Your Guide to the Ultimate Car-Free Weekend in Seattle
If your first thought when you hear Seattle is rain, Nirvana, and that Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan rom-com, it’s time to update your perspective. The city has grown exponentially in the last few years, and even locals sometimes have trouble recognizing their own skyline. Sure, as the weather turns colder, it’s not exactly a Mediterranean getaway, but there are still so many things here to see and do. Home to delicious food, incredible art, and panoramic views of city, water, beaches, mountains, and sky, it’s a worthwhile place to spend a weekend, especially if you’re not bringing a car. Here are the best things for any Seattle first-timer (or returning visitor) to do in 48 hours.
How to Get Around
If you’re flying into SeaTac, take the Link light rail from the airport to University Station to put yourself right in the middle of all the action. Once you’re in town, you have quite a few ways to get around. Buses can take you near and far, Uber and Lyft are plentiful, and bikes — both traditional and electric assist — are popular, cheap, and readily available. Water travel is also possible to some parts of the city and beyond via water taxi or ferry. And, of course, you can see a lot of the city on foot, especially if you’re up for climbing steep hills.
Where to Stay
Hotels are one reason you’ll be glad you’re going car-free — it’s not uncommon to pay upwards of $40 a night for hotel parking. You can’t get much closer to Seattle’s most famous sights than Kimpton Alexis Hotel, which offers a relaxed atmosphere and has its own cafe should you want to have a cup of coffee before venturing out into the city.
If what you’re really after is killer views, check out the Sheraton on 6th Ave, which has two towers. Opt for the Pike’s tower and ask for a room facing the northwest as many floors up as you can handle — they go as high as the 34th floor.
Where to Eat
Pike Place Market is central to many visitor’s itineraries, and for good reason — the people-watching is unrivaled, and there’s lots to eat there. Try The Athenian in Pike Place Market if what you want is a salmon Benedict that’s a slab of smoked salmon with a poached egg on top (no tiny portions in this place). Nearby Biscuit Bitch is also a popular breakfast spot, as much for its fluffy biscuit sandwiches as its colorful language.
For lunch, you can grab inexpensive Italian pasta at Pasta Casalinga in Pike Place or venture a little further to Kastoori Grill’s buffet, which has several options for vegetarians. At some point, you’ll want to take the water taxi from downtown to West Seattle. The taxi offers gorgeous views in and of itself (see What to Do), but it also drops you right next to Salty’s, where you can get delicious fresh seafood and an epic view of downtown from across the Puget Sound. If you’re a little tight on cash, plan to arrive at happy hour, when there are generous rotating drink and food specials that won’t empty your bank account.
Of course, as in many places, some of the best food in Seattle lies outside the most central tourist areas. The immigrant population in Seattle has long been the backbone of its impressive food scene, and there are few better spots to drink it all in (or in this case, eat) than the International District.
Take a long stroll (it’s about a mile and a half from Pike Place) or a bus to the old Chinatown that has since expanded to include other cultures. Dong Thap goes through the painstaking process of making their own rice noodles; Boiling Point serves up massive bowls of Taiwanese soups that would brighten up any dreary, gray day; and at Maneki, you get not only some of the finest Japanese food in town but also a glimpse of history, since the spot has been open for more than a century. But really, you could wander into any number of restaurants in this area and leave with a full, happy belly.
What to Do
For culture lovers, the Seattle Art Museum can’t be missed, and it’s just spitting distance from Pike Place. The museum features art from all over the world and throughout time, from ancient Mediterranean art to Native American artwork and more contemporary exhibitions. It’ll take you a couple of hours minimum to get the full experience, so plan accordingly.
If you have kids with you, the Seattle Aquarium, which is a short walk down to Elliott Bay, has interactive aquatic petting zoos and all kinds of creatures that any ocean-loving child would delight in. This is another destination that takes at least a couple of hours to appreciate. But steer yourself away from the Seattle pier unless you’ve made promises to collect an armful of souvenirs — in which case, by all means, brave the shops.
Outdoorsy types will enjoy all of the recreational activities that the summer and shoulder (the period between peak and off-peak) seasons allow, including kayaking across Lake Union from NorthWest Outdoor Center to lunch at Westward Seattle or canoeing around the Washington Park Arboretum, where you can spot all different types of birds and even a few turtles sunning themselves on floating logs.
If you want to get out of downtown, just south of Pike Place is the ferry terminal. If you have more than a weekend, it’s well worth your while to catch a ferry to Bainbridge Island, a cute, walkable community about 30 minutes away by boat. But if you’re short on time, a water taxi to West Seattle is a great, quick 10-minute option. The water taxi will give you an unbeatable view of the skyline, and you can wander along the waterfront and grab a bite to eat while you wait for a return taxi, or just pay for a ticket immediately back across.
Of course, we’d be remiss not to mention the Space Needle, especially since it just received a $100 million dollar facelift, complete with glass floors. And while you’re in the area, be sure to check out the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, which contains some of the artist’s most stunning glass sculptures.
Finally, take your last night to relax a little and grab cheese, snacks, and wine from Pike Place and take a short walk to the Olympic Sculpture Park for a DIY picnic among public art. It’s the best place to unwind from the city before heading home.
(Photos via Getty)