Foodies, adventure seekers, history buffs and especially kids will love a visit to Seattle, WA. It’s a super easy-to-navigate city, especially if you pick a hotel with an ideal location (we have the perfect rec below). We spent three days exploring downtown and have tips for how to make the most of your time in the Emerald City so that you can check off all the top spots (and a few under-the-radar gems as well)!
1. Ride the Link downtown.
Seattle is an incredibly walkable city so you won't need a car while you are visiting. It's super easy to hop aboard the Link light rail at SEA-TAC Airport and get a ride downtown (fares cost around $3/adult and $1.50/kid, one way). Download the SoundTransit app and follow the Link signs at the airport to find the station. Once you get downtown, stations are every few blocks so you won't have to walk far to get to your downtown hotel.
2. Visit Pike Place Market and the Gum Wall.
Our hotel (more on The State Hotel below) was conveniently located near Pike Place Market, which made it super easy to get to loads of the tourist attractions. We arrived in the early afternoon, dropped our bags in our room and walked two blocks to explore the market. If you are able to visit Pike Place Market on a weekday, definitely do it as the crowds are significantly smaller. Stop by the Pike Place Fish Market to see the famous throwing of the fish and then swing by Daily Dozen Doughnut for quite possibly the world's tastiest mini donuts.
Near Pike Place Fish Market you'll find the stairs down to the famous (and semi-disgusting) Seattle gum wall. Whether you want to add your gum to the "art" or just want to see it for yourself, it's a spot you'll want to check out for sure.
3. Head to the Seattle Aquarium
Head towards the water from Pike Place Market and you'll find the Seattle Aquarium, a definite kid highlight. Here they can check out the touch pools, spot some swimming seals and be mesmerized by the moon jellies. Timed entry to the aquarium means you won't have to deal with crowds and you'll get the most out of your visit. We found that an evening visit was the perfect way to relax after a day of travel.
4. Check Out the View from the Great Wheel.
Once you've had your fill of fish, head one pier over to get a ride on the Seattle Great Wheel. The largest observation wheel on the west coast, the Great Wheel is a fun experience for kids of any age. In the daylight hours, a ride on the Great Wheel offers views of the city and surrounding area while nighttime brings LED light shows that are a whole different level of fun.
If the munchies hit while you are down by the water, head to Ivar's Acres of Clams for some of the best fish and chips, clam chowder and Alaskan king crab in town. Right around the corner is Ye Olde Curiosity Shop that has souvenirs, tchotchkes and even some shrunken heads (it's true!).
5. Ride the Seattle Monorail.
A fun way to get to the Seattle Center is aboard the Seattle Monorail. Built for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, the monorail only has two stops: Westlake Center and Seattle Center. At $3/adult and $1.50/kid, this fun ride will take you on a two-minute trip above the city streets. When you arrive at the Seattle Center, you'll be in the perfect spot to check out all the museums and other activities that the area has to offer.
6. Spend the Morning at MoPOP.
Start your Seattle Center visit at the Museum of Pop Culture, commonly known as MoPOP. Here you can dive deep into subjects like Nirvana's impact on music and culture. You may not be able to tear the kids away from the Indie Game Revolution exhibit where they can learn about the evolution of popular gaming and try out the games themselves. The museum even offers sensory-friendly programs so that everyone can have the opportunity to check out the exhibits.
Right outside the museum is an amazing playground with a massive climbing tower, slides, swings and even musical play equipment.
7. Test Your Hockey Skills at the Pacific Science Center.
Hockey fans, this one's for you! Head to PacSci where you can check out the HOCKEY: Faster Than Ever exhibit. While the remainder of the center is still closed to the public, your little ones will love seeing how hockey has changed through the ages and trying their luck defending the goal in interactive exhibits. Enter the "Hockey Science Lab" to test your speed, balance and reaction time on the ice. This is a great activity for a rainy afternoon when the kids need to get their wiggles out! On exhibit through February 27, 2022.
8. Ride the Elevator to the Top of the Space Needle.
This iconic structure was created for the 1962 World's Fair and you'll definitely want to head to the top when you are in town. The Space Needle offers a 360-degree view and on sunny days you can see as far as Mount Rainier. The multi-level observation deck offers both indoor and outdoor viewing stations as well as The Loupe—the world's only rotating glass floor!
