Things to Do & Must-See Attractions in Washington
Seattle’s Space Needle, one of the Pacific Northwest’s most distinctive icons, rises 605 feet (184 meters) above the city. Once the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River at the time of its construction—built for the 1962 World’s Fair—the tower features a rotating restaurant and an observation deck at 520 feet (158 meters) with 360-degree panoramic views over Seattle and its surroundings.
The cold, dark waters around Seattle hide an abundance of marine life, from orca whales to giant Pacific octopus to otters and salmon. The Seattle Aquarium helps visitors access this rich underwater world without getting wet. The experience involves touch tanks, daily dive shows, and plenty of exhibits showing off the area’s sea life.
Every day from dawn to dusk, Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market buzzes with locals and tourists alike, who come to browse the 150 stalls of fresh seafood, produce, flowers, artisanal products, and local art, as well as see the numerous street performers wandering throughout.
Pioneer Square, where Seattle’s founders first settled in 1852, is a bustling district in the southwest corner of downtown Seattle. The shop- and nightlife-laden neighborhood takes its name from the small, triangular cobblestone plaza known as Pioneer Square Park, and features a bust of Chief Seattle, an ornate pergola, and a totem pole.
One of the oldest national parks in the United States, Mt. Rainier National Park was established in 1899 to preserve the wilderness surrounding Mount Rainier. Encompassing 369 square miles (956 square kilometers) of old-growth forests, wildflower meadows, glacial scenery, and wildlife, it’s a must-visit for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts.
When a city has an enviable location on a large body of water, like Puget Sound, the waterfront becomes a top attraction. This is definitely true in Seattle, where the nearly 20-block stretch along the water is home to restaurants, hotels, markets, shops, and more than a dozen piers.
More than just the second-largest lake in all of Washington State, Lake Washington defines Seattle as a city intimately tied to the water. Residents and visitors alike come to Lake Washington to connect with the natural beauty of the landscape, which includes views of Mt. Rainier and the Cascade Mountains.
You can’t miss this colorful shrine to pop culture and creativity. When architect Frank Gehry designed the shimmering exterior, he made one of Seattle’s most eye-catching landmarks. From rock music to science fiction, film, and video games, it’s an immersive experience that includes interactive exhibits and treasured memorabilia.
Just north of downtown Seattle, the glacially carved freshwater Lake Union is ringed with houseboats—including the one made famous by the movieSleepless in Seattle—and home to numerous recreational opportunities. The lake is a true urban gem, contributing to Seattle’s high standard of living.
Spread across 74 acres (30 hectares) in the heart of the city, Seattle Center was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and today houses many of the city’s top attractions. This is where you’ll find the Space Needle, International Fountain, Chihuly Garden and Glass, Pacific Science Center, Museum of Pop Culture, and Seattle Children’s Museum.
More Things to Do in Washington
Fishermen’s Terminal is the home port of most of the North Pacific and Puget Sound fishing boats, many of whom spend several months on the open sea before returning to Seattle. It doesn’t come as a surprise, that one of the main attractions of the terminal is the fresh fish. On big boards, the catch of the day – be it salmon, halibut or crab – is advertised and ready to be taken home and thrown in a pan. But those who can’t wait that long can also get their seafood fix at one of the restaurants right at the port. Chinook’s, Bay Café and the Highliner Pub offer great views of the Fishermen’s Terminal and are also popular hangout spots for the crews.
At the very center of Fishermen’s Terminal, hundreds of names are inscribed on a big bronze and stone memorial to commemorate all those who have died at sea and to serve as a reminder of the dangers of commercial fishing. Every month, a memorial service is held and new names are added to the list. If you’re lucky, you’ll see the blessing of the fleet, an annual event held in March at the start of the halibut fishing season or attend the Fishermen’s Fall Festival in September. But even if you’re there on a regular day, a walk on the docks through the rows and rows of moored commercial fishing boats can be very impressive.
Learn about the annual phenomenon of salmon spawning at Seattle’s Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, known locally as the Ballard Locks, where three types of Pacific salmon pass through the fish ladder during the summer months on the way upriver to their spawning grounds.
For views of downtown Seattle, the Space Needle, and Mount Rainier, the hilltop Kerry Park (Franklin Place) is hard to beat. Popular with photographers, Kerry Park looks out across the city skyline, the leafy streets of the Queen Anne Hill neighborhood, and Puget Sound, where you can spot ferries leaving the Seattle waterfront for the San Juan Islands.
