Frugal Things To Do in Seattle (HUGE LIST!)

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Huge List of Cheap and Free Things to do in Seattle | The Coupon Project

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.

Gas Works Park

 (Image: Gas Works Park; Credit: Analaxia -Flickr)

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 $12 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 $10 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.

Suzzallo Reading Room

(Image: Suzzallo Reading Room, Credit hispareti – Flickr)

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.

IMG_8475, Downtown Seattle Waterfront with the Space Needle, Great Seattle Wheel, and Seattle Ferrys

(Image: Ferry in front of Seattle, Credit: Timothylhendrix, Flickr)

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.

CityPASS. Many of my Facebook pals recommended the CityPASS. This pass saves you a huge amount of money if you decide you do in fact want to see the big Seattle Attractions. $79 will get one adult into the following: Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour, Pacific Science Center OR Chihuly Garden and Glass, and either the Woodland Park Zoo OR the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP). 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 CityPASS.

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 $37.50 per adult and it’s not one of the attractions included in the CityPASS. 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.

Sky View Observatory. Reader Jessie recommends the Sky View Observatory for observation over the Space Needle. She says the views are better, and the prices are definitely lower – $14.75 for one adult and $9.75 for one 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 $19 for one adult and $15 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.

Final Tips

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! 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?

16 thoughts on “Frugal Things To Do in Seattle (HUGE LIST!)”

  1. Great to see this list!! 🙂 I was gonna say…Groupon has deals several times a year for BOGO tickets for Smith Tower.

  2. I’d recommend The Great Wheel for amazing views. Pricey but you get a 15 to 2o min ride. I thought it would be kind of a waste of money but it was awesome!

  3. Great tips! But just something to check on…last time I ate at Skycity at the Space Needle, there was a minimum purchaseamount per person. I didn’t think you could go up for just a glass of wine and appetizer.The minimum when I went was $45/person.

    • Thanks for pointing that out. I couldn’t see anything to that effect on the website, but definitely worth calling ahead – I agree.

    • At lunch the minimum is only $25 (per the website, $35 at dinner). For kids there is no minimum, they just have to order a kids meal (between $10-15). Considering the price of admission you might as well have the experience of eating for not too much more!

  4. The Smith Tower is very beautiful. If you’re in that neighborhood, you can stop at the Waterfall Garden Park (free) for a quite place to sit and feed the baby, or a peaceful picnic if the weather is permitting. Then just a few blocks farther is the Klondike Gold Rush Museum (free). If you are driving into town, I suggest a little side-step into Snowqualmie to see the Falls (free), and if trains interest you, there is an old train station (free) you can walk around as well.

  5. Wow. Great article! We are headed there in 3 weeks with two kids and a newborn. I’m using this list as our planning guide. THANK YOU!!!!

  6. Thank you for this list!
    I found it on Pinterest and it’s actually the best Seattle list (frugal or not) that I’ve found. Looking forward to seeing the city and fingers crossed I can see cherry blossoms at the University as well 😉

  7. Great list! The downtown Seattle Public Library should be on it, the building itself is a work of art and walking through the stacks is a unique experience!

  8. My husband and I are going in a few weeks, what do you suggest for hotels or bed & breakfast?

  9. Though the other comments are just from 2013 and 2014, I see you’ve done a good job in keeping your info current, including prices.

    My favorite high viewpoint WAS the Smith Tower, before they remodeled and more than doubled the price (and replaced the Chinese Room at the top with a bar). However, I do recommend visiting the building’s main (1914) lobby, open weekdays. It’s spectacular, and free. Now, my favorite view from up high is the Skyview Observatory at Columbia Center– 300 feet higher than the Space Needle (I’ve recently seen comments that SN food is not only expensive, but of poor quality). My favorite free view from up high is from the 40th floor (the elevator transition floor) of the Municipal Tower, just across the street, uphill, from Columbia Center (and the view–from view windows facing southeast and south — is better than from CC’s Starbucks). However, it’s only open on weekdays. There’s also an outside glass elevator which goes up about a dozen floors. To find the glass elevator, ask building security at the desk, just inside the 5th and Columbia entrance.

    I recommend the WSF Bremerton ferry over the WSF Bainbridge ferry. The Bremerton ferry zigs through channels, sorta like being in the San Juan Islands. The Bainbridge ferry take much less time, mainly crosses open water, and costs the same as the Bremerton ferry. (They are both quite inexpensive, $8.35 ($4.15 6-18 and 65+) round trip. ) The free Puget Sound Navy Museum and the Destroyer USS Turner Joy (not free) are both within a block or two of the ferry terminal, and a waterside boardwalk connects to the Turner Joy. I recommend going in the daytime, and returning when it’s getting dark or dark, to enjoy the view of the lights of the city across the water.

    The DOT water taxis are another option for getting out on the water from downtown Seattle, to either West Seattle (Alki Point, at Seacrest Park) or to Vashon Island. They cost a bit more than the Bremerton and Bainbridge ferries, but are modern high speed types. (The older one of the two is a hydrofoil assisted catamaran.) The terminal is south of the main WSF terminal. The Alki Trail goes follows the water, going north (right) from the ferry terminal, around the north end, and south about to the lighthouse (seasonal free tours, resuming May 28, 2018.) The lighthouse tours allow going up the spiral stairs to the light, at the top.

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