Seattle, Washington sits at one of the most unique spots in the United States. Occupying a narrow isthmus between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington, it is the biggest city in the Pacific Northwest, with four million people calling the area home. Seen from above, carpets of evergreen trees, pristine blue waters, and snowy white mountains surround the downtown's metallic skyscrapers, earning the city its nickname The Emerald City.
On the ground, you will find a vibrant and cosmopolitan city. Next to the progressive downtown and the freewheeling feel of Capitol Hill, you can find a laid-back atmosphere in the districts to the north and ethnically diverse neighborhoods to the south. The many restaurants, coffee shops and microbreweries are worth indulging in after a day spent strolling through the city's many parks and beaches or admiring the arts or architecture. And just outside the hectic city are snow-covered mountains, evergreen forests, and picturesque coastline to explore. Even for the bold and the adventurous, it's hard to get enough of Seattle.
Most visitors to Seattle tend not to venture beyond Downtown, the International District, and the Seattle Center; which is a shame, since neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, West Seattle, and those north of the ship canal are where much of the fun is actually at! Seattleites usually describe their city in terms of neighborhoods. Although the boundaries of the neighborhoods are sometimes sketchy, there's usually a proud feature that represents each neighborhood.
While there are formally more than thirty districts, this guide has been broken down into the following more digestible list for a visitor's convenience:
Downtown and surrounding neighborhoods
Seattle's commercial and financial core, home to the waterfront, the Pike Place Market, and some of the most stunning architecture in the city. The northern area of Belltown has a collection of many of the city's best, if not most expensive, restaurants and bars.
|Pioneer Square-International District
The oldest neighborhoods of Seattle, containing classic buildings, art galleries, innumerable restaurants, and the Chinatown.
|Queen Anne-South Lake Union
Perched on the hills northwest of Downtown, here you will find wealthy neighborhoods peppered with panoramic parks. On the area's south is the newly developed commercial center of South Lake Union (home of the rapidly growing Amazon headquarters), and the Seattle Center with its Space Needle.
|Capitol Hill-Central District
The nightlife and retail core of Pike-Pine at the west meets the quiet, diverse residences of Madison Park at the east. This area is also the gay capital of Seattle.
North of the Lake Washington Ship Canal
A mostly residential area, home to the canal locks. The area is known for its Scandinavian heritage, chic boutiques, and the thriving historic Downtown Ballard.
|Fremont and Wallingford
The self-proclaimed "center of the universe", a bohemian (though rapidly gentrifying) area noted for its public art.
|University District (commonly called the "U District")
Home to the sprawling University of Washington campus, numerous inexpensive eateries, and mild entertainment for the young alike.
The city's mostly residential and gently gentrifying northernmost tier, bordering Shoreline. Noticeable commercial activity is present in the Northgate, Aurora, and Lake City neighborhoods.
South of Downtown and I-90
Continuing south of Downtown past the sports stadiums, this industrial district contains the well-hidden but thriving Georgetown neighborhood.
A mostly residential area bordering Lake Washington, served by light rail and home to Jefferson and Seward Parks.
A scenic residential area with great parks, ample beaches and wonderful vistas over the harbor and Downtown.
Like the rest of the United States, the Seattle area used to be home to Indian settlements, with the first humans believed to have entered the region nearly 4,000 years ago. The area was first mapped by George Vancouver in the 1790s, but the first European settlers didn't arrive until 1851, when Luther Collins led a party of settlers to the mouth of the Duwamish River (in what is today southern Seattle), followed shortly by a party led by the more notable Arthur A. Denny of Chicago, who settled at Alki Point in West Seattle. Confrontations between the original settlers initially flared, only to die out as the groups settled together on the Elliott Bay. The area was then named Seattle by David Maynard, in honor of Chief Si'ahl of the Duwamish & Suquamish tribes, and later officially established as a city in 1869.
By the 1880s, development of a modern city came to life with the erection of buildings, a streetcar system, and a lumber mill at the end of a timber skid row (what is now Yesler Way), only to be destroyed by fire in 1889. The city came alive again in 1903 with the Klondike Gold Rush, when Seattle served as the departure city for miners bound for Alaska and the Yukon. During this boom time, hills were flattened for development and the Lake Washington Ship Canal was created.
The city's economy slowed down again during the Great Depression and World War II, but experienced a renewed fervor with the establishment of the aircraft company Boeing and the occurrence of the 1962 World's Fair, which opened the gates for modernization of the city. Heavy dependence on Boeing took an economic toll on the city during the 1970s oil crisis, but Microsoft's move from Albuquerque to the Seattle area further promoted the charm of Seattle. Soon, Amazon.com, Nintendo of America, T-Mobile, Starbucks, and numerous biotech companies also established their headquarters here, bringing an influx of population growth and money into the area. Today, the Seattle metropolitan area's wealth and its four million inhabitants (more than half of the population of Washington State) make it the economic powerhouse of the Pacific Northwest and a city of huge importance for the entire United States.
Seattle is historically a very diverse city and multiculturalism is seen as a virtue. Whites make up about 70% of the population, while more than a tenth of Seattlelites are of Asian descent.
Being a very liberal part of the country, Seattle has one of the most sprawling LGBT communities in the US, second only to San Francisco. The Capitol Hill area, east of downtown, is the place for LGBT friendly business and bars, as well as a resource center. A large PrideFest takes place annually at the Seattle Center, along with preceding events such as a Pride Parade.
Locals have long talked of the Seattle Freeze, referring to the cold politeness of residents. The theory is that while they are very polite and warm on first interaction, they are actually reserved and interactions rarely lead to real acts of friendship (an invitation to dinner, personal conversations, etc.). The origin is obscure, but it is mostly assumed to be from Scandinavian immigrants that brought their home country's customs here. An equivalent to introversion, expect to have to make all the "first moves" to meet people here.
Residents' shyness also extends to anger and annoyance. Locals often make fun of themselves for their passive aggressive culture, where even in the most upsetting circumstances they will retain their polite nature.
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A common stereotype of Seattle is that the sky is always grey, rainy, and depressing. But it may surprise you that rain is almost always absent in late spring through early fall, making Seattle an excellent place to spend summer. It's warm and comfortable, with little humidity and temperatures averaging in the upper 70s (about 25°C), though sometimes rising to the 80s and even 90s (above 30°C). Furthermore, because of Seattle's high latitude, the sky is bright from around 4:30AM to 10PM during the summer months, giving you ample daylight for outdoor activities.
During all other seasons, the sky above Seattle is often murky, grim, rainy and breezy, with occasional days of sun. It can be dry but cold, or mild but rainy. Even in the case of dry weather, the morning typically starts with fog that usually vanishes by midday. Despite its location as the northernmost big city in the U.S., winters in Seattle are not as harsh as those east of the Cascades. Marine air from the Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean moderate Seattle's climate, so that most precipitation falls as rain and little as snow. However, on occasion a big snowstorm will hit, though it's a fairly rare event. The area consists of complex topographical features; thus it can be raining in the city itself but snowing in heaps ten miles away at the foothills, often puzzling weather forecasters.
Despite the Rain City reputation, the main challenge of Seattle's weather is more the overcast skies than the rain, and in fact Seattle has less annual rainfall than most cities east of the Rocky Mountains. Seattle's rain usually comes in a drizzle that lingers for days, which only occasionally strengthens to a full-blown torrent that rarely lasts long.
- E.L. James' phenomenally popular erotic novel Fifty Shades of Grey, as well as its sequels (Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed), are set in the Seattle area.
- The Twilight saga is set in the Forks area of the Olympic Peninsula, but the third installment, Eclipse, is set primarily in a Seattle plagued by murderous vampires.
- The Art of Racing in the Rain, by Garth Stein, is a New York Times bestseller about a race car driver told from the perspective of his dog, Enzo.
Film and television
As might be expected, nearly all movies and TV shows set in Seattle feature at least an establishing shot of the Space Needle.
- Many people will still remember the sitcom Frasier, which ran for 12 seasons until 2004. The show followed the life of the Crane family: Frasier Crane, a radio psychiatrist, his brother Niles, his father Martin, and his assistant, Daphne Moon. Although most of the show was actually filmed in studios in Los Angeles, the 1000th episode was shot for real on the streets of Seattle, the monorail, and the Seattle Center.
- The medical drama Grey's Anatomy is set in Seattle to distinguish it from its counterpart, Chicago's ER. Fisher Plaza, home to the ABC-affiliated KOMO radio and television station and right across the street from the Space Needle, serves as the exterior of the fictional Grey-Sloan Memorial Hospital.
- It Happened at the World's Fair (Norman Taurog, 1963). Elvis Presley stars as Mike, a cropduster pilot who hitchhikes with his friend Danny (Gary Lockwood) into Seattle during the 1962 World's Fair, where he meets his love interest, played by Joan O'Brien.
- The Parallax View (Alan J. Pakula, 1974). Released at the height of the political paranoia of the 70s, this film follows an investigative reporter (played by Warren Beatty) who discovers a secretive corporation that recruits political assassins. There's a lot of excellent Seattle imagery in this film, and the movie is well-remembered for its opening assassination scene that takes place atop the Space Needle.
