View of people in Public Market Center in Seattle

22 Seattle Travel Tips (Things to Know, By a Local)

I’ve lived in Seattle for over a decade, and there are some Seattle travel tips that aren’t obvious to most travelers until you’ve set foot into the rainy city (and realized you forgot waterproof shoes – whoops!). 

Even if you’re from the US, there are certain things – from the weather and how to get around to the quirky culture and more that you’ll want a heads up about before you get to Seattle.

And that’s where I come in! I’ve written up my favorite tips people traveling to Seattle will find useful. Here’s everything you’ll want to know before you arrive in the Emerald City.  

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22 Travel Tips for Seattle

It Rains Less in Seattle Than In Florida

View of people in Public Market Center in Seattle
(photo: Sara Hahn / Shutterstock)

It may surprise you, but it’s true: there are cities in Florida that get more rain than Seattle! These places get more inches of rain on average per year (particularly when you factor in hurricane season). That said, Seattle has many more days where we get some rain, but it’s rarely a downpour or storm, and not that much by volume at all. 

Because of this, many Seattleites have distinctions for “rain.” We’ll say it’s misty, drizzling, spitting, sprinkling, light rain, not-really-raining, kinda-sorta-wettish, or any number of other classifications. But overall, the rain here typically isn’t what you might think!  

👉 Bookmark This Now! I wrote up an epic list of the 51 best Seattle activities! Bookmark it now and come back after reading this post.

Most Locals Don’t Use Umbrellas

The author with her husband and dogs posing for a picture in Seattle during fall season
Rain boots, a rain jacket (and a cute pug) are all you really need when you go out

This may seem strange for a place nicknamed “Rain City,” but there’s a practical reason for it. As I mentioned above, we get more drizzle and light rain than downpours, so rain jackets usually suffice (and if there is a downpour, it can get so windy that you’ll find your umbrella turned inside out!).

Umbrellas can also be cumbersome and take up a lot of room, so usually, it’s easier to be hands-free. Besides, most of us would rather hold onto our coffees than umbrellas.

👉 Don’t Forget to Pack: Need some good rain gear? I’ve got you! For rainboots, the L.L Bean Duck Boots are my personal favorite for dealing with all kinds of weather (snow included!) and walking through puddles with ease. For a great budget option, grab yourself these Chooka Rain Boots which are also fur-lined to keep your feet warm. As for a jacket, this one will help keep you dry!

Layer Up To Stay Comfy

The author at the top of a snowy mountain during a hike
Layers definitely came in handy for this hike that surprised us with snow!

The key to comfort in a place where the weather changes fast year-round? Layers. Prepare to layer up for any visit to Seattle. This is particularly useful during seasonal transitions to keep you from freezing in the morning and overheating during the day. So bring your fleeces, vests, hats, and gloves, especially if you’re sensitive to the cold. And one of my personal favorite items to have on hand? A pair of nice, warm, wool socks.

When it Snows the City Shuts Down

The author's husband standing on the middle of a street in Seattle during winter season
Going on a walk in the middle of the street after a snowstorm because the roads are empty!

It doesn’t snow often in Seattle, but when it does, the city shuts down. Because it’s a rare occurrence, the city doesn’t have the infrastructure, and residents don’t have the experience to deal with it. Driving becomes dangerous, particularly on unplowed side streets, bus routes change and businesses close if employees can’t get to work. 

The best thing to do when it snows in Seattle? Simply take a quiet walk and admire the beauty around you! No one’s going anywhere anytime soon. 

That said, in the case of extreme weather, it’s always helpful to have a backup plan, particularly when it comes to your travel plans. During a recent snowstorm, flights were canceled and some travelers were stuck, unable to get to the airport. But if you book travel insurance, you’re guaranteed way less stress to any unforeseen issues like this. I suggest booking with World Nomads.

Coffee Really Is Everywhere

The author's hand holding a cup of coffee and some plants on its background
This cute coffee shop in Ballard also sells plants

The stereotype is true: Seattleites really love coffee. You can get coffee almost anywhere you go, and it’s going to be some of the best you’ve had. You’re never far from it, whether you’re going to a small drive up for your morning drip or to an open, airy shop with plenty of seating and a wealth of creative specialty concoctions.

