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How to Spend 1 Day in Seattle (Tips from a Native)

Even with a Seattle one-day trip you can still see the best of the city 

Seattle, Washington, is a gem of a city in the great Pacific Northwest. While I would recommend a trip to Seattle of at least a couple of days, you still can see a lot with just 1 day in Seattle.   

If you’ve never been to Seattle, Washington, the Emerald City, I highly recommend that you make a point of getting there someday. It’s a beautiful city surrounded by amazing natural scenery. There are a ton of great things to do in the heart of the downtown and waterfront plus amazing options for day trips outside of the city as well. 

I’m a native of Seattle and lived in the area for the first 29 years of my life. To see the best of Seattle in one day, just follow our itinerary below. I think you’ll enjoy it. 

Need help planning your trip to Seattle? Check out our list of the essential travel planning resources. 

Seattle waterfront at dusk
During your 1 day in Seattle make sure you visit the waterfront.

This post includes affiliate links. If you make a purchase through one of these links, I may earn a small commission at no additional cost to you. As an Amazon Associate, I earn from qualifying purchases. See disclaimer.

Itinerary: What to see in Seattle in one day 

A Seattle one-day trip won’t give you a lot of time to see the city sites, BUT you can still see some of the best. 

If you’re planning your first visit to Seattle, I recommend following this itinerary, as it’s really intended for first-timers. 

If it’s NOT your first time, don’t worry. I have a lot of other suggestions in this post for things to see in Seattle in one day. 

You might want to consider buying the Seattle CityPASS. Based on how much you cram into your day, it could actually save you money. And you’ll get admission to many of Seattle’s premier sites and attractions. Check it out here.  

Explore the iconic Pike Place Market 

Aside from the Space Needle, Pike Place Market is one of those sites that is just quintessentially Seattle.  

From flowers to amazing produce and from artisanal foods to fine hand crafts, you’ll love exploring every inch of this amazing place. 

Make sure to stop by Pike Place Fish in the Main Arcade. They’re the guys who throw the fish. You really can’t miss them, because they’ll be surrounded by tourists. 

fish market stall at the Pike Place Market in Seattle
A Seattle day trip would be incomplete without a visit to Pike Place Market. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go

If you’re driving to the Market, there is paid parking available in their garage. If you stay at one of the hotels we recommend (see below) you can walk to Pike Place Market. 

Pike Place Market recommends making your visit before noon if you can, while there are smaller crowds. During peak summer travel times, weekdays are your best bet to avoid crowds. 

Consider taking a behind-the-scenes guided tour of Pike Place Market with early access before all the crowds arrive. Take a look here. 

Photo spot: Gum wall 

Address: 1428 Post Alley 

the author posing by the gum wall in Seattle

Just a few steps away from Pike Place Market and the people throwing fish, you’ll find the Gum Wall. 

Yes, it’s weird. But it’s also kind of marvelous. 

If you can stomach it, the Gum Wall is a fun and unique Seattle photo spot. You may also contribute to the wall if you wish. 

In November 2015, more than one ton of gum was removed from the wall and everything was cleaned. Apparently, the sugars in the gum were causing damage to the bricks. More gum was added starting immediately after the cleaning was completed. 

More things to see in Seattle in one day 

There are WAY too many cool things to do in Seattle than you can possibly fit in one day. If you’ve already been to Seattle before and done the major sites like Pike Place and the Space Needle, here are some suggestions for what to do instead. 

You might also like the VERY popular Underground History Tour

Or the perennial favorite Seattle Harbor Cruise. 

Or take in stunning views of the Emerald City from the air with a scenic airplane tour. 

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1 day in Seattle

Enjoy lunch on the water at Ivar’s Fish Bar 

Address: 1001 Alaskan Way 

For lunch (especially if the weather is agreeable), head to the water to Pier 54 and Ivar’s Fish Bar. It’s just about the most Seattle thing you can do for lunch.  

Beware. The seagulls will want your fries. I’m serious. 

