Even when the weather is cold and gray, the Seattle waterfront is warm and inviting. This family friendly area offers a wide variety of shops, activities, and eating options that will cater to virtually every need. Plan to spend an entire day down by the water to experience everything that the Emerald City has to offer. It only takes 30 minutes to walk the entire waterfront, so make sure you bring some comfortable shoes as you enjoy everything included on this guide.
Savor Some Freshly Baked Bread
The action gets started bright and early thanks to the bakeries that are located down by the water. Starting at 7:30am, you can smell fresh sourdough coming from the Alaskan Sourdough Bakery, sweet pastries coming from Piroshky Prioshky, and French delicacies coming from Le Panier up in the Pike Place Market. It’s often quiet early in the morning down by the water, so grab your favorite warm baked goods and find a spot to enjoy the view.
Here’s a tip: Seagulls love fresh baked bread too. Just don’t feed them any because if you do, you will find that they will multiply rapidly and potentially become aggressive.
Enjoy a Spin on the Seattle Great Wheel
One of the newest additions to the Seattle waterfront is also one of the best ways to see the city. It opens up at 10am every day, but hours can change seasonally. The ride is about 20 minutes long and you’ll reach a peak height of 175 feet, making the Ferris wheel the tallest one that is on the West Coast. It’s also only unique because of the fact that it is built out over the water. Don’t worry about it being a rainy day – the gondolas are climate controlled and completely enclosed.
Tickets begin at $13, but are subject to change.
Consider springing for the VIP gondola if it is available. The VIP tickets are $50 per person and sold on a first come, first serve basis. You’ll get to skip the line as a VIP, receive a champagne toast over at Fisherman’s Restaurant, plus a commemorative t-shirt and photos. The leather bucket seats in the gondola are also much more comfortable than the standard ride.
If you happen to be in town for a Seattle Seahawks or UW game, be sure to check out the light show the Great Wheel offers.
After you’ve finished seeing the city, make sure you take the full tour of Miner’s Landing even if you’re not having champagne at Fisherman’s Restaurant. There’s a vintage indoor carousel that offers rides beginning at 11am and fresh popcorn and cotton candy is made on-site to help make the ride just a bit sweeter. Stop at Pirates Plunder for some laughs before heading out to enjoy the rest of what the Seattle waterfront has to offer.
Make a splash at the Seattle Aquarium
Pier 59 is the home to the Seattle Aquarium and the facilities recent upgrades have created a world-class experience. You’ll be greeted by a wall-sized aquarium as soon as you enter and then walk down a hall with an open air aquarium that simulates the tidal forces of nearby Puget Sound. Many of the exhibits are hands-on and interactive, giving the kids a lot of fun. The otters are usually the star of the show, but the salmon ladders and exhibits about local sea life will be a lot of fun for everyone.
Don’t forget to make time for the Orcas family activity center. You’ll get to learn more about the pods that call the area home. You’ll even get to listen to the underwater microphones setup throughout the region and along the coast and maybe hear the orcas speaking with each other. Tickets start at $22.95 for adults and $15.95 for youth.
Grab some lunch at Elliot’s Oyster House
You’ll find a lot of people swarming the Ivar’s counter when it comes time to get a bite to eat. There’s nothing wrong with fulfilling a craving for seafood by “keeping clam” with this Seattle institution, but Elliot’s Oyster House provides a bay view and goes beyond the fish and chips. If you love crab, then make sure you order their signature Dungeness crab service and you will be making sure that you can come back at least one more time during your stay in the city.
If oysters are what you love, then Elliot’s has more than 30 different varieties on its menu at any given time. Because all of the oysters are locally sourced, their menu is updated 2x per day so you always get the freshest options available from certified and sustainable growing areas.
Take a cruise and do some whale watching
If you don’t want to deal with the crush of people that might be waiting for one of the ferries down by the waterfront, then consider taking a cruise offered by one of the three private agencies. You can choose to see the city from Elliott Bay, take a day cruise to do some whale watching, or even hop onto the Victoria Clipper and head all the way out to Victoria Island if you so choose. Which option is right for you?
Argosy. Based off of Pier 56, this company offers tours of various lengths that can fit with almost any schedule. During the busy season, a new tour starts every 45 minutes. You can take a trip through the Ballard Locks, tour the harbor, or head out to Blake Island and Tillicum Village to enjoy nearly 8 miles of hiking trails at one of the best state parks in the region.
Emerald City. This charter service is based off Pier 54 and offers 90 minute day tours to see the city in a unique way. The sunset cruise on one of their sailing yachts is definitely one of Seattle’s best experiences.