👉 Bonus Tip: First-time visitors may fall into the trap of going to check out the original Starbucks down in Pike Place Market. I fully suggest skipping that in favor of an independent coffee shop to get a more authentic taste of Seattle. If you’re determined to do some S-Bucks tourism, check out the Starbucks Roastery instead where you can sample newer unreleased coffees, try a tasting flight, and learn more about methods of brewing. 

The ‘Seattle Freeze’ Is A Thing

The Seattle Freeze doesn’t refer to the cold – it refers to the reported antisocial and introverted nature of some Seattle residents. Don’t expect the same warmth and hospitality here as in other parts of the country, but that doesn’t mean everyone you encounter will be rude! 

Many Seattleites are friendly and will be kind to you and willing to speak, especially if you are. Seattleites are definitely more reserved and that combined with the Nordic roots of the city is where many think the “freeze” comes from. 

Covid Guidelines May Be Different Here

The author sitting in Pike Place Market wearing her mask
Some public spaces like Pike Place Market still require masks

As the world continues to navigate the global pandemic, it’s important to stay abreast of guidelines when traveling to other places. Seattle’s current mandates dictate that people wear masks when in public indoor spaces. Restaurants and bars require patrons to show a vaccination card or evidence of a negative Covid-19 test taken within the past 72 hours if they want to dine inside. 

Know the Trash, Recycling, and Compost Rules 

View of trash bins in Seattle
Most bins have pictures to help you figure out what goes where

Seattle is a very eco-friendly city and visitors will find many options for waste management when out and about. Most businesses allow you to sort your trash, recycling, and compost so that they don’t get fined. And in fact, a lot of restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and other places that offer to-go services are switching to compostable cutlery, straws, and plate options to further reduce waste.

We’re A Plastic Bag Free City

Don’t expect to see a lot of plastic bags floating around the city. The city of Seattle banned single-use plastic bags in 2021, so all bags must be recyclable or reusable. Grocery stores and retail spaces provide brown paper bags but charge a small fee for large ones. If you want to avoid this charge altogether, just bring your own reusable bags with you to save a few cents.

👉 Don’t Forget to Pack: Don’t want to carry around any bulky reusable bags? I recommend grabbing a set of these bags since they’re large enough to carry everything you need, but can easily fold up to fit in a pocket, purse, or wherever you want to stow them.

Go Beyond Pike Place Market

View of people and shops in Fremont Sunday Market in Seattle
The Fremont Sunday Market is the perfect spot to hunt for some unique gifts

Pike Place Market is the most famous Seattle farmer’s market and the one that most people flock to when visiting. It’s a great place to experience, but there are other top-rated markets in the city that visitors should check out. 

These are typically way less crowded and are in interesting, dynamic neighborhoods. A couple you should try? Go to the Fremont Sunday Market for lots of artisan-made goods or check out the West Seattle Farmers Market to pick up delicious local produce and meats to prep all your meals.

The City Is Walkable, but Hilly

Seattle is one of the most walkable cities in the country, which is great if you’re trying to avoid traffic. That said, you may get a good calf workout on most of those walks because a lot of the city is really hilly. Like San Francisco, Seattle is a city built on seven hills, which makes for some awesome views and steep climbs. Make sure you bring some comfortable shoes with you if you plan to walk the city.

👉 Read Next: How to Do Seattle on a Budget

Biker-Friendly Doesn’t Even Begin to Cover It

View of bikers during a sunny morning in Gas Works Park
Bikers gathered around Gas Works Park. (photo: steve estvanik / Shutterstock)

Cyclists rejoice! Seattle is regularly voted the most bike-friendly city in America. There are bike lanes galore within almost every neighborhood, and many bike-friendly trails within city parks too. Wondering how bikes and Seattle’s massive hills mix? Just rent yourself an electric bike to power up those hills with ease.

There are Plenty of Public Transit Options

View of colorful city buses in a street in Seattle
(photo: Ceri Breeze / Shutterstock)

Public transit options abound in Seattle. City buses, the Link light rail, the monorail, streetcars, water taxis, and ferries are all options that can get you from north to south Seattle and beyond downtown with ease. If you don’t want to wrestle with traffic, or are just trying to save money on your visit, be sure to get familiar with your many transit options.

👉 Bonus Tip: Download the One Bus Away app to help you navigate your way around town. It will help you figure out bus routes, how soon one is coming if there’s a delay, and where the nearest bus stop is!