- Singles (Cameron Crowe, 1992). A romantic comedy about two young couples experiencing rocky love while living in a Seattle apartment block. The film was particularly noted for its grunge soundtrack, coming on the heels of Seattle's grunge music boom. The central coffee shop in the film is at the now-closed OK Hotel in Pioneer Square, and the apartment used in the movie is at the northwest corner of E. Thomas St & 19th Ave E.
- Sleepless In Seattle (Nora Ephron, 1993). Tom Hanks plays Sam Baldwin, a widower father searching for comfort in Seattle after the loss of his wife. After his young child calls a radio station for help, a woman (Meg Ryan) develops an attraction to Sam. Sam Baldwin's houseboat is set on Lake Union, which is worth a visit for fans of the movie.
- Chronicle (Josh Trank, 2012). A found footage flick about three Seattle teenagers who find a hidden gem and gain telekinesis power from it, which they shortly put to wrong use. The climactic battle scene is set around Downtown and the Space Needle.
The music scene in Seattle is well known for grunge, a combination of punk and metal promoted by such notable groups as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden. The genre emerged and instantly took off in the mid-1980s, but dramatically came to a halt after Kurt Cobain's shocking death in 1994.
Further back, the well-known guitarist Jimi Hendrix, despite being more famous for his time in the United Kingdom, was born in Seattle and his legacy is treated with respect here, with a statue of him in Capitol Hill and an entire section devoted to him at the Experience Music Project in the Seattle Center.
More recently, an underground hip-hop scene has been emerging in Seattle, with the most famous local example being the duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
The Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau operates two visitors centers. Both offer maps, brochures, event details, tour bookings, and restaurant reservations:
- Seattle Visitors Center and Concierge Services, 701 Pike Street, Suite 800 (inside the Washington State Convention and Trade Center). Daily 9AM-5PM during summer, M-F 9AM-5PM during winter.
- Market Information Center, 1st and Pike (on the southwest corner). Daily 10AM-6PM.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (IATA: SEA), universally nicknamed "Sea-Tac", is located in the city's southern suburbs. It's a major domestic hub for Alaska, Northwest and West Coast destinations, and also handles many international trans-Pacific routes, as well as some flights to major European airports and Dubai, UAE. Alaska Airlines uses this airport as its primary hub and is by far the biggest carrier here, with Delta being a distant second with a minor international hub here.
The reliable Central Link Light Rail connects the downtown area to Sea-Tac for $2.75 in 40 minutes. The airport station is connected to the 4th floor of the parking garage (accessible via the pedestrian bridges on the departure level of the terminal); look for the signs to point you in right direction. A taxi will cost about $60-$70 to downtown and take about 30 minutes, or you can take a shuttle bus for around $30-$40 for the same duration. More details about other means of ground transportation can be found in Sea-Tac's separate guide.
Private aircraft and seaplane
Private aircraft can use King County International Airport (IATA: BFI), universally known as Boeing Field. It's also south of the city, but much closer to town than Sea-Tac airport.
Seaplane service is available between Seattle and various island destinations throughout Washington state and British Columbia. Kenmore Air operates year-round scheduled floatplane services from their terminal on Lake Union to the San Juan Islands and Victoria, and summer flights from their base at Kenmore on Lake Washington's north end to Nanaimo, Campbell River and many other destinations in northern British Columbia. Wheeled plane service is also offered from Boeing Field to Friday Harbor, Eastsound, Port Angeles and Nanaimo airports. A ground shuttle service is available from the Lake Union and Boeing Field terminals to SeaTac.
Vancouver International Airport
If you are coming from Canada, you are much better off flying to Vancouver first, then taking a bus to Seattle. It takes much longer but is dramatically cheaper. You will enter the border checkpoint within the first hour of your bus ride; after that, it's a smooth sail for two hours to Seattle. Quick Shuttle offers a scheduled service from Vancouver International Airport to various stops in Seattle.
Amtrak provides service from the King Street Station, located south of downtown near CenturyLink Field. The Amtrak Cascades runs four trains daily between Seattle and Portland (two of which continue to Eugene, Oregon) and two a day to Vancouver, British Columbia. These trains are more reliable schedule-wise than the long distance trains and offer certain amenities not available on regular Amtrak trains, such as more space for bikes, more laptop outlets, a "Bistro Car" which serves local foods and wine, and the occasional movie.
Seattle is also served by the long-distance Coast Starlight, which runs south to Portland, the Bay Area, and eventually Los Angeles, California. The Starlight has been frequently delayed for hours coming north from California, but has more recently improved reliability. Additionally, the Empire Builder provides daily service to Chicago via Glacier National Park and Minneapolis. The Builder continues to experience longer and more frequent delays than the Starlight due to increased coal train traffic in Montana and North Dakota.
Sound Transit operates a commuter rail service called the Sounder from Seattle to Lakewood (via Tacoma and towns along the corridor) and to Everett (via Edmonds & Mukilteo). However, the Sounder is limited mostly to rush hour service on the weekdays, with some service for special events like the Seahawks games.
The two main interstate highways into Seattle are I-5 going north-south and I-90 running west-east, with I-90 crossing Lake Washington from Bellevue. Alternatively, you can take State Route 99 from the north or south or State Route 520 from the east, crossing a floating bridge across Lake Washington. I-405 runs parallel to I-5 on the east side of Lake Washington.
The downtown area of Seattle, SoDo and South Lake Union is mostly a commercial and business area, so it is packed during commuting hours. I-5 is infamously congested, and traffic is also heavy on the southern I-405 and the SR-520 bridge, though the recent addition of tolling has significantly eased traffic on the bridge. When using Interstate 5 to get to downtown, exit at Seneca Street from the south, Union Street from the north, or Mercer Street (Seattle Center) from both directions.
By shuttle bus
There is no designated long-distance bus terminal in Seattle, so all bus services have their own stops scattered around the city.
- BellAir Airporter, (bus stop) Washington State Convention Center, Convention Place (prior reservations only), ☎ . Goes up to Stanwood, Burlington/Mt Vernon, Bellingham & Blaine on one route, a separate route to Anacortes in the San Juan Islands, and from Sea-Tac to Cle Elum, Ellensburg & Yakima on another route.
- BoltBus, (bus stop) 5th Ave S and S King St next to the International District/Chinatown transit station., toll-free: . Service from Eugene, Albany, and Portland, OR, Bellingham, WA, and Vancouver, BC. $1 if lucky; up to $30.
- Cantrail, (bus stop) King Street Station. Operates Seattle to Vancouver, BC $40 for one-way, $75 round trip; discounts for students, military, seniors & children ages 4-11..
- Greyhound, (Depot) 503 S Royal Brougham Way, SoDo, toll-free: . Transfer to Downtown using the Central Link Rail at Stadium station close by. Prices are various depending on your destination.
- Northwestern Trailways, (bus stop) Greyhound bus depot & King Street Amtrak station, toll-free: . Shuttle service to Spokane (via Everett, Stevens Pass, Leavenworth, and Wenatchee) or Tacoma. $51 one way to Spokane, $97 round trip.
- Olympic Bus Lines, (bus stop) Greyhound bus depot (see above), King Street Station, selected hospitals, SeaTac Airport. Operates a route called the Dungeness Line connecting Seattle to Port Townsend, Sequim and Port Angeles.The bus crosses on the Edmonds-Kingston ferry. One way: $39 from downtown, $49 from airport; Round trip: $69 from downtown, $79 from airport..
- Quick Shuttle, (bus stop) downtown: outside the Best Western at 200 Taylor Ave N; Pier 66 & 91, SeaTac Airport: At the main terminal near south end of baggage claim, outside door 00, bays 11-16. Runs between Seattle and Vancouver, BC. Vancouver to Downtown Seattle: $36 one-way, $65 round-trip; Vancouver to SeaTac airport: $49 one-way, $87 round-trip..
- Wheatland Express, (bus stop) Southcenter, NW corner; Novilhos Brazilian Steak House, 12405 SE 38th Street, Bellevue, toll-free: . Every Friday, the Weekend Express takes you from Pullman (where Washington State University is at) and Moscow to Seattle, and the other way round every Sunday. A special service is also deployed during the holiday season. Journeys take more than 6 hours. $99.00 one way (weekend express), $210.00 one way (vacation service).
By public transit
- Sound Transit. The long distance public transit operator operates bus services from cities within the Seattle metropolitan area such as Tacoma, Olympia, Bellevue, Everett, Bothell, and lots of other towns to downtown Seattle. $2.50 within King County, $3.50 cross-county..
- Community Transit. Operates direct express buses from various points in Snohomish County such as Lynnwood, Edmonds (and the ferry terminal), Mulkiteo (and the ferry terminal) or Marysville. With the exception of all-day service from Everett, most services are to Seattle in the morning and back to Snohomish County in the evening. Buses do not operate on Sundays! $4 from Everett and southward, $5.25 from north of Everett (one way)..
