How to Seattle: Attractions & Landmarks

Welcome to our weird little corner of the country.

by Stranger Staff

Here’s something you might not expect to read in an alt-newspaper run by cynical assholes: many of Seattle’s well-known attractions are worth visiting. Pike Place Market, the Seattle Center, Smith Tower, the Seattle Underground… sure, they’re often crawling with tourists, but they’re also packed with history, offering context to this strange little world we’ve created in the upper left corner of America. And here’s a fun fact, while we’re talking about Seattle constantly being threatened with devastating natural disasters, aka the Big One: The Space Needle was built to withstand up to a 9.0 magnitude earthquake. Good luck up there!

Have a Picnic at the Hats ’n’ Boots at Oxbow Park

Georgetown

Eating a sandwich under, or near, the largest hat and boots in America is a simple joy. Back in the ’50s, Hat ‘n’ Boots served as the respective office and restrooms of the state’s most successful gas station. Business boomed until I-5 siphoned traffic from the Georgetown neighborhood and it closed in 1988. The giant accessories would’ve been erased from the face of the earth if passionate neighborhood residents hadn’t wrangled the funds to save, restore, and relocate the iconic structures to Oxbow Park in 2003. It’s a really big hat! Giddy up! (VIVAN MCCALL)

Stand on the Space Needle’s Glass Floor

Seattle Center

“It’s a tourist trap!” they cry. “What a waste of money!” they shout. Ignore the haters. Whether you’re in town for the weekend or a lifelong Seattleite, it’s worth taking a trip to the top of the Space Needle at least once in your life. The 605-foot-tall attraction was built for the 1962 World’s Fair, but it underwent a massive renovation in 2017 and now features a disorientingly awesome (awesomely disorienting?) rotating all-glass floor. You can stand on it or sit on it or lay on it belly down to feel like you’re (very slowly) flying above the city. One floor above that is an all-glass observation deck that offers one of the best views in the city. (MEGAN SELING)

Get High and Go to the Seattle Aquarium

Waterfront

Greg Stump

One day last year when I was feeling particularly depressed and burnt out, I decided to realize my dream of living out the Reductress headline “Stoned Woman Eating Pretzel Bread at Aquarium Has No Need for God or Money.” Just as I’d suspected, a little herbal enhancement transformed my grown-up field trip into a transcendent experience—I got to learn about the resident harbor seals, witness frolicking sea otters, coo over puffins, and prod anemones in a touch tank. The highlight was gazing at undulating jellyfish in an illuminated tank, which I truly could have done for hours in my altered state. I highly recommend this entire outing as a salve for the melancholy soul. Plus, it’s a little-known fact that you can book free tickets to the Seattle Aquarium through the Seattle Public Library, so with some planning, this low-lift excursion was also completely free. (JULIANNE BELL)

See Where That Person Got Abducted in Malignant

Pioneer Square

There is nothing quite like taking a pilgrimage to pay respect to an iconic horror destination right here within the city. No, not The Ring remake. I’m talking about where the one tour guide was abducted in Malignant. You know, the Seattle-set film that was absolutely not filmed here though is still one of the most bonkers to ever pretend to? If you’re unfamiliar, the film features a key scene where a character is taken while cleaning up from an underground tour. The real tour in Seattle, Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, is nothing like how it appeared onscreen; it’s actually much more useful for understanding the true and complicated history of this place. But hey, you can always imagine there’s a terrifying figure lurking in the darkness that’s just waiting for its moment to strike. Just make sure you don’t lose your head. (CHASE HUTCHINSON)

Duck Under Flying Fish at the Pike Place Market

Pike Place Maret 

OLGA ANDREYANOVA

Pike Place Market may be one of the most stereotypical Seattle things you could do, but that place is legit magic. The market is full of tourists, but it’s absolutely a place locals go as well. (Never call it “Pike’s Place” unless you wanna get run out of town, and know that most Seattleites just call it “the market.”) There are 500 VENDORS, so every stop can be a new experience, but on your first trip, prioritize two things: fresh flowers and fresh fish. The flowers, sourced from local farms, are unbelievably beautiful and the huge bouquets are a bargain compared to florist shops or even grocery stores. Just beyond the rows of flowers, you’ll find the famous flying fish. A gimmick? Sure. But it’s pretty damn cool to watch the fishmongers throw fish orders back and forth to each other to be bagged up and rung up for customers. And if you’re lucky, you might see celebrities including Bruce Springsteen, Chelsea Handler, or any number of local professional athletes fielding a fish for fans. (RACHEL STEVENS)

