Lace up your walking shoes, grab an umbrella if it looks like rain, and hit the streets early if you want to experience the best of Seattle in a single day. Luckily, two of the city's top attractions--Pike Place Market and the Olympic Sculpture Park--open early, so you should get started as early as possible. For visitors, the fact that the market is only 2 blocks from the waterfront makes connecting the dots in this town fairly easy. Late in the afternoon, after delving into the city's history, you'll visit Seattle Center, which is home to Seattle's most familiar icon, the Space Needle.
Set at the north end of the waterfront and home to monumental sculptures by Alexander Calder, Claes Oldenburg, and Richard Serra, this multilevel park is the most beautiful open space in Seattle. There are stunning views across Puget Sound to the Olympic Mountains, native-plant gardens, and a tiny man-made beach that looks as wild as any beach on the Olympic Peninsula.
At the top of the hill-climb stairs, you'll find Pike Place Market, Seattle's sprawling historic market complex. Grab a grande latte at the Starbucks that kicked the whole espresso scene into high gear, and then pick out a pastry at one of the market bakeries. With fortification in hand, peruse the many stalls selling fresh salmon and Dungeness crabs, local and exotic produce, and cut flowers. By midmorning, the market's arts-and-crafts vendors are usually set up and you can shop for distinctive gifts and souvenirs. Wander through the dark depths of the market to search out unusual specialty shops.
Just as at San Francisco's Fisherman's Wharf, the Seattle waterfront is ground zero for tacky tourist shops, fish and chips counters, and mediocre, overpriced restaurants. However, the waterfront does have its redeeming features: On a clear day, the view across Elliott Bay to the Olympic Mountains is unforgettable. And a wide sidewalk along the waterfront is perfect for strolling. The real stars of the waterfront, though, are the Seattle Aquarium and, of course, the Olympic Sculpture Park.
Pier 59 is home to the Seattle Aquarium, where you can learn about the sea life of the region. Jellyfish, sea horses, salmon, and otters are just some of the popular attractions at this aquarium.
Historic Pioneer Square area is where Seattle got its start back in the 1850s. Today it is one of the city's only historic districts, and its tree-shaded streets are lined with brick buildings constructed after the Seattle fire of 1889.
To learn more about Seattle's early history, with an emphasis on the seamier side of life and the city's reconstruction after the fire of 1889, take the Underground Tour, which begins at the corner of First Avenue and Yesler Way. This tour provides a little fun and paints an interesting picture of the characters who founded Seattle. Be forewarned that participants need an appreciation for bad jokes and should not have a fear of dark, musty basements.
With its big windows and local artwork, Zeitgeist Coffee is popular with the Pioneer Square art crowd. A hip, low-key character makes this a pleasant place to kick back and get off your feet for a few minutes.
Built for the 1962 World's Fair, this 74-acre campus is the cultural heart of Seattle and the city's premier family attraction. Seattle Center is home to the Seattle Opera, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, numerous theater companies, a children's museum, and a science museum. For most people, however, Seattle Center is primarily known as the home of the Space Needle and the bizarre Frank Gehry-designed building that houses EMP (the Experience Music Project Museum).
If you're a rock-music fan, explore this unusual museum. It's inside a huge blob of color that looks a bit like a melted-down electric guitar. If you're not interested in going inside, at least stroll around outside and marvel at the building's sweeping lines and colorful exterior.
10. Space Needle
Of course, a visit to Seattle isn't complete without riding the elevator to the top of the Space Needle. From the observation deck, 520 feet above the ground, you have a superb panorama of Seattle and its surrounding mountains and many bodies of water. If it's summer and the sun is still shining, see if you can pick out the route you followed during your earlier tour of the city. Keep in mind that during the summer, sunset isn't until after 9pm. If you're here at a time of year when the sun sets early, you'll get to enjoy the city's twinkling lights.
Finish your day back at Pike Place Market. By nightfall the fishmongers and flower vendors are long gone and the shops are closed. However, some of the city's best restaurants and most enjoyable bars are here. Catch an eclectic musical act at The Pink Door, listen to Irish music at Kells, or enjoy a romantic late dinner at Il Bistro.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.