Spend time in Seattle, and you know it’s true: the city is growing, and fast. New tech money and workers are causing high rises to pop-up faster than pop-up chefs doing delicious dinners, and everywhere you look, there’s something hip happening.
Simultaneously, Seattle is getting its act together about public transit, and finally extending the Link Light Rail train, plus adding new above-ground transportation options. To celebrate this, I’ve gone deep – 4,600 words deep – on the best spots to enjoy anywhere along the three main Seattle train lines. Whether you’re headed to the airport, commuting, or just looking to explore a new area, this is your guide to what I consider the best spots near each and every stop on Seattle’s train lines.
Seattle Train Lines
Okay, let’s be real: Seattle does not have a good system for classifying what I should call the different public transit referenced in this post. We call it the Link Light Rail, the South Lake Union Trolley, and the First Hill Streetcar. Dude, Seattle, just pick one. I’m calling them trains, which I’m sure is crap for SEO in this case.
In addition to these trains, there are others like the Sounder and Amtrak trains; both of these only stop at King Street Station (near the International District), so I chose not to include them. I also chose not to include the Monorail, which is a definite omission – I’d rather give it a separate post, to be honest, because I find the Monorail so fascinating!
Finally, there are some unique terms I use here, namely related to the types of transport that service each area. Here’s a quick guide, and trust me, it will help you from getting confused.
- Link = Link Light Rail
- SLUT = South Lake Union Trolley
- FHS = First Hill Streetcar
(Yes, you can say you want to “ride the SLUT.”)
Map to Seattle Train Lines
When it came time to show you exactly how Seattle’s budding train system looks, I found that I didn’t actually like any of the official maps. They were confusing, overlaid with unnecessary information, and intimidating for those unfamiliar with the area.
So I made my own.
At right, you’ll find my hand drawn and painted map showing the major stops I cover in this guide. Not all stops are shown – especially on the First Hill Streetcar, stops are often so close together than a single denotation was sufficient to cover the area.
Feel free to download the higher resolution for reference; I’ve also added small thumbnails for each destination below as you work through the guide.
As you browse my recommendations for each area or neighborhood, you’ll see I’ve added an emoji to give you a quick sense of what that place is all about. I had to be a bit simplistic for some (i.e. I lumped in distilleries with cocktail bars because it’s all booze), but it’s better than wondering what “The Station” specializes in. Hint: it’s ☕!
🍸- cocktail bar
☕️ – coffee shop
🍰 – dessert
💆🏻 – massage/spa
🎭 – museum/history
🍻 – pub/beer bar
🍽 – restaurant
🛍 – shopping
⚽️ – sports/fitness
Okay, okay, let’s get to it! Here are my top 3 spots at every stop along Seattle’s train lines.
Accessed by: SLUT
The SLUT makes four stops on its loop through the heart of the Amazon campus; the latter has resulted in so many amazing restaurants and businesses in the South Lake Union area that choosing just three is mighty hard to do.
Re:public makes the list as a particular favorite of mine: it’s where Mr. Valise and I met on our first date! It combines the best elements of industrial chic with delicious food and a cute small sidewalk cafe when the weather is warm.
Ten on 9th 🍸
Ten on 9th offers food (self-classified as ‘New American’), but their strength is in their cocktails. Whether you’re clocking off a hackathon at Amazon or just visiting on vacay, their signature cocktails crafted with house-made infusions are sure to work some magic.
The Wurst Place 🍽
I love sausage — I can’t help it; my ancestors were Austrian and German, if you go far enough back, so I’m gonna play the genetics card. Luckily places like The Wurst Place are close at hand with their 20 sausage options, plus bier and frites to my heart’s desire.
Accessed by: Link
Taking the Link through Beacon Hill is deceiving: it’s the only subterranean station once you get out of downtown Seattle, so it’s hard to get a sense for what you could spend time doing in the area. Luckily, once you ascend from the station, there are plenty of delicious options.
El Quetzal 🍽
El Quetzal is my favorite kind of Mexican restaurant: unabashedly authentic and not trying to elevate most of the dishes above their status (which is to say, amazing comfort food that doesn’t need fancy china to be enjoyed). They also offer huge margaritas, which is of course my favorite part.
