My favorite thing to do before I travel to a new city is to crowdsource information from locals. In my opinion, there’s nothing better than “insider” recommendations! I’d rather have a local’s suggestion/tip than one from another visitor. My husband and I are fortunate enough to live near downtown Seattle, which as a city, has become a popular travel destination. We go out to eat more than I’d care to admit, love to explore our city, and frequently host friends/family so we have a decent amount of experience playing Tour Guide. 🙂 I thought I would share our favorite places along with some “insider tips” for your next visit! In Seattle we are passionate about our coffee, our beer, and our food! (Not a bad place to live, huh? 😉 ). If any of these things interest you, then you’re in luck!
>> A side note before I dive in: Seattle is a very walkable city and if you plan to take advantage of that:
BRING. COMFORTABLE. SHOES.
There are a bunch of other ways to get around, so if walking isn’t your thing, that’s cool too.
I just wanted to make sure that I mentioned this while I still have your attention. 😀 <<
Okay, grab your coffee and your notepad, because this is NOT a short list (what can I say? I want to give you guys maximum info!) — here we go!
I’m fairly certain that caffeine runs in my veins and I wouldn’t have it any other way!! We have some amazing local coffee roasters in the area for you to choose from, and really, you can’t go wrong.
– Victrola and Stumptown also have yummy coffee and great cafés to hang out in… I will admit that Stumptown is technically a Portland, Oregon company, but I’m including it because it’s still from the Pacific Northwest and very tasty! I know that you’re wondering about my take on Starbucks, but I’ll get to that later on… keep reading!
(Top Tip: A bag of coffee beans would be a great TSA-friendly souvenir/gift! You can also ask the barista to grind the beans to suit your needs – re: French press, pour-over, etc.).
While I can appreciate the occasional beer, I’ll admit that I’m more of a wine drinker. My husband is the beer connoisseur in our relationship and he has a lot of favorite local brewery recommendations.
– Cloudburst Brewing is probably the best, beer-wise. Their brewmasters each come with long craft brewing pedigrees and because of their creativity, Cloudburst is always releasing new, delicious beers! Highly recommend!
– Another great spot is Holy Mountain Brewing which has a pretty cool modern tasting room. Admittedly, its location is in a more industrial part of town without much else nearby, but it’s certainly worth the visit if you enjoy special IPAs, Saisons and Pilsners.
– Fremont Brewing is a little less “special” because it is fairly available (their beers can be found at most grocery stores), but they have a decent sized tasting room and an EXCELLENT patio space if you happen to be visiting during the summer months!
– Another popular brewery is Reuben’s Brews in the Ballard neighborhood. It seems like they are always winning awards and accolades for their beers, and we totally understand why! They pretty much always have a food truck parked outside their Taproom with yummy nibbles, so check out the calendar on their website to see what your options are!
– A brewery you should check out that has a progressive tasting room buildout (this may sound weird, but check out their bathroom!) and business model is Optimism. Honestly, the location’s square footage alone in such a desirable neighborhood is impressive, but they pay their employees such a fair wage that patrons are not permitted to tip.
– With 50 beers on tap and hundreds of varieties of beer in bottles / cans, Chuck’s Hop Shop is a great place to hang out, so bring some cards or watch a game on one of their two tv’s. If you can’t stick around, you can get a growler filled or grab some bottles / cans to go! With so many options to choose from, you’ll always find something to suit your fancy.
While we’re on the topic of adult beverages, I’d like to share some of our favorite bars in Seattle.
– If you’ve already done some research, my first recommendation should come as no surprise. Canon is a small, speakeasy-style bar with a literal alcohol library (ask your bartender for the iPad “menu” to see some of the ultra exclusive items available) and talented mixologists. Canon frequently makes it onto “Top Bars in America” lists — and for good reason! The rotating cocktail menu is always delicious with lots of clever drink names and creative glassware, the bourbon/whiskey/scotch library is especially extensive, and the mixologists are true artists that can create anything you could want! Be warned: because of Canon’s small size and popularity, it’s not uncommon to have an hour+ wait on Friday/Saturday nights.
– Tavern Law is another cocktail-driven speakeasy-style bar just down the street from Canon; while they are both similar in style and the drinks are certainly tasty, I personally feel that Canon is superior. That being said, I still recommend it if you don’t feel like waiting for Canon.
