What do people love about Seattle? Chat up a local or long-term resident and you may hear effusive praise for Seattle’s balance and diversity.
“The diversity that Seattle has at its fingertips is really amazing. You can easily immerse yourself in a park or a green space for a half day, but within an hour, drive to the city,” says Kirsten Gardner, a tour guide at travel company Evergreen Escapes. “[In the city,] you have every ecosystem you can hope for in the state of Washington.”
Whether you are a heritage addict, an outdoor daredevil, or a contemporary culture devourer, Seattle has a full platter of experiences that you will delight in. For busy travellers who prefer to avoid the hassle of planning an itinerary, a well-curated tour is the answer. Let the associates at Pan Pacific Seattle point you in the right direction.
1. Welcome to Seattle: Getting Started
Pioneer Square has the honour of being Seattle’s first neighbourhood. With Native American roots dating back over 10,000 years, the historic district proudly served the first generation of over 2,000 Seattleites after the city was officially incorporated in 1869.
Much of Pioneer Square (mostly wooden buildings) was destroyed in the Great Seattle Fire in 1889, but Seattle’s resilience prevailed. Within a year, hundreds of new stone and brick buildings had been erected. Constructed in the “Richardsonian Romanesque” architecture style popularised by prominent 19th century American architect Henry Hobson Richardson, Pioneer Square’s buildings feature square stones and Roman-inspired arches, and they remain a pride of the neighbourhood today.
Seattle’s Pike Place Market is one of the oldest food markets in the US. It began its run in 1907 as an experiment to create a public place where farmers could sell their fresh produce directly to consumers. Only 10 farmers showed up on its very first day of operations on 17 August 1907. However, thousands of shoppers had gathered for the occasion, and the farmers were sold out by lunchtime. Over a century later, Pike Place Market continues to be an iconic attraction, and a place to connect with Seattle’s farmers and artisanal producers.
A tour you can consider is the “Snoqualmie Falls and Seattle City Tour” by the highly rated Shutter Tours. It begins with a historical overview of Seattle (first stops are Pike Place and Pioneer Square), before ferrying you away from the city centre to experience other gems, such as the picturesque Snoqualmie Falls (82 metres) on the east of Seattle. As a bonus, when you sign up for the tour, you will receive a link to a 30-page Pike Place guide, complete with photography tips.
Alternatively, join a summer-only Pike Place tour run by Friends of the Market, an advocacy group that supports the area’s conservation and education efforts. You can explore Pioneer Square on your own with a walking map, or join the neighbourhood’s free tours in the summer.
To appreciate Seattle from a design perspective, book a downtown Seattle tour with the Seattle Architecture Foundation. Conducted by volunteers who have received extensive training in architectural styles, these tours will help you to differentiate between the architectural forms that dominate Seattle’s cityscape, and alert you to distinguishing details that you might otherwise miss.
Another way to get intimately acquainted with Seattle is through its colourful food culture. If you need a guide to the best places to eat in Seattle, look to Savor Seattle to lead the way. After all, their mission is to “connect hungry minds and stomachs with Seattle’s best foods and libations.”
Whether your gastronomic proclivities tend toward upscale comfort foods, top chefs, or the eclectic and experimental, there is always a food tour suitable for you. If your interest is primarily in wines, you can purchase a Wine Passport from Savor Seattle’s web site or mobile app, and visit up to 10 participating wineries at your own convenience.
2. Unique Things to do in Seattle: Going Underground, Above, & Around
The Great Seattle Fire of 1889 began almost innocuously, when a glue pot boiled over in a woodworking shop. Unfortunately, it ignited the shop’s wood chips and turpentine, which caused the fire to spread to a nearby liquor store. The rest, as they say, is history. However, there are silver linings to this story: no one was killed, and the city kicked into action the very next day to decide how best to rebuild Seattle.
[In] the process of rebuilding, the decision was made to raise the city streets out of the swampy grounds. Retaining walls were added alongside the streets and filled to make new roads. Shops and businesses that had already rebuilt found the first and sometimes second storeys of their buildings facing a concrete wall, the new street several feet above. Eventually, new sidewalks were added at street height, and the underground largely forgotten, left to opium addicts, prostitutes, and gangsters. [Source: Atlas Obscura]
In the 1950s, Seattle Times columnist Bill Speidel took an interest in the stories surrounding Seattle’s “buried city” and campaigned to preserve the area. It would take several years before his efforts paid off. “Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour” was launched in 1965, turning the Seattle Underground into a bona fide tourist attraction. Speidel passed away in 1988 but his legacy continues, and the tours conducted by the company that he founded are still considered one of the city’s best.
When on the Underground Tour, expect history delivered with a generous dose of entertainment and (occasionally ribald) humour. If you are travelling with children or prefer something G-rated, book a tour with Beneath The Streets instead. The focus here is on recreating the timeline of Seattle’s development, and how different communities (including the Native Americans, the Chinese, and the Japanese) have played their part in shaping the city’s identity.
3. Behold The Pacific Northwestern City From A Seaplane
For yet another stunningly different perspective of Seattle, this time from above, take a 20-minute scenic seaplane tour with narration to bear witness to the city’s most captivating sights such as Elliott Bay, the Olympic and Cascade mountains, sports stadiums, houseboats on Lake Union, and more.
Share your Seattle photos and #seattlelove with your social media community. Just be mindful of strapping yourself in while grabbing that selfie in the air!
If you have covered sufficient ground within the city centre, and have an extra day or two to spare, consider taking a trip out to the Olympic National Park. This World Heritage site is just a two-hour drive from Seattle. Alternatively, visit the stunning Mount Rainier National Park—an active volcano and Washington icon less than two hours from Seattle.
Evergreen Escapes offers both destinations as full-day nature sightseeing tours. If a more rugged experience is what you seek, get in touch with them to customise a private tour.
Need more travel tips? Read our guides to Seattle’s best coffee stops and other city highlights. For your accommodation needs, speak to our team at Pan Pacific Seattle to enquire about our latest offers for rooms and suites.