Maybe you already know Seattle by heart. It's that famous Pike Place Market sign, with a passenger ferry gliding peacefully along Puget Sound just beyond it, or a glamour shot of the towering Space Needle, with snow-capped Mt. Rainier boasting its 14,000-plus feet in the distance. It's fat, tender salmon, roasted perfectly, and exquisite coffee at Starbucks' flagship roastery. It's a good bar with a serious water view.
It's all true Seattle, but it's the Seattle millions flock to see each year, which means your visit — the one that won't leave you cranky and exhausted — should be about treating Seattle like home, rather than marching down the same bucket list all the cruise ship passengers have.
The real Seattle lies in its neighborhoods, from the shady streets of Pioneer Square, to the cozy cafés in Capitol Hill, to the family-friendly brick streets of Ballard, to all the mini neighborhoods in between. It's in those little corners that you'll find the city's most amazing food — the delicious evidence that Seattle's become a cornerstone of the national food scene.
Here's our bite-sized guide to the real Seattle, designed to give you a taste of the city that the locals know.
Why You Should Visit Seattle Now (Hint: It's the Food)
The saying goes that over the last decade, Seattle has gone from the city people moved to when they didn't want to live in a city to one they flock to exactly because it's a city. I've lived in Seattle for those 10 years, and I can't agree more; there's been a visible shift from modest metropolis to bustling boomtown.
But all that growth hasn't changed what draws people to Seattle in the first place: It's a magic mix of mountains, park space, and water, a city simultaneously enveloped in nature and alive with the buzz of a vibrant urban hub. And, most importantly, it has amazing food.
Sure, Seattle's still a great place to eat delicious fish and chips or clam chowder on the waterfront — after more than 75 years, Ivar's is alive and well — but more than ever, Seattle is proving fertile ground for modern restaurants that can play ball on an international level, in part because the city is simply getting big enough to make for real competition at home: At about 700,000 people, Seattle is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and much of the growth is in the high-paying tech sector. The number of cranes in downtown Seattle, many building Amazon's new campus, recently surpassed that of New York City.
With that growth has come an appetite for restaurants, and an increasingly food-obsessed population that eats out enough to support the kind of interesting high-end casual spots that Seattle is becoming known for nationwide (think: Bateau, Salare, Joule, or Stateside). Celebrity chefs have begun to thrive on mini restaurant empires here, and people are visiting with the express intent of eating.
Locals also know Seattle's ethnic side. While it's not known as a particularly diverse city, you can get a great version of almost everything here, from the handmade rice noodles at International District Vietnamese restaurant Dong Thap, to tingly Szechuan noodle soup at Xi'An Noodle in the University District. In fact, our obsession with Asian food ignited enough of a citywide obsession to attract multiple locations of the international Chinese soup dumpling mecca Din Tai Fung.
Speaking of locals, we visited a few — in their homes, at their studios, and in their restaurants (with their cute kids). Here's what they have to say about their hometown.
Wherever you go, Seattle tends to taste great because it has such an abundance of natural resources. From salmon and halibut to oysters and spot prawns, our chilly waters provide a constant source of insanely delicious ocean treasures. Berries and greens thrive in our climate, and the dry eastern half of the state produces famously amazing cherries, apples, and peaches, plus wine, cheese, potatoes, and beef. And while it's lovely to eat the region's flesh and fauna in restaurants, the beauty of Seattle's farmers markets is that restaurant-quality cuts are readily available to locals. A trip to the Saturday University District market or the Sunday Ballard market is a must. If you can score an Airbnb with a kitchen well-equipped for cooking your haul, even better.
To me, Seattle has it all now; I love that I can go for a walk on the gentle path around Green Lake or hike through hilly Discovery Park, and wind up meeting a friend for lunch (in exercise clothes, naturally) at a hip new lunch spot I've never tried.
Getting hungry? That's why we wrote you a bite-sized guide to Seattle. Grab your rain boots — we're going to show you the best way to approach your trip to the Emerald City, where to eat when you're here, and what to bring home. And honestly, people, it doesn't rain nearly as much as they say.
Planning a Trip to Seattle
Seattle's Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is about 14 miles from downtown, and offers direct flights domestically and internationally. Since 2013, the airport has hosted a live music program, so keep your ears open as you travel.
Taxi and ride-share services leave from the bottom floor of the parking garage, which can be counterintuitive if you haven't been to the airport before. Look for signs leading over a skybridge, then down a set of elevators. There's a $40 flat rate for trips from the airport to downtown. If you're renting, note that there's a shuttle bus to the nearby rental car facility.
The Link Light Rail service connects the airport to downtown, Capitol Hill, and University of Washington stops, with more to come soon. It's fast and it's cheap, but note that you have to cross a pedestrian bridge and traipse across the parking garage to get to it, so rolling luggage is a must.
Seattle is undoubtedly a city of neighborhoods, which means that as you plan out your days, you should organize by what area of town you want to see. Plan to spend some time traveling from place to place — the city's public bus system is extensive but not always timely. Whether you rent a car or use a ride-share service like Lyft or Uber depends mostly on your preference.
Where to Stay
While most Seattle hotels are downtown, there are a few great options that are more neighborhood focused, like Hotel Ballard, which is where you want to be if your focus is the Ballard neighborhood. Otherwise, lean in to your Airbnb habit.
What to Bring
You've heard horror stories about Seattle weather, I'm sure, but the reality is that while it can certainly be gray and gloomy in the winter, Seattle gets less rain annually than either New York or Boston — and during the summers, between the Fourth of July and Labor Day, stretches of bluebird skies can last for weeks, literally. If you're coming in the colder months, you can bring an umbrella, but most locals prefer a good raincoat. In the summer, bring sunscreen — and lots of it.
Can't wait to experience Seattle's food? Here are four of my favorite recipes right now. Make them at home and start plotting your trip.