Things to Do in Washington
More than just the second largest lake in all of Washington State, Lake Washington defines Seattle as a town intimately tied to the water, and it’s here that residents come to connect with their natural surroundings. Plenty of shoreline let visitors swim, picnic, hunt for clams and crawfish, and just generally relax and play. Floating platforms allow swimmers to rest and sunbathe, and the Madrona Park is a nice wooded area that slopes down to the beach and offers a changing station. Other attractions include the Kurt Cobain bench – a nice de facto cultural memorial also serving as homage to Seattle’s large music scene.
One of Seattle’s top attractions is Lake Union, a freshwater glacial lake enhancing the aesthetics of the area while also offering a number of recreational activities. For those who want to be in the water, kayaking, standup paddle boarding and canoeing are popular activities. If you’d rather stay dry there are a number of things to do around Lake Union’s shores, mainly exploring the many scenic parks like Fairview Park, South Lake Union Park, North Passage Point Park, Gas Works Park, and Terry Pettus Park.
While at Lake Union you can also visit the Naval Reserve Building, home to the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI). Along with a permanent collection holding over 100,000 objects, -- some of which include Seattle artifacts, local inventions, maritime pieces, local artwork and historical textiles -- there are rotating exhibits, historical workshops and lectures, and public tours.
The fishy-smelling, heart of downtown Seattle is Pike Place Market. Each day, from dawn to dusk, the market bustles but not just with people perusing the fresh produce brought in by the farmers or the browsing stalls of fresh fish. The market is also brimming with good theater, as street performers entertain the milling crowds while more than 150 artisans and artist sell their creations.
The Main and North arcades of Pike Place Market are the most popular areas, with bellowing fishmongers, arts and crafts, and stacks of fruits and vegetables. Tiny shops of all descriptions are scattered throughout the market, along with dozens of restaurants. One of the most entertaining spectacles is the fish stall, where employees throw salmon and other fish to each other rather than passing them by hand. When a customer orders a fish, an employee at the ice-covered fish table picks up the fish and hurls it over the countertop, where another employee catches it and preps it for sale.
This picturesque beach on the shore of Elliott Bay runs a narrow 2.5-mile strip between Alki Point and Duwamish Head. Known as the site of the first white settlers in Seattle, its sandy shores attract as many cyclists, joggers and bladers as beachcombers and sun worshipers and storm chasers. Public restrooms, picnic areas, an art studio and bathhouses make it the perfect destination for a day of outdoor fun with family and friends. And impressive views of the Puget Sound and Seattle skyline make it one of the most scenic strips of sand in Washington.
In a city surrounded by water, the Seattle Aquarium acts as a touchstone for all who desire to experience the heartbeat of the underwater world without getting wet. An Associate of Zoos and Aquariums-certified center, this public aquarium is located on Pier 59 of Seattle’s vibrant waterfront. Spend the day discovering the elusive Pacific Octopus, gaze at the 120,000-gallon exhibit, immerse yourself in an underwater dome filled with life, or wiggle your finger at playful sea otters – this aquarium is one of the best in the country. Don’t miss the touch tanks and daily dive shows where divers explore the underwater world wearing special masks which allow them to speak to the aquarium attendants, thus making a visit to the Seattle Aquarium truly an interactive experience.
If Seattle takes credit for the birth of the grunge movement and thus leading garage bands into what is now all-star rock fame, then it only serves as fair that the museum dedicated to all things rock and roll be located in Seattle’s boundaries. For a city that loves music, the Experience Music Project was a foregone conclusion. Attached to and now incorporated with the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, a trip to the EMP Museum offers more than an introspective into passing memorabilia – it’s a look at the outreaches of our collective imagination made manifest by rock gods and science fiction greats. Designed by wildly famous architect Frank Gehry and funded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the surreal jellyfish-like structure is as much a part of the interest in the museum as the exhibits themselves.
Glass artist Dale Chihuly was born down the highway a bit in Tacoma, but he has left his glittering mark on the city of Seattle in many places – perhaps nowhere more than the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum at Seattle Center.
The museum opened in 2012 and features four different areas. The Glasshouse is just what you'd expect from the name – a 40-foot glass-covered building with Chihuly's famous flower-like sculptures hanging from the ceiling. The entire piece is 100 feet long. The Garden is, as you'd expect, an outdoor space with Chihuly glass sculptures in different places. Inside the Exhibition Hall you'll find a Chihuly retrospective covering his career, showcasing his often monumental glass artwork beautifully. The Theater shows videos about Chihuly's art and his work.
