Reader Patrona recently sent me this email:
My husband and I live in Idaho, and have thought for some time we would like to visit Seattle. We decided to go this year for our anniversary in October. I was just wondering if you would be able to share a list of interesting things to do, or tips for our stay. We are low-key people and really just enjoy being together, and sightseeing in a relaxed and frugal way. We don’t really do theaters, or high priced tours etc.
We have a daughter that is 5 months old, So doing things that would allow us to easily meet her needs as well, is a must!
I thought her question would make a nice topic for a post. Additionally, I reached out to the folks at The Coupon Project Facebook page to see if they had additional ideas too.
Here are some of the ideas that stood out to me. For the purposes of this post, I’m sticking to just what you’d find in Seattle – so leaving off day trip recommendations like Mt. Rainier and Leavenworth (though that could well be another post).
Free Points of Interest in Seattle
Let’s start with some great places you can tour that won’t cost you a dime. Some of these are definitely tourist attractions and others are just places I find interesting.
Pike Place Market. Ask anyone where to visit in Seattle, and they’ll tell you Pike Place Market. It’s a great indoor market with lots of local vendors that sell produce, artisan crafts, snacks, and more. The fishmongers at the fish market are also not to be missed! For a quirky experience, enter through the gum wall in Post Alley – it’s another classic Seattle spot. Word to the wise: it’s Pike Place Market, not Pike’s Place Market. Say “Pike’s Place” and we’ll know you’re a tourist. It’s also fun to get a picture in front of the Starbucks right across from the Market – it’s the first Starbucks store!
Gas Works Park. When I went to school in Seattle, this was one of my favorite places to visit. This park provides great views of the Seattle skyline and a favorite spot by many for picture taking or fireworks watching (for the 4th of July or New Years). What makes the park unique is that it used to be a plant that turned coal into gas. While that operation was shut down decades ago, the machinery has been left behind as play and picnic areas. It always feels a bit like I’m in a Pink Floyd video when I’m there.
University of Washington Arboretum. I don’t hear many people talk about the arboretum at the University of Washington, but it’s free to visit and beautiful! I like going in the spring when the blossoms are out, but I bet fall would be lovely with all the foliage, too. The arboretum is 230 acre of park-like, secluded gardens containing plants found nowhere else. Lovely place for a stroll or picnic or picture taking. While not free, you can rent a canoe from the waterfront activities center at UW if you’d prefer a water tour around the arboretum area. Cost is $9 per hour for the general public.
Discovery Park. This HUGE 534-acre park feels more like some sort of natural reserve than true “park.” I’ve not been in years, but I remember it as a spectacular place and one I’d be likely to take a tourist to that’s never seen Seattle. Here’s a brief description from the website: “The site is one of breathtaking majesty. Situated on Magnolia Bluff overlooking Puget Sound, Discovery Park offers spectacular view of both the Cascade and the Olympic Mountain ranges. The secluded site includes two miles of protected tidal beaches as well as open meadow lands, dramatic sea cliffs, forest groves, active sand dunes, thickets and streams.”
Fremont. Fremont is a neighborhood in Seattle that has a number of little cafes, shops, and restaurants. There’s great walking to be had around Fremont too – and it’s close to many other Seattle points of interest including Gas Works park, the University of Washington, Ballard Locks, and the Seattle Zoo. Many tourists enjoy seeing the Fremont Troll – it’s another quirky photo spot. Reader Corinne vouched for Theo’s Chocolate Factory in Fremont, which offers up fun tours for $7 per person.
Ballard Locks. So fun fact about me: my husband and my first date (13 years ago now!) was at the Ballard Locks! We picked up Gyros from the University of Washington and headed here. Of course, I have to mention it then! The Locks are one of Seattle’s most popular tourist attractions and even better, it’s FREE. You won’t pay to walk around the park-like setting, check out the locks, or the amazing fish ladder. There is also a beach area. One thing you’ll find about most of the places I’m mentioning is that there are LOTS of walking/biking trails around too. Many of my Facebook pals vouch that you stop here.
Seattle Center. This is the area you’ll find right around the base of the Space Needle. There are a number of museums (mostly geared towards children), areas to walk around, and places to eat. They have lots of festivals, concerts and other happenings here. Personally, I’d check the calendar to see if anything’s happening.
