Seattle's most touristy neighborhood, the waterfront has some of the city's finest views and is home to several worthwhile attractions and activities.
Best For: Views that cannot be beat. There's also easy access to a variety of boat tours; and many Alaska-bound cruise ships leave from the waterfront, making these hotels very convenient for a stay before or after a cruise.
Drawbacks: Lodging options limited to two hotels, only one of which is actually on the water. Shops along the waterfront are very touristy and restaurants, for the most part, are both touristy and overpriced.
The heart of Seattle, downtown is filled with high-rise office towers, business hotels, shopping centers, and national-chain clothing stores. This is the city's expense-account district, and if you're using frequent-travelers points at a major hotel chain, this is where you'll want to stay.
Best For: Business travelers and anyone here for a shop-'til-you-drop vacation. The transit tunnel, streetcar, and monorail provide easy access to other neighborhoods.
Drawbacks: Restaurants downtown are geared toward expense accounts; and with few views, this area could be in any city.
Pike Place Market & Belltown
Pike Place Market is Seattle's top attraction, a buzzing market packed with produce stalls, specialty food shops, restaurants, and unusual shops. Belltown, once Seattle's hippest neighborhood, has in recent years lost much of its cachet. However, there are still plenty of bars and nightclubs in the neighborhood, as well as a few good restaurants.
Best For: Foodies wanting to stay in the thick of things will want to stay in the market; young travelers on a budget and anyone in town to check out the Seattle club scene will find Belltown hotels convenient.
Drawbacks: The market is shoulder-to-shoulder with tourists during the day and can be overwhelming. In Belltown, a plethora of panhandlers hit the streets each night when the bars start filling up. When the bars close, light sleepers are often bothered by street noises.
Pioneer Square, the International District & SoDo
Pioneer Square is one of Seattle's only historic districts, and many of the brick-and-stone commercial buildings lining the shady streets date from the years just after the great Seattle fire of 1889. The International District lies a few blocks east of Pioneer Square. SoDo, which begins south of the Pioneer Square neighborhood, is home to the city's two main sports stadiums -- Qwest Field and Safeco Field.
Best For: Soaking up Seattle's historic, gold-rush-era character.
Drawbacks: This is one of Seattle's main nightlife districts and can be a rowdy place at night. During the day, be prepared to encounter a lot of street people.
Seattle Center & Queen Anne
The Queen Anne neighborhood is divided into upper Queen Anne and lower Queen Anne. The lower section surrounds Seattle Center and is mostly a busy commercial district, where you'll find several moderately priced hotels. Upper Queen Anne is an upscale residential area with an attractive shopping district.
Best For: Convenience to Seattle Center (and the monorail to downtown), makes this neighborhood a good choice for families. A plethora of inexpensive restaurants and the many moderately priced hotels also makes this area a good choice for budget-conscious travelers.
Drawbacks: The lower Queen Anne commercial district is a bit seedy, and the upper Queen Anne shopping district is a steep walk (or short bus or car ride) up to the top of the hill
South Lake Union & Lake Union
Stretching from downtown to the southern shores of Lake Union, this is the city's newest neighborhood, a modern urban village that is also home to Amazon's corporate headquarters. The SLU, as it's know, is where everything is happening in Seattle these days. Along the lake, there are houseboats, marinas, and waterfront restaurants. Floatplanes use the lake as a runway, and you can rent kayaks from several places around the lake.
Best For: Feeling like you're a part of Seattle's future. Traveling techies will want to park themselves here.
Drawbacks: The neighborhood is still a bit top heavy with 9-to-5ers, so the streets get pretty quiet after quitting time.
Capitol Hill & First Hill
This pair of hills lie just to the east of downtown Seattle. First Hill, known locally as Pill Hill due to its many hospitals, begins just across I-5 from downtown. Capitol Hill, Seattle's main gay neighborhood, lies a mile or so uphill and to the east of downtown. It features both a busy commercial district and pleasant residential streets, where you'll find a few B&Bs in restored historic homes.
Best For: Gay travelers and those wanting to stay close to downtown without staying in a corporate high-rise. Capitol Hill also has one of the city's best restaurant districts.
Drawbacks: While new condominiums and restaurants are slowly upgrading the character of Capitol Hill, it still is frequented primarily by the young and the gay. Consequently, there are lots of bars and nightclubs, and shops cater to a youthful clientele.
The University District (North Seattle)
About 15 minutes north of downtown, the University District (more commonly known as the U District) appeals primarily to younger travelers, but it does offer less expensive accommodations than downtown and is still fairly convenient to Seattle's major attractions. Also nearby are the Burke Museum, Henry Art Gallery, Museum of History and Industry, Woodland Park Zoo, and, of course, the University of Washington.
Best For: Budget-conscious travelers in search of affordable, yet hip, accommodations.
Drawbacks: Neighborhood restaurants cater to college students craving quantity over quality.
Near Sea-Tac Airport
The airport is 30 to 45 minutes south of downtown by car (depending on the traffic) or 40 minutes on the Central Link light-rail line. Adjacent to the airport are numerous conference, business, and budget hotels.
Best For: Anyone arriving late or leaving especially early in the morning.
Drawbacks: There's little to recommend this area besides its proximity to the airport.
The Eastside (a reference its location on the east side of Lake Washington) is Seattle's main high-tech suburb and comprises the cities of Bellevue, Kirkland, Issaquah, and Redmond. Two of the most luxurious hotels in the metropolitan area are here on this side of the lake.
Best For: Travelers out this way on business. An Eastside hotel may be more convenient than one in downtown Seattle.
Drawbacks: During rush hour, the commute between Seattle and the eastside can be 45 minutes or more. If it isn't rush hour, you can usually get from the Eastside to downtown in about 20 minutes via the I-90 or Wash. 520 floating bridges.
Bainbridge Island is an idyllic bedroom community a 30-minute ferry ride from Seattle, and within a mile of the ferry landing, there are several lodging options. The ease of the commute makes island inns and hotels eminently recommendable. Riding the ferry between city and island captures the essence of the Seattle experience.
Best For: Those who want to explore the city, but who don't want to deal with noisy urban nights.
Drawbacks: The lodgings listed are within a short taxi or bus ride of the ferry terminal. However, you'll need to factor in the cost and the time requirements of the ferry commute. If you're exploring by car, it adds up.