A Traveler’s Guide to the Seattle Area

Seattle, a city on Puget Sound in the Pacific Northwest, is surrounded by water, mountains and evergreen forests, and contains thousands of acres of parkland. Washington State’s largest city, it’s home to a large tech industry, with Microsoft and Amazon headquartered in its metropolitan area. The futuristic Space Needle, a 1962 World’s Fair legacy, is its most iconic landmark. With a thriving food-and-drink scene, eclectic neighborhoods and a stunning coastal setting, Seattle is a dynamic urban enclave nestled in the Pacific Northwest. The city is bounded by Lake Washington in the east and Puget Sound to the west, an ideal location for water recreation and sight-seeing cruises. Many cities come with their very own nicknames that may seem kind of random, but often have roots in what the city is all about or tell you a bit about the city’s history. Seattle is no exception. Seattle is called the Emerald City because the city and surrounding areas are filled with greenery all year round, even in the winter due to all the evergreen trees in the area. The nickname comes directly from this greenery.

Drive into Seattle from the south and you’ll see plenty of evergreens and other greenery lining I-5. Drive in from the north, you’ll see some more. Even right in the heart of the city, there’s no shortage of greenery, even full forests—Discovery Park, the Washington Park Arboretum, and other parks are shining examples of green spaces within the city limits. Seattle is green almost all year round due to these ubiquitous evergreens, but also due to the many other trees, shrubs, ferns, moss on just about every surface, and even the wildflowers that are prolific in the Northwest and thrive in all seasons.

The Culture

Seattle isn’t just a wine or craft beer town; it’s the home of Starbucks. You can still visit the original storefront adjacent to Pike Place Market. This city is fueled by caffeine; it has one of the greatest concentrations of coffee houses of any U.S. city. Among them are the Seattle’s Best and Caffe Vita brands, boutique roaster Victrola Coffee, and Cloud City Coffee and its $1 a cup honor system. Tour Starbucks Reserve Roastery for an immersive, future-forward experience (and taste) of the famous brand’s coffee culture. Find top attractions like Pike Place Market and the Seattle Art Museum in Downtown Seattle. Artsy, offbeat Fremont features public murals and sculptures, topiaries trimmed to resemble dinosaurs and a troll under a bridge. Wooded, inviting Montlake overlooks Lake Washington. Capitol Hill, just to the southwest, is the entertainment and counter-culture haven – and that’s just a sampling. Experience Seattle’s long and storied music history at the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP). This interactive Frank O. Gehry-designed museum features edgy contemporary exhibits dedicated to the preservation of pop culture. Experience the city’s music scene for yourself at a range of live music venues playing every night of the week.

The Scenery

Named one of America’s most-liked cities, Seattle is easily one of the country’s most attractive settlements as well. Be it the natural splendor that surrounds it or the eclectic cultural diversity that enriches its social scene, Seattle has a little something to offer everyone who decides to stop by for a visit. Paddle, boat, sail and fish on some of the most welcoming waters in the nation, or take a whale watching tour along the Pacific coastline. You’ll also find three national parks within a few hours’ drive of Seattle – North Cascades National Park, with its 300 glaciers; the temperate rainforests of Olympic National Park; and the majesty of Mount Rainier National Park. You may hear Seattle locals say, “The mountain is out,” meaning the snow-capped, 4,392-meter Mount Rainier 161 kilometers to the south is visible. Kerry Park, a half-a-hectare green space on the slope of Queen Anne Hill, offers panoramic Seattle skyline views which are especially stunning at night.

Discovery Park— Head to the city’s largest urban park to explore the 534 acres of tidal beaches, sea cliffs, and forests. Have kids in tow? The recently renovated play area includes new picnic tables, a zip line, and plenty of equipment to keep little ones entertained for hours.

Seward Park— Water lovers rejoice, this park on Lake Union has boat launch options and beach lifeguards on site as of June 23 for swimmers. Prefer to stay on land? A nearly 2.5-mile bike and walking path offers visitors stunning views of the water while keeping feet dry.

