pike place market
pike place market | cdrin/Shutterstock.com
pike place market | cdrin/Shutterstock.com
Lifestyle
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Actually Cool Things to Do Right Now in Seattle

Presented by

The first thing you think when your friends or family visit here is, "OMG it's so great to see them again!" (Or at least it should be). The second thing you think is, "OMG what in the hell do I actually do with them? As a visitor, you might find yourself wondering what people do for fun in Seattle, aside from rocking polar fleeces, drinking expensive coffee, and convincing themselves it doesn’t rain that much. As it turns out, there’s a whole lot more.

We've compiled a list of actually cool things to do in Seattle (most of which are free or cheap), ranging from iconic tourist attractions that locals truly love, to insider stuff your guests would never find on their own. So if you haven’t tried any of Seattle’s bucket-list foods or hit the city’s best bars, now’s your chance. And who knows, you might even find something on here you’ve never heard of.

Spend a day lounging at the beach… seriously!

Free
Alki
The last thing most people expect to find in Seattle is miles of sandy beaches. And they're right Seattle doesn't have those… West Seattle does. Something else people don't expect? How glorious Seattle's summers are. To get the full effect, head over to Alki, which is just minutes from Downtown but somehow manages to feel like a charming little beach town complete with a row of bars and restaurants highlighted by West Seattle Brewing's Tap Shack, Sunfish, and El Chupacabra.

Tour the Locks

Free
Ballard
Anyone who’s ever had a visitor to Seattle has probably watched the salmon climb the ladder and the boats pass through the Ballard Locks, one of the city’s most heavily visited attractions. But if you want to really want your guests to know what’s going on, take a free walking tour. The professionally guided tours require no advance reservation and are offered at 1pm and 3pm every day, with an additional 11am tour on weekends.

Go outside and enjoy our lush nature

Free
Anywhere
So the No. 1 reason people move to Seattle is… well, tech jobs. But they ALSO really like the great outdoors. Maybe a little too much. That said, you don't have to go trail riding or rock climbing to get in on the action (though we do have a list of some underrated hiking trails, right here), all you have to do is go for a jog around Green Lake, or ride the Burke Gilman Trail, or hit any of number of other outdoor exercise spots around town.

See A Sound Garden and the Black (Hole) Sun

Free
Sand Point/Capitol Hill
Soundgarden is one of Seattle's seminal bands, and a pioneer of '90s grunge. A Sound Garden is a collection of towering metal sculptures in a park overlooking Lake Washington that turn the wind into an eerie, but soothing kind of music (and the inspiration for the band's name). The inspiration for the title of the band's most famous song? Another art installation, this one called the Black Sun that overlooks the city from Volunteer Park.

Make a midnight run to Dick's

$
Various Locations
Sir Mix-A-Lot rapped about bringing his posse by for some burgers. Macklemore danced on the Broadway location's rooftop. Esquire called it the "most life-changing burger joint" in America. But the best thing here? The crowds lining up outside these old-school joints just before they close at 2am every night... but if you’re more of a “burger at not 2am" person, there are still a ton of great burger joints around town.

teriyaki
Naomi Tomky/Thrillist

Grab Seattle’s most underrated and authentic dish: teriyaki

$
Various locations around town
Teriyaki, the dish that The New York Times called Seattle’s version of the Chicago dog, was basically invented in Seattle back in the '70s as a cheap alternative to fast food. Don't believe us? Here's a video explaining the whole thing. And while the sweet sticky dish may be fading from the local food scene lately, there are still hundreds of places to people for a taste of Seattle's signature dish.

Take a day trip on a ferry

$
Various locations around town
Washington State has the largest ferry system in the county (the fourth largest in the world) and some of the boats sail right from Seattle. The best day trip is probably from Mukilteo, a half hour north, to Langley -- a lovely little seaside town on Whidbey Island full of art galleries, and restaurants like Village Pizzeria, or Prima Bistro. Don't have time for that? Don't worry, you can take a water taxi to West Seattle (and get something to eat at Marination Ma Kai) instead.

See if you can grab some seriously hard to get ramen

$
International District
There are lots of places in Seattle to get good ramen, but every Friday at lunch (and only on Friday at lunch), the teeny Tsukushinbo dishes up its famously good and infamously hard-to-get ramen. The line outside is because this spot only slings a couple dozen bowls per day: their richly flavored broth takes four days to make, so you have to get it while it’s hot, or you don't get it at all. Until next week. Maybe.