– One of my all-time favorite drink spots in Seattle is Rachel’s Ginger Beer. Rachel makes artisan ginger beer in the traditional citrus flavor and many other flavor options (such as: caramelized pineapple, blood orange, and pink guava) in addition to offering a rotating seasonal flavor! You can have the ginger beer as-is (non-alcoholic) or order it as a cocktail! Of course, mule cocktails are THE drink-of-choice, but there are a bunch of other suggestions as well. There are multiple RGB locations sprinkled throughout Seattle, but my favorites are the one near Pike Place Market and the one on 12th Avenue (in the Capitol Hill neighborhood).
– If you have an interest in cocktails of the Tiki-variety, you’ll love Navy Strength — it’s definitely one of our favorite spots. Tucked in the heart of Belltown, Navy Strength serves up amazing concoctions that are dangerously delicious (there’s one cocktail on the menu that you are only permitted to buy two of, per person, because they’re THAT strong).
– In case you aren’t already aware, Seattle is known for its grunge music scene which, in my opinion, would be incomplete without dive bars. Two of the best are Linda’s Tavern and The Comet. They’re both no fuss and a lot of fun. Linda’s has a “backyard” outdoor space and The Comet has pool tables, if those factors influence your choice.
– If you’re looking for a more upscale experience, The Nest is perched (ha!) at the top of the Thompson Hotel and has a gorgeous rooftop bar looking down on Pike Place Market and Elliott Bay (watch the ferries!). The Nest has a pretty unique vantage point and I recommend going at sunset or at night to enjoy the sparkling lights of downtown.
FOOD / RESTAURANTS:
Diving into the restaurant scene, I’m going to tell you that you’ll be pretty hard-pressed to find a bad restaurant in Seattle, but there are some spots that are a head above the rest (in our opinions).
Brunch: Starting this section with our favorite brunch locations seems like the most logical jumping-off point. All of the following restaurants probably have great meals at other times of the day, but we prefer to visit them for brunch because they are “eggsceptional”. (I had to, guys — sorry).
– Seattle has a strong brunch culture so expect to wait at most restaurants… such as Skillet Diner. Approachable and flavorful, Skillet will absolutely hit the spot.
– Oddfellow’s is probably our favorite brunch spot on Capitol Hill, and if you’re lucky (or even just willing to wait), you might get a table out front (café style) or on the secluded back patio.
– Smith is always a solid brunch choice with classic dishes made perfectly.
– Tallulah’s is a bit off the beaten path, but offers a more vegetarian-friendly menu.
In the Ballard neighborhood you will find a tasty French-inspired brunch at Bastille, classic American brunch at Percy’s & Co., and Mexican brunch at Señor Moose Cafe.
– Hi Spot Café, in the sleepy neighborhood of Madrona, is located within a converted house with an excellent coffee bar and adorable patio.
– If you’re searching for a decadent brunch, head up to Frank’s Oyster House & Champagne Parlor (the zeppolis are to-die-for).
– For those of you looking for a more grab-and-go experience, I recommend Eltana Bagels for a savory “mobile breakfast” (get the Za’atar bagel or spread!) and Top Pot or General Porpoise doughnuts for a sweeter option. Top Pot has more classic-style doughnuts, while General Porpoise offers a variety of custard or jam-filled delicacies.
Restaurants: (Okay, here we go…)
– If you’re interested a cozy, no-fuss Italian spot, look no further than Ristorante Machiavelli. It’s a Seattle institution (since 1988!) with a relaxed mom-and-pop feel that we love to frequent. It’s a small space and there are no reservations, so you just have to get on the [non-electronic] list and grab a drink in the bar area while you wait.
– In the same vicinity is Terra Plata, which boasts a highly-coveted rooftop patio (rare in Seattle!). If you enjoy meals made with fresh ingredients (“earth-to-table”) and an ever-rotating seasonal menu, you’ve found it in Terra Plata.
– Speaking of rooftop patios, MBar on South Lake Union has a yummy menu as well as a pretty large terrace space with a view of the Space Needle!
– On the other side of Lake Union, you’ll find our favorite Mediterranean-inspired restaurant, Westward. We recommend going with a group because the plates are shareable and we promise you’ll want to try everything! Aside from the delicious menu, Westward also offers an awesome outdoor seating area (including a fire pit!) and a gorgeous vantage point of the Seattle skyline.
– My husband notes that I would be remiss if I didn’t mention RockCreek in this list, but I admit that I have never been (he went for a work gathering). The menu is predominantly seafood, so if you’re on the hunt for an amazing meal “de la mer” you should make a point to visit RockCreek.