Gas Works Park— One of Seattle’s most unique attractions, this former gasification plant still boasts pieces of the industrial site. Explore the impressive remains of the metal generators, and don’t miss the spectacular views of South Lake Union and downtown across the water.

The Weather

In Seattle, the summers are short, warm, dry, and partly cloudy and the winters are very cold, wet, and mostly cloudy. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 37°F to 79°F and is rarely below 28°F or above 88°F. The warm season lasts for 2.8 months, from June 21 to September 13, with an average daily high temperature above 72°F. The hottest month of the year in Seattle is August, with an average high of 77°F and low of 58°F. The cool season lasts for 3.6 months, from November 12 to March 1, with an average daily high temperature below 53°F. The coldest month of the year in Seattle is December, with an average low of 38°F and high of 47°F.

The Attractions

Space Needle— Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the 605-foot-tall Space Needle quickly became an icon of the city that today is recognized far and wide. On the observation level, which you can reach via a 43-second elevator ride, see the doodle-on-a-napkin concept that led to the Space Needle design. Views from the top feature Elliott Bay, the Cascade Mountains, and even Mount Rainier.

Seattle Center Monorail— Another World’s Fair relic, the Seattle Center Monorail links Seattle Center—home of the Space Needle and several other notable attractions—to downtown’s Westlake Center along an approximately one-mile route. The designated historic landmark can reach a top speed of 45 miles per hour and weaves between skyscrapers above the city streets.

Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)— Music, science fiction, and pop culture all come together at the fascinating Museum of Pop Culture. The Frank Gehry-designed building looks like a smashed guitar from above, while inside, its colorful exhibits cover everything from the history of indie video games and horror films to Nirvana, the Seahawks, and more.

Pacific Science Center— This family-friendly museum is where science lessons come to life. At Pacific Science Center, explore galaxies near and far in the planetarium, get up close and personal with colorful creatures in the Tropical Butterfly House, maneuver a two-ton granite ball, find out what it means if you can roll your tongue, and much more.

Chihuly Garden and Glass— The Chihuly Garden and Glass museum is dedicated to the work and career of locally born, world-renowned glassblower Dale Chihuly, who was introduced to the craft while studying at the University of Washington. It is the most comprehensive collection of his art to date, with interior galleries featuring a variety of his work in the medium. The pièce de résistance is the glasshouse, with a vibrant 100-foot-long sculpture in hues of red, orange, and yellow suspended from the ceiling.

Pike Place Market— From the iconic market sign and Rachel the Piggy Bank to the gum wall, the original Starbucks cafe, well over 225 local artisans selling their wares, the famous fish-tossing tradition, and music-playing street performers, there are enough sights and sounds at Pike Place Market to pack a day (or more). The market added its historic MarketFront expansion in 2017, featuring an open-air plaza and fantastic views of Elliott Bay.

Seattle Aquarium— Down at the Seattle Aquarium on the waterfront’s Pier 59, learn all about salmon, meet a few adorable sea otters, and greet the various sea creatures of the Pacific Ocean, from puffers to giant clams. Watch scuba divers feed the fish, gawk at sharks swimming overhead in the underwater dome, and even touch a sea anemone.

Seattle Great Wheel— Although it was only built in 2012, the Seattle Great Wheel has quickly become a fixture of the city’s skyline—plus it adds an entirely new sightseeing perspective, thanks to its location perched on the end of Pier 57. Enjoy three revolutions around in one of the air-conditioned gondolas to see the city, water, and mountains on the horizon.

Pioneer Square— Seattle’s original downtown is full of beautiful old buildings in Romanesque Revival style, underground tours that take you beneath the streets to see the remains of the city’s first buildings, and an ever-growing slate of hip shops and restaurants. Take an afternoon or more to explore Pioneer Square‘s ivy-covered buildings and pop into bars, boutiques, and hidden gems, like Waterfall Garden Park.

Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room— You won’t have trouble finding a Starbucks here in the company’s hometown, but you’ll want to seek out this special Starbucks experience on Capitol Hill. The Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room is a Willy Wonka–esque coffee wonderland, where you’ll find exclusive beverages, various brewing methods, a coffee library, and more.

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