- King County Metro. The county Seattle sits at has buses out to outlying suburbs & cities within King County such as Federal Way, Shoreline, North Bend, Renton, etc. The rule of thumb is that three digit line numbers are for service to/from outside the city limits, but a few of them do not even set foot in Seattle at all. $3.00 peak hours, $2.50 off peak.
Ferries are the primary mode for commuters living on the opposite side of the Puget Sound from Seattle, since the sheer distance and the shipping traffic on the Sound make building a bridge difficult. For tourists, it's also a fantastic way to see some very picturesque views of the city and the surrounding country; be sure to bring a camera!
- King County Water Taxi. The county government provides ferry service from Pier 50 of Seattle's waterfront on weekdays only during rush hour (5:30-8AM and 4:30-7PM) to Vashon Island, as well as to West Seattle. $5.50, $4.75 if using ORCA.
- Victoria Clipper. High speed catamaran passenger ferries which connect Seattle to Victoria, British Columbia and the San Juan Islands. If you are heading to San Juan Islands, you can also join a whale-watching tour. About $45 (one way), $65 (round trip with advance reservation) to San Juan Islands; $95 (single trip), $120 (round trip with advance reservation) to Victoria. Fares vary slightly depending on season.
- Washington State Ferries, 801 Alaskan Way Pier 52, ☎ . Connects Downtown Seattle (Colman Dock, Pier 52) to Bainbridge Island, Bremerton, and Vashon Island, and connects Fauntleroy at West Seattle to Vashon Island and Southworth at Kitsap Peninsula. All ferries are for both vehicles and passengers except the ferry between Downtown Seattle and Vashon Island. Be aware that delays sometimes occur in the morning, except in the summer, because of the frequent appearance of dense fog.
By cruise ship
- Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal at Pier 66, 2225 Alaskan Way S, near the middle of Seattle's downtown waterfront. Serves as home port for Norwegian Cruise Line and Celebrity Cruises. Has bus, taxi and shuttle connections for transfer of passengers and luggage. For travelers with connecting flights, Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is less than 15 mi (24 km) away.
- Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Pier 91, 2001 W Garfield St, at the north end of Seattle's downtown waterfront. Serves as home port to Holland America Line, Royal Caribbean and Princess Cruises. Other cruise lines may also use this terminal if the vessel is too large to use the Pier 66 terminal.
By private boat
Seattle was originally built for access from boats and there are marinas offering both public and reciprocal guest moorage located throughout the area, especially around Lake Union and the ship canal (see individual district guides for further information). Elliot Bay Marina, Shilshole Bay Marina, and Bell Street Marina all have reciprocal guest moorage. On Lake Union and in Salmon Bay there are other options including Fisherman's Terminal.
Seattle's freeways cut through the city rather than circling it, and while driving isn't the norm if you're only getting around the downtown area, it may be useful if you are heading north of the ship canal or south of the river. That said, don't fret if you don't want to drive, since there are plenty of worthy alternatives; the use of public transit, ride-sharing, walking and cycling are among the highest in the U.S., despite the hilly nature of many neighborhoods. If you do drive, note that you'll want to avoid driving during rush hours unless you know an alternate route away from the easily clogged interstates and state routes — even a single car accident can cause miles of backups!
Seattle's street designations are generally easy to remember once you understand them. Most of the city is laid out in a grid, with north-south roads called Avenues and east-west roads being Streets. There are occasional irregularities: Ways are long roads that don't always conform to the grid, Drives are long, circuitous routes, and there's the occasional very short Place or Court.
Seattle has a somewhat convoluted address system that can be confusing to the uninitiated. Outside the downtown area, the city is divided into 7 compass directional sectors (N, NE, NW, W, E, S, SW; no SE section), with the name of the sector applied to every road that passes through that sector. Streets are written with the sector before the name (e.g. NE 45th Street or NE 45th) while avenues are written with the sector after the name (e.g. 45th Avenue NE or 45th NE). Roads within the downtown area (as well as some avenues east of Downtown and some streets north of Downtown) have no directional designation. Take this into consideration when looking for directions to a specific address.
When locals give you directions, they may refer to an intersection (especially in the case of a bus stop), but neglect whether to specify whether it's an "avenue" or a "street," so inquire to be sure and you'll avoid the risk of winding up in the wrong part of the city!
Walking is highly encouraged for short trips, especially if your destination is within Downtown or Capitol Hill. While the streets and drivers are generally friendly for pedestrians, do keep your street smarts. Avoid walking alone in Downtown at night due to the frantic beggars. For more information about street safety, look at the "Stay Safe" section.
Seattle pedestrians are noted for their unusual refusal to jaywalk. Unlike many other large American cities (particularly those on the East Coast), in Seattle you'll see groups of pedestrians patiently wait for the light to change before stepping off the curb, even when there isn't a car in sight. The reasons for it are unclear, though it's often suggested that the local police are particularly strict about enforcing the jaywalking law.
The block layout in the downtown area is pretty compact; a walk from Denny Way to Yesler Way generally takes less than an hour. Walking away from the shore in the downtown area requires some effort, given the steep elevation of the streets. Outside the downtown area, especially Capitol Hill or the northern and western parts of the city, there are many hills (albeit less hilly and steep than San Francisco). In fact, walking is a great form of exercise in Seattle, with abundant jogging tracks in the parks and longer trails like the Burke Gilman Trail, which runs along the northern side of the ship canal and the western rim of Lake Washington.
By public transit
Public transit fare cards
If you are planning on an extended stay, you'll want to purchase an ORCA card. This card enables you to transfer seamlessly between Seattle's various transit agencies. The card costs $5 and already includes that amount of fare when you purchase, and you can add money or monthly passes to the card (unfortunately, day and multi-day passes are not currently offered).
You can purchase cards and add value to a card at vending machines at transit centers, Sounder and Link light rail stations, QFC & Safeway supermarkets, and at the customer service center at King Street Station (next to the Amtrak station), although reduced fare ORCA cards are issued only at the King Street office. To use the card, tap it on the card reader (the device with the ORCA logo) each time you enter a bus (or, in the case of trains or ferries, at the card reader on the platform or at the turnstile). Your first tap for each trip entitles you to unlimited rides for the next 2 hours (with the exception of Washington State Ferries). To get a refund, you can visit the customer service center.
King County Metro is the primary public transportation agency not just for Seattle but the whole of King County as well. The bus service is generally easy to navigate, especially from downtown, with multiple lines to most tourist attractions. There are two types of bus service offered: the ordinary local service (green/yellow or blue/yellow buses) and the frequent express RapidRide service (red/yellow buses). You must pay upon boarding (or if you have a transfer, show it to the driver) at the front. To request a stop, pull the cord alongside the windows or, on most buses, you can press a red button beside the back door. All upcoming stops are displayed on the board at the front of the bus; stops near public facilities and malls, transit centers, and Downtown are both displayed and announced by voice.
All routes, with the exception of rush-hour only routes, operate from 5AM to 1:30AM, and run from every 10 minutes up to every hour, depending on route and the day of the week. The adult bus fare is $2.50, although the fare increases during rush hour (on weekdays 6-9AM and 3-6PM; $2.75 within the city limits and $3.25 for rides outside the city limits). The youth (ages 6-18) and senior (ages 65 or older) fare is $1.50 and $1.00, respectively. Up to four children under age 6 can ride free with a paying adult. If you pay by cash (exact change only), you'll get a paper transfer good for within a 2 hour period to ride other King County Metro buses. An ORCA card will allow you to transfer for free and seamlessly to other transit agencies.
To figure out your nearest bus stop and real-time arrival times, you can download the One Bus Away app to your smartphone. Arrival times are also displayed at certain Downtown bus stops as well as most RapidRide stops.
When traveling to destinations outside the downtown core, make sure to ask the drivers about green and white "EXPRESS" signs in their windows or the "VIA EXPRESS" on the road display if they are going to your destination. Some of these express routes are intended for regular commuters traveling between residential neighborhoods and Downtown and make few or no stops between, but may be useful for getting to destinations such as the University District, West Seattle, and Ballard. Special service is sometimes deployed from Downtown and certain transit centers for major events, primarily to the Seattle Center, the University of Washington for Husky football games, or to CenturyLink Field for Seahawks games.
In Downtown, most buses go southbound on 2nd Avenue and northbound on 4th Avenue, except RapidRide buses which operate on 3rd Avenue and high-capacity routes that use the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel alongside the Link light rail. The tunnel is open from 5AM to 1AM every day and has five stations, from north to south: Convention Place, Westlake, University Street, Pioneer Square, and International District/Chinatown (the last of which is convenient to King Street Station). The bus tunnel is useful for bus and light rail transfers, but watch your belongings.
Train services are currently limited to Downtown, South Lake Union and South Seattle. Buses are the only public transit mode available to anywhere else in Seattle.
- Link Light Rail operates between Westlake Station (underground) in Downtown and Sea-Tac Airport, via South Seattle and Tukwila. Fares are $2—$2.75 depending on how far you travel; ticket machines are available at all stations, and the tickets must be retained for the duration of your trip (ticket agents will occasionally board the train to check if you have paid your fare). If you use an ORCA card, you must tap at your origin and your destination station. Another line connecting Downtown, Capitol Hill, and the University of Washington will be open in 2016.
