Home to cloudy days, beautiful mountains, and the first city-wide plastic straw ban in the US is the Emerald City: Seattle, Washington.
What should you know before you go to Seattle? Here are the Seattle travel tips that I always share with my friends before they visit– with a focus on keeping you prepared for your trip and helping make sure you have an amazing time in the city!
It usually doesn’t rain heavily; it’s just constantly drizzly
Seattle has a reputation as a rainy city. But in fact, cities like New York, Houston, and Miami get more rain than Seattle.
The truth is Seattle is more constantly drizzly and cloudy. So if you’ve heard that locals don’t bring umbrellas, that’s why. A little drizzle doesn’t hurt! Yes, sometimes it rains hard, but most times it’s like a spitting mist.
Of course, you could argue recent years have more rain because of climate change.
And to avoid that, the best time to go is in the late summer
If you like sunny skies and warmth, the best time to go is the late summer. It’s no longer cloudy and drizzly. Plus, summer gives you way more time to explore, because the sun can rise as early as 5 AM and set as late as 9 PM. If you like the sun but are anti-social, a trip even as late as September would be perfect because there are less crowds and the weather is still nice.
You could also argue that recently, it’s been getting sunnier and warmer earlier in the year. Climate change. But historically, after July 4th is when that really starts.
If you don’t mind overcast and cooler temps, any time is fine. But one note for winter- it’s harder to travel in Seattle when there’s snow. Whether it snows 0.5 inches or 0.5 feet, the city will probably be closed down for the snow. Yeah, I know. I used to live in Massachusetts. But you could always do a mountain trip instead!
The Black Hole Sun
The Seattle freeze is real (but people are generally polite)
Sometimes your interactions with people can make or break your trip.
If you’re typically a very social person, know that the “Seattle freeze” is real. People are less likely to randomly talk to or smile at you, compared to other places. Yes, even the Black nod is less popular, unless the sun is out, or the person nodding at you is not actually from Seattle.
If you’re an introvert, the freeze is kind of perfect because you don’t have to talk to random people in, like, the elevator. It’s finally okay to just play on your phone! Everyone else is doing it too!
But with that said, also keep in mind that people are generally pretty polite and/or open minded.
You don’t need to rent a car
This might be a shock depending on where you’re coming from, but Seattle is one of the US cities where you don’t actually need a car to explore the city! Many major sights are walkable. There are also lots of bus lines that take you around the city.
Plus, you probably don’t want to rent a car if you’re staying in the city. Finding and paying for parking can really suck. But Lyfts and Ubers and even Car2Gos are everywhere if you do prefer that.
And even if you want to leave the city, there’s typically a bus, ferry, or train for that. Yes, driving would be faster, but it’s also more expensive and worse for the environment. It’s not impossible to get around without a car.
If you do rent a car, driving in Seattle is a little funny
Every city has its own unique driving habits that are technically illegal. Like where people in Southern California don’t actually stop in 4 way stops, people in Seattle will stop and then try to let you go first to be polite, even if they have the right of way. Or drivers will sometimes stop in the middle of the road for pedestrians, even if the driver has like a green light.
I’m not saying you should do these things, just to be aware that there are situations where you’ll be randomly stopped or slowed down.
Last, remember that you’ll be driving on hills and in streets that start and end in crooked ways. It’s not one of those cities where all of the roads are even grids. Some streets are so crazy that someone has even made a picture of Seattle’s worst intersections.
The food is amazing- even if you have dietary restrictions
Ethiopian, Vietnamese, seafood, ramen, poke– you can find a ton of amazing food in Seattle. It’s a culinary gem. And it constantly makes it onto best US cities for food lists!
Even if you’re vegetarian, vegan, gluten-free, etc, there are a ton of options for you in this city! And if you love food with a sustainability focus, eating in Seattle will be perfect for you. The forward thinking culture has influenced the food scene so that sustainability is a given at many restaurants.
I know sometimes people are tempted to make meals at the Airbnb or go with cheap chains to save money, but Seattle has so much good food that you’ll want to try! Eat out in Seattle! For lots of ideas on where to eat in Seattle, check out my 100 best restaurants in Seattle guide.
Prosciutto, potato, and egg pizza
Teriyaki is the less talked about local dish
Usually when people think of the local fast food dish in Seattle, it’s maybe Dick’s or Red Mill Burgers. But did you know that Seattle has its own delicious style of teriyaki?? You can read about its history in Seattle here.
But it’s not like teriyaki anywhere else in the US. If you like grilled meat, rice, and savory, slightly sweet sauces, make sure you grab a bowl of teriyaki!
Be prepared for a pricey trip
If you already booked a place to stay, you’ve noticed this already. Seattle is an expensive city. Like, I once paid $400 for a private room in a “hostel” for four days. But I also booked it like a week before. Don’t book last minute.
Eating out will probably be more expensive than you’re used to. Groceries will definitely be pricier. You could save on activities if you don’t do a lot of the touristy stuff, or if you get special city passes and plan to do everything they come with.
Saving money for any trip is a given. But if you’re normally a budget conscious person, you’ll probably need to save more for a trip to Seattle.
