The Non-Tourist's Guide to Seattle: Part One (Where to Stay, Where to Play)

View of Downtown Seattle and Mt. Rainier from Kerry Park.  Photo by Randall J. Hodges Photography.

View of Downtown Seattle and Mt. Rainier from Kerry Park.  Photo by Randall J. Hodges Photography.

Since Seattle isn't a travel destination for me (considering it's where I live), people often ask me what they should eat, drink, see and do when visiting.  With every request, I think that I should gather this information in one place.  So with a new blog, it seems like a good time to finally bring this list to fruition.

Below you will find information on my favorite hotels, shopping and sightseeing.  (Restaurants, cocktail bars and nightlife will be featured in Part Two.)  For visitors pressed for time who need to narrow down the list, an asterisk denotes my absolute favorites.

Still have questions about Seattle? Leave me a comment and I'm happy to provide the answer!

Where to Sleep:

*Four Seasons Seattle (Downtown) - Perfectly situated near Pike Place Market and across the street from the Seattle Art Museum, the real star of the Four Seasons Seattle is its view of Elliott Bay.  Hang out at the rooftop's infinity pool with views of the water below.

Infinity pool and rooftop views of Elliott Bay from the Four Seasons Seattle.  Photo by Four Seasons Seattle.

Infinity pool and rooftop views of Elliott Bay from the Four Seasons Seattle.  Photo by Four Seasons Seattle.

Hotel Monaco (Downtown) - A Kimpton brand, Hotel Monaco is a luxury boutique hotel perfectly situated in the heart of downtown Seattle.  Sazerac restaurant located just off the lobby has a great happy hour.

W Seattle (Downtown) - Seattle's W Hotel is the epitome of the brand: contemporary and hip.  TRACE restaurant and bar offers ample lounge seating and a 10-seat sushi bar.

What to See/Do:

Ballard Locks (Ballard) - Watch salmon pass between the salt water of the Puget Sound and fresh water of Lake Washington and Lake Union, viewable through glass panels below the water line.

Chihuly Garden and Glass (Downtown) - Seattle area native Dale Chihuly's glass art has been featured in exhibitions all over the world.  Opened in 2012, a number of Chihuly's works are on display in his hometown at this exhibition hall, glasshouse and garden.

Outside the Chihuly Garden and Glass glasshouse.  Photo by Chihuly Garden and Glass.

Outside the Chihuly Garden and Glass glasshouse.  Photo by Chihuly Garden and Glass.

Chinatown-International District (International Distict) - Chinatown-ID boasts being the only neighborhood in America where Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Vietnamese and Southeast Asians live and work side-by-side.  Visit Uwajimaya, the largest Asian grocery store in the Pacific Northwest. 

*Downtown Waterfront (Downtown) - Seattle's Downtown waterfront offers a variety of activities - the Seattle Aquarium, cruise ship and ferry docks, seafood restaurants, parks, shopping and its newest feature, the Seattle Great Wheel.

Downtown Seattle's Great Wheel and waterfront.  Image by Shutter Wonders.

Downtown Seattle's Great Wheel and waterfront.  Image by Shutter Wonders.

*EMP Museum (Downtown) - A museum dedicated to popular culture, specifically Seattle's music roots, EMP features Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix exhibitions, a sound lab and guitar gallery.

Fremont Troll (Fremont) - A giant troll (sculpture) resides under a bridge in Fremont, clutching a Volkswagen Bug.   Enough said.  It's worth seeing.

The Fremont Troll.  Photo by Rebecca Garland.

The Fremont Troll.  Photo by Rebecca Garland.

Gum Wall (Downtown) - It's exactly what it sounds like - a large wall of visitors' gum.  Pretty disgusting and has (not surprisingly) ranked as one of the top five germiest attractions in the world.

Gum wall in downtown Seattle.  Photo by Rebecca Garland.

Gum wall in downtown Seattle.  Photo by Rebecca Garland.

Japanese Gardens (Madison Valley) - Located within the Washington Park Arboretum, the Japanese Gardens is three and a half acres of garden constructed by Japanese designer Juki Iida.