Green Lake Park. I used to live not too far from Green Lake! This is a popular Seattle spot, so take caution if you’re visiting say, on Saturday morning. There is a 3-mile trail that runs around the lake that attracts walkers, joggers, and rollerbladers. It’s not terribly close to downtown, but would be a nice spot to stop if you want a pleasant stroll with a cup of coffee. It’s not far from the Woodland Park Zoo, either.
Some of my Favorite Seattle Spots
While these might not be your typical tourist attractions, I feel they are worth mentioning.
University of Washington Campus. While I’m an alum and totally biased, I think UW is one of the most beautiful college campuses I’ve seen. It’s fun to walk through and could make a nice photo spot. If you go, make sure to walk through Red Square to Suzzallo Library. The spectacular reading room is not to be missed. I love this description from the UW website: “Combine Hogwarts and silence and you have the Reading Room.” Just make sure if you go that your baby isn’t crying – this place is super quiet – as in you could hear a pin drop. Might be a good one to stroll through while she’s napping.
University Village. Hands down, my favorite place to window shop in Seattle. There is a huge parking garage (FREE parking) which is also a plus. Here you’ll find many high-end shops such as Restoration Hardware, Anthropologie, and Pottery Barn. We love going just to walk around and drool a bit. This is also a fantastic place to find a good place to eat! While the shops are high-end, you’ll find many quite affordable cafe style restaurants.
Uwajimaya. Located in the International District of Seattle and offering FREE parking, this Asian market offers a nice variety of Asian groceries, gifts, and restaurants. I love perusing the unusual produce and food ingredients you can’t find at your everyday grocery store. You might want to read about a trip I took there.
Walking the Piers. Whether or not you take a ferry, make sure to talk a stroll down Seattle’s waterfront on the piers. You can window shop a bit, or pick up a bowl of clam chowder. This is a fairly close walk to or from Pike Place Market as well.
First Thursday Art Walk. If you will be visiting during the 1st Thursday of the month, you’re in luck! That’s when Seattle does a monthly free art walk. Many of the art galleries in the Pioneer Square area are open later and you can additionally get free access into the Seattle Art Museum. See the First Thursday website for more information.
Alki Beach. Head to the West side of Seattle for a beautiful beachy area (parking is free) and views of the city. A great place to stroll and explore and many of my Facebook pals vouched you do this! Reader Cherie suggests there are tidepools to explore there (I had no idea!) and reader Debbie suggests watching the sunset from Alki beach.
Saving on Popular Seattle Tourist Attractions
Many popular attractions are expensive. Here are my thoughts about ways you can save on them, should you so choose.
Argosy Cruise. I’d really recommend you find a way to get yourself out on the Puget Sound – it’s an awesome way to experience what Seattle is all about. While I’ve not done it personally, many rave about the Argosy Cruise – Tillicum Village Bake Salmon Adventure. If you show up at the Pier to purchase your ticket, expect to pay $30-95. However, pre-pay through Goldstar, and those prices drop to just $15-77.
Ferry to Bainbridge. If the Tillicum tour isn’t your thing, a much less expensive option would be to hop a ferry from the waterfront area across to Bainbridge. My family loves Bainbridge – it’s fun to walk around and explore, and there are many fun shops and restaurants. If you can go on foot, you’ll pay $8.20 per person. A car and driver will run you $14.30. See WSDOT for ferry information including times and fees.
City Pass. Many of my Facebook pals recommended the City Pass. This pass saves you a huge amount of money if you decide you do in fact want to see the big Seattle Attractions. $74 will get one adult into the following: Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour, Pacific Science Center, EMP Museum, and either the Woodland Park Zoo OR the Museum of Flight. This definitely feels like a deal to me if you plan on having the time and energy to take advantage of all those attractions. (You have 9 days to use the Pass from first use.) For more information, visit City Pass.
Woodland Park Zoo. This is an amazing zoo, but unfortunately ticket prices can be higher! Reader Jenny left a tip that the zoo does offer a rainy day discount of 50%.
