You will always find interesting things to do in Seattle, the largest city in Washington, and the Pacific Northwest. Nestled between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington and just 100 miles from the Canadian border, it’s the northernmost major U.S. city and is surrounded by breathtaking landscapes.
Long before European settlement, the Seattle area was home to the Duwamish and Suquamish Native American tribes, and their presence is still prevalent in the city today. Seattle also has a large and vibrant LGBTQ+ community and rich musical history, particularly in jazz and rock. Many of the top things to see in Seattle reflect these different influences.
If it’s your first time in the city, I recommend getting the Seattle CityPASS for a discount on the most popular Seattle attractions. There is also a hop-on/hop-off bus tour that takes you to the most important tourist spots in Seattle.
To help you make the most of your trip, here are the top 30 places to visit in Seattle, as well as a map at the end of this article so you can find them all!
1. Space Needle, the most famous lookout in Seattle
If there is one thing you must see in Seattle, it’s the Space Needle. It’s one of the most recognizable landmarks in the city, and you can see it from just about anywhere in Seattle.
The Space Needle was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, so it has a futuristic design that’s reminiscent of the Space Race that was going on at the time. As one of the top Seattle attractions, the Space Needle is included in the CityPASS that I mentioned earlier.
The landmark is 605 feet tall and there’s an observation deck at 520 feet. Most people would agree that this is where you’ll get the best sightseeing in Seattle, with 360° views of Puget Sound, the Cascade Mountains, and the cityscape. See if you’re brave enough to sit in one of the floor-to-ceiling benches or walk on The Loupe, the only rotating glass floor on earth.
You can also dine at the Space Needle’s SkyCity restaurant, which slowly rotates and makes a full 360 loop every 47 minutes. Don’t be scared; the Space Needle can withstand earthquakes and winds up to 200 mph.
You can purchase general admission to just the Space Needle, or combine your ticket with Chihuly Garden and Glass.
2. Walk around Chihuly Garden and Glass, the best thing to do in Seattle
One of the most famous places in Seattle is the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit. Conveniently located next to the Space Needle, this spectacular showcase of glass art and sculpture is sure to amaze you.
For those who don’t know, Dale Chihuly is an award-winning glass sculptor born in Washington state. His bright and colorful blown-glass pieces often reflect undulating and organic forms, especially flowers. The Garden and Glass exhibit in Seattle is like a glass wonderland and one of the best places to visit in Seattle.
The first thing you’ll experience at this attraction is the beautiful sculpture garden where glass bulbs, vines, shrubs, and flowers intermingle among the natural trees and shrubbery in the garden. The scene looks like something out of a fairytale or sci-fi novel, and when the sun hits these glass forms, the light dances.
As you make your way through the area, enter the glasshouse, which has a 100-foot centerpiece sculpture of suspended flowers. You’ll find other magnificent installations throughout the 4,500ft2 space. For example, be sure to stop by the indoor art galleries to see even more design elements and drawings. There is also a theater here where you can watch videos of Chihuly’s creative process.
Without a doubt, the Chihuly exhibit is one of the coolest things in Seattle, and it’s included in the CityPASS I mentioned earlier. You can also reserve a ticket and save time and money at the door, or book this combo ticket that includes general admission to the Space Needle.
3. Pike Place Market, another thing to experience in Seattle, WA
One of the most popular activities in Seattle is browsing Pike Place Market. It’s the oldest public farmer’s market that’s still in operation in the U.S., with items that range from specialty food, fresh produce, and artisan crafts to antiques, art, books, and more.
There are usually buskers at the market’s corners, performing for passersby. Don’t forget to say hi to Rachel, the bronze pig sculpture that serves as the market’s unofficial mascot! Also, the market hides one of the germiest Seattle tourist attractions, the Gum Wall, in Post Alley under Pike Place Market.
While the market is great for people-watching and treasure-hunting, it is also known for having some of the best food in Seattle. Any of the restaurants here will probably be full of locals grabbing a bite to eat during their lunch breaks. There are casual cafes, fine restaurants, delis, take-out stalls, bakeries, and sweet shops. Whether you want classic American fare, or you prefer to try a new ethnic dish, you’ll find it here!
If you consider yourself a foodie, I suggest this chef-guided food tour through Pike Place Market. The two-hour tour takes you to ten vendors where you can sample savory morsels and sweet treats. Along the way, you’ll learn more about the distinct flavors of the Pacific Northwest and local production practices. It’s a fun culinary adventure to take with friends or by yourself to meet new people!
4. Pacific Science Center, the best thing to do in Seattle with kids
The Pacific Science Center is an awesome Seattle attraction for rainy days. It’s also a fun thing to do in Seattle with kids since there are tons of interactive exhibits and educational displays.
It is part of the Mercer Slough Environmental Education Center, which is on the other side of Washington Lake. The Pacific Science Center is included in the Seattle CityPASS and offers several exhibits that will appeal to kids of all ages.
The museum’s permanent exhibitions deal with earth science, ecology, technology, and other scientific topics. There is also a rotation of temporary exhibits that change every few months. A popular attraction is the Center’s IMAX theater, which shows documentaries about dinosaurs, climate change, coral reefs, engineering, and more.