Japanese Gardens near Seattle's Arboretum. Photo by Rebecca Garland.

Japanese Gardens near Seattle's Arboretum. Photo by Rebecca Garland.

Lenin Statue (Fremont) - A Seattle area resident teaching English in Slovakia found a 16 foot bronze statue of Vladimir Lenin in a scrapyard and brought it back to Seattle.  The statue now resides just three blocks from the Fremont Troll.

Lenin statute in the Fremont neighborhood.  Photo by Rebecca Garland.

Lenin statute in the Fremont neighborhood.  Photo by Rebecca Garland.

*Pike Place Market (Downtown) - Market stalls sell everything from flowers to fish, produce to spices.  Restaurants.  Crafts.  Buskers.  Shopping from vinyl records to comic books.  Don't miss the fishmongers throwing fish.  If you only have one stop to make in Seattle, it should be Pike Place Market.

Pike Place Market clock.  Photo by Pike Place Market.

Pike Place Market clock.  Photo by Pike Place Market.

Seattle Art Museum (Downtown) - Seattle Art Museum is comprised of three venues - Seattle Art Museum (SAM), Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) and Olympic Sculpture Park.  First Thursdays of the month at SAM and SAAM are free.

Seattle Central Library (Downtown) - The 11-story steel and glass building that houses Downtown Seattle's Central Library is worth a stop for architecture buffs.

Photo of Downtown Seattle featuring the Central Library. Photo by Seattle Public Library.

Photo of Downtown Seattle featuring the Central Library. Photo by Seattle Public Library.

*Space Needle (Downtown) - On clear days, the Space Needle provides some of the best views of the city, mountains and water.  On more typical (cloudy) days, just take a trip to the base of the Space Needle - probably not worth paying for the trip up.

View from the base of the Space Needle at night.  Photo by Rebecca Garland.

View from the base of the Space Needle at night.  Photo by Rebecca Garland.

Woodinville Wineries (Woodinville) - Just a 30 minute drive from Seattle, Woodinville is home to over 90 wineries.  Combine your visit to Woodinville with dinner at either The Herbfarm (reservations well in advance are necessary) or Barking Frog and a stay at Willows Lodge.

Where to Play Outside:

Alki Beach (Alki) - Summertime (and any sunny Seattle day) draws Seattleites to Alki Beach where kids play in the sand and dip their toes in cold Elliott Bay.  A 2.5-mile walkway lines Alki Beach and is full of walkers and roller bladers.  Great views of the Seattle skyline from across the Bay.

Alki Beach with views of Olympic Mountains. Photo by Rebecca Garland.

Alki Beach with views of Olympic Mountains. Photo by Rebecca Garland.

Discovery Park (Magnolia) - Seattle's largest park, Discovery Park is 534 acres of hiking trails and spectacular views from Magnolia Bluff overlooking Puget Sound and both the Cascade and Olympic Mountain ranges.

Green Lake Park (Green Lake) - A 2.8-mile path around Green Lake is perfect for walking, running, roller blading and biking.  During the summer, swimmers, rowers and kayakers enjoy the lake while there are ongoing games on the tennis courts, baseball and softball fields.

Rowers on Green Lake at Green Lake Park.  Photo by Pelusa Chirinos.

Rowers on Green Lake at Green Lake Park.  Photo by Pelusa Chirinos.

*Kerry Park (Queen Anne) - With amazing views of the Seattle skyline and Mount Rainier (when visible), Kerry Park is the perfect place to take photographs of the city.

Where to Shop:

If you're looking for a mall, check out Pacific Place in Downtown Seattle or University Village in the University District, both of which have upscale shopping like Barneys, Tiffany & Co., Kate Spade and BCBG.  If you're looking for shopping unique to Seattle, try one of these:

Ballard Farmers Market (Ballard) - Open every Sunday from 10 am to 3 pm year round, the Ballard Farmers Market is one of the largest in Seattle, offering flowers, fresh produce, cheese, meat, seafood, poultry, bread and baked goods.

