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The largest city in the Pacific Northwest boasts plenty of things to see and do. The “Emerald City” as it’s sometimes referred to thanks to the wealth of greenery that surrounds it, is somewhat sprawling but also easy to get around. It hosts a walkable waterfront and a myriad of attractions that make it easy to fill an itinerary for a weekend, week or even longer visit.
You can’t visit Seattle without going to Pike Place Market. One of the city’s most iconic destinations, it attracts visitors and locals alike. While it offers lots of fresh produce, flowers and seafood, you’ll find a whole lot more than your usual market, with vendors selling all sorts of goods from vintage items to handcrafted works of art and much more. There’s almost always some kind of entertainment to take in, in addition to some great people watching. Don’t miss the fishmongers who toss the fresh catch of the day back-and-forth while cracking jokes with the audience, as well as the multiple street performers, many of whom are rather skilled, while others look to entertain through more unusual means, like the cat costume-wearing accordion player.
The Great Wheel is a fairly new addition to the downtown waterfront, located at Pier 57. With an overall height of 175 feet, it offers some of the best views around as you soar high above the city, with everything from the surrounding mountains the sparkling waters of the Puget Sound coming into view. A spin late at night may be the best time of all, with the dazzling city lights, minus the crowds, and you just might be able to hop in one of the enclosed gondolas and enjoy it all to yourself.
The city’s famous Space Needle features an observation deck that offers a 360-degree panoramic view of the city from 520 feet above ground. You’ll be able to see the dramatic mountains from the Cascades to the Olympics, including Mount Rainier on a clear, day, the bustling waterfront on Elliott Bay and more. While the admission just to go up is a bit steep, by making reservations at its revolving Sky City Restaurant, you can go for free, and enjoy a delicious meal with the menu focused on Pacific Northwest cuisine.
The Seattle Aquarium is located on the waterfront at Pier 59, providing the opportunity to see all kinds of creatures, with a focus on those that live in the Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean. Check out the adorable sea otters and the giant Pacific octopus, and peek into the tide pools where you can even touch the sea anemones and the starfish. The museum also hosts interactive exhibits focused on topics like ocean science and the region’s resident orca whales, as well as a gift shop and cafe.
If you’d like to go sailing but think it’s out of your budget, if you’re in Seattle on a Sunday you can go for free at the Center for Wooden Boats on Lake Union. You’ll head out onto the water with volunteer skippers and crew on one of a variety of vessels: spirit boats, schooners, electric boats, steamboats and occasionally yachts, and it doesn’t cost a thing. It’s been a Seattle tradition for over 25 years, year-round, rain or shine, with sign-ups starting at 10 a.m. on Sunday. Just be sure to arrive early, especially if the sun is out, or you’re here on a holiday weekend.
Pioneer Square was Seattle’s original downtown area. Nearly 40 years after it was first settled in the mid-1800s, a fire destroyed much of the area, including the waterfront, leaving the city to rebuild on top of the ruins. Today, the labyrinth of streets, alleys and buildings that still lie underneath can be explored by taking an underground tour. There are multiple options, like Bill Speidel’s which provide a fascinating glimpse of the city’s past, including its old storefronts, while hearing the riveting tales of Seattle’s early pioneers and their exploits. Ghost tours will take you into its reportedly haunted underbelly after dark.
With all the water here, you’ll find practically an endless number of options for cruising the waters of Elliott Bay. There are scenic cruises, whale watching excursions, boat tours of the Puget Sound, dinner cruises, trips to Victoria on Vancouver Island in British Columbia and more. One of the most popular is Argosy Cruises’ short scenery tours that leave from Pier 56 on the downtown waterfront. Some explore immediate harbor area, while others head to Lake Union or to Tillicum Village on Blake Island, which not only includes the scenic cruise to the island, but a traditional dinner and entertainment.
Seattle hosts the world’s largest houseboat community outside of Asia, with approximately 500 floating around the Puget Sound. It’s fun just to view them with their unique architectural designs that often include vibrant colors, quirky details and lavish gardens, along with some really cool interior elements. While docks are all on private property, most of the year you’ll have to look at them from afar, unless you happen to know one of the owners. If you visit in September, you may be able to tour them, with a dozen or so opened up to the public as part of a fundraiser by the Floating Homes Association. Another option is to rent a canoe or kayak for an up-close view from the water.
Theo Chocolate, the very first fair trade and organic bean-to-bar chocolate factory in North America, offers a must-experience tour into the world of chocolate and the company’s incredibly creative flavors. It includes an entertaining story of cocoa and the chance to learn how the cocoa fruit is transformed into chocolate as you walk through the facility, along with tasty samples.