Edited by Lesley Marchant
Seattle is a picturesque Pacific Northwest city that treats tourists to a diverse range of incredible attractions: serene outdoor activities, off-the-wall breweries, impressive eateries, and dynamic art and music spaces (not to mention an out-of-this-world coffee culture).
But Seattle off the beaten path is another world entirely, and it’s adored by the people who call the city home. In a cityscape this vast, there are countless non-touristy things to do in Seattle to experience it at its best – that is to say, like a local! I love that there’s something for everybody: bars, loud music and dancing, and lots of tiny hole-in-the-wall places for people who like to go out in small groups.
Locations like the artsy sculpture park, cozy hidden Seattle bars and pubs, and sprawling green spaces make it impossible for the Emerald City to disappoint. COVID-19 is still an ongoing concern, with travel restrictions all over the world subject to change. Seattle is no different, so be sure to check out the local travel advisory for updates before planning your trip.
For now, here are my top 10 hidden gems in Seattle so that, once you do get here, you’ll be occupied 24 hours a day, whether you’re a solo traveler, a family, or a group of friends.
One of Seattle’s lesser-known breweries, Bad Jimmy’s, located in the Ballard Brewing District, is my favorite place in the city. I go there often and knew the owners personally before they opened it. Cozy, cool, and housed in a former warehouse, Bad Jimmy’s serves up an impressive selection of hoppy craft beers in its dog-friendly tasting room.
This brewery is one of my ultimate Seattle hidden gems, mostly because of its bold-flavored brews and its unique BYO food policy. You can try any one of the specialty beers before buying it, and bring food in from one of the nearby eateries.
If you’re new to the Seattle brewing scene, you have to try the IPA or the raspberry blonde (if it’s on tap, of course, because the selection changes often). But if you’re feeling overwhelmed by the selection, the owners will help you pair the perfect beer to your take-out. It’s a small place – easy to miss and with a communal feel – great for watching a game with family or friends. When you leave, you can spend some time exploring the laid-back eateries and Nordic attractions in the historic neighborhood it’s located in.
Seattle Olympic Sculpture Park
This nine-acre outdoor sculpture museum and park is home to great art, equally amazing views, and even a secret Seattle beach. As one of the more eclectic and off-the-beaten-path Seattle attractions, the Seattle Olympic Sculpture Park is great for any contemporary art or architecture enthusiast seeking out some of the city’s man-made attractions.
The Seattle Olympic Sculpture Park was designed as a modern, urban model and is situated on Seattle’s last undeveloped waterfront space – originally an industrial site divided by train tracks and an arterial road. With a Z-shaped green platform, this artsy Seattle attraction is close to the water and capitalizes on the beautiful skyline and Elliott Bay.
The park is one of the lesser-known, newer Seattle hidden gems and has revitalized the waterfront into a space for art, giving locals and visitors the opportunity to experience a variety of art in an outdoor setting, all while soaking up the incredible views of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. Even better? Admission is free.
Barolo Italian Ristorante
With its hanging chandeliers and gauzy drapes, Barolo Ristorante is one of the best-kept secret restaurants of Seattle, offering a sophisticated ambiance and incredible Italian cuisine. If you’re looking for a classy, upscale experience, Barolo is the perfect place to find it. They have a great happy hour running every day from 3 to 6 pm, then again from 9 to 10 pm, where drinks are cheap and bar food is 50% off. Be sure to try the selection of tasty entrees, the burrata salad, the beet salad, or the gnocchi.
The spot is located north of downtown in Belltown, where you can wander through indie boutiques, galleries, and cafes. The area is also home to many live-music spots, including The Crocodile, where you could grab a post-dinner pint at the iconic rock venue that’s been a local institution since 1991.
Green Lake is one of the more unique things to do in Seattle: It’s a green space in a north-central neighborhood of the same name, with a peaceful lake, park, and secret Seattle beaches for swimming.
Geologists say Green Lake was formed over 50,000 years ago by the Vashon Glacial Ice Sheet, which also formed Puget Sound and other area lakes. Unearthings of Green Lake have revealed volcanic ash from an eruption of Glacier Peak about 6,700 years ago.
The uninterrupted stretches of water and lush parkland at the heart of a crowded, urban environment draws people in from all over the city. For bikers, runners, skateboarders, rollerbladers, and walkers, the 2.8-mile path around the lake provides the perfect recreational spot.
For nature lovers, Green Lake serves as a natural preserve for trees, plants, birds, and freshwater species. Visit Green Lake for boating, picnics, or swimming in the lake and see for yourself why the park is one of the best-kept secrets of Seattle.
