Activities in Seattle range from urban to outdoorsy, and you can often enjoy both in the same day. With more than 200 miles of fresh- and saltwater shoreline within the city limits, water often plays a role in the fun.
Fun Things to Do in Seattle
Here are a dozen ideas for what to do in Seattle on land and on the water.
Hop Aboard the Washington State Ferry
From the Seattle waterfront, ferries ply the waters of Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island and the Olympic Peninsula. If you walk on as a foot passenger—as many Seattle commuters do—the 35-minute trip to Bainbridge Island provides a bargain cruise and a glimpse of Seattle life. For less than $10, you can enjoy the sea breeze, spot adorable harbor seals, and admire the city skyline from its most beautiful vantage point.
Explore Seattle Underground
One of the more obscure things to do in Seattle takes you below ground at Pioneer Square to learn about the city’s past. You’ll wander among a warren of old sidewalks and brick cellars, getting a time-capsule view of young Seattle before it was ravaged by fire and rebuilt on top of itself to address its perennial flooding problems. Local guides are knowledgeable about Seattle’s 19th-century history, along with what else to see and do in the resurgent Pioneer Square neighborhood.
Watch Boats in Ballard
Settled by Scandinavian fishermen, the northwest Seattle neighborhood of Ballard grew up along the ship canal that links inland Lake Washington and Lake Union with Puget Sound. Today it’s one of the city’s most vibrant neighborhoods. Head for the Carl English Jr. Botanical Garden on Northwest Market Street, where you might see everything from a sea kayak to a 500-foot-long freighter pass through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (better known simply as the Ballard Locks). An underwater viewing window lets you spy on salmon and steelhead wriggling up the fish ladder.
Get a Taste of Seattle’s Coffee Culture
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Seattle coffee roaster that decided to try selling European-style coffee drinks in the early 1980s? That original Starbucks coffee shop is still in operation at Pike Place Market, now one of an estimated 1,400 coffee establishments within the city limits. Starbucks was just a start, as Seattle remains unmatched its dedication to quality roasting and brewing. To get a true taste of its devotion, sign on for a “coffee crawl,” a 2.5-hour walking tour that includes sips at several of the city’s most instrumental coffeehouses.
Stroll the Seattle Waterfront
Sure, it’s touristy, but the old commercial piers along Seattle’s downtown waterfront are now filled with a lively collection of seafood restaurants, souvenir shops, and terrific attractions like the Seattle Aquarium. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Seattle, especially for families. Head for the Seattle Great Wheel, a 175-foot Ferris wheel that swoops out over the water at the end of Pier 57, and the adjacent Wings Over Washington, a multi-sensory theater that makes you feel as if you’re flying over waterfalls, vineyards, and other Washington scenes.
Ride the Monorail
Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the once-futuristic monorail now glides above the streets of downtown Seattle with cheeky, “Jetsons”-era nostalgia. It still provides convenient transportation, too, avoiding traffic for a quick two-minute ride from Westlake Center (Fifth Ave. and Pine St.) to the Seattle Center, where the Space Needle, museums, and other attractions fill the original World’s Fair grounds.
Experience Seattle’s Music Scene
Best known as the birthplace of grunge, Seattle prides itself on nurturing and embracing a wide range of music. You’ll find rising talent on display throughout the city, including venerable venues like the Tractor Tavern, Crocodile, Blue Moon, Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley, and many, many more. Let’s just say finding things to do in Seattle at night is not an issue. The alternative weekly The Stranger compiles the city’s most comprehensive live music calendar.
Cycle the Burke-Gilman Trail
If you want to get around like a local, one of easiest things to do in Seattle is hop on a bicycle. Particularly pleasant is the Burke-Gilman Trail, a paved, vehicle-free path that cuts through north Seattle, including the University of Washington campus and the west shore of Lake Washington. No bike? No problem. You’ll find share bikes scattered all over the city; follow the easy instructions on the bike to unlock it and pay a nominal fee using your smartphone.
Take a Whale-Watching Cruise
How many metro areas can claim their own whales? Off Seattle’s shores, three pods of orcas (also known as “killer whales”) reside in the rich waters of Puget Sound, along with transient pods of orcas, gray whales, humpback whales, dolphins, and other marine mammals. On a half-day tour, Puget Sound Express uses high-speed boats to travel north to the lovely San Juan Islands, where whales tend to congregate. If seeing wildlife is high on your list of what to do in Seattle, this tour vastly increases the odds.
Check Out Funky Fremont
In a city of colorful neighborhoods, Fremont thrives on being the eccentric one. Exhibit A: The Fremont Troll (crushing a real VW Beetle) under the Aurora Bridge, just one of Fremont’s many quirky public art pieces. Browse through the Fremont Vintage Mall and the Sunday Market, filled with art, collectibles, and oddities. At Gas Works Park, broad grassy lawns offer an incomparable view of Lake Union, juxtaposed with the stark industrial detritus of an early 20th-century power plant. For more local color, sign on for the Fremont Tour: It’s part walking tour, part street theater.
Soak and Steam at a Traditional Bathhouse
Banya 5 follows in a long tradition of bathhouses—think Finnish saunas and Turkish hammams—to promote wellness. Mostly it feels great, a fun thing to do in Seattle after a day exploring. Soak in the mineral salt bath pool or hydro-jet hot pool, then give your circulatory system a healthy jolt with a cold pool plunge. Let heat rid your body of toxins in the eucalyptus steam room and the basalt-brick sauna. Bring a swimsuit, sandals, and a wool hat—the latter is a traditional way to acclimate your body to the sauna’s intense temperatures.
Hit the Beach
Yes, really! It’s just a 10-minute water taxi ride (or seven-mile drive) from downtown to Alki Beach in West Seattle, the thumb of land across Elliott Bay. The water can be rather nippy for swimming, but Alki delivers a fine two-mile stretch of sand, kayak and paddleboard rentals, and plenty of beach bars and waterfront cafes. Time your visit for low tide to check out the tiny crabs, sea stars, and other critters stranded in tide pools south of the Alki Point Light.
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—Original reporting by Tina Lassen