We just wrapped up a week long vacation to Seattle and I wanted to come back and share some of the highlights with you. Interestingly, my husband and I are both locals and tourists to the Seattle area so I hope we have a unique perspective on things to do.
We live in California now but my husband was born and raised on the Eastside and I lived all over the Seattle area for 8 years. It was so fun to go back and see how much has changed and how much has stayed the same after being away for several years.
There is so much to do in the Seattle area- it makes a fantastic spot for a vacation- we spent 7 days and still didn’t get through half the things we really wanted to do.
When you arrive in the Seattle area you can choose to rent a car or tour the city by foot/cab/uber.
The airport is a bit of a haul from downtown but you can take the Sound Transit from the Airport to the Eastside or Downtown. Once you get downtown you can see Pioneer Square, Pike’s Market and even Queen Anne pretty easily on foot or with short cab rides.
I personally recommend getting a car though if you are headed to Seattle. There is so much to see and do beyond the downtown area that you might want to consider. The Seattle area has so many fun neighborhoods to explore that are really diverse and interesting. The one thing Seattle really has going for it- beyond the large corporations, lush greenery and gorgeous water – is personality. Every neighborhood has a distinct personality.
A few little tips to keep in mind before planning your trip.
* Seattle is an amazing food city and has a thriving Pacific Northwest wine industry not to mention what Seattle is really known for- coffee- oh and the craft beers. We take each and every meal very seriously when we visit because you don’t want to waste a bite.
*The traffic can be a nightmare. If you do decide to drive, be certain to check Google Traffic and plan around peak travel times to save yourself a lot of headaches.
*The weather. There is a phrase the locals use- “if you don’t like the weather in Seattle just wait 10 minutes.” It really does rain a lot but nothing at all like I have experienced in the Southeast. You find light, drizzly rain, grey skies and brisk weather for most of the year. In the summer though the city really does shine with bright blue sparkling water, fresh air, lush greenery- it is beautiful. Plan for weather slightly cooler than you might think (we visited in July and we were cold wearing jeans and sweatshirts). July-September are the most ideal times to visit Seattle.
Hotels~ A few hotels that are well situated downtown: Hyatt (there are several- we stayed at Hyatt at Olive 8 which is a few blocks out of the way if you don’t have a car- you might consider Pine St or 5th Ave North if you are on foot), Fairmont Olympic Hotel (grand, old, charming hotel perfectly located to cruise downtown), Kimpton Hotels (there are 4 and each is fun and unique and lovely- Hotel Monaco would probably be my first choice), The Edgewater Hotel (right on the water).
*Money Saving Tip: Parking can cost a small fortune so be certain you check that before you book. On our trip we paid $25 to park across the street from the Hyatt in a public lot instead of $55 to park at the Hyatt.)
Let’s Eat~ Oh the food downtown!! There are SO many amazing restaurants. Just a few classics to consider:
- Icon Grill
- Lola (or any of Tom Douglas’ restaurants)
- Purple Wine Bar (I prefer for apps and fun wine flights and interesting by the glass stuff)
- The Pink Door (Wacky. It is hidden down Post Alley right in Pike’s Market and can be found by literally looking for a Pink Door. There is no sign. Inside you find a quirky place with gorgeous patio views of Elliot Bay and Cabaret entertainment including a performer that swings from the ceiling of the restaurant.)
- Cafe Campagne (classic Parisian style brasserie with delicious food. Jammed right into Pike’s market, expect a crowd and very difficult parking.)
As for quicker bites- here are just a few that I love (you might need elastic waistband pants by the end of the trip:)
- Top Pot Doughnuts -they will be on every Seattle travel guide you read. I don’t find the doughnuts to be that amazing but it is a stop we always make and they have fun varieties to choose from.
- Beecher’s Cheese: Lord have mercy the macaroni and cheese is the best thing ever. Pack your elbow pads and helmet as the place is packed in Pike’s Market and super tiny and always jammed to bursting with people. You can watch them actually make the cheese (I think it tastes like cheddar and parmesan had a baby). They have a few sandwiches, they sell the cheese and cheese curds and mac and cheese and soups and such.