The Station ☕
You have to be willing to get out of downtown to find cool places with space to unwind: The Station is just one of those places with their big ‘front yard,’ and its proximity to the Link makes it so much easier to reach. They have all the necessities of a coffee shop: pastries, tea, wifi, and of course, the coffee we Seattleites can’t live without.
Tippe and Drague Alehouse 🍻
My life rule: any place with ‘alehouse’ in the name is probably going to be worth going to. The craft beer menu at Tippe and Drague Alehouse regularly rotates local and regional specialties, and their food is all made sustainably.
Accessed by: Link, FHS
Everybody loves Capitol Hill, and for good reason: it’s one remaining bastion of what makes Seattle so lovable and weird. The brand new Link Light Rail station, plus the recent start of the First Hill Streetcar, suddenly connected Capitol Hill to other parts of the city in fantastic new ways. No matter how you get here, there are too many options of cool spots to choose from. These three are my faves.
Dick’s Drive-In 🍽
If you’ve ever seen Macklemore’s ‘White Walls‘ music video, you know Dick’s Drive-In. If you ask any Seattleite, they know Dick’s Drive-In. This old-school super-cheap drive-in restaurant is Seattle institution, and the Capitol Hill location is one of the most popular (especially after a night out on the Hill). Whether you’re visiting or local, grab some cash and enjoy this beloved cheeseburger & shake joint.
Nacho Borracho 🍽
Personally, I love Nacho Borracho for two reasons, and it’s hard to decide which I should say first. So… Tot-cho-Avocado-Margaritas-on-tap. Yep, they have nachos that use tater tots as a base, and you can sip an Avocado Margarita that comes from a slushie tap while you eat them. It’s a divey, funky spot right in the heart of Broadway, and it gets packed on weekends.
Witness is single-handedly responsible for the worst hangover I’ve had in Seattle. I opted for the Divine Intervention (actually several of them), which left me at the mercy of a bartender mixing spirits into truly divine cocktails. They commit hard to the Southern Baptist vibe, and offer gourmet comfort foods on the menu and pews to sit in. It’s a place with personality, to be sure.
Accessed by: FHS
The new First Hill streetcar makes the tiniest of forays into the Central District, so I wouldn’t consider these recommendations a sweeping guide for the options in the neighborhood. Instead, these are options within close walking distance, should you want to start exploring the area more.
Cheeky Cafe 🍰
You can eat at Cheeky Cafe any time of day, but if you’re hopping off the First Hill Streetcar to enjoy time in the Central District, time it to enjoy brunch here: they rock a double menu of ‘sweet’ and ‘savory’ options that are both small-town diner style, and big city fancy.
Humble Pie 🍽
You won’t find apple or lemon merengue on the menu, but that’s no reason to skip Humble Pie: their pizza menu is wildly ambitious featuring such combos as pulled pork/onions/Beecher’s mozz and apple/bacon. They are a great summer spot (beautiful outdoor seating) and four taps of rotating beer. They’re actually way more humble than they should be, given how awesome the place is.
Meng’s Dream Foot Massage 💆🏻
I always keep my ear to the ground on good, affordable massage places, and Meng’s Dream Foot Massage is definitely one of those. Their massages go deep, and focus on your feet, shoulders, and back.
Accessed by: Link
Before recently, I had never had reason to explore Columbia City, and my impressions based on riding through on the Link Light Rail didn’t suggest there was anything to explore. When I found myself on Rainier Avenue instead of Martin Luther King Jr. (where the Link runs), I was shocked: Columbia City is happening. Smart money says that within 10 years, it’ll be one of the cool places to be.
Empire Espresso ☕
Empire Espresso also has a Capitol Hill location, but their Columbia City one is homey and heavily caffeinated. They also feature delicious local waffles and pastries that you can use for a fueling option while shopping the area, or if you’re setting up for a day of freelance work.