Ride a Ferry

Waterfront

ABNER CAMPOS

Every local has their preferred view of Seattle’s skyline. Some swear by Kerry Park on Queen Anne; others insist on Alki Beach in West Seattle. Personally, my favorite view of the city is the one you see while standing on the deck of a Washington State Ferry as it pulls away from Colman Dock downtown. Walk, bike, or drive onto a boat headed to Bremerton or Bainbridge Island—both have charming little city centers within walking distance from their respective landings—and grab a spot on the outside deck on the backside. It will be windy, it will probably be cold, but the air is crisp and salty and the view is incredible. You will see the whole skyline, from the Space Needle to Mount Rainier, stretching out across the horizon. Breathe it in. Then, as the city fades into the distance, warm up inside with a too-hot cup of hot chocolate from a vending machine that looks like it’s been there since the ’80s. (MEGAN SELING)

Use Your Saliva to Save the City (or at Least the Gum Wall)

Pike Place Market

While we might not know who put the first piece of colorful, chewed-up goop along Post Alley’s now-saliva-encrusted bricks, we do know that adding your gum to Seattle’s iconic Gum Wall could be the key to saving the city. Tucked alongside Pike Place Market, you’ll find a tunnel-like passageway covered in chewed-up gum dating back to the 1990s. (The City did try to clean the wall once, in 2015, and removed more than 2,350 pounds of gum, but surely they missed some of the early bits, right?) Grab a pack of your favorite flavor and head on down to become a part of Seattle’s most disturbing wallpaper. Perhaps when the Big One hits, there might be enough of the sticky substance to stop the city from splitting in two… just make sure to wash your hands after. (NICO SWENSON)

Feed the Penguins at Woodland Park Zoo

Phinney Ridge

If you want immediate gratification after walking into the west entrance of the Woodland Park Zoo, head straight to the penguin exhibit to give the little buddies some snacks. Every day from 11 am to 2 pm, people can purchase four fish for $5 and feed the penguins. The exhibit’s basically the first thing you hit and can start your trip off right. The habitat for the Humboldt penguin colony allows you to watch as these birds zip around underwater. Feed the penguins yourself, for the additional fee, or go to just watch the feedings at 2:30 pm every Thursday and Saturday. (ASHLEY NERBOVIG)

Get Soaked—or Don’t!—at the International Fountain

Seattle Center

You haven’t truly been to Seattle until you’ve been baptized in the waters of the International Fountain at the Seattle Center on a barely hot enough summer’s day. Built in 1961 for the World’s Fair, the fountain—which cycles through water shows set to music between 10 am and 9 pm—is a prime place to soak up the sun, dare your friends to touch the metal dome without getting drenched by unpredictable water cannons, or watch kids of all ages experience the purest forms of surprise and delight. It’s free, it’s fun, it’s in the shadow of the Space Needle, and it’s a lifelong challenge—I have never once touched the dome without getting absolutely soaked, though to my intense chagrin, I have watched a cocky teenager walk backward to the fountain’s heart with nary a drop. I’ll get you one day, fountain… (SHANNON LUBETICH)

Hang Out with Vlad

Fremont

The TV news and right-wing pundits love to paint Seattle as some communist hellhole. To be fair, Seattle is a hellhole for many working people, but blame the corporatists in charge. But they do have one monument to help prove their point. A 16-foot bronze statue of Russian communist revolutionary Vladimir Lenin stands on the corner of Evanston Avenue North and North 34th Street in Fremont. Discourse reemerges every so often about ripping the statue down, but the statue, ironically, is protected because it’s privately owned and sits on private land. Go give it a look and get some Dumpling Tzar while you’re in the neighborhood. (HANNAH KRIEG)

Watch the Musical Film About Seattle’s Great Fire at the Museum of History & Industry

