The ultimate Seattle travel guide, by a local

Note: Some links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase from an affiliate link, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you (thank you!). For more info, check out my disclosure policy.

A trip to Seattle is perfect for anyone who loves amazing food, breathtaking nature, and a laid back, forward thinking mindset.

This travel guide lays out a ton of Seattle travel planning advice – where to stay, what to eat, things to know, and more! As someone who’s lived all over the city, eaten out way too many times, gone on so many road trips, explored all corners of each district, and stayed in a weird number of hotels for someone who actually lived there, my goal is to help you plan the Seattle trip that’s perfect for you!

seattle space needle

Getting around

The cheapest way to get from Seattle-Tacoma Airport to the middle of the city is by catching the lightrail. But if your flight is arriving late at night, you might miss it (you can see its exact schedule/times here), so you can also grab a Lyft or Uber from the airport to where you’re staying (also if you just hate public transportation).

Once you’ve made it, Seattle can be a very walkable city. There are also tons of buses that make it easy to get from one main sight to the other, and the lightrail system is being built up to do the same! To stay up to date on bus arrival times, you can download the free app OneBusAway.

You don’t need to rent a car to travel in Seattle, unless you’d like to leave the city (and you probably don’t want a car in the city- the non-existent parking is expensive, traffic can be terrible, and the roads don’t make sense!). If you miss the bus or get tired of walking, Lyfts and Ubers are everywhere.

Things to know

  • Mid summer to early fall (July-early Oct) is the best time to travel to Seattle. The sun is out, there’s not as much rain, and everyone is happy! September and early October will be less busy with tourists than the other months in this period.
  • They say locals don’t use umbrellas- because even though Seattle has a reputation as a rainy city, it’s usually a light drizzle. Now with climate change bringing heavier rainfalls, I beg to differ. if you don’t mind being a little wet, you can leave your umbrella at home, if you want to pretend you’re a local!
  • The Seattle freeze is real. People aren’t going to be as friendly or as likely to randomly talk to you as with other cities. Don’t be offended, just focus on having fun on your vacation!
  • Even though there is the freeze, people in Seattle are very open and generally nice. You can be whoever you want (unless you’re someone who’s actively taking the rights of other people). If you’re an intellectual, nerdy, or tech-y, you’ll fit right in with the tech boom!

Where to stay

If you want to get to the main sights in the absolute easiest way, stay in Belltown or downtown. Most of the major attractions are easily walkable from here! Here are some great places to stay in these areas:

City Hostel or Green Tortoise Hostel ($): There are only a couple of hostels in Seattle, and these are the two that you can find in these areas! If you’re not into hostels, another budget option could be renting a room in an Airbnb. If you’ve never used Airbnb before, here’s $40 off your first stay.

Best Western Executive Inn ($$): This centrally located hotel is right next to the Seattle Center, which makes accessing sights like the Space Needle, Museum of Pop Culture, and the Chihuly Glass Museum just a few minutes of a walk.

Fairmont Olympic Seattle ($$$): A luxury hotel located downtown and close to attractions like Pike Place Market, the Gum Wall, and the first Starbucks, this is consistently ranked as one of Seattle’s best hotels.

But if you want a more unique trip, or more of a rundown of all the best areas to stay, here’s a more in depth Seattle neighborhood guide. This has all the details on choosing the right neighborhood for you- whether you do want to be in the middle of everything or have a less touristy trip closer to the locals!

Space needle view from Seattle.jpg

The Space Needle view!

What to do

The biggest tourist sights in Seattle are:

The Space Needle. Built for the 1962 worlds fair, this was once the tallest building in the west. It’s distinctive structure, and if you have money, you can book tickets to the top for panoramic views of the city.

Pike Place Market. This funky farmers market is the oldest public market in the US and is full of so many cool wares for sale and so many hidden good food spots! There’s always a street performer, and the fishmongers put on a quick show when people buy a fish too.

The Gum Wall. A literal wall full of literal gum left from visitors years ago till today! Leave your mark with a piece of gum or take a selfie that will be hard to replicate anywhere else. It actually looks really cool and not gross on camera if you turn the saturation up!

The first Starbucks. Also by Pike’s Place Market is the very first Starbucks. This a popular spot to explore for any Starbucks lover who wants to see where it all started, and it’s a fully functioning store you can order from too!

The Chihuly Glass Museum. One of Seattle’s most famous museums is dedicated to the famed glass sculpture Dale Chihuly. His unique, complex, and colorful glass works can be found thought out the city, but the museum is a great way to check them out all at once.

Personally, I think only Pike Place is worth the mad rush of tourists. And what if you want to do more?! For a less touristy trip, from exploring beautiful parks to paddleboarding on the lake, here are some non-touristy things to do in Seattle. For a more comprehensive list, here’s a roundup of some of the coolest things you can do in Seattle.

seattle pinball museum by duluoz catsis licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Day trips

As much as I love Seattle, my favorite thing is actually leaving the city to explore Washington’s gorgeous beauty.

