By the end of my first trip to Seattle, I knew I was in love – a little over a year later, I would call the Emerald City home. Though I only spent one day in Seattle on my first trip, I had a chance to see that there are a lot of really special things about this city tucked away in the Pacific Northwest.
Whether you’ve been to Seattle before or are making your first trip – and whether you’re making a day trip or taking advantage of time in Seattle before/after an Alaska cruise, it is possible to have the same experience I did with one day in Seattle, Washington. As I lived in Seattle for four years after that first trip, I can show you how!
Read on for two one-day Seattle itineraries. One is for those short on time; the other is a full day that’s brimming with stereotypical Seattle experiences and local spots I discovered during my time living there. No matter how you choose to spend your one day in Seattle, I’m pretty confident you’ll love it too!
Seattle Travel Tips
Before I give away all my itinerary secrets, a couple quick notes. I always like to provide travel tips before my itinerary, to answer any burning questions you might have before you have them. I’m a mind-reader (or I’ve just answered 50 emails with these questions and I want you to be a satisfied reader).
When to Visit Seattle
It always rains in Seattle, right? Actually, I’ll let you in on a local’s secret… (I can share this now that I don’t live there anymore because they can’t kick me out for spilling the beans.)
It doesn’t rain that much in Seattle. ? It is grey a lot, but it’s not umbrella weather for 365 days a year.
The best season to visit Seattle is summer, of course. Between May and September, you’ll as likely experience glorious sunny days and blue skies as the notorious grey drizzle the locals want us to believe happens every day.
Where to Stay in Seattle
Seattle Neighborhood to Stay In
My post about where to stay in Seattle is now live (click to read!), but for now, let me point you to a few neighborhoods:
- Belltown. Next to downtown, Belltown is my old neighborhood. There are a few more budget-friendly options in Belltown, and you’re still near all the sightseeing spots and most popular attractions.
- Lower Queen Anne. A little further from downtown, this residential neighborhood is home to the Seattle Center including the Space Needle. You can find good deals in this area from time to time.
- Ballard. Once its own community, now-mostly-integrated Ballard is one of Seattle’s ultra-cool neighborhoods. You’re further from the sights and crowds and it’ll cost a little less – but there’s plenty of local flavor here.
Whether you love the room service and housekeeping of a hotel or the independence and homey-ness of an vacation rental, here are my top suggestions for where to stay in Seattle.
Recommended Hotels in Seattle
Seattle has some great hotels, so it’s pretty hard to choose which ones to recommend.
- The Edgewater is arguably Seattle’s most famous and iconic hotel. Located right on the waterfront, it’s also a total splurge if you want a water view (up to $800 per night!). Rooms start at $181 per night (off-season) with city views; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- On my last trip to Seattle, I stayed at the recently renovated Hotel Theodore. I loved the historic patents printed on the wall as art, and the turn of the century design aesthetic that Teddy Roosevelt himself would have recognized. Rooms start at $209 per night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- The Ace Hotel is easy to miss – but it’s actually the first Ace Hotel of them all, and shows you where this iconic hotel brand got its start. It’s also in my favorite neighborhood, Belltown. Rooms start at $249 per night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
- The Fairmont Olympic is right in the heart of downtown, plus has all the luxury touches of the Fairmont brand. I stayed in a suite here on a trip to Seattle in March 2018, and even with construction outside (it’s Seattle, after all!), I couldn’t hear a thing during our stay. Rooms start at $389 per night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com.
Recommended Vacation Rentals in Seattle
Over the years, the vacation rentals in Seattle have improved a ton, and now there are some great options:
- Bright Belltown Condo – After living in LQA, I moved to Belltown, which is where this vacation rental is located. Super accessible by walking or bus, there are some great restaurants in the area too, and you can easily get to Pike Place Market. From $135 per night.
- South Lake Union Condo – I have never lived in South Lake Union, but it’s the place to be (aka Amazon central). Also great accessibility on foot or using the South Lake Union Transit (yes, we call it the SLUT), and there are tons of restaurants and bars. From $160 per night.