South Lake Union

The MOHAI is a must-see for both locals and visitors. The museum houses many stories, artifacts, and activities that help attendees connect with the region and its history, from the Great Fire to the birth of grunge music and technology that changed the world. Permanent exhibits include Maritime Seattle, the Bezos Center for Innovation, and True Northwest: The Seattle Journey. (On that journey, it is very important to watch the musical film about the fire, if only so you can hear the words “GLUE POT, GLUE POT” ringing in your head for days.) (STRANGER STAFF)

Go Troll Hunting

Various locations

Under the famous, almost 3,000-foot-long Aurora Bridge sits Seattle’s most famous troll. (Several other not-so-famous ones live in The Stranger’s online comments section—har har.) A few fun facts: The Fremont Troll was installed in 1990, it weighs 13,000 pounds, and it was a filming location for the 1999 teen rom-com 10 Things I Hate About You. For years the Volkswagon-eating beast ruled the region, but in recent years, Seattle has seen somewhat of a troll resurgence. Buoy, the Seattle Kraken’s grunge-loving blue-haired mascot, moved into the Climate Pledge Arena in 2022, and more recently five of artist Thomas Dambo’s giant wooden trolls—they’re anywhere from 15 to 30 feet tall—have taken up residence in Ballard, West Seattle, Issaquah, Bainbridge Island, and Vashon Island. Try to spot them all! (MEGAN SELING)

Dance—and Drink, and Eat, and Party—in a Neoclassical Skyscraper

Pioneer Square

BRUCE W

After a revamping in 2021, Pioneer Square’s iconic Smith Tower now has all kinds of cool shit going on, including its actually very good lounge, the Smith Tower Observatory Bar. They do movie nights in the Orcas Room, historic talking tours, DJ nights in the summer on the 22nd-floor lookout, and there’s a scary sky cage ringing around the entirety of the 35th floor, and you can get drunk and walk around in it! They also offer cocktail classes that are, at $125 a pop, admittedly not cheap, but you each get three cocktails and a complimentary glass of bubbly and you get to stuff your face interminably on a fancy charcuterie station with kiwi and capicola and about nine kinds of cheese. It’s a whole city’s worth of fun events packed into a single Neoclassical skyscraper. (MEG VAN HUYGEN)

Find Macklemore. It Will Happen. Give It Time. 

Various locations

Every Seattle local has had an encounter with 2010s pop-rap icon Macklemore. I don’t think you can truly claim local status until it happens to you. The Stranger does not condone stalking, so please do not hide in his bushes. Part of the beauty of a Macklemore encounter is that it happens organically, after spending enough time out and about. All I can really say is that vigilance is key—he looks like a great many white guys, so if you don’t have Mack on your mind, you may just pass him by. (HANNAH KRIEG)

Go Back in History at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Museum

Pioneer Square

The Gold Rush Museum is tucked away on a corner in Pioneer Square, and if you aren’t looking for it, you’ll probably walk right past it. That is a major mistake. Everyone in Seattle should visit the Gold Rush Museum, which also happens to be one of the country’s tiniest national parks. Many bigger-budget, higher-profile museums do a terrible job of presenting their artifacts, but that’s precisely where the Gold Rush Museum shines. When you enter the museum, your first task will be to choose your character, RPG/Oregon Trail–style. You’ll then stock up on provisions and choose your route. There’s a lot to do in this small space, and the journey pairs particularly well with a pot lozenge. (SYDNEY BROWNSTONE)

Visit a Cool Building Featured on the Buildings of Seattle Instagram Account

Various locations

 

 
 

 
 

View this post on Instagram

 

 
 
 

 
 

 
 
 

 
 

A post shared by The Stranger 🗞 (@thestrangerseattle)

Buildings of Seattle is one of the best things to happen on Instagram. Founder Keith Cote created the account at the beginning of the pandemic, and he posts detailed but compressed descriptions of the homes, apartment buildings, and towers of our city. I did not know there was so much to say about Seattle’s architecture until I read the steady and never-disappointing stream of information on this feed of photos and words written in a style that is as informative as it is charming. It’s also noteworthy that Cote is not part of a movement, nor does he take sides with one architectural style over another. He only writes about what catches his eye during one of his many long walks around the city. Scroll through his Instagram feed, find a building that catches your eye, and read up on its history while paying it a visit. (CHARLES MUDEDE)

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