Ride the Ducks Tour. I always see this thing driving around Seattle and it looks so cheesy to me, but I’ve heard good reviews about it. Unfortunately the tickets will run you $28 per adult and it’s not one of the attractions included in the City Pass. A few Facebook pals did suggest checking Groupon for discounts as it sometimes pops up there.
Best Views of the City for Cheap
I initially had the Space Needle under top Seattle attractions, but I truly think that there are several better options than paying to ride up that elevator. Here’s are some suggestions.
Space Needle. We took our kids up the Space Needle last summer and I say: never again! Current fares are $22 for one adult and $14 for child. It felt like a huge tourist rip-off to me, considering you’re just going up and down the thing. Here are some suggestions: dine at the SkyCity restaurant in the Space Needle and you ride the elevator for free. The restaurant is very good, but not cheap. Perhaps go up for a couple glasses of wine or dessert.
Columbia Tower. Reader Jessie recommends the Columbia Tower’s 73rd Floor for observation over the Space Needle. She says the views are better, and the prices are definitely lower – $14.75 for one adult and $9 for child. Reader Jackie thinks you should just visit the Starbucks on the 40th floor instead though; it’s free and still has plenty nice views.
Smith Tower. Reader Cameron suggests the Smith Tower for great views of the city. Prices are $12 for one adult and $10 for children (kids 5 and under are free).
Happy Hour with a View. Here’s another option I researched and one I’d probably be most interested in myself: check out R View’s Happy Hour. You can get a drink for about $4-6 and enjoy views of Seattle from the 28th floor up the Renaissance Hotel in Downtown. Cheap and you get a drink. We took a similar strategy when we visited Portland a few months back and loved the experience.
Parks. If you want a free option for getting a great shot of the Seattle skyline (and one that doesn’t involve elevators!), just try a park. I’d put Kerry Park near Queen Anne Hill at the top of the list for a great photo spot. Gas Works Park and Alki (previously mentioned) are other great photo spots as well.
Favorite Cheap Burger Spots in Seattle
I also wanted to mention where to get a cheap (but good!) burger in Seattle.
Dick’s Drive In. Ask a room full of Seattleites what the best burger is in Seattle and you’ll hear more than a few people chime in “Dicks!’ These iconic drive-ins appear in a few locations in Seattle. The service is ridiculously fast, the price is super cheap, and the burgers are amazing! I recommend you stop at Dick’s at least once while you’re in town.
Red Mill Burgers. When we make it up to Seattle, we usually have to stop at Red Mill Burgers. This place is a small hole in the wall, but they’ve been rated several times as Seattle’s Best Burger. They also offer vegetarian options. Delicious!
Lunchbox Laboratory. We discovered this place about a year ago and love it. It’s a sit-down, family-friendly restaurant that lets you concoct your burger from ingredients such as candied balsamic onions, sweet chili mayo, feta, basil pesto mayo, and more. Vegetarian and vegan options available. They also have a daily macaroni and cheese “experiment.” Get on their email list for high value coupons such as buy one, get one free or $10 off your order. Delicious and different.
Here are some final things I’d say about visiting Seattle:
- Don’t let the reputation Seattle has a rainy city throw you! Actually, Chicago, Dallas and Miami get more rainfall per year (Source: KOMO)! If it should rain, just be prepared. Most locals opt for hooded coats over umbrellas (umbrellas are for tourists, most of us think.)
- Most of the free parking will be on the outskirts of Seattle. You’re not likely to find free parking downtown, but you will find some at shopping centers, parks, and other points of interest around town.
- Seattle has great public transportation. We’ve got a great bus system here, so if you’re planning on staying downtown, you might find it’s easier to just hop a bus than deal with a car. Reader Kelly suggests getting an Orca Card to save money if you think you’ll be using a bus often.
- Sign up for Goldstar and Keep an eye on Groupon. Goldstar offers discounted tickets for many concerts and events and even sometimes offers comp tickets. Absolutely worth keep an eye on. Groupon can help save you on other attractions as well as food.
I hope you enjoy your stay in Seattle! I think you’ll find there really is a lot to do here that doesn’t involve spending money. Seattle is a very walkable city and I trust you’ll find it accommodating to your daughter too.
Make sure to also read through the wonderful suggestions left by the folks at The Coupon Project Facebook page!
Any other suggestions?