see it, you will want to jump right it. The fountain plays classic musical hits, choreographing the streams of water with various spouts and blasts.
It is both beautiful to listen to and fun to play in, and can keep kids (and the young at heart) entertained for hours. After a day of splashing in the sun, there are many more sites to see at the Center. This is the home of the famous Space Needle, Experience Music Project (EMP), and Seattle Science Center. All of those activities are surely great, but let me just say that the fountain is completely free!
7. Seattle Underground Tour
Admittedly, I’ve only been on this tour once, but it is one of those “touristy” things that I whole-heartedly support people looking into when they visit Seattle. The tour starts out in a tiny hole-in-the-wall shop in Pioneer Square, making you feel like you are entering a secret society or Prohibition-era speakeasy. The tour continues, over, under, and around the district, as an animated tour guide gives the raunchy, dirty history of Seattle. I’ll try not to offer too many spoilers, but the best part is touring the remnants of Seattle after the great fire- and since Seattle was first built below sea-level, the new city was simply built on top of the ruins.
However, some of the shops still remain, and this offers a spooky, yet nostalgic backdrop to this theatrical tour. I learned a ton, laughed even more, and came away with a deeper understanding of the uniqueness of this great city.
8. Pike Place Market
Most people who venture to visit Seattle are familiar with its famous “Public Market” sign that frames the Pike Place Market downtown. This is the home of the original Starbucks (often crowded, so don’t depend on catching a quick brew here), and the gooey gum wall. As you enter the market, you will see the spot of the infamous fish-throwing, with salmon go flying through the air to be caught it paper, wrapped, and sold. However, aside from these more famous sites, Pike Place Market holds all kinds of oddities, street merchants, and worldly foods. $10 can buy you the most beautiful bouquet of flowers, and there are free samples of delicacies on every corner.
I love going here to just grab a bite and look at the bay. You are also within walking distance of the Westlake Shopping Center to suit all your fashion needs. Although a visit to Pike Place Market seems clichés, you don’t want to miss it!
9. Hike All the Trails!
No matter where you are in Northwest Washington, you are never far away from a trail. Obviously city trails, like the Burke Gilman, are awesome, but sometimes you just want to get into nature, work those calves, and smell some evergreens. So far I have written two blog posts on my experiences hiking near Seattle, but there are so many trails to choose from! Personally, I like getting a little bit of a workout out of my hike, so Lake Serene was a great challenge for me. Of course, there’s no shame in looking for a great view, and there are tons of trails for that as well (try Rattlesnake Ridge or Poo Poo Point).
One of the greatest things people notice about Washington is how green it is, so take advantage of that! We have glorious mountains, beautiful lakes, and breathtaking views. Make it a day trip or make it a weekend, you won’t regret it!
10. Perusing One of the Many Art Museums
In case you couldn’t tell, I’m really into art. I like making it, I like looking at it, I even like destroying it sometimes (to make it into something new). Seattle attracts all kinds of artists, so it’s no wonder that there are many art museums as well as shops to choose from. Every first Thursday of the month, the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is completely free, and most of the other museums have their own deals and free days. The SAM houses mostly classical and contemporary art, and showcases a different prominent artist every couple of months. The building itself is architecturally beautiful, and conveniently located downtown by most of the other famous sites.
My other favorite is the Asian Art Museum, located in Volunteer Park, which is one of the best parks in Seattle. The Asian Art Museum is rich in history, and surrounded by historic buildings, sculptures, and has a great view of Seattle. Volunteer Park also houses a conservatory of plants, from ferns and flowers to trees and cacti. I can easily spend a whole day in a museum, and they make that easy because food is usually close by.
In general, art can be seen in Seattle almost everywhere you turn; in the architecture, the graffiti, and the landscapes. Seattle is a gorgeous city, with so much to see and do.
Please come visit us, we would love to have you!