Seattle Itinerary: Planning Guide from a Local

Seattle Itinerary: Planning Guide from a Local

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Surrounded by mountains and water on all sides, Seattle, Washington is emblematic of what makes the Pacific Northwest special. Your Seattle itinerary will let you see a thriving, young city with a world-class food and drink scene and world-class nature within two hours in any direction. It’s a great example of city life in America.

If you’re lucky enough to be in Seattle on a clear summer day, you’ll probably understand why it was the second fastest growing city in the US in 2018. You might even say to yourself “I can totally see myself living here” like the thousands of people who thought the same thing on their first visit, and ended up moving shortly thereafter.

In the face of that rapid growth, Seattle is showing signs of a city that is growing up. Like a teenager that became a foot taller overnight, Seattle is still figuring out exactly how to balance the changes and influx of wealth, while remaining true to its roots that have made the city what it is today.

Today, there are more third-wave coffee shops and speakeasy cocktail bars than I can name here. Which, by the way, is something that I am certainly not complaining about.

Within its city limits, you’ll find a booming food and drink scene that is considered one of the best in the country, countless interesting things to do and see, and a community of artists, musicians, and artisans. The last group, who have found a welcoming home in Seattle in the past, are now working through how to make their way in Seattle’s changing landscape.

It is a perfect destination for a long weekend trip – 3 days in Seattle is plenty of time to see the sights, try some of the best coffee, food, and local craft beer, and even get out and explore some of the natural beauty that serves as Seattle’s stunning backdrop.

The best time plan a Seattle itinerary is during the summer, when the weather is warm and the sky is clear. The downside of summer is that prices and crowds are high, so consider a trip in the early fall, when the leaves are changing and the weather is still good. Between November and April, expect a light drizzle and gray skies, and think about investing in a quality rain jacket and pair of waterproof boots.

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5 Things to do in Seattle

Between the art, food, and music scenes, there is plenty to pack into your Seattle itinerary for pretty much every style of traveler. Foodies and art-enthusiasts in particular will fall in love with Seattle. Here are five things you absolutely cannot miss on your weekend in Seattle.

1. Explore Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill is the most interesting neighborhood in Seattle, and is a great place to wander without a destination in mind. It’s a diverse neighborhood – the center of both the city’s LGBTQ and nightlife scene – and it is full of wood-paneled coffee shops, buzzing eateries, independent boutiques.

You’re in Seattle, so you have to head to the Starbucks’ Roastery and Reserve, which is like Disneyland for Starbucks lovers. They serve regular Starbucks drinks at the coffee bar in the center, but if you wander around you’ll find a brew bar with all sorts of funny looking coffee contraptions, and a cold brew bar that serves different cold brew concoctions, including cocktails. It’s worth a visit, but for some of the best coffee in Seattle, head a block up the street to Victrola Coffee Roasters.

The best bookstore in Seattle, Elliott Bay Book Company, is a few blocks up the street, and is a few doors down from one of the best brunch spots in Seattle, Oddfellows Cafe.

If you want to try some hard cider, make sure to stop by Capitol Cider, one of my favorite spots in Seattle, for their selection of over 200 ciders on tap and in bottles.

There is no better place include your ice cream fix in a Seattle itinerary than Capitol Hill. You have to stop by Molly Moons, a Seattle institution that has grown into an ice cream empire, with shops in all corners of the city. They have rotating seasonal flavors alongside tried and true staples, and are knowledgeable about dealing with allergies – they will use a clean scoop and head to the back for a fresh tub if you ask nicely. Salt and Straw, which is like the Molly Moons of Portland, also recently opened a shop in Capitol Hill. Last, but certainly not least, is Frankie and Jos, a relatively new player in the Capitol Hill ice cream scene that has entered with a bang with their 100% plant-based, dairy-free, gluten free ice cream offerings.

seattle itinerary marketplace

2. Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market is a must-do in your Seattle itinerary. Who knew that Seattle’s original market would become Seattle’s biggest tourist attraction? Yes, it caters to tourists. Yes, it’s sometimes a little over the top. But that definitely doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit while you’re in Seattle.

One of the things that has always impressed me is the diversity of vendors at Pike Place. From Russian to Vietnamese to Greek, the diversity of Pike Place Market provides a glimpse into how Seattle became the city that it is today.

While the market itself is well-worth exploring – you can’t miss the fish-throwing, the fresh flowers, and the candied nuts – the real highlight of Pike Place is the food and drink spots you’ll find sprinkled throughout. Definitely don’t miss Biscuit Bitch for, you guessed it, Southern-style biscuits, Beecher’s Homemade Cheese, Rachel’s Ginger Beer, and Elleno’s Real Greek Yogurt.

3. Seattle Center and the Space Needle

The next iconic sight on your Seattle itinerary is a visit to the Space Needle. You can head to the top for sweeping views of Seattle, but I’d only recommend it on a clear day, since the views are unquestionably the best part. There are plenty of other things to do and see in Seattle Center, so even if you don’t head up to the top of the Space Needle you should stop by.

The Pacific Science Center is a perfect spot to spend a rainy day with kids in Seattle – I remember loving the countless class trips that took us there growing up.

