If you’re planning on visiting Seattle for the very first time, one of the first places you’ll want to see is the city’s waterfront. That’s because most of the best hotels, restaurants and the most famous attractions can be found right along the waterfront or within a few blocks. But even if you decide to stay in a different section of the city, nicknamed the Emerald city, you’ll eventually be drawn towards the waters of Puget Sound, not only for its spectacular views but also to see the best of what the city of Seattle has to offer. The following is a detailed guide on where to eat, what to see and possibly where to stay in the Puget Sound area of Seattle.
About Puget Sound
Extending across 1.6 million acres with 2,500 miles of shoreline, Puget Sound in the second largest estuary in the U.S. Home to nearly four million people, the Sound plays a vital role in the region’s economy, primarily with the fishing, transportation and travel industries. The most prominent city of Puget Sound is Seattle, which overlooks Elliott Bay, a part of the Central Basin region of Puget Sound. Seattle is also the largest city in the entire Pacific Northwest region of North America and the primary transportation hub for ferry service and cruise liners through the estuary.
How To Get Around
Seattle has one of the most efficient and most comprehensive public transportation networks in the country, offering light rail service, public buses, streetcars, the Seattle Monorail, ferry boats and water taxis. Of the many options, the best might be the RapidRide bus routes, with lines C, D and E all making nearby stops to most of the recommended attractions in this guide. RapidRide buses run every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes during off-peak hours. The ferry service operated by the Washington State Department of Transportation is the largest in the country and fourth largest in the world.
Emerald City Trolley
While a combination of public transportation services is the most economical, the most practical for visitors might be the hop-on, hop-off trolleys provided by Emerald City Trolley. The Downtown Seattle Trolley Tour makes stops at many of the most popular waterfront attractions such as the Victoria Clipper, Seattle Aquarium, the Great Wheel and Argosy Cruises, in addition to must-see attractions like the Space Needle and Pioneer Square.
Taxis & Ride Sharing Services
Both metered taxis and the popular ride-sharing services Uber, Lyft and Sidecar offer in-city transportation.
Some bike shops near or along the Seattle Waterfront offer bike rentals. The top recommendations are The Bicycle Repair Shop and Bike Alley Bike Repair. Seattle also has a popular bike sharing service known as Pronto, offering 24-hour and three day rentals for short term users. Pronto features 500 bicycles at 54 stations throughout Seattle, with waterfront stations at Pier 69 and the Seattle Aquarium.
Related: Best Bike Trails In Seattle
Where To Stay
Only a few hotels, such as the legendary Edgewater Hotel, can offer rooms such as its iconic Beatles Suite with extraordinary views of Puget Sound. While Seattle’s original waterfront hotel might be the best choice for a room with a view, the Seattle Marriott Waterfront also resides along the water’s edge, while many other hotel properties with impressive bay views are within walking distance of the shores of Elliott Bay:
Where To Eat
With fresh fish caught daily from the waters of the Puget Sound, Seattle is one of America’s top seafood cities. Although some Seattle chefs are known to catch their own fish and there are a few nice spots along the waterfront, there is no greater concentration of the catch of the day and dining options than at Pike Place Market. In all, there are more than 30 restaurants at Pike Place, with Pike Place Chowder and Bacco among the best. Other great choices at Seattle’s oldest and most public market are Le Panier for French pastries, the Crumpet Shop for crumpets and scones, Piroshky Piroshky for more desserts and Beecher’s Handmade Cheese for the best Mac N’ Cheese in the city. In addition to Pike Place Chowder, the following are among Seattle’s best restaurants, including a few at Miner’s Landing, that are close to the waters of Elliott Bay.
For after dinner drinking or late night dancing, the Seattle Waterfront offers many options for visitors. The biggest concentration of nightspots can be found north or south of Pike Place Market, with the Foundation Nightclub, Club Contour and Alibi Room among the most popular. Among the larger venues, Showbox and WaMu Theatre are among the best bets. A few exceptional theater venues like the Paramount Theatre and ACT Theatre are noticeably missing from the list due to its distance from the waterfront.
Top Things To See
With so many things to see and do in Seattle, it’s virtually impossible to visit everything in a single trip. However, by staying close to the water’s edge, visitors will be able to see all of the most important sites in the city, including the most visited attraction and the most recognizable attraction, the Space Needle.
CenturyLink Field is a multi-purpose stadium that serves as the home field of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Sounders FC of Major League Soccer. Located across from the Port of Seattle’s Terminal 46 in the Pioneer Square neighborhood, the stadium has a total seating capacity of 69,000 and is known to be one of the loudest venues in the NFL, giving the Seahawks a major home field advantage. In addition to hosting home games for football and soccer, CenturyLink Field hosts large-scale music concerts and other special events. Also on the property are the CenturyLink Field Event Center and the WaMu Theater.
Olympic Sculpture Park
Situated right along the shores of Puget Sound, Olympic Sculpture Park is an admission-free outdoor sculpture museum operating under the auspices of the Seattle Art Museum. First opened in 2007, the award-winning nine-acre sculpture park is home to nearly 20 world-class sculptures, including the most photographed piece, the red Eagle abstract sculpture. Open 365 days a year, the sculpture park is consistently mentioned among the best outdoor sculpture parks in the country and has earned several awards for design, engineering and environmental restoration. Olympic Sculpture Park also features a public beach, a segment of the very popular Elliott Bay Trail and the adjacent 1.25-mile long Myrtle Edwards Park.