The Butterfly House and Planetarium are two permanent sections of the Center. The Butterfly House is a lovely atrium with hundreds of free-roaming butterflies. The walking paths are entwined with beautiful gardens full of flowers. Here, you can learn about the life cycle of butterflies as well as different species and the flowers they prefer.
I recommend reserving your spot at the Willard Smith Planetarium, which is included in your admission ticket. Here, you can immerse yourself in a virtual trip through the galaxy and learn about all kinds of astronomy-related topics.
The Pacific Science Center is one of those fun activities in Seattle that will please kids and adults. If you have time, or the weather isn’t cooperating, I suggest heading here for a few hours.
5. Explore the Museum of Pop Culture, the best thing to do in Seattle
The Museum of Pop Culture, MoPOP, is one of the most creative and exciting places in Seattle to visit and is included in the CityPASS ticket.
The museum was originally the Experience Music Project and was actually founded by the co-founder of Microsoft, Paul Allen. It has dozens of exhibitions, interactive displays, and the largest collection of musical artifacts. You’ll find everything from hand-written lyrics and personal instruments to gaming and cinema presentations.
Whatever it is you like about pop culture, I can guarantee you’ll find it at MoPOP. Some of the exhibits include tattoo art, guitar galleries, band memorabilia, costume design, and horror films. It’s no wonder MoPOP is popular with locals and tourists in Seattle, Washington.
One of the centerpieces of the museum is the IF VI WAS IX sculpture, which is made of over 500 guitars and musical instruments as well as 30 computers. MoPOP also has several event spaces including the Sky Church which was designed by American architect Frank O. Gehry. The name is a reference to Jimi Hendrix’s concept of a place where people of all beliefs and creeds could come together through music.
One of MoPOP’s permanent collections is the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame. It contains several galleries dedicated to fantasy writers and directors such as George Lucas, Isaac Asimov, and Steven Spielberg. The exhibition includes famous artifacts from films like Star Wars and The Matrix as well as interactive kiosks full of trivia. It’s one of the best things to do in Seattle if you’re a movie buff!
6. Seattle Underground Tour, something interesting to do in Seattle
The Seattle Underground is one of the top things to do in Seattle, especially if you’re into creepy stuff. The Underground is a network of passageways and basement in downtown Pioneer Square. Initially, the tunnels were on ground level when the city was built in the 1800s. In 1889, destruction from a fire meant the streets had to be elevated, so the tunnels fell into disuse.
The bright side is that the Underground became a popular tourist attraction and a must-see on any Seattle visit. This unusual activity takes you through a time capsule of the city. While you explore the tunnels, a guide will tell you entertaining stories of days gone by. It’s quite an experience!
There are so many cool downtown Seattle attractions, but I never thought about seeing the underground, forgotten parts of the city. You can see the retaining walls supporting the elevated streets and remnants of 1800s Seattle. It can be a bit creepy, but it’s also fascinating and something unique that you wouldn’t find in many other cities.
The Underground tour is popular, so I recommend purchasing tickets in advance here. Also, the tunnels are a bit rocky, so wear comfortable shoes and be careful.
7. Ride the Seattle Great Wheel, one of the top things to do in Seattle, Washington
The Great Wheel is one of the most prominent landmarks in Seattle. Hovering 175 feet tall, it’s the tallest observation wheel on the West Coast. If you want nice views of the city, a ride on the Great Wheel is one of the Seattle activities you can’t miss.
This prominent landmark is impossible to miss. It’s at Pier 57, part of Waterfront Park in downtown Seattle. A ride on the wheel is nice and comfy; the cabins are climate-controlled and can accommodate up to eight passengers.
As you ascend into the air and over Elliott Bay, which is part of Puget Sound, you’ll be able to look out over the entire city. The floor-to-ceiling windows allow you to sit back and observe the cityscape and the distant Cascade Mountains. Every ride makes three revolutions and lasts between 12-20 minutes.
There are over 500,000 LED lights on the Great Wheel, which light up in a spectacular show on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays (during the week, just the wheel’s rim is lit). Visiting this attraction is one of the coolest things to do in Seattle at night because you can see a rainbow of awesome colors and designs. The wheel often has themed lighting during holidays and special events, and sometimes people purchase custom messages for marriage proposals or birthdays.
While you’re checking out one of the best attractions in Seattle, stick around and explore the other parts of Waterfront Park. The public park extends from the Great Wheel at Pier 57 to Pier 59. It’s a great place to view the wheel’s light show or rest by the Waterfront Fountain.
8. Washington Park Arboretum, a tranquil place to go in Seattle
The Washington Park Arboretum is one of the most beautiful places in Seattle, and it’s worth a visit at any time of year. It’s a lovely destination full of thematic gardens, peace, and natural beauty.
Much of the arboretum is shrouded in canopy trees and lined with lush shrubs. One of the most famous parts of the area is Azalea Way, which blossoms into a colorful walkway in the spring. There are also several thematic gardens including woodland shrubs, winter flowers, native plants, rhododendrons, and hollies.