- Storyville Coffee: This was a new find for me and is located upstairs across from Pike’s Market as well as a few other locations around the city. It is a super cool little spot with spectacular views of the market sign and Elliott Bay. The coffee is fantastic and we had an amazing breakfast sandwich. As you walk upstairs to get to the coffee shop, pause and look out the window in the hallway. You can get a perfect shot of the Pike’s Market sign if you contort yourself against the window 😉 Expect to see a loungey sofa, fireplace, marble games on the tables and people that take coffee very seriously. See if you can spot the pig statues on top of the market roof from their windows.
- Plus Pike’s Market has tons of other cool little spots to grab a bite- The Crumpet Shop (I LOVE this spot), Rachel’s Ginger Beer (this is a newish hot spot with various flavors of Ginger Beer. Ours was ok but super ginger-y so the kids didn’t like it at all), Delaurenti (fun little Italian specialty shop), Britt’s Pickles (fun varieties of pickled veggies) and so much more!
Stuff to Do~ Where to begin?
- The Art Museum is very cool
- The downtown library– I realize this sounds dumb but you have never seen a library like this one
- Pike’s Market- classic Seattle with a zillion little stalls inside with flowers, handmade artisan gifts and trinkets, t-shirts, all sorts of food items… It can be very overwhelming and absolutely packed with tourists. Parking is a nightmare- expect to walk several blocks. Keep the kids busy looking for pigs hidden around the market.
- The Original Starbucks– technically this is the first Starbucks location before Howard Schultz bought the store although it was originally a few blocks away on Western Ave and moved to the current location. People still consider it the original and you can see the first ever Starbucks logo design. You will find pretty much the same menu you can get anywhere so skip the coffee and go to Storyville instead. You can see the original Starbucks logo though and buy specialty merchandise like mugs with the original logo. Expect a line to get in. A block up the hill is another Starbucks that also has the original logo design if that one is too packed.
- The Gum Wall– ok so this is nasty to me and we skipped it on our last trip. Basically there were 20 years of people sticking gum onto a wall just under Pike’s Market. In late 2015, 2300 lbs of gum was removed and now people are gumming it up again. I bet the kids get a kick out of this. Pack some Dentyne and you can add your gum to the wall too.
- Olympic Sculpture Park– This is a pretty stretch along the waterfront with a strip of grass and sculptures. Not a traditional park with playgrounds but more of a pretty walk looking at art and the water.
- Seattle Great Wheel- Kind of fun to go on- you get a pretty view of the water and the waterfront.
- Pioneer Square- South of downtown, this is the oldest and most historic neighborhood. You will find lots of brick buildings with art galleries, boutiques and restaurants. At night it gets a bit rowdy with lots of bars and nightlife. You can take an Underground Tour during the day and learn a lot about the history of the city – Seattle was actually rebuilt on top of the original city in 1889 after the great fire wiped it out.
- Catch a Game- Seattle is a BIG sports city. You can catch the Seahawks (good luck getting tickets), Mariners, Sounders, Women’s Basketball or the UW Huskies. We made it to a Mariners game on our last trip and had a great time. The stadium is pretty and clean and very family friendly. Children actually get to run the bases after the game and they occasionally have American Girl themed games and a little upstairs batting cage. The city is 100% behind their teams and you will see that support and enthusiasm pretty much everywhere you go. (If you do go to Safeco Field get the Snoqualmie soft serve. Heavenly!)
- International District- I love the International District and it is right next to Seahawks stadium and Safeco Field. You will see amazing large dragons on the light posts and all sorts of fun restaurants and stores to browse. I love Uwajimaya and my children were thrilled with it as well. It is a massive Japanese supermarket with everything from live lobsters crawling in tanks to fun and unique candies to a massive selection of bowls and chopsticks and just fun stuff to see everywhere you turn. Get a few snacks, some fun new things to try and just soak it all in. There are even giant fish and dragons hanging from the ceiling. We bought bobas for Bubble tea, some little trinkets in the toy section and fun candy you don’t normally see in the US.
Queen Anne~ Queen Anne is minutes from downtown and is a must visit stop to see the Space Needle, the best view in the city of the Seattle skyline, great food and fun little boutiques. We used to live on the bottom of Queen Anne just under the Space Needle and it is just an incredibly cool spot. The top of Queen Anne is a little quieter, calmer and very charming. The bottom tends to have younger people and burger joints/ record stores/ bars and the top has children’s boutiques, grocery stores, amazing homes and is more of a neighborhood feel. The top of the hill has a Trader Joe’s and Safeway and some gorgeous mosaics decorating the sidewalks.
