13 of the most popular things to do in Seattle for first-timers

Visiting somewhere new for the first-time can be overwhelming. You need to decide what to do, where to stay and where to eat as well as book flights or trains in some cases.

Well, luckily for you I’ve done all the research for you and come up with a detailed list of 13 of the most popular things to do in Seattle. Seattle is famous for coffee, being the home of Starbucks so of course I’ve recommended visiting the first Starbucks in the world, but it also has the famous fish-throwing Pike Place Market and the very unique (and a little gross) chewing gum wall!

Seattle is one of my favorite cities in the U.S, we drove here from where we were living in Whistler, Canada and spent 4 nights in the city – which isn’t long enough if you ask me. I recommend allowing 5-6 nights in Seattle. My favorite parts of the “emerald city” or “rainy city” as the locals like to call it is the very-cool neighborhood of Capitol Hill and on the water exploring Puget Sound!

Have coffee at the first Starbucks in the world

first Starbucks Seattle
Me with a Starbucks, near the first store!

Where it all began – the very first Starbucks store is located right here in Seattle, it’s been opened for over 50 years and is surprising small at just 1,000 square feet – I don’t know but I was expecting it to be much bigger. Nonetheless if you’re a coffee fan you just have to visit the starting point of the most famous coffee brand in the world! Would you believe there are now over 20,000 Starbucks stores in the world!

Not much has changed in the store since it first opened its doors, the floors, the fixtures, the counters and the Starbucks sign out-front are over 50 years old. You can get everything you’d expect from a Starbucks here from normal coffee and espresso to chai tea lattes and caramel Frappuccinos!

Be sure to snap a photo out-front!

The first Starbucks store is located at 1912 Pike Place, opposite the famous Pike Place Market. It will be hard to miss, because there’s likely a queue of hundred of people snaking down the street!

Visit Bruce Lee’s grave

bruce lee grave seattle
Bruce & Brandon Lees graves in Lake View Cemetery!

Lake View Cemetery in the quirky Capitol Hill neighborhood is visited by over 10,000 tourists annually. That’s because the grave of legendary actor and martial art star Bruce Lee is buried here. His grave is unassuming at looks much the same as the other graves in the cemetery but it stands out because Lee’s grave is covered in flowers, letters, candles and little Bruce Lee figurines. His son Brandon’s grave is right next to his.

The views from the cemetery are stunning with Lake Washington visible in the distance! Bruce Lee’s grave is not only a Seattle tourist attraction but a global pilgrimage site.

Seattle Space needle

space needle seattle
Look how tall the Space Needle is!

At 605 feet tall, Seattle’s Space Needle is easily the most recognizable sight in Seattle skyline. It is in fact, one of the most photographed buildings in the world.

From the top of the Space Needle you can enjoy 360-degree views of downtown Seattle, Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. There’s an all-glass floor on The Loupe, which is the first and only rotating glass floor in the world! Downtown Seattle is literally underneath your feet, so if you get a little queasy at heights then this may not be for you! Higher up in the Space Needle is the upper level which has floor-to-ceiling glass and is great for photos!

Pretty cool is that you can watch the views from the Space Needle from the comfort of you own home, via their webcam!

You can visit the Space Needle on the CityPass which gives you access to 5 of Seattle’s top sights including Seattle Aquarium, the Museum of Pop Culture, Woodland Park Zoo, Chihuly Gardens and Glass, and Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour all for a discounted price. The CityPass costs from $109USD per adult.

Buy the Seattle CityPass here!

Whale watching on Puget Sound

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Puget Sound at sunset! (photo by Lexie Blessing on Pexels.com)

Enjoy the experience of a lifetime with this half-day whale-watching tour which guarantees a whale sighting. It’s also the pnly whale-watching tour in Seattle, and departs from the Edmonds neighborhood just a few minutes drive from Seattle CBD.

On the tour you may spot orcas, humpback whales, minke whales and gray whales! And also dolphins, seals, sea lions and more marine life. The scenery on the boat-ride is stunning too with the San Juan Islands in the distance and the city skyline behind you. The boat is super-comfortable too with a large indoor seating area with big windows to spot the whales, and an outdoor viewing platform to get as close as possible to the sea life. There’s also a Cafe on-board, I hear their blueberry buckle is delicious!

Sleepless in Seattle filming locations

If you love the movie Sleepless in Seattle, which stars a young Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks then you will love visiting Seattle because of course many of the movies scenes were shot here. In fact, I have to admit one of my reasons for visiting Seattle was to see Sam’s (Tom Hanks character) houseboat.

The houseboat is located at 2640 Westlake Avenue North, which sits on the west shore of Lake Union in Queen Anne Hill district. It’s about an hour walk, or 10 minute drive from the CBD to the houseboat.

Some other Sleepless in Seattle filming locations include –

Athenian Inn at 1517 Pike Place where Sam’s friend Jay offers him some manly advice about dating.

Pike Place Market, where Sam goes shopping with Victoria (the lady with the funny laugh).

