Images via visitballard.com; Tim Thompson; Howard Frisk; Nic Lehoux; Port of Seattle; Alabastro Photography
Get set for Seattle with Nikki Bayley’s guide to its coolest corners.
Once you’ve visited the Space Needle and taken a ‘Seattle skyline selfie’ from a height of 184m, rocked out at the funky Museum of Pop Culture, eaten your way around Pike Place Market and gazed in wonder at Dale Chihuly’s glass artworks, it’s easy to think that you’ve ‘done’ the Emerald City.
You would, of course, be quite wrong. There are always new attractions in Seattle’s downtown core – such as the recently renovated Smith Tower Observation Deck, which offers 360-degree views across the city and a funky Prohibition-style bar – but more importantly, there are also plenty of great neighbourhoods, all within easy reach of the city, to be discovered.
South Lake Union
Why go: Just 10 minutes’ walk from Downtown, South Lake Union is one of the city’s liveliest new ’hoods, thanks to being the home of Amazon’s ‘urban campus’. You’ll find museums, excellent restaurants and plenty of places to enjoy the water and pristine parkland here.
What to do: One of the city’s most fascinating museums, the Museum of History & Industry, moved here from Montlake in 2012. Covering the history of Seattle’s pre-European contact through to the present day, while also taking in the city’s fire, rebuilding and social history, there are plenty of hands-on displays to keep all ages amused.
Next door is the Center for Wooden Boats, which features 100 historically significant craft, including several docked on the lake that you can jump on board and explore. Visitors inspired by the history of the boats can hire one or take sailing lessons.
Drop into Assembly Hall, a huge food hall with a juice and coffee bar, bakery and an excellent array of burgers for a casual lunch. Try the terrific sliders at Happy Hour for a seriously delicious bargain – the cute mini-burgers are just $1.50 each from 3pm-6pm.
Why go: Ballard, in the northwest of Seattle, has plenty to keep visitors entertained, from boutique shopping and hip bars to cultural centres and fun festivals. It also boasts the terrific boutique Hotel Ballard, with its well-appointed take on old-fashioned luxury.
What to do: Check out the area’s fascinating immigrant community at the Nordic Heritage Museum, which covers art, culture and the immigrant experience. Party at the annual two-day Ballard Seafood Festival in July, which closes the streets so that the crowds can enjoy a salmon barbecue, live music, local crafts and much more.
The area’s locks are a must-visit. They are home to a 21-step fish ladder with an excellent viewing area, so you can watch spawning salmon swim past, and the Carl S English Jr Botanical Gardens, which are the ideal spot for a picnic. Stop by Porkchop & Co for a true taste of the Pacific Northwest with its seasonally shifting menu, house-made shrub sodas and friendly service.
Why go: Just 15 minutes from Downtown, Columbia City is one of Seattle’s most fascinating neighbourhoods. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, this is Seattle’s most ethnically diverse postcode. Visit for an afternoon to check out its cute independent stores, excellent bakeries and restaurants.
What to do: Throughout the summer, there are plenty of fun community events to check out. The most famous is the Beat Walk, a series of live music events that take place within the Historic District on the second Sunday of every month from June to October.
Shop for locally designed clothes, art, jewellery and beauty products at Andaluz (4908 Rainier Ave S), stop in for a foot massage at Body Good or, as it’s Seattle and most likely raining, duck into the Ark Lodge Cinema, a gorgeous independent movie house.
You’ll find some excellent restaurants here offering something a little different from the norm. La Medusa runs seasonal Mediterranean-inspired foraged dinners, Island Soul Rum Bar & Soul Shack has Caribbean comfort food and delicious tropical drinks (try the hibiscus iced mimosas!), and if you’ve never tried authentic Senegalese cuisine, stop off at La Teranga (4903 Rainier Ave S) for superb couscous and hearty fish stews.
Why go: Who knew that Seattle had its own charming seaside neighbourhood? Quaint Alki is just a few minutes’ scenic water taxi ride away from Pier 50, near the Seattle Great Wheel and the aquarium. Blessed with a sandy beach and a terrific view over the city skyline, it’s the perfect place to spend a lazy day. There’s a free shuttle (775) that leaves from the ferry dock and takes you up into the hills, then back around to the Alki Point lighthouse.
What to do: Stroll the waterfront and stop to try one of the city’s favourite sweet treats, Top Pot Doughnuts, which offers dozens of varieties including spiced chai, cherry blossom, and apple and cinnamon fritter. Chow down on Mexican food at the fun El Chupacabra beachfront bar, where the beer-battered fish tacos are crunchy and the margaritas pleasingly strong. Enjoy an Alki tradition and go for a pedal along the seafront on one of Wheel Fun’s multi-person bikes, or take to the water and paddle with Alki Kayak on a guided tour. Head out in the daytime on the 10am-1pm Lighthouse Tour or try a two-hour sunset paddle to soak up the last of the day with picture-perfect light. It’s just under an hour’s walk from the lighthouse back to the ferry, or you can pick up the shuttle along the way. Build up an appetite on the walk back and indulge at the excellent Marination Ma-Kai, a finger-licking mash-up of Hawaiian and Korean food.
If all this talk of Seattle’s super-cool neighbourhoods has your clients hankering after something new, this always-Instagrammable city can oblige.
Go native: Argosy Cruises runs a four-hour Tillicum Excursion to Blake Island, which teaches guests about the Native American people who originally inhabited the Pacific Northwest. The 45-minute cruise provides gloriously scenic views of Seattle’s skyline, mountains and Puget Sound.
Once you arrive, you’re greeted with a mug of traditional steamed clams, then it’s time to take a seat in the vast cedar longhouse for a buffet lunch of buttery salmon that’s been roasted on an alder wood fire, with plenty of sides. After lunch there’s a superb performance of storytelling, featuring dancers backed by impressive sound-and-light technology.
Cheers to that: Thompson Seattle opened last summer, boasting fabulous floor-to-ceiling windows with killer views across Pike Place Market and across to the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. Rooms are stylish and spacious, and the service warm and diligent. The high point? The uber-cool rooftop bar with craft cocktails, tasty snacks and see-and-be-seen views.
Celeb spotting: Kimpton Palladian Hotel rocks a super-cool designer vibe with plenty of playful touches – from Michael Jackson throw pillows to a stylishly snooty portrait of TV’s most famous Seattleite, Dr Frasier Crane (aka Kelsey Grammer), dressed in Regency regalia, in the reception. Don’t miss its superb Shaker & Spear restaurant, which serves up ambrosial farm-to-table creations with a focus on simple presentation, using locally sourced and organic ingredients.
Find itinerary ideas, contacts and news on new UK-focused website
Tried & Tested: Boeing Future Flights factory tour
Bucket-list experiences come in all shapes and sizes, but if you want to tick off one that’s bigger than most, head to the largest building in the world: the Boeing factory just outside Seattle.
At more than half a mile long and nearly 40 hectares in area (about the size of Venice), this mega factory is where the aircraft manufacturer makes its 747s, 767s, 777s and 787s.
Inside, 44 aircraft at a time are laid bare at all stages of the manufacturing process – upside down, in parts, or with concrete blocks hanging off them to replicate the weight of the wings. You might see one of 20 massive overhead cranes lugging an aircraft down the production line, where toilets, seats and overhead lockers sit in bubblewrap waiting to be fitted.
Tours can be booked at futureofflight.org (from $25), while Viator offers trips with transport from Seattle (from £60). Located just 45 minutes from the city centre, it’s an affordable way to get behind the scenes and see intellectual property so strictly guarded that cameras and phones are banned just remember to warn selfie-obsessed customers.