Exploring Seattle Like a Local-20 Places to Visit Downtown

I'm a Midwest transplant living in the greater Seattle area now for nearly two decades. I love the beauty of our area. We have water, mountains and lush greenery surrounding us. You combine all of those together and you create the trifecta for exploration! One of my favorite things to do is to get lost in the city. I head into Seattle and never do the same thing twice, which is why this list of 20 places to visit downtown Seattle will have you exploring the city like a local. You won't find Pike Place Market on the list, though that's worth a visit, but everyone knows that! This is all about those hidden gems you may not have added to your list. Are you ready to explore?

ferris wheel and pike place market seattle

20 Places to Visit Downtown Seattle That Will Have you Exploring the City Like a Local

seattle great wheel

How have I not written this list yet? Seriously, what kind of bad blogger am I? I get people asking all the time what they should see or do in the city and I'm rattling off a few things on this list. Everyone knows the usual, like the Space Needle, a ride on the Monorail or a trip around Pike Place Market, but what about those things you don't make the time for? The things on the list worth seeing, but they don't always make the list on a tourists agenda. Try these. I promise, even some of the locals forget about these hidden gems and drop in from time to time to explore them. 

1. Ride the Ducks Tour

Bear with me. I know this doesn't seem like I'm starting off my non-touristy list of things to do very strongly, but I promise you, even some of the locals don't know about some of stops along the way on the tour. Jaunt around the city by land and sea and enjoy a really interesting way to view the city. I always suggest this tour because it's not only fun, it will give you a glimpse at some of the local sites you might want to take extra time to explore during your time in Seattle.

2. Rent a Boat or Kayak at the University of Washington

You will find the waterfront activities center along the shores of Union Bay just south of Husky Stadium. You can rent a boat for one person up to a group of four and enjoy the beautiful views around the Union Bay Natural Area. You can even bring a picnic and enjoy a lunch at the Washington Arboretum. 

3.Wings Over Washington

I've head this flying theater ride described similarly to the Soarin' Over California ride at California Adventure in Disneyland. This 15 minute experience allows you to experience the sights, sounds and smells of Washington without ever leaving your seat. 

4. Seattle Great Wheel

Close to Wings Over Washington, you can hop onto the Seattle Great Wheel and take a ride in this massive Ferris wheel. You'll see Seattle in a different way. Each gondola can hold up to 8 people and there are night time rides available. 

ferris wheel in seattle

5. Walk the Waterfront Pier

There is always something new to explore along the waterfront. There are shops that carry unique local gifts and fun local foods that can make for good souvenirs to bring home for a taste of the city that never stops.

6. Game Works

You won't really see Seattle, but sometimes we all need a break and if you get caught in some Seattle rain, this indoor entertainment center has something for everyone.

7. Fremont Troll

The Fremont troll doesn't require a lot of time. It's really a great place to take a picture. If you have little ones, they might like to climb around on the troll for a bit. It's kind of a must visit though because he's such an iconic part of Seattle.

8. Ferry to Bainbridge Island

Walk on the ferry with no reservation and get a boat ride and view of the city you would have never expected! It's a 35 minute ride across and you will get the most amazing view of the city from the ferry perfect for pictures to remember your time by.

bainbridge island ferry seattle exploring like a local

9. Ballard Locks

The Ballard Locks link the Puget Sound with Lake Union and Lake Washington. You can watch large and small boats come in and out of the locks and watch the water levels drop as much as 26 feet to have boats even with the Puget Sound. You will usually spy lots of sea creatures and can watch the salmon ladder in the viewing area. There is also a beautiful botanical garden where you can escape the city for a bit.

10. Center for Wooden Boats

If you come on a Sunday you can sail year round for free on Lake Union. Boat rides are usually 45 minutes to an hour long and totally worth showing up early for to get a good sign up time. Especially if you are wanting to explore Lake Union on a sunny day.

11. Alki Beach

Alki beach is a long strip of sandy beach. Kind of uncommon here in the PNW. We have a lot of rocky beaches, so a sandy beach is a gem. There are designated fire pits around the beach, so feel free to enjoy a beach bonfire. You can also rent a fun bike and enjoy the large path around the paved waterfront trail. 

12. Fly Kites at Gas Works Park 

Gas Works Park is kind of hard to describe. You just have to see it to understand it. It's got some of the best views around and the hill is the perfect place to fly a kite.

explore seattle like a local not like a tourist

13. Underground Tour

Even some of the locals don't know the history of Seattle, which is what makes these underground Seattle tours unique. Explore the city and learn a lot about the history and how the city was built up. 

14. Theo Chocolate Factory Tour

The tours are $10 and only an hour long but you will have plenty of chocolate to sample during your tour. You might even learn a thing or two about how chocolate is made. You can even look into different chocolate making classes from kids to adults.

15. Shop Archie McPhee

This is kind of one of those random shops that has everything you never knew you needed. It's one of those outrageous shopping destinations that's just plain fun to get lost in.

16. Shop Ye Olde Curiosity Shop

Yep, another shop. This one is down on the waterfront and has fun souvenirs for purchase but also curiosities to look at. You can find a collection of shrunken heads, origami dollars and the real showstopper, Sylvester the mummy. 

17. Fremont Sunday Ice Cream Cruise

Yet another way to explore the water on a sunny day. This ice cream cruise is dog and kid-friendly and gives you a chance to see the houseboats on Lake Union, a peek at Dale Chihuly's studio and a view of Gas Works Park for a fraction of the price of some other boat tours. Plus ice cream. Duh. There are cruises on other days, they just don't have ice cream available. 

18. Seattle Bouldering Project

Ever wanted to try climbing? This is a great place for all ages to give bouldering a try.

seattle explore park

19. Geocache your Way Around the City

This real life treasure hunt is fun for everyone and will get you exploring areas you didn't know existed. The Geocaching headquarters is downtown and the employees have created several fun treasure hunts around the Seattle Fremont neighborhood. Your GPS will take you exploring all around the city in hunt of the hidden cache. 

If you have never tried Geocaching, start here.

20. Segway tour of the city

You may be tempted to explore Seattle by bike, but friends, I'm telling you, there are a lot of hills! A Segway tour is a much better way to get around the city and explore areas that would take you hours and hours to walk around. Plus it's kind of fun.

So there you have it. My 20 recommendations of places to visit downtown Seattle that will have you exploring all the normal touristy places just a little differently. You know, more like the locals. Is there anything you would add to the list? 


In case you want to explore more of the fun things Seattle has, you can't go wrong with a CityPASS. It will take you to all of the Seattle favorites at a fraction of the price.

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Anonymous said...

Great post even for a long time resident. Just one correction...it is Fremont, not Freemont. Keep up the great work!

BarbRad said...

What we loved most downtown was the Underground Tour. We love history and our tour guide made me want to read even more about Seattle's history.

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