For a higher-end Ivar’s dining experience you might like Ivar’s Acres of Clams right next door. They offer both indoor and outdoor (deck) seating, which is right on the water. 

Other waterfront dining options include Elliott’s Oyster House and The Crab Pot (near Waterfront Park and the Seattle Great Wheel). Incidentally, my sister and brother-in-law had their wedding rehearsal dinner at The Crab Pot. 

Check out the oldest Starbucks store 

Okay okay. The Starbucks located at 1912 Pike Place is not the first Starbucks store, but it is the location to where the first store moved in the mid-1970s. And it’s been operating there continuously ever since. 

If you’re a Starbucks fan (like me) you won’t mind waiting in the long line of tourists to see the inside of the store and pick up one of the souvenirs that you can only find in that location. 

If what you actually are looking for is a cup of coffee then I recommend that you head to the Starbucks location on 1st and Pike Street. It’s a large location where you can get Clover brewed cups of Starbucks Reserve coffees. Soooo good. 

three small metal coffee pots with three small coffee cups
The origin flight at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery is quite a treat for coffee lovers visiting Seattle. Photo: Plan, Ready, Go

For the full Starbucks Coffee experience take an excursion to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery at 1124 Pike Street. They offer unique drinks plus coffee experiences like origin and brew comparison flights. Also…more souvenirs. It’s amazing. 

Space Needle 

Seattle skyline with the Space Needle
The Space Needle is one of the most photographed structures in Seattle.

Address: 400 Broad Street 

After lunch and coffee (or coffee then lunch), make your way over to the Space Needle. 

Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the Space Needle has become an internationally recognized symbol for the city and is one of the most photographed structures in the world. It has undergone a multi-year renovation and preservation process and now includes the world’s first and only rotating glass floor.  

Be advised, the Space Needle is not an inexpensive attraction to visit; however, it is a pretty unforgettable one. They do have a few different ticket options to help you plan the best experience for you. 

The Space Needle participates in Seattle CityPASS but you will still need to reserve your timed entry.  

Museum of Pop Culture or Chihuly Garden and Glass 

To round out your Seattle one-day trip, pay a visit to either the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) or Chihuly Garden and Glass. Both are located adjacent to the Space Needle. 

Designed by Frank Gehry—and once called the Experience Music Project—the Museum of Pop Culture offers exhibitions and educational programs dedicated to creativity and contemporary pop culture.  

MoPOP recommends that guests purchase their tickets in advance. 

Detail of Museum of Pop Culture Facade in Seattle
Hop on the monorail to Seattle Center and then explore the Museum of Pop Art.

Chihuly Garden and Glass is an indoor and outdoor long-term art exhibition dedicated to the work of world-renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly.  

Chihuly’s artwork really needs to be seen in person to be believed. The museum recommends that visitors plan to spend one to two hours touring the exhibitions. 

Featured tours and activities in Seattle, Washington 

If you’re in Seattle because you’re about to head off on a cruise, you might enjoy this pre-cruise guided tour. It includes hotel pick-up and port drop-off so that you’re guaranteed to get to your ship in time. Check it out here. 

Or perhaps you’re not really a city person and want to get out of Seattle completely. With this guided day trip to Mount Rainier you’ll take in stunning views and learn more about this important natural landmark. 

Other great things to do on a Seattle day trip 

While I think my itinerary is the best way to visit Seattle in one day (especially for a first-time visit), there are any number of things you could use as substitutions for my recommendations. Or if you’re planning a little bit longer visit to the Emerald City, you could use some of these to fill out your itinerary. 

The Seattle Great Wheel 

Right on the water at Pier 57, the Seattle Great Wheel is the tallest Ferris Wheel on the West Coast and extends 40 feet out over Elliott Bay.  

Seattle Aquarium  

Also located on the Seattle Waterfront (at Pier 59), the Seattle Aquarium would be a great option to add to your itinerary especially if you’re traveling with children.  

I spent many happy school field trip days as a child at the Seattle Aquarium and Woodland Park Zoo (see below). 

