Top Attractions in Seattle: Exploring Like a Local
Updated: a day ago
Do you want to explore Seattle like a local? To explore Seattle like a local, first, you have to think like a local. Step into my mind. I lived in the Seattle area for 15 years growing up and have been back for short and long stays ever since. I have seen the city expand from a small hipster art scene to a tech giant central hub in America. Seattle has had a makeover in the past 10 years. With all these changes, there are a few things that have withstood the test of time in this hip and growing city... This article highlights the top attractions in Seattle, perfect to combine in a 3-5 day visit to the city.
Why Visit Seattle?
Seattle is one of the most beautiful cities in America, being surrounded by vast snow-capped mountains and also a dramatic coastline hugging the city walls.
Seattle has a vibrant and bustling downtown full of fresh faces and energy that will lift your spirits even on rainy days.
Seattle is home to a rich history of art and music which are both easily accessible and also hidden in secret underground spots across the city if you look for them.
Now, to explore Seattle like a local does not mean you have to skip out on the major tourist attractions. Far from it. These attractions are what define our city and also create memories that will last you forever. In this article, I will highlight local tips for the top attractions in Seattle and also highlight a few of my favorite lesser-known places so you can enjoy your time in this wonderful city. Here are the top attractions in Seattle you should visit for your truly local experience.
Top Attractions in Seattle
1. The Space Needle
Before you do any other tourist attractions in Seattle, visit the Space Needle! Construction finished in 1962, just in time for the World’s Fair, and the Space Needle has been a modern marvel of architecture ever since. The view from the top offers 360 degrees of the entire city where you can see the whole cityscape along with amazing views of Mount Rainier and the Olympic Mountains. Going here as your first stop will give you a good sense of where you are in the city and the beauty that is all around you.
Local tip: Combine your visit to the Space Needle with lunch at the top. The Sky City restaurant spins 360 degrees during your sit-down and the food is to die for. You can book here
2. Pier 57
Next, head down to Pier 57 on the Seattle Waterfront and check out the 4D movie experience called “Wings over Seattle”. The movie will take you on a flight over all of Washington State in an immersive experience with wind, rain, and more. You will fly over the Seattle skyline, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, the surrounding forests, and even learn some local history before the show. The show itself is only about 20 minutes and is a perfect introduction to Seattle’s history and surrounding scenery. We really enjoyed this experience and therefore rated it as one of the top attractions in Seattle!
Local tip: Don’t go on the Ferris wheel on Pier 57. It is a bit of a tourist trap and doesn’t offer any better views than you would have from the Space Needle, Smith Tower, the Columbia Tower, or Kerry Park.
3. Pioneer Square
Another top attraction in Seattle is Pioneer Square. This is where it all began for modern-day Seattle in 1852. Similar to the “Wings Over Seattle” experience, you will learn about the history of Seattle here but in a live setting. Take an underground city tour where you will learn all about the 1889 fire that almost ended Seattle forever. The city rebuilt itself and skyscrapers now surround the legendary Pioneer Square. However, the history and charm are still preserved here and is well worth the visit.
Local tip: For the underground tour, I recommend using Bill Spiedel’s Underground Tour service. They are very knowledgeable, tell great stories, and keep the whole group entertained throughout the trip. You can book with them here
4. Columbia Tower
The Columbia Tower has the best view over the city (yes, even better than the Space Needle)! The entrance is relatively close to Pioneer Square and easily walkable. From the base, you can purchase your tickets and make your way up the elevator to the Sky View Observatory, the largest observatory in the Pacific Northwest. The elevator ride is quick, going up 73 flights in only 70 seconds. At the top, you will see 360-degree views of the city, Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, and the Olympic mountains. A stellar way to spend an hour or two above the city! This is a top attraction in Seattle that you absolutely can't miss!
Local tip: Reserve your tickets in advance just in case the tickets sell out the day you plan to go. It is always a shame when you want to go to the top, but tickets are sold out for the one time you can go. And this is a view you just can’t miss. Get your tickets here
5. West Seattle
West Seattle is one of our top 'local' attractions near the city as it is away from the hustle and bustle but also has a unique charm and character to it. Make sure to check out the popular California Ave. This avenue has many cute shops and restaurants along with a ton of history and character. Easy Street Records is located at the main crosswalk on the avenue and is the hot spot for emerging artists, local shows, as well as vinyl classic records and newly released albums. Seattle is known for its music and Easy Street Records is the best music store around the city in my opinion. The vibe is classic Seattle.
Local tip: Go to Easy Street Records on a day when there is live music in the store. There is generally a large crowd and great music for the event along with quality coffee from their cafe. Check out their website for new releases and store info.
6. Alki Beach
After going to Easy Street Records in West Seattle, head down the road to Alki Beach! Alki is the "California" of Seattle! This hidden gem lies across the water from downtown and looks out towards the city. It is full of unique restaurants, character homes, and a long sandy beach that sits next to a rollerblade and walking path for miles. The atmosphere is relaxed and things move at a slower pace in Alki. I recommend going to Marination Ma Kai (Hawaiian) or Salty's (seafood) for dinner so you can see the city and ferris wheel lit up from across the water for the best views! La Rustica, a small but extremely tasty Italian restaurant, is also a local favorite.
