If you’re visiting Seattle for the first time (or the first time in a while), you might be asking yourself: Where can I get an authentic Seattle experience in a short period of time?
It’s a tall task.
Although there are very fun, tried-and-true spots that you’ve heard of like the Space Needle, here are some places where you can see popular Seattle highlights, like a bird’s-eye view of the city and local art, but from a different perspective.
If you want to avoid (some of) the crowds and get a unique, free (or lower cost) experience that’s recommended by a local, check out these spots.
(And yes, if you want to go the Space Needle, you should! Tourist hot spots are popular for a reason. Any site on this list would add to your Seattle visit.)
Visit the Smith Tower Observatory and Bar, not the Space Needle
If you want to admire the Seattle sunset or catch a bird’s-eye view of the city, opt for Smith Tower Observatory and Bar with its open-air viewing deck for a 360-degree view of Seattle from the 35th floor. Grab a bite to eat at the bar and restaurant, and hope that it’s not raining so you can get a nice view of the sunset. Go at happy hour from 3-6 p.m. Wednesday to Friday.
The Smith Tower is open Wednesday-Thursday (3-10 p.m.), Friday-Saturday (3-11 p.m.), and Sunday (3-10 p.m.); tickets are available for $19 on a first-come, first-served basis at the door (locals get a 20% discount with a valid Washington ID). Wait times vary, and the last elevator up is 1 hour before closing. Learn more: st.news/smithtower.
If you’re looking for a free option that’s less crowded than the observatory, check out popular outdoor skyline viewpoints like Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill or West Seattle’s Hamilton Viewpoint Park, which offers sweeping views of West Seattle, Elliott Bay and the Cascade Mountains.
Visit the Volunteer Park Conservatory, not the Chihuly Garden and Glass
If it’s raining, or you’re looking for an indoor space with some desert blooms and succulents, check out the Volunteer Park Conservatory, a historical greenhouse and botanical garden located on the north end of Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill. The conservatory is broken up into five houses, each with its own environment: the bromeliad house, palm house, fern house, cactus house and seasonal display, all covering more than 6,000 square feet. Know that the temperature in the conservatory is usually around 72 degrees, so you may not need a bulky coat! Free parking is available at Volunteer Park, and you can also check out the Palm House Gift Shop to pick up a few plants, pins, stickers and more.
The Volunteer Park Conservatory is open Tuesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tickets are $4 for ages 18+, $2 for ages 13-17 and children 12 and under are free. Learn more: volunteerparkconservatory.org.
If you want to experience nature year-round, check out the Washington Park Arboretum. Other than the Japanese Garden, all of the arboretum and its 230 acres of garden, natural areas and wetlands is open to the public free of charge. Each season offers something new to explore from the hydrangeas and magnolias in the summer to Japanese maples in the fall. If you’re visiting in the spring, check out Azalea Way, a 3/4-mile path lined with flowering cherries, azaleas and dogwoods, or the Rhododendron Glen. (Learn more about this month’s seasonal blooms online: st.news/seasonal.)
Visit the Starbucks Roastery, not the first Starbucks
But if you love Starbucks and want to check out a more immersive coffee experience (and skip the long lines at the Pike Place Starbucks, where you’ll get the same drinks as anywhere else), check out the specialty drinks at the Pike Street Roastery, the first Starbucks Reserve Roastery, on Capitol Hill. You can order a variety of coffee, cocktails and food from the roastery menu, including barrel-aged coffee like the whiskey barrel-aged cold brew. Look above the main bar where you can grab espresso drinks and check out the solari board to see what’s being roasted on the day of your visit and learn more about upcoming events. There’s also a scooping bar where you can consult with a staff member about what kind of coffee beans you’re looking for and get a bag to take home.
The Starbucks Roastery is located at 1124 Pike St. and is open daily from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Learn more: st.news/starbucksroastery.
If you’re more of a chocolate person, check out Theo Factory for an interactive tour of the flagship store, where you’ll learn about the origin of cacao and how they craft chocolate from scratch — and yes, samples are included.
The Theo Chocolate Factory is located at 3400 Phinney Ave. N. Tours are $12 per person and available daily, and the Theo Chocolate flagship store is open daily from 10:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. Learn more: theochocolate.com/flagship-store.
Visit Tapster, not the big breweries
Similar disclaimer as above: You’re in Seattle — you should have a beer.
But if you’re not a brewery person and you’re looking for a fun local bar, check out Tapster in South Lake Union. It’s a self-serve craft tasting room with beer, wine, kombucha, cold brew and more on tap where you pay by the ounce. Stop by on Sundays from 5 to 7 p.m. for drag-themed bingo, Mondays from 7 p.m. for themed trivia and Wednesdays to get discounts on all the wines on tap. No matter when you stop by, enjoy your drink on the outside patio or the indoor swings, which make for a fun photo op.
Tapster is located at 1011 Valley St., and it’s open seven days a week (Monday-Thursday 3-11 p.m., Friday 2:30 p.m.-1 a.m., Saturday noon-1 a.m., and Sunday noon-10 p.m.). There is a $10 minimum per person. Learn more: st.news/tapster.
Visit the Frye or Museum of Museums, not Seattle Art Museum
If you’re looking for a new, quirky museum with locally influenced exhibits, check out the Museum of Museums, a contemporary art center located on Capitol Hill, when it reopens with new exhibits June 3. This medical building turned exhibition space holds rotating installations, weekly art classes and pop-ups. My favorite part is the gift shop, which features a collection of 60-plus rotating objects, from antiques to games. Don’t forget to check out the bathrooms, which each have their own designs.
The museum is located at 900 Boylston Ave., and will reopen June 3. Regular hours: Wednesday-Thursday (5-10 p.m.), Friday-Saturday (noon-10 p.m.) and Sunday (noon-6 p.m.). Weekday tickets are $10, and weekend tickets (Friday-Sunday) are $20 plus processing fees. Learn more: st.news/MoM.
The Museum of Museums offers portable ramp access to the first and second floor of the main building. Since there are sections of the museum that are not ADA compliant or wheelchair accessible, it will offer free admission to anyone who cannot fully experience the exhibitions.
If you’re in the neighborhood, consider also the Frye Art Museum, which is free and always lined with intriguing exhibits.
And, as is the case with every “not” on this list, you would not be wrong to visit the Seattle Art Museum, which has a marvelous, rightfully renowned collection. You just won’t be the only one who had the idea.
The Frye Art Museum is located at 704 Terry Ave. and is open 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Learn more: fryemuseum.org.