While Seattle is an expensive city, frugal-minded travelers shouldn’t skip out on it! I’ve navigated this city as a broke college student and beyond, and in the 10+ years I’ve been here I’ve picked up some serious money-saving tips for getting the most out of your Emerald City experience.
Don’t think that by traveling to Seattle on a budget you’ll have to compromise on the quality of your time in Seattle. If anything, you’ll get a truer sense of the city by enjoying the more affordable aspects the locals do on a regular basis.
So choose affordable lodging options, pick cheaper restaurants, and pack your Seattle itinerary with a wealth of fun and free options so you can splurge on a couple of the experiences you find appealing.
If your goal is to enjoy Seattle and leave with some cash in your pocket, I’ll show you how to do just that in this guide! Here’s what we’ll cover (click to jump to each section):
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7 Tips to Do Seattle on a Budget
Tip #1 – Use Seattle’s Public Transit
Seattle’s public transit system is solid, and taking advantage of it is one of the best cost-saving Seattle travel tips I can give. Between the link light rail, buses, Seattle Center monorail, and streetcars, you can get practically anywhere you need within the city, saving you the cost of a rental car.
See my guide to how to get around Seattle for a rundown of how to use the city’s public transportation options.
During summer months, there are even buses that will take you to several notable hikes near Seattle, so don’t feel like you have to miss out on any Pacific Northwest adventuring just because you don’t have a car.
Buy an orca card to eliminate the need for exact cash. Spend $5 on one and load it up right at the Airport Station (or any other stop along the light rail), and you can use it for the entirety of your trip!
Tip #2 – Stay Outside of Downtown Seattle
Downtown Seattle is where a majority of the tourist attractions are so naturally this where most hotels are located and where prices are highest.
Unless you’re going to stay in one of the cheaper hostels in the downtown area, I suggest avoiding staying here altogether. While downtown is the main hub for buses, you can find good access to public transit in other neighborhoods that eliminate your need to be right in the center of it all.
Tip #3 – Skip the Sit-Down Restaurants
The many great restaurants in Seattle make it a foodie’s paradise, but the prices at many of these restaurants will make it a budgeter’s nightmare. Between food, drinks, and tips, you’ll probably end up spending $35+ on a meal for one at a decent restaurant.
Get around these costs and still get a good taste of Seattle by getting your bites from bars, food trucks, delis, and hole-in-the-wall takeaway joints. Choosing these over your more traditional restaurant options will mean you can enjoy some seriously delicious eats at a lower cost.
Tip #4 – Take Advantage of Happy Hours
If there are sit-down restaurants you want to enjoy (with expenses you can’t justify), don’t write them off completely. First, check to see if they have a happy hour, and then plan your meal around that! While your menu options might be a bit more limited, you’ll still get to sample some yummy food at a more reasonable price.
Tip #5 – Purchase A Seattle CityPass
Purchasing a Seattle CityPass is the best option to mitigate high ticket prices for those who want to see some of the city’s most popular attractions.
A CityPass gives you discounted admission tickets to the Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, Museum of Pop Culture, and more! This is especially great if you want to enjoy most of the Seattle Center attractions. You’ll save nearly 50% by taking advantage of this good deal and purchasing a CityPass in lieu of tickets at the door.
Tip #6 – Time Your Visit to Seattle Well
Summer is the most popular season to visit Seattle, but you shouldn’t limit yourself to it. I often recommend coming during the shoulder seasons. May-June and September-October are absolutely beautiful and not as crowded, but don’t pass up November through April.
Yes, these are the coldest and rainiest months, but they’re still good times to also take part in most of the free and cheap things to do and see in Seattle. Travel and lodging costs are often much lower during this timeframe as well.
Tip #7 – Walk or Bike Onto the Ferries in Seattle
If you want to ride the ferries, you’ll save a lot of money by walking on instead of biking. There are plenty of bike rentals in the Emerald City, and this eliminates the need for a car to explore the island of your choice. You can purchase tickets online or at the ferry terminal before boarding.