- Luxury One-Bedroom, Five Minutes from Pike Place – If you want to be right in downtown Seattle with all the personality and character it has to offer, this is the place – it’s in Belltown, one of my favorite Seattle neighborhoods! From $183 per night.
What to Pack for Seattle
Seattle has moved beyond its grunge phase… mostly. Actually, it’s a healthy mix of the same casual fashion you’ll find all along the West Coast. My main advice of what to pack for Seattle is to plan for cool, rainy weather but with layers:
- A rain shell never goes wrong
- Using a hip waterproof day pack will protect your gear
- These cool black boots will handle puddles as well as walking around all day
- If you want even more Seattle knowledge, the Lonely Planet guidebook is a worthy investment (Pro tip: it’s available for free with a 30-day trial of Kindle Unlimited!)
If you need extra tips, be sure to check my Seattle packing list post all about the subject.
One Day in Seattle: An Itinerary for Cruisers with a Few Hours
The first Seattle itinerary I have is for those of you who are only planning to visit Seattle as part of an Alaska cruise that starts or ends here. I’ve put together a truncated itinerary that allows you to see the ‘Greatest Hits of Seattle’ but still make it to your cruise ship or plane home on time.
Whether you’re flying into Seattle on the morning of your cruise, disembarking from your cruise, or you book a one-night stay in Seattle before embarking, this itinerary will help you make the most of one day in Seattle!
10am – Breakfast at Pike Place Market
The iconic Pike Place Market is one of Seattle’s top destinations, but it gets increasingly crowded as the day wears on. By the time you’re ready to start sightseeing, most of the market will be setup and you can grab breakfast. Since you’re on vacation, why not stop by Daily Dozen Donuts or Honest Biscuits; the latter is part of the Market Expansion and has great views out over Elliot Bay.
Don’t forget to seek out the famous (and disgusting) Gum Wall, give Rachel the Piggy Bank (a giant pig statue) a pat, and watch a few fish being tossed around by the fish vendors.
11am – Coffee at the Original Starbucks
After fueling up with food, it’s time to visit another Seattle institution: Original Starbucks. This is just across the street from Pike Place Market.
While the Original Starbucks isn’t actually the original Starbucks (that location is no longer in business), there’s almost always a line here to buy a cop of coffee and souvenirs.
If you’re not digging the franchise-iness (or fran-cheesiness) of the First Starbucks, there are plenty of local coffee shops in the area with good coffee as you walk from Pike Place Market to the next part of the itinerary.
12pm – Ride the Monorail
It’s a five-block, 0.3-mile walk from Pike Place Market to the Monorail Station at Westlake Center. This should only take 10-15 minutes, so there’s no rush. Take time to stop and enjoy the scenery and new construction that has completely changed the Seattle skyline in the past decade.
I recommend taking the route up Stewart Street as opposed to Pike Street for a couple reasons:
- It’s a bit more scenic and offers you glimpses into both the Downtown and Belltown neighborhoods.
- It’s a few blocks shorter, but it is uphill – a good way to get your steps in.
- It skirts past some of the rougher parts of Downtown, where you might encounter a few more homeless people. Like many West Coast cities, Seattle and The Puget Sound are struggling with homelessness and drug use and Stewart Street navigates around that.
Once you get to the Monorail Station, buy a ticket and board this historic relic of transportation. Like the Space Needle you’re en route to, the Monorail was built for the 1962 World’s Fair. If you can get a seat right at the front of the vehicle, it’s a fun elevated train ride with plenty of urban scenery to admire.
12:30pm – Ascend the Space Needle
After you disembark the Monorail, head straight to the Space Needle for your timed ticket. You can (and should) book your tickets in advance to ensure you skip the line. If you didn’t book tickets in advance, you may have to wait to ascend the newly remodeled Seattle icon.
Once you reach the top, be prepared for mind-blowing unobstructed views of Seattle and the surrounding region in every direction. You’ll be welcomed with city views, the Museum of Pop Culture’s funky design right below you, and on a clear day, you might be able to see the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier. The remodel replaced old steel and fences with almost entirely glass structures – including a glass floor on the lower level. Whether you’ve visited Seattle a dozen times (or even live in the area), it’s totally worth ascending the Space Needle for this new experience.