– When it comes to seasonal, farm-to-table PNW fare, Poppy is an excellent option. Known for it’s thalis, this modern restaurant at the north end of the Capitol Hill neighborhood has never disappointed us (which isn’t surprising since the chef/owner is an acclaimed James Beard award-winner!).
– While we’re on the topic of James Beard award-winners, I have to suggest Southern food restaurant Junebaby; it’s exactly where comfort food and an elevated touch intersect. Their menu format mostly stays the same with seasonal changes as well as dinner specials throughout the week (Wednesday: Turkey Leg, Thursday: Mac & Cheese, Friday: Brisket, Saturday: BBQ Plate, Sunday: Fried Chicken). Top Tip: I will warn you that (a) the restaurant is very popular, (b) the space is small, and (c) the Fried Chicken WILL sell out super quickly on Sunday evening so if you’re interested in ordering it, arrive early and sidle up to the bar for drinks/appetizers while you wait.
– And since we’re talking about fried chicken, we have some other local favorites that you should check out: if you like Nashville Hot Chicken, Sisters & Brothers is where it’s at! This tiny spot is intentionally dive-y and the location is a bit remote being in Seattle’s Georgetown neighborhood, but absolutely worth the trek. Nate’s Wings and Waffles is a great option (the chicken breading is SOOO flavorful!) and Ezell’s Famous Chicken is an excellent grab-and-go local chain that’s perfect for a picnic!
– Our favorite BBQ in the city is WoodShop, which started as a food truck and did so brilliantly that they were able to open a restaurant as well! The BBQ style is a balanced “little bit of everything” (Texas, Carolina, Kentucky…) so it’s smoky, sweet and tangy all at the same time and the meat is always SO tender that it melts in your mouth.
– If you’re looking for fast casual, grab a burger at any of the Li’l Woody’s Burger locations (our favorite is Capitol Hill). There’s a new “Burger of the Week” every Tuesday, but their regular menu is pretty amazing. In addition to whatever sandwich you choose (they actually have an amazing black bean burger if you’re not into meat; it’s my fave in the city!), I recommend getting a side of french fries with either queso or soft serve. Enjoy!
– If you’re into specialty meats, you’ve gotta try Tat’s Deli in Pioneer Square… the line is often long, but definitely worth the wait (order the Cheesesteak — you’re welcome).
– If you get hungry from walking around Pike Place Market, I highly recommend stopping into Beecher’s Cheese for lunch. They sell the most gourmet Macaroni & Cheese and Grilled Cheese Sandwiches you may ever find… and they have a viewing area of how they actually make their cheese so you can come for the food, but “stay for the show”. (Top Tip: if you enjoy their cheese and want to take a block home as a gift or souvenir, there is a Beecher’s located inside SeaTac Airport, so no need to worry about keeping it with you during the rest of your trip — just grab some once you get past security!)
– New Luck Toy is a delicious [Americanized] Chinese restaurant with the most amazing tongue-in-cheek decor; the only “drawback” is that it is located in West Seattle, so getting there requires a little travel.
– If you are seeking an authentic Indian restaurant with “the best naan in Seattle”, you should check out Nirmal’s in Pioneer Square. So comforting and yummy!
– I saved the best for last. If I had to choose only ONE style of cuisine to eat for the rest of my life, it would be Mexican food — hands down. My list of favorite local Mexican spots includes: Barrio, Cantina Leña, Casco Antiguo, Mezcaleria Oaxaca, Red Star Taco Bar and Poquito’s (and yes, in that order – lol). Barrio has an awesome atmosphere, great food and excellent cocktails (plus, it’s the closest to where we live, so it’s that much better); Cantina Leña offers elevated Mexican food with a relaxed atmosphere; Casco Antiguo is elevated authentic; Mezcaleria Oaxaca is authentic AF; Red Star Taco Bar is Americanized, ultra casual, and affordable (Bonus: they have slushy margs on tap!); Poquito’s has a great space, yummy cocktails and is usually pretty easy to walk in and find a table for a smaller group.
Sweets: This last section of our favorite local spots is for those of you with a sweet tooth (but really, we recommend them even if you aren’t really into sweets — they’re THAT good):
– Molly Moon’s for ice cream (always worth the wait, and in the summer, the line is LONG) Top Tip: You can cut the line if you just want to buy a pint or two from the freezer… I recommend only waiting in line if you want to sample or get fresh scoops — in which case, go for the homemade waffle cone!
– Lady Yum for macarons (we gave these to our wedding guests as favors; my husband even prefers them to Ladurée!) Top Tip: Bottomless Champagne Tuesdays are a thing at all locations (except for the airport), so plan your visit accordingly!