Seattle Aquarium is currently (as of August 2021) requiring booking of online tickets in advance for all guests. 

Seattle Art Museum 

I’ve visited premier art museums all over the world, and I think that the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) easily stands up next to many of them. They have an impressive permanent collection of contemporary art and frequently offer special exhibits of major artists and artworks. 

SAM is located at 1300 First Avenue about one block from Pike Place Market

SAM participates in First Free Thursdays, which offers free access to area museums on the first Thursday of each month. First Free Thursdays at SAM includes both general admission and special exhibits.  

Flexible travel dates? Then I’d like you to meet Scott. Scott’s Cheap Flights to be exact. With a premium subscription to Scott’s Cheap Flights, you’ll get amazing flight deals (including error fares) sent straight to your inbox with instructions on how to book directly with the airlines. Sign up for Scott’s Cheap Flights here and get the first 14 days free. Scott’s is the ONLY premium subscription service I use to find great travel deals. 

Ride the monorail 

Even if you’re not planning to use the Seattle Center Monorail for transportation, it’s still a fun and cheap activity you can try out. It departs about every 10 minutes from one of two stations, Westlake Center or Seattle Center, and it only takes about 2 minutes to get from one end of the line to the other. 

Depending on where you’re staying, it’s a convenient way to get from your hotel (if you’re staying near Westlake Center like at the Mayflower Park) to the Space Needle. Regular adult fare tickets are $3.00 each way (as of August 2021). 

The Westlake Center monorail station is just about a 10-minute walk from Pike Place Market. 

Woodland Park Zoo 

One of the premier zoos in the U.S., Woodland Park is not conveniently located near downtown attractions like the Seattle Aquarium but is worth a trip if you have the time and ability to get there. This is another great option that those traveling with children might especially want to check out. 

WPZ strongly recommends that guests purchase their tickets ahead of time online. 

If you don’t have a car with you, you could use an app-based ride share like Uber or Lyft, or take a Seattle Metro bus (#5 to Phinney Ave. N. and N. 55th St.) to use the West Entrance. 

Where to stay in Seattle 

Mayflower Park Hotel—Stay in the heart of downtown Seattle within walking distance of Pike Place Market and just steps from the Westlake Center monorail stop, making is super easy to get to the Space Needle, Seattle Center, MoPOP and Chihuly Garden and Glass. Check rates and availability here. 

Hotel Ändra—Also within convenient walking distance of the Seattle waterfront and the Westlake Monorail station, Hotel Ändra offers unique boutique accommodations. It’s also about a 15-minute walk to the Space Needle. Check availability here. 

Ace Hotel—located in the popular Belltown neighborhood, Ace Hotel offers affordable accommodations just more than a 10-minute walk from Pike Place Market and the Space Needle. It’s also about a 7-minute walk to Olympic Sculpture Park. Check out available rooms here. 

When to visit Seattle 

You’re going to find the best weather in Seattle between July and September (when it’s drier and temps average in the 70s and upper 60s), although it can actually get quite hot. You’ll also find a lot of tourists at the top sites like Pike Place Market (okay that one is always busy—even in the dead of winter in my experience) and the Space Needle during those months. 

Yes, Seattle is rainy. It has more rainy days than most cities in the U.S. but it’s not nearly the rainiest city by annual rainfall. The months with the most rainy days are typically November through February (ugh, February) and into March. 

What to pack for Seattle 

Now, while the summer weather in Seattle can be wonderful, it can also be quite hot. Follow weather reports closely and plan accordingly. 

Seattle is a city where I definitely recommend packing to wear layers

Check out my post about packing for an overnight trip for my best tips and advice.

The rest of the year, be prepared for at least overcast skies and some rain. You might not necessarily need an umbrella. Often a rain shell with a good hood is sufficient. 

Seattle is also a very casual city. Comfort is generally the rule of the day. 

How to get to Seattle 

The best way to get to Seattle is to fly into Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA). There are many ways to get from SeaTac to your accommodations, including: 

  • Light Link Rail runs from the airport to