Head up the oldest skyscraper in the city, the Smith Tower, which has overlooked the heart of Seattle since 1914. One of the best things to do in Seattle in 2 days, the neoclassical building offers visitors “The Legends of Smith Tower” self-guided tour, a unique visitor experience with a gathering gift shop of souvenirs, historical exhibits telling tales through time, and a speakeasy-style bar where you can enjoy a locally-inspired menu of shareable plates and classic drinks.
Ride up the historic (and slightly infamous) Otis elevator, which will whisk you up to the thirty-fifth-floor Observatory for 360-degree views of Seattle and beyond. Located in Seattle’s concrete, urban heart, the area is full of great bites to eat, yummy cocktails to sip, and cultural hubs to dive into.
Steve Luke is the experimental mastermind brewer behind Cloudburst Brewing in Seattle, a 7000-square-foot warehouse with a rotating roster of taps that might include a stout brewed with oyster shells, a Saison with cranberries and sage, a blonde ale laced with grains of paradise, coriander, and other spices, and brews with names like “Space Dust IPA” and “Keys. Phone. Wallet. Mask.”
At Cloudburst, there are a few staples on tap, a TV (so it’s a great place for watching a game), and a tasting house. It’s dog-friendly, but not child-friendly, with an over-21s-only rule. The policy is to bring your own food and try as many whimsical beers as possible.
If a visitor had only 24 hours in Seattle, I would tell them to walk around the Capitol Hill neighborhood since it’s the ultimate Seattle nightlife experience. Watch the sunset and soak up the area of fusion food restaurants, hip bars, LGBTQ+ clubs, laid-back Seattle coffee shops, and indie stores.
The area has plenty of options for food and drink for the late-night crowd: Comet Tavern, a rough-and-ready venue with local rock bands, pinball, and craft brews, Rhein Haus, a German Beer Hall, classy wine bars and Lil Woody’s (a burger and fries joint), among others.
Volunteer Park, on the hill, is home to lush walking trails, a plant conservatory, panoramic city views, and an Art Deco Asian Art Museum. It borders Lake View Cemetery, where the city’s founders – and Bruce Lee – are buried. If you’re seeking things to do in Seattle at night, Capitol Hill and Fremont – home to boutique indie shops, cool bars, quirky coffee shops, and a bohemian vibe – are the best places to head, both home to the eclectic, weird, and less-crowded spots.
Seattle’s century-old coal gasification plant found an unexpected second life as a public park, rising above the north shore of Lake Union. At Gas Works Park, rusty towers, vaults and a pipeline remind visitors of a bygone industrial age. This 19-acre space on the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant used to convert superheated coal and crude oil into synthetic gas.
The unique structure has been maintained since the plant’s closure in 1956, and it re-opened to the public as a park in 1975. Gas Works Park has seven sections, although much of the works remain closed off due to safety concerns, and the grounds include a “forbidden zone”.
As one of the most unusual things to do in Seattle, the Gas Works Park is home to concerts, athletic competitions, kite-flying events, and live-action role-playing tournaments. It showcases stunning Seattle views and illustrates the meeting point of history, industry and nature. This is one of the best free spaces in Seattle and has a curious, charming pull to both locals and visitors alike.
This niche, meat-heavy burger spot is one of my favorite Seattle restaurants – a lively, upscale brasserie offering steak frites and other French classics along with cocktails and wine.
Most-loved for its steak frites, the restaurant is a must-try for any meat-lover in Seattle. With around seven steak cuts ranging from a hanger steak to bone-in rib-eye and paired with sauces like a red wine reduction or horseradish cream, Red Cow is one of Seattle’s best restaurants for meat. Each steak comes with crispy rosemary-infused fries and garlic aioli.
The spot also offers stand-out, delicious charcuterie, pâté de campagne, rustic, house-made mustards and toast to accompany the meat platters.
The University of Washington
One of the top 10 hidden gems in Seattle is the University of Washington, where an annual spring bloom of the Yoshino cherry trees in the Quad leaves the area looking like a picturesque mishmash of blooming reds and pinks.
The University of Washington’s Botanical Gardens affords the opportunity to meditate in nature. Around the grounds, pause and reflect at the Sylvan Theater and Columns, Grieg Garden, and the Medicinal Herb Garden. The surrounding leafy neighborhood is young and trendy, with a lot to do and see. Check out The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, which exhibits a diverse range of displays for children and adults alike. Past exhibits include “Coffee: The World in Your Cup” and “In Search of the Giant Squid”. Stop by to soak up the best of secret Seattle’s attractions.
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