Seattle, Washington, is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. Located between Puget Sound and Lake Washington in King County, of which it is the county seat, and overlooking Elliott Bay, Seattle is nicknamed The Emerald City. The city is a damp green gem, with an abundance of evergreen trees throughout, and spectacular views of the Cascade mountains to the east and the Olympic mountains to the west. The cultural and business center of the Pacific Northwest, the city and its surrounding areas are the home of the Space Needle, Boeing's aircraft assembly plants, Microsoft, Amazon.com, Costco, Nintendo of America, Starbucks, and the University of Washington, as well as a vibrant arts scene and an excellent park system.
Seattleites usually describe Seattle locations in terms of "neighborhoods." This is partly because of a potentially confusing system of street addresses (see Get around). The breakdown into neighborhoods is informal and mutates over time, and while there are often signs on major arterial roads to let you know that you are "entering" a particular neighborhood, the placement of these signs is arbitrary.
Still, knowing what neighborhood you're looking for can be a good sanity check when you're looking for an address. A Seattleite would describe 1401 45th Ave SW as being in West Seattle, and 1401 NE 45th St as being in the U-District (University District), which you'll note are diagonally opposite on the map. See Get around for an explanation.
The Seattle City clerk maintains an interactive map that starts with the high-level districts, but lets you click on those to get the detailed neighborhoods too.
Seattle was founded on the rough, physical industries of fishing, logging and coal mining, with San Francisco as her primary customer. Boeing, founded in 1916, grew to be Greater Seattle's primary industry as natural resources were depleted. The region's strong economic dependence on Boeing gave the oil recession and cancellation of the SST (Supersonic Transport) in the early '70s a grim effect. Over the last twenty-five years, the area has become less seedy and more developed with the massive influx of Microsoft money (and other software and biotech proceeds), but Pioneer Square is still the original Skid Row. (Yesler Way was a "Skid Road" for logs skidded downhill using dogfish oil to Henry Yesler's lumber mill).
Seattle is also substantially influenced by the presence of the University of Washington (the largest single campus in the state and recipient of over $1 billion in research grants annually), as well as multiple smaller colleges and universities. Seattle is also the center for financial, public health, and justice systems in the northwestern part of the U.S.
The weather can be rainy (but is usually just drizzly) on any given day. It can also be sunny and pleasant in January. Mid-June through early September is often sunny. The record high is 103°F (39°C); the record low is 0°F (-18°C). The warmest months are July and August, with average highs in the high 70s (about 25°C), though often having days in the 80s and even 90s (32°C). The coldest month is January, with average lows in the mid-upper 30s (about 3°C), although occasionally can get cold, especially when it is not cloudy. The dark, short, and overcast winter days can be unpleasant and depressing to some, although the bright side is that they are not as cold as the latitude (47.6 degrees North) might lead you to think. The summer, however, is very pleasant. Temperatures are very mild, and most locals do not have air-conditioning in their homes, though all hotels will, and it is advisable to have it for a car if you are there in the summer. The days are also very long, and sunset (let alone twilight) is after 9PM for weeks. Also, the vast majority of days in the summer have no rain, and despite its reputation, many people's lawns go brown in the summer if they do not water. The main challenge of Seattle's weather is more the overcast skies than the rain. One interesting fact is that Seattle has less annual rainfall than New York City; however, the rain is spread out over a larger number of days, so while NYC gets heavier downpours, Seattle's rain usually comes in a drizzle, which only occasionally strengthens to a full-blown torrent. Despite this, if you come in the summer, you should see plenty of sunny weather. The month of December tends to be extremely wet, although due to the fact that Seattle weather is unpredictable, it can still be sunny and mild.