Full Tilt Ice Cream 🍰
The name for Full Tilt Ice Cream has less to do with the dessert and more with the fun you’ll have while eating said sweet: each of their four locations (in addition to their Columbia City location, they’re in Ballard, White Center, and the U-District) has pinball, arcade games, and live music. Oh, and they also serve beer. It’s an adult’s playground!
Salted Sea 🍽
Taking advantage of Seattle’s great seafood options, Salted Sea is one of the restaurants that I believe is helping transform Columbia City into a Brooklyn-esque neighborhood south of the city. They offer regular chef’s table dinners and their menu is heavy on local suppliers and sources.
Accessed by: SLUT
The Eastlake stop for the SLUT is kind of a bit farther south than is most helpful for exploring the neighborhood, but if you’re still reading, I’m going to assume your adventurous nature outweighs your desire to remain sedentary… which is to say: Let’s go for a walk! Eastlake is the spot to do that.
Blind Pig Bistro 🍽
When a neighborhood gets a restaurant like Blind Pig Bistro, you know it’s on the rise. Their whole-menu tasting menu ($40-50 depending on the seasonality and current menu) is a great way to enjoy the diversity and expertise that the chef brings to this hip spot. The menu also changes frequently, hence their reliance on a chalkboard instead of printed menus.
5 Lights Acupuncture 💆🏻
5 Lights Acupuncture is a distinctly alternative, holistic treatment business; they offer acuptuncture, Tui Na massage (traditional Chinese “pinch and pull”), and sound baths. They also focus on education to ensure that you understand the benefits of the services and how they will help. It’s a super professional approach that keeps people coming back time and again.
Seattle Caviar Company 🍽
I’ve never been in a place quite like Seattle Caviar Company: their focus is solely on educating and providing delicious, sustainable caviar to Seattleites looking for a little indulgence (they also sell truffles and foie gras). They have a great tasting menu (try 5-6 caviars) on Thursday evenings, if you want to try before you by.
Accessed by: Link, FHS
Seattle’s International District was one of the first neighborhoods I explored, as my first job was located right on the west boundary of the area. There are so many hidden gems here that even I don’t know… it’s just worth exploring even if these recommendations don’t appeal to you.
Kinokuniya Japanese Bookstore 🛍
Located inside the same building as Uwajimaya Market, Kinokuniya Japanese Bookstore is what every bookstore should be: filled with notebooks and other items to geek out over, as well as lots of books. They are also heaven for any anime/manga fan.
Ping’s Dumpling House 🍽
Ping’s Dumpling House is my hands-down absolute favorite place for one and only one thing: Xiao Long Bao (Shanghai soup) dumplings. This hole-in-the-wall is rough around the edges, and cash-only under $20, but you can watch the dumplings being hand made in the back, and they taste exactly like how I remember them in China.
Seattle Best Tea Company ☕
Most Seattleites are all about that coffee stuff, but you can stop into Seattle Best Tea Company for samples, tea ceremonies, tea service, or to buy fresh tea in bulk. Whatever type of tea you secretly love to drink when you don’t want coffee, they probably have it.
Accessed by: Link
Ah, Mount Baker. Most people miss you as they’re still blinking in the bright light that blasts through the windows of the Link after emerging from the Beacon Hill tunnel. Never fear, I will help remind people to stop and explore your neighborhood!
Cafe Ibex 🍽
Seattle is home to some surprisingly awesome Ethiopian food, and Cafe Ibex is in the heart of the Little Addis Ababa sub-neighborhood near Mount Baker. Their decor may be Western, but the food is authentic in all the right flavors and ingredients.
Jenny Dailey LMP 💆🏻
Jenny Dailey may be a one woman show (and Licensed Massage Practicioner), but she offers basically any kind of massage you might want or need, from deep tissue and Swedish to reflexology and neuro-muscular therapy. She also offers cupping, ice massage, and even does house calls for established patients. If you need help to unwind after a stressful day in Seattle, she can help.
While it doesn’t stand out in a flashy or marketing way (they don’t even have a website), Viengthong may offer some of the best Laotian and Thai food in the Seattle area. Their menu offers all the standards and a few creative options too.