More Things to Do in Washington
Inspiring a lifelong interest in math, science, and technology, the Pacific Science Center is a museum of delight, wonder and mystery. By exploring the inner depths of what makes this universe tick, the Pacific Science Center gives visitors a chance to be bedazzled by the diversity of life in a tropical butterfly house, gaze at the stars in the planetarium, test your puzzle solving skills in the Puzzle Palooza, or explore hundreds of hands-on exhibits that both exemplify and glorify the science of exploration. Occupying approximately 7 acres of the north side of Seattle’s famed Seattle Center, the Pacific Science Center is a 21st century museum designed by Minoru Yamasaki - the selfsame architect that designed the World Trade Center in New York City. Be sure to catch a show at the IMAX or the Laser Dome – one of the largest laser shows in the country.
In Woodland Park, up the hill from Green Lake Park, the Woodland Park Zoo is one of Seattle's greatest tourist attractions, consistently rated as one of the top 10 zoos in the country. It was one of the first in the nation to free animals from their restrictive cages in favor of ecosystem enclosures, where animals from similar environments share large spaces designed to replicate their natural surroundings.
The Woodland Park Zoo thrills with superb attractions including such exhibits as a tropical rain forest, two gorilla exhibits, and an African savanna. One of the best exhibits is the brown bear enclosure, which realistically resembles an Alaskan stream and hillside. Another highlight is the elephant forest, where the zoo’s pachyderms have plenty of space to rumble around. For kids, there’s the farm-animal area and the interactive Zoomazium, where kids can see what its like to be wild animals.
Pioneer Square, where Seattle’s founders first settled in 1852, has evolved into one of city’s prettiest downtown neighborhoods. Filled with streets lined with trees and restored Victorian buildings, the area is listed on the Nation Register of Historic Places. The neighborhood takes its name from a small triangular cobblestone plaza near the corner of First Avenue and Yesler Way, officially known as Pioneer Square Park, and features a bust of Chief Seattle, an ornate pergola, and a totem pole.
During the day, Pioneer Square buzzes with locals and visitors perusing the antique shops and art galleries. When you’re not shopping or marveling at cutting-edge art, you can visit the Seattle Underground, a network of underground passageways and basements that are remnants of the original building here, many of which were destroyed by fire in 1889.
Safeco Field is the home of the Mariners baseball team, and the stadium is located just south of the city center in Seattle. The Seattle Mariners’ original home, the Kingdome, was replaced in the 1990s by Safeco Field, which hosted its first Major League Baseball game in 1999. The stadium holds more than 47,000 spectators for baseball games, and features a retractable roof.
Among the attractions at Safeco Field - besides the baseball games themselves - are the Mariners Hall of Fame, the Baseball Museum of the Pacific Northwest, and the many baseball-related pieces of artwork on display throughout the stadium.
Nature certainly has its miracles and you can see one of its highlights at the Chittenden Locks & Fish Ladder, locally known as the Ballard Locks, where you can see salmon fighting their way to their spawning grounds in the Cascade headwaters of the Sammamish River, which feeds Lake Washington.
Watching the salmon climb the fish ladder is pretty exciting. You can watch the fish from underwater glass-sided tanks or from above (nets are installed to keep salmon from over-leaping and stranding themselves on the pavement). In the past, the fish runs at Chittenden Locks & Fish Ladder have attracted sea lions that try to swallow the salmon as they go by. On the northern entrance to the Chittenden Locks & Fish Ladder is the Carl English, Jr., Botanical Gardens, a charming arboretum and specimen garden. Trails wind through gardens filled with mature trees and flower gardens. Flanking the gardens is a small museum and visitors center documenting the history of the locks.
Summertime in Seattle is when everyone comes out to enjoy the fine weather. For fun in the sun, no other Seattle icon speaks of the free-wheeling carefree attitude of this city than the Seattle Great Wheel. One of the biggest Ferris Wheels in the United States, the Seattle Great Wheel is open year-round with fully enclosed gondolas, making it one of the best viewing ports in the entire west coast. Standing over 175 feet tall and weighing in at over a quarter of a million pounds, the Seattle Great Wheel lives up to its name as one of the world’s truly great Ferris wheels.
Many know Seattle to be located upon the Puget Sound, but the specific body of water upon which Seattle sits is none other than the great Elliot Bay. And because Elliot Bay is the most prevalent source of water when visiting Seattle, it is part-and-parcel to the inner fabric of the “city by the sound.” From the original Duwamish peoples that lived here, to the locals that come enjoy the Elliot Bay Park along the waterfront, Elliot Bay is part of the culture, and it’s here that many visitors come to explore Seattle.