- The South Lake Union Streetcar runs between Westlake & Olive Way in Downtown and South Lake Union. The line gained the rather unfortunate moniker "SLUT" (South Lake Union Trolley), and you might hear it referred to as such. The streetcar runs every 15 minutes and costs $2.25 per adult, $1.50 per child, and $1 per senior. You must purchase the ticket at one of the streetcar stops before boarding. You can also transfer with an ORCA card. Another line between International District and Capitol Hill is scheduled to run in 2015.
- The Seattle Center Monorail, a legacy of 1962 World's Fair, takes you non-stop between Westlake Center (5th Avenue & Pine Street) and the Seattle Center in just 2 minutes, and primarily serves tourists heading from Downtown to the Space Needle. One-way tickets are $2.25 per adult, $1 children ages 5-12/seniors. You can only pay by cash; ORCA card is not valid.
If you need any help, go to the Customer Stop at Westlake Station in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, or ask a local. Seattleites are always eager to help and may offer help, even if they see you looking confusingly at a tourist map!
King County Metro provides a Water Taxi service between Pier 50 (beside Pier 52/Colman Dock) in Downtown and Seacrest Park in West Seattle, a ride which takes 15 minutes and is an optimal connection to Alki Point. Fares are $4.75 one way, $4 with an ORCA card. Boats depart every half-hour on weekdays and every hour on weekends during the summer months, with reduced service during the winter.
Don't be intimidated by the prospect of navigating Seattle by car. While rush-hour traffic can be quite frustrating (especially on the freeways), the city's streets and roadways, especially outside the downtown area, are otherwise quite hospitable, with the notable exception of Pike Place Market. Note that many roads Downtown are one-way, which might require some extra navigation. On weekends, you can often rent cars at locations throughout the city for well under $20/day. Parking fares are $1 to $2.50 per hour, but be mindful of where you park and your duration because parking laws are enforced and the fines can be hefty! A parking ticket can be in excess of $35 for going overtime in a 2-hour zone. Outside Downtown, many establishments provide free parking.
When parking on a hill, remember to always apply the parking brake and turn your wheels so that the car will roll into the sidewalk instead of the street if the brakes give out (i.e., when facing uphill, turn toward the street; when facing downhill, turn toward the curb). Failure to park properly doesn't just run the risk of having your car roll downhill, but it is also against the law and you may be ticketed.
Drivers traveling on Interstate 5 between Downtown and Northgate as well as Interstate 90 between Downtown and Bellevue can make use of the express lanes for a generally quick and smooth ride to downtown in the morning or to the suburbs in the evening.
You can call or hail a taxi from any major street in Seattle or most hotels will call them for you. However, most of Seattle's taxi services are unfriendly and expensive, especially if you are only trying to get around the downtown area. Some taxi drivers will even refuse to take you if your destination is less than 15 blocks away. The fares are:
- $2.50 for the first 1/9 mile
- $0.30 for each additional 1/9 mile (a total of $2.70/mile)
- $0.50 for every minute of waiting time
- $0.50 for each additional passenger after two.
If you are heading to SeaTac airport from the downtown area, a flat fare of $40 is applied.
The rudeness of some taxi drivers has caused people to avoid taking them and look for car-sharing alternatives (see below). But should you be in dire need of a taxi, call one of these companies:
If you don't have a car and public transportation seems inconvenient for you, yet your destination is miles away, you can use ride-sharing services like those provided by Uber or Lyft. Download their app to your phone to reserve a car, register your card for payment, punch in your current location and destination, and a car will be in front of you in no time; they do not take prior reservations. Rental car service such as Car2go or Zipcar can be an alternative if you prefer to drive yourself. Seattleites often prefer this method to taking the overpriced taxis.
The rainy weather makes motorcycling difficult but not impossible. Drivers exhibit an alarming obliviousness to motorcycles, and riders should take care to stay well out of a car's blind spot and preferably ahead of, rather than behind, any car. Motorcyclists get preferred boarding on the ferries and there are many parking spots Downtown reserved for motorcycles.
Cycling is better in Seattle than in most American cities. In fact, during rush hour it's often faster to bike than to drive! Bicycle usage has increased significantly since the early 2000s and drivers are a little more accustomed to bicycles in Seattle than in other major cities. Your main drawbacks will be the wet roads, the rain, and the hilly terrain, so you might want to pack some raingear. Many major roads in Seattle have properly maintained bicycle lanes, and you are allowed to ride bicycles on all Seattle roads except the Interstates, the State Route 520 floating bridge, and the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
Bicycle rent kiosks called Pronto are available throughout the city. A purchase of a 24-hour ($8), a 3 day pass ($16), or an annual membership ($85) at the kiosk entitles you to free rides on a bike for the first 30 minutes that you can pick up and return at any stations citywide, but do not forget to take the helmet before you ride and dock the bike correctly when you return it! However, coverage is limited to Downtown, Pioneer Square, the International District, South Lake Union, Capitol Hill, and the University District.
The city maintains a bike map with suggested biking routes for visiting major attractions.
Bicycle transportation in the greater part of Seattle is facilitated further by the Burke-Gilman Trail. This is a paved walking/jogging/cycling trail that winds its way from the north end of Lake Washington, down around the University of Washington, then west along the canal towards Ballard. The trail is on an old railroad right-of-way, so it maintains a very consistent elevation and is excellent for commuting or a casual day's touring. The Elliot Bay Trail overlooks Puget Sound and starts at the north end of Downtown in Myrtle Edwards Park, continuing north along the shore of Elliot Bay. It is much more scenic than the Burke trail, with gorgeous views of the Olympics and Mt. Rainier, and more quiet since it doesn't intersect with any roads.
If you are tired from cycling or looking for a quick ride to another biking place, King County Metro buses have bike racks on the front of the bus. Just don't forget to unload it when you get off!
Here are a few places that offer bike rentals:
- The Bicycle Repair Shop, 928 Alaskan Way (Opposite between Piers 52 & 54). Weekdays 8AM-6PM; Sa 10AM-6PM; Su noon-6PM. You can rent bicycles for an hourly rate or a daily rate (which translates to 5 hours of rent) depending on type of bicycle. The website also has a list of self-guided tours. Hybrid: $9 hourly, $45 daily, $150 weekly.
- Seattle Bicycle Rentals, Pier 58, toll-free: . W-M 8AM-6PM. You can rent bikes for the day, the week, or the month. Guided tours available to Ballard, Fremont, and Lake Union for 3 hours from 1PM (check in the hour before). Tour: $40; Hybrid bike: $10 hourly, $45 for 24 hours..
- Pedal Anywhere. You can rent a bike for up to 30 days, and the bike will be delivered to your doorstep! Reservations must be done online. 1 week $80, 2 week $120, monthly $160.
- Individual listings can be found in Seattle's district articles
Seattle has a lot to see, be it prominent sights or attractions tucked away in quiet neighborhoods. For more information, look at each district's individual articles.
- Seattle CityPASS. A discount pass that includes admission to five attractions for half the normal fee combined. You are entitled to up to two visits (within 24 hours) to the Space Needle, a visit to the Seattle Aquarium, an Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour, a choice between a visit to the Experience Music Project or the Woodland Park Zoo, and a choice between the Pacific Science Center or the Museum of Flight. You are also entitled to $5 off admission to the Chihuly Garden & Glass adjacent to the Space Needle, reduced fares for special cruises and exhibitions at Woodland Park Zoo, the Pacific Science Center and the Museum of Flight. A CityPASS is valid for 9 consecutive days starting with the use of your first ticket. $64 for adult, $44 for children (ages 4-12).
The first thing that pops into most people's minds when they think of Seattle is the Space Needle, located north of Downtown in the Seattle Center. Although it's not the tallest building in Seattle, it still has a wonderful 360-degree view of both the city and the surrounding landscape. It is best to visit at sunset, when the mountains and sky will be lit up in beautiful colors.
Downtown, the Pike Place Market is Seattle's largest tourist area. Home to the famous fish market, the original Starbucks Coffee shop, produce stands, and a dedicated lane each for florists and foods. Don't forget to visit Post Alley, just a block away from Pike Place as you walk away from the shore, as there are some excellent food and souvenir places tucked away.
Seattle has a number of top-notch museums. Downtown is home to the renowned Seattle Art Museum, which displays an good assortment of art from around the world. In the Central District is the Seattle Asian Art Museum, an off-shoot of the Seattle Art Museum which focuses on Chinese and Japanese Art, but includes works from as far away as India. Additionally, The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience in the International District is the only Asian Pacific American museum in the nation. Nearby is the Frye Art Museum, a small private collection featuring 232 paintings by Munich-based artists. Not a museum, but open to browsing by the public, is the Seattle Metaphysical Library in Ballard, which specializes in material not found in normal libraries.
Surrounding the Space Needle on the grounds of the Seattle Center are several more big museums, including the Pacific Science Center, an interactive science museum with an IMAX theater and plenty of science displays, the Experience Music Project, a rock & roll museum celebrating Seattle's vibrant music scene, the Chihuly Garden & Glass, which takes glass art to the next level, and the Science Fiction Museum, with recreations of iconic sci-fi movies and television shows. Nearby South Lake Union is home to both the Museum of History and Industry and the Center for Wooden Boats.