Accessed by: Link
The most that most people know of Othello is a small line in a Macklemore song (yes, I’m referencing him again!): “Didn’t wanna get caught, from Genesee Park to Othello” (Wings). Through my brief passings through, I’ve come to realize that while we call the International District “international,” Othello is truly international. Take that as you will, but if you’re looking for ethnic food, it’s basically unbeatable.
Othello Wok & Teriyaki 🍽
Maybe you have a neighborhood fave Chinese joint, but if you don’t – or you’re willing to hop on a train for dinner – head down to Othello Wok & Teriyaki. Their portion sizes are huge and their prices are reasonable. They also serve a delicious Chicken Katsu which is my favorite!
Thai Savon 🍽
Thai Savon is another place that should rank right near the top of the best Laotian/Thai restaurants in Seattle. Their focus on using fresh ingredients to make ethnic classics on a seasonal menu is uncommon among similar establishments, and you can taste it in every bite.
The Cajun Crawfish 🍽
‘Get your fingers messy’ at the Cajun Crawfish, who serve amazing fresh seafood with all the flavors of Nawlins. Their brightly colored interior matches the bursts of vibrant flavor, and their Happy Hour menu is respectably delicious.
Accessed by: Link, FHS
At one point, Pioneer Square was the kind of place you never went, and especially not at night. There are still seedy parts, but there is also a huge revival happening — especially along the main arterials like 1st, 3rd, and Jackson. Now, there are way more than just three spots to visit, and that momentum is going to continue for at least the next 5-10 years.
Damn the Weather 🍸
Since it opened, Damn the Weather has been leading the charge in proving that long-time seedy neighborhoods can turn around. Their cocktails are worth waiting for, and regardless of the precipitation outside, it’s always the perfect time to stop by and warm up in their hip 1st Ave spot.
Salumi is a restaurant that people line up down the block for: chef Mario Batali’s father, Armando Batali owns this sliver of a sandwich shop on the edge of the neighborhood. They specialize in artisan cured meats, and their sandwich menu changes with their stock. Needless to say, whatever’s on the menu is worth having.
Seattle Underground 🎭
Some people might think it’s cheesy, but I love the Seattle Underground tour. I’m definitely a nerd for history, and not only learning about the city beneath our feet, but getting to explore it (with a guide) is definitely one of my favorite “tourist” activities. Also, their ‘adults only’ Underworld tour kicks it up a notch and includes a cocktail.
Accessed by: Link
THERE IS NOTHING.
You think I’m joking? Here’s what Yelp has to offer. Google shows literally no businesses around the station.
I’m sorry, Rainier Beach. I really tried. Maybe in like 25 years, this place will be hopping, but for now… carry on.
Accessed by: Link
I know you’re thinking: but V, it’s the airport. What could possibly be worth doing there? And I hear ya, generally speaking. Luckily, Seattle has so me pretty amazing things to do at our airport. All of these things are on the other side of the security, but assuming you’re at the airport to do, ya know, airport things, this won’t be a problem.
Alaska Lodge 🍻
For many people, arriving at Seatac airport may be the first chance they have to enjoy one of the greatest things about being on the western side of the Rockies: Alaskan Brewing Company beer. Okay, maybe not one of the greatest, but definitely on my list. The food at Alaska Lodge is airport-quality, but having fresh, delicious beer on tap means eventually you won’t care anymore.
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese 🍽
You can also find Beecher’s main store at Pike Place Market, but having a chance to grab some as a gift or souvenir is a great option when you’re at the airport. They don’t have the comprehensive tastings and other delicious events, but they do have plenty of cheesy goodness.
If you forgot a crucial piece of clothing for your travel adventures, or even if you didn’t, the ExOfficio store in Seatac is worth swinging by. This Seattle company makes some of the best travel clothing in the world (I reviewed them here!), and most of it rolls up small enough to not disturb your carry-on.
Accessed by: Link
I have a secret soft spot for SODO: I think it’s going to be ‘the place to be’ in about 15 years when the city stops developing residentially in South Lake Union and starts spreading south. This will especially be true if the city grants permits to put in another stadium. There are a few amazing spots here now, but in years to come, this will only increase.