For adults, particularly art lovers, head to Chihuly Garden and Glass, an art exhibition featuring glass sculptures of all shapes and sizes from artist Dale Chihuly, or the Museum of Pop Culture, which is an ode to all things pop culture from the past century and is my favorite of the three museums.

<<< CLICK HERE for tips on Getting the Most Out of a Museum

While you’re there, don’t miss La Marzocco Cafe inside the KEXP building. Whether you like your coffee black or you want to try an adventurous coffee concoction (sometimes with booze), you’ll find it here. They bring in a new coffee roaster from around the world every month, and the space is a nice spot to hang out for a few minutes in between tourist attractions at Seattle Center.

4. Take the Ferry to Bainbridge Island

seattle itinerary ferry

One of the most unique things to add to a Seattle itinerary is to take a ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island and spend a morning getting a taste of Island life – but not the Hawaiian kind. On a clear day, the ferry ride just might be the highlight of your Seattle trip, with views back towards downtown Seattle, and across the Puget Sound to the Olympic Mountains to the west.

Bainbridge Island is a small community that is just a 30 minute ferry ride from Downtown Seattle. You definitely don’t need a car to spend a morning wandering, shopping, and exploring. Grab the ferry, which comes every 90 minutes or so (schedule here), and make sure to stand outside for part of the ride to soak in the views.

When you get to the island, walk up the street into the quaint downtown area.

Grab coffee and a pastry at Blackbird Bakery (if you want better pastries) or Pegasus Coffee (if you want better coffee), and then wander into Eagle Harbor Books across the street. Still hungry, or want something more substantial than a pastry? Head over to Good Egg for a hearty brunch. Next, wander the streets past countless boutiques and do some window (or real) shopping – don’t miss Pelindaba Lavender and Salt House Mercantile, two of the best shops in the area.

Before grabbing the ferry back to Seattle, grab Neapolitan-style pizza at Bruciato and a locally-brewed beer at Bainbridge Island Brewing’s Alehouse.

5. Get Out of the City

One of the best things to do in Seattle is, well, leave.

Outside the city, drive in any direction and you’ll find some of the most incredible outdoor activities in the country. To the South, Mt. Rainier towers above the city, and on a clear day sets up one of the best views in Seattle (read on for where to find that view). To the West, you’ve got the Olympic Peninsula, and east is the Cascade Range and Snoqualmie Pass, home to some of the best day hikes near Seattle.

You’ll need a car to explore nature outside Seattle. If you don’t have one, either book a guided tour that includes transportation, or explore the green spaces within Seattle’s city limits. Head for Discovery Park, Greenlake, or Golden Gardens Park, which is the place to be for sunset in Seattle.

4 Things to Eat and Drink in Seattle

In a city full of culinary innovation and artisans, it’s hard to go wrong with a foodie Seattle itinerary. Strolling through Capitol Hill, Ballard, and Fremont, it seems like there’s a brewery, coffee shop, or highly-rated restaurant on every corner.

Here are four things to eat and drink as part of your Seattle itinerary.

1. Tom Douglas

Tom Douglas is a local legend – a chef and restaurateur who won a James Beard Award in 2012, and now has countless restaurants all over Seattle that both locals and visitors flock to. My picks are Lola, which serves Mediterranean cuisine in the heart of Downtown Seattle and is a perfect spot for brunch (don’t miss the donuts!) or dinner (definitely order the haloumi & fig kebab), Serious Pie for some seriously good pizza (see what I did there?), and the Dahlia Bakery, where you can find the now-famous Triple Coconut Cream Pie.

2. Craft Beer and Cider

Like I mentioned, walking around Seattle you’ll find a growing number of breweries, cideries, and other craft beverages. These newer locations are building on the success of the last generation of Seattle breweries – the Red Hooks and Stones of the world – that have since made it big.

The best of the smaller local breweries are Stoup Brewing and Reuben’s Brews, both in Ballard, and Fremont Brewing, which is in the Fremont neighborhood. Cloudburst Brewing is a great, central option, located just a few blocks from Pike Place Market.

If you’re looking to eat and drink gluten free in Seattle, absolutely do not miss Ghostfish Brewing Company, a 100% gluten free brewery and pub in Seattle. They make amazing gluten free beer that you wouldn’t even know was made without barley, and their completely gluten free menu of leveled-up pub food like beer battered fish and chips and a burger with bone marrow aioli are worth a stop, even if you don’t need to eat gluten free.

3. Il Corvo

In Pioneer Square, you’ll find a hole in the wall with a near-constant line out the door. That hole in the wall is Il Corvo, another of Seattle’s institutions, that pasta-lovers cannot miss while they’re in Seattle. They are only open 11-3, Monday to Friday, and they serve exactly three rotating pastas alongside some sides, like house made focaccia. That’s it. It’s incredible, and it will probably be your best meal in Seattle. Get there early – the line starts at 10:30am in anticipation of their 11am opening.

seattle itinerary coffeeshop

4. Coffee...duh!

Do you know what else you’ll find on every corner in Seattle? Starbucks. The global coffee conglomerate got its start in Seattle, and while their coffee isn’t the best around, they paved the way for the coffee roasters that are producing spectacular coffee in Seattle. They helped to bring cafe culture to the mainstream, and that has created a crazy number of good coffee shops that must be a part of your Seattle itinerary.