1:30pm – Grab Lunch at the Seattle Center
Personally, I can spend forever atop the Space Needle with those views. But, as you’re on a time crunch, be aware of the time and make your way down from the observation deck after about an hour. (This is why it’s super important to book your Space Needle tickets in advance so you don’t spend 45 minutes just waiting to get to the top!)
The Monorail and Space Needle are both on a campus called Seattle Center; there’s another building called The Armory where you can grab lunch before heading to your cruise ship or the airport. Inside, I recommend ordering a bite at Skillet. They have delicious homestyle foods with all the modern flare – pro-tip: the poutine is basically irresistible.
2pm – Catch a Ride to Your Ship/Head to SeaTac Airport
When you finish lunch, it’s time for either a bittersweet moment or a downright sad moment:
- It’s bittersweet if you’re out of time in Seattle but about to set off on an unforgettable Alaskan cruise.
- It’s sad if you are done with both your Alaska cruise and your time in Seattle and it’s time to head home.
No matter the case, all good things must come to an end. You can call an Uber or get a taxi from Seattle Center to your next destination.
If you are in the camp of flying home and have extra time, read on for other suggestions in my longer itinerary below.
One Day in Seattle: An Itinerary for Visitors with a Whole Day
For those who just happen to be in Seattle for some non-cruise related reason (for fun? on a PNW road trip? craving a city tour? you live here and are enjoying a Seattle staycation? whatever!), I’ve got you covered. Below you’ll find a full day itinerary for how to spend one day in Seattle. If this doesn’t wear you out while showing you what makes Seattle special, I’ll eat one of those Pike Place flying fish!
8am – Explore Pike Place Market as it Opens
As I mentioned above, Pike Place Market gets busier the later it gets in the day – so the best way to avoid crowds is to arrive before the market is officially open and spend the hour watching vendors set up for the day.
Depending on when you visit, you’ll be able to watch the flower vendors setting up their colorful stalls and watch the fish delivery for all those scaly seafoods that will fly through the air as the day wears on. If you’re peckish, grab mini donuts from Daily Dozen Donuts for the road; you can eat them en route to breakfast.
9am – Breakfast in Belltown
One of my favorite breakfast spots in Seattle is in Belltown, my old ‘hood. The name is a bit uncouth, but Biscuit Bitch is one of the best spots for breakfast sandwiches made on delicious crumbly biscuits baked daily.
As you plan your route, you’ll notice – there’s a Biscuit Bitch on 1st and another one on 3rd. Go to the one on 3rd Avenue. The one on 1st is right near Pike Place Market and will be crawling with a crowd.
You can walk from Pike Place Market to the Biscuit Bitch on 3rd in about 15 minutes; it’s another 15-minute walk to the Space Needle. That 30-minutes will help you reach your fitness goal for the day and make a small dent in the calories you consume from the biscuit…
10:30am – Ascend the Space Needle
Like I recommended above, be sure to book timed tickets for the Space Needle in advance. Once you arrive, you’ll be able to make your way to the top much more quickly for insanely scenic views. I mean seriously:
Every time I look at these, I want to go back – and I’ve been to the top of the new Space Needle twice already since it opened in 2018.
12pm – Lunch at Seattle Center
As suggested above, head to the Armory for lunch at Skillet. If you’re not digging the menu at Skillet (but seriously that poutine tho), there are a few other food vendors here you can browse as well. And, of course, a Starbucks.
2pm – Admire the View from Gas Works Park
Getting from the Seattle Center to Gas Works Park is a little tricky, so here are my suggestions:
- Get an Uber or taxi if your budget allows it.
- If not, you can catch the #62 bus, but you’ll need cash for the fare and it adds a bit more walking. I use the app Citymapper to navigate any city, and it works well for taking public transit in Seattle.
Once you arrive at Gas Works Park, you can stroll around the pathways, or find a nice spot on the grass to sit and enjoy the view. From here you’re looking south across Lake Union at downtown Seattle. You’ll end up across the lake for dinner later in the South Lake Union neighborhood.
Gas Works Park is an old industrial site that the city converted into a public park, and it’s a locals favorite spot for enjoying a sunny day.