- Cafe Ladro– This is a chain of coffee shops but they make great coffee- my favorite is a Medici- a basic Mocha made with orange peels brewed in the espresso. I haven’t found anything similar anywhere else.
- El Diablo- This is a quirky cafe at the top of the hill that has crazy art painted all over the walls- pictures of I Love Lucy and such. Big squishy chairs and my absolute favorite treat- Mexican Hot Chocolate. They also serve wine, beer and Cuban cuisine.
- Molly Moon’s Ice Cream– halfway up the hill you will find Molly Moon’s ice cream. You will find interesting, seasonal flavor combos- we shared a cup with Chukar Cherry Chunk ice cream and Lemon Blueberry Custard ice cream. It was good.
- Pagliacci Pizza- At the bottom of the hill is this pizza place that is delicious. My husband’s favorite pizza of all time.
- Kerry Park– Halfway up the hill you will find Kerry Park. It is a tiny little spot with an actual small playground below but the perfect place to snap some photos of the gorgeous Seattle skyline. On a clear day you can see Mount Rainier as well. And if you have time to wander- I can’t tell you how lovely the homes are in this area. They are crazy expensive and stately and just gorgeous to walk around. I used to wander up to Kerry Park all the time when I lived on Queen Anne and just walk around all the streets dreaming of which home I will buy once I finally win the lottery 😉
- Space Needle– a must see in Seattle. You can ride up to the top if you like or check it out with your feet on the ground.
- Seattle Center– literally surrounds the Space Needle and a must stop if you have kids. There is a large grassy area that you can spread out on for a picnic that goes around this huge silver dome thing that is a fountain that shoots water into the sky in time to music. The kids will have so much fun running to touch the dome and trying to beat the next spray of water. (They will likely get soaked). Wander a bit deeper and go inside where there is a food court and all sorts of events plus the Children’s Museum. Or wander outside to a super cool park and stage that was new to me. You will pretty much always find something going on at Seattle center from Bite of Seattle to International celebrations, concerts, outdoor movies and when we stopped by there was a free Zumba class right next to the playground. I was so disappointed we caught the last 5 minutes of the class because it looked so fun! Check the calendar of events for sure. You will also find the women’s professional basketball arena (formerly where the Sonics played) and the Seattle Ballet/ Theater and Symphony.
::THE EASTSIDE: the Eastside refers to the affluent suburban area across the 520 Floating Bridge, on the other side of Lake Washington. The Eastside is very near and dear to my heart as I lived there for several years.
You will find lots of shopping, restaurants, parks, wineries and lovely views of Lake Washington. Bill Gates lives on the Eastside so you will be in good company. Be sure to stop at one of the cute little markets you will see and look for specialty items like Whidbey Island ice cream bars, Snoqualmie Ice Cream, Tillamook cheese and ice cream and the specialty beers and amazing Washington wines.
A few highlights:
- Bellevue Square- good heavens this mall has grown into a massive upscale mall with every store you can think of. It also has Beecher’s Cheese and Top Pot doughnuts if you missed those stops. There is a Starbucks restaurant with smoothies and organic salads and such, a mini Whole Foods coming soon and did I mention the shopping?
- Kirkland- My favorite stop to wander along the beautiful waterfront, pop into cute little shops and we love brunch at Anthony’s Homeport or for a special dinner check out Cafe Juanita.
- Woodinville- home to a few wineries like Chateau Ste Michelle and Columbia Winery. Chateau Ste Michelle is a gorgeous winery and they often feature concerts in the summer. Down the street you will find Red Hook Brewery for a more casual vibe and the super fancy and super awesome Herb Farm. I ate there once for one of the incredible nine course dinners and it was a magical night.
- Snoqualmie- Snoqualmie Falls is a gorgeous spot to hike a bit and check out the spectacular waterfall. The hike down is fairly easy but the trek back up is no joke. There is an observation deck right off the parking lot if you aren’t in the mood to hike. It is an easy drive from the Eastside or about 30 miles from downtown Seattle.