*Elliott Bay Book Company (Capitol Hill) -Though an independent bookstore, Elliott Bay Books is massive and multi-level with over 150,000 titles and cafe.  Author readings and events are not to be missed.

Main floor of Elliott Bay Books.  Photo by Elliott Bay Book Company.

Main floor of Elliott Bay Books.  Photo by Elliott Bay Book Company.

Fran's Chocolates (Downtown) - Based in Seattle, Fran's is the (wo)man when it comes to chocolates.  Unless you want a new addiction, don't go near the salted caramels.... 

Interior of Fran's Chocolates in Downtown Seattle. Photo by Fran's Chocolates.

Interior of Fran's Chocolates in Downtown Seattle. Photo by Fran's Chocolates.

Horseshoe (Ballard) - Located on Ballard Avenue (lots of great boutique shopping along the street!), Horseshoe stays true to its name with a wide selection of boots as well as contemporary women's clothing from brands like Trina Turk and Splendid.

Luly Yang (Downtown) - Even if you aren't in the market for a couture wedding dress or evening gown, it's worth at least a walk by Luly Yang's gorgeous 4th Avenue windows.

Window shopping at Luly Yang in Downtown Seattle.  Photo by Luly Yang Couture.

Window shopping at Luly Yang in Downtown Seattle.  Photo by Luly Yang Couture.

Nordstrom (Downtown) - Ok, so it's not exactly local shopping, but Nordstrom is homegrown in Seattle. As the flagship store, the Downtown Seattle location is the one to visit. Make an appointment (the service is free) with personal stylist rockstar Lisa Proko.

Open Books (Wallingford) - A quaint space in the Wallingford neighborhood, Open Books is a "Poem Emporium" - one of only two bookstores on the West Coast dedicated entirely to poetry.

*Sell Your Sole (Belltown) - An upscale consignment store filled with luxury brands (Louboutin, Louis Vuitton, Yves Saint Laurent) at fractions of the cost., Sell Your Sole's owner, Natalia Biner Wittke, has a fantastic eye and brings great finds into the store.

Sell Your Sole Consignment boutique in Belltown.  Photo by Sorella Photos.

Sell Your Sole Consignment boutique in Belltown.  Photo by Sorella Photos.

Watson Kennedy (Downtown) - This 1st Avenue store has just about everything you could imagine to make a beautiful home: gourmet foods, tableware, stationary, books, glassware, candles, wrapping paper and cards, soaps, vintage furniture. . . the list goes on.

Watson Kennedy storefront on 1st Avenue in Downtown Seattle.  Photo by Watson Kennedy.

Watson Kennedy storefront on 1st Avenue in Downtown Seattle.  Photo by Watson Kennedy.

Where to Ferry:

A visit to Seattle is not complete without taking a ferry to one of its nearby islands in the Puget Sound.  Four islands that I especially love:

Bainbridge Island - Named among the best places to live in the U.S., Bainbridge Island is also a great place to visit for a day of shopping, dining and outdoor activities.  The island is reached by a 35 minute ferry ride from Downtown Seattle.

Lummi Island - The New York Times has called The Willows Inn's restaurant on Lummi Island one of "10 restaurants worth a plane ride."  If you're already in Seattle, no plane ride necessary; it's just a car and ferry ride away.

Chefs in action in The Willows Inn kitchen.  Photo by The Willows Inn.

Chefs in action in The Willows Inn kitchen.  Photo by The Willows Inn.

Vashon Island - A mere 20 minute ferry ride from the West Seattle ferry dock, Vashon Island is a quirky little island and artists' retreat.  Check out the quaint shops, restaurants and galleries in town.

Whidbey Island - Like Lummi, Whidbey is just a car and ferry ride away from Seattle.  Stay at the Inn at Langley for beautiful waterfront views from each guest room.

Sunset view on Whidbey Island from Inn at Langley guest room.  Photo by Inn at Langley.

Sunset view on Whidbey Island from Inn at Langley guest room.  Photo by Inn at Langley.