The Emerald City is a true gem in North America’s Pacific Northwest. Seattle is known for distinctive landmarks like the Space Needle and the Museum of Pop Culture, a rich musical history — Jimi Hendrix and grunge were born there —, as well as for being the Coffee Capital of the World (or one of them).
Let’s explore this cool (though not calm or collected) city so you’ll know exactly what to do in Seattle on your getaway in Washington State!
Seattle is known for its countless landmarks
Turns out not fearing controversy can give rise to beloved monuments in the long run (if you can handle the pushback).
1. Bold Architecture
Seattle developers and urban planners seem to have realized a long time ago they should make citizens look up. You can either love them or hate them, but being indifferent to the city’s striking and often fun buildings and street art is tough.
What other town has such a dashing public library like the one above, or a statue of a hammering man (which really hammers) spread across its art museum’s façade? Not to mention the double pops casually sitting on a downtown corner.
2. The Space Needle
While today it’s almost impossible to imagine Seattle’s cityscape without the Space Needle, at first locals treated the much-admired observation tower with contempt — which is exactly how Parisians felt about the Eiffel Tower seven decades earlier.
The Space Needle opened in 1962 as the centerpiece of that year’s World Fair — after roughly a year of rushed construction — and became the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River until 1969.
Oddly, its roof used to be orange (or actually “galaxy gold”). For the summer of 2012, as part of the celebration of its 50th anniversary, it was repainted that color.
3. Pike Place Market
Washington state is one of the U.S.’s agricultural powerhouses: the nation’s biggest output of apples, cherries, pears, and raspberries comes from there. Pike Place Market has been the best spot to get a taste of such delicious produce since 1907 (and literally tons of fresh seafood too).
What’s more: the market sits on the edge of a hill overhanging the sea. Downstairs, apart from the wonderful views, you’ll come across a maze of tiny restaurants, comic book shops, and antique dealers. So don’t be lazy and lose yourself in it.
Designed by starchitect Frank Gehry, Seattle’s Museum of Pop Culture was also decried when it first opened. (Some people still see it as a façade-less eyesore.) Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and sister Jody Patton came up with the idea of expanding the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame by turning it into a tribute to music as well.
Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana fans will find a paradise of their own here: MoPOP is home to Earth’s largest collection of artifacts belonging to both the musician and the band.
Pro tip: You can get neat Seattle gifts from the MoPOP Shop.
5. The Fremont Troll
Fremont was once to Seattle what Haight-Ashbury was to San Francisco or what the East Village represented to New York: the hotbed of counterculture. The Troll is not even the only peculiar statue in the neighborhood — there’s a 16-meter- (5-foot-) tall one of Vladimir Lenin too, brought over from Slovakia following the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Troll, which has been clutching a Volkswagen Beetle since a group of four local artists placed it under Aurora Bridge in 1990, has become so popular that the city renamed in its honor the section of Aurora Avenue North right in front of the statue.
6. A Unique Skyline
Picture the green hills leaning over Puget Sound, crowned by Mount Rainier at a distance a few centuries back. Now top it with a bunch of elegant skyscrapers and a flying saucer perched on a tower and voilà! You have Seattle. Not too shabby, huh?
Nature is overwhelming in Seattle
Some might argue there’s a tad much water involved, yet that’s precisely why Seattle is known for its stunning scenery.
7. The Hills
Legend has it that Seattle has seven hills, but that’s probably just a symbolic number (Rome and Istanbul are famous for theirs). I personally enjoy calling it San Francisco of the north; boy, is it hilly! And to think a great deal of downtown was regraded about a century ago… how could it be even steeper?
That’s one of Seattle’s many charms, though! The unexpected views you get behind a corner, or when you simply can’t walk up anymore, and the street finally flattens out, are always fantastic rewards.
8. The Green
This is the Emerald City of the Evergreen State, after all. Except for downtown, which is naturally a bit grayer, the streets of Seattle are often tree-lined. And on top of that, everywhere you go there’s a park. That’s 25km²’s (6,200 acres’) worth of parkland, or 11% of the city’s total area, distributed across 450 parks.
Also, Seattle is consistently ranked as one of the greenest and most sustainable cities in the U.S. Over 80% of its electricity comes from hydroelectric sources alone!
9. The Rain
This one is tricky. Rain City might be another of Seattle’s many nicknames; the city does have the cloudiest skies in America. But we’re usually talking about a drizzle, not an actual shower.
That means New York, Houston, and — believe it or not — Miami all receive more annual rainfall than Seattle.
10. Puget Sound
Sound is a fancy name for a sort of narrow bay. Puget Sound is made up of a network of flooded glacial valleys, just like a fjord. While the Seattle metropolitan area has been developing around it for the past 160 years, indigenous nations first settled in the area about 6,000 years ago.
