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Seattle is one of the country’s fastest growing cities, and those new transplants are coming here for more than a good cup of coffee. Whether you’re looking for great nightlife, a cultural melting pot or an outdoor utopia, Seattle should be near the top of your list. Here are 10 tips to help you explore this jewel of the Pacific Northwest.
1. You Should Skip The Space Needle
Seattle’s iconic landmark is easily the most recognizable building in the Northwest, but I don’t think it’s your best option to get the lay of the land. Instead, you should visit the Sky View Observatory. Perched on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center (Seattle’s tallest skyscraper), Sky View offers stunning panoramic views from 1,043 feet above sea level — that’s roughly 400 feet higher than the Space Needle’s observation deck. Better still, tickets cost $10 less and you won’t have to face the grueling lines that pile up at the Needle during peak visiting hours. The downside is that Sky View is fully enclosed, so you can’t take in the scenery from outdoors in good weather. If that doesn’t bother you, save your time and money and get a better view in the process.
2. It Doesn’t Really Rain That Much…
What do New York, Houston, Indianapolis and many other major US cities have in common? They all average more annual precipitation than Seattle — just ask anyone who sat through storm delays in the Northeast this spring. In fairness, Seattle has more rainy days than most, but the reality is that despite its soggy reputation, weather in the Pacific Northwest is mild and often pleasant. Winters can be pretty gloomy due to the meager daylight hours, but summers are spectacular and you’ll catch plenty of good weather in the months between.
3. But When It Does Rain, Life Goes On
Rainfall in Seattle is more of a sprinkle than a downpour, the upshot being that it shouldn’t intrude too much on your plans. That said, when weather does become a factor, you’ll find no shortage of entertaining indoor activities. If you’re staying near downtown, head to the Hotel Sorrento on First Hill, where you’ll find great food and drinks, a roaring fireplace and the occasional jazz ensemble. Take a break from colder weather at Volunteer Park Conservatory, which feels downright balmy even in winter. Browse the shelves at the iconic Elliott Bay Book Company in Capitol Hill or geek out over the extensive board game selection at Raygun Lounge.
4. The Freshwater Beaches Are Fantastic
Seattle isn’t known for being a beach destination — the Puget Sound tops out around a frigid 56 degrees — but the city boasts another shoreline that’s pure heaven on a hot day. Stretching 22 miles from top to bottom, Lake Washington comprises the entirety of Seattle’s eastern border and is punctuated by dozens of tantalizing public beaches. Stroll, bike or cruise along the meandering roadways and trails, where you can take in scenic views of the surrounding mountains and recharge at a variety of neighborhood restaurants and cafés. The swimming is best from Independence Day to early October, so bring your suit and some water shoes if you’re planning a summer visit!
5. We Believe in Ferries
For a classic Puget Sound experience, take a Washington State Ferry from downtown to Bainbridge Island (35 minutes each way) or Bremerton (60 minutes each way). On a clear day, you’ll get views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker and both the Olympic and Cascade ranges, plus a stunning panorama of downtown Seattle. The passenger decks are great for a picnic if you just want to enjoy the ride, or you can take some time to explore either destination and catch the next boat back. Tickets are about $8 round-trip for adults, or $9 if you’re riding with a bike. For a shorter excursion, check out the Water Taxi, which sails from downtown to West Seattle and Vashon Island.
6. Coffee Is King, But Tea Is Also Royalty
Seattle is renowned for its thriving coffee culture and it’s hard to walk more than a block in the city without passing a café, but it’s not the only drink in town. Tea also has a strong and loyal following, and there are a number of great venues to support the habit. If you’re near Pike Place Market, stop by the wall of loose teas at MarketSpice for a memorable olfactory experience — I highly recommend the Evening in Missoula. If you want a bit of history to go with your cup, visit the Panama Hotel in the International District or try the Chado tea ceremony at the Seattle Japanese Garden. Just need a fix? Head to Modern Steep, Cederberg or any of the city’s other fine tea houses.
7. You Can Ride Between SeaTac and Downtown for $3
Seattle’s public transportation system is underwhelming, but the Link light rail is a bright spot if you’re arriving by plane — a trip from the airport to the city center (or vice versa) costs $3 and takes just under 40 minutes. By comparison, a car takes about 25 minutes, when traffic is clear, but will cost you 10-15 times as much so if you’re not in a rush or overburdened with luggage, the light rail is the way to go. Just make sure to take the northbound train headed to downtown, since SeaTac is no longer the end of the line.
8. The Surrounding Area Is an Adventure Paradise
Seattle has phenomenal parks, but beyond the city limits is a wonderland of outdoor recreation. Head east on I-90 and you can find first-rate hiking and biking trails within an hour of downtown. Mason Lake, Snow Lake and Rattlesnake Ledge all offer solid ascents, rewarding views and great swimming opportunities in summer. If you’re looking for some alone time, you’ll find less crowded trails farther off the interstate corridor. Winter visitors don’t need to pack heavy either — REI and other local outfitters can equip you with snowshoes, skis or whatever other gear you need for an alpine experience.
9. You Can Harvest Your Own Seafood
Tourists like to watch fish get tossed around at Pike Place Market, but many beaches in the Puget Sound area allow you to catch your own seafood. Clams, crabs, oysters and even seaweed are all on the menu; just get a license and verify when and where the harvesting season is open beforehand. You should also consult with the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife to avoid unsafe conditions. If you don’t want to eat but still want to look, head to Golden Gardens at low tide for a captivating showcase of wild sea creatures. Note that beach shoes and a tolerance for cold water are highly recommended!
10. Start Your Weekend at Cal Anderson Park
Nestled in the heart of Capitol Hill, Cal Anderson Park is a great starting point for an evening out. Grab a bench by the fountain or a patch of turf on the athletic field and enjoy some exquisite people-watching. Get cheap, awesome Mexican take-out from Rancho Bravo and ice cream from Molly Moon’s across the street, and when you’re ready, go dance the night away at the Century Ballroom, check out the music venues along Pike and Pine streets or jump in a game of dodgeball on the tennis courts nearby. It’s not the only hot spot in town, but it’s one of the liveliest.
What are some of your favorite things to do in Seattle? Let us know in the comments, below.
Featured Image by David Hogan/Getty Images.
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