3:30pm – Meet the Fremont Troll
To reach the Fremont Troll, I recommend walking from Gas Works Park. It’s a 15-minute walk and a little bit uphill but still within walking distance. However, all that climbing will be worth it to see one of Seattle’s most unusual sights.
The Fremont Troll, another popular tourist attraction was built in 1990 underneath an overpass; it turned an otherwise ugly junction between the land and manmade construction into a popular sight for tourists and locals alike. You can definitely climb on the troll if you’re brave enough; don’t be surprised if he’s got painted nails or holiday attire on, depending on the time of year you visit.
4:30pm – Explore Ballard
From the Fremont Troll, it is a short walk into the main part of the Fremont neighborhood and catch a bus to Ballard; it’s easier to just call an Uber as it’s only a short ride.
Once you arrive in Ballard, you’re on your own! Just kidding – there are some cool sights here:
- The Chittenden Fish Ladder connects Ballard to neighboring Lawton Park; it’s a feat of engineering that allows local salmon populations to make their way back to Lakes Union and Washington to spawn. This is just a cool area to walk around and explore.
- The Nordic Museum is relatively new (it opened in late 2017) and highlights Nordic culture and its importance to the Ballard community. I haven’t been in here but it’s on my list as they opened right after I moved from Seattle.
- Old Town Ballard is a series of off-grid streets you can explore to find cool souvenirs and scope out spots for the next stop on my one-day Seattle itinerary…
6pm – Grab Happy Hour Drinks
Once you’ve explored Ballard a bit, find somewhere for happy hour drinks or a pre-dinner snack (or both!). This neighborhood is full of young people and cool bars, including Matador – which has insanely generous happy hour food deals –, Bastille – with a French vibe and fancy cocktails –, The Walrus & Carpenter – which is unsurprisingly known for amazing oysters –, and King’s Hardware – with plenty of divey local vibes that remind you Ballard once used to be a fishing village. Oh, and if it’s super hot, pop into Hot Cakes for one of their spiked milkshakes instead.
Honestly, though, there are too many good places to recommend and you really can’t go wrong.
7pm – Enjoy Dinner in SLU
Even if you love public transit and have managed to make it through this itinerary on buses and your own two feet so far, I recommend grabbing a cab or Uber to get to dinner – it’s just far enough to be annoying and cumbersome on a two-bus route.
For those who have been to Seattle before, perhaps before the dot-com boom that put companies like Amazon and Microsoft on the map, you won’t recognize South Lake Union at all. It used to be an industrial neighborhood; today it’s one of the city’s hottest neighborhoods and home to thousands of techies.
This also means there are some great restaurants in the area, including:
- re:public – Where Mr. V and I went on our first date. Awwwww….
- Serious Pie – A funky pizza place that’s part of the Tom Douglas restaurant family, with unusual ingredients like charcuterie and veggies you didn’t know existed.
- Brave Horse Tavern – A bit more in the sports-bar vein and another Tom Douglas restaurant, you can get great burgers and other American food here.
Again, like Ballard, it’s hard to go wrong here. These are just some of my favorites. If none call out to you, you can wander the streets until you find one whose menu does.
9pm – Sample Nightlife in Capitol Hill
Tired yet? No? GOOD. What’s life without a little nightlife! Grab another ride up to Capitol Hill, Seattle’s thriving scene after dark. There are countless bars here to pop into – actually, I’m sure someone has counted them, but that person isn’t me, so…
You could go for an avocado slushie margarita at Nacho Borracho (and if you have a few, you can settle your stomach with tot-chos). If you’re feeling brave, let the bartender have ‘Divine Inspiration’ and whip you up something unique at southern Baptist church-inspired Witness. You can even sample local craft brews and ciders along the Pike/Pine Corridor. This is also Seattle’s LGBTQ epicenter, so you’ll undoubtedly encounter a few characters (and may be tempted to join in!).
From this point on, my tips for how to spend one day in Seattle are wasted on you… You can just have a nightcap or make an epic evening of it! In either case, you’re capping off an epic day, and will probably wish you had more than one day in Seattle, right?
Do you have other questions about how to make the most of one day in Seattle? Let me know in the comments!