Planning a Trip to Tackle Seattle in One Day
WHAT TO DO IN SEATTLE IF YOU ONLY HAVE A SINGLE DAY
So you’re only in Seattle for one day? The bad news is that just isn’t long enough to experience everything Seattle has to offer, but don’t worry, you can still see all the best sights and have a great time.
Just follow this handy guide which covers some of the most popular attractions Seattle has to offer, along with some that might surprise you, all within a reasonable walking distance mapped out for you here:
The Space Needle
Might as well start with an obvious one, right? I know going to the top of this Seattle icon will be at the top of most lists, but timing is everything. Plan to go at the beginning or end of your day (I personally like sunset so you get your daylight and nighttime views of the city), but please don’t go in the middle of the day when the lines are the longest and tickets are the most expensive.
Space Needle Pricing by Day and Time
|Day of Week||Time of Day||Adult||Youth (age 5-12)||Senior (65+|
The Space Needle isn’t your only option for a high viewpoint of Seattle either, so check out this comparison to know all of your options. I also recommend getting a combo ticket with the Chihuly Gardens and Glass right next door – it will save you some money compared to buying them separately, and if you have to wait for your timed Space Needle ticket, you couldn’t ask for a more beautiful place to kill some time.
Which brings us to…
The Chihuly Garden and Glass
This amazing attraction showcases the work of Dale Chihuly, a world-renowned glass artist who was born and raised in Washington. You’ll be amazed by the variety and beauty of his creations, from the giant glass sculptures in the garden to the dazzling ceiling of the glasshouse to the immersive indoor glass installations.
Chihuly’s style is bold and expressive, using vibrant colors and organic shapes to create stunning pieces that look like they came from another planet. You’ll see everything from flowers and sea creatures to chandeliers and towers made of glass.
This collection offers a thorough retrospective of this incredibly prolific artist’s work, allowing you to witness the evolution of his styles and techniques throughout his career. This is my personal favorite of all of Seattle’s many attractions, and the one most worthy of it’s (admittedly spendy) price of admission. You can save a little money with your timing here, as well – as of this writing, it’s $30 before noon and $35 after, with discounts for children and seniors.
An easy walk (.4 miles downhill) down Broad Street from the Space Needle, you’ll find…
Olympic Sculpture Park
This 9-acre park is home to more than 20 sculptures by renowned artists such as Alexander Calder, Richard Serra, and Louise Bourgeois.
This outdoor museum is actually one of the Seattle Art Museum’s three locations, but the only one that’s completely free – ideal if your wallet is feeling a little light after my first two suggestions.
My favorite (and most quintessentially Pacific Northwest) work in the collection is Neukom Vivarium, a sixty-foot-long “nurse log” in an eighty-foot-long custom-designed greenhouse. The log has been removed from the forest ecosystem, where decaying nurse logs become seed beds for the next generation of trees, and transformed into an art piece that blurs the lines between sculpture, architecture, environmental education, and horticulture.
As you make your way down to the water, you’ll see my other favorite sculpture of the collection – Echo by Jaume Plensa. This nearly 46-foot-tall head represents the mountain nymph of Greek mythology who offended the goddess Hera – she looks out over Puget Sound in the direction of Mount Olympus. Check out this video of the artist and the installation process:
Now that you’ve made it to the waterfront, walk south along Alaskan Way towards the Seattle Aquarium and giant Ferris wheel, but along the way (.3 miles south), you should stop at…
The Edgewater Hotel
Not only Seattle’s only waterfront hotel, it sits literally on top of the water thanks to the piers it’s constructed on. Built in 1962 in anticipation of the World’s Fair, this design creates spectacular views along with the opportunity to fish from the hotel rooms (for early guests, at least, most famously The Beatles in 1964).
If your travel budget is anything like mine, this luxurious hotel is probably not where you want to stay, but there’s nothing to stop you from soaking up the atmosphere and views in the spectacularly decorated lobby (or even splurging on a meal at the restaurant).
If you want more affordable food options, keep walking south on Alaskan Way (another ½ mile or so) to the most touristy stretch of the waterfront. You’ll have plenty of tourist attractions trying to entice you, including The Great Wheel, Wings Over Washington, Argosy Cruises, and Miners Landing. For maximum food variety, head up the bluff (away from the water) to the Pike Place Market, but keep in mind that if it’s the middle of the day, the market will be at its most crowded. Therefore, I recommend saving that for later in the day when vendors are starting to pack up for the day and crowds are dissipating, and for lunch head south a little further to:
Ivar’s Acres of Clams
A local seafood institution founded by Seattle’s wacky legendary icon Ivar Haglund. This Swedish folksinger originally built Seattle’s first aquarium at the site on Pier 54 in 1938 and became a restauranteur upon realizing that his patrons were showing up hungry so he could sell them clam chowder and fish n’ chips.
Today, the restaurant has a delightful atmosphere showcasing memorabilia from its decades of weird ad campaigns and publicity stunts, but it’s also a legit seafood restaurant. If you get there from 3pm-6pm, they have some good happy hour specials, too.
They also have a more casual fish bar next door, where you can sit outside and feed the copious seagulls (perhaps unintentionally) as Ivar intended.
If you want to learn a bit more about Ivar and the “Old Settler’s Song” that inspired the name “Acres of Clams,” check out this great video:
While you’re on Pier 54, you should also check out…
Ye Olde Curiosity Shoppe
The quirkiest (and my favorite) of all the tourist attractions along Seattle’s waterfront, this souvenir shop is also a free museum of weird curios. Shrunken heads, assorted taxidermy, a Fiji mermaid, and two mummies called Sylvester and Sylvia are just a few of the fascinating oddities you’ll find on display here – well worth a visit!
At this point, you have three excellent options. Head back to the Pike Place Market, continue south a little further to Pioneer Square, or walk next door to the Pier 52 Colman Dock where a $9.45 ticket gets you a scenic ferry ride to:
If you’re looking for a relaxing getaway from the hustle and bustle of Seattle,this charming island is only a 35-minute ferry ride away from downtown Seattle, but it feels like a world apart.
From the ferry dock, it’s just a short (.2 mile) walk to the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art, a great little museum focusing on contemporary art & craft of the Puget Sound Region with free admission.
The museum sits on the corner of Winslow Way, the main street from which to explore quaint downtown Winslow, where you can find a variety of shops, cafes, restaurants, galleries, and museums. You can also learn about the island’s history and culture at the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum and the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial. This walking tour from the historical society will help guide your wanderings around the island.
Make sure to taste the local flavors and products of the island while you’re there. You can sample some of the island’s wines, beers, ciders, spirits, and chocolates at various tasting rooms and tours. You can also visit the farmers market or one of the farms and orchards on the island to get some fresh and organic produce.
A highlight of the island’s culinary scene is Mora Iced Creamery which Food & Wine magazine ranked as one of the best ice cream spots in the US.
Once you’re ready to head back, the return ferry ride to Seattle is free and provides stunning views of the skyline from the water.
Back at Pier 52, for dinner, you can head up to the nearby Pike Place Market which has lots of great restaurant options even though the market itself will likely be closed by this point, or continue south a little further to Pioneer Square, which also has some fantastic restaurants.
If you prefer to end your day at the Space Needle, you can just reverse this walking route, of course (the only disadvantage being that you’ll be walking uphill instead of downhill on Broad Street).
This itinerary just scratches the surface of everything Seattle has to offer, so if at all possible, I recommend longer than just one day. If you’re pressed for time, though, another great option is our City Tour, which takes you all over to places you’d likely never discover on your own without having to think about how to get from place to place.