This vast ocean arm has witnessed every crucial event in Seattle’s history. And it’s certainly one of the most impressive natural features of the entire Pacific Northwest.
Seattle is famous for its vibrant culture
The grass is indeed greener in Cascadia, and all the buzz forever coming out of its largest city is here to prove it.
11. Grunge Music
Maybe intense works better than vibrant here: grunge was the ultimate expression of a gloomy and helpless generation. The Seattle Sound, as it was also called, appeared in the mid-to-late 80s. A couple years later, these post-punk garage bands screaming out for freedom rose to stardom and triggered a nationwide craze.
Though short-lived, grunge gave us genius acts like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains and left an enduring mark on contemporary rock.
12. Weed Culture
Thanks to the work of tireless grassroots activists, Washington became the first U.S. state to legalize recreational cannabis use in 2013 (together with Colorado). That has spawned a very lucrative business which, at least in Seattle, is all over the place.
Like the rest of the West Coast, the area has had a strong weed culture dating back many decades. The Hempfest, for example, has taken place every year since 1991 and remains one of the main Seattle attractions in spring, with hundreds of thousands of attendees.
13. The Seattle Freeze
Seattleites are polite people, they say, but overall cliquey and cold. Apparently folks from Middle America who relocate there have a hard time with them big city ways.
I mean, do people who move to New York complain about how they can’t make friends with New Yorkers? Probably, but nobody pays attention to them. Seattle is not nearly as huge, yet it’s still a metropolis. People are busy going about their lives!
14. Marvelous Quality of Life
This is almost too obvious to feature here, but Seattle is as a matter of fact among the five most livable cities in the country (and the world’s 50).
Superb coffee and food, gorgeous nature, an extremely exciting culture, and a booming economy are just a few of the reasons why.
It’s also a major technology hub
Seattle is known for the big techs originating there. It’s no wonder Rick and Morty live somewhere outside the city. The area is second only to Silicon Valley among the top tech centers in America (and on the planet).
The Amazon Spheres below are far from the company’s sole contribution to Seattle. As one of the Big Five of IT (alongside Apple, Facebook, Google, and Microsoft), it’s helping redefine technology and even the economy as we know it.
In 1994, Jeff Bezos picked Seattle as the HQ for his new company because of the technical talent available in the region. The culprit is the next giant on our list.
Fine, Microsoft is not 100% from Seattle; its headquarters are actually in Redmond, which is 24 km (15 mi) east of the city. But both Bill Gates and Paul Allen are.
Plus, the company almost single-handedly turned the Seattle area into one of the country’s leading tech hubs in the 1980s, ushering in a new era of economic progress.
Boeing was founded in Seattle in 1916 and has since been a key part of its history; so much so that one of its nicknames is Jet City.
Although the company moved its corporate offices to Chicago in 2001, it has kept two plane manufacturing plants in nearby Everett and Renton and remains the largest private employer in the whole metropolitan area.
Seattle is known for its amazing cuisine
Of course Seattleites’ love for the good life prompted the emergence of lots of craft everything in the past few decades.
18. Crazy about Coffee
Sure, Starbucks is from Seattle. Yet, despite having dubbed the area surrounding the first-ever store (which is at the Pike Place Market) “Original Starbucks”, locals pretend not to care that much about it. Instead, most patronize the hundreds of small coffee shops that dot the city.
Surprisingly, Boston and D.C. boast more coffee shops per capita than Seattle. Still, none of them is famous for brewing the flawless coffee Seattle is known for.
19. Awesome Beer, Wine & Chocolate
Blame it on millennials obsessed with locally sourced specialties if you want. It’s no secret, however, that the Seattle artisanal scene of breweries, wineries, and chocolate factories is one of its most fascinating aspects.
When it comes to wine production, specifically, only California’s Wine Country beats Washington nationwide. The Golden State is way more serious about the business, though. While the vast majority of the state’s 900+ wineries are in the drier eastern half, you can try the finest Washingtonian wines in Seattle.
(But do give a chance to the city’s beer as well!)
20. Mouthwatering Asian Food
In spite not being as prized for its Asian heritage as, say, San Francisco, Seattle has had a sizable Asian diaspora community basically since its founding. Today, apart from Chinese immigrants, the area around Seattle’s Chinatown is home to large Filipino and Vietnamese populations.
So all around town you’ll find plenty of both authentic, mom-and-pop Asian restaurants and somewhat upscale eateries that blend together traditional Asian cuisines and the hottest culinary trends. Definitely not to miss!
Hopefully Washingtonians will forgive me for mentioning California more than once on a post about the things Seattle is known for. Yet in case you’re contemplating heading south after leaving the city, check out our article on what makes California such a one-of-a-kind place. The West Coast is not discovering itself!