Seattle is one of my favorite cities in the world. From my very first visit back in 2012, I knew it was a place I wanted to explore more – and I had plenty of time to do so when I lived there from 2013-2017! Even after years of calling Seattle home, I still love to go back and visit friends and family there, and continue discovering new parts of the Emerald City.
If you’re planning a trip to Seattle and have gotten to the part where you need to decide where to stay in Seattle, I’m here to help. I’ve written a lot of other stories about Seattle, and included hotel and Airbnb recommendations many times… but I’ve never really broken down why I recommend the properties I choose. In part, it’s due to the areas I know are good to stay in (and which ones aren’t).
I’m finally putting together a list of those best areas to stay in Seattle – and which ones I don’t recommend. Read on for where to stay in Seattle and where not to.
Seattle Travel Tips
Before jumping into my list of where to stay in Seattle (and where not), I wanted to cover a few quick Seattle travel tips. I’ve written about Seattle a lot (see all posts in my Pacific Northwest travel guide), but here are a few extra things to keep in mind:
- Summer is the top season to visit Seattle, when the weather is sunny and warm. Autumn and spring are also great, and you should plan for rainy and/or grey weather in the winter.
- I have a list of essentials you need to pack for Seattle; be sure to check it out to make sure you don’t forget anything!
- I have two itineraries to help you explore Seattle: for one day and for three days. If you’re spending longer in Seattle and need extra tips, let me know in the comments.
- I also have a ton of suggestions for other great destinations in Washington and the PNW.
Now let’s get to the meat of it: where to stay in Seattle.
The Best Areas to Stay in Seattle
If you’re looking at hotels and trying to decide where to stay, there are a lot of options. Seattle is a big city with plenty of neighborhoods – and many with very distinct ‘vibes.’ I’ve listed the best areas to stay in Seattle in the order I recommend; other people might have their lists in a different order. But I think you’ll see that these are great options (and I’ll explain later why some areas you might expect on this list made my ‘do not stay’ list instead).
Belltown is my favorite neighborhood in Seattle. I actually lived in two different apartments there during my time as a Seattle resident!
Belltown is a great choice because it’s the neighborhood next to Downtown Seattle, but is far enough to avoid a lot of problems that plague the downtown area (more on that below). It’s also halfway between Pike Place Market and Seattle Center, the two main attractions in Seattle. You can easily walk to all the major sights and have good transit access if you want to explore other parts of Seattle instead.
Where to Stay in Belltown:
- Hotels: The Edgewater (rooms start at $181 per night (off-season) with city views; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com) or The Ace Hotel (rooms start at $249 per night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- Airbnbs: Belltown 1-Bedroom Loft in the Heart of the City or Modern Studio in the Heart of the City
2. South Lake Union
If you visited Seattle before around 2010, you might not even recognize South Lake Union (SLU) today. Amazon has completely transformed the neighborhood, turning it from a relatively unloved industrial area into a happening place with restaurants, bars, and hotels. Mr. V and I had our first date in this neighborhood! Now it’s one of the best places for where to stay in Seattle.
Best of all, while many Amazonians (Amazon employees) live in SLU and the surrounding neighborhoods, it tends to get quiet at night. This makes it safer and more relaxing than some of the other areas to stay in Seattle.
Where to Stay in SLU:
- Hotels: CitizenM (rooms start at $99/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com) or MOXY (rooms start at $117/nights; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- Airbnbs: Art-Filled Industrial Loft in South Lake Union is the only ‘entire place’ in SLU
3. Lower Queen Anne
When I first moved to Seattle, I lived in Lower Queen Anne! I chose this neighborhood because it’s close to downtown but far enough away to have a residential vibe. You can easily walk through Belltown to Pike Place or the Seattle Waterfront – or stroll over to the Seattle Center and Space Needle that’s in this neighborhood.
There aren’t a ton of accommodation options in Lower Queen Anne, but there are a few good ones.
Where to Stay in Lower Queen Anne:
- Hotels: The Maxwell Hotel (rooms start at $119/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com) or Hyatt House Seattle (rooms start at $139/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- Airbnbs: Downtown One Bedroom Close to Seattle Center or Rooftop Penthouse Under the Space Needle
If you want to stay a little further away from the hustle and bustle of downtown, these next two areas are great options for where to stay in Seattle. Fremont is the quirkier – the neighborhood’s motto, De Libertas Quirkas (“Freedom to Be Peculiar”), gives it all away!
You can stay right along the main streets in Fremont to choose between a number of fabulous restaurants, walk up to see the Fremont Troll, and stop by the Center of the Universe. Yep, Fremont is definitely unique.
Where to Stay in Fremont:
- Hotels: Staybridge Suites Fremont (rooms start at $129/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- Airbnbs: Roost in a Luminous Apartment with Home Gym or Charming Secluded Guest Suite near Woodland Park
Ballard is one last area of where to stay in Seattle that simply has to be mentioned: it’s another neighborhood I’ve lived in and love. The fishing village of Ballard was originally outside the city limits of Seattle in the city’s earlier day. Today it’s obviously been completely integrated into Seattle, but still has its own distinctive style.
There are a few hotels in the Ballard area, and plenty of vacation rentals to choose from. It’s also well-connected on transit so you can easily get back down to the city’s top sights.