Pike Place Market
Established in 1907, Pike Place Market one of the oldest continuously operated public markets in the country and certainly one of the most famous. It’s also the biggest tourist attraction in Seattle, drawing an estimated 10 million visitors annually and is among the world’s most visited tourist destinations. Overlooking the Elliott Bah waterfront, the enormous public market extends across seven acres and hosts hundreds of vendors selling fresh produce, arts and crafts and specialty foods like fresh fish, meat and dairy products. The biggest draw for visitors is at Pike Place Fish Market, where the world famous flying fish demonstrations are held throughout the day, with fishmongers tossing fish back and forth and sometimes to onlookers. Lastly, visitors may also be interested in knowing that Pike Place Market is also the home of the original Starbucks coffeehouse, first opened in 1971.
Located in the southwest corner of downtown Seattle, Pioneer Square was once the heart of 19th century Seattle. First settled in 1852, most of the original wooden buildings were destroyed by the Great Seattle Fire of 1889, only to be replaced by brick and stone buildings that still remain today. The neighborhood now extends from the waterfront to the city’s Chinatown and to Highway 5 and features the Amtrak station, a number of retail stores and restaurants, in addition to attractions like the fascinating Underground Tour and a segment of the Klondike Gold rush National Historic Park.
One of the best baseball stadiums in the country, Safeco Field is the home of the MLB’s Seattle Mariners. Officially opened in 1999, the ballpark has a seating capacity of 47,943 and is well known for its retractable roof, which allows the home team to continue play during inclement weather. As a multi-purpose facility, Safeco Field has hosted other notable events such as live music concerts and other major sporting events.
First opened in 1977, the Seattle Aquarium is among the most visited aquariums in the country and among the top five paid visitor attractions in the Puget Sound Region. Located on the Elliott Bay waterfront at Pier 59, the aquarium’s species collections are on display within six primary exhibits, including Window on Washington Waters and the always popular Marine Mammals exhibit. Among the other notable attractions are the Underwater Dome, featuring daily fish feedings, Pacific Coral Reef exhibit and the Puget Sound Fish exhibit.
Seattle Art Museum
Just a short walk from Seattle’s Waterfront Park, the Seattle Art Museum is the leading art museum in the Pacific Northwest. First opened in 1933, the prominent museum enjoyed a major expansion as part of its 75th anniversary in 2008 and now has a permanent collection of 25,000 works of art. Among the notable highlights from the collection are Hokusai’s “The Great Wave,” Koetsu and Sotatsu’s “Deer Scroll,” Matthew Brady’s photograph of Abraham Lincoln, Pissarro’s “The Thames at Lambeth” and Henri Matisse’s “Winter Landscape on the Banks of the Seine.” The Seattle Art Museum also operates two other major facilities — the Seattle Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park and the Olympic Sculpture Park.
For a far grander look of Puget Sound, visitors may be interested in taking a scenic trip on one of the Washington State Ferries. The ferry system operates 20 terminals throughout Puget Sound, including the busy Seattle terminal at Pier 52, located off the Alaskan Way Viaduct near Columbia Street and Alaskan Way. Regular fare is just $8.20 round trip to recommended destinations like Bainbridge Island or Bremerton and just $4.10 round trip for seniors, people with disabilities and youths. A ferry ride across Elliott Bay to Bainbridge Island takes 35 minutes while providing passengers spectacular views of the Seattle skyline. Upon arriving on the island, the downtown area is a very short walk away and offers attractions like the Bainbridge island Museum of Art and the Bainbridge Historical Museum. While the trip from Seattle to Bremerton will take an hour, it provides visitors one of the most breathtaking views of Puget Sound. Recommended attractions close to the Bremerton ferry terminal are the Puget Sound Navy Museum and the USS Turner Joy naval destroyer museum.
Seattle Great Wheel
One of the newest major attractions along Puget Sound is the Seattle Great Wheel, one of the biggest Ferris wheels in the country. Located at Pier 57, the amusement ride stands 175 feet tall and offers riders magnificent views of Puget Sound, downtown Seattle and Mount Rainier. Prices for a ride range from $8.50 for youths ages 4-11 to $50 for a VIP with four leather bucket seats, a stereo system and glass floor. Each of the 41 white gondolas has a capacity of up to eight riders and an entire trip takes 12-20 minutes during the summer and 10-15 minutes during winter operations.
The most iconic of all Seattle landmarks, the Space Needle is a 605-foot observation tower and restaurant built in honor of the 1962 World’s Fair. Situated close to the Key Arena and the Seattle Center, the Space Needle is the furthest recommended city attraction from Puget Sound. However, as the focus of numerous photo ops, it’s a must-see attraction in the city and far more famous than Seattle’s other observation tower, the newer and taller Sky View Observatory. The Space Needle’s observation deck stands 520 feet from the ground level, offering a panoramic view of the Greater Seattle Area, along with Mt. Rainer and the Cascade Mountains and ferry boats on Elliott Bay. Just below at the 500-foot level is the revolving SkyCity Restaurant, led by acclaimed executive chef Jeff Maxfield. General admission to the Space Needle’s observation deck is $22, with discounts for seniors and over and youths ages 5-12.
Related: Best Seafood Cities In America
Randy Yagi is an award-winning freelance writer covering national/international travel for CBS Local and all things San Francisco for CBS San Francisco. In 2012, he received a Media Fellowship from Stanford University. He may be contacted via Twitter or Linkedin .