Occupying a narrow isthmus between the Puget Sound and Lake Washington, Seattle is a beautiful city with a wide variety of activities that is sure to please even the most picky of travelers. This environmentally conscious city offers plenty of trails for biking and a world-class zoo that features animals in their native habitat. And don’t forget the title-winning professional sports teams, numerous art galleries, and restaurants overlooking the water. Here’s a look at some of the most popular tourist attractions in Seattle.
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Contemporary pop culture stars at EMP Museum, which combines music and sci-fi into a most unique experience. Founded in 2000 by Paul Allen, Microsoft’s co-founder, the museum offers battle of the band competitions, film festivals and changing exhibits that frequently go on the road, around the United States and around the world. Touches of fantasy and horror, as well as video games and science fiction literature can be found throughout the museum. The EMP includes hands-on activities, rare artifacts from the pop music world and a sculpture made from more than 500 guitars.
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks are a beehive of activity on hot days as boats of all types transfer from the salty Puget Sound to the freshwater lakes of Washington and Union. Known locally as the Ballard Locks for the Seattle neighborhood they’re found in, the locks were named after Hiram Chittenden, a major with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer in the early 1900s – the locks opened in 1917. The facility also includes the Carl English Botanical Garden and fish ladders. Because the locks are popular with locals who like to watch boats go through the locks, parking can be difficult to find on summer weekends.
The Museum of Flight is the largest private air and space museum in the world. The museum is home to vintage planes, planes that have flown in wars, a retired Air Force One jet, and a space shuttle exhibit. Located at King County International Airport, known locally as Boeing field, the museum features an interactive air traffic control tower exhibit. Other planes on display include a replica of the Lockheed Electra Amelia Earhart flew on her last flight, a British Airways Concorde, and a World War I fighter plane.
Seattle’s Chinatown is much more than just Chinese restaurants and shops. It is also home to businesses operated by the Japanese, Korean, Thai and Vietnamese, among other Asians, making it a truly international district. This multi-block ethnic neighborhood features a variety of ethnic restaurants and grocery stores, travel agencies that specialize in trips to Asia, acupuncturists and practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine. Important places in the community include Hing Hay Park and Wing Luke Museum. Noisy parades take place around major Asian holidays such as Lunar New Year.
Seattle’s waterfront is an eclectic mixture of uses, from ocean-going freighters and state ferries crossing Puget Sound at one end to posh hotels and great seafood restaurants at the other. In between are souvenir shops, book stores, a giant Ferris wheel, the fantastic Seattle Aquarium and take-away restaurants, all with great views of Elliott Bay, Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains to the west. Grab some take-away food and head to Waterfront Park to take in the panoramic views while indulging in fresh seafood dishes. Relaxation doesn’t get much better than this.
Pioneer Square is a trendy area in the heart of Seattle’s historic district. It’s a place to see and be seen, where old Renaissance Revival buildings are filled with gift and other specialty shops, art galleries, wine bars and yuppie restaurants. Its proximity to Quest and Safeco fields make it popular with sports fans on game days. Established in 1852 as Seattle’s first downtown, Pioneer Square is home to the century-old Smith Tower, once the tallest building on the West Coast. Visitors, who want to know what Seattle was like before it was destroyed by fire in 1898, may want to take an underground tour.
Travelers who aspire to build their own airplanes or who just want to learn more about how planes are manufactured definitely will want to tour the Boeing factory where 747s, 777s and the 787s (Dreamliner) are made. This Boeing plant is located in Everett, about 25 freeway miles north of Seattle. Operated by the Future of Flight Aviation Center, these are the only tours of commercial airplane factories offered in North America. Besides touring the factory at Paine Field, visitors get an opportunity to design their own planes.
The largest ferry system in the United States, the Washington State Ferry System crisscrosses Puget Sound dozens of times a day, carrying residents to work and tourists to play. Visitors can hop a ferry from Seattle’s waterfront to Vashon Island for lunch and shopping in upscale boutiques, or they can experience Port Townsend’s quaint Victorian charm. The fleet’s biggest boats travel between Seattle and Bainbridge Island, which offers a combination of rural charm and sophisticated amenities. Fares vary seasonally by route.
Pike Place Market got its start in the early 1900s when housewives revolted against rising prices of onions in grocery stores. Today, it’s one of the biggest tourist draws not only in Seattle, but also Washington State. Gorgeous fresh produce looks like it might have been arranged by an artist. Fish fly through the air as fish mongers toss it from icy trays to the wrapping stand. Funky boutiques can be found on lower floors; cheese and bread shops are in an annex across the street. Located in downtown Seattle, the market is open daily. Pike Place Market is also home to the first Starbucks store. Established in 1971 it is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Seattle.
Built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, the Space Needle has come to symbolize the Emerald City more than anything else. At 605 feet (184 meters) tall, it dominates Seattle’s skyline. A revolving observation tower sits at 520 feet above the ground, offering ever-changing views of Seattle for miles around, including Puget Sound and the far-off Olympic Mountains. A revolving restaurant is on a lower level. Sunset is a good time to ride the elevator, which climbs at the speed of 10 miles per hour, to the top to see a twinkling Seattle below.