Catch an awesome exhibit at SAM

$
Multiple Locations
The Seattle Art Museum is worth a visit for the exhibitions alone, but it also boasts a ton of public programs and performances, including regular film screenings (they're showing Alfred Hitchcock flicks all spring), periodic parties called SAM Remix that turn the museum space into a nightclub, and their annual Summer of Sam at the Sculpture Park in Belltown, which features tons of activities over the warmer months.

Take a ride with the SLUT

$
South Lake Union
Sure, the CITY calls it the South Lake Union "Streetcar Line", but everyone else calls it the South Lake Union Trolley... or SLUT, and it winds through Seattle's fasting growing neighborhood, the home to Amazon, and by a ton of bars and restaurants including some of our favorites like Re:public, Barolo, mbar, and more. Our advice: hit a different spot at every stop.

hot dog
Bradley Foster/Thrillist

Eat a Seattle Dog

$
Various locations around town
They'll probably be a little horrified when you first suggest it -- you want me to put WHAT on a hot dog?! -- but once they try the admittedly strange combination of grilled onions and cream cheese on a lightly toasted bun, they'll understand why, for the last 20 years, the Seattle Dog has been a mainstay at street food vendors across the city.

Play vintage video games that you can still win

$
Multiple locations
Home to Nintendo, Microsoft, Valve, and a slew of other game developers, Seattle has always been a gaming town, so it shouldn't be surprising to find a handful of places still offering the kind of games your guests probably grew-up playing, including the no-frills Add-a-Ball arcade in a Fremont basement, and the Seattle Pinball Museum, where you'll find dozens of old school machines.

Get coffee at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery

$
Capitol Hill
Sure, you could take them to the "original" Starbucks in Pike Place Market (FYI, the first location actually opened down the street in 1971 but moved to the current address five years later), but once you get past the crowds there isn't much there. Instead, hit the Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room in Pike/Pine, where you get an intimate view of both the roasting and the brewing process, and you can try things like whiskey barrel-aged cold brew.

Try some of Seattle's best doughnuts

$
Multiple locations
Helmed by one Seattle's best chefs, Renee Erickson, General Porpoise Doughnuts is quickly becoming a Seattle institution thanks to classic baked goods made with fresh local ingredients. There are currently two public locations (and an Amazon employee-only location), but a third will be opening soon, making it even easier to get your hands on these tasty treats.

Sit in the bleachers at Safeco and catch a game

$-$$
Pioneer Square
Let's face it, you don't go to a Mariners game for the baseball -- the team's current playoff drought is longer than any other team in sports -- but you should go for that feeling you get sitting in the bleachers on a sunny day, listening to the crack of the bat, and eating a hot dog (or because this is Seattle, some sushi, or Din Tai Fung's world-famous dumplings). And the best part? Tickets cost as little as $7.

You HAVE to go to Pike Place Market

$$
Downtown
It's the best farmers market in the country. Period. But figuring out what to do once you get there isn't. Luckily, our guides to the 50 Best Things to Eat, and the Best Secret Shops in the Market, will get you started, but the still newish Marketfront, and the myriad bars/restaurants lining Post Alley give you practically endless options.  

Indulge in world-famous dumplings

$$
Multiple locations
Boasting dozens of locations in Asia, but only available in Southern California and Seattle in the US, the Taiwan-based DTF's famed dumplings (the Hong Kong location was awarded a Michelin star) are definitely worth a stop, and not just for their signature pork xiao long bao, but also for the chance to watch their army of white-coated chefs meticulously making the very morsels you're about to eat way too many of.

Ride the iconic Great Wheel

$$
Waterfront/Downtown
In just a few years, this massive, waterside Ferris wheel has become a tourist mainstay, as well as a popular place for writers of a certain lifestyle website to get busted trying to sneak in booze. Whoops! It's also a good place to give guests a glimpse of both Elliott Bay, and the Seattle skyline, which is mostly just cranes nowadays, but hey, still good for the ‘Gram.