First, if you’re in town on a Friday morning and you love coffee, I HIGHLY recommend heading to Pioneer Square and Counter Culture Coffee’s Seattle Training Center and checking out their free Tasting at Ten. You’ll dive deep into one of their coffees, tasting and learning as you go.

If you’re downtown, head to Elm Coffee Roasters near Pioneer Square or Victrola’s downtown location near Westlake Center.

Near the Space Needle, the aforementioned La Marzocco Cafe is your best bet.

In Capitol Hill, head to Victrola’s Flagship or Espresso Vivace’s stand-up espresso bar, a Seattle institution.

3 Places to Stay in Seattle

The best place to stay in Seattle for most people is Capitol Hill. It’s central, and full of amazing shops, restaurants, bars, and nightlife. What more could you possibly ask for? You could spend an entire weekend in Seattle JUST exploring Capitol Hill. Your best bet in the area is to find an Airbnb – there are not too many hotels in the area – and your Seattle itinerary can include experiencing the neighborhood like a local.

1. Luxury: Hotel Ballard

The Hotel Ballard is one of the more-elegant hotels in Seattle. It is located in Ballard, one of the cooler neighborhoods in Seattle. Features amazing views of the Olympic Mountains, and a high standard of service.

A stay here is not cheap, but you will be treated very well. Note that Ballard is outside the Downtown Seattle corridor, so be prepared for longer travel times. 

2. Boutique: State Hotel

If you want to stay Downtown, right in the middle of all the action, stay at the State Hotel, which is right across the street from Pike Place Market and is housed in a famous building that has been completely remodeled and turned into one of the best boutique hotels in Seattle.

3. Budget: Ballard Inn

Also located in the Ballard neighborhood, the Ballard Inn offers good accommodations at a decent price. Rooms have a shared bathroom, but there are basic amenities like a 24-hour front desk.

2 Must-Capture Instagram Spots

Can you really travel anywhere without posting on the ‘gram? #No

Head to these spots and choose your best filter to impress your friends about your Seattle itinerary.

seattle itinerary skyline

1. Mt. Rainier from Kerry Park

The best Instagram spot in Seattle, hands down, is the view of Mount Rainier from Kerry Park, just up the hill from the Space Needle (it’s walkable, but steep). From there, you get a view of the Space Needle, Downtown Seattle, and Mount Rainier in the background. Head up for sunset, and stay once the sun goes down for a nighttime view of the city.

2. Pike Place Market Gum Wall

Another must-capture spot is the famous gum wall at Pike Place Market, which is pretty gross if you really stop to think about it, but makes for a nice photo. Get there early in the morning to capture both the Pike Place Market sign and the gum wall without the hordes of tourists. Plus, that’s the best time to explore the market anyway.

seattle itinerary skyline

1 Insider Seattle Travel Tip

Lots of people will tell you “you HAVE to visit the first Starbucks! It’s at Pike Place Market.”

Know what happens next? Maury steps out from behind them and says “THE LIE DETECTOR DETERMINED THAT WAS A LIE!”

First of all, that is not the first Starbucks, it’s just the oldest remaining Starbucks. Second of all, it’s literally the same as every other Starbucks you’ve ever been to, which means it’s DEFINITELY not worth the hour-long wait you might run into at peak times.

Instead, walk over to nearby Cafe Ladro for much better locally-roasted coffee.

author photo

Author's Bio

Matt Hansen is the founder, writer and editor behind Wheatless Wanderlust. He has been diagnosed with Celiac Disease since his freshman year of college in 2008. Since then, he has been around the world and back. He wants to inspire you to fearlessly and safely have unforgettable gluten free travel experiences.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Eric Gamble

    Haha, luckily enough I am not a big coffee person so when I went to Seattle with my mom, we saw the line at that Starbucks you mention in your Insider Seattle tip and just laughed at all the people standing in line.
    But my wife Darcee loves Starbucks so great tip on finding Ladros.
    When I went with my mom, we did a lot of the touristy stuff which was really fun like the pier, the market, & the space needle. I really enjoyed a lot of that. I do wish we had taken the ferry from Seattle to Bainbridge Island but we saw some of that when we took our cruise to Alaska. Though a day on Bainbridge may be a fun experience. I think also Darcee would really enjoy all of the beer and cider halls on this seattle itinerary planning guide. I do wish you added more music locations though. I am an outdoorsman but I feel that Seattle had such a unique music scene that goes beyond the EMP museum.

  2. Jackie S.

    It’s been a few years since my last trip to Seattle. Your 3 days Seattle itinerary covers the main highlights of the city. I still haven’t been to the top of the Space Needle or the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit. I love the colorful and whimsical look of Chiluly’s artwork. The one thing that is on my bucket list is to hike up Mount Rainier or at least do a day hike on one of the lower altitude trails. I realized that Mount Rainer’s summit is 14,411 feet so that will require some altitude training. Can’t wait to re-visit Seattle.

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