If you have a free day to explore outside the city, here are a few ideas:

  • Visit Mt. Rainier National Park. This is home to Seattle’s iconic volcano and the tallest mountain in Washington state. And don’t think visiting just means summiting a glacial volcano – there are lots of day activities you can check out around the park, from hiking trails at all levels to simply appreciating the beautiful wildflowers.
  • Do like the locals and go on a hike. You’ll need a car to be able to go anywhere, but you can also do hikes in the city’s parks and a couple of trailheads are accessible with public transportation (you can read more about this here). Otherwise, here are a few easy yet beautiful hiking ideas outside of Seattle.
  • Check out the wineries in the nearby city of Woodinville for a fun day trip. There are tons of tasting rooms and wineries in this area! If you aren’t renting a car and don’t want to bus, you can go as part of a tour and they’ll take care of transportation.
  • Take a ferry to a nearby island like Whidbey Island or Bainbridge Island for a slower pace of life. Bainbridge is easier to get to from downtown, but Whidbey is arguably more beautiful and has more activities. Plus, if you prefer not taking the ferry, the drive to Whidbey island is so scenic!
  • Go on a road trip through Washington’s forests and mountains to Leavenworth, a cute Bavarian-like village. This makes a great day trip especially if you’ll be traveling to Seattle during Christmas, because while it’s no Europe, Leavenworth goes all out with Christmas markets and lights.

Weekend trips

If you have a few extra days, these are three of my favorite weekend escapes from Seattle. If you want the TLDR: I highly, highly recommend the San Juan Islands for a beautiful, nature focused escape from the city.

Where to eat

Seattle’s culinary scene is one of the best in the country. Amazing restaurants are everywhere, which is why putting together this list of 100 great Seattle restaurants was easier than writing this page ;). There are vegan places that make you forget it’s not meat, both high end and budget vegetarian places, tasty dim sum spots, thriving Vietnamese and Ethiopian foodie scenes, and more!

It’s so hard to choose my top picks for you when you’re visiting the city (I don’t know you or what you like! Click that post because it really breaks down the foods based on your tastebuds). But if I were visiting the city for a couple of days, at the top of my list would be:

Biscuit Bitch ($): For a quick, cheaper, sassier breakfast. Their breakfast biscuits are amazing.

Portage Bay ($$). Seattle’s classic brunch spot.

Dick’s ($). Seattle’s local, fast food hamburger shop. It has the cult following in Washington that In N Out has in California. You decide which one you like better.

Teriyaki ($). Teriyaki places are another well loved, local food spot. They’re all over the city and are the perfect way to get an incredibly filling, weirdly cheap meal. Note: Teriyaki in Seattle is different from teriyaki in the rest of the country.

Ba Bar ($$): A famed modern Vietnamese restaurant. If you’re traveling with a racist hipster who only likes Vietnamese food if it’s cheap and dirty, take them here. If they complain about the food, you know they’re just being a racist hipster. This place is amazing.

Bravehorse Tavern ($$). For drinks, namely tiramisu jello shots. Where else can you find tiramisu jello shots?!

Terra Plata ($$). This is a dream for any Italian food loving foodie, and one of my favorite Seattle restaurants.

Shiro’s ($$$). One of Seattle’s best sushi restaurants. If not the best sushi restaurant in Seattle.

Canlis ($$$$). I’ve never been here because it’s expensive. But this is one of the most talked about fancy restaurants in Seattle. This is where rich foodies, whether tourists or locals, go.

Have a sweet tooth? Seattle has some incredibly tasty dessert places that you won’t want to miss- even if you’re gluten free (NICHE bakery), vegan (The Cookie Counter), or someone who doesn’t discriminate against sugar. For a bit of exercise with your dessert, here’s how you can do a DIY walking tour of some of Seattle’s best dessert shops!

What to buy

There are a lot of funky material souvenirs you can find in Pike Place. Some are the standard shot glass, t-shirt, but a lot are handmade by local craftspeople like wood sculptures and jewelry. Also, something unique to Seattle is all the fun thrift shops around town, which you can check out for both antique and trendy things.

If you ask me though, food makes the best souvenir choice- especially from an epic culinary city like Seattle! From local chocolate shops to popular bakeries, here’s a complete Seattle food souvenir guide.

What to wear

You can really wear whatever you want in Seattle. It’s the home of grunge and techies. No one will judge!

But if you want to blend in with the locals, pack a light North Face jacket to stay dry from the rain. Literally everyone has one of these. And waterproof shoes (like Sperry’s rain boots) will make your toes feel better, if you’re coming during a time of rain (yes, a lot of people wear flip flops and socks in the rain anyway). Darker colors are more common here, but if you like bright colors, then go for it!

seattle travel guide

And there you have it- my Seattle travel guide to help you plan the best trip! Still have questions? Let me know in the comments section!

*What does ultimate even mean anymore? I added it here because this post is long, very long and has many links to other very long posts.

Angelica
Angelica

Traveler. Foodie. Student debt haver. I love finding the best things to do and eat when traveling, and sharing them with everyone else who likes experiencing local culture or exploring the outdoors too! You can read more about me in my about page.

Note: Some links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase from an affiliate link, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you (thank you!). For more info, check out my disclosure policy.

6 Comments

  1. February 26, 2019 / 7:55 am

    I would love to try some of the budget vegetarian places in Seattle! I also love how a rain jacket is required to blend in with the locals! One day I will make it over to Seattle ❤

    • Angelica
      Author
      March 1, 2019 / 3:59 pm

      Hope you do! Whenever I eat out in Seattle, I feel like I can be vegetarian too but when I try to remake those dishes at home, they don’t come out as good 😂

  2. February 26, 2019 / 11:48 am

    Oooh, I’ll have to plan a trip back up there!

    • Angelica
      Author
      March 1, 2019 / 3:59 pm

      Yeesssssss! It will be worth it 🙂

  3. February 26, 2019 / 12:09 pm

    Such great ideas! I love the Pike Place market but have yet to make it to the San Juan Islands. Definitely on the list if I ever get back! Also…the freeze is real!

    • Angelica
      Author
      March 1, 2019 / 4:00 pm

      Yeah it is real… actually in the San Juans, I didn’t feel it there as much, maybe it’s the island life 🙂

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