Clean, green and wired, Seattle's often quirky culture makes it an exciting place to visit. From urban waterfront to high-end retail outlets and super hip Belltown, the city pulses with energy and endless things to do and explore. For a starter, sample Washington's world-class wine in a tasting room or sip a latte in one of the city's famous coffee houses. (This is where Starbucks started, after all.) In just one day you can watch fishing fleets arrive from Alaska at Fisherman's Terminal, watch fishmongers at Pike Place Market tossing salmon in the air and then dine at a waterfront restaurant savoring fresh salmon while watching graceful ferries cruise Puget Sound.
With many attractions and a range of hotels and restaurants concentrated in downtown Seattle, a rental car really isn't necessary. For arriving visitors, the LINK Light Rail line quickly and inexpensively takes travelers from SeaTac airport directly into downtown Seattle. It's easy to explore the city by foot, even with a few steep hills between the waterfront and the city center. The bus system is streamlined, the bus drivers super helpful and taxis are abundantly available. The classic monorail and Space Needle, both icons from the 1972 World's Fair, connect Seattle Center to downtown's bustling retail and business district. Once you have your bearings, it's an easy downhill walk to the waterfront or a fifteen-minute stroll to Pioneer Square as well as the city's major sports arenas to watch the Seattle Mariners, Sounders Football Club (soccer) or Seahawks.
Seattle offers an excellent choice of hotels ranging from large, well-known names to smaller boutique lodgings, all conveniently located for easy sightseeing and dining. If costs aren't an issue, we suggest the chic Four Seasons Hotel Seattle across from the Seattle Art Museum, or the classically elegant The Fairmont Olympic Seattle. The Inn at The Market is a favorite boutique hotel in the heart of Pike Place Market or book a lovely room at the Hotel Monaco Seattle, a favorite with business travelers for its many amenities, including personal fax machines.
For those seeking a "hip hotel" that acknowledges Seattle as the birthplace of "grunge," the Hotel Max is an excellent choice. Another option is the chic and simple Hotel Ändra, with celebrity chef Tom Douglas' Mediterranean-themed Lola as the hotel's restaurant serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with a full bar. For accommodations with drop-dead water views, no hotel in Seattle can beat The Edgewater on Pier 67, which was built for the 1962 World's Fair and remains the city's only waterfront hotel. The Arctic Club Seattle, a restored Seattle classic, combines the history and grandeur of an early twentieth century men's club with contemporary design and amenities.
Before you begin exploring, consider purchasing a CityPass to save up to 50 percent off the price of regular admissions to some of the city's top attractions.
SEATTLE DAY 1: Space Needle, Experience Music Project, Pike Place Market and Seattle Aquarium
Hop aboard the Seattle Center Monorail at Westlake Center for the one-mile ride to the 74-acre Seattle Center, the site of the 1962 World's Fair. The exposition gave the city its landmark Space Needle, a 605-foot tower that still turns heads more than 50 years later. Ride a glass-sided elevator 520 feet up to the observation deck to enjoy stunning 360-degree views stretching across Puget Sound west to the Olympic Mountains on the Olympic Peninsula, and east to the Cascade Range. On a clear day looking south, you'll see snowcapped Mount Rainier. Another highlight of the Space Needle is its dramatic revolving restaurant, SkyCity, where you can enjoy brunch, lunch or dinner. At the base of the Space Needle, visit Seattle's newest treasure — the spectacular Chihuly Garden and Glass, which dramatically showcases the exuberant colorful blown glass creations of the internationally famous glass artist, Dale Chihuly. Born in nearby Tacoma, the 70-year-old artist designed the museum, which includes Collections Café.
Next stop is the EMP Museum (originally named the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum) that celebrates music of all genres, from rock to hip-hop, country, punk and gospel. The EMP's extraordinary building by famed architect Frank Gehry is still a controversial landmark, often compared to a giant smashed guitar with its cascading roof panels of green, red and silver. Aptly named, it's an interactive museum where you can try your own skills singing or playing different instruments. Rock-and-roll fans will enjoy the EMP's extensive collection of rare musical memorabilia, including a gallery devoted to Seattle native Jimi Hendrix. With the same admission ticket, visit the connected Science Fiction Museum (SFM) and the Hall of Fame. The EMP's POP Kitchen + Bar offers a good happy hour along with an outdoor patio. And no visit to Seattle Center is complete without a visit to the Pacific Science Center. Kids of all ages will love the Live Science Stage shows, Laser Dome, Planetarium and state-of-the art interactive exhibits here, as well as the Tropical Butterfly House and two IMAX Theatres.