A rule of thumb sums up Seattle's month-by-month weather as such. January starts the year off with a relief from December's torrential rains, but just as quickly subjects the city to what is, for the area, an intense chill. Temperatures can fall below 30°F and snow may fall on several occasions. As Seattle's infrastructure is not built around this, even a moderate freeze creates major problems. In February, the weather is still cold and easily prone to snow, but often is sunny with entire weeks of sunshine. This is only a tease, though, as March is windy and unpleasant. April is when spring makes itself apparent, with schizophrenic weather which will see rain, then sunshine, then hail, then more sunshine, all in one afternoon. May is almost always the best non-summer month, as rain is rare and sun is in ample supply. Temperatures can hit 80 or more. But then June hits and the weather becomes cloudy and rainy once more, though fortunately it's a warmer rain and there is still good weather occasionally. An often said phrase in Western Washington is that summer does not start until the Fourth of July. July through September, however, are what make Seattle a bearable place to live, as rain almost never falls, and temperatures hover around 70 to 80 the whole way through. Toward the end of September, the weather cools, and by early October, it is once again very unpleasant with frequent cold rain and cloudy skies. November and December just get worse, and add possible snow to the mix. Then the cycle begins again, and with the passing of Christmas, the anticipation of increasingly longer days is tempered by the inexorable advent of freezing weather and black ice.
The Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau operates two visitors centers:
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (), , universally nicknamed "Sea-Tac", is located in the city's southern suburbs. Domestically it's a major hub for Northwest and West Coast destinations, and internationally handles especially frequent trans-Pacific routes, as well as direct flights to the major European airports. The airport is about a 25 minute drive from downtown Seattle when there isn't heavy traffic, much longer during rush hour.
All international flights arrive at the south satellite terminal, but after immigration and customs, passengers are then funneled onto a train back to the main terminal, outside the security checkpoint. You'll need to pick up any checked bags to clear customs, then place them right back on the conveyor for transit to the main terminal. Reclaim checked bags once again from carousel 1 in the main baggage hall, to the right after leaving the train and going upstairs. Allow plenty of time for this dance! All connecting passengers will need to re-check their baggage with their airline and pass through security.
There are several choices for getting from the airport to the city center:
Amtrak provides service from all along the west coast from King Street Station , located south of downtown near Safeco Field. The Amtrak Cascades runs four trains a day between Seattle and Portland (two of which continue to Eugene, Oregon) and two a day to Vancouver, British Columbia. These trains are more reliable schedule-wise than the long distance trains and offer certain amenities not available on regular Amtrak trains, such as more space for bikes, more laptop outlets, a "Bistro Car" which serves local foods and wine, and the occasional movie.
Seattle is also served by the long-distance Coast Starlight, which runs south to Portland, the Bay Area, and eventually Los Angeles, California. The Starlight is frequently delayed for hours coming north from California. Additionally, the Empire Builder provides daily service to Chicago via Glacier National Park and Minneapolis. Unlike the other three Amtrak transcontinental trains further south, the Builder tends to stick fairly closely to schedule.
Interstate Highway 5 (I-5) cuts through the middle of Seattle north to south. I-90 runs from the I-5 interchange in Seattle all the way to Boston, and crosses one of the two Lake Washington bridges to Bellevue, along with SR-520 further north. I-405 runs parallel to I-5 on the east side of Lake Washington. Be aware however, that Seattle is a city known for terrible traffic (third worst in the nation behind Los Angeles and New York), especially around rush hour, so be ready for crawling along slowly as you enter the city, especially on infamously congested I-5, southern I-405, and the SR-520 bridge, though the recent addition of tolling has significantly eased traffic on the bridge.
There are two regular ferry services in the Seattle area:
Cruise ships to Seattle may be docked at one of two terminals in the Port of Seattle .
Seattle's street designations make sense once you understand them but, if you don't understand them, you can end up many miles away from your destination.
North-South streets are labeled "Avenues" while East-West streets are labeled "Streets". The city is roughly divided into a 3 by 3 grid with 7 directional sectors (E, SW, W, S, N, NE, & NW) Street addresses are written with the sector before the name, e.g. NE 45th Street or NE 45th. Avenue addresses are written with the sector after the name, e.g. 45th Avenue NE or 45th NE.
One way to remember avenues: University Way NE, the main street through the city's University District (neighborhood) is called "The Ave" by the locals, and all avenues run north-south. But, don't confuse University Way with University Ave; they're two completely different streets!
"Ways" are long diagonals, "Drives" are long, circuitous routes, "Courts" are one block long.
There are four major exceptions:
The twelve streets in the central business district are named as six first-letter pairs (south to north): Jefferson, James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring, Seneca, University, Union, Pike, Pine. One way to remember the order of the street pairs is with the mnemonic "Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest."
Parts of the central business district are oriented on the cardinal grid, but others are oriented relative to the shoreline, which may cause some confusion at the boundaries of these areas.