On the waterfront in Downtown is the popular Seattle Aquarium. The University District holds the Henry Art Gallery, one of the biggest contemporary art galleries in Washington, and the Burke Museum, a combination natural history/archaeology museum. Further out in Georgetown is the Museum of Flight, with a large collection of aircraft ranging from wood and fabric crates to the sleek Concorde.
Most of the architectural attractions in Seattle are located in the downtown area, easily traversed on foot. Among the highlights are the Central Library, a unique contemporary building with an enormous glass-fronted atrium; the Columbia Center, the tallest building in the Pacific Northwest and which offers excellent views from its observation deck; and the Seattle City Hall with its roof garden. On the south side of Downtown, near Pioneer Square, is the Smith Tower, an Art Deco building which is Seattle's oldest skyscraper and has an observation deck. North of Downtown in the Seattle Center, the Experience Music Project, designed to resemble Jimi Hendrix's smashed guitar, is done in a manner only Frank Gehry could conceive; nearby is the new Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus, with its 12 acre garden.
Of course, the most popular view in Seattle remains the one from the revolving top of the Space Needle at the Seattle Center. And given the retro-futurism look of the Space Needle, a fitting way to get there is via the Monorail, which connects the Seattle Center to Downtown. Another excellent view is from the Seattle Great Wheel at Pier 57, a ferris wheel that offers superb views of the skyline and the waterfront.
Parks and outdoors
Seattle is peppered with parks, from small urban squares to large forested areas, many with breathtaking views of Seattle and the Puget Sound. Seattle's original park system was designed by the Olmsted brothers in Seattle's early days, and park planners across the country still celebrate Seattle's park system as one of the best designed and best preserved in the United States. While many other American cities have only one or two Olmsted-designed parks, Seattle has an extensive multi-park plan linked by boulevards, and this legacy makes Seattle one of the most livable cities in the country.
The Seattle Center is actually a park itself, with attractions besides the Space Needle and the center's numerous museums. The Kobe Bell and the mural beside it and the International Fountain are often overlooked but should not be missed. Up on Queen Anne Hill is Kerry Park, where you'll be spellbound by the most photographed view of Seattle. To the west is Discovery Park, with trails less traveled traversing hills and offering a view of the unspoiled landscape, wildlife, and a lighthouse.
Overlooking Lake Union in Fremont is Gasworks Park. Once the site of a coal gasification plant, the plant has been replaced by lush green hills surrounding one small section of rusting—yet surprisingly picturesque—machinery from the coal plant. The park is filled with spectators for the 4th of July fireworks and is also a great place for boaters to access Lake Union. For a day at the beach, head over to Golden Gardens Park for a view of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains, or to Alki Beach in West Seattle for a great view of Downtown Seattle. Both also offer bonfire sites. Joggers can spend their time at Green Lake Park or Magnuson Park for a serene view of water by the running tracks.
A place to see trees from around the world is at the Washington Park Arboretum in the Central District. The Arboretum contains a Japanese Garden (closed in winter) that plays host to a traditional Japanese festival. For a more laid back and Zen atmosphere, the Kubota Garden at Rainier Beach in south Seattle has streams and waterfalls, ponds, rock outcroppings, and an exceptionally rich and mature collection of plants. If you are into animals, head to the Woodland Park Zoo to see animals from around the world held in pleasant, naturalistic exhibits.
- Individual listings can be found in Seattle's district articles
- Ride the Ducks of Seattle, ☎ . Seattle Center: Daily 9:20AM to 7PM; Westlake Center: Weekdays 10AM to 6PM, Weekends 10AM to 7PM. A 90 minute ride on an amphibious World War II vehicle (part of the ride is on Lake Union). The style of the tour is a bit over-the-top; keep a sense of humor about you. Board at Seattle Center (5th Avenue & Broad Street) or Westlake Center. Adults $28, Children $17.
- Argosy Cruises, 1101 Alaskan Way, Pier 55. Harbor cruises vary by season.. Boat tour company with special dinner and sightseeing cruises. The most common tour visitors take is the hour-long cruise on Elliott Bay, which offers excellent views not just of the Space Needle and the Downtown skyline, but the freight harbor as well. Prices are various according to your itinerary ($23.75 for harbor cruise).
- Seattle Underground Tour. A tour that takes you to underground portions of the Pioneer Square district. In 1889, 25 square blocks of Seattle were destroyed in a fire. When rebuilding, the city decided to raise the streets in the city approximately one story; thus the Seattle Underground was born!
- Kenmore Air, 950 Westlake Ave N, ☎ . 20 minute plane tours over Seattle that are narrated by the pilot, with spectacular views of the city. Tours begin and end at the west side of Lake Union. Reservations required. $99.50 per person.
Most water sports activity in Seattle takes place on Lake Union, since there are still plenty of people watching you for your safety. Most parts of the lake, especially the northern and middle portions, are playable.
You can also kayak and do water sports at Lake Washington, but go there at your own risk. The lake is thrice the size of Lake Union and there will not be many people watching for your safety.
Most of Seattle's festivals take place in the summer, the only long stretch of time when Seattle has days of sunny weather.
- Festál Cultural Center, Seattle Center. Year-round except December. Celebrate the world with festivals from about 25 countries represented, one country nearly every 2 weeks.
- Seattle International Film Festival, McCaw Hall, Moore Theatre,. May-June. One of the largest film festivals in North America, showing movies from around the world. Watch indie films at screens around the city and vote for your favorite; the winner of each respective category receives the Golden Space Needle trophy.
- Seafair, everywhere. July-early August. Seattle's biggest festival, signifying the arrival of summer. Neighborhood events such as parades and street fairs run throughout the festival, with the downtown Torchlight Parade in late July. Seafair culminates in early August when hydroplane races and the Blue Angels bring loud, fast boats and planes to Lake Washington.
- Bumbershoot, Seattle Center. Labor Day weekend (early September). Seattle's largest music and arts festival, featuring dozens of local and world-class musical acts.
- Northwest Folklife Festival, Seattle Center. Memorial Day weekend. A more low-key and global version of Bumbershoot. Even more important, it's free! ($10 donation per person per day encouraged)..
- Bite of Seattle, Seattle Center. mid/late July. Part of Seafair festivities. Enjoy some of the best delicacies of Seattle.
- Hempfest, Myrtle Edwards Park. mid-August for two days. The largest marijuana rally in the world and the biggest annual political event in Washington. Features political speakers, vendors, food, several stages with many bands, and lots of open pot smoking (especially at 4:20). It is also a demonstration for the political reform and the legalization of marijuana. Possession and consumption (not in public) is now legal in the state of Washington. Police tend to look the other way during Hempfest, and marijuana use in public is now a civil infraction subject to ticketing, not arrest.
- Capitol Hill Block Party, Capitol Hill. a mid-summer weekend. Yearly live music event held on Capitol Hill over a weekend in mid-summer (usually the end of July). Consists primarily of local independent bands of various styles, coupled with some bigger name independent label acts.
- Fremont Fair, Fremont. a weekend in mid or late June. Home of the Solstice Parade (including the nude bike ride), and a really fun drunken time all over Fremont. Vendors, bad live music and eclectic crowds at the bars make for an interesting time. Friends who live in Fremont become especially valuable for a place to crash during the fair.
- Seattle PrideFest, Seattle Center. A weekend in June or July. One of the biggest gay pride festivals in the country. Food carts, beer gardens, adult theme performances, and the eagerly anticipated Pride Parade.
- Chinese Festivals, International District. Lunar New Year (January/February), Dragon Fest (July), Night Market (late summer). Numerous stalls and performances, and don't forget to partake in all the cheap food!
In terms of professional sports teams, Seattle has been underrated until recently. Of the four biggest U.S. professional leagues, two have teams in Seattle, and the fast-growing Major League Soccer also has a Seattle team.
Even prior to the recent success of the Seahawks, CenturyLink Field has long been packed to the gills by the "12th men" (the name for loud, devout Seahawks fans) watching the National Football League Seattle Seahawks. Soccer fans can enjoy the Seattle Sounders FC games in summer, also held in CenturyLink Field. Safeco Field next door is home to the Major League Baseball Seattle Mariners.
Meanwhile, Seattle has one of the strongest followings for women's teams in sports. The Seattle Storm plays WNBA basketball at KeyArena in Seattle Center, while Seattle Reign FC has been recently established together with the National Women's Soccer League. In minor league men's sports, the Seattle Thunderbirds junior hockey team (players age 16 to 20) plays in Kent.
College teams also have a proud presence in town. The University of Washington Huskies play basketball and football at their own arena on campus. In October or November, the rivalry between U-Dub (short name for the campus) and Wazzu (Washington State University) is flaring, with the Apple Cup football match played at Husky Stadium every odd-numbered year. Seattle University has the Seattle Redhawks, another NCAA Division I team, but with a much lower profile than U-Dub.