Seattle Is A Very Dog-Friendly City

The author's dog wearing a raincoat while riding on a bus
Yes, dogs are allowed on the bus, and yes, some of them even have raincoats!

Spend a few minutes anywhere in the city and you’ll realize just how dog-friendly Seattle residents are. Parks, buses, bars, breweries, coffee shops, and retail spaces – most places not only allow dogs but welcome them. 

If you want to travel with your dog, Seattle is a great city to do it. Just be sure to check with staff to make sure it’s okay, and read up on the rules about off-leash areas, particularly when taking them hiking.

Every Neighborhood Has Its Own Personality

View of a coffee shops outside in Seattle
One of many great spots to hit up in Georgetown (photo: vewfinder / Shutterstock)

If you come to Seattle and expect to understand the culture from a single visit downtown, you’ll miss out on what makes Seattle so interesting. Each of Seattle’s neighborhoods is distinct – from the cool and gritty Georgetown to close-knit, communal West Seattle, to young and hip Ballard and more. Visitors should plan to venture out from the more touristy zones and check out at least a few of these unique neighborhoods.

📚 Related Reading: Check out my breakdown of Where to stay in Seattle for some insight into the best neighborhoods for first-time travelers, budget travelers, families, and more!

Homelessness Is Prevalent in Some Areas

Unfortunately, the pandemic has only heightened the prevalent homeless population in Seattle (similarly to most big cities in the country). Visitors will likely encounter the population of unhoused people in places where there are many social services buildings such as Downtown, Pioneer Square, Belltown, and the U-district neighborhoods. The vast majority of the people experiencing homelessness are neither dangerous nor aggressive, so visitors shouldn’t be afraid.

Get Outside To Really Experience the Pacific Northwest

View of the Lake Washington from Seward Park
Finding a quiet place in Seward Park to sit by Lake Washington makes for a peaceful summer afternoon

There’s a reason Seattle is called the Emerald City! Those frequent days of rain make it one of the greenest, most gorgeous places to visit in the country (especially since nearly 30% of Seattle is physically covered by trees). And Seattleites know it. Locals love to get outside and explore all this beauty and visitors should as well. 

There are a ton of city parks that make it easy to feel like you’re getting outside of the city without leaving it, along with plenty of hikes near Seattle that will help you understand why so many people come here and don’t want to leave.

👉 Bonus Tip: A car is one of the best ways to explore the outdoors in Seattle, particularly if you’re going on a hike further afield or want to spend a day at the beach. I recommend renting through Discover Cars to find the best deals on a rental, no matter how many days you need it. 

Come During the “Off Season”

Overlooking view of Seattle
The transition from summer to fall is one of the best times to visit Seattle

Some say the summers make it worth living in Seattle year-round. While Seattle summers are glorious, the other seasons have lots to write home about too. During fall the city comes alight with beautiful foliage, beer fests, and a harvest of delicious seasonal eats. 

Spring is time for festivals, the absolute best waterfall flows, and when Seattleites “reawaken” and emerge from their houses squinting at the mostly foreign sun. Even winter, yes, the rainiest season, can be a great time to visit Seattle if you bundle up, embrace being wet and check out the museums, breweries, and other indoor activities in Seattle.

Try a Seattle Dog and Other Classic Eats

View of a hand holding a Seattle dog
A hotdog + cream cheese + onions = the deliciously weird Seattle dog

Seattle has a fantastic food scene and you can get meals of nearly every cuisine type while visiting. However, you’ll also want to try some Seattle classics – like a Seattle dog. A beef hotdog smothered in cream cheese and topped with onions may sound strange, but is in fact delicious. Other Seattle classics? Smoked salmon, Beecher’s cheese curds, Ellenos Greek Yogurt, a greasy burger from Dicks, and the infinitely strange-looking but yummy tasting geoduck.

👉 Bonus Tip: For a truly authentic (and super cheap) Seattle dog experience, don’t get them from a restaurant. Instead, you’ll want to grab one from a street vendor. They’re typically set up outside of T-Mobile Park or Lumen Field during a sports event, and you can also find them around Cap Hill as the perfect snack to have during some late-night bar hopping.

The Best Views Aren’t From The Space Needle

Scenic view of the Seattle's skyline from West Seattle
One beautiful shot of Seattle’s skyline, taken from West Seattle!

