Visiting Seattle is something that should be on the bucket list for every foodie, outdoor/adventure nut, and coffee lover alike. There are few places that seem to “have it all” quite the same way that the Pacific Northwest does. If you’re heading to Seattle soon, here’s a (completely not exhaustive) list of the best things for you to do and see!
I’m Jared, and I’m anything but an expert. I do, however, love Seattle, and I hope you enjoy some of the spots I enjoyed when I visited for the first time!
What to Do Your First Time in Seattle: Tourist Spots and Hidden Gems
Must-See Tourist Spots in Seattle
First things first, the tourist spots. Unlike some cities, the “touristy” places in Seattle largely live up to the hype. Sure, the last thing most people want to see as tourists is other tourists. It doesn’t feel very authentic and can be crowded and annoying. If it’s your first time visiting, though, you should know that it’s more than worth it to deal with a bit of cliche and crowds to have these things on your Seattle itinerary:
The Space Needle
If I have to be honest, I’d rather be at the CN Tower in Toronto. It’s way taller, and the restaurant at the top is phenomenal. Still, though, when you’re in Seattle, the Space Needle is an absolute must. When I was there, I didn’t do much other than stare at it from a distance, but the structure is impressive enough that it still felt like a minor highlight of the trip.
At 605 feet tall, the Space Needle is one of the tallest structures of its kind, and the tallest structure of any kind in Seattle. It opened in 1962 and has greeted more than 60 million visitors as of the year 2021. Riding to the top of the Space Needle takes just 43 seconds, and the views from the top are second to none. If you want to brave the crowds and the “hokey” nature of it all, the Space Needle is a ton of fun!
Pike Place Market
Pike Place is another one of those locations that you just have to see. It’s such a lively, unique place, one that reminds me more of the outdoor markets in cities like Mumbai than it does a tourist trap in an American city. First time visitors need ot make Pike Place Market part of their Seattle Itinerary, no matter what.
Of particular interest are the classic “fish throwers”, workers who are impossibly skilled at launching fresh-caught fish through the air. It feels like a circus side show, the way people crowd around just to see some 20-somethings throw seafood around, but worth it nonetheless.
This is one of the most historic and quintessentially cool neighborhoods in the city. With brick streets, old-school architecture, and tons of downtown charm, Seattle’s Pioneer Square is just too cool to pass up. I didn’t do much when I was there, except run a few blocks over to CenturyLink Field to grab some gear from the Seahawks Pro Shop. As a fan of architecture and the city aesthetic, though, there were few places I enjoyed walking around more than Pioneer Square!
The First Starbucks
I wouldn’t recommend going inside; it’s pretty much like every other Starbucks you’ve been to. If you really want to wait in that crazy long line, though, you’ll get to sip some bean water from what might be the most influential cafe of all time. The 1912 Pike Place Starbucks location is a sight that I just couldn’t resist, even in the middle of a crowded summer. There is something pretty special about it, especially when you consider that the success of that one store has spawned 20,000 more stores and a global coffee obsession!
This one is just a simple, good time. Dick’s Drive-In is a local chain that serves up Americana in the form of cheeseburgers, fries, and milkshakes. Is the food going to change your life in a way that no other classic drive-in burger joint could? Actually, it might. It really is that good.
First Time in Seattle: Hidden Gems
Below are some choice spots that might not make the list every time, but are 150% worth checking out. They’re more personal recommendations than anything, but I stand by them each:
Zoka Coffee Roasters (Greenlake)
If you want to drink the best wine, you go to Italy or France. Beer? Head to Germany. If you want to fill your cup with the most pretentiously crafted cup of coffee, head to Seattle. Coffee is ingrained in the fabric of the city; little drive-in java shacks dot the landscape everywhere you look. Artisanal cafes and coffeeshops are everywhere, too. Which one is the absolute best? Hard to tell. However, it’s hard to go wrong with Zoka Coffee.
The coffee is incredible, the vibes are on point, and the windows are large and give you a great view of the hip and popular Green Lake neighborhood. If your idea of a perfect lazy morning is a great coffee and a better book, head to Zoka to enjoy some peace, quiet, and caffeine!
It’s not much for people who love playgrounds, but Kerry Park offers some of the best views of the Seattle skyline around. On good days, you can see Mount Rainier looming in the distance, making for some incredible sunset photo-ops. It might be the best place in the city to get great pictures, no contest. In fact, the photo at the top of this article was taken from the viewpoint at Kerry Park (not by me, but by a much better photographer)!
Situated in the Queen Anne neighborhood, Kerry Park offers views of Elliot Bay, the city skyline (a great angle of the Space Needle, too), and Mt Rainier when you’re lucky. If you’re a picture-taker of any kind, this is a must-see place for first time visitors and repeat trips alike!
This music venue is a great place to catch big-name acts in a small-venue setting, as well as discover what’s coming out of Seattle right now. If you love live music, keep Neumos in mind when planning your Seattle visit. Maybe there will be a show on the schedule for you!
Where to Stay in Seattle
Seattle is littered with Airbnbs, hotels, and even a few choice hostels. If you’re looking for a place to stay when you visit Seattle for the first time, give these places a look:
This Awesome Loft
This Airbnb is a private loft located right in the middle of the Pioneer Square neighborhood and is so cozy and cool you’ll find it hard to book less than a few nights. It’s close to all the must-see spots, public transportation, and is just simply charming!
The Historic Alexis Hotel
First opened in 1901, the Alexis has been around longer than almost anything in the city. If you’re looking for a bit of history alongside close walks to all the top spots in Seattle, the Alexis is for you! It may be historic, but it’s not the kind of dingy, old wallpaper hotel you might be imagining. It’s been wonderfully restored, combining the best of the hotel’s original designs with contemporary luxury.
Conclusion: First Time In Seattle Itinerary
I hope you enjoyed this brief guide to visiting Seattle! It’s anything but exhaustive- more of a primer for your trip than a complete itinerary. But, seeing the neighborhoods, tasting the food, and doing the tourist activities you just read about is a great way to experience Seattle for the first time. Just don’t promise you won’t do only what you see here- the best way to experience a city is to find your own adventures!