- 5th Avenue Theatre, on 5th Avenue between Union and University Streets in Downtown, is seen as a "testing ground" for many musicals on their way to Broadway.
- Benaroya Hall, on 3rd Avenue at University Street, is home to the Seattle Symphony and concerts by classical orchestras. There are two auditoriums: Taper (seats 2,500) and Nordstrom (seats 500).
- The Seattle Opera, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and other performances are held at the McCaw Hall at Seattle Center.
- Other halls such as Paramount Theatre at 9th Avenue and Pine Street and Moore Theatre at 2nd Avenue house many performing arts and sometimes Broadway performances.
- Big concerts by world famous artists usually take place at KeyArena at Seattle Center.
Given the huge influx of people to Seattle, educational institutions has been constantly adding programs to the point that they now cover virtually every occupation. These are some of the institutions:
- University of Washington maintains its main campus in the city's University District. It's the biggest employer in Seattle proper, and is famous for its competitive computer science, business, and engineering programs. Even if you're not studying here, the campus is worth a visit to admire its Gothic-style architecture.
- Seattle University is a private Jesuit (Catholic) university near Downtown and the second largest university in the area. SU is famous for its volunteer and non-profit sponsored projects.
- Seattle Pacific University on Queen Anne Hill is Free Methodist affiliated and offers liberal art programs, as well as science and professional certifications.
- The Art Institute of Seattle in Downtown offers fashion and media design, arts, and culinary programs.
- City University of Seattle has a notable presence for its management and graduate programs.
Other universities include Bastyr University and Argosy University. Community colleges often offer some fun short-term courses. North Seattle College has the most diverse selection, with a focus on machinery, ventilation, and even wristwatch making. Other colleges within the same system are Seattle Central College and South Seattle College. If you want to get out of the crowded city, you can also choose Green River to the south, as well as Shoreline and Edmonds to the north.
Seattle is a well-known center for business, being the home of the headquarters of tech companies Amazon.com and Microsoft, aircraft manufacturer Boeing, coffee chain Starbucks, and the warehouse grocer Costco. But the biggest opportunity for work in Seattle these days is from startup companies, many of which are tech-based startups pushed out of Silicon Valley due to the exorbitant costs of operating there. Recruitment to startups is generally easy, and while you can't expect similar wages or work environment to the large companies, many do offer compensations such as free haircut, lunch, apartment rent with one or more working partners, or carpool service. Demand for tech jobs, especially programmers, is constantly rising.
Health is another growing sector of the economy. Seattle is one of the fittest cities in the nation and nutritionists, doctors, and nurses are in need to take care of the growing population. Biotech companies are also on the rise. Comparatively, the hospitality business has been growing at a glacial pace compared to the tech moguls.
One good reason to work in Seattle, or the rest of Washington state for that matter, is that there is no state income tax.
- Individual listings can be found in Seattle's district articles
If you want it, you can most likely get it in Seattle. The city has many small, locally owned business in addition to the more typical large shopping malls. A sales tax of 9.5% applies for all purchases except most groceries, newspapers, and prescription drugs.
- The Pike Place Market is an attraction in and of itself, and is well-known for its seafood and produce stands. At the main entrance to the market is Pike Place Fish, famous for its handlers who throw fish to each other, but there are plenty of other seafood stands as well. In the main market complex are several levels of restaurants and shops selling antiques, arts and crafts, and souvenirs, and as the weather gets warmer, artisans sell their wares in the upper open-air level as well. Although it is flush with tourists, especially in the summer months, area residents and Downtown workers regularly shop at the market as well, which minimizes the "tourist trap" feel.
- The Westlake retail corridors on Pike, Pine, and Union Street between 3rd and 5th Avenues are also a great place to shop. The Westlake Center and the Pacific Place malls have pricey fashion stores, with the sidewalk arcades dominated by big fashion chains.
- Belltown, a northern neighborhood of the downtown area, has a plethora of designer art galleries, fashion, and accessory workshops.
- The Pioneer Square area is the cheaper counterpart to Belltown, with more eclectic accessories.
- Ballard: Most shopping options here are on Ballard Avenue NW between 20th & 22nd Avenue NW. If big brands don't interest you, head here for stylish urban and hip fashion.
- Capitol Hill: Most shops here are in the western part of the neighborhood near Interstate 5 (E Pike & Pine Street, Broadway and Melrose Ave), where the streets are filled with mid-range fashion options and a little bit of everything, befitting the hippest district of Seattle. Here you'll also find Seattle's biggest bookstore, The Elliott Bay Book Company.
- Fremont: Mainly vintage fashion wear and not as eccentric as its neighbor, Ballard. It is also a center for antiques and accessories. The shopping district is centered around Fremont Place N and N 35th Street.
- International District: Groceries, herbal medicines, and plenty of Asian-style wares. You can also buy handy Japanese kitchenware and other items at the infamous Uwajimaya or by the back door of the dollar shop Daiso.
- North Seattle: Thrift stores scattered throughout the area, bulk grocery shopping at Aurora Avenue N, and fashion shops at Northgate Mall.
- Queen Anne Hill: Mostly houses, but there is a small commercial area at the top of the hill (Queen Anne Ave N between W Galer St & W McGraw St). Usually this is a place to indulge in a body treatment.
- South Lake Union: A long retail strip is located on Broadway which connects to Capitol Hill. On the south shore of the lake you'll find shops of every type have recently been sprouting up. Outdoor gear chain REI has a store on Broadway.
- University District: Clothing and thrift stores catering towards the local student population are located along University Way. Upscale options are available at the open-air University Village Mall at 25th Ave NE. On campus is the University Bookstore.
- West Seattle: Head to California Ave SW for more laid back and contemporary clothing options.
- Individual listings can be found in Seattle's district articles
|This page uses the following price ranges for a typical meal for one, including soft drink:|
|Budget||up to $10|
|Splurge||more than $20|
Typical of a big city, Seattle has a diverse range of fare representative of cuisines from around the world. Local chains and hole-in-the-wall restaurants dominate the city's dining atmosphere, and hearty, inexpensive meals can be found all over the city. Note that many Seattle restaurants, particularly the hole-in-the-wall establishments, only accept cash.
Seattle's proximity to Alaska and the waters of the Pacific Ocean make it an excellent place to enjoy seafood. Look for salmon during the late summer months as options are abundant and the prices are among the cheapest on the West Coast, especially the red (sockeye) salmon. Shellfish are a prized resource of the Puget Sound, where the cool, clean waters provide an optimal habitat. Clams, mussels and oysters can be found easily, but other specialties like geoducks (pronounced GOO-ey-ducks) are sometimes available for the more adventurous. The Dungeness Crab, named for a nearby town on the Sound, is a popular seafood prized for its sweet, tender flesh and high ratio of meat. The Dungeness is a commercially important crab in Washington's waters but other crab species are also common. The Alaskan King Crab, caught from the deep cold waters of the Pacific Ocean near Alaska, has a more frequent presence here than the rest of the lower 48.
Donut shops and bakeries are virtually everywhere, with some offering coffee, making them an excellent option during cold weather.
The mild climate also supports many types of fresh produce. Farmers' markets are a normal occurrence on the weekends, especially in residential areas, and they usually have better quality produce than what you can get at supermarkets. They're an excellent opportunity to taste local delicacies and experience the local culture. Apples, which are exported from Washington and shipped all over the world, are in season around October.
Seattle also boasts a wide variety of Asian cuisine, from East Asia to the South. Family-run and hole-in-the-wall teriyaki, ramen, sushi, and Chinese restaurants are abundant and scattered throughout the area.
Eating options by district
Downtown and Pioneer Square hold many cafés and high end restaurants. Belltown to home to most options for downtown dining, with restaurants in every price range and some of the city's best-reviewed restaurants. Pike Place Market's stands offer plenty of samples, with plenty of popular options also available in Post Alley. The Waterfront, naturally, has a selection of seafood restaurants.
Outside of the Downtown area, Capitol Hill has plenty of hip cafés and bars, with many among the best-reviewed in the city and visited by local celebrities, as well as many Ethiopian and Thai eateries. The International District is known for its dim-sum, communal Chinese and Japanese offerings, as well as Vietnamese restaurants on the east side of the neighborhood. South Seattle also has a diversity of ethnic restaurants, while West Seattle holds more elegant mid-range to high-end choices, mostly European, seafood, and steak and many with a full bar.
North of Downtown, Queen Anne Hill seems to offer a little bit of everything near the Seattle Center. North of the canal, Ballard has mostly European fare with some Mexican, Mediterranean, and Asian options. Fremont has an increasing number of American and world cuisines in small establishments, some of which are so popular they generate long lines. The University District has a myriad of budget and international restaurants, while North Seattle has some scattered family-run Asian restaurants.
- Individual listings can be found in Seattle's district articles
Few, if any, American cities can challenge Seattleites' love of coffee. This is perhaps best signified by the Seattle-based international chain Starbucks, but locals aren't satisfied by recognized chains alone, as evidenced by the hundreds of good locally-owned coffeehouses. The best places to look for coffee are in Capitol Hill or Queen Anne Hill, where they take matters of coffee very seriously.