9. Take in the Wonder of the Chihuly Garden & Glass.
A feast for the eyes, the Chihuly Garden and Glass is not to be missed when you are at the Seattle Center. Located at the foot of the Space Needle, you'll be stunned by the beauty of the indoor and outdoor sculptures made by local artist Dale Chihuly entirely out of glass. Kids will definitely enjoy this exhibit (especially the massive glasshouse) but you'll need to keep an extra close eye on little ones due to the nature of the works. Umbrella strollers are welcome but leave bulkier strollers at home.
10. Check Out the Amazing LEGO Creations at the Awesome Exhibit.
Thorugh January 16, 2022, you can see some of the most amazing LEGO creations at the Awesome Exhibition – The Interactive Exhibition of LEGO® Models at the Fisher Pavillion in Seattle Center. From the Space Needle to a massive orca to the Back to the Future Delorean, the massive creations in this exhibition are going to awe LEGO fans of all ages. There are even interactive LEGO building stations where you can make your own LEGO creation. Bonus: Head next door to the Armory for a bite to eat and check out a LEGO model that's at least three times as tall as you are!
11. Learn the History of Seattle and Go UNDER the City.
Quite possibly one of our favorite activities in Seattle is the Seattle Underground Tour. Here you can learn the history of how the city rebuilt on top of itself after the Great Fire of 1889. Walk through the interconnected underground corridors that used to be street-level businesses before they were buried.
12. Indulge on the Underground Donut Tour.
This is another tour you won't want to miss while in Seattle. Meet up with fellow donut connoisseurs and your guide will take you on a walking tour of a number of downtown donut hot spots. The Underground Donut Tour gives you the inside scoop on all sorts of different kinds of donuts from the classic cake donuts at Top Pot Doughnuts to beignets from Dahlia Bakery. Best of all, you don't have to wait in line for these tasty treats!
13. Head Out on a Harbor Cruise.
A harbor cruise is a fun way to see the Seattle waterfront from another vantage point. Argosy Cruises has a one-hour cruise that gives lots of history of the waterfront as you get views of the Space Needle as well as the massive shipping docks. Cruises leave from the pier right near Ivar's Acres of Clams (in case you are looking for a post-cruise feast).
Seattle Travel Tip: Do yourself a favor and snag a CityPASS.
You're going to want to see all the tourist attractions on your visit to Seattle and the easiest (and most cost-effective) way to do that is with a CityPASS. You'll get access to the Space Needle and the Seattle Aquarium, plus, your choice of three more attractions from the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP), Chihuly Garden & Glass, Argosy Harbor Cruises and the Woodland Park Zoo.
Timed entries are currently required for all except MoPOP and you should book your reservations in advance. But don't worry, if your plans change there are ways to modify your reservation. On our visit, we finished early at MoPOP and were able to move up our Space Needle time instead of killing a few hours in between by going to the ticket counter at the Space Needle and swapping out our tickets.
The State Hotel: Your Ideal Seattle Home Base
To make the most of your Seattle visit, book your room at The State Hotel. It is conveniently located two blocks from Pike Place Market and is easy walking distance to both the Link station and the Seattle Monorail station. If the weather cooperates on your visit, head up to the hotel's roof deck for amazing views of the waterfront (see above!).
We loved our recent stay at The State Hotel as it had a fun, industrial vibe with quirky wallpaper and a generous continental breakfast included. The staff could not have been more helpful with tips on how to make the most of our stay (and generously allowing us to raid their snack cart a number of times during our visit). Rooms were generously sized for a downtown hotel.
You'll definitely want to make a reservation at Ben Paris, the restaurant located just inside the lobby, while in town. Handcrafted American fare is the name of the game with the meatballs and focaccia small plates being standouts of our meal. Their cocktail game is on point and they make a mean Shirley Temple for any little ones in your group. Got a big appetite? Go for the 8 oz. American wagyu beef burger. It was huge and impressive!
—images and story by Kate Loweth
Editor’s note: This trip was paid for by Visit Seattle but all opinions belong to the writer.