👉 Want More Local Tips? Don’t miss my full list of 22 best tips for traveling to Seattle!
9 Cheap & Free Things to Do in Seattle
👉 Read the full list of the 51 best things to do in Seattle.
Seattle’s City Parks
Hike through the prettiest parts of the city
The city parks in Seattle are phenomenal and provide endless options for recreation. Hike through Discovery Park, admire contemporary art at Olympic Sculpture Park, take pictures of the skyline at Kerry Park, watch for seals and herons at Lincoln Park or take young kids to the wading pool at Volunteer Park and a number of others.
Seattle parks are well-maintained and gorgeous in every season. They’re one of the best places to enjoy the city on a budget, especially for people looking to do some outdoor excursions. See my article on the best parks in Seattle to get planning.
Pike Place Market
Explore every nook and cranny of Seattle’s famous market
Even budget travelers can enjoy the famous Pike Place Market! Wander through the open-air market and check out beautiful flower arrangements, buy fresh produce from local vendors, and grab some cinnamon-orange tea from MarketSpice. Don’t neglect the underground, which has some other cool shops.
If you get hungry, grab a pastry from Mee Sum Pastries, Piroshky Piroshky, or the myriad of other eateries around. Most of the fun of Pike Place Market comes from wandering around and seeing everything there is to see, which makes it extremely accessible to every type of traveler.
Free Museum Days and Art Walks
Immerse yourself in Seattle’s art scene
Art lovers interested in Seattle’s vibrant art scene are in luck. Take advantage of the free museum days on the first Thursday of the month which will give you access to places like the Seattle Art Museum, the Museum of History and Industry, and more.
Unable to make it on that specific day? Certain museums in Seattle, like the Frye Art Museum and the Klondike Gold Rush Museum, are always free. You can also check out monthly Art Walks in a variety of neighborhoods, which feature work from local artists. The most popular and longest-running Art Walk is the one in Pioneer Square which has dozens of beautiful art galleries to explore.
👉 Short on Time? Just follow my perfect 1 day in Seattle itinerary!
Watch Seattle’s favorite baseball team
You don’t have to drop loads of cash to get into the ballpark to watch a game. Seats can run as low as $10 during select value games, and even if your seats aren’t the greatest, you can go down to the Pen and watch the game from directly next to center field.
To keep costs low, I recommend skipping the food inside and grabbing a hot dog from one of the vendors outside the park. These are usually around $5 and utterly satisfying, especially if you make it a Seattle Dog.
Ferry to Bainbridge Island
Take a day trip to an island
Taking a day trip is a great way to get a breather from the big city and to experience a ferry ride! Bainbridge Island is the best day trip from Seattle for budget travelers. You don’t even need a car to explore it.
Walk or bike onto the ferry and when you get off you’ll be able to explore Winslow, the small Washington town closest to the ferry terminal. Check out the cute shops, the art museum, and grab some delicious pastries while you enjoy a slower-paced adventure in the Pacific Northwest. For more tips, see my guide to what to do on Bainbridge Island.
The Center for Wooden Boats
Get on the water at South Lake Union
With Puget Sound on the west and Lake Washington to the east, it’s easy to say opportunities to get on the water abound in the city. One of the best places to do this is the South Lake Union neighborhood where you’ll find the Center for Wooden Boats.
This free-to-enter museum aims to educate visitors on the maritime history of the Pacific Northwest. Walk along the dock and admire all the antique boats or choose a hands-on learning experience and rent one of their peapod row-boats for free! These can hold up to five people, so it’s great to do as a family or with a group. They also offer additional rentals for canoes, kayaks, and other small and larger sailboats for reasonable costs that start at $35.
View Lake Union’s connection to the sea
The Ballard Locks are a prototypical Seattle experience, and there are multiple things to do when visiting. The locks are the connection point for saltwater Puget Sound and freshwater Lake Washington and you can watch the intriguing process of the boats on the ship canal passing through one body of water to the next.