Microbreweries are a Northwest specialty, and Seattle has many to offer for beer enthusiasts. The larger brewers, like Redhook and Pyramid, distribute their products regionally or nationally, while other brews can only be found in local stores or bars (some notable brewers don't bottle their product). Elysian, with three pubs in various neighborhoods, and the Pike Brewing Company, located in Pike Place Market, are other popular local brewers. Many microbreweries have set up shop in South Seattle.
In Washington, bars have a full liquor license, while taverns are restricted to beer, wine and cider. Many Seattle bars have a world-class beer selection featuring local Northwest style micros, many of them crafted in Seattle. Beer aficionados should check out Uber Tavern, Brouwer's Cafe, or the Stumbling Monk, or visit the Beer Junction in West Seattle, which is primarily a bottle shop with a staggering selection but which also has a bar and regular tastings. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though! There are also plenty of drinking options to be found in the Belltown portion of downtown (south of Denny Way), Fremont, Ballard, the University District, and Capitol Hill. The good news is Washington state is one of the last states that allows all alcoholic drinks to be sold openly at supermarkets, so liquor is readily and cheaply available even if you don't want to go to a bar.
Wine is another Northwest specialty, and there are a number of wineries just thirty miles from Seattle proper in Woodinville. Many more can be found a 2-3 hour drive away on the other side of the Cascades in Washington Wine Country. You can find local vintages in grocery stores, wine shops, restaurants, and wine bars such as Bottlehouse and Purple.
Like any other city with a large Asian population, bubble tea or boba milk tea shops has been recently popping up, and are popular among young people. Bubble tea is basically milk tea with various flavors and tapioca balls. Many of these shops also offer Asian snacks and delicacies. If you are thirsty and hungry, and budget is your main concern, this can be a good option. Most of these can be found in the University District as well as a few in the International District.
- Individual listings can be found in Seattle's district articles
For such a large city, there is a surprisingly lack of accommodation options available, thus rooms in Seattle are more on the expensive side. Most sleeping options are in Downtown and consist mostly of mid-range or high-end hotels. Other options, especially budget hotels and hostels can be found near the Seattle Center, the University District, the International District, and in North Seattle. There are also bed and breakfast options in Fremont, Ballard, and Capitol Hill. Steer clear of the motels along Aurora Avenue N, as there are many sketchy places where you stay at your own risk.
An alternative to Seattle accommodations is a train ride away south in Tukwila, especially near SeaTac airport, as there are plenty more hotels to choose from with a wide range of rates. You can also find more options for hotels across the I-90 bridge to Bellevue or other towns on the other side of Lake Washington, such as Kirkland, Issaquah, or Renton.
The area code for the City of Seattle is 206. Surrounding areas use other area codes, including 425 which encompasses the eastern and northern suburbs including Bellevue, Redmond, Lynnwood, and Everett, 253 for all areas south of Kent such as Tacoma, Federal Way, and Fife, and 360 for everywhere else west of the Cascades. All of Washington east of the Cascades uses the 509 area code.
Pay phones can be found mostly in train stations, but these usually go unused and most of them are on the verge of being taken down. Like much of the rest of the country, you will pretty much need a cellphone to make calls. Cellphone reception is excellent throughout most of the city, with the exception of the Downtown transit tunnels.
Free Wi-Fi can be found at all Seattle public libraries. As part of a pilot project, the City of Seattle provides free Wi-Fi access in Columbia City, the University District area, four downtown Seattle parks (Occidental, Freeway, Westlake and Victor Steinbrueck), and the City Hall lobby area. The Seattle Center also provides free wireless internet in the Center House building. RapidRide and Sound Transit commuter buses also offer free Wi-Fi.
There are various internet cafes in the Seattle area, especially in the University District and the Downtown neighborhoods. Additionally, many coffee shops offer free and paid wireless access (all Starbucks locations offer free Wi-Fi). 4G LTE coverage is well covered by most, if not all, major telecom companies, but reception gets poorer the closer you get to the mountains.
Statistically, the number of crimes in Seattle is similar to what you would expect in any major city in the United States. By and large, as long as you use some common sense, you are unlikely to be the target of any crime. Auto break-ins and theft are a problem in the city, so never your leave valuables visible in a car and always lock your car doors. Be wary of the rising trend of smartphone theft.
Downtown Seattle has a sizable population of homeless (many neighborhoods have forced their homeless into Seattle's downtown core), and while many beg for change and some seem unstable, only a few are actually dangerous. Though it is worthwhile to be careful after dark in some areas around the downtown core. Some places to watch your back near major tourist areas include under the viaduct along the Waterfront, between Pine and Pike Streets in Downtown, and around Pioneer Square, where you'll want to beware of drug dealers and beggars. Areas you'll want to avoid at night (at least not without company) include along Aurora Avenue and Lake City Way in the north of the city, SoDo, and the International District.
Drivers in Seattle are typically nice but indecisive, but as long as you're careful as a pedestrian, you don't run a high risk of getting hit. Cyclists should be extra wary of traffic and opening doors of parked cars, especially Downtown.
Washington state has legalized the consumption of marijuana for recreational use. By law, only persons aged 21 and over can purchase marijuana, and then only from licensed retailers. Purchasers are limited to one ounce of usable marijuana (the harvested flowers or "bud"), 16 ounces of marijuana-infused edibles in solid form, 72 ounces in liquid form, or 7 grams of marijuana concentrates.
Under no circumstances should you consume marijuana in public or while driving, nor should you transport it out of the state or give it to anybody else for consumption. The DUI limit is .08, but even a smaller number can still lead to an arrest. Any other regulations not stated here should be treated the same as with alcohol. Smoking is not allowed in any public places, and must be done at least 25 feet away from doors, windows, or ventilation shafts.
Except during late spring and summer, when the weather is usually sunny, the morning often starts with fog before the afternoon sunshine clears it. Be careful if you're driving, as visibility can be near zero in the early morning, depending on the location. Watch out for black ice as well if the temperature is below freezing. Occasionally, this condition will persist and emissions will get trapped over the city; in these cases, an Air Stagnation Advisory will be issued, and those with breathing problems should take precautions in such an event.
In case of rain, take the normal precautions while driving to avoid skidding; drive 10-15 mph slower than the speed limit and avoid driving through large puddles. If you are heading to the mountains, take the typical winter driving precautions, like putting chains on your tires or changing to traction tires. If it does snow in Seattle, it is better not to drive, as the city is typically unprepared for such an event and motor vehicles become a moving hazard -- stuck, skidding, or rolling down the city's hills.
LGBT travelers should have no problems in Seattle, which is quite tolerant to LGBT visitors. There is even an unofficially dedicated capital of gay pride of Seattle: Capitol Hill. However, any public display of affection is often frowned upon and can result in unwanted stares.
As long as there are no extreme weather events, Seattle is a perfectly lovely place. Many parks have jogging tracks and fitness centers are abundant, making Seattle one of the fittest cities in the nation.
Temperatures can get extreme during the summer, and there is always at least one annual instance where temperatures hover above 90 degrees Fahrenheit, although with little humidity. Drink plenty of liquid to keep yourself hydrated and don't leave anybody inside a car.
When it rains, Seattleites frequently don't use umbrellas, since the drizzle is constant and is sometimes accompanied with wind. Rather, the locals are more likely to wear a hoodie jacket or a poncho, and packing one is recommended. During the long stretch of mild (40-50 degrees) and dry days in winter, smog often covers the skies of Puget Sound, as there is no way for the pollutants and moisture to clear out of the area. If an Air Stagnation Advisory or Burn Ban is issued, take precautions if you have breathing problems. On these days, you might want to consider heading to the mountains, where you're more likely to experience sunshine and slightly warmer temperatures.
During a hike in between thick lines of trees at the parks, be careful to check for ticks. If a bulls' eye rash develops at the tick bite site, immediately seek medical help and treatment with antibiotics. Despite its location close to mountains, wild animals such as bears or beavers are very unlikely to stray at the city.
Smoking is not allowed in any public places, and must be done at least 25 feet away from doors, windows, or ventilation shafts.
Tap water is safe to drink and is among the best quality in the United States, from undisturbed and uncontaminated water sources fed by snow melt in the Cascade mountains.
- The Seattle Times ($0.50 daily, $1.50 Sundays) is the only remaining daily newspaper in the Seattle area and covers local, national and international news.
- The Seattle Post-Intelligencer (free, online only) has ended its print edition, but still maintains local reporters and an online presence.
- The Seattle Weekly (free, published Wednesday) is one of many free weeklies that are published in the Seattle area. The Weekly has a longstanding reputation for in-depth coverage of arts and local politics.
- The Stranger (free, published Thursday) is an alternative weekly newspaper noted for its social commentary, political opinion, arts, comics, music coverage, and local news items.
- Publicola (free, online only) is an online only but well read blog covering local politics and events.
- Real Change ($2.00, published weekly) is a newspaper mostly written and produced by homeless people, sold by homeless vendors on street corners and outside grocery stores.
