Home / News / Seattle City Guide: Travel Tips and Recommendations 

Seattle City Guide: Travel Tips and Recommendations 

Jun 15, 2024Jun 15, 2024

Dine inside the Amazon Spheres, triple domes with more than 40,000 cloud forest plants from around the world. Seattle superstar chef Renee Erickson applies her talent to a Roman-influenced menu in this gentle pastel space, named for botanist Ellen Willmott, who would sneakily plant flowering thistles in her friends’ gardens. Start with antipasti, then move on to dishes like halibut in tapenade or a fresh mozzarella pizza. Reservations recommended.

The Scandinavian-settled neighborhood of Ballard still shelters the North Pacific fishing fleet off-season, including boats featured on the Deadliest Catch series. But today Ballard is equally known for its bijou hipster bars, restaurants and boutiques, along with the splendid National Nordic Museum. Walkers and cyclists will enjoy the paved route along the 19-mile Burke-Gilman Trail, which begins at the sandy saltwater beach at Golden Gardens Park.

​Ways to save: In the Ballard neighborhood, the quintessential Seattle experience remains free: the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, where boats transit uphill from sea level into the ship canal and the lake system north and east of downtown. Underground windows show the city’s three Pacific salmon species (sockeye, chinook, coho) migrating, with peak views from mid-June through September.

Long ago, a glacier carved this body of water, creating an aquatic playground the size of Monaco, just two miles north of downtown. It offers views of the Seattle skyline, the Space Needle and the dramatic industrial ruins at Gas Works Park, as Kenmore Air seaplanes splash down and take off.

​Plunge right into this bustling scene with a rental from the Center for Wooden Boats, which hires out classic craft from rowing skiffs to Blanchard Junior Knockabouts: sloops built right on this lake’s edge from 1933 to 1947. Fancy more ease? The neighborhood also has heated, enclosed, electric boats and even six-passenger vessels with hot tubs.

​Allison Williams, author of the guidebook Moon Seattle, says: “I really love renting kayaks from Agua Verde [Paddle Club], then following it up with margaritas and tacos on its patio. Pro tip: Don’t do that in reverse.”

​Ways to save: Reserve a one-hour rowboat for free through the Center for Wooden Boats as part of the year-round Public Peapod Program. Or try a 45-minute Ice Cream Cruise around the lake. Narration touches on highlights like the birthplace of Boeing, one of the world’s busiest drawbridges, and houseboats, including the famous Sleepless in Seattle one. This dog-friendly jaunt costs $15 for adults, compared with the Argosy Cruises two-hour Locks Cruise for $49 ($46 for people 65 and older) one-way sailing and shuttle return.

A mile south of downtown, this lively neighborhood stands on the National Register of Historic Places. Its star attraction remains the Wing Luke Museum, the Pacific Northwest’s first Smithsonian Institution affiliate and a National Park Service affiliated area. Community-curated exhibitions usually include a nod to local legend Bruce Lee, and walking tours help travelers explore the area. Favorite spots include the only surviving restaurant from Seattle’s once-bustling Japantown, Maneki, listed as one of America’s Classics by the James Beard Foundation. Saigon Viet Nam Deli serves up some of the country’s best banh mi sandwiches; and the Hood Famous café and bakery spotlights roasts from the Philippines, alongside striking and delicious cheesecake made from ube (bright purple Japanese yams).

​Ways to save: Meet seniors in Hing Hay Park, a popular spot for card games, chess matches, picnics, meditation, outdoor exercise and cultural performances in an ornate Taiwanese pavilion. If you work up an appetite, head half a block east on South King Street to one of actor Bruce Lee’s hangouts: Tai Tung, Seattle’s oldest Chinese restaurant. His favorite dishes were garlic shrimp and oyster sauce beef.

This new stadium hosts events, concerts and matches for the city’s new National Hockey League team, the Seattle Kraken. It’s also home to the Seattle Storm, four-time champion of the Women’s National Basketball Association. ​​

The arena itself deserves some applause. Eco-friendly touches include channeling rainwater to resurface the ice, and the building’s on track to be the world’s first International Living Future Institute Zero Carbon–certified professional sports venue. It’s open year-round for events; book a tour to learn more about the sustainability efforts.

​Ways to save: Arrive via the Monorail, a 90-second ride between Seattle Center and the arena. Tickets cost $3.50 for adults and $1.75 for passengers over the age of 65.

The Emerald City may be the gateway for Alaskan cruises, but it has plenty of nature, too. Wander the 20 acres of Kubota Garden, blending Japanese landscape design with native Northwest plants. Set in South Seattle’s Rainier Beach neighborhood, it’s accessible via light rail and the 106 bus as well as by car (free admission, donations welcome). 

Or really stretch your legs at vast Discovery Park, six miles northwest of downtown. This lush green space sweeps from cliffs peering out at snowcapped peaks to meadows, forest groves and even sand dunes. Not comfortable hiking down the bluffs? People over age 62 — and anyone with physical limitations — can check out free beach parking passes at the visitor center.

​Trek 90 miles southeast of Seattle for an alpine experience: Mount Rainier, the most glaciated peak in the contiguous U.S., rises 14,410 feet above sea level there, protected by Mount Rainier National Park.

​A hundred miles north sprawl the San Juan Islands, a tranquil landscape protected by national monument status that’s known for its resident orca pods. A 1919 lighthouse here remains one of the world’s best places to view whales from shore: Lime Kiln Point State Park. A scenic byway connects the two biggest islands, Orcas and San Juan.

​Head west to experience sandy spits, sea stacks and temperate rain forest along the Pacific Coast. Olympic National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a two- to four-hour drive from the city, depending on where you’re headed in the almost million-acre reserve.

​Ways to save: Seattle-based REI and the Mountaineers community both offer outdoor classes and day trips. The Mountaineers’ website provides information about carpooling to reduce the cost of gas and spare you the expense of renting a vehicle. REI also offers free training classes and courses; check the website for event details.

Writer and photographer Amanda Castleman grew up on the Salish Sea and attended the University of Washington while working as a reporter and wilderness guide. After eight years abroad, she returned to the Emerald City in 2004. She freelances for titles including National Geographic, The New York Times, The Seattle Times and Sierra Magazine.

Find exclusive interviews, smart advice, free novels, full documentaries, fun daily features and much more — all a benefit of your AARP membership — on Members Only Access.

Already a Member? Login


Road Trip in Washington’s San Juan Islands

This 4-day journey includes art, ferries, orcas, pioneer history, and fabulous food

What to Do on a Quick Trip to Seattle

You can pack in a lot of fun on a short visit to this beautiful city

5 Travel Writers Share Their Most Meaningful Vacations

Travel writers share the trips they won’t forget