With two marinas, numerous piers (including Pier 57 and Pier 59, both popular attractions), the Seattle Great Wheel, and the Seattle Aquarium, Elliot Bay provides many things to many people. Not the least of which is the great port of Seattle – one of America’s biggest and most important ports. Ferries also take commuters and tourists across the Bay to Bainbridge or Vashon Island.
Not far from the bustle of Seattle’s Space Needle, there is a public park on the bay where the focus is on wildlife and nature. The 4.8-acre Myrtle Edwards Park stretches along Elliott Bay and is known for its 1.25-mile paved walking and cycling path, and for the many opportunities to see eagles, herons and other wildlife.
The park was originally called Elliott Bay Park, but was renamed in 1976 for Myrtle Edwards. Edwards had been a prominent member of Seattle’s city council, where she fought for the preservation of the city’s natural spaces. Located between the park and the Space Needle is the Olympic Sculpture Park, a nine-acre park of outdoor art installations that opened in 2007.
One of the many expanses of open greenery in Seattle, the Olympic Sculpture Park is a wide swath of open space aimed at providing the people of Seattle an easily-accessible park in which to view some of the greatest modern sculptures of our time. Arguably much more of a park than a museum, Olympic Sculpture Park plays host to numerous social activities, dances, and public performances throughout the year. People come here to walk or jog the hiking path, view the waterfront, have a picnic on a nice sunny day, or just wander around and explore the modern art.
Situated on the Seattle waterfront, the Olympic Sculpture Park is one of Seattle’s most picturesque and widely beloved parks.
Discovery Park is Seattle’s largest public park and although the green space offers over 11 miles of trails, the shorter Loop Trail is perfect for those wanting a quick taste of the scenery. Connecting to the other trails designed for further exploration, it follows the perimeter of the park, taking hikers through second-growth forests consisting of maple, alder, cherry, fir and cedar trees, open meadows and along sandy beaches littered with gnarly driftwood. The park is also a great place to get a view of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound, as well as to catch a glimpse of the diverse wildlife. Seals, sea lions, chipmunks and over 270 species of birds have made their home in and around the 534 acres of the park and just like the visitors coming here for a quick respite, have found somewhat of a sanctuary from the active city.
The Chinatown-International District, often simply referred to as the I.D., is the multiethnic center of Seattle’s Asian community. Coincidentally, it is also one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods and thus, is chalk-full with plenty of history and culture. Some highlights include Kobe Terrace, a small terraced park on a hillside showcasing a urban community garden and Mt. Fuji cherry trees, the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience as well as the many cultural festivals that are held each year, such as the Lunar New Year celebration and Bon Odori.
Most people head to the Chinatown-International District because of the abundance of authentic restaurants though, which sell everything under the sun from dim sum to banh mi. Many of these eateries are tiny mom and pop type shops or food carts and offer completely authentic flavors and experiences.
Definitely make the Seattle Waterfront your first stop on a visit to Seattle, for it is one of the most popular attractions in the city. The bustling waterfront not only holds gift shops, candy stores selling fudge and saltwater taffy, sidewalk T-shirt vendors, and restaurants of all kinds, it’s also is the spot for some of city’s top attractions and piers tied with boats waiting to take you out on Puget Sound.
On the Seattle Waterfront, you can touch starfish at the Seattle Aquarium, watch your kids take a virtual kayak ride on Puget Sound at the Odyssey Maritime Discovery Center, or picnic in Waterfront Park, while taking in the breathtaking view across Elliott Bay to Olympic Mountains. If you want to get out on the water from the Seattle Waterfront, head to Pier 52 for the Washington State Ferries, Pier 55 for harbor cruises and trips to Tillicum Village on Blake Island, or Pier 56 for a boat to Chittenden (Ballard) Locks.
Seattle, topographically, has many ups and downs, but one of the steepest hills in the city is Queen Anne Hill. Accordingly, the neighborhood took a while to be completely developed because understandably, in the early days of the city, nobody felt like making the long trek up the hill just to build a home. Developers eventually offered a two-for-one deal – buy two plots of land for the price of one – to kick start population of the hill. Due to the many Queen Anne style homes built shortly afterwards by a number of the city’s elite who came here to construct their big mansions, the entire hill was named after the beautiful architectural style.
West and East Queen Anne Hill are more quiet residential areas compared to the adjoining Lower Queen Anne and the busy downtown, but there are still plenty of unique locations to be discovered.
Things to do near Washington
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