Located between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, Seattle is known as The Emerald City. The isthmus that the city is located on has been continuously inhabited by various Native American tribes for over 4,000 years before the first Europeans made their permanent settlement here. The first settlers in the area arrived via Illinois through Portland and established a colony in 1851 and in 1852, they named the area “Seattle” in honor of Chief Si’ahl who was a leader of the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes. For a while, many people came to Seattle for logging and shipbuilding as well as serving as an entry point to those heading up to Alaska for the gold rush or south to California.
The cultural trajectory of Seattle has come a long way. The city was founded on the rough and rugged economy of logging, mining, and fishing resulting in the economic downturn in the 70s and 80s but with the advent of big tech like Microsoft and Amazon establishing headquarters here and big businesses like Starbucks originating in the city, Seattle encompasses both a new and modern but never forgot its grittier past. The city is big with young tech professionals, do-it-yourselfers, and artists. If you’re spending some time in the city, there’s no shortage of amazing things to check out. Here are some of the best things to do in Seattle.
Spend the day strolling through Pike Place Market
Opening its doors in 1907 Pike Place Market is the United States oldest continually operating farmer’s market. Sitting by the Elliot Bay waterfront, the market is in the northwest corner of the downtown’s central business district. The giant red “Public Market” sign is an unmistakable Seattle landmark and an icon of the cityscape. Before the market, local farmers mostly sold their goods in an open space called “the lots”. The market has been added to the National Register of Historic Places and along with seasonal produce, you’ll find tons of things here that you didn’t know you needed.
The market has a plethora of permanent stalls, rotational boutiques, and eye-catching shops. Specialty stores full of hard-to-find ingredients sit next to craft shops and buskers. Pike Place Market is 9 acres of interesting sights, smells, and things to buy. Let your nose be your guide and bask in the smell of fresh-baked bread, finger through rare vinyls, or indulge in a fresh cup of coffee.
Enjoy Seattle’s oldest neighborhood
In 1861 when the Denny party first arrived at the land that would become Seattle, they established their colony here. The first steam sawmill was built and then a general store. Chief Si’ahl helped the pioneers homestead the land and soon, Seattle essentially grew out of what was this little neighborhood. Pioneer Square is home to tons of Seattle history. It’s where you will see lots of interesting and diverse architecture, art galleries, and shops. The Klondike Goldrush Museum is dedicated to Seattle’s involvement with the 1890s mass migration to the Yukon and Alaska, while Smith Tower, built in 1914 was once the tallest building on the west coast and still offers some pretty stellar views from the 35th-floor lookout.
If you’re looking for an experience here that’s a little more “underground” check out Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. In June 1889 a fire blazed through much of what was downtown Seattle and since much of the city was made of wood, most of the city was destroyed. In the wake of the destruction, new laws were passed that new buildings had to be made of stone and brick and in the process of rebuilding, the streets were elevated to be off of the soft swampy ground. In the 1960s Bill Speidel started giving tours of Seattle’s largely unknown underground city and it continues to this day. Explore forgotten paths and passageways that were once Seattle’s streets and tour through old city blocks and storefronts that were once saloons, shops, and a hotel.
Spend a day Learning About Pop Culture
While the name might be a little vague about what’s inside and what it’s about. The Museum of Pop Culture is one of Seattle’s finest museums. Even approaching the place will make you feel like you’re stepping into a graphic novel with its large, shiny metallic facade and weird curved exterior. The architecture is designed by Frank Gehry who’s known for these kinds of strange-looking buildings. Once you’re inside and looking around, you can experience the whole wide world of “pop culture”.
Permanent exhibits include impactful moments from science-fiction, art, rock music, and interactive shows. Some favorite exhibitions include a range of topics from Seattle’s own Nirvana to learning about computers with Microsoft. Suffice it to say that the Museum of Pop Culture has a vast array of things to check out with elements that will interest just about anyone. Also, make sure to check out the gift shop as it is absolutely full of interesting and quirky knick-knacks that you likely won’t be able to find anywhere else.
Grab a drink at one of Seattle’s most Storied Bars
In a city where it rains a lot, hanging out indoors, and grabbing a pint with a few friends is a common activity. So, if you’re in the mood for a little bit of local history and a good drink, check out Blue Moon Tavern. When people tend to think of “old school” Seattle, nights at the Blue Moon Tavern top the list. The bar is one of the city’s most beloved as it was there for almost every iteration of culture that Seattle went through.