Metro Transit (electric, hybrid, and diesel city buses) actually works pretty well. The web trip planner is straightforward and accurate, as long as your bus is on time. Using Google Maps' trip planner works well too, but fare information can sometimes be incorrect. During rush hours (M-F 6-9AM and 3-6PM), adult bus fares are $2.50 within the city limits. All other times of day and weekends adult bus fare is $2.25. The youth fare is always $1.25.
Pay exact fare when boarding, as drivers carry no change. You can get a free paper transfer from one Metro bus to another Metro bus, but the only way to transfer for free between transit agencies is with an ORCA card, which costs $5.00 in addition to the money you put on it, available at all Link Light Rail and Sounder stations or (Click on "Get a card").
When traveling to destinations outside of the downtown core, you should make sure to ask the drivers in Metro buses with green and white "EXPRESS" signs in their windows and those whose route signs say "VIA EXPRESS" if they are going to your destination. Some of these express routes are intended for regular commuters traveling between residential neighborhoods and downtown and make few or no stops between, but many may be useful for getting to destinations such as the University District, West Seattle, and Ballard.
Sound Transit buses have many convenient express routes that travel South (to Tacoma), East (Redmond, Bellevue), and North (Bothell, Everett). Some of these buses run during only rush hours, but most, including the routes to the destinations mentioned above, run all day. Check the schedule to make sure. The fare schedule is slightly different than Metro, with no off-peak discount: $2.50 all for trips within King County, and $3.50 for trips crossing the county line.
Link Light Rail operates between Westlake Center downtown and Sea-Tac Airport, running through South Seattle and Tukwila. Fares are $2.00—$2.75 depending on how far you travel; ticket machines are located at all stations, and the tickets must be retained for the duration of your trip.
Sound Transit also operates a commuter rail service called the Sounder between Seattle-Tacoma and Seattle-Everett. However, the Sounder is limited mostly to rush hour service on the weekdays, with some service for special events like Seahawks games.
In Seattle, there is also the South Lake Union Streetcar , which runs between Downtown and South Lake Union, the Seattle Center Monorail , which makes a quick connection between Downtown and the Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle, and a passenger ferry, the King County Water Taxi , which offers a quick connection between Downtown at Pier 55 and West Seattle, at Seacrest Park near Alki. The water taxi also offers beautiful views of Downtown, the Olympic Mountains, and much of the city.
If you need any help, go to the Customer Stop at Westlake Station in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, or ask a local. Seattleites are always eager to help and may even offer help if they just see you looking at a tourist map!
Unlike some other American cities, visitors should not be intimidated by the thought of navigating Seattle by car. While rush-hour traffic can be quite frustrating (especially on the freeways), the city's streets and roadways are otherwise quite hospitable. On weekends, you can often rent cars at locations throughout the city for well under $20/day.
Be mindful of where you park because parking laws are enforced and the fines can be hefty! A parking ticket can be in excess of $35 for going overtime in a 2-hour zone.
Cycling is better than in most cities, except for the damp roads, frequent rain and hills, so you may wish to pick up some raingear. Some major roads in Seattle have properly maintained bicycle lanes. Bicycle usage is increasing significantly since the early 2000s and the car drivers are perhaps a bit more accustomed to bicycles than in some other major cities.
You can pick up a free Seattle Bike Map (as well as other local city and county bike maps) at the Seattle BikeStation, 311 3rd Ave S between Main St & S Jackson St almost next door to the train station. They also give suggestions on how to bicycle where you are going and how to do it safely.
Bicycle transportation in the greater part of Seattle is facilitated further by the Burke-Gilman Trail . This is a paved walking/jogging/cycling trail that winds its way from the north end of Lake Washington, down around the University of Washington, then west towards Ballard. The trail is on an old railroad right-of-way, so it maintains a very consistent elevation and is excellent for commuting or a casual day's touring. Myrtle Edwards path is on the sound, starting at the north end of downtown and continuing for the most part all of the way to the Ship Canal Locks. It is much more scenic than the Burke and more peaceful as it does not intersect with any roads. It has gorgeous views of the Olympics and Mt. Rainier, as well.
All Metro buses are equipped to carry three bicycles on racks on the front, at no extra charge.