Where to Stay in Ballard:
- Hotels: Ballard Inn (rooms start at $95/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com) or the Hotel Ballard (rooms start at $178/night; book on Booking.com or Hotels.com)
- Airbnbs: Cozy Ballard Apartment (where we stayed the week before our wedding!) or Entire Artist’s Apartment in Hip Hood
Other Seattle Neighborhoods to Consider
If you’re striking out on finding a place to stay in these neighborhoods, there are a few other cool neighborhoods I love where you could look instead:
- Queen Anne – Up the hill from Lower Queen Anne, Queen Anne is primarily residential but has a cute high street with shops and restaurants. My parents stayed up here on their trip for our wedding.
- Frelard – The “new” neighborhood between Fre(mont) and (Bal)lard, Frelard, you might be able to find a good spot here that gives decent access to both of these cool neighborhoods.
- Wallingford – Wallingford is also residential, but has a great main street with some of the best funky bars in Seattle without the same crowds you’ll encounter on Capitol Hill.
- Phinney Ridge – Another hilltop residential neighborhood, Phinney Ridge has some delicious restaurants and is close enough to the other neighborhoods to be convenient.
- Green Lake – This is a mostly residential area, and great if you’re looking for a super quiet area to stay. You can walk the three miles around Green Lake or visit Seattle’s Woodland Park Zoo in the neighborhood.
Where Not to Stay in Seattle
When I write posts, I rarely tell you not to do something. Typically, I make my choice of what to include based on what I recommend – if I don’t recommend it, I don’t include it.
When it comes to deciding where to stay in Seattle though, that’s not good enough. It’ll mean you won’t understand why I didn’t include some places on my list of the best areas in Seattle – and while I love comments on my posts, I’ll end up getting lost of questions I could just answer now.
Based on that, I’ve got a selection of neighborhoods in Seattle where I don’t think you should stay if possible. I understand that you may need to based on availability and your budget, but at least now you’ll know what you’re in for if you do stay in one of these areas.
1. Downtown Seattle
I really want to recommend downtown Seattle on my list of where to stay in Seattle, but there’s a big problem. That problem, as you’ll probably know from any major city in the county, is homelessness.
Downtown Seattle is the epicenter for hotels in the city – giving you lots of options. But you should be prepared that when you go out onto the street you will likely encounter many homeless people. That can really affect the experience, and make noise and nuisance that take all the relaxation out of your Seattle vacation.
2. Pioneer Square
Historic Pioneer Square has come a long way since I first moved to Seattle in the early 2010s. It used to be a really sketchy place even during the daytime; it’s the primary area for homeless and support shelters in Seattle.
The area has cleaned up a lot though, and is cool for exploring, eating, and shopping during the day. After dark though, it can still get a bit dodgy. Add on the fact that many hotels will be relatively close to street level due to the way the neighborhood’s built and you might not have the most restful nights of sleep.
3. First Hill
First Hill is directly across I-5 from downtown Seattle; at first glance it might seem like a good option. Unfortunately, First Hill is home to many of the city’s hospitals and clinics, which means you’ll end up listening to sirens all night – and occasionally the displeased Seattle resident who’s been discharged late at night and wants to be vocal about it…
4. Capitol Hill
This might be the most controversial place I’m recommending not to stay in Seattle, because Capitol Hill is pretty cool and I’ve certainly spent plenty of time in the neighborhood while living in Seattle.
I don’t recommend staying in Capitol Hill though, for several reasons:
- It’s a great spot for nightlife, which can result in loud nights while you’re trying to rest up for the next day’s adventures
- Parking can be a real pain if you don’t have it provided at your accommodation
- Civil unrest tends to center on Capitol Hill, which is the epicenter of alternative culture in the city. Normally, that open-mindedness is a good thing – but the last thing you want is to be unable to access your accommodation because of a protest (even a peaceful one!).
5. West Seattle
Don’t get me wrong: West Seattle is a great place. In fact, I highly recommend taking a half-day or day to visit the area if you have the time during your Seattle trip. Especially along Alki Beach, you can enjoy sweeping views of Puget Sound and the Seattle skyline, plus enjoy local food and drink.
Those epic views come at a cost: what makes West Seattle not-great in terms of where to stay in Seattle is how far it is from downtown. You’ll end up spending a ton of time on the water taxi or driving to reach all of the cool sights you can see across Elliott Bay.
Other Seattle Neighborhoods to Skip
To help you continue narrowing down where not to stay in Seattle, here are a few other neighborhoods I’d avoid if possible – and why:
- The International District – I love visiting the International District for the fantastic food, but I don’t recommend staying there. You’ll end up with some questionable options and the streets can get rougher at night.
- SODO – There aren’t many options in SODO, but it’s also a heavy industrial area and not super-well accessed by public transit to help you get to the more interesting parts of Seattle.
- Interbay – I’ve lived in Interbay and liked the area when I did, but it’s too much “in the middle” to be convenient to reach anywhere.
- The University District – There are loads of hotels in the U-District thanks to its proximity to the University of Washington – but you’re going to be listening to college kids at the local bars all night!
- Columbia City – Columbia City is actually a super cool neighborhood for locals, but it’s too far from downtown and Seattle’s main sights to be a good choice for your trip.
There you have it – what I consider to be the best areas to stay in Seattle, and where not to stay too. I hope this helps you narrow it down as you browse the maps of hotels all over the city. Have any questions about where to stay in Seattle? Let me know in the comments!