There are also several ethnic newspapers including Northwest Asian Weekly, and numerous neighborhood newspapers including the North Seattle Journal, and the West Seattle Blog. The University of Washington also publishes The Daily of the University of Washington.
Seattle is in the top 20 of the largest media market in the US, thus virtually every genre you can think of has its own radio station:
- KEXP-FM (90.3) = public station, alternative & indie rock
- KQMV (Movin 92.5) = Top 40
- KUBE (93.3) = Hip hop
- KJR-FM (95.7) = classic hits
- KIRO-FM (97.3) = news & talk
- KOMO-FM (97.7) = news
- KING-FM (98.1) = classical
- KKWF (Wolf 100.7) = Country
- KPLZ (Star 101.5) = Hot Adult Contemporary
- KCMS (Spirit 105.3) = Christian
- KIRO (710 AM) = Sports
- KMIA (1210 AM) = Spanish Latino
- KWYZ (1230 AM) = Korean
Seattle is the 13th largest television market in the US, with all big five English (ABC, NBC, CBS, CW, FOX), five Spanish (Univision, Telemundo, Azteca, MundoFOX), and independent networks represented. All big five except CW, and Univision have local news, weather, and sports alongside syndicated & network primetime TV shows. You can also stream on their website when they broadcast local news.
- KOMO= Channel 4 (ABC)
- KING = Channel 5 (NBC)
- KIRO = Channel 7 (CBS)
- KCTS = Channel 9 (PBS)
- KSTW = Channel 11 (The CW). Does not broadcast local news.
- KCPQ = Channel 13 (FOX). Here is where you watch the Seahawks (Sunday games) and the Sounders playing on TV.
- KTBW = Channel 20 (TBN & other Christian networks)
- KWPX = Channel 33 (ion on sub-channel 1, Telemundo on sub-channel 7)
- KFFV = Channel 44 (Azteca on sub-channel 2, AAT (local Chinese channel) on sub-channel 4, WeatherNation on sub-channel 5)
- KUNS = Channel 50 (Univision on sub-channel 1, MundoFOX on sub-channel 2). Only Univision has local news.
You can also get Canadian television, but over the air coverage is very poor, so a cable subscription may be necessary.
Seattle has a large number of primary- and secondary-care medical centers, including the only level 1 trauma center serving Alaska, Washington, Idaho and Montana. Additionally, Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center is the pediatric referral center for those same states.
- UW Medicine The UW Medicine system is operated by the University of Washington. It includes Harborview Medical Center, UW Medical Center, UW Medicine Neighborhood Clinics, Eastside Specialty Center, Hall Health (Student Health Services) and Sports Medicine Clinic.
- Harborview Medical Center, 325 Ninth Ave, +1 206 744-3000. Seattle’s Level 1 trauma center, and the hospital where most critically injured patients are either airlifted or ambulanced. 24-hour Emergency Room, Centers of Emphasis for neurosciences, trauma, burns, reconstruction and rehabilitation, mentally ill and medically vulnerable, and AIDS/STD treatment.
- UW Medical Center, 1959 NE Pacific, +1 206 598-3300. The second hospital component to the UW Medicine system, this hospital is one of the biggest and best teaching hospitals in the country. 24-hour Emergency Room.
- Children's Hospital and Medical Center, 4800 Sand Point Way NE, +1 206 987-2000. Children's Hospital is a private hospital specializing in pediatrics. It is also home to UW's School of Pediatrics. 24-hour pediatric emergency room.
- Swedish Medical Center Swedish Medical Center is a large nonprofit health care provider. It has three main hospital locations and is also affiliated with many other suburban hospitals and clinics. Among the things Swedish is known for are its Cancer, Bariatrics and Heart Institutes. Swedish Hospital will treat all patients who need care, regardless of their ability to pay.
- Swedish Medical Center First Hill, 747 Broadway, +1 206 386-6000. Certified Primary Stroke Care center, 24-hour ER, 24-hour Pediatric ER. This is the Main Swedish Medical Center campus.
- Swedish Medical Center Cherry Hill, 500 17th Ave, +1 206 320-2000. Certified Primary Stroke Care center, 24-hour ER.
- Swedish Medical Center Ballard, 5300 Tallman Ave NW, +1 206 782-2700. 24-Hour ER.
In the event of a medical emergency anywhere in the U.S., dial 911 for free from any phone, including payphones at no cost.
- Belgium, The World Trade Center Seattle, 2200 Alaskan Way Ste 470, ☎ , fax: +1 206 770-7923, e-mail: Seattle@diplobel.org.
- Germany (Honorary), 7853 SE 27th St Ste 180, Mercer Island, ☎ , fax: +1 206 236-5162, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Denmark (Honorary), 6204 E Mercer Way, Mercer Island, ☎ , fax: +1 206 230-0888, e-mail: email@example.com.
- Netherlands (Honorary), Karman Executive Center, Bellevue, ☎ , fax: +1 425-637-3050, e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you're staying anywhere near downtown, the state-run ferries leave from Colman Dock, a pier at the south end of the Waterfront, an easy walk from downtown. Passengers on foot pay $7.50 for the westbound trip; the return to Seattle is free.
- Take the ferry to Bainbridge Island on the Kitsap Peninsula (30 minutes one way).
- Or, take a trip to Bremerton on the Kitsap Peninsula and back, a place as scenic as the Aegean Sea.
- The Fauntleroy Ferry terminal in West Seattle offers service to Vashon Island and Southworth terminal near Port Orchard.
- The County also provides passenger-only Water Taxi service from Pier 50 (right next to Colman Dock) to Vashon Island.
Just getting out and driving around the area with no destination in mind can be a great experience, as the Seattle area, like most of the Pacific Northwest, is very scenic. If you'd like more specific destinations, try some of these:
- Everett lies about 25 miles north of Seattle on I-5 and is home to the Boeing factory - a massive building where all of its wide-bodied aircraft are assembled - tours are available.
- Grove of the Patriarchs, in the Ohanapecosh River valley in the southeast part of Mount Rainier National Park, takes you on the short hiking trail through groves of thousand year-old cedars.
- Leavenworth is a Bavarian-style town surrounded by the Cascade mountains.
- The Mountains to Sound Greenway via I-90 is the quickest "escape" from the city into the nearby Cascade mountains.
- North Bend (also out I-90) is the town where parts of the 1990 David Lynch TV series Twin Peaks were filmed, and has the Northwest Railway Museum.
- The North Cascade Loop consists of a two-day minimum round trip over Stevens Pass and the North Cross-state Highway (US 2 and SR 20).
- The Olympic Peninsula features beaches on the Pacific Ocean, Cape Flattery (the extreme northwestern point of the contiguous U.S.), and the only temperate rain forests in the lower 48 states.
- Portland, Oregon is roughly 3 hours away south on I-5. Go here for a more laid back, slower situation, and to shop tax-free (what is stated is what you pay).
- Mount Rainier National Park Just 2 hours south and east from Seattle, this magnificent mountain offers a mosaic of beautiful scenery such as blooming wildflowers, glaciers, crashing waterfalls and the mountain itself.
- Roslyn is also out I-90 (not far past Snoqualmie Pass) and is where the TV series Northern Exposure was filmed and holds festivals of such theme in late July.
- The San Juan Islands is only two hours north on Interstate 5 (exit onto Westbound SR20 in Burlington and follow the signs to the San Juans Ferry).
- Mount St. Helens, 2.5 hours from Seattle, still lefts a breathtaking charm despite its 1980 eruption.
- Snoqualmie Falls, (Snoqualmie, east of Seattle on I-90). A 300 ft high scenic waterfall, easily viewable from two viewpoints.
- Spokane, a 5-hour drive eastbound on I-90 to the major city of eastern Washington.
- Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada is 3 hours (plus border security) north of Seattle on I-5.
- Whidbey Island is a short drive away north on Interstate 5 (follow the signs for Mukilteo Ferry) and is a charming place with quaint towns.
An equivalent to Denver but far fewer in number, Seattle is the gateway to winter resorts on the Cascade mountains. Drive for one hour to the resorts to enjoy everything from leisure snowball fights to downhill skis, a perfect escape if you are bored with Seattle's plain rain. Winter sports season is generally October-May, depending on how much snow there is.
- Snoqualmie Pass - Summit and Alpental resorts an hour east on Interstate 90.
- Stevens Pass - A resort about two hours East of Seattle on highway 2
- Crystal Mountain at Mount Rainier
- Mount Baker North, near Bellingham.
- Mission Ridge East of Steven's Pass, near Wenatchee.
- White Pass South of Seattle on Highway 12.
- Whistler, British Columbia, Canada - North America's top rated ski resort, about a four hour drive north of Seattle past Vancouver on the Sea to Sky Highway.
|Routes through Seattle|
|Vancouver (via ) ← Shoreline ←||N S||→ Tukwila → Portland|
|END ←||W E||→ Mercer Island → Spokane|
|Everett ← Shoreline ←||N S||→ Tukwila → Tacoma|
|END ←||N S||→ White Center → Tacoma|
|END ←||W E||→ Bellevue → Redmond|
|END ←||SW NE||→ Jct W → Bothell → Monroe|