Seattle Center is also home to the nationally-renowned Seattle Repertory Theatre, the Intiman Theatre, the highly acclaimed Seattle Children's Theatre and McCaw Hall, home of the Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet. As you walk the grounds, take time to see the International Fountain with its continuous water and music displays that shoot 120-feet in the air. Bring swimsuits for the kids, who are welcome to play in the fountain.
Families or anyone young at heart may also want to ride "The Duck," a quirky land and water tour aboard a WWII amphibious landing craft — a fun way to explore the city. Reserved seat departures may be booked at the Space Needle at Fifth Avenue and Broad Street or downtown from Westlake Center.
Return on the monorail (or grab a taxi) and then walk a few blocks to Pike Place Market, often called the soul of Seattle. With views across Elliot Bay to the Olympic Mountains, this vibrant and colorful market celebrated its 100th birthday in 2007 as the oldest working farmers' market in the U.S. Today, the year-round public market hosts 250 merchants, 100 farmers, 200 craftspeople and scores of street performers daily. From a bounty of fresh produce and flowers in artistic displays, to tastes of crunchy cheese curds at Beecher's Handmade Cheese and the clever antics of Market hawkers — including salmon and halibut tossed in the air by lively fishmongers — this is indeed the true heart of Seattle.
Then, stroll up and down the streets and alleys letting the Market's sights, sounds and smells entertain you. Many foods, not just fish, sold at the market can be packed for shipping or air travel, allowing you to take home a taste of Seattle. Pike Place Market caters to home cooks, but also offers a tempting selection for restaurants. In fact, if you go early, you'll probably see a chef or two selecting produce or fish for their daily menu.
For lunch, stop at Café Campagne to enjoy classic French bistro fare. Or pick up a sandwich and a pastry to go from Three Girls Bakery and plant yourself on a bench at Victor Steinbrueck Park to watch ferry boats crisscrossing Elliott Bay. If you need an afternoon energy boost, stop at 1912 Pike Place, the site of the original Starbucks Coffee. There are usually long lines and no seating, but the nostalgia is worth it. For a more authentic "local" coffee experience, visit Café D'arte at 1625 Second Avenue between Pine and Stewart Streets. In the mood to sample Washington wine? Duck into the cozy The Tasting Room, also on Post Alley, to try some of Washington's most celebrated boutique wines. The shop is set up so you may taste a few flights or enjoy a full glass of wine, and then purchase current releases and rare older vintages.
From the Market, take the stairs on Pine Street leading down to Alaskan Way, the avenue bordering the waterfront bustling with ferries, yachts, fireboats and cruise ships to Alaska (during summer months). A bit honky-tonk, the waterfront also boasts a giant Ferris wheel (constructed in 2012) which is the perfect addition to the area's piers, shops, attractions and seafood restaurants. (Note: as you walk north towards Pier 70, the quality and price of the restaurants will go up.)
In the heart of Alaska Way at Waterfront Park's Pier 59, the newly renovated Seattle Aquarium offers a close-up look from its underwater dome room at many of the creatures living in Puget Sound area. You'll see lively river otters scurrying about and an authentic salmon stream, among other popular exhibits.
As the sun sets, enjoy happy hour at The Edgewater Hotel's Six Seven Restaurant, which sits right above Elliott Bay. For dinner, continue the water theme and enjoy seafood at Anthony's Homeport, Cutters Crabhouse or head to nearby Belltown for a great burger at The Two Bells Bar & Grill. If upscale trendy is your style, savor the menu at The Coterie Room. Or return to Post Alley and look for The Pink Door, a quirky Italian restaurant with one of the best outdoor patios in the city, not to mention terrific pasta. For a romantic sunset dinner, make a reservation at Place Pigalle.
If you're a music lover, top off the evening at either The Triple Door, a live music venue at the wildly tasty Wild Ginger restaurant, or perhaps at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, a popular club featuring world-class musicians. Classical music aficionados may want to check out the Seattle Symphony at nearby Benaroya Hall.
(Updated: 08/30/13 CT)