|I grew up in the Seattle-area, and every now and then friends ask me what to see if they go visit. This page is my advice for visitors who're in Seattle for a day or two. I've split it into advice for two audiences: city folks and country folks. For the city folks, let me say that the true glory of Seattle is not in its urban activities, but rather what it offers out-of-doors. But if you do not have time to travel out of the city, there are still fun things to do in the Seattle metropolitan area. With that caveat aside, I'll first address the country folks.
The Olympic Mountains from Bellevue
Credit: Johnny Lin (Dec 26, 2004)
Here's my list of touristy out-of-doors things to do, in order of my preference (#1 being the best). The first three activities take a full day (and are best done if you have a car) because of the time it takes to travel to and from the place back to Seattle, but all of them can be done as a day trip.
- Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument: Located 2-3 hours south of Seattle, this National Monument is something unique. Where else in the lower forty-eight can you readily visit an active volcano? They left much of the devastation from the 1980 eruption to recover naturally; seeing the power of the volcano is literally awesome.
- Mt. Rainier National Park: A huge mountain. It's particularly dramatic, because it rises up so quickly from sea-level (in contrast to the Rockies whose base is already really high up). During winter, the most spectacular part of the visit, Paradise, may be closed.
- Orcas Island: Take a ferry to the island and drive to the highest point on the island and Puget Sound, Mt. Constitution. Actually, my favorite part of the trip is the ferry ride: it's relaxing and unique! (The sheltered nature of Puget Sound permits the ferry hull to be shaped differently from most ferries.)
- Snoqualmie Falls: While not as large as Niagra Falls, these falls are taller and you can hike very close to the base of the falls (at least I feel it's pretty close).
These are listed in alphabetical order. Everything on the list can be done in a half day or less. The exception is the Boeing Plant tour, which may take longer since it's located 30 miles outside of the city. If you don't have a car, you can take Metro Transit which is made up of buses and light rail. You'll want to use their trip planner and bus tracker, since not all buses come very frequently.
- The Boeing 747 Plant Tour: See 747s, 777s, etc. being assembled! The plant is located in Mukilteo, 30 miles north of Seattle. Reservations are recommended. (Currently the tour is closed but the Boeing flight museum is open.)
- EMP|SFM (Experience Music Project|Science Fiction Museum): Recommended by friends, but I've never been there myself, so I don't have much to say about what to do there.
- Hiram Chittenden Locks: Think of this as a very very small version of the Panama Canal. Even still, it's neat to see boats lifted up and down between Lake Washington and Lake Union.
- The Museum of Flight: An amazing collection of aircraft, but the neatest part in my mind is the outdoor (but covered) Aviation Pavilion that has a Concorde and Ike's Air Force One that you can actually go on board.
- Pacific Science Center/Seattle Center: Legacies of the 1962 Seattle World's Fair, the Pacific Science Center is a fun science museum while the Seattle Center hosts arts festivals and has a food court.
- Pike Place Market: This is a cool open-market where vendors throw fish around. Savor Seattle Food Tours runs an awesome food and cultural tour of the Market (you should book in advance). My wife and I went on this tour in 2008 and were so impressed by the knowledge, amiability, and down-to-earthness of our tour guide. And, of course, the food on the tour was excellent!
- Seattle Aquarium: I loved going here as a kid. Although there are larger and hipper aquariums in the world, I always thought this one had a special charm to it.
- Underground City Tour: A quirky exploration of old, pioneer Seattle.
- University of Washington Gardens: The University of Washington's landscaping and botanic gardens are a real treat. The Washington Park Arboretum is a large (230 acre) garden on the shores of Lake Washington. Within it is the Japanese Garden (which charges an admission fee). Cherry blossoms on the quad are a perennial favorite of native Seattleites.
Seattle also has a bunch of nice parks, including Green Lake Park, Gas Works Park, and Volunteer Park.