2bar Spirits 🍸
SODO is fast becoming a hub for two things: weed, and great distilled spirits (which you know means I’m right when I say the hipsters will soon follow!). 2bar is a small, private distillery you could easily miss, but they do some amazing spirits, especially their moonshine.
Emerald City Trapeze Arts ⚽
If you’ve ever dreamed of sailing through the air with effortless ease, you may want to stop and take a few classes at Emerald City Trapeze Arts before you do. They are both a school and performance group, and offer classes, shows, and events (“sing and swing” trapeze karaoke anyone?)
Westland Distillery 🍸
Westland was my first experience of Seattle’s now-blossoming whiskey distilling scene, and I’ll always have a soft spot for their now-discontinued Deacon Seat line. Their tasting room is beautiful, they’re doing amazing things with peat and sherry casks, and they definitely offer tours and tastings. What’s not to love?
South Lake Union
Accessed by: SLUT
Okay, a point of clarification: when I referred to Amazonia, I meant the blocks between Mercer and Denny where the majority of the Amazon campus is housed. When I refer to South Lake Union, I mean the area north of Mercer and south of the lake. You know, actually South Lake Union. It’s a small space, but the development coming in (as well as some Seattle institutions like Daniel’s Broiler) are helping make it worthy of its own stop.
Cask & Trotter 🍽
A hip little local, I like going to Cask & Trotter for trivia with friends. They’ve got a great menu that features sliders and bacon mac & cheese in an ice cream bowl. Like many places in the SLU area, it’s pretty quiet and that makes it all the more enjoyable (no fighting to get to the bar!).
Center for Wooden Boats 🎭
You don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy the Center for Wooden Boats: you can explore the public docks and learn the history of several of the ships from nearby placards. Or, rent a wooden boat for an afternoon adventure on Lake Union, if you’re feeling up for it.
Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) 🎭
One of the most interesting museums in the city, in my opinion (which if you’ve made it this far, you must care about!), MOHAI is a great chance to learn about the natural and economic forces that shaped the city and state. They also have frequent museum nights on specific topics that serve cocktails. Cocktails in a museum are my favorite!
Accessed by: Link
Similar to SODO, Stadium is going to blossom in the next decade. Seattleites love our sports, and we are happy to pump money into the industries that support them. This makes Stadium a good contender for the next rounds of massive development, which will only improve the choices for spots to visit here.
3 Howls Distillery 🍸
If you’re looking for a comprehensive distillery where you can learn about and enjoy every spirit (except tequila), 3 Howls is a great choice with their rum, vodka, gin, and whiskey. They regularly have fun variants like blood orange vodka and aged gin, and offer tasting tours.
Century Link Field ⚽
Most people would assume I’m going to say “head to Century Link for a Seahawks game WOOO!” but if you haven’t noticed, I selected a soccer ball for the sports symbol. So head to Century Link for a Sounders game WOOO!
Joe’s Gourmet Hot Dogs 🍽
After that Sounders game I just mentioned, pop down onto Occidental Ave and grab two Seattle dogs from Joe’s Gourmet Hot Dogs. At 2-for-$5 post-game, you can enjoy all the spicy sausage, smoky grilled onions, and creamy cream cheese you want before your next adventure. They also name their hot dogs after different Sounders players, so you know they’re the best.
Tukwila International Airport Boulevard
Accessed by: Link
When I set out to write this guide, I swore I’d try and find a positive thing to say about every stop… but dang, Tukwila, you make it hard. Unfortunately, there’s virtually nothing within walking distance of the station other than gas stations, fast food restaurants, and the car rental hub for SeaTac. Wait, that’s a good thing! Walk over, rent a car, then check out these places within a few minutes drive of Tukwila International Airport Boulevard Station.
Mike’s Community Cup ☕
Good coffee shops – I mean the kind where you can sit down, enjoy your drink, and get some freelance writing done – can be hard to find, but Mike’s Community Cup has a good setup going. They also offer delicious sandwiches for breakfast (a real croissan’wich!) and lunch.
