Photo Courtesy of Ian Alan
Emerald City (for our lush greenery), Jet City (for Boeing), or Rain City (self-explanatory)—whatever you call Seattle, it's a rich destination. Visitors love the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, and the Seattle Underground Tour. But travelers will be rewarded by getting to know the city's lauded re…staurants, local distilleries and breweries, and museums with themes ranging from art to aviation. On rainy days, relax in a quirky café, enjoy some neighborhood boutique shopping, or browse at an independent bookstore on Capitol Hill. Want to get out of the city? Take a day trip to Bainbridge Island, Tacoma, Leavenworth, or Mount Rainier.
What to know before you go to Seattle
Seattle gets a bad rap for its rainy climate, but the truth is, all-day downpours are pretty rare. Summer often doesn’t get started until mid-June, but the warm weather lasts through September and into October. Summer temperatures average in the mid to high 70s; in winter, they hover in the 30s and 40s; and in spring, in the 60s. Still, whenever you visit, it’s a good idea to bring an umbrella and a light waterproof coat.
Seattle’s closest airport is Sea-Tac International Airport, located about 30 minutes south of downtown. If you’re coming here by train, you’ll arrive at the King Street Station downtown. If you’re coming from Portland or Vancouver, B.C., the Bolt Bus is a very affordable option, with fares as low as $1 (stopping in the International District at Fifth Avenue S. & South King Street). There’s also a downtown Greyhound bus terminal.
Each of Seattle’s neighborhoods has a distinct local flavor. You’ll find lots of nightlife in Belltown, just north of downtown, where young professionals go to eat, drink, and dance. Capitol Hill is the gay-friendly hipster scene; take a look at our Capitol Hill recommendations. Fremont has a funky, hippie attitude, with eclectic shops and landmarks like the Fremont Troll. Ballard has a strong Scandinavian history, but today it’s mainly cute boutiques and restaurants. Public transit is extensive and mostly reliable, with options including the bus, light rail, and streetcars. Parking can be difficult downtown or in the smaller neighborhoods with narrow streets, and many areas have metered street parking until 8 p.m. Seattle is a fairly geographically compact city, so taxis are an affordable option, as are pay-as-you-go car rental services such as Zipcar or Car2Go.
Hit the water! On sunny days, a ferry ride, water taxi, or Puget Sound cruise gives you a quick and fun view of Seattle that you won’t get anywhere else. Kayak in the arboretum, paddleboard on Lake Washington, or rent a sailboat. At the very least, stroll down to the waterfront and enjoy the view from a pier.
With everything from fine dining to pub grub, Seattle is a foodie destination. We’re known for our seafood, particularly salmon and Penn Cove mussels (not to mention the oversize, suggestively shaped geoduck, pronounced gooey-duck). Seattle is a coffee lover’s paradise, with many independent coffeehouses and local roasters. Washington apples are a point of pride, so if you’re at a farmers’ market, sample some of our local varieties, like the coveted Honeycrisp. Seattle excels in Thai, Indian, and Vietnamese cuisine—pho is a local favorite—and has some great Central and South American restaurants in the outer neighborhoods. The food-truck scene is alive and well in Seattle, offering everything from tortas to soul food to Korean sliders.
Although Seattle may be best known musically for the 1990s grunge scene, its arts and culture scene is diverse. The Seattle Symphony plays at Benaroya Hall downtown, and the Seattle Center hosts the Seattle Opera and the Pacific Northwest Ballet (both at the Marion Oliver McCaw Hall). Theater lovers will enjoy the 5th Avenue Theatre, the Paramount, and the Seattle Repertory Theatre. Popular live music venues include the Crocodile, Neumos, the Showbox, and the Neptune.
In January, the Lunar New Year festival becomes a street party in the International District. February offers the Northwest Flower and Garden Show and the Seattle Boat Show. In March, there’s Emerald City ComiCon and Moisture Festival (a burlesque comedy festival). In May, you can check out Folklife, the folk music festival; Sasquatch Music Festival over Memorial Day Weekend; and the Seattle International Film Festival. June brings PrideFest and the Seattle Rock ’n’ Roll Marathon. In July, there’s the food frenzy Bite of Seattle, the Japanese festival Bon Odori honoring the dead, the Seattle Beerfest, the Capitol Hill Block Party music festival, and the Seafair Torchlight Parade, featuring the Seafair Pirates. August has Hempfest, plus PAX (Penny Arcade Expo) for geeks. In September, there’s the huge Bumbershoot music festival at Seattle Center, and the Washington State Fair. October offers the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival. And in December, the two-day crafts fair Urban Craft Uprising caters to the Etsy crowd.
Don’t be intimidated by our legendary rain! Even in fall and winter, Seattle’s precipitation is usually more like a “mizzle” (mist + drizzle). A gloomy forecast should never keep you from heading out to explore: Just keep your raincoat and umbrella at the ready.
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Stephanie Perry Seattle Local Expert Stephanie Perry is a writer, editor, and avid reader. She loves Seattle but is always planning her next international adventure. You can find her wherever the museums and food are.