– Cupcake Royale for, well, tasty gourmet cupcakes! (Their ice cream is good, but Molly Moon’s is the best — stick to your specialty, Cupcake Royale! You rock those out!!!)
THINGS TO SEE / DO:
I wanted to share some of my favorite touristy things (experiences that I deem “worth it”) and some non-touristy items that maybe you hadn’t thought of!
– When visiting to Seattle, it’s obligatory to visit Pike Place Market and I encourage you to do so. Not only is it a free experience to just walk around, but it’s a historic spot in our city! I can never get enough of the fresh flowers… that section always makes me incredibly happy! The fresh seafood and produce portions are also super impressive and great for photo-ops. I also recommend not just staying at street-level — there are so many cute shops to discover on the lower floors! (things to see/do)
– If I’m being honest, I’m actually not a huge advocate for going to the top of the Space Needle. The cost of admission is insane and since you don’t live in Seattle, you don’t really know what you’re looking down at (and really, do you care?); I personally think that it’s more fun to get cool photos of the Needle from different vantage points around the city. I will admit that one mildly cool thing about it is that a recent renovation has brought full glass floors/walls to the observation deck, but still… admission is just under $40. PER. PERSON. I’d rather buy a souvenir or eat at a cool restaurant for that price, but that’s just me. Top Tip: If you’re looking for souvenirs, the gift shop at the base of the Space Needle has great items and is accessible from street level, so there’s no need for the “full experience” to purchase a memento.
– If you’re really into art / blown glass, the Chihuly Garden & Glass museum next door to the Space Needle might be up your alley, but otherwise I say skip it ($32 per person for admission!).
– I have to admit that I have lived in Seattle for almost 7 years now and have never visited the MoPOP, but I’ve heard great things from everyone I have sent there. The “always” interactive exhibits are amazing and the rotating visiting installments have been nothing short of incredible. If you have the time, go. Top Tip: This is a great indoor activity if you want to get out of the rain.
– It seems that almost everyone has something negative to say about City Duck Tours, but as “touristy” has they are, I think that they’re a really fun way to get a [covered] guided tour of a city! (You’ll get to see the “Sleepless in Seattle” houseboat on this tour!). There are multiple stations to hop on a duck boat conveniently located throughout the downtown area, so if you’re booking your ticket online make sure you’re paying attention to the address!
– Seattle is famously known as being the birthplace of Starbucks. I know a lot of people have opinions on it and prefer to go to independent coffee roasters (which I fully support), but Starbucks has been a leader in the Seattle community for decades (listen to this podcast episode!!!). I recommend visiting the Starbucks Roastery on Capitol Hill in lieu of the Original Starbucks near Pike Place Market. The building itself is so beautiful inside and out, the gift shop has lots of cool items, and the beverage experience is unparalleled. If you enjoy your coffee cold (like I do) I recommend ordering an affogato from the “main” Barista Bar OR visiting the Cold Brew Bar and getting something even more special! If you go down the stairs to the lower level there is often an employee around to explain how the beans are being treated in that area, but I also recommend finding a seat at the bar and ordering a siphoned coffee because it’s such a cool experience — it’s like watching a science experiment! Top Tip: the ONLY reason to wait in the crazy long line at the Original Starbucks is if you are interested in buying a specialty mug that you can only get at that location, but otherwise I say skip it.
– My absolute favorite touristy thing to do in Seattle is to go on Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour (this is by far the best one, so make sure it’s BILL SPEIDEL’S). This tour is led by local comedians that give you the history of Seattle and how our city came to be, but with a twist. I think it’s so interesting and such a fun way to digest the information! Top Tip: There are a bunch of restaurants/bars in Pioneer Square to explore before or after your tour! Three of my favorites are listed above in the Restaurant section (Tat’s Deli, Casco Antiguo, and Nirmal’s, but you can add Copal, Zócalo, Pizza Professionals, and Il Corvo to that list of nearby spots).
– Have you ever wanted to feel like Charlie Bucket? The Fremont neighborhood is home to Theo Chocolate Factory, an organic and fair-trade brand that provides the most delicious tour in Seattle! You get to wear a fancy hair net and super stylish shoe covers as you make your way through the factory and learn about how chocolate is made (with tasting samples along the way!). The entire neighborhood smells of chocolate and I have honestly learned so much about chocolate on that tour! Top Tip: If you don’t have time for the tour or there isn’t any availability, I still recommend visiting their gift shop for special treats that can’t be found at grocery stores (a great idea for gifts/souvenirs!).