You can take a self-guided or volunteer-led tour through the arboretum. There are a couple of walking trails that loop around the gardens, so I recommend taking the time to see all the gorgeous perennials and trees. Along the waterfront, you can rent a canoe or kayak and spend some time on the water. It’s one of the fun family activities in Seattle that you’ll remember for a long time.
Also, be sure to stroll through the Seattle Japanese Garden, which is also part of the arboretum. It’s one of the oldest Japanese gardens in North America and is regarded as one of the most authentic in the U.S. The garden’s tranquil atmosphere includes lush greenery, Asiatic maple trees, cherry blossoms, and a serene pond.
The garden hosts several cultural events throughout the year, and it’s one of the best places in Seattle to see the fall foliage. If you can visit in the autumn, I highly recommend it for the gorgeous colors and contemplative vibe.
9. Take a Seaplane flight, an extraordinary thing to do in Seattle
If you’re not afraid of heights, taking a seaplane ride is a cool thing to do in Seattle and the best way to see the city.
We booked this 20-minute flight, covering over 30 miles, and the views were just breathtaking.
First, you’ll see the shoreline slowly drifting away, then you’ll hover over the University of Washington and Husky Stadium. See the Floating Bridge over Lake Washington and marvel at the sunlight glinting off the blue waters.
You’ll fly over the Bill Gates’ Estate in Bellevue, then head south and loop back towards downtown Seattle. View the mighty Space Needle from above, soar over Alki Beach, and observe the ferries chugging along in Elliott Bay.
Then, the seaplane will wind its way back east over Discovery Park and Ballard Locks, Green Lake, and Gasworks Park before making a smooth landing back at home base.
This experience is unlike any other and is a wonderful thing for couples to do in Seattle. The flight includes guided narration so you can learn more about the city while enjoying your cruise through the sky.
10. Alki Beach, one of the top-rated beaches in Seattle, WA
Opposite the Space Needle, across Elliott Bay, you’ll find Alki Beach. It’s the westernmost landform in the city and sticks out into Puget Sound. While the waters at Alki Beach are often too cold for swimming, it’s still one of the beautiful places in Seattle I think you should check out.
One of the coolest things about Alki Beach is that it was the first salt-water beach open to public swimming on the West Coast. Oddly enough, it also has a replica of the Statue of Liberty on its shores.
Along Alki Beach, you’ll find local restaurants, volleyball courts, and spots for picnics and firepits. Even if the water’s too chilly, the beach is a great place to sunbathe, rest, and people-watch.
I recommend heading to Alki Point, the westernmost tip, where you’ll find the Alki Point Lighthouse and magnificent views of the Olympic Mountains and Blake Island. As you walk along the waterfront, you’ll see lots of bungalows and historic homes. You’ll also run into the Alki Point Monument, which includes a tribute to the indigenous Duwamish people who inhabited the land before English settlers.
About 2.5 miles north along the shoreline, you’ll discover Duwamish Head, which sticks out into Elliott Bay. This is the opposite end of Alki Beach and the northernmost point in West Seattle. Years ago, people found a large boulder here covered in petroglyphs or ancient rock art. The boulder has been moved, but you can still see the 5,000-pound anchor statue here.
Whether you choose to spend an hour here or half the day, a visit to Alki Beach is a fun free thing to do in Seattle on a nice day.
11. Seattle Art Museum (SAM), one of the best museums in Seattle
The Seattle Art Museum has a collection of about 25,000 pieces and dozens of permanent exhibits. The collection spans different regions and time periods, and there is more ethnic and modern art than fine European art.
This art museum is widely accessible, and you can get in for free the first Thursday or Saturday of the month. Even during the rest of the month, you aren’t required to pay the full admission fee if you can’t afford it.
The Olympic Sculpture Park and the Seattle Asian Art Museum are also part of SAM’s art facilities and should be on any art lover’s Seattle to-do list.
The Olympic Sculpture Park is at the northern end of the Seattle seawall. Along with the 20 or so sculptures you will find there, the area is a popular spot to see the sunset over Puget Sound, one of the best free things to do in Seattle. If you have time, check out Myrtle Edwards Park, which provides beautiful views of Mount Rainer and the Olympic Mountains and is just next to the sculpture park.
The Asian Art Museum has an Art Deco style and displays art from Southeast Asia, China, Japan, India, Korea, and the Himalayas.
The museum is in Volunteer Park, a scenic 48-acre area. Along with the Asian Art Museum, the park includes an amphitheater, conservatory, water tower, reservoir, and a doughnut-shaped sculpture called Black Sun. A visit to the park is a fun thing to do in Seattle, WA in the summer when the dahlias are in full bloom and the pond is filled with koi.
12. Sky View Observatory at the Columbia Center, an unforgettable place to visit in Seattle
One of the Seattle, WA tourist attractions you’re sure to notice during your trip is the Columbia Center. This nearly 970-foot-tall skyscraper is full of retail businesses and office space. However, at 902 feet, on the 73rd floor, you’ll find the Sky View Observatory.
