Within its downtown core, Seattle is an easy walking city—but because of its maritime topography, the layout of the streets doesn’t always follow an easily understandable grid. It is also a large, sprawling city. To take in more of the Seattle, and to understand it better, you may want to sign up for an organized tour.
Seattle Free Walking Tours (www.seattlefreewalkingtours.com) is a unique pay-what-you-want outfit that offers 4 different themed walking tours (The Market Experience, Seattle 101, Historic Seattle, Seattle True Crime), each led by a knowledgeable and enthusiastic guide and lasting 1 to 1 1/2 hours. At the end of the tour, you tip your guide what you think the tour was worth (I would suggest a minimum of $10 per person). You must reserve a place in advance; tours are offered every day. This is a fun and inexpensive way to wade into Seattle.
See Seattle Walking Tours (www.see-seattle.com; tel. 425/226-7641) offers guided walking tours of downtown Seattle with a trained, knowledgeable guide, visiting Pike Place Market, the waterfront, and the Pioneer Square area. With this tour you get to see and learn about Seattle in more depth and at a
slower pace. The tours cost $20.
For an insider’s glimpse of life in Seattle’s Chinatown/International District, hook up with Chinatown Discovery (www.seattlechinatowntour.com; tel. 206/623-5124). They offer tours of the neighborhood and specialized tours based on seasonal foods and cultural icons such as martial-arts movie idol Bruce Lee, who spent time in Seattle. Their “A Touch of Seattle” tour costs $22 adults, $20 seniors, $17.50 students, and $15 kids 5 to 12.
For food-focused tours of Pike Place Market we recommend two companies. Savor Seattle (www.savorseattletours.com; [tel] 888/987-2867) is the first; it charges $72 for a food and drink tour that visits seven downtown and Pike Place Market restaurants; their signature Pike Place Market tour is offered several times a day and costs $44. Show Me Seattle (www.showmeseattle.com; [tel] 206/725-4483), in business since 1994, also charges $44 for a 2[bf]1/2-hour tour of Pike Place Market. Both do an excellent job of curating their tours so that visitors get a taste of a broad range of eateries and stands, without getting overstuffed.
For a fun, informative and family-friendly tour of Seattle’s quirkiest neighborhood, take The Fremont Tour. It’s an interactive experience in which costumed guides use playful street theater to help tell the story of Fremont and it’s trove of public art (which includes a giant troll, a statue of Lenin and a rocket). The walk starts at Solstice Plaza (711 N. 34th St.), covers about [bf]1/2 mile, takes about 90 minutes and costs $20 for adults, $16 for seniors and students, free for kids under 10. This north Seattle neighborhood is full of shops, cafes and restaurants where you can enjoy a coffee, a nosh or browse for a handcrafted treasure before or after the tour. Check out dates, tour times, and make reservations at www.thefremonttour.com. The tours usually take place only in the summer.
Touring Seattle by Duck
World War II amphibious vehicles called Ducks are used for fun and intriguing tours that combine both land and water. Seattle Duck Tours (www.ridetheducksofseattle.com; 516 Broad St.; tel. 800/817-1116 or 206/441-3825) show off the standard Seattle sights, but then plunge right into Lake Union for a tour of the Portage Bay waterfront, with its many houseboats and great views. The 90-minute tours leave from two locations: across from the Space Needle at 5th and Broad St., and from Westlake Center downtown at 4th Ave. and Pine. Tours cost $37.50 for adults and $17 for kids. There’s live narration from a guide as you whiz through the city and into the water; it’s informative and sometimes very funny.
To experience something of the maritime character that makes Seattle unique, consider taking one of the family-friendly tours offered daily, year-round, by Argosy Cruises (www.argosycruises.com), departing from Pier 55 on the waterfront. Argosy offers a 1-hour narrated harbor cruise that shows off the sights of the Seattle skyline ($27 adults, $22 seniors, $13 kids 4–12); a 2[bf]1/2-hour live-commentary locks tour that takes you through the century-old Chittenden Locks connecting saltwater Puget Sound to freshwater Lake Union ($44 adults, $39 seniors, $20 kids 4–12); and an especially fascinating 4-hour trip with live commentary to Tillicum Village on Blake Island, where you can enjoy a meal of plank-baked salmon and enjoy storytelling and native dances performed by the Coast Salish tribe in a re-created longhouse ($84 adults, $75 seniors, $32 kids 4–12). See above. Check the website for departure times and special Internet discounts for prebooking.
From May through September, Let’s Go Sailing (www.sailingseattle.com; [tel] 206/624-3931) at Pier 54 offers daily 90-minute excursions on a 70-foot sailboat ($36 adults, $30 seniors, $22 kids), and 2 1/2-hour sunset cruises ($52 adults, $44 seniors, $33 kids). There is no commentary per se, but the captain is right there to answer any questions. This is an open boat, so if it rains you’ll get wet.
For another take on maritime Seattle just hop on a commuter ferry operated by Washington State Ferries (www.wsdot.wa.gov/ferries) and enjoy a ride, with a scenic skyline view, between downtown and Bainbridge Island. A round-trip passenger-only ferry ticket to the Island costs $16.40 adults, $8.20 for seniors and children 6 to 18.
The cheapest option—and perhaps the best for photo ops of the Seattle skyline—is the King County Water Taxi (www.kingcounty.gov/depts/transportation/water-taxi.aspx) which departs hourly from a dock adjacent to the Seattle Ferry Terminal building and makes a 10-minute crossing to Alki Beach in West Seattle for a one-way fare of $5.25 adults and kids, $2.25 seniors. Buy your tickets from the machines at the pier.
Seattle is one of the few cities in the United States where floatplanes are a regular sight in the skies and on the lakes. If you want to see what it’s like to take off and land from the water, contact Seattle Seaplanes, 1325 Fairview Ave. E. (www.seattleseaplanes.com; tel. 800/637-5553 or 206/329-9638). Their floatplanes take off from Lake Union for 20-minute scenic flights over the city at a cost of $98.