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Well-Known vs Unknown: Must-See Places in Seattle
Some of Seattle’s most noteworthy destinations require little to no introduction, like the world-renowned Pike Place Market or the one-of-a-kind view from the Space Needle. Others fly more under the radar—like the historic underground tours or eccentric Ye Old Curiosity Shop.
Below is our guide to both: the not-so-secret sights you simply cannot miss and the under-the-radar gems giving the city its personality. Pick and choose your favorites for a truly well rounded sampling of the ever-inspiring, evergreen city of Seattle.
Pike Place Market
A staple of the Elliott Bay waterfront since 1907, Pike Place Market attracts over 10 million visitors in one year alone. If you’re one of them, of course check out the iconic fish market on the main level—where exquisite seafood comes both fresh and flying—but don’t stop there. America’s most famous market continues on the two floors below, where hundreds of local farmers, merchants, and craftspeople offer something to see (and buy) around every corner—from rare comics to vinyl records to unique Seattle collectibles.
The Space Needle
Seattle’s horizon would not look the same without the iconic Space Needle. Even from below, the towering structure and its streamlined design are almost overwhelming—and that’s before you reach the viewing platform. Accessible while the sun is shining, or well after it’s set, the 360-degree views of the city and its dramatic natural surroundings are truly the best in town. On a clear day you’ll see past the city all they way to Mt. Rainier.
Seattle offers hundreds of verdant parks for locals and visitors in need of a break from the fast pace of city life. Our favorite is the seaside Discovery Park, the biggest in Seattle featuring 534 acres of lush greenery, 11.8 miles of hiking trails, and countless views over Puget Sound and the Cascade and Olympic Mountains. From beaches to forests to prairies to lighthouses (the park is home to the West Point Lighthouse, which is the westernmost point in Seattle), Discovery Park is the perfect combination of Seattle’s beautifully diverse coastline.
The works of legendary glass artist Dave Chihuly are displayed in dozens of exhibits across the world, but Seattle’s collection hits especially close to home. Opened in his native state in 2012, Chihuly Gardens transforms the bustling Seattle Center—which neighbors the Space Needle— into a must-see attraction for visiting art enthusiasts. It’s divided into three main display spaces—the Garden, the Glasshouse, and the Interior Exhibits—and showcases a wide selection of Chihuly’s most powerful sculptures, from fiery glass chandeliers to winding plant installations. The 100-foot-long flower-themed centerpiece hanging in the Glasshouse, in fact, is one of his largest suspended sculptures anywhere in the world.
Flanked by shimmering waters and fringed by evergreen forests and a distant glimpse of Mount Rainier, the skyline view from Elliott Bay is arguably the city’s finest. Take to the seas with Argosy Cruises and catch a different perspective of Seattle, including the bustling harbor and Washington’s picturesque archipelago. Guided 1.5-hour cruises are available throughout the day and offer five different routes through the Seattle waterfront: Harbor, Locks, Lake Union, Lake Washington, or Tillicum Village.
Olympic Sculpture Park
Opened in 2007 along the city’s northern seawall, Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park adds some inspiring color and creativity to what was once an old industrial site for oil and gas giant Unocal. There’s a lot to love about this larger-than-life, 9-acre exhibit, including Alexander Calder’s iconic “Eagle” from 1971 and Louise Bourgeois’ “Father and Son” from 2004. What’s more, it’s free to all and open 365 days a year.
It’s no surprise that one of the country’s quintessential waterfront cities is also home to one of its best aquariums. Perched on Pier 59 above the waters of Elliott Bay, the Seattle Aquarium gives a captivating peak into the marine habitats of the Pacific Northwest. Come rain or shine, families will love this interactive experience with hundreds of underwater species, from Harbor Seals to Sixgill Sharks to Giant Octopuses to Pacific Salmon.
Bellevue’s Mercer Slough
It’s easy to forget about Seattle’s freshwater pursuits when you’re surrounded by a literal sea of activities on Puget Sound. Mercer Slough Nature Park, however, is worth ever minute of your time—the perfect place to canoe and kayak, stand up paddleboard, or just unwind amidst the area’s lush forests. Nestled at the heart of Bellevue, the park also offers a plethora of nature trails for those who prefer to explore the area by foot.
Born in 1990 under the George Washington Memorial Bridge, the Fremont Troll has grown into a true urban legend in and around Seattle. Thirteen feet high and thirteen thousand pounds heavy, this beloved sculpture camps out along N. 36th Street at Troll Avenue and has a voracious appetite for cars, like the Volkswagen Beetle he’s currently devouring. The “Troll Under the Bridge,” as he’s affectionately known, is the work of four local artists—Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead—who were inspired by the Norwegian troll in the fairy tale Three Billy Goats Gruff.
Seattle Underground Tours
Directly below the streets of downtown Seattle lies a vast network of old passageways remaining from the mid-19th century. Bill Speidel’s tours allow you to travel these very tunnels, starting in a mystical saloon revived from the late 1800’s. It’s a flashback to what used to be Seattle’s bustling downtown, including ancient roadways, classic storefronts, and plenty of stories from your personal tour guide. Needless to say, it’s a must-try for families visiting with kids.
As the gateway to America for millions of Chinese, Japanese, and Vietnamese immigrants during the mid-to-late 1800s, Seattle is home to one of the country’s most vibrant Asian communities. That enduring culture is reflected in its extensive Chinatown International District, which spans from 4th Avenue South to Rainier Avenue and from Yesler Way to Charles Street/Dearborn and includes three separate sections: Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Saigon. From genuine Asian restaurants to family-run shops to Chinese pagoda architecture, this is as close Shanghai or Tokyo as you’ll get anywhere in the U.S.
Seattle Pinball Museum
Seattle’s Pinball Museum turns all your favorite arcade games into one giant art collection—and better yet, they’re not just there for display. Test your luck on one of over 50 vintage pinball machines, from Superman to Ripley’s Believe it or Not to, of course, Baby Pac Man. A stroll down memory lane from the 1960’s to the present, it’s a must-see for game collectors and a one-of-a-kind arcade adventure for families.
Ye Olde Curiosity Shop
It’s been called weird, bizarre, crazy, and totally out of this world, and that’s precisely the point. A wildly eccentric souvenir shop located on the outer edge of Pier 54, Ye Old Curiosity Shop is one of the oldest (and oddest) landmarks on the Settle waterfront (established in 1899). From shrunken heads to two-headed baby animals to 4-legged chickens and so many other peculiar sights, this place offers a truly one-of-a-kind spectacle. It’s so addicting, in fact, that over 1 million people walk through its doors each and every year.