Alki Beach Park where Annie (Meg Ryan’s character) spots Sam playing with his son

Chewing gum wall

chewing gum wall seattle
The famous Chewing Gum wall!

The Seattle Chewing Gum Wall is hidden away in Post Alley, an alleyway off Pike Place in downtown Seattle. The Gum Wall has been accumulating gum since the early 90’s and it now stretches 50 feet – filled with all different colors of gum and even some caricatures and names written in gum on the wall. It’s a popular backdrop for photos and you’ll see hundreds of tourists snapping selfies of themselves as you walk the length of the wall. It’s definitely one of the weirdest and grossest sights in Seattle!

Would you believe – the wall was only cleaned once in 2015!

Some other weird and wonderful sights in Seattle include the Fremont Troll, the Fremont Rocket, or a communist statue of Lenin, which are all in the Fremont neighborhood and are withing walking distance of one another!

Pike Place Market

pike place market seattle
Pike Place Market all lit up at night!

Pike Place Market sure is a Seattle icon, it’s all hustle and bustle and noise. But, that’s why I love it – here, fish mongers throw large fish to each other and to tourists in an almost staged performance that sure is a lot of fun to watch! The market area is a whopping 9 acres and is filled with some of Seattle’s best restaurants, Cafes and some unique gift stores.

The market is best explored with a local – someone who can tell you where to go and where to avoid. So, this Taste of Pike Place tour is ideal and lets you sample the very best of this world-famous market including, Indian samosas, Italian gelato, Greek Yogurt, Pacific Northwest Native American style smoked salmon, America’s best rated clam chowder, Italian truffles, the best wild salmon burger in Seattle, and more. Your guide will tell you all about the colorful characters who work here, some have been here since it first opened in 1971.

The tour is 2-hours in length and costs from just $45USD per per person!. You can book the Market Tour here!

See Seattle city from the water on a harbor cruise

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The Seattle cityline at sunset! (photo by Brandie Robbins on Pexels.com)

This one-hour cruise lets you see Seattle from a different angle, on the water! The boat journey takes you through the Puget Sound, and is the perfect tour for photography-lovers because you can photograph the city skyline and the Space Needle from the boat. It’s the best view you’ll get of both, in my opinion so be sure to bring a good zoom lens.

Even better, on a clear day can spy the Olympic Mountains and Cascade Mountains, which makes you realize how naturally beautiful the surrounding areas are. You may even spot Mount Rainier which at 14,000 feet is hard-to-miss on a clear day!

This cruise leaves from from Pier 55 on the Seattle Waterfront, and it costs just $38 USD per adult. You can book the cruise here.

Visit Mount Rainier

mount rainier wildflower season
Mount Rainier wildflower season!

Get out into nature and witness stunning mountain scenery like wild-flower meadows, old-growth forests and waterfalls on this full-day tour to Mount Rainier National Park. Your professional guide will guide you through the area on a hike, which will be adapted to suit all fitness levels and abilities.

Mount Rainier Ntaional Park has been described as “an arctic island in a temperate sea” because of the contrast of the huge snow-covered Mount Rainier with the colorful wildflower meadows!

After exploring the Park, you will visit the interpretive center at Paradise to discover more about the Park’s glaciers, plants, and animals. And finally, one of the best stops at Wapiti Woolies to try their famed (& delicious) huckleberry ice cream.

The tour includes hotel pick-up and drop-off, Lunch is extra so you can choose to enjoy this at a mountain-side Cafe or pack a picnic lunch and enjoy it in the Park. The tour costs from $173 USD per person, you can book the tour here.

If time allows I highly recommend spending the night in one of these cozy Mount Rainier Cabins!

Museum of Pop Culture

museum of pop culture
An exhibition at the Museum of Pop Culture!

The Museum of Pop Culture, is a must-visit for all music fans housed within a Frank Gehry-designed building. The Museum showcases the best moments in popular culture from throughout the years and there are cool exhibits and interactive installations on-hand to tell their stories.

Exhibitions currently on display her include a Visual History of Hip Hop; The Art of the Disney Costume and a Nirvana exhibition.

There’s an on-site Cafe operated by famous Chef Wolfgang Puck, which serves grab and go items like pastries, snacks and coffee.

You can visit MoPop on the CityPass which gives you access to 5 of Seattle’s top sights including Seattle Aquarium, the Space Needle, Woodland Park Zoo, Chihuly Gardens and Glass, and Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour all for a discounted price. The CityPass costs from $109USD per adult.

Bainbridge Island

bainbridge island seattle
Bainbridge Island!

Just a 35-minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle is the very-cute and photogenic Bainbridge Island. You can walk to the main town here -Winslow from the ferry terminal, or take your car or bike on-board the ferry and drive or cycle the short distance. When I say town, Winslow is more of a village filled with cozy bookstores, Cafes and boutiques. Stretch your legs further on a short walk to Waterfront Park from the town. Or head to Blakely Harbor Park, a 40-acre park built on the site of an old mill, which was one of the biggest sawmills in the world in the late 1800s. The park is popular for kayaking, and wildlife viewin and there’s also a surprisingly photogenic crumbling, graffiti-covered building.