Slurp up the best oysters on the West Coast

$$
So many great places
The frigid waters of Puget Sound produce sweet, plump, and briny bivalves, which is why it seems like every restaurant in town has 'em on the menu, but there are a few places that stand out from the rest: The Walrus and the Carpenter, and the three restaurants run by one of Washington State's major oyster producers, Taylor Shellfish Farms, where, in addition to a dozen fresh shucked mollusks, you have to try them fried. Trust us, you won't be disappointed.

Brave the elements to have a beer on a rooftop bar

$$
Various locations
Most people like to think Seattle roofs are only there to keep the rain off them... not for frivolous things like “getting a drink on” or “enjoying the weather atop of", but you can surprise those people at any number of establishments, like the previously mentioned mbar, where the sprawling outdoor space offers uninterrupted views of Lake Union, or the 12th-floor Nest Downtown overlooking Elliott Bay.

chowder fries
sandy lam

Discover how delicious chowder fries are

$$
Various locations
The concept so ridiculously simple -- you essentially take a bowl of chowder and pour it over French fries -- and so ridiculously good we think it could become something Seattle's never really had: a signature seafood dish. Or maybe it's just another foodie trend (last year it was poke, remember?), BUT, whatever it is, if you hit one of the handful of places currently serving them (White Swan Public House and Pike Place Chowder are great picks), you won't be disappointed.

March to the match with the Sounders

$$
This season is off to a bit of a rocky start, but the Sounders are still incredibly popular. As in, they draw twice as many fans as any other MLS team. And a good number of those fans gather in Pioneer Square before every match for a sort of mobile pep rally (complete with marching band) that ends at CenturyLink field. It's a unique experience worth checking out even if you don't have a ticket. And besides, the only other way to get this close to Drew Carey is to get to the Showcase Showdown on Price is Right.

Wait in line for a lunch that's totally worth it at Salumi

$$
Pioneer Square
Helmed by Mario Batali's parents, this cured meat haven boasts a partially open kitchen so you can watch the family roll chorizo and prep specials like hand-pulled gnocchi while you order one of their sandwiches, stuffed with the likes of soppressata and meatballs, from the to-go counter, the line for which typically stretches down the block at lunchtime.

Grab a delicious cocktail on top of Smith Tower

$$
Pioneer Square
For 17 whole years, this historic tower -- completed in 1914 -- was the tallest building west of the Mississippi, and it's still impressive today, with a newly renovated observatory that turns into a Speakeasy-style bar at night, and is only open to people who know the secret. And by secret, we mean who buy a ticket.

can can
Jules Doyle

See a sexy show at the Can Can

$$$
Downtown
Seattle isn't really a destination for people into adult attractions. That's more Portland's thing, obviously. But if your guests are of the romantic variety, The Town does have a thriving burlesque scene. Among the many options, one the city's best Italian restaurants, The Pink Door, features performers dangling above diners from a trapeze every Saturday night, and just down the alley, The Can Can has daily shows (including a weekend burlesque brunch), in a tiny subterranean space that's also one of the best places in Seattle to make out.

Shop at Ebbets Field Flannels for a truly authentic piece of sportswear

$$$
Pioneer Square
No matter where your guests are from Ebbets Field Flannels -- a Seattle based purveyor of authentic handmade vintage baseball jerseys and ballcaps -- should have a throwback from their favorite team at their flagship store, which boasts of ton of old-school charm, and an on-site production room, where all the cutting, sewing, and letter-pressing that goes into making one of their flannels actually happens.

Rent a freaking Hot Tub Boat

$$$$
Eastlake
Perfect for any visitor that isn't your mom and/or dad -- and pretty much the most Seattle thing ever -- a hot tub boat is just as it sounds: A 15-foot boat filled with 400 gallons of temperature controlled water, invented right here in town, and available to rent. It's got just enough room for six, is controlled by an onboard joystick, and cruises up to 5 mph. Oh, and it's got a built-in stereo and four ice chests in case you weren't sure what to do once you get in it.

Take flight in a Seaplane and see the city from the sky

$$$$
South Lake Union
No matter how many tips and tricks to improve flying they know, nothing's gonna make your guests want to get back into a plane once they get here, right? Wrong. They're gonna want in on what has become a quintessential Seattle experience, featuring stunning views, and the unbeatable thrill of taking off, and "landing," on a lake in the middle of the city.

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Bradley Foster is a former Thrillist editor who you and your guests will probably run into at Dick's.