From the historic waterfront and Pike Market to Pioneer Square and South Lake Union, there's plenty to see and do in Seattle’s core. But to get an even better feel for the city, head out to its distinctive neighborhoods to explore. Follow our guide to the best dining, shopping and attractions in some of the most vibrant pockets of the city and you won’t be disappointed.
Established in 1889, Ballard was its own city until residents voted for annexation by Seattle in 1907. It’s a big neighborhood, but most of the action is scattered along two main streets, Ballard Avenue NW and N.W. Market Street between 17th Avenue NW and 24th Avenue NW. The trendy neighborhood is known for its Nordic roots and place in Seattle’s maritime industry past and present, facts that are reflected in two of its key attractions. Set in a stunning new facility on Ballard’s working waterfront, the Nordic Museum showcases the traditions, art, and spirit of Nordic cultures. In addition to “Nordic Journeys,” its permanent exhibition exploring how these cultures have spread around the world through immigration and other means, there are also temporary exhibits such as “Northern Exposure: Contemporary Nordic Arts Revealed,” showing through September 16. A short walk west of the museum, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks—aka Ballard Locks—provide boat passage between Puget Sound and the fresh water of Lake Union. Here you can watch boats come in, stroll through the surrounding parks and peek through an underwater window to watch salmon stream through the fish ladder to spawn.
Ballard is also a great destination for epicures. Here you’ll find James Beard Award-winning chef Renee Erickson’s stylish oyster bar The Walrus and the Carpenter; house-made pastas served in a cozy historic house at San Fermo; and French classics at the Parisian café-inspired Bastille, just to name a few. The neighborhood is a mecca for craft beer fans, boasting around a dozen breweries, including Reuben’s Brews, Stoup Brewing and Obec Brewing.
The epicenter of young urban life and historical hub of LGBTQ culture, “the Hill” is vibrant, dense and fun to explore. Some of the neighborhood’s most popular restaurants, bars and shops line the parallel E. Pike and Pine streets, and the avenues that connect them between 14th Ave. Melrose Ave.
Enjoy inventive Northwest cuisine at Sitka & Spruce, sushi beside a Zen garden at Momiji and high-end Northern Italian at Spinasse—or opt for simpler fare, such as New York-style slices at Big Mario’s Pizza or Korean fried chicken at Bok a Bok.
Unsurprisingly, Capitol Hill is home to some of the city’s hippest lifestyle boutiques, which offer both designer clothing and unique home décor. A few to look out for include Glasswing, Standard Goods and Totokaelo. The two-story Elliott Bay Book Company is a must-stop for bibliophiles, and has an entire section devoted to books about Seattle and the Pacific Northwest.
While exploring, make sure to visit Volunteer Park, a 40+ acre park that offers sweeping views of the city and is home to a beautiful Victorian-era glass conservatory and the Asian Art Museum (currently closed for renovations).
Situated at the north end of Lake Union, the self-proclaimed “Center of the Universe” is perhaps Seattle’s quirkiest neighborhood. Here you’ll find one of the city’s most popular (and unusual) photo opportunities, the Fremont Troll. Constructed of two tons of concrete, steel rebar and an actual Volkswagen Beetle, the iconic ogre lurks beneath the Aurora Bridge.
The core of the neighborhood lies along Fremont Avenue N, just past the Fremont Bridge up the hill and east-west along N. 34th, 35th and 36th streets. Grab a coffee at ETG Coffee and hit some of the local highlights: Take a factory tour at Theo Chocolate, shop for unusual gifts and Seattle souvenirs at Portage Bay Goods, browse the vinyl LPs at Daybreak Records and hunt for treasures at the Fremont Vintage Mall.
Fremont also offers several entrance points to the Burke-Gilman Trail. Hop on one of the brightly colored bikeshare cruisers you’ll see on practically every corner, and pedal over to explore Gas Works Park, a 10- to 15-minute ride east. From there, you can also cycle further east to Westward, a hip spot where you can enjoy oysters, cocktails and more by a firepit overlooking Lake Union.
Straddling the line between its historically industrial roots and its more recent reputation as an arts district, Georgetown is south of downtown Seattle.
Situated along the main drag, Airport Way South, you’ll find vintage stores, restaurants and bars, art galleries and more. It’s a creative community with the popular Georgetown Art Attack happening the second Saturday of every month. Make sure to visit Fran’s Chocolates where you can see the chocolates being made, have a glass of sipping chocolate and buy some treats to take home; Flip Flip Ding Ding, a 21-and-over pinball arcade and bar; and Oxbow Park, home to Hat ’n’ Boots, an art installation rescued from a now-defunct gas station.
Get your shopping fix by hunting for a one-of-a-kind souvenir at Kirk Albert Vintage Furnishings; the Georgetown Trailer Park Mall, where you’ll find vintage and artisan goods in trailers; and Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery, with the comic book publisher’s titles as well as other alternative comic books.
Hungry? Enjoy Mediterranean with Spanish influences at Ciudad or modern Mexican at Fonda La Catrina, or head to Katsu Burger for Japanese-style fried burgers with unusual toppings like katsu sauce and wasabi mayo. Afterwards, wind up your visit at Charles Smith Wines Jet City, where you can enjoy a flight of some top Washington vintages while you watch planes take off and land at adjacent Boeing Field.
Getting to this neighborhood is half the fun. The King County Water Taxi provides regular service between downtown Seattle’s Pier 51 and Seacrest Park in West Seattle for just a few dollars. After enjoying fantastic views of the Seattle skyline during the 15-minute journey, you’re immediately greeted with two great options for waterfront dining. Right at the end of the pier is Marination Ma Kai, a Hawaiian-Korean fusion spot with island-inspired cocktails; a few minutes’ walk further is Salty’s, a traditional seafood restaurant with a devoted following.
From the water taxi terminal, you can also catch a free shuttle bus to two of West Seattle’s most popular destinations: Alki Beach and The Junction. The promenade along Alki Beach is peppered with great bars and restaurants, plus plenty of people-watching. If you’re feeling inspired to get active, it’s also a great spot to rent a bike or a kayak or just to stroll the pebbled beach.
The Junction—the area radiating out from the nexus of California Avenue SW and S.W. Alaska Street—is a great destination for shopping and dining. Stop at Easy Street Records to find your new favorite album, or Fleurt, a shop with Pinterest-worthy accessories, gifts and home goods. Treat yourself to exquisite cakes and pastries at Bakery Nouveau, feast on tacos, tortas and tequila at The Matador, or slurp ramen at Kizuki.