In warmer weather head to a locals favorite hangout  Lytle Beach, you can enjoy the warm waters of Rich Passage here – it’s one of the warmest bodies of water on the island.

If you have time, I highly recommend the fairytale-esque Eagle Harbor Inn.

Visit Leavenworth

leavenworth washington state in winter
Leavenworth is the snow!

Also known as ‘Christmastown’ Leavenworth is especially beautiful in the lead up to Christmas when the whole town lights up with over half a million lights ! There’s also live music, holiday characters for photos, carolers and more, almost every night of the week in December!

Leavenworth is built like small Bavarian village, surrounded by snow-covered mountains and filled with quirky specialty stores, cozy restaurants and cute inns.

This full-day tour from Seattle to Leavenworth is highly recommended. It’s a small group tour, with a maximum of 12 people allowed and costs from $186 USD per person. The drive from Seattle to Leavenworth is just over 2 hours each-way!

Beneath the streets tour

Seattle’s reputation as the rainiest city in the U.S means that indoor activity options are always a good-shout. And this underground tour, which explores eerie subterranean passages is a must-do in Seattle.

This short one-hour tour takes you back in time to explore over 4 historic blocks of Pioneer Square and underground pathways, built way back in the 1890’s. Your guide will tell you all about the history of Seattle, most notably the decision to bring the city’s streets above the swampy ground. Essentially on this tour you are exploring what should have been Seattle CBD.

The tour costs from $30 USD per person, you can book the tour here.

Where to stay in Seattle

cocktail at Fairmont Seattle
Enjoying a cocktail at the Fairmont Hotel!

Fairmont Olympic Seattle – a 5-star hotel on University Avenue, in fact, the building itself is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Rooms offer city views with French-inspired furnishings. There are numerous on-site restaurants. Rooms cost from $250 per night.

The Arctic Club Seattle – is a Hilton DoubleTree 4-star hotel on 3rd Avenue. The hotel has a lot of dark-wood and moody lighting all adding to the overall cozy feel. It’s just a 5 minute walk from here to Pike Place. Rooms costs from $300 per night.

Seattle Marriott Waterfront – this waterfront hotel, located in Eliott Bay is just a 5 minute walk from the Seattle Aquarium. Many of the rooms here have a balcony with either ocean or mountain views. One of the biggest pluses for this hotel in the indoor/outdoor connecting swimming pool. Rooms here cost from $132 per night.

Inn at the Market – the only hotel located inside the famous Pike Place Market, the rooms are bright and spacious and some have water views. My top tip for this hotel is to gave a drink at the rooftop bar for fabulous views of the city and sea. Rooms here cost from $240 per night.

Green Tortoise Hostel – a great budget-friendly option, this hostel is located on Pike Street, just opposite Pike Place. It has a fully-equipped kitchen games room and offers private rooms up to 8-bed dorms. Prices start from $34 per night.

Thanks for reading!

If you enjoyed this blog post, I also have lots of other blog posts on some of my favorite places in North America including the best towns near San Francisco, best things to do in Whistler and the drive from Whistler to Banff.

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Visiting somewhere new for the first-time can be overwhelming. So, I've done the research & come up with 13 of the best things to do in Seattle.

9 thoughts on “13 of the most popular things to do in Seattle for first-timers

  1. Shelly Reply

    So many great things to do in Seattle thanks!

  2. Jan Banerjee Reply

    Great Seattle guide! I have visited Seattle a few years ago and checked out the Space Needle, Pike Place, Aquarium and Science centre. I missed the ‘Sleeping in Seattle’ locations and the chewing gum wall and many more. It’s time for a second visit to this awesome city. 🙂

  3. Melinda Reply

    I had heard of some of these but not the Beneath the Streets Tour or Pop Culture Museum! Seattle looks so cool (and wet). Will save for when I do make it there!

  4. Kate Toll Reply

    There are so many fun things to do in Seattle – I definitely need to plan a trip. I would love to go to the adorable town of Leavenworth – it looks so beautiful. That gum wall is also so funny! What a quirky attraction!

  5. simplyjolayne Reply

    I don’t think I have ever seen a bad shot of Mt Rainier. We visited Seattle a number of years ago with our girls and saw so many of the sites you listed. The chewing gum wall is…unique.

  6. Coralie Reply

    What a lovely informative guide! I visited Seattle many years ago and had not idea about some of these things. Bainbridge Island sounds right up my street and the Museum of Pop Culture sounds fun.

  7. Elena Pappalardo Reply

    I’ve never been to Seattle and this looks like such a great first-timer’s guide! A harbor cruise sounds like an amazing way to experience the city and take in all the views.

  8. muylindatravels Reply

    I’d love to visit Seattle & I’m pleased to hear there are so many fun things to do. I like the sound of chewing gum wall and Leavenworth looks very charming! Thanks so much for sharing your list!

  9. ANUKRATI DOSI Reply

    Well, it is such an interesting coincidence that I read this post while sipping on my double chocolate chip at Starbucks. Being a Starbucks fan, I would so want to visit the first store in Seattle.

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