Best of Seattle Itinerary: 3 to 4 Days in the City

Seattle is an international city with arts, food, science, and the outdoors to explore. With 3 to 4 days in the city, it’s easy to experience the best of Seattle: you focus first on the city’s core, and then venture out onto the water or to one of the city’s parks. Stay in a hotel in the downtown core, like Hotel Max, for the easiest travel around the city.

This itinerary assumes you won’t need a car for the first three days and includes information on using public transportation to get around.

Seattle waterfront at sundown
Head to the Seattle waterfront to get on the water. Photo © Albert Pego/iStock.

Day 1: Downtown and Queen Anne

Start the day like any other day—at Starbucks. The location in Pike Place Market isn’t quite as “original” as the T-shirts and mugs would have you believe, but it’s an interesting reminder that the chain used to be just another local coffee stand. Java in hand, explore Pike Place Market and its long rows of craft and food stands. Watch fish fly at Pike Place Fish Market, and venture past the Gum Wall.

Walk south along 1st Avenue to the Hammering Man at Seattle Art Museum, and venture inside to view one of the West Coast’s best art collections. From there it’s only a few blocks down University Street to the waterfront—just aim for the Seattle Great Wheel. Take a boat ride on Argosy Cruises—it would be a shame to leave Seattle without getting on the water at least once.

Once you’re back on dry land, walk to Westlake Center. From here take the Seattle Center Monorail to Seattle Center. You’re probably starving, so make a stop just west of the monorail terminal at the Seattle Center Armory, which hosts small outlets of some of the city’s best cheap eateries. Seattle Center alone contains enough entertainment for a week, so pick your poison: science at the Pacific Science Center or rock and roll and pop culture at the Museum of Pop Culture.

Topping either one will take something big—like, say, the Space Needle. Travel to the top to the observation deck and leave time to take in the full 360-degree view. The heights-averse will enjoy the on-the-ground delights of the Chihuly Garden and Glass.

For dinner, head to Belltown. From the Seattle Center, take the Route 4 bus from 5th Ave. N and Broad St. to 3rd Ave. and Vine St. Hit up one of the city’s memorable restaurants: El Gaucho is known for steak, while Six Seven earns acclaim for both seafood and its waterfront location.

If you still have energy, return downtown to see the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall or a rock band at the Showbox. To get downtown from Belltown, hop on a southbound Route 1, 2, 3, or 4 bus from the intersection of 3rd Ave. and Vine St. Exit at 3rd Ave. and Union St.

aerial view of the Ballard Locks
The Ballard neighborhood has great food and drink options, not to mention scenic views. Photo © seastock.

Day 2: South Lake Union and Ballard

Start the day with tres leches French toast at Cactus in South Lake Union. Walk to Yale Avenue for some quick shopping at REI or follow Terry Avenue north to Lake Union Park and the Museum of History and Industry to learn the story of Seattle and its high-flying, computer-inventing ways. Look for the seaplanes taking off and landing on Lake Union just outside.

It’s time to head north into Ballard to try some of the neighborhood’s best cuisine. Have lunch at Kickin’ Boot Whiskey Kitchen or go for the pasta at Volterra. To get to Ballard from Lake Union Park, pick up a northbound Route 40 bus from Westlake Ave. N and Mercer St. Disembark at NW Leary Way and 15th Ave. NW.

Next, walk west on Northwest Market Street to reach the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. It’s fun to watch the gates open and the locks fill as boats move in and out, and there’s also a fish ladder with underground viewing windows. When you’re ready for dinner, retrace your steps to Ballard Avenue and wait in line for the city’s best oyster bar at the superb The Walrus and the Carpenter.

Bars in Ballard are among the city’s best, so take a tipple at Noble Fir or King’s Hardware, and drink as the anglers once did on these very streets.

Head back downtown to finish the night with music at Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley. To return downtown from Ballard, take a southbound D Line bus from 15th Ave. NW and NW Leary Way to 3rd Ave. and Virginia St.

flowering tree framing steps in Seattles Volunteer Park
Volunteer Park manages to pack a museum, a conservatory, historic buildings, ponds, a playground, lawns, and a stage into a small urban space. Photo © Tim Tribble/Dreamstime.