Sky View is the tallest public viewing area in the Pacific Northwest. You have to pay to get in, but you’ll be able to see a full 360° view of Seattle. You’ll also see the Cascade Mountain Range, Mt. Rainer, and the city’s beautiful natural surroundings.
The elevator to the observatory takes just 70 seconds. Also, if there is poor visibility that day, the observatory will post a sign letting visitors know, so you can decide if you still want to go up to the viewing platform. Sky View is open daily, and most people spend about an hour there unless they eat at the Sky View Cafe and Bar.
The restaurant is cool because you’re dining high in the sky, but it’s not necessary. I do, however, suggest reserving a spot since the observatory is a popular attraction in Seattle. This advance ticket has the option to include a beverage or snack at the Sky View Cafe.
13. Look out from Smith Tower, one of the best things to do in Seattle, WA
Smith Tower, known as “Seattle’s original skyscraper”, is a few blocks from the Sky View Observatory. Industrialist Lyman Cornelius Smith founded this famous place in Seattle in 1914, after his wife became enamored with the city. Today, it’s a must-do for any tourist!
The tower is a huge landmark in Seattle, and you’ll recognize it by its pointed roof and eight-foot-wide dome topper, which lights up blue at night. The building is over 480 feet tall and was the tallest building on the West Coast until Seattle erected the Space Needle.
Smith Tower has 38 floors, but the observatory is on the 35th floor and has an open-air section where you can get the full 360° experience. The views from Smith Tower provide spectacular panoramas of the harbor and downtown but keep in mind that this popular Seattle sightseeing attraction is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, so plan accordingly.
Inside, you can take a guided tour or peruse “The Legends of Smith Tower” exhibits at your leisure. One thing you must do is sit in the Wishing Chair, an ornate wooden armchair with Chinese dragon sculptures on either side. The story is that Lyman Cornelius Smith received the chair as a gift from Chinese Empress Dowager Cixi. There’s a rumor that single people who sit in the chair will get married within a year.
There is also an observation bar, which has a speakeasy-style reminiscent of the Prohibition era. The bar has happy hour specials, and it’s an interesting Seattle experience, but I don’t think it’s necessary.
14. Kerry Park, the most beautiful lookout in Seattle
While the Space Needle and Smith Tower are excellent lookouts, there is another beautiful place in Seattle where you can get amazing views. Kerry Park is small, but it’s one of the most iconic viewpoints in the city. Your visit to Seattle isn’t complete without seeing the sunset from this park.
Kerry Park is in the Queen Anne neighborhood and gives visitors panoramic views of the cityscape, Elliott Bay, and in the right weather conditions, Mount Rainier. From this lookout, you can easily spot the Space Needle, Smith Tower, the Great Wheel, and other downtown attractions. The park has long been a favorite among locals and tourists for its postcard views, so it’s popular with photographers.
The primary landmark at Kerry Park is the Changing Form sculpture. The 15-foot steel structure is a popular place for kids to play, although there is a playground at the base of the park’s hill too. The sculpture is also a creative framing device for photographers.
For those without a camera, the park has coin-operated telescopes that let you see the ferries in the harbor or even Bainbridge Island. Also, if you’d like to combine Kerry Park with other Seattle attractions, this 3-hour guided tour is worth checking out.
While Kerry Park may seem out of the way, it’s close to a few little-known areas. A visit to Bhy Kracke Park, Marshall Park, and Parsons Garden is a nice free thing to do in Seattle when you have some extra time.
15. Capitol Hill, something you must visit in Seattle, Washington
Capitol Hill may be the coolest place in Seattle. The neighborhood is known for its entertainment and nightlife venues, as well as its counterculture atmosphere. Here, you can pop into a hip coffeehouse, fringe theater, or packed bar and experience a different side of the city.
Capitol Hill was a hub for the grunge music scene of the 1990s. Several famous bands and musicians got their start here, including Eddie Vedder, Foo Fighters, Nirvana, and Alice in Chains. Today, you can find live music and performances at many of the bars, clubs, and theaters in the neighborhood.
The district also has a vibrant LGBTQ+ community, a couple of art schools, and a few historic parks and mansions. With its laid-back vibe and artsy charm, Capitol Hill offers plenty of fun stuff to do in Seattle.
I suggest visiting the Volunteer Park Conservatory, a beautiful Seattle attraction. The botanical garden features a Victorian-style greenhouse, several themed conservatories, and outdoor art installations. Also, in Volunteer Park is Bruce Lee’s gravesite at Lake View Cemetery.
Cal Anderson Park is another lovely place to go in Capitol Hill. The public park is suitable for all ages and includes basketball and dodgeball courts, a playground, and the Waterworks installation, a fountain with a reflecting pool that you can wade in.
To know more about the area, I recommend booking this 3-hour Capitol Hill tour that will take you to the most important places in the neighborhood before ending with a drink at a local tavern.
16. Visit Pioneer Square, another fun thing to do in Seattle, Washington
The Pioneer Square neighborhood is one of the best downtown Seattle attractions. The name reflects the settlers who came to Seattle in the 1850s when the neighborhood was the city center. Today, Pioneer Square is a district full of galleries, shops, cafes, and bars, a place you could explore all day without getting bored.