– One thing I have been wanting to do for years now is to go whale-watching! There are lots of whale-watching tours, but I have heard that this one is the best. The Pacific coast is the pathway for 4 particular varieties of whale migration patterns (Grey, Minke, Humpback, and Orca) so there’s a pretty good chance that you’ll get to see some kind of whales most months out of the year. It’s on my bucket list!!! These trips typically take place north of Seattle in the San Juan Islands area, so plan accordingly.
– If you have a few hours to spend, I recommend hopping on a ferry to Bainbridge Island, which is across Elliott Bay from downtown Seattle. It’s a charming ride and very affordable. Once you get to the island, there are plenty of adorable shops to browse and restaurants to eat at. Our favorites stops are: Bainbridge Brewing, Mora Iced Creamery (the brand of ice cream that the Starbucks Roastery uses in their affogatos!), and either Hitchcock or Bruciato to eat.
– If you’re looking for a photo op, you should definitely visit Kerry Park. It’s one of my favorite vantage points of the city skyline — on a clear day sometimes Mt. Rainier will make an appearance in the background! It’s a popular photo destination, so just be patient; maybe offer to take someone else’s photo in exchange for yours! Alki Beach also offers an alternative view of the Seattle skyline, across the water in the neighborhood of West Seattle. On the main drag on the edge of town, you’ll find restaurants (check out Spud for delicious fish & chips!) on one side and a thin strip of beach along the other.
– Another fun photo op is with the Fremont Troll — a large interactive sculpture constructed under a bridge to depict the fairy tale story of “Three Billy Goats Gruff”. You may also remember seeing it in the movie “10 Thing I Hate About You” (which takes place in Seattle!). This popular photo destination is a wait-your-turn honor system for photo taking — be patient, kind and help one another out by staying out of others’ photos and snapping photos for other visitors.
I love a good insider tip, and these are really fun things to do in Seattle that locals enjoy!
– As I mentioned previously, Seattle has a pretty thriving music scene (home of grunge!), so I recommend checking the dates of your visit to see if any of your favorite bands will be in town to play a show. Three super popular venues are: Neumos (since 1994), The Crocodile (since 1991) and The Showbox SoDo (since 1939!!!), but there are so many others!
– If you are into movies even a little bit, you should see what’s playing at Cinerama. This state-of-the-art theatre is such an incredible cinematic experience. The food, the seats, the screen and sound system… it’s one of the coolest movie theatres I have ever been in and truly it’s one-of-a-kind. Since Cinerama only has one theatre, they have to be choosy about what they show, but you can guarantee that it’s always a blockbuster! Top Tip: As a movie treat, order the “mixed” popcorn (regular + chocolate-covered); it will change your life.
– If the weather is agreeable for your visit, I recommend renting a Hot Tub Boat for a few hours to scoot around Lake Union. My girlfriends treated me to this experience for my low-key “bachelorette party” last year and it’s easily in my Top Favorite Seattle Experiences. I highly recommend it! The boats are easy to maneuver and you can bring food and drinks with you, provided there’s no glass and you don’t make a mess. Top Tip: the boats come with their own Bluetooth speakers, but the ones on our boat were broken so I recommend bringing your own waterproof portable speaker if having music is important to you.
– Craving nature in the city? A hike around Discovery Park (534 acres!) should satiate your need to get away from glass, metal and concrete. There are many trails to discover (ha!) and beautiful scenery, including a beach!
– Lastly, (but certainly not least!) one of my favorite public spaces is that of Golden Gardens. Being a Florida girl at heart, this waterfront park feeds my need for the occasional beach trip. This is the perfect place for an outdoor picnic (limited grills available) and a beach bonfire.
– I recommend this for all travel, but you should always download the offline map of the city you’re visiting on your phone’s GoogleMaps app… you never know when your phone is going to lose reception when you most need it.
– When planning your trip, utilize GoogleMaps’ “Save” function; this has been my biggest hack for traveling. I save all of the locations I want to visit (+ our hotel) by either giving it a star, making it a Favorite, or adding it to my “Want to go” / “Destinations” list so that I can reference them once out on our adventure! This has come in SO handy for all of our travels!!!
– To save yourself the agony of waiting in a ticket line, I recommend purchasing any tickets online ahead of time for attractions (Space Needle, Seattle Art Museum, etc.) whenever possible. It’s such a timesaver (BONUS: you’re being “green” by downloading electronic tickets!).
Please let me know if you have any questions or requests related to my Seattle City Guide – happy exploring!