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The epicenter of the Pacific Northwest, Seattle overlooks the Salish Sea, one of the world’s biggest and most biodiverse inland oceans. Nature understandably commands the spotlight, but the Emerald City also turns up the heat with creativity (beyond grunge, yes) and technological innovation, from Boeing to more recent upstarts including Microsoft and Amazon. This vibrant metropolis showcases its flair from the iconic Space Needle to glass art, ferries to funky islands, museums galore and the gourmet Pike Place Market. Here are the best ways to explore this lovely, leafy destination.
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How to Prepare for Your Trip to Seattle
When to go
Pssst — big reveal here: Seattle isn’t very rainy, despite its reputation. In fact, cities like Atlanta and New York experience more rainy days per year. The mild Mediterranean-esque climate does have an abundance of drizzle and cloudy days. Sun-seekers should opt for a visit in summer, when the area tends to be drier, but otherwise, pack a waterproof jacket and take advantage of shoulder-season deals.
Before you go
Widespread dissatisfaction pushed passengers away from taxis and toward ride-hailing in this tech-tastic city. But the rising cost of ride-hailing has many visitors opting for public transit over car rides and vehicle rentals. Buses, trains and streetcars also help take the edge off dealing with Seattle’s traffic, which ranks among the nation’s worst.
The steep grade of some of Seattle’s streets can be challenging for people with mobility issues or manual wheelchairs. Plan the route before you go: With such varied topography, often there’s an accessible route to take.
Note: Not all hotels have air conditioning, thanks to the city’s mild climate. Book strategically if you don’t want to deal with excessive heat in the summer. And wildfires nearby can spark at any time of year, sending smoke into the city, but they most commonly disrupt Seattle’s air quality between early July and late September.
How to get around
Most air passengers land at Seattle-Tacoma International (SEA), about 13 miles south of downtown. Travelers not renting cars at Sea-Tac can opt for taxis, ride-hailing services, buses and the light rail, which takes about 38 minutes to reach the city center.
Amtrak and regional Soundertrains roll into King Street Station, a half-mile southeast of downtown. With its bell tower modeled off Basilica di San Marco in Venice, the handsome brick-and-granite building has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1973. Seattle also has the Monorail and accessible streetcars with ramps and both audio and digital display stop announcements.
The Greyhound long-haul bus station is in the SoDo (South of Downtown) neighborhood, while FlixBus stops in the Chinatown-International District. Savvy travelers stock up on snacks at the nearby Uwajimaya Asian market.
Ferries and water taxis dock downtown. Popular day trips include hopping over to West Seattle or Bainbridge Island.
Where to Stay
The 97-room Kimpton Palladian makes for a chic home base in the Belltown neighborhood, two blocks north of Pike Place Market. The hotel faces the Moore Theatre, a relic of the Gilded Age, which makes the Palladian a favorite among performers and their fans. Expect floods of natural light and steampunky elegance like artist easels supporting TVs in the guest rooms and antique copper ceiling tiles in the speakeasy-style Pennyroyal. The hotel’s signature: oil paintings of celebrities as 19th-century Russian generals, including local legends Bill Gates and Jimi Hendrix. The Palladian reproduces these masterpieces on throw pillows, and guests can ask to snuggle with specific stars.
A $25 million renovation restored the 450-room Fairmont Olympic to its flapper-era glory. A sophisticated circular bar now anchors the lobby. Above its glasses and shelves rises a nautical-inspired kinetic sculpture, which casts shifting shadows onto the vaulted ceiling. Below stretches the 1924 building’s original hand-laid travertine tiles, lovingly revealed and restored, but now finished to reduce slipping hazards. From Herbert Hoover on, almost every U.S. president has stayed in this grande dame, along with stars like Elvis Presley and Joan Crawford. Guest rooms have tranquil color palettes — gray and silver punctuated with pops of teal — and mid-century modern décor. Accessible rooms include a teletypewriter (TTY) and assistive listening devices on request, as well as Braille signage.
For travelers looking to venture beyond downtown, the affordable Graduate Seattle delivers style and substance in the University District. This art deco gem draws guests in with over 36 feet of plaid sofas beside the lobby’s fireplace. The bold design choices continue in the 158 guest rooms, with seashell-scalloped headboards and pops of coral among the tamer sage and eggplant accents. The pièce de résistance, however, remains its 16th-floor rooftop eatery, the Mountaineering Club (open to the public; reservations recommended). Soak in views of Puget Sound and the Cascade Range from its massive windows or outside on the giant wraparound deck.