- Issaquah- Issaquah is another pretty little community on the Eastside, probably not a major destination point except for the most darling little farm we discovered on our last trip called Fox Hollow Farms. Don’t miss it if you have children as I truly felt like I was plopped right into Charlotte’s Web. You can expect to see chicken, pigs, horses (including pony rides), goats/sheep, cows, bunnies, cats and a few peacocks here and there. The farm is magical and beautifully maintained with a fun little Country Store and motorized cars for children to race around the circular driveway that leads to the owner’s picturesque home. This was supposed to be a quick stop to break up the driving but wound up being a highlight for the entire trip.
Places to stay on the Eastside:
- Woodmark Hotel in Kirkland– stunning hotel on the water in Kirkland. You can (and will want to) walk all over this adorable city.
- Hyatt Bellevue– a bit more reasonably priced with a sky bridge directly into Bellevue Square. About 5 minutes from Kirkland and right next to 520 to take you into Seattle.
- Salish Lodge- a little pricey but so pretty and you have a front row seat to the gorgeous Snoqualmie Falls. It really does look like the photos and the air is so fresh and clean.
- Willows Lodge- This is a great hotel if you plan to visit Woodinville Wine Country. It isn’t cheap but it is right next to the amazing Herb Farm restaurant and also has a slightly more affordable Barking Frog restaurant. Or go down the street to Purple Cafe or Red Hook Brewery. You will be close to the Burke Gilman Trail which is a 26 mile trail that goes all the way to Seattle.
- Fremont~ Fremont Troll- this is located in Fremont which is a quick drive from Seattle and a vibrant, fun community. The troll is a giant sculpture that lives under a bridge and really epitomizes the Seattle appreciation of both the arts and a unique quirkiness that makes it such a unique place. Theo Chocolate Factory Tour- we just did this tour in Fremont- Theo is a gourmet chocolate company and it is fun to go through the tour and see how chocolate is made. Fremont Fremonster- There is a lot of amazing art in Fremont including a giant Rocket and a statue of Lenin. Plus the signposts that remind me of Dr Seuss and our favorite, the giant topiary of a Dinosaur (the Fre-Monster).
- Take a Ferry~ There are several islands that are a quick ferry hop over from Seattle including Vashon Island, Bainbridge Island and Whidbey Island (not to mention the San Juan Islands which are spectacular.) Whidbey is charming for a great Farmer’s Market, little shops and restaurants and I would say Bainbridge more for beautiful scenery. Be sure to check the ferry schedule wait times before you go!! The ferry line can be 2 hours to drive on and visit Whidbey during holidays and peak hours. You for sure need a car for Whidbey Island unless you work out the Island Transit system routes.
- Tulip Festival~ If you happen to visit in April, the Tulip Festival is a bit of a drive but just stunning.
- Suncadia~ Again a bit of a drive in Eastern Washington but I am SO glad we made it here. It is a breathtaking resort in the middle of trees, rivers and lakes that is just a blast for outdoor enthusiasts. We found it to be quiet and a very relaxing stay. There is swimming, hiking, biking, paddleboards, canoes/kayaks, scooter rentals. This is 80 miles from Seattle and a sleepy place so don’t expect a roaring nightlife but the views will truly take your breath away. Our children loved it! PS: Take a quick drive into the tiny, tiny town of Roslyn. It is adorable.
- Great Wolf Lodge~ This is down south 90 minutes or so from SeaTac Airport and about 2 hours from downtown Seattle. Very fun place for families if you have never been.
- Leavenworth~ a quaint little Bavarian village that is especially stunning at Christmas.
Whew! That is a TON of information and really I barely scratched the surface! I hope you have an amazing trip and love Washington State as much as we do. Please be sure to comment below with your favorite spots in Seattle.
Cookbooks are one of my favorite souvenirs from vacation and here are some fun ones to check out:
Pike Place Market Recipes / Dahlia Bakery Cookbook / Theo Chocolate Cookbook / Delancey (not a cookbook but a faction book I really enjoyed. I was bummed we didn’t get a chance to visit the actual restaurant on our trip) / Seattle Chef’s Table / Top Pot cookbook / Molly Moon’s Ice Cream / Macrina Cookbook (sad we didn’t make it here either- add it to your list for sure)
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