Many of the historic buildings here reflect Romanesque architecture with decorative pillars and arches. This is also where you’ll find the oldest restaurant in Seattle, the Merchants Cafe. The saloon first opened its doors in 1890, and many believe it’s haunted.
As a downtown artistic hub, Pioneer Square has some of the most interesting things to see in Seattle. For example, the Iron Pergola & Tlingit Indian Totem is a National Historic Landmark with quite a convoluted history. In 1899, Washingtonians stole the totem pole from the Tlingit tribe in Alaska. Vandals badly damaged the totem pole in 1938, but Tlingit craftsmen reproduced it and allowed it to remain in Pioneer Square. The ornate Iron Pergola was built not long afterward.
Other places to visit in this Seattle neighborhood include the Smith Tower, the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, and the Waterfall Garden Park. This “pocket park” has a 22-foot multi-tiered waterfall and a mini Japanese garden, and is perfect for a relaxing coffee break or quiet moment in solitude.
I also recommend spending time in Occidental Park, where you’ll find the Fallen Firefighters Memorial. If you can visit on the first Thursday of the month, that’s even better because you’ll get to peruse outdoor galleries and craft booths.
17. Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room, the best experience in Seattle
You can’t talk about famous places in Seattle without mentioning Starbucks. The coffee chain was founded in Seattle in 1971, and today the Starbucks Reserve Seattle Roastery and Tasting Room is a hotspot for coffee aficionados.
The roastery is in Capitol Hill, just blocks from the original Starbucks location. As soon as you walk through the macchiato-colored door, you’re transported into a world of coffee, history, and innovation. If you’re always pining for your next cup of joe, a roastery visit is one of the most fun things to do in Seattle.
Scheduled tours will immerse you in the coffee culture and history of Starbucks. Start at the main bar and sample the roastery menu before looking at the machinery and design behind your favorite drink. You’ll learn more about how to make the perfect cold brew, where the roastery stores its beans, and how different flavors come to be.
At the end of the tour, stop by the scooping bar and pick up a bag of freshly roasted coffee beans to take home. Or order a coffee for here and bring it to the tasting room’s Coffee Library where you can flip through over 200 books related to all things coffee.
This is one of the Seattle activities that will have you buzzing!
18. Boeing Future of Flight Aviation Center, something interesting to visit in Seattle
Boeing is another multinational company that has its beginnings in Seattle, so if you are into aviation, the Boeing Future of Flight Aviation Center is something you can’t miss. Besides, it’s one of the best things to do in Seattle on a rainy day.
The aviation center’s collection has thousands of pieces, including an authentic Boeing 727 cockpit as well as engines and sections of fuselage. You can also check out the overhead observation area of the Boeing factory to see how the aircraft is made. The center is 30 minutes north of Seattle, but if you book this tour in advance, transportation is included.
If you enjoy the Future of Flight experience, then you should check out the Museum of Flight in south Seattle. Located at the King County International Airport, it’s the largest private air and space museum in the world. Suitable for all ages, it’s a unique thing to do in Seattle.
The attraction consists of several buildings and galleries, including the Challenger Learning Center, the Aviation Learning Center, and an Air Traffic Control tower exhibit, where you can see what’s it like to work at one of the busiest airports in the country. Be sure to take the time to explore the Red Barn (the original Boeing manufacturing plant) and the aircraft restoration facility.
The museum displays more than 150 models in total, including over two dozen World War I and World War II aircraft. Some of the most popular models include the first successful Boeing 747, the world’s first pressurized sailplane, and U.S. Air Force planes.
The Museum of Flight is open Thursday through Monday and is a fun thing to do in Seattle with kids. You can purchase skip-the-line admission to make the most of your time there.
19. Say hi to the Fremont Troll, something you must do in Seattle, WA
As a child, you may have heard stories about trolls living under bridges. Well, there is a troll under the Aurora Bridge in Seattle! Don’t worry, the Fremont Troll is not a real troll, just a huge sculpture. Still, it’s one of the coolest things in Seattle and something you won’t want to miss.
The Fremont Troll was a collaboration between four local artists and was inspired by the Norwegian folktale of Three Billy Goats Gruff. This sculpture came to be when the Fremont Arts Council held an art competition in 1989 to renovate the area under the Aurora Bridge, which had fallen into disrepair. It’s also a playful nod to the local urban legends about troll sightings near the bridge.
When you go say hi to the troll, you’ll surely be blown away by his massive size. The troll is 18 feet tall and made of thousands of pounds of steel and concrete. He holds a crushed Volkswagen Beetle in his hand, but he’s friendly to visitors, who can climb on his huge arms and head.
To the west of the troll is another free place to visit in Seattle, the Troll’s Knoll Park. This sustainable green space provides open seating areas and lawns lined with plants where you can enjoy a picnic or quiet break. A few feet away is a community garden as well as walkways to other parts of the Fremont neighborhood. Fremont has an artsy, counterculture vibe, so it’s an interesting place to go in Seattle.