When prohibition ended in 1933, Blue Moon Tavern was there to open its doors. Only a few weeks after the repeal of the 21st amendment on December 5, Blue Moon Tavern opened only a few weeks later in 1934. Initial success was brought on by students from the nearby University of Washington who by law, weren’t allowed to drink within a mile of campus, but Blue Moon Tavern is just under half a mile for thirsty students who didn’t mind breaking a few rules. By the 1940s, Blue Moon Tavern was one of the only few centrally located bars that allowed African American servicemen and finally, by the late 50s and 60s, the bar was known for its rule-breakers, raucous atmosphere, and counterculture. Beat poets and writers made the bar their usual haunt including people such as Dylan Thomas, Allen Ginsberg, and Theodore Roethke. The bar’s counter-culture attitude doesn’t stop there however and according to Kurt Cobain’s biographer, the band hid from fans before their signing at nearby Beehive Records. The band thought 50 fans would show up and over 200 did, prompting the guys from Nirvana to take refuge in the tavern. Finally, its most recent highlight is that it was the subject of a PBS news story.
Learn how to Brew Coffee the Seattle Way
Since coffee became a staple in the United States, Seattle has been a hot spot for getting some of the best java. Home to Starbucks, Stumptown Coffee, Tully’s, and others, Seattle is very much a coffee-centric city and now you can learn to brew coffee like an expert.
Located near the downtown area, Seattle Barista Academy will teach you all you need to know about brewing coffee. Their teaching program has plenty of options ranging from beginner classes to more expert concepts. Learn how to make some sweet latte foam art, the mechanics of an espresso machine, and proper milk foaming techniques. It’s a great way to spend a day, brushing up on your own techniques, or an in-depth course on everything coffee if you’re looking to become a professional barista.
Escape the Concrete Jungle at Seward Park
Sticking out into Lake Washington is the beautiful old Seward Park. Located just a short drive out of downtown Seattle, Seward Park is your escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Indigenous people have been living in the area of Seward Park since the last glacial age but the city bought the land and established a park here in 1911.
Some notable features of the park include the wooden entrance gate and the taiko-gata stone lantern gifted to the city of Seattle from Yokohama, Japan after Seattle gave the Japanese town assistance following an earthquake in 1923. There are plenty of centuries-old old-growth trees and secluded paths filled with greenery. It feels like a different world complete with walking paths, beaches, tennis courts, and boat launches.
Go Shopping for some Oddities
Seattle has a surprisingly large number of antique stores and people selling curiosities. Since the 50s, the city has been a hub of weird and counterculture icons, and even though the city has modernized, it hasn’t lost its sense of strangeness. If you’re looking to shop for things a little more off the beaten path, check out these stores.
Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop: Describing itself as somewhere between a “natural history museum and an antique store” you spend literal hours just looking at all the weird stuff they have here. Despite the store’s small size, it’s loaded with oddities and marvels. Tribal art designs made from human remains, and a taxidermied two-headed calf, are just the tip of the odd iceberg. If you need some taxidermied squirrels in a jar or some human teeth. You know where to go.
The Georgetown Trailer Park Mall: Georgetown feels a little different than the rest of the city but that likely adds to Georgetown Trailer Park Mall’s charm. Surrounded by trucks, trainyard, highways, and industrial sprawl, the Georgetown Trailer Park Mall is where you’ll find junkyard art studios, hip record stores, and plenty of cool shops. Locally made jewelry, custom-made aquariums, and vintage clothes are just some of the things you can get here.
Ye Olde Curiosity Shop: Located on the waterfront, Ye Olde Curiosity Shop delivers what it is named after. When Joseph Standley was a kid in the late 1800s, he was fascinated by Native American and Inuit artifacts. In 1899 he opened Ye Olde Curiosity Shop to showcase and sell the many artifacts he came across. A large display of shrunken heads, a three-tusked walrus skull, and inspect specimens sit side by side with sideshow trinkets and fridge magnets.
Big Top Curiosity Shop: Finally on the list of weird stores to buy weird things, is Big Top Curiosity Shop. The store hosts a large collection of esoterica including a molar that allegedly fell out of Bigfoot’s mouth, a mermaid from the Duwamish Tribe, and a cyclops skull. There is also a large and colorful collection of circus memorabilia which hopes to dispel the notion that clowns are scary.
Our Final Word
Seattle is a hub of a lot of weird and wonderful things. What started as a logging city grew to become one of the biggest cities in the Northwest and although modern times have caught up to Seattle, there are still plenty of old-school places to see and amazing things to do.