Seattle is home to a number of top-notch museums. Downtown is home to the renowned Seattle Art Museum, which displays an good overview and assortment of art from around the world. In the Central District is the Seattle Asian Art Museum, an off-shoot of the Seattle Art Museum which focuses on Chinese & Japanese Art, but includes works as far away as India. Additionally, The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience is in Chinatown/International District is the only Asian Pacific American museum in the nation. Nearby is the Frye Art Museum, a small private collection featuring 232 paintings by Munich-based artists. Not a museum, but open to browsing by the public, is the Seattle Metaphysical Library, in Ballard, which spcializes in material not found in normal libraries.
Surrounding the Space Needle on the grounds of the Seattle Center are several more big museums, including the Pacific Science Center, an interactive science museum, the Experience Music Project, a Rock & Roll museum with a special Jimi Hendrix exhibit, and the Science Fiction Museum Home of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Both the Museum of History and Industry and the Center for Wooden Boats are located on the southern point of South Lake Union.
Downtown is home to the popular Seattle Aquarium. The University District holds the The Henry Art Gallery, one of the biggest contemporary art galleries in Washington. Also on the university campus is the Burke Museum, a combination natural history/archaeology museum. Further out in Georgetown is the Museum of Flight, with a large collection of aircraft ranging from wood and fabric crates to the sleek Concorde.
Travelers planning to visit multiple attractions may benefit from Seattle CityPASS , which grants admission to 6 Seattle attractions within 9 days of first use for a much reduced rate and includes expedited entry in some cases. The included attractions are: Space Needle; Seattle Aquarium; Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour; Pacific Science Center; Woodland Park Zoo and an Option Ticket with choice of either Museum of Flight or Experience Music Project - Science Fiction Museum.
Most of the architectural attractions in Seattle are located in a small portion of the downtown area, easily traversed on foot. Among the highlights are the Rem Koolhaas/OMA designed Central Library, a unique, contemporary building with an enormous glass-fronted atrium; the Experience Music Project designed to resemble Jimi Hendrix's smashed guitar done in a manner only Frank Gehry could conceive; the Smith Tower, an Art Deco skyscraper which has an observation deck and is Seattle's oldest skyscraper; the Columbia Center, the tallest building in the Pacific Northwest and one with its own observation deck; the Seattle City Hall, designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Bassetti Architects, with its roof garden, designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd. and Swift & Company; and the new Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus, designed by NBBJ, with its 12 acre garden also designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd.
Of course, the most popular view in Seattle remains the one from the revolving top of the Space Needle at the Seattle Center. And given the retro-futurism look of the Space Needle, a fitting way to get there is via the Monorail, which connects the Seattle Center to Downtown.
Seattle is peppered with parks, from small urban squares to large forested areas with views of the Puget Sound. Seattle's park system was designed by the Olmstead Brothers firm in Seattle's early days, park planners across the country celebrate Seattle's park system as one of the best designed and best preserved in the United States. While many other American cities have only one or two Olmsted-designed parks, Seattle has an extensive multi-park plan linked by boulevards. It is this legacy that makes Seattle one of the most livable spots in the country.
Seattle is one of the best cycling cities in the United States. All trails are mapped in Google Maps.
Seattle has enacted a bag ban. Single use plastic bags are illegal, and stores are required to charge customers 5 cents for a paper bag. Bringing your own reusable tote bag is recommended.
The Pike Place Market (note: not "Pike Market" or "Pike's Market") in Downtown is an attraction unto itself, known for its seafood and produce stands. (Pike Place Fish, at the main entrance to the market by "Rachel" the bronze piggy bank, is the one where they throw the fish around, but there are several other seafood stands in the market.) In the main market complex are several levels of restaurants and shops selling antiques, arts and crafts, and souvenirs, and as the weather gets warmer, artisans sell their wares in the upper open-air level as well. Although it is flush with tourists, especially in summer months, Pike Place Market is far from a tourist trap; area residents and downtown workers regularly shop at the market.
Fresh seafood is found in abundance at both markets and restaurants. Seattle also has a wide variety of Asian cuisine.
Few, if any, American cities can challenge Seattleites' love of coffee. Seattle's love of coffee is perhaps signified best by Starbucks , Seattle's Best Coffee (now owned by Starbucks), and Tully's as they each have expanded all over the country and world, but locals aren't satisfied by these internationally-recognized chains alone, evidenced by hundreds of good locally owned coffeehouses.