20. Kubota Garden, the most spectacular place to go in Seattle
Twenty minutes south of downtown Seattle, you’ll find the Kubota Garden. This 20-acre traditional Japanese garden is open daily and provides a picture-perfect respite from the busy downtown district.
Kubota Garden was founded in 1927 by Fujitaro Kubota, who emigrated to Seattle from Shikoku, Japan. His influence is widely reflected throughout the garden, which I think is one of the best attractions in Seattle.
It is mostly volunteers who maintain the garden’s nine ponds, two footbridges, and hundreds of plants. As you walk through the grounds, you’ll see native and non-native plants including kuretake (black bamboo), Japanese maple, and Norway spruce.
What makes Kubota Garden so special are the little pockets of peace and tranquility you’ll find. For instance, Kubota Terrace is an area with open lawns and summer plants. The verdant greens come to life in the warmer months and invite you to sit, relax, and look out over the koi-filled pond.
The Bamboo Grove is a serene forest of tall bamboo shoots where you can see the sunlight peeking through. Not far is the Necklace of Ponds and the Moon Bridge, which are surrounded by lush shrubs, perennials, and mini waterfalls.
The Mountainside section overlooks the surrounding natural areas outside the park and the Tom Kubota Stroll Garden, a Zen rock garden area. If you want some quiet time with your special someone, this is one of the top things to do in Seattle.
21. Seattle Harbor Cruise at Puget Sound, one of the best things to do in Seattle
Taking a harbor cruise is one of the most popular things to do in Seattle with kids. The one-hour Argosy cruise is included in the CityPASS and departs at Pier 55 near the Great Wheel.
Everyone will enjoy the city views from the water, where you’ll see the bustling port industry of Seattle, the Olympic Mountains, and Mt. Rainier.
If you have more time, there are other interesting spots to explore in Puget Sound, but you will need to take a ride on one of the Washington State Ferries.
There are 20 terminals around Puget Sound. The Seattle Colman Dock at Pier 52 is the primary terminal, so I recommend starting there. From this dock, you can set off for Bainbridge Island or Bremerton, two popular places to visit near Seattle.
Bainbridge Island is full of recreation, sports, and dining spots. I recommend checking out Blakely Harbor Park, the Bainbridge Gardens, and Bloedel Reserve. Other popular places include Manitou Beach, Fay Bainbridge Park, Port Madison, and Hall’s Hill Labyrinth. You can also hire this sightseeing tour if you want to know more about Bainbridge Island.
If you visit Bremerton, be sure to check out the Arts District and Farmers Market. The city also has some unique attractions like a disc golf course and a puppet museum.
Other things to do around Seattle are camping and kayaking at Blake Island Marine State Park, seeing the expansive Deception Pass strait, or spending some time basking in nature on Whidbey Island.
If you’d rather stay in Seattle, then I recommend Golden Gardens Park in the Ballard neighborhood. This northern wetland beach has a short loop trail, picnic areas, and great birdwatching opportunities with the Puget Sound in the background.
22. Chinatown and the Wing Luke Museum, something great to do in Seattle
This area of Seattle is also known as the Chinatown-International District. It’s a multi-ethnic neighborhood that includes Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Saigon.
The entire Chinatown district is a hotspot in Seattle for cultural events, delicious food, and public art. For example, one of the first things you’ll see in Chinatown is the Historic Chinatown Gate, a 45-foot-tall archway.
I also suggest visiting the Wing Luke Museum, which is the only community-based museum dedicated to Asian Pacific American culture in the U.S. It’s affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute and has over 18,000 artifacts, documents, photographs, and books representing over two dozen ethnic groups.
There is always fun stuff to do in Seattle‘s Chinatown. If you can, I recommend visiting during festival time, such as Lunar New Year, Dragon Fest, or the Mid-Autumn Festival and Night Market. The streets are filled with colorful performances and costumes, savory aromas from food vendors, laughing children, and all kinds of activities.
Even outside of these events, Chinatown is well worth a visit. A popular tourist spot is Kobe Terrace, a small public park with a community garden and scenic sitting areas. Hing Hay Park is near the entrance gate and has a cute pavilion where you can sit or enjoy a community game of chess or checkers.
When you get hungry, you can treat your tastebuds to a delectable meal of Vietnamese pho, Korean barbecue, or Chinese dim sum. Or stop by Uwajimaya Asian Grocery and pick up some goodies for the road.
23. Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI), one of the top things to do in Seattle, WA
The Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) at the southern end of Lake Union is a must-see in Seattle if you’re a history buff. The museum is a worthwhile experience for anyone, so it’s a good attraction to remember if you get bored on a rainy day.
MOHAI has almost four million artifacts documenting the city and the greater Puget Sound area. The collection includes photographs, artwork, historical pieces, and a diverse range of exhibits. A small portion of the collection is at the historic Naval Reserve Armory in Lake Union Park.
The exhibits offer a retrospective of Seattle’s past, from the pre-settler days to modern times. Some of the core exhibition items include Boeing’s first commercial plane, the Confederate women’s Petticoat Flag, and a 12-foot Rainer Brewing Company vintage neon sign.