Victoria Clipper. The Clipper is your best option to see the entire Puget Sound region. It will take you through the San Juan Islands, up to Vancouver BC, and other unique tours that you won’t find anywhere else in the city. You’ll have to head up to Pier 69 for this option.
Pike Place Market has everything you could ever want… and more
It’s a short 5 minute walk from the Seattle Aquarium up to Pike Place Market, so you won’t want to miss this treat. You could take the famous Seattle steps to get up to market level, but the easiest method is to cross the street, walk over to the parking garage that will be on your left, and then take the elevator all the way to the upper level. From there, you just walk out to the sidewalk on Western Avenue and head up toward Victor Steinbrueck Park to access the outdoor portions of the market.
You also have several entry points along Western Avenue if you prefer to access the lower levels of the marketplace. There are a number of amazing fresh food options, historical restaurants, and unique shops to explore. One of the perennial favorites in the market is Golden Age Collectibles, which just happens to be the oldest comic shop in the United States. Don’t miss the $5 fresh cut bouquets on your way back to the waterfront either.
Waterfront shopping is unique and wonderful
You’ll pass plenty of shops down on the waterfront which cater to the tourist that wants a souvenir. T-shirts, magnets, snowglobes, and salmon flavored bubble gum is all available for you to enjoy in copious amounts. You can even save yourself a trip to the coast if you want with Forks-related gear that commemorates the Twilight series of books and movies.
What you won’t want to miss is Ye Olde Fashioned Curiosity Shop. It’s one of Seattle’s oldest stores, first opening its doors in 1899. Be prepared to have people and unusual things all up in your personal space while you browse through the store – the aisles are super tight. If you ever wanted to own a shrunken head, then this is the place for you. You’ll also find unusual animals, real mummies, and a whole lot of Seattle’s history available for you to enjoy while you shop.
Look up at the masterpieces of the Olympic Sculpture Park
It’s officially listed as a park, but the space is actually operated and maintained by SAM – the Seattle Art Museum.
The park is free to visit and operating hours are 30 minutes prior to sunrise to 30 minutes after sunset.
Enjoy some time on the beach
The Seattle waterfront also offers you a chance to get away from the hustle and bustle of city life if you wish. This green space along the waterfront starts at the sculpture park and runs all the way up to the cruise terminals. The mountain and water views are spectacular enough, but there’s also more than a mile of walking and biking trails if you wish to be active. On a clear day, you’ll see Mount Rainier, the Olympics, and Puget Sound.
There’s also beach access if you just wish to sit and relax for awhile and watch the shipping traffic. If you’re hungry, Aqua at the south end of the park on Pier 70 offers an amazing selection of appetizers to enjoy. Make sure you get the wicked shrimp with your preferred cocktail out on their patio. Fans of The Real World can also enjoy the fact that they’re eating at the same place Irene McGee got slapped by Stephen Williams.
Take a ferry ride
The ferry terminal at Pier 52 is one of the most affordable ways to explore the area from the water. For less than $10 per person, you can get a round trip ride to either Bremerton or Bainbridge Island. Ride the ferry one way and then ride it right back if you want or choose to stay awhile on the other side of the water if you wish. Ferries run on a regular schedule throughout the day with sailing times every 45-60 minutes.
Concessions are available on-board the ferries, although at a higher price than you’ll find on land. You’re also allowed to consume alcohol on a ferry as long as you purchased it on-board. Have a glass of Washington wine, step outside to enjoy the view and a bit of a breeze, and you’ll have a memorable and affordable time of exploration.
Linger over dinner at the Crab Pot
The Crab Pot is one of the best meals you’re ever going to find in Seattle. The seafeasts, which are the specialty of the house, is literally a bucket of food that is steamed together and then dumped on your table for you to enjoy sans plates. You’ll want the bibs they hand out because cracking a king crab with a mallet can be surprisingly messy.
If you don’t want to spend $41.95 per person for the king crab seafeast, then The Cove offers local steamed clams and mussels, shell shrimp, andouille sausage, red potatoes, and corn on the cob for just $18.95 per person.
A nightcap at Six Seven
To be fair, Six Seven is another great place for dinner after a long day of exploring the Seattle waterfront. The lobster mac and cheese is ridiculously good. It’s also a great place to grab your favorite drink, enjoy a great view, and relax at the end of your day. You can reserve a table, but not a table with a view. It’s also not a bad plan to show up at 5 PM, get your table, and then linger until the sun goes down for an amazing experience.
The Seattle waterfront offers an incredible opportunity to see what the Emerald City is all about. You’re promised an amazing time and this area of the city delivers time and time again. Use this guide to plan your own adventure and you might not ever want to leave.
There are ongoing upgrade projects scheduled for the Seattle waterfront. Times, accessibility, and pricing may vary depending on the status of the project