Day 3: Capitol Hill and West Seattle

If something exciting is happening in Seattle, it’ll either start or end in Capitol Hill. Begin the day at one of the neighborhood’s many indulgent breakfast spots, like The Wandering Goose, where the biscuits are so good they’ve inspired a children’s storybook.

Then it’s time to visit Volunteer Park, one of the city’s prettiest green spaces. Climb to the top of the brick water tower for a workout with a view, or gaze at the Space Needle through the middle of the circular Black Sun sculpture. Venture inside the Seattle Asian Art Museum, guarded by twin camel statues, or enter an urban botanical jungle inside the glassy walls of the conservatory. Kids will be drawn to the playground, but Lake View Cemetery next door attracts fans of the late Bruce Lee, buried here.

Capitol Hill is bursting with restaurants, so the options for lunch are endless. Try the upgraded diner fare at Skillet Diner, or wander down the hill to the options at Melrose Market, a collection of eateries selling everything from oysters to burgers.

After all that culture and fine dining, it’s time to hit the beach. Make your way to West Seattle via water taxi to the sands of Alki Beach, the spot where the city’s founders first arrived. To get to the water taxi pier, take a westbound Route 106 or 550 bus to Pioneer Square Station, then walk to the waterfront. Once in West Seattle, hop on a westbound Route 37 or 775 bus to Alki Ave. SW and 61st Ave. SW.

Today there’s a miniature Statue of Liberty, volleyball courts, and a long stretch of waterfront for strolling. Before hopping the water taxi back to Seattle, grab a snack or a beer at Marination Ma Kai.

Finish the night back in Capitol Hill—dancing at Q and drinks at the bustling Quinn’s Pub will have you up late. To return to Capitol Hill from the water taxi pier, take an eastbound Route 12 bus from the intersection of Marion St. and 1st Ave. Disembark at E Madison St. and Broadway.

cherry blossom trees and green lawn at the University of Washington
In spring the University of Washington campus is awash in cherry blossoms. Photo © july7th.

Day 4: University and International Districts

When the cherry trees are in bloom, the campus of the University of Washington becomes a grove of brilliant blossoms bursting in pink and white. The rest of the time there are plenty of classic quads, plus repositories for the best in science and culture: the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture and the Henry Art Gallery. Shop at one of the many bookstores near campus, like the comfy Third Place Books.

Save pennies by eating as the college students do, popping into a bustling lunch spot on the street known as simply “the Ave.” Leftovers are practically a guarantee at Thai Tom, while Mexican Agua Verde Cafe is best enjoyed after renting kayaks from the paddle club next door. Pop into The Blue Moon Tavern to see where some of Seattle’s literary rock stars once hung out.

Next, head to the International District to burn off all that food with several rounds at the Seattle Pinball Museum, where admission includes unlimited play. Sports fans should take a tour at CenturyLink Field or Safeco Field. Once you’ve worked up an appetite again, go for a casual meal at Canton Wonton House or take your time at Red Lantern.

After dinner, wander the aisles at Asian market Uwajimaya, a kind of international crossroads in the middle of Seattle.

Allison Williams

About the Author

While growing up in Olympia, Washington, Allison Williams spent much of her childhood climbing trees and reading books at the top. Family vacations involved camping in the shadow of Mount Rainier or exploring the very dark, probably haunted tunnels of Port Townsend’s old forts.

Allison received her bachelor’s degree in biology and English from Duke University, with studies at Oxford University and an ethnobiology field school in Costa Rica. She worked as a writer and editor in New York City for eight years, including staff positions at Metro newspaper and Time Out New York. When the lure of the Northwest’s mountains, drizzle, and summer berry harvests became impossible to ignore, she relocated to Seattle. She has since realized two lifelong dreams: summiting Mount Rainier and poking sticks into the campfire without being disciplined.

Allison earned her MFA in creative writing at the University of Alaska Anchorage, where her fiction thesis won the Jason Wenger Award for Literary Excellence. Her journalistic work has been recognized with awards from the Society of Professional Journalists and a nomination from the City and Regional Magazine Association. As senior editor at Seattle Met magazine, she covers travel and the outdoors by hiking every trail and driving every road she can find on a map.

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Seattle skyline with the Aurora Bridge in the foreground. Pinterest graphic.