Microbreweries and beer in general are a Northwest specialty, and Seattle has many to offer for beer enthusiasts. The larger brewers, like Redhook and Pyramid, distribute their products regionally or nationally like their coffee cousins, while other brews can only be found in local stores or bars (some notable brewers don't bottle their product). Elysian, with three pubs in various neighborhoods, and the Pike Brewing Company, located, of course, at Pike Place Market, are other popular local brewers.
In Washington, bars have a full liquor license, while taverns are restricted to beer, wine and cider. Many Seattle bars have world-class beer selection, featuring local Northwest style micros, many of them crafted in Seattle. Beer aficionados should check out Uber Tavern, Brouwer's Cafe, or the Stumbling Monk, or visit the Beer Junction in West Seattle, which is primarily a bottle shop with a staggering selection but which also has a bar and regular tastings. This is just the tip of the iceberg, though!
The area code for the City of Seattle is 206. Surrounding areas use other area codes, including 425 which encompasses the eastside and northern suburbs including Bellevue, Redmond, Lynnwood, and Everett, 253 for all areas south of Kent such as Tacoma, Federal Way, and Fife, and 360 for all areas outside the greater Everett-Seattle-Tacoma corridor but west of the Cascades. All of Washington east of the Cascades uses the 509 area code.
Free Wi-Fi can be found at all Seattle Public libraries, and is available to users with Wi-Fi enabled laptops and wireless devices. The City of Seattle provides free Wi-Fi access in the Columbia City and University District areas as part of a pilot project. The project also provides coverage in four downtown Seattle parks: Occidental, Freeway, Westlake and Victor Steinbrueck, as well as the City Hall lobby area. The Seattle Center also provides free wireless internet in the Center House building . Some of the Metro and Sound Transit commuter buses offer free Wi-Fi.
There are various internet cafes in the Seattle area, especially in the University District and the Downtown neighborhoods. Additionally, many coffee shops offer free and paid wireless access (all Starbucks locations offer AT&T internet access points).
Seattle is a fairly safe city. Like all large cities, you should be cautious of pickpockets and use common sense, but Seattle is generally safer than other large cities. There is little concern in the residential North Seattle districts, except for the areas around Aurora Avenue and Lake City Way at night time. South Seattle neighborhoods have had a history of gang and drug related violence; while violence related to the two still occur, it's not as frequent as portrayed. Common sense and smart thinking should be used in any neighborhood you are unfamiliar with, especially if traveling by foot or alone.
Auto break-ins and theft are a problem in the city. Never leave valuables visible in a car, and always lock your car doors. Drivers in Seattle are typically nice but indecisive, but as long as you're careful as a pedestrian, there is not a high risk of getting hit. Most drivers will stop if you're crossing the street, as such an action is required by Washington State law. Cyclists should be extra wary of traffic and opened doors of parked cars, especially downtown.
Downtown Seattle has sizable population of homeless men and women (suburbs on the eastside enacted laws which forced homeless people into Seattle's downtown core), and while many beg for change and some seem unstable, only a few are actually dangerous. Still, use common sense and don't be an idiot who flashes expensive stuff around; you're asking to get mugged. It is worthwhile to be especially careful after dark in some areas around the downtown core. Victor Steinbrueck Park, at the north end of Pike Place Market, often attracts drug dealers and Second Ave. between Pine and Pike streets is locally notorious for drug transactions and occasional violence (actual violence is still relatively rare, but caution never hurts).
Similarly, motorcyclists should be warned that the city has unpredictable weather for a large portion of the year. Motorcycling is thus not as frequent as in other states due to unpredictable weather. Drivers exhibit an alarming obliviousness to motorcycles, and riders should take care to stay well out of a car's blind spot and preferably ahead of, rather than behind, any car.
There are also several ethnic newspapers including Northwest Asian Weekly, and numerous neighborhood newspapers including the North Seattle Journal, and the West Seattle Blog. The University of Washington also publishes The Daily of the University of Washington.
Seattle has a large number of primary- and secondary-care medical centers, including the only level 1 trauma center serving Alaska, Washington, Idaho and Montana. Additionally, Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center is the pediatric referral center for those same states.
In the event of a medical emergency anywhere in the U.S., dial 911 for free from any phone, including payphones at no cost.