5 reasons why Seattle should be your fall vacation destination
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Seattle is famously home to grunge (Nirvana and Pearl Jam), coffee (Starbucks) and big tech (hello Amazon, Google and Microsoft). However, as a born-and-raised Seattleite, I sometimes take for granted all that the city has to offer.
While stuck at home in Seattle for most of 2020, however, I rediscovered my hometown with fresh eyes and fell in love with the Pacific Northwest all over again. The skyline and the silhouette of Mount Rainier span the panoramic views, highlighting the city’s perfect mixture of urban grit and natural beauty.
Although the leaves stay evergreen on this coast, Seattle offers the perfect fall blend (pun intended, Starbucks) of nature, city, art, and history: Here are five reasons why you should make Seattle your fall vacation destination.
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Although Starbucks is probably the first thing that comes to mind when you put together the words “coffee” and “Seattle,” there is so much more to discover in this caffeinated city, including many hidden gems that I love to visit in fall.
The first coffee shop I have a memory of is Diva Coffee, where my dad used to take me for hot chocolate and biscotti as a kid. I’ve been going for years and still get the hot chocolate–not too sweet, not too bitter and perfect for a cool fall day.
Storyville Coffee is another personal favorite. It has three locations, but my favorite recommendation is to head to Pike Place. With a cozy atmosphere and big old factory windows overlooking the market, it’s the perfect spot to sink into one of their many comfy chairs or couches with your coffee and slice of chocolate cake.
If you do want to go to Starbucks, the first one is located at Pike Place Market. But be warned, you’ll be waiting outdoors in a long line!
Pike Place Market
With its location overlooking nearby ports on the Puget Sound, Pike Place Market is a great spot to check out seasonal sea views as well as some tastes and sights of fall. It’s also home to some of the freshest seafood and long-running small businesses such as Lowell’s Restaurant and Pike Place Chowder.
While you’re here, keep an eye out for sweets at Turkish Delight, freshly-made cheese at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and international pastry at Piroshky, Piroshky Bakery (Russian — be sure to taste the fall favorite pumpkin toffee braid) and the local favorite Mee Sum Pastry (Chinese).
In the market stalls, you’ll spot fishmongers tossing the freshest catches in eye-popping passes to one another, musicians busking near the flower stalls filled with seasonal fall blooms and local artisans selling their wares.
If you search carefully, you might uncover the secret community garden that overlooks Elliott Bay. Leave a “souvenir” at the gum wall, visit the Seattle Aquarium or take a turn on the Great Wheel. Tickets are $15 per ride, so go on a clear day to get the most bang for your buck.
Pacific Northwest food
Seattle is is a city that you can spend an entire visit just eating your way through. In addition to Pike Place Market, make plans to discover the food that represents the city’s diverse communities, from Chinese dim sum at Jade Garden in the International District to Ethiopian eats at Jebena Cafe in North Seattle.
Historic International District
Constructed in the late 1800s, the Chinatown-International District is home to Chinatown, Japantown and Little Saigon. This area is regarded as the epicenter of the Seattle AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) community.
Here, you will find some of the best dim sum, dumplings and other fresh baked goods in the country. We recommend Jade Garden for dim sum, A+ Hong Kong Kitchen for a quick bite, Fuji bakery for pastries and Hood Famous Cafe and Bar for Filipino American food. While you are here, pay a visit to the Wing Luke Museum, which centers on Asian Pacific American history, art and culture.
Seattle has no shortage of farmers markets. While many of Seattle’s farmers markets close in October, the University District Neighborhood Farmers Market is open year round. Buy fresh fall produce, pick up an aster and hyacinth bouquet or grab some fresh apple cider from one of the market stalls.
Other food favorites
As someone who eats a mostly plant-based diet, I always appreciate the variety of options available in Seattle. For brunch, my favorite spot is Cafe Flora, an award winning vegetarian restaurant that has been open for nearly 30 years.
For desert, it’s hard to beat the two locations of Hot Cakes, a dessert spot that serves molten cakes and warm cookies with ice cream (vegan and gluten-free options are available).
If you want a bite on the go, I suggest hitting up one of Ivar’s Seafood Bars, which has 18 locations around the state, three of which are in Seattle. Of course, Seattle has so much to offer, especially when it comes to food. These are just a few that stand out when I start missing home.