PS: If you haven’t booked a place to stay yet, don’t book one outside the city to save money, because it will be hassle if you want to spend time in the city. Trust me, if you read blog posts about people who traveled to Seattle and hated it, they tried to stay in a suburb and commute to the city. Check out my where to stay in Seattle guide for better ideas instead. It might be pricier, but it will make your trip better.
Do more local things to truly fall in love with the city
Compared to other cities, there’s not as many interesting “touristy” things to do. Sure there’s the Space Needle and Pike Place Market, but compare it to the number of bucket list things to do in like New Orleans. Whose favorite thing about all of Seattle is going up the Space Needle????
Seattle is one of those cities like Bangkok or LA where the “local” things are what make people fall in love with the city, at least in my opinion as someone who’s both lived and traveled there. Grab brunch and mimosas at one of Seattle’s top restaurants, and freak out about the climate apocalypse with an old friend. Get high and get lost in a beautiful park. Spend a day in a local coffee shop people watching and writing that novel you’ve always wanted to write.
This is not to say that you should avoid the touristy stuff. And once you’ve done those, there are still great non-touristy alternatives of things to do in Seattle. But also make sure you enjoy the regular people activities too!
Disclaimer: I took this picture of the gum wall at 6 AM on a Tuesday, otherwise it would be full of people.
There are now two airports that fly into Seattle area
So double check that you’re headed to the right one before you leave! This is something I usually mess up when traveling abroad- just typing “airport” into Uber doesn’t always work!
I would recommend flying into SeaTac if you’re staying in Seattle itself and if you plan to use public transportation to get into the city, because the train is there. But on your way out, plan to leave the city well in advance to get back here, especially during rush hour. There are always so many people in this airport’s security line who are about to/already missed their flight and are like “I didn’t know traffic would be so BAD!”
Paine Field is nice if it’s closer to where you’re staying. It’s a new airport north of Seattle, and it’s so calm! This is typically where I fly into, but I’m always coming from somewhere on the West Coast and have people who can pick me up. There isn’t as straightforward public transportation to get from here to downtown Seattle.
Like, Paine Field even has a fireplace. It is not a stressful environment.
And make sure public transit is still running if that’s how you plan to arrive
There are a few late night flights that arrive to Seattle, that arrive too late for you to use public transportation to get to the city. Double check for yours, be prepared, and either book an earlier flight or plan to pay for a Lyft/Uber. I used to book late flights to save money, then didn’t actually save money because I had to pay for a taxi.
A long weekend is the perfect amount of time to see the city
If you travel like me, three days will be perfect for your first visit to Seattle. You could do both the major sights and the random things you wanted to try in that time. You could maybe leave the city, but only if you’re going somewhere close. I’m working on a few three day itineraries and will share them here as proof when they’re done.
Of course you won’t see everything in three days, but it will be enough to start getting to know Seattle.
But if you have more time, the most beautiful parts of Washington are outside of Seattle
Also if you’re like me, Seattle itself is just okay. The better part is all the amazing day and weekend trips outside of the city! A visit to Mt. Rainier National Park, home to the highest peak in Washington. A day trip to Deception Pass and Whidbey island, two gorgeous and totally unique places to visit. A weekend trip to the San Juan Islands, an island destination that’s in some ways an outdoor, cage free zoo.
You might be able to fit a day trip in your three days, but if you have more time in this area, definitely explore the surrounding attractions.
The fashion is more laid back/cozy/outdoorsy
What should you wear in Seattle if you want to look more like you live there?
Think more earthy and dark tones rather than bright colors. And birkenstocks rather than glitter flip flops. And eclectic rather than business casual. Free tech backpacks and free company sweatshirts are okay to use outside of work. Like, you can even find people in free work tshirts at some key nice restaurants. And it’s not uncommon for people to be at the grocery store with hiking shoes (or flip flops and socks).
But truly, you can wear whatever you want in Seattle. It’s not like other cities where you’re judged! Looking at you, Paris, and the fact that my booty shorts are faux pas.
But if you’re not visiting in the summer, don’t forget to pack a rain jacket!
My last Seattle travel tip is just an overview of key diverse districts
Cities always change, but if you’re just exploring Seattle’s touristy districts, you’ll probably notice that it’s incredibly white and straight. Not all of Seattle is like that though. Here are a few other districts with more diversity:
- Capitol Hill has in the past been the major LGBTQ center, and you can still find many gay or lesbian bars in this area.
- The Central District is where a lot of the black population used to live, but you can still find some black art and culture in the area even though they’re getting kicked out the fastest.
- South Seattle had a lot of the Vietnamese population and is also still home to some of the best Vietnamese restaurants– including Rainier BBQ, visited by Anthony Bourdain.
- Beacon Hill is home to a lot of the Asian population in general, especially Filipinos, and for some reason has some of my favorite Mexican food in the city.
- The U-District is home to the University of Washington, so is full of college students and is starting to get a ton of great Chinese restaurants because of the growing Chinese student population.
All the districts are great, but these are some of ones that have more diverse communities if you need to get away.
And those are my Seattle travel tips! What would you add? What are you most surprised by? What’s the most obvious? Let me know in the comments!