Rain. Coffee. Grunge. Tech. To many, the bullet points of what makes Seattle unique aren't terribly enticing, but we assure you this is intentional. See, the Pacific Northwest is a crown jewel in the United States’s bevy of beautiful regions (perhaps that’s why Seattle is known as the Emerald City), and, well, if word got out, the locals wouldn’t be too pleased.
Whether you stick to the urban grid or venture out in search of wide open spaces, you’ll struggle to keep your jaw from dropping at what you’ll find, from a vast and rugged natural playground to some of the best Japanese food in the country. So any time you hear somebody say something disparaging about the assumed dreariness of Seattle, let them believe it. The real story can be our little secret.
Before you go, check out our guide to things you should know about the history and culture of Seattle.
Foodies of all stripes, year-round outdoors enthusiasts, music lovers that want to see Kurt Cobain or Jimi Hendrix’s old stomping grounds, couples seeking an easy romantic getaway
No matter how you slice it, it’s undeniable that the West Coast gets more and more expensive with each passing year; Seattle is among the most notorious of the budget busters, only marginally cheaper than San Francisco. Meals run the gamut from $13 for a hefty sandwich to $80/person for a farm-to-table feast. Hotels reliably range from $125-$400/night, while Airbnbs are great if you don’t mind being somewhere more residential. Renting a car is useful but not imperative unless you plan to do any hiking, camping, or skiing.
Admittedly, there are portions of the Seattle metro area that can feel unsafe depending on factors like gender and time of day. The city’s reputation for being forward-thinking and inclusive does not necessarily extend outward to the suburbs, but most of Seattle proper is very safe regardless of race, religion, or orientation, and even taboos like skinny-dipping are welcome and safe-feeling in some public spaces. Car theft and break-ins, however, are becoming increasingly common no matter where you are, so park in attended lots whenever possible and don’t leave any valuables in your car.
Thousands of words could be written about Seattle’s infamously wet weather, so we’ll keep it short. Yes, it rains a lot in Seattle from November to March. On average it’s about 14 days of rain each month during the winter, but the city has been known to have longer streaks. On the other hand, recent droughts also mean that during the summer, Seattle can go 30 days or more without a drop of rain. The good news: even when it rains in Seattle, it rarely pours so while it may be gray and wet, that’s no reason to stay inside.
Summer’s average highs range from 66-72°F while in winter it’s typically in the high 40s or low 50s.
July, August, and September typically see the best weather in Seattle. But you know what that means: more visitors and higher prices. May, June, and October are second best, with fewer rainy days and warmer temps than the winter months, but a few less tourists to contend with.
Summer is the time to come for events, too. The annual Bumbershoot festival takes place at the Seattle Center every Labor Day weekend, SeaFair takes place over several summer weekends, Pride events rule the city in June, and the Northwest Folklife Festival kicks off the start of summer events over Memorial Day weekend.
Grab a bite from Pike Place. Dining out in Seattle can be pricey but there are lots of cheaper options in and around the city’s famous market. For breakfast, make a beeline to the Crumpet Shop or Piroshky Piroshky where some carby goodness will only set you back a few bucks.
Ditch the car. You don’t need it in the city limits and hotel parking is expensive. Rent only for the days when you’ll be doing trips outside the city.
Skip the cruise. For less than a third of the price, you can get the same water view on one of the city’s ferries or water taxis to places like West Seattle or Bainbridge Island (and as an added bonus, you get to explore another neighborhood).
You’ll work up an appetite traipsing Seattle’s steep hills, which will make the city’s fantastic culinary scene all the more delicious. Sushi, pho, dumplings, and cuisine from all over Asia abounds, as does exquisitely crafted Italian food and, unsurprisingly, seafood. As for drinks, both coffee and beer are taken extremely seriously here, with great success.
Seattle offers both boutique stays and plenty of the names you’ve come to know in the global hotel industry (Kimpton, Westin, et al). There’s also a wide variety of vacation rentals, from chic downtown apartments to large single-family homes in the ‘burbs. They don’t come cheap though. Location and style add to the price so if you’re on a budget, go basic or consider staying slightly farther from downtown.
