Day 2 is your downtown and Seattle Center day, focusing on the city’s cultural riches. Start your morning with coffee and a baked treat at Caffe Ladro Espresso Bar & Bakery. When you’re fueled, head over to the Seattle Art Museum, or SAM. You can’t miss it—literally—because right outside is one of Seattle’s most iconic pieces of public art: Jonathan Borofsky’s giant kinetic sculpture Hammering Man. There’s much to see at SAM, but be sure to seek out the Native American collections. This is one of the few places in North America where you can see the distinctive woodcarving, basketry, beadwork, embroidery, and paintings created by Pacific Northwest Native American tribes. The museum is also strong on regional art and another stop should be the galleries showing the work of the so-called Big Four artists (Guy Anderson, Kenneth Callahan, Morris Graves, and Mark Tobey) active in and around Seattle and La Conner in the 1950s. There’s an entire museum dedicated to their work in La Conner, which you can visit on a day trip.
From SAM, dart back over to Pike Place Market (by now you understand its endless allure) for lunch, maybe a quick bowl of chowder at one of the market’s hole-in-the-wall restaurants, or, at the north end of the market, Etta’s Seafood, where you can sit outside if the weather is nice.
One of the seminal events in Seattle’s history was the 1962 World’s Fair, which shaped the city in many significant ways. After lunch, head up to Westlake Center and catch the vintage 1962 monorail for the quick ride to Seattle Center, site of the World’s Fair and still a major Seattle destination. You can take your pick of attractions at Seattle Center. It is home to the Seattle Opera, the Pacific Northwest Ballet, numerous theater companies, a children's museum, and a science museum. The star, however, is the Space Needle, which provides a spectacular 360[dg] view of the city. Important: be sure to book your Space Needle tickets online or you may be in line for more than 2 hours. I would also recommend visiting Chihuly Garden and Glass, right below the Space Needle, for a fascinating chronological tour of Dale Chihuly’s glass art; you can see it all in under an hour.
Your time so far has been spent in and around downtown Seattle and at Seattle Center, but at least one of Seattle’s distinctive neighborhoods should be on your agenda. For a change of Seattle scene, and a good place for dinner, head up to Capitol Hill, just east of downtown, and dine at Poppy, noted for its unique thali-style meals that include a main course with several delicious side dishes. Stroll south along Broadway after dinner and you’ll get a sense of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, one of the oldest in the city and once the capitol of counter-culture. It’s becoming gentrified, like the rest of the city, but it still has a youthful buzz and energy.
1. Hiram M. Chittenden (Ballard) Locks
These locks separate the waters of Elliott Bay from those of Lake Union and allow everything from sea kayaks to commercial fishing boats to make their way between the two bodies of water. It's a slow, though fascinating, process that always draws crowds. However, for many summer visitors, the big attraction here is the fish ladder and its associated fish-viewing windows that allow visitors to watch salmon and steelhead migrating up-river.
2. Harbor Steps
The Harbor Steps, 2 blocks south of Pike Place Market, may not be as beautiful as Rome's Spanish Steps, but they are by far the prettiest route from downtown to the waterfront and are a popular hangout both for footsore tourists and downtown office workers hoping to soak up a little sunshine on their lunch hour. Waterfalls, fountains, and sculptures grace the terraces of the Harbor Steps, and several restaurants and shops flank the stairs.
3. Ancient Grounds
If you're interested in Native American artifacts, be sure to stop in at this eclectic establishment a half-block south of the Harbor Steps. Order a latte and then peruse the masks and wood carvings that fill the cases of this cabinet of curiosities.
4. Tillicum Village Tour
Although it is a bit touristy, the Tillicum Village Tour, which departs from Pier 55 on the waterfront, includes not only a boat excursion to Blake Island State Park, but also a salmon dinner and a performance of traditional Northwest Coast Native American masked dances. The "long house," where the dinner and dances are held, was built as part of the same World's Fair that gave Seattle the Space Needle. The island setting is beautiful, and the masked dances are fascinating. I especially recommend this for families. Be sure to check the schedule for these tours.