The locks also operate as a fish ladder for salmon spawning. There is a viewing gallery where you can see the salmon run (depending on the season). The viewing room recently underwent a million dollar renovation and now features a video wall on salmon.
Finally, you can go to the Charles S. English Jr Botanical Garden, a gem of a spot where you can watch the canal, picnic or go for a peaceful stroll while enjoying the beautiful surroundings.
Get a taste of some seriously good coffee
Check out the myriad of unique coffee shops in Seattle! This is where you’ll find the locals on any day of the year. Warm up with a nice steaming mug on a rainy day, enjoy a cappuccino and pastry for breakfast, grab a drink to refuel midday for more exploring, or just kick back, relax and read a book while you sip something delicious.
Whether you go to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery for a tour and tasting, or to the small coffee shop around the corner from wherever you’re staying, you’ll leave with an understanding of why Seattlites are so obsessed with this beverage (and maybe even with a bag of your new favorite beans).
👉 Read Next: 33 Free Things to Do in Seattle
Seek Out the Epic Views
Find spots with the best views of Seattle
Surrounded by water and mountains, Seattle gets some pretty epic views. One of the best things to do is seek them out!
Whether you’re looking for the best view of the iconic Seattle skyline, want to snap a photo of Mount Rainier on a clear day, or see the Olympic Mountains illuminated with a sunset, there are plenty of options for finding places to take in the beauty so prevalent in the Emerald City.
A few of my favorite spots to enjoy a breathtaking view are from Alki Beach, the Seattle waterfront, Columbia Tower, and Jefferson Park on Beacon Hill.
Where to Stay in Seattle on a Budget
In general, the further you move from the downtown area, the more budget-friendly your accommodations will be. The biggest exception to this rule is if you’re staying in one of the hostels downtown.
Otherwise, some of your best options are in the Seattle neighborhoods with numerous public transit options (particularly ones along the light rail), and that are very walkable themselves.
If you want a bigger breakdown of recommended areas to stay in, check out my complete guide on where to stay in Seattle. For now, we’ll dive into the ones that will give you the best bang for your buck.
👉 Best Area For Families, the Majority of Budget Travelers | ✨ Best Budget Hotel: Graduate Seattle
Northeast of downtown Seattle, the University District ticks numerous boxes for budget travelers. Not only are the hotel options more affordable, but there are also numerous tasty and inexpensive dining options, and it’s near the light rail, which gives you easy access to get downtown and to neighborhoods further south, or to continue as far north as Northgate.
Because it’s home to the University of Washington, the U-District has distinctively college town vibes, and depending on the time of year you visit, the neighborhood may be pretty packed with college students. Still, it’s a beautiful area, home to the Husky Stadium, a huge concentration of cherry blossoms, and other natural areas along the Burke-Gilman trail.
West of the U-District are neighborhoods like Fremont, Ballard, and Wallingford that visitors will definitely want to explore in order to get a feel for even more of Seattle’s quirky culture.
👉 Best Area For Solo Travelers, Being Close to Everything | ✨ Best Budget Hotel: Green Tortoise Hostel
A clear exception to the rule of staying further from Downtown if you want to save money is if you choose to stay in a hostel. This is the perfect option for the person who wants to be right in the center of it all. You’ll have ample public transit options to get you anywhere else in the city, be close to the ferry terminals and some of Seattle’s main attractions.
This is one of the best options for people who plan on spending most of their time outside of their lodging and don’t mind the most basic amenities. It’s also a particularly good option for solo travelers who want to meet up with fellow travelers exploring the Emerald City.
👉 Best Area For Couples and Groups | ✨ Best Budget Hotel: The Art Inn
Capitol Hill is one of Seattle’s coolest neighborhoods and while there aren’t as many hotel options, visitors can find a range of affordable vacations rentals throughout. The light rail stops in Cap Hill, and there are numerous bus lines that service the area too.