Belltown and Downtown
Staying downtown is handy because it’s easy to hop on the light rail, and you’ll be close to lots of attractions like Pike Place, the waterfront, the Seattle Art Museum, and great venues for music and live entertainment. Belltown is just a few blocks north of the downtown core and equally lively. One major con: hotels here tend to be the most expensive.
Seattle’s hippest hood, Capitol Hill is home to dozens of restaurants, bars, cafes, and boutiques. With lively main drags and quieter side streets, it offers a residential feel but no lack of things to do. It’s also the center of the cities LGBTQ scene.
Queen Anne and the area at the base of Queen Anne hill (formerly called Lower Queen Anne but officially renamed as Uptown) offer a more residential feel extremely close to downtown. It’s just a few minutes walk to the Seattle Center, and while options are mostly vacation rentals here, there are a few small hotels tucked into the streets as well.
Like we said before, having a car isn’t a requirement in Seattle unless you plan to get out into the wild. In fact, each neighborhood in the city was basically designed to be the total package for its denizens, meaning there’s a grocery, restaurant strip, and corner store that’s never too far away. There’s also the LINK light rail, which is reliable but limited in service, a tram (though no one uses it), and buses; Lyft and Uber prices are some of the highest in the country, so don’t plan on taking multiple a day. Car traffic can be extreme here and parking can be a nightmare, but there are also ample bike lanes to help you get around (and get around the hassles of transit).
There’s one major airport serving the Seattle metro area—Seattle–Tacoma International Airport (SEA), also commonly known as SeaTac. It’s about 14 miles from Seattle (and 18 miles from the other city in the airport name, Tacoma). SeaTac is a hub for Delta Air Lines and the main hub for Alaska Airlines.
SeaTac is connected to downtown Seattle via a light rail line and a few bus lines operated by the county. Link light rail takes under 40 minutes to reach the city center and the fare is between $2.25–3.50 depending on where you’re disembarking. Three bus routes operated by King County Metro Transit connect the airport with various parts of the Seattle metro area, with travel times typically in the 1–2 hour range and routes that require at least one transfer. Bus ticket prices vary and are usually $3 or less. Rideshare options are Lyft, Uber, and Wingz, with fares in the $35–45 range.
Take the ferry from downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island and explore your own way via car, bicycle, or on foot.
Drive up I-5 to Bow-Edison, a sweet set of towns in the Skagit Valley known for its antique/second hand shops, small bakeries, and tulips in the springtime.
Head out on I-90 towards Snoqualmie Pass to enjoy some great hikes, skiing, and swimming holes.
Spend a day in Edmonds, a charming town situated on the water just north of Seattle, or use its ferry landing as a jumping-off point and ride to Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula, where you’ll find plenty of hikes, small towns, fishing spots, and more.
Check out Mount Rainier National Park, worth a longer trip but also good for a single day of exploring
Make your way 2.5-3.5 hours westward to the Olympic Peninsula, where stunning alpine lakes, gorgeous mountains, dramatic beaches, and an actual rainforest make for incredible summer memories.
Go north 3 hours to Vancouver, a city renowned for its culinary scene, while also serving as a launch pad for other attractions like Vancouver Island (Victoria and Tofino are great destinations here) and Whistler (incredible for skiing, but also good in the summertime).
Spend a few days in the San Juan Islands, a quaint, serene place to go whale watching, eat farm-to-table food, and camp about 3 hours from Seattle.
Try out Portland next, also 3 hours away. The city with which Seattle shares a good-natured rivalry is full of great restaurants, a quirky atmosphere, and lots of local charm.
Seattle has been a backdrop for countless movies and tv shows, from Grey’s Anatomy to 50 Shades of Grey. Check out the modern Shakespearean romantic comedy 10 Things I Hate About You, the Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan classic Sleepless in Seattle, or the Gen X fave Singles for more glimpses of Seattle’s stunning scenery.
Want to read Seattle? Daudi Abe’s Emerald Street: A History of Hip Hop in Seattle covers the scene from Sir Mix-a-Lot to Macklemore, Ijeoma Olua wrote the best-selling So You Want to Talk about Race, and both David Guterson’s Snow Falling on Cedars and Jamie Ford’s Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet look at the region’s shameful history with its Japanese citizens.