Local tip: Go to Marination Ma Kai restaurant at night so you can see the city skyline lit up at night. The ferris wheel and Space Needle look really cool from this angle!
7. Pike Place Market
The Pike Place Market is one of Seattle’s top attractions, and this is for good reason. It has one of the best atmospheres in all of downtown! Every minute there are thousands of people walking through the market and taking in the scene. From local crafts to produce and music, the Pike Place Market has something for everyone. Grad a bite to eat for lunch here and make sure to stop at the Pike Place Fish Market near the entrance. You can see fish being thrown across the galley as people order them and live street performers keep the atmosphere vibrant in the background. It’s a scene that you won’t want to miss.
Local tip: Go to The Pike Brewing Company just down the street after you’ve walked the Pike Place Market. They have great locally-brewed beer, good food, and many room options for all occasions. I recommend the Pike Nellie Golden Ale as my personal favourite. Check out their full beer selection here
8. The “Gum Wall”
This is kind of gross but also a pretty cool and unique spot in Seattle. It is only a 2-minute walk from the Pike Place Fish Market and is worth the time to check it out. Here, you will find millions of pieces of gum that have been stuck to the wall over time by tourists. It’s kind of a right of passage for tourists coming through the town. The gum began sticking to the wall when people were lining up for shows outside of the Unexpected Productions theatre. Now, it is a popular attraction in Seattle for a travel pic with a unique multi-colored background.
Local tip: Go here just before sunset as there are less people in the street and you will have more space to take photos and see the wall in its entirety.
9. Vashon Island by ferry
Vashon Island is located in the heart of the Puget Sound, between Seattle, Tacoma, and the Olympic Mountains. It is the perfect distance from Seattle to do a day trip and explore the laid-back island’s best spots. The island is only accessible by ferry boat, which makes it a spot that many tourists visiting Seattle haven’t been to. There is a passenger-only ferry that runs from downtown Seattle to the North End of Vashon on weekdays. Vashon is known for it’s Strawberry Festival in the summer, laid-back vibes, talented artists, great food, and relative isolation from the "main-land". There are many beaches, trails, shops, art galleries, and restaurants to enjoy on the island. For more information about Vashon Island, check out our 'Vashon Island top things to do' article.
Local tip: Visit the Wild Mermaid for breakfast or lunch when you get off the boat from the North End ferry dock. Their pastries are to die for and they also have great coffee. The atmosphere there is cozy with a small fireplace, large glass windows to let the light in, and historic chic décor.
10. Smith Tower
Overlooking Pioneer Square, Smith Tower is Seattle’s original skyscraper. The tower itself opened in 1914 and was the tallest building in the city for some time. It is no longer the tallest building today, but still boasts 35 stories and is one of the best sunset views over the city in my opinion as it looks out towards the Olympic mountains in full view. What many people don’t know is that the elevator from 1914 is still used today and you can choose to be dropped off at the “history floor” to learn all about the Smith Tower stories before heading up to the top floor for dinner and drinks. More about Smith Tower is available here
Local tip: Go to Smith Tower for dinner to cap off an evening in the city. The vibe on the 35th story bar is that of a swanky 1960’s whisky bar with retro furniture and an upscale feel. However, the drinks and food are relatively fairly priced and it is more of a local spot than other dinner areas in Pioneer Square.
11. Pacific Science Center
This is one of my all-time favorite spots in Seattle. Maybe I’m a bit of a nerd at heart, but I loved learning about how things worked when I was younger. The Pacific Science Center staff are masters at bringing in new exhibits and interactive pieces that allow kids and adults to really understand and have fun with science. There is a dinosaur museum, IMAX theatre, virtual reality space, and even butterfly gardens. If you’re looking for something to do on a rainy day in Seattle, look no further than the Science Center! You won’t be disappointed.
Local tip: There is a planetarium in the Science Center that will immerse you into the galaxy like nothing you’ve ever seen before. The seats nearly fully recline as you look up at the stars and see constellations come to life during the show. Check it out and get your mind blown!
12. Kerry Park
Before you leave Seattle, make sure to get your iconic picture of the city skyline! Kerry Park is the perfect spot for that as you will be able to see the Space Needle in the foreground with the city skyline and Mount Rainier in the background. The park is located halfway up the hill in the Queen Anne neighborhood and in my opinion, is best visited during the day. This is because you will be able to see Mount Rainier in the background (as long as it’s a clear day), which truly sets Seattle apart compared to most other cities in the world.
Local tip: If you are coming from the city, take the D Line, which will drop you off at Mercer St. & Queen Anne Avenue North. This is very close to the park and you only have to walk 4 minutes from there to see this stunning view.
Now that you know the insider scoop on Seattle, you'll be exploring the city like a local in no time! A few other spots you may want to check out if you have time are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the Museum of Flight, the MoPop, and Elysian Brewery.
Which top attraction in Seattle would you want to visit? Comment below!