Cap Hill is not the cheapest place in Seattle. However, its high volume of restaurants, bars, shops, and grocery stores make it a good option for travelers who plan on going to happy hours, choosing bar food, cooking in their rental, or cutting out other expenses. Its convenient location, vibrant nightlife, and art scene make it a great choice for couples or friends who want to spend time in a very lively neighborhood
👉 Don’t Miss: My full guide to where to stay in Seattle!
Cheap Eats in Seattle
Bar food, happy hours, delis, and food truck bites are some of the best options for eating cheaply without sacrificing taste in Seattle. There are spots you can do this all over the city. Now we’ll dive into what and where they are.
This U-District favorite serves tasty and affordable Chinese hand-pulled noodles among other dishes. Generous portions make them a filling lunch or dinner, and their spicy cumin lamb noodles are beyond good.
Off the Rez Cafe
Native American Fry Bread
Sweet and savory fry breads and Indian tacos are the main attraction at this authentic Native American eatery. Try their mouth-wateringly yummy dishes at their cafe located in the Burke Museum or from their food truck. At $6 for a generously loaded taco and $4 for a sweet fry bread, it’s nearly impossible to pass up.
Taco Chukis serves some of the best Mexican food in the city. Enjoy a variety of delicious tacos, burritos, tortas, and more from this Seattle staple. The service is always quick, the food is always tasty and the prices are perfect.
American, Bar Food
If you want delicious, affordable bar food along with cheap, strong drinks and a laidback dive bar atmosphere look no further than Twilight Exit. Located in the Central District, almost all of their food is made in house. I highly recommend ordering the nachos and coming on a Sunday evening for karaoke to get the full Twilight Exit experience.
Marination Ma Kai
Hawaiian fare meets Korean cuisine at this West Seattle restaurant. Grab some kimchi fried rice and aloha sliders (easy to split between two!), and enjoy your food with one of the best views in Seattle.
If you crave teriyaki, katsu, and any other kind of donburi then Donburi Station is the place to go. Their large portions mean you can easily make 2 meals out of one order. Add a side of gyoza, pork curry, or edamame to top off this delicious and comforting meal.
This is one of the cheapest options for Seattle eats, and it’s a classic (Sir Mix-a-Lot even rapped about it). Come to Dick’s for non-fussy late-night eats in the form of fries, burgers, and milkshakes. There’s almost always a line, but it’s never a long wait, and you can easily spend under $10 for a satisfying meal.
Saigon Vietnam Deli
One of Seattle’s best Vietnamese delis with a wide variety of Vietnamese food, desserts, and bubble tea. Their flavorful Bahn Mi’s are one of their most popular items and for a sandwich under $5, it’s easy to see why. Not only do you have a wide selection of delicious eats here, but you can also get a lot of food at a low cost, making this a budgeter’s dream.
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Seattle Budgeting FAQs
Is Seattle a cheap place to visit?
In general, Seattle is not the cheapest place to visit. However, you can make your visit to Seattle more budget-friendly by choosing basic accommodations, using public transport, limiting meals at sit-down restaurants, and selecting free or low-cost activities.
Is Seattle cheap to live?
Seattle is not a cheap place to live. It is growing rapidly and expenses are on par with other major cities on the west coast. The cheaper parts of Seattle are on the northern and southern ends of the metro area.
Is Seattle or Portland cheaper?
Portland is overall cheaper than Seattle, especially in terms of housing costs.
Can you visit Seattle without a car?
You can easily visit Seattle without a car. It has a walk score of 74 and is one of the most bike-friendly cities in America. In addition, Seattle has a lot of public transit options available that make getting around the city easy for visitors and locals alike.
There you have it! Now you know where to begin for planning your low-cost trip to Seattle.
If you want to get more insight into what you can expect before you get here, check out my article on my top Seattle travel tips next!
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