MOHAI is the best place to visit in Seattle to learn more about local history and culture. Plus, the South Lake Union neighborhood, which includes the Center for Wooden Boats, Denny Park, and Cascade Park, is a great area to explore. For a family day, rent a boat at the Center for Wooden Boats and sail on Lake Union.
24. Discovery Park, something you must see in Seattle
Located on the shores of Puget Sound in northwestern Seattle, Discovery Park is the largest public park in the city and a beautiful place to see in Seattle.
The park covers over 530 acres and the attractions are far apart, so it’s best to come prepared. At the east parking lot, you’ll find the Visitors Center, playground, and tennis/pickleball courts. Here, you can also take the Discovery Loop Trail, which is about three miles roundtrip. There are other walking trails throughout the park.
Discovery Park’s vast landscape includes forests, marshes, beaches, bluffs, and prairies. Many agree that the park is the best in Seattle for wildlife viewing and birdwatching. According to the Seattle Audubon Society, there are over 250 bird species in the park. During the winter, you may see bald eagles and spotted owls. People have even spotted cougars, coyotes, and black bears in the park.
This Seattle attraction sits on Fort Lawton, a former U.S. Army post. The Fort Lawton chapel, homes, and Guard House are historical landmarks you might find interesting. As you make your way west, you’ll see Fort Lawton Beach and maybe some harbor seals or sea lions.
The West Point Lighthouse sits at the westernmost tip of the park. The 23-foot lighthouse has been active since 1881 and is a prominent beacon for boaters along the shoreline.
To the north are the Wolf Tree Nature Area and the Daybreak Star Cultural Center, a hub for Northwest Native American activities and community events. Next to the building, you’ll see the Bernie Whitebear Memorial Ethnobotanical Garden, named in memory of the Center’s founder.
The entire area offers several free things to do in Seattle, as well as something to do off the beaten path.
25. Wallace Falls Park, one of the most beautiful places to go in Seattle, Washington
Along the western side of the Cascade Mountains is the Wallace River and the Wallace Falls State Park. Just an hour’s drive from the city, this is a perfect day trip from Seattle.
This magical coniferous forest boasts three backcountry lakes, three majestic waterfalls, and a dozen miles of hiking trails. There are also bicycle paths if you bring your bike. The lush greens of this area pop against the rushing waters and blue sky. It truly feels like something out of a storybook.
Take the Woody Trail and get an early start to experience the pure bliss of a quiet morning in the forest. As you go along your hike, you might see springboard notches in some tree stumps, a nod to the area’s logging history.
You’ll see the Upper Wallace Falls, which has a 240-foot drop and five tiers, as well as the 367-foot Wallace Falls, which has three tiers. The Lower Wallace Falls cascades from an elevation of 212 feet and has five tiers. It’s worth seeing all these waterfalls, and there’s even a guided hike you can take if you aren’t an experienced hiker or don’t want to drive from Seattle.
The state park also has campgrounds and cabins for those who want to stay the night. There is something special about this area, so add it to your list of places to visit near Seattle!
26. Olympic National Park, the best place for hiking near Seattle
Olympic National Park is about 2.5 hours to the west of Seattle on the Olympic Peninsula. If you have the time and are an outdoor enthusiast, I think it’s one of the top places to visit near Seattle.
There are four distinct parts of the park: The Pacific coastline, the alpine areas, a temperate rainforest, and the eastern forests.
Along the coast, walk along the rocky beaches, some of which have massive boulders. Close by, there’s a strip of misty forest that tends to attract only hardcore hikers. The Ozette Lake is a popular area on the coast, and there’s a trailhead marking the Ozette Loop.
To the west, you’ll find the Hoh and Quinault Rainforests. This area sees about 150 inches of rainfall a year, making it one of the wettest places in the U.S. Still, the Quinault Rainforest is popular with tourists in Seattle, Washington, so there are several campground resorts here.
Besides camping, two common pastimes in Olympic National Park are hiking and backpacking. In the winter months, people go to Hurricane Ridge for skiing, and they head to Lake Quinault or Ozette Lake in the warmer months to go rafting or boating.
If you aren’t sure what you want to do in the park, I recommend this small-group tour, which will guide you along the waterfront, up to Hurricane Ridge, and through one of the most popular hiking trails.
27. Whale Watching Tour in the San Juan Islands, an amazing thing to do in Seattle
If you have a longer stay in Seattle, I recommend visiting the San Juan Islands between Washington state and Vancouver Island, Canada. The archipelago consists of over 100 smaller islands, but a few of the most prominent are San Juan Island, Lopez Island, and Orcas Island.
There is no bridge connecting Seattle to the islands, so you must use water or air transportation. I recommend the ferry from Pier 69 to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. Close to Friday Harbor is The Whale Museum Exhibit Hall, an educational facility with life-size models of whales and porpoises.
San Juan Island is also home to Lime Kiln Point State Park, one of the best places near Seattle to whale-watch. The park features two lighthouses with viewing decks where you can see wild orcas swimming and breaching. If you prefer an on-the-water excursion, this three-hour whale-watching tour embarks from Friday Harbor and donates a portion of its profits to conservation efforts.