Outdoors and nature
While it is true that the rain and grey skies become more prominent during the colder months in Seattle, that has never stopped a true Seattleite — just put on a rain jacket (no umbrellas, unless you want to look like a tourist) and embrace the adventure!
Parks and gardens
There are so many parks in Washington, but I have some of favorites, especially in the fall: Gas Works Park is favorite option year round. In the early fall, pack a picnic and some cozy blankets and enjoy the flying kites overhead and the view from the top of the hill overlooking Lake Union. I also recommend taking a walk around Green Lake Park or stopping by Kerry Park at sunset for a stunning view of the Space Needle, Mount Rainier and Lake Union.
The Ballard Locks are known for their salmon ladders. Peak season is mid-summer, however if you visit in early September, you still might be able to spot a few salmon swimming by and the locks — the largest boat traffic locks in the U.S. — are always impressive.
I also love the University of Washington (UW) botanical gardens; each garden offers something unique almost all year-round. My personal favorite is their Japanese Garden, where you will find some of the best fall foliage in Seattle.
Off the mainland
Head outside of the city to one of the islands in the Puget Sound to go hiking, visit the local towns or walk along the beach.. Bainbridge Island, the closest island to Seattle, is just a 35-minute ferry ride. I also love Whidbey Island’s Deception Pass, which has breathtaking views and scenic hikes and fishing.
Hiking, camping and beaches
For fall hiking on the mainland, there is something for everyone, and many trails can be found an hour or less outside of the city: Snoqualmie Falls has a one-and-a-half-mile hike good for all skill levels, and for ambitious hikers, check out Mount Si Trail.
If you really want to rough it, several campgrounds are open in the fall around the state and on the coast — just make sure to pack the proper equipment and warm clothes.
With its coastal front and a plethora of lakes such as Lake Union and Lake Washington, Seattle has many boating opportunities, from kayaks to dinner cruises. Some locations close if the weather is bad, so make sure to check the weather for the dates you want and book reservations in advance.
Beaches tend to be less popular in the fall because of the cooler weather. However, if you are looking for a brisk walk along the water, Golden Gardens is an expansive beach in North Seattle on the Puget Sound. Go on a clear day to see its views of the Olympic Mountains.
Go pumpkin picking, apple picking or weave your way through a corn maze at a local farm just outside the city. The Festival of Pumpkins is a Snohomish County partnership between seven farms to promote sustainable, local agriculture.
Arts & Culture
Just as there is no shortage of outdoor activities, the city also has a rich history and arts scene. Spend a rainy afternoon at one of the many art museums, have a night on the town at the symphony or take a ghost tour.
The Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is a great place to explore on a damp fall Seattle day. In addition to an expansive permanent collections, there are world class exhibitions as well, including the current Monet at Étretat on view until mid-October.
SAM also owns the outdoor Olympic Sculpture Park, as well as the newly renovated Seattle Asian Art Museum. Other must-see contemporary museums include the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum and the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop).
Music and live entertainment
Fall brings the beginning of the performing arts season with fantastic live performances by the Seattle Symphony and the Seattle Opera and Broadway shows at The Paramount and other theaters.
And since fall shows coincide with back to school season, it’s a great time to take advantage of Seattle’s TeenTix, a free program for anyone ages 13-19 to get free or $5 tickets to art events around the city, including visual art, music, theater and more.
Of course, no Seattle guide would be complete without recommendations to visit the waterfront Seattle Aquarium, the Space Needle or the Fremont Troll. For some spooky autumnal adventures, take a ghost tour at Pioneer Square or view the human mummies at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. While you are downtown, check out the Seattle Library, famous for its postmodern architecture.
The Pacific Science Center is also a great place for the whole family. Here, you can visit their interactive science playground, the butterfly pavilion or watch a 3D movie at the Boeing IMAX Theater.
Seattle is a city where I’m always discovering something new, even after having lived here my entire life. The city known for coffee, big tech and evergreen trees is so much more than meets the eye.
With picturesque Pacific Northwest views, an eclectic array of things to do, and a rich, multicultural history, Seattle is ready to become your next fall adventure.
Featured photo by Francesco Vaninetti Photo/Getty Images.
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