Want to get a picture of the epic Seattle skyline? You won’t get it from the Space Needle. While it’s fun to go to the Seattle Center and take a few photos in front of the Space Needle, don’t ride up to the top and think you’ll get the best photos there (after all, if you do this, the Space Needle won’t actually be in your photo!). 

Instead, some of the best spots to capture a view of the skyline are from Kerry Park, Gas Works Park, Columbia Tower, West Seattle, or the water taxi and ferries from downtown. As a bonus, these are also way cheaper! 

Don’t Just Stay In Seattle

The author on her ferry ride in Seattle
Some of my favorite day trips begin with a ferry ride!

Believe me, Seattle is an amazing place to visit, but if you’ve got more than a couple of days to spend here, take a day trip from Seattle to one of the many surrounding cities and small towns. Go wine-tasting in Woodinville, visit museums and eclectic shops in Tacoma, ride the ferry to Bainbridge Island, have a picnic at one of Bellevue’s gorgeous green spaces, or travel north to Whidbey Island to see one of the most picturesque places in Washington State.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Rain

The author with her friends during their walk in a park in Seattle
It’s rainy and muddy out… but still the perfect time for a walk in the park with friends

When you come to Seattle, expect at least a bit of rain. While it isn’t always raining in Seattle, it’s almost always wet. Visitors should both expect this and embrace it. In fact, when it is rainy, overcast, or a little wet out, it’s a great time to explore! If the sun is out, people flood the streets of Seattle and crowds are common. If you want a place to yourself, go there when it’s raining.

FAQs about Seattle

When is the best time of year to visit Seattle?

May to June and September to October are some of the best times of year to visit Seattle. There are fewer crowds during these months, and the weather is nice and mild.

Where are the best areas to stay in Seattle?

Lower Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, Downtown, and Fremont or Ballard are some of the best areas to stay in Seattle. These places are close to a lot of great attractions and have great hotels, restaurants, bars, and shopping options.

How many days in Seattle is enough?

3-4 days is a good amount of time to see and explore Seattle. However, visitors should plan on staying at least 5 days if they want to take a trip outside of the city.

What food is famous in Seattle?

Some of Seattle’s famous foods include salmon, clams, and other seafood dishes along with Rainier cherries, apples, and Walla Walla onions. Seattle dogs, Beecher’s cheese, and Ellenos yogurt are also popular Seattle foods.

What are Seattle’s nicknames?

Some of Seattle’s nicknames are the Emerald City, Rain City, and Jet City. Seattle is also known as the Coffee Capital of the USA.

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Now you’re all set for your trip to Seattle! Let me know which tip was your favorite in the comments or check out another one of my articles about things to do in Washington state to keep planning your trip to the Pacific Northwest.

2 Comments

  1. Hi Chelsea,
    Your Washington travel tips are inspiring.
    Will be in Seattle the first week in April and trying to figure out a car side trip out of the city for 2 nights,
    We are senior citizens and can do some hiking but we are not campers.
    Thinking about visiting one of the parks and/ or wine country..
    Do you have any hints or suggestions?
    Thanks,
    Rose

    1. Thanks for reading, Rose! I’m glad you found them helpful. I love early springtime in Seattle. If you’re interested in wine country, Woodinville would be the place to go. It’s not too far outside of Seattle (around 25-35 mins depending on traffic), so could be an easy day trip. Some great wineries to start with are Chateau Ste Michelle and DeLille Cellars.

      Another option that would be particularly suited to spring would be going up to Skagit Valley for the Tulip Festival. It’s a really stunning display of tulips and daffodils. You’ll want to check the bloom map before going to make sure the fields are ready (https://tulipfestival.org/bloom/).

      If you do this, I’d recommend checking out the tulips in the morning, going to small town La Conner for lunch, and then driving across the Deception Pass Bridge to Whidbey Island to stay the night in Coupeville or Langley. The next day you can explore Whidbey Island a little further (I recommend a hike at Ebey’s Landing Historical Reserve), and take the Clinton-Mukilteo Ferry across to get back on the road to Seattle. You’ll get to see some of the prettiest parts of Washington this way, and it’s a trip I’ve done myself so I highly recommend it.

      Let me know if you have any other questions and want more suggestions – I’m happy to help! 🙂

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