Besides San Juan Island, you might also want to visit Lopez Island, which has several state parks, a vineyard, a marina, and charming restaurants. It’s also known for its bike paths and Shark Reef Park, where you can spot wild waterfowl and sea lions.
Finally, Orcas Island is a larger island with lots of open spaces and recreational activities. Enjoy sea kayaking, hiking, biking, or exploring Moran State Park and Mt. Constitution, the highest point on the archipelago. The island also has a vibrant arts scene and is popular with wildlife enthusiasts and birdwatchers.
The San Juan Islands may be a bit out of the way, but the area is one of the top places to visit near Seattle if you’d like to get off the beaten path.
28. Visit Mount Rainier, an exciting thing to do in Seattle, Washington
Another place to visit near Seattle is Mt. Rainier, the highest mountain in Washington state. This active stratovolcano is in the Cascade Mountain Range, about 60 miles south of Seattle. You can see Mt. Rainier from lookouts in the city but getting up close and personal with it is a unique experience.
The mountain’s summit is at an elevation of over 14,000 feet, so it’s no easy climb. Mt. Rainier is known by hikers and climbers as one of the most challenging excursions, and it often takes a couple of days to reach the summit. Also, the volcano is a geological danger thanks to the intense mudflows of pyroclastic debris.
Of course, there are safer parts of the mountain to explore, and it is well worth it. Mount Rainier National Park is a must-see, encompassing old-growth forests, waterfalls, and glaciers. The preserved Mount Rainier Wilderness makes up 97% of the park and includes the Carbon and Emmons Glaciers, alpine tundra and subalpine meadows, and a variety of wildlife.
It’s common to hike part of the 93-mile Wonderland Trail and try to spot deer, elk, mountain goats, spotted owls, bald eagles, and other creatures. You’ll get tons of great photos in the park, not to mention an intense workout! Depending on when you visit, you may take advantage of other outdoor activities like camping, snowshoeing, or backcountry skiing.
If you don’t want to drive there or don’t know which trail to hike, I recommend this full-day hiking or snowshoeing tour with a highly qualified naturalist guide.
29. Climb Mount St. Helens, an incredible thing to experience in Seattle
Mount St. Helens is about 95 miles south of Seattle and just 50 miles north of Portland. Just like Mount Rainer, Mount St. Helens is part of the Cascade Mountain Range section of the Pacific Ring of Fire. This heavily studied area is a hotspot for earthquakes and volcanic eruptions. The volcano’s last major eruption was in May 1980 and left a mile-wide crater.
Still, it’s a popular climbing spot for all levels, although if you’re going to climb above 4,800 feet, you need a permit. The most common time to climb is between spring and early autumn, usually along the Monitor Ridge Route. This popular trail will take you to the volcanic crater’s rim. During the winter months, most people take the Worm Flows Route.
The Johnston Ridge Observatory is also a worthwhile sight since it provides overhead views of the volcano’s crater and lava dome. You can also see Meta Lake, which has a gorgeous emerald-blue color.
Opposite Johnston Ridge is the St. Helens National Volcanic Monument, which was established after the 1980 eruption. The area has several stunning lookouts where you can see Spirit Lake and the Ape Cave lava tube. Not far from the Monument is Marble Mountain Sno-Park, where visitors can go snowshoeing, skiing, or snowmobiling.
If you don’t have a car or don’t want to drive there, I recommend this guided excursion with transportation from Seattle included.
30. North Cascades National Park, a quiet place to go near Seattle
The North Cascades National Park is a bit further, but it’s also a gorgeous area full of scenic hiking trails and backcountry campgrounds. Covering over 500,000 acres, it’s about a two-hour drive from the city and one of the top things to do outside Seattle.
The national park is free to access, although some trails may require a hiking pass. Two of the most popular paths are the Pacific Crest Trail and the Pacific Northwest Trail. The former passes through Gifford Pinchot National Forest and the Lake Chelan National Recreation Area, two lovely sections of the park. The latter trail is one of the most prolific hiking paths in the Pacific Northwest, covering 1,200 miles from Washington to Montana.
Nature lovers will definitely get their fix at North Cascades National Park. The region has over 500 lakes and ponds, over 300 glaciers, and large swaths of old-growth forest. It’s worth renting a car to see this beautiful place to visit near Seattle.
You might even spot some wildlife such as bobcats, lynxes, mountain goats, moose, and river otters. Threatened species like the grizzly bear and grey wolf also live here.
One of the most scenic parts of the park is the Ross Lake National Recreation Area. Here, you’ll find Ross Lake and Diablo Lake, an icy-blue reservoir. Also nearby is the impressive Thunder Creek. Another waterway worth seeing is the Vedder River, a beautiful tributary where you can hike or camp.
For your next Seattle visit, you’ll know exactly where to go! While you don’t have to see all these places, these are the top things to do in Seattle, so keep this guide handy. Also, check out our map of Seattle’s tourist attractions to help you plan your perfect itinerary.
I hope you have a wonderful trip to Seattle and take advantage of the beautiful surroundings. If you have any questions, leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you!