So it’s been a few years since I’ve lived in Seattle proper, but here are some thoughts about what to do when you’re visiting.
Where to Stay
- Capitol Hill: this is the liveliest part of town, with a dense set of restaurants and bars all within walking distance of each other. Would recommend if you are okay with a little bit of noise and want to be active in going out. I stay here 100% of the time I visit. This is right on the Link Light Rail line which runs North/South and very accessible to public transportation.
- Belltown / Pioneer Square / Downtown / Chinatown: For a slightly slower downtown urban vibe, staying anywhere along the belltown → chinatown route is also fun. For a comparison with SF neighborhoods, I would say it goes from “Hayes Valley in SF nice” in Belltown to the classic slightly dirtier “SoMa/Chinatown” vibes the further south you go. These are also nearby the light rail. If you do decide to stay downtown, avoid the area near the 3rd street mcdonalds. That’s the Seattle Tenderloin.
- Ballard: Most people move out to Ballard/Fremont after a couple years of new grad life in Capitol Hill in a pursuit of more living space / slightly lower cost. Both neighborhoods have an ‘active hub’ which has its own food and bars so its not a bad option. It is unfortunately harder to get to these neighborhoods since the Link Light Rail doesn’t come here (yet), so you’d have to bus or rideshare around.
- Fremont: See above
- Bellevue: Super quiet suburbs, I would liken this as the “south bay” of Seattle. Many families and there’s really only one big mall. There’s certainly good food on the east side but its mostly quiet.
There’s really only two things I can think of that make Seattle cuisine unique. One is its proximity to the Pacific ocean, which makes seafood really good, and the second is teriyaki, which I’ve never experienced replicated elsewhere. All other cuisine is pretty typical of a city - while they are good, these are the things I think make eating in Seattle unique. That being said, here are my recs!
Sushi: Momiji ($$) or Sushi Kashiba ($$$$). Momiji is an excellent choice in Cap Hill which is close to things you’d want to do before or after. Its excellent sushi for the price. If you want to go a little pricier, Shiro Kashiba is one of the original disciples of Jiro Ono and a Seattle sushi legend (link).
Teriyaki: For a bit of history (link), Toshi’s Teriyaki is the first to start the wave of Seattle teriyaki cuisine, but its a bit far in Everett. Honestly I don’t know where the best teriyaki is anywhere, but I do insist that you find a place to try it. I liked Itadakimasu near UW when I was a student, and Eater suggests that Teriyaki and Wok is pretty good in Cap Hill.
Japanese / Izakaya: There’s a huge Japanese influence in Seattle, once being the largest minority group in Seattle in the 19th century. The history is interesting (link) and the influence on food and culture is also prevalent. There are a lot of izakayas and restaurants in addition to the sushi around the area. Local to Cap Hill, I’ve really liked going to Tamari Bar and Rondo.
Chinese: Jade Garden and Harbor City are the most popular cart dim sum spots and regularly have long lines on the weekends. Nowadays, I typically visit Ocean Star to avoid the lines and for still-good dim sum. If you’re craving soup dumplings, Dough Zone has really good ones that rival Din Tai Fung for way less wait. I also have a soft spot for Purple Dot Cafe which makes for a great big-group chinese food setting.
Seattle favorites: There are a lot of local businesses that visitors and locals alike enjoy; many can be found in Pike Place Market! These range from full meals to snacks: Pike Place Chowder, Piroshky Piroshky (russian dumplings), Molly Moons (ice cream), Tacos Chukis, Beechers Cheese, The Pink Door (dinner / pasta), Ezell’s (fried chicken), Musashi’s (chirashi bowls + sushi), Rachel’s Ginger Beer (drinks), Bai Tong (thai)
There is so much more in Seattle as its a town with a ton of foodies and its always growing. These were the spots I liked a lot and would recommend, but surely there’s new, aesthetic, and delicious restaurants all around town.
There’s like a formulaic suggestion to what to do in Seattle. It also depends if you have a car or not, but I’ll write assuming most people will not have a rental car. Thus, most activities are along the north-south corridor that the light rail helps you navigate.
Pike Place Market: Arguably the most famous landmark in Seattle, Pike Place has a ton of stuff to see, taste, and do and I’d recommend an entire morning or afternoon dedicated to the area. You can see the gum wall, wait around for the fish throwing to happen, or explore the many vendors. There are multiple floors, so I’d suggest taking your time walking through and taking in the flowers, the knick-knacks, art, and food. The lines here are typically long - there might be another store in another part of the city if you want to do some prep on what is only at the market and what you can get elsewhere. There’s also the “first Starbucks” that people love…for some reason… but the wait is excruciating and not worth it IMO. No local I’ve ever met has done it. If you need a break, taking a breather at Storyville Coffee Company above Pike Place is nice to see the view and get away from the chaos.
Kayaking or visiting Gasworks park: I’d highly recommend going to Gasworks park and taking in the sight of the downtown skyline. To get there, you can either take the light rail to UW and then walk along the burke gilman or take a bus. In the summer days, its really nice to rent a kayak for a few hours from Agua Verde and kayak through South Lake Union. Would recommend the kayaks if you have the time.
Space Needle / Chihuly Garden & Glass: Another Seattle icon, you can go up the Space Needle to get a panoramic view of the city. I find going up a little anticlimatic alone, so I recommend pairing this with attendance into Chihuly Garden & Glass, where you’ll see glassblowing work by Dale Chihuly (whose work is displayed worldwide, notably at the Bellagio!). The Space Needle also used to have a rotating restaurant at the top which has been converted into a cocktail lounge. I’m personally curious, and would choose to have a drink or two in the lounge rather than going up to the observation deck alone. If its the same as the old restaurant, access to the observation floor is included in visits to the lounge so I’d say its worth it! I always go 30-60 minutes before sunset so that you can see the panoramic view in the light and watch as the city comes alive for the night.
Bars: Honestly there are so many bars in the city and I haven’t been out in the city for too long, so I feel like I can’t give good recommendations here. I want to visit Soju Anju Bar and I think Unicorn is a classic ‘turn 21 in Seattle’ spot (ask for the unicorn helmet). I’d defer to The Infatuation and Eater for suggestions here.