Planning a visit to Seattle? Newcomer looking for a way to spend your first day off? Family visiting soon? As a lifelong Seattleite, this is my local’s guide to one day in Seattle!
Start off the day with a visit to Pike Place Market. Yes, it’s crowded with tourists, especially during the summer. Despite the crowds, it’s still a unique and fascinating place. Go first thing when you get going in the morning and get the big crowds out of the way early. You could definitely eat your way through the market all day, but be sure to grab a crumpet if you get there before they sell out, or find a pastry or doughnut. There’s lots of great coffee all over Seattle, near Pike Place Market you might try Storyville or Seattle Coffee Works. Don’t bother going to the original Starbucks, just take a picture in front of it and skip the endless line! Wander around the market as long as you like, there’s lots of food, produce, and locally made gifts. Make sure to check out Eighth Generation, a native owned shop with beautiful native art.
After a morning wandering the market, when you’re ready for lunch there are many great places in and around the market such as the renowned Pink Door, or you could grab a sandwich from one of the shops or the best mac and cheese you’ve ever had at Beecher’s (there could be a long line). If you’re ready to get away from the market, you could head down to the waterfront to get some fish and chips at the Ivar’s (eat inside or grab to go from the fish bar on the street), a Seattle institution. Fish and chips are a winner, though my personal favorite is the smoked salmon chowder. Another delicious lunch option would be to head to the Uwajimaya food court, boasting many varieties of food from all over Asia. If you’d prefer to sit down, there are many great spots in the few blocks surrounding it in the International District.
After lunch, explore the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood, perhaps taking in Seattle’s Underground Tour, for a funny and quirky jaunt through the first generation of Seattle’s buildings (one level below the modern street level). Alternatively, you could spend some time in the Tea Room at the Panama Hotel (made famous by the Jamie Ford’s novel Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet).
Next stop is the Smith Tower, the tallest building west of the Mississippi when it was built in 1914. I recommend the Smith Tower over the Space Needle, as it’s MUCH less crowded and less expensive (and has a prohibition themed bar perfect for happy hour) while still sporting a great view.
Looking north towards the Space Needle from the Smith Tower
Looking west across Puget Sound to the Olympics from the Smith Tower
Round out the day with a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island (30 minutes) or Bremerton (one hour). Both ferries leave from the downtown Seattle terminal and you’ll get an amazing view and a boat ride for $8.35. There’s food available on the boat, or you can enjoy dinner at your destination before catching the next ferry back. Tip: Time your trip for sunset and catch it behind the Olympic mountains as you return.
View of downtown Seattle approaching the ferry terminal