The Pancake Chef Restaurant 🍽
The Pancake Chef is a Tukwila area institution: they don’t have frills, but they do have great food and good service. They offer standard diner style breakfast and brunch options, and because you’re out of the city, are at a price you can actually enjoy.
Taqueria El Rinconsito 🍽
Sweet Mexican food is my favorite, and Taquelia El Rinconsito has a huge menu that meets my every need. Whether it’s enchiladas, camarones, or margaritas, this family-friendly establishment is a solid choice if you’re spending time in the Tukwila area.
Accessed by: Link
As the second new stop on the northern extension of the Link Light Rail (the other being Capitol Hill), I’m really excited for access via easy public transit to the U-District. Why? This neighborhood could be considered the front porch of the University of Washington and has a bit of ‘college town feel.’ It also has super cheap happy hours. (What? I’m a freelancer; I gotta save where I can!)
In answer to our resounding pleas for In & Out Burger this far up the coast, CaliBurger opened in the U-District and offered everything we wanted and more (spiked milkshakes!). How this place isn’t constantly crowded is beyond me.
Portage Bay Café ☕️
Portage Bay is one of the many amazing brunch options you can find in the city, but they’re excellently placed if you decide to channel your former college days and need a little something to soak up the hangover. Opt for anything and make it custom with the Breakfast Bar.
Ugly Mug Cafe ☕
Most people think of Starbucks when they think about Seattle coffee companies, and that’s okay – I love supporting Starbucks too. Sometimes, you want a funky eclectic coffee shop instead, and that’s where Ugly Mug Cafe comes into the picture. They imbibe what makes Seattle nearly as weird as Portland, and roast all their own coffee (also available for purchase).
Accessed by: Link
Not to be confused with University District, University Street station is smack in the heart of downtown Seattle. You can easily walk to other areas in this guide from the station, but in case you don’t feel like hiking up and down the massive hills, here are three close spots.
Calozzi’s Cheesesteaks 🍽
Some sandwiches are hard to find done right outside of their native environment, but Calozzi’s makes a damn good Philly Cheesesteak on this side of the Mississippi. Whether you want a flavor of home or culinary inspiration for your next trip, they fit the bill.
I’m not sure how I discovered Gelatiamo, but I quickly fell in love with their pastry and gelato options – of which there are many! On a sunny day, you can sit on their side patio and people-watch in the heart of downtown.
Seattle Public Library 🎭
The Seattle Public Library main branch is a stunning piece of architectural design, nevermind the fact that it houses some of the world’s great literary treasures inside its gem-like structure. In some ways, this building is worth exploring for the views out the windows alone.
Accessed by: Link, SLUT
Last, but certainly not least, is Westlake Station. Westlake is the heart of the Sound Transit system: it’s the hub of the hub-and-spoke system for buses, and until recently, was the northern terminus of the Link and southern terminus of the SLUT. All to say: there’s lots to do! Here are some options.
Pike Place Market 🛍
It’s somewhat fitting that the last place on this behemoth guide is one of Seattle’s most popular attractions. You may not want to visit midday on a weekend, but Pike Place Market is a great – real, authentic, affordable – market for us downtown folks. They have so many amazing food vendors, and host delicious events in the Atrium Kitchen too.
Suite 410 🍸
Suite 410 is a hidden cocktail bar right on the border between downtown and Belltown, and my favorite part of drinking in their fine establishment is that their menu is inspired by films. They’re good enough to draw a crowd, but hidden enough that I’ve never had difficulty finding a seat.
Westlake Park 🎭
When I moved to Seattle, Westlake Park was still a place I avoided; now it’s one of those cute city parks where business folks eat lunch from local food trucks and families play in the jungle gym nearby older residents playing chess. I’m so glad the city reclaimed this space for everyone to enjoy!
…And that’s not all! While researching this piece, I found out that in the next few years, we will also be adding a ‘city connector’ line between Belltown and Pioneer Square, and there’s a proposal to add West Seattle and Ballard to the Link. Sounds like the perfect time to start exploring the city by train/streetcar/trolley!