Seattle, the Emerald City of the Pacific Northwest, is one of the hidden gems of the U.S. and, despite being a major U.S. city, its generally forgotten on most people’s travel plans. We all know of Seattle, but who can truly say they’ve traveled there or even considered it a good vacation destination? People often mention moving there for work or the culture, but never as a place to visit.
Truly a shame, because while Seattle is a dream city to live in (I’ve chased after it since I was 15) it still makes a perfect weekend getaway. Maybe you’re thinking of moving there one day and want to test the waters or you’re looking for somewhere new to stretch your legs, Seattle is perfectly situated between the gorgeous Elliot Bay, the enrapturing Mount Rainier, and scenic British Colombia up north, offering a wealth of activities and attractions to explore.
But who is Seattle?
Seattle is a metropolis that rocks to its own groove, rising up from the shores of Elliot Bay from a timber town to a booming Gold Rush industry and finally a thriving tech and business industry, from the innovations made at the Microsoft Campus to the mighty vessels birthed at the Boeing Everett Factory. The birthplace of giants like Jimi Hendrix, Starbucks, and Amazon, Seattle encourages creativity, such as the fascinating EMP Museum, and diversity, hosting the second largest LGBTQA+ community in the U.S. behind San Francisco.
Where is Seattle? How do I meet it?
One of the major cities in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle rests on the West Coast’s Interstate 5 Highway, which allows travelers to visit all the great West Coast cities on one fantastic road trip. Or, if you’re traveling from Canada, Seattle is just a quick 3 hour drive from Vancouver.
If you’re not up for a road trip, then you’ll want to fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport – aka Sea-Tac – which receives direct flights from around the world. However, if you’re already in the U.S. or Canada, you’ll want to take a scenic Amtrak Train. The Coast Starlight travels from LA to Portland and Seattle, letting you cross the coast within 35 hours, or if you’re coming from the Midwest you can take the Empire Builder from Chicago on a 46 hour trip.
Both train rides end at the Seattle Amtrak Station which connects to the rest of the city through the Seattle Metro and Sound Transit services.
Another scenic option for Canadians is the Victoria Skipper, a high speed ferry that travels from Victoria to Seattle in under 3 hours. Carnival and Royal Caribbean also offer stops in Seattle with their deluxe cruises, most of which feature Alaska.
How does Seattle feel?
Housed in Garvey Bay and adjacent to Pudget Sound, Seattle receives cool Ocean breezes all year round, as well as some chillier winds from Canada. It has a reputation for being one of the rainiest cities in the U.S., but for many traveler’s that adds to its charm.
Its Summers, which run from June to August, are extremely popular do to the comfortable mid-70 F weather and can drain your budget just from hotel prices.
In contrast, Fall (September to October) is one the best times to visit both in terms of smaller crowds and cheaper prices; plus, the weather is still relatively mild, even if its beginning to get chillier. You’ll want to pack a light coat and jeans, but otherwise you’ll get to enjoy the lovely fall foliage and amazing festivals that rise up between these two months, from the Fremont Oktoberfest to the Macefield Music Fest, as well as half a dozen cultural festivals such as The Italian Festival, Seattle Fiestas Patrias, CroatiaFest, Turkfest, and Dia de Muertos.
Winter, sadly, brings a bit too much rainfall for most travelers tastes, despite the relatively low hotel rates. But if you’re up for some fun in the snow, then you’ll enjoy fantastic ski trips fro Mount Rainier.
And, lastly, we have Spring, which is generally a colder version of Fall, with some of the lowest hotel rates of the year and cool temperatures between 55 and 60 F. You’ll want to keep your rain gear on hand, however it’s all worth it to enjoy the Seattle Cherry Blossom Festival.
What are Seattle’s best features?
One of the most iconic sights in Seattle is the towering Space Needle, which offers amazing views of the city and Mount Rainier in the distance. A trip to Seattle generally requires a trip to the top, generally around USD 22 for adult tickets, which can be packaged with the nearby Chihuly Gardens and Glass and the spectacular EMP Museum, a combination of Music, Sci-Fi, and Pop Culture.
The most affordable option is to grab a Seattle City Pass for USD 74 which includes two visits to the Space needle for the night and day viewings, admission to the EMP Museum, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Seattle Aquarium, and a Argosy Harbor Cruise.
Another key feature near the Space Needle is the Seattle Center Monorail which provides a quick transfer to Westlake Center Station every 10 minutes, a short walking distance from downtown Seattle and Pike Place Market. Pike Place is another “must-see” on any Seattle trip, especially if you want to try fresh, local food (I highly suggest the calamari)!
If you’re looking to travel through history then Pioneer is your next stop. Seattle’s first neighborhood, this architectural treasure trove is home to some of the oldest and most impressive buildings in Seattle. Plus, from here you can slip into the Seattle Underground tunnels to learn about the city’s past.
Those who want to cut their travel costs can join a Seattle Trolley Tour with a hop-on, hop-off pass that’ll lead you from Seattle Center all the way down to the International District and along the Seattle Waterfront, where you can hop off at the Seattle Aquarium and ride on the Seattle Great Wheel. Combined with a Seattle City Pass, you’ll be able to see it all on a quick weekend trip to Seattle.
But the ultimate “must-see” is not in Seattle. The 14,000 foot Mount Rainier towers over the Seattle horizon and offers some of the most scenic forests in North America with dozens of trails to explore. You can either head out of the city on your own or join a Mout Raineir day trip from Seattle to enjoy a scenic drive to this amazing park.
|Dollar||United States Dollar (USD)|
|Cultural Etiquette||When meeting someone new, its customary to offer your name and a handshake.
Don’t worry too much about formal or informal titles unless it involves slang. Americans only use Mr., Mrs., or Ms. for formal business settings, and first names are okay for a first meeting.
Either arrive on time or a few minutes late. American’s are casual about arrival times and tend to prefer guests don’t arrive too early; otherwise you’ll interrupt them when they’re finishing dinner or cleaning up the living room.
Remember to always tip at a restaurant, for transportation such as cabs or airport shuttles, and for services such as help with baggage or housekeeping.
The Independent Traveler has a great guide to tipping in the U.S. 15% of the bill is considered the minimum, 20% the standard, and anything above is for great service.
Another great resource is National’s Geographic’s Seattle Cultural Tips, which include short and easy to remember tips and phrases for Seattle.
|Food|| Pikes Place Market and Ballard Farmers’ Market host some of the city’s most delicious food from local vendors and restaurants that’ll provide you wish fresh fruit, vegetables, and seafood.
World Nomad’s Seattle City Guide highly suggests grabbing a local Seattle Dog to have an authentic Seattle experience (plus they’re just so delicious)! If you’re looking to sate your sweet tooth then Molly Moon’s Honesty Lavender Ice Cream is the place to visit, but make sure to show up early as there’s always a crowd.
Coffee junkies will of course want to visit the original Starbucks in Pike’s Place Market, but if you’re looking for something more local then Victrola Coffee will offer you a cheaper, most convenient drink with a true Seattle atmosphere.
|Restaurant Etiquette|| Seattle is rather laidback, so you’ll rarely be expected to dress up when you go out to eat.
Always remember to tip in the U.S., as it helps subsidize the generally low wages offered at restaurants.
|Safety||Relatively safe, but visitors should always take precautions while traveling.
|Getting Around|| If you’re flying into Sea-Tac you can hop aboard the Link Light Rail to head to downtown Seattle, usually a 40 minute ride for USD 3.
As we mentioned early the Seattle Center Monorail and Seattle Trolley Tour can easily get you between Seattle Center and downtown. If you’re looking to explore more of King Country then the King Country Metro Transit provides regular bus services between downtown Seattle and the rest of the country.
|Additional Resources||Check out World Nomad’s Insider’s Guide to Seattle|