The Seattle Great Wheel is a can’t-miss icon that speaks to the fun-loving nature of the city’s residents. One of the biggest Ferris wheels in the US, the Seattle Great Wheel features enclosed gondolas that afford spectacular coastal views. It stands above 175 feet (53 meters) and weighs in at more than a quarter of a million pounds.
Often simply referred to as the ID, the Chinatown-International District is the multiethnic center of Seattle’s Asian community. The neighborhood is also one of the city’s oldest, its rich history highlighted by museums, festivals, and cultural centers. Many visitors come for the food—dim sum, banh mi, sushi, and more.
The award-winning Woodland Park Zoo re-creates savannah, jungle, tropical rain forest, and other exotic landscapes on a 92-acre (37-hectare) campus by Seattle’s Green Lake. Full of furry, feathered, and scaly residents from across the globe, the Woodland Park Zoo is a leader in wildlife conservation and a kid-friendly Seattle attraction.
Glass artist Dale Chihuly, famous for his whimsical sculptures, was born in Tacoma but has left his mark on Seattle. Fans can revel in his colorful creations at the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum at Seattle Center. The facility includes a 100-foot (30-meter) glass sculpture, theater, and Chihuly retrospective, plus an outdoor garden.
Seattle’s funky, irreverent, and always colorful Fremont neighborhood is a vibrant place to explore. The area bills itself as the “Center of the Universe,” and it’s a hotbed of interesting landmarks. Visitors stroll along the scenic Ship Canal and grab coffee, artisan chocolate, craft beer, or a full dinner at one of Seattle’s best restaurants.
Olympic National Park covers a huge swath of Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula, encompassing rugged coastline, towering mountain ranges, temperate rain forests, and wildflower-filled lowland meadows. Home to some of the biggest stretches of old-growth forest remaining in the US, this misty Pacific Northwest park is the ultimate outdoor escape.
Tiny Waterfall Garden Park, in Seattle’s Pioneer Square neighborhood, offers a peaceful respite from the surrounding streets, with tables, chairs, and benches that invite a relaxing visit. Planted with trees and flowers native to Japan, the park commemorates the original location of the United Parcel Service.
This picturesque beach on the shore of Elliott Bay runs a narrow 2.5-mile strip between Alki Point and Duwamish Head. Known as the site of the first white settlers in Seattle, its sandy shores attract as many cyclists, joggers and bladers as beachcombers and sun worshipers and storm chasers. Public restrooms, picnic areas, an art studio and bathhouses make it the perfect destination for a day of outdoor fun with family and friends. And impressive views of the Puget Sound and Seattle skyline make it one of the most scenic strips of sand in Washington.
The University of Washington is not only one of the West Coast’s oldest and most prestigious universities, but it is also an idyllic place for Seattle visitors to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Set on the Union Bay waterfront, the campus boasts historic architecture, tranquil gardens, and extensive walking trails.
Discovery Park is Seattle’s largest public park and although the green space offers over 11 miles of trails, the shorter Loop Trail is perfect for those wanting a quick taste of the scenery. Connecting to the other trails designed for further exploration, it follows the perimeter of the park, taking hikers through second-growth forests consisting of maple, alder, cherry, fir and cedar trees, open meadows and along sandy beaches littered with gnarly driftwood. The park is also a great place to get a view of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound, as well as to catch a glimpse of the diverse wildlife. Seals, sea lions, chipmunks and over 270 species of birds have made their home in and around the 534 acres of the park and just like the visitors coming here for a quick respite, have found somewhat of a sanctuary from the active city.
On the land of the park you can also find the Daybreak Star Cultural Center, a foundation providing social and educational services to Native Americans, as well as the incredibly picturesque West Point Lighthouse. The latter is also known as the Discovery Park Lighthouse and is a historic building that has been in operation since 1881. Perched on the very westernmost tip of the peninsula in the midst of windswept grass and a rocky beach full of driftwood, it makes for a stunning photo opportunity.
A prime Elliot Bay location gives Myrtle Edwards Park gorgeous views of the Olympic Mountains, Puget Sound, and Mount Rainier. This shoreline park is walking distance from top downtown attractions, and offers a paved trail for pedestrians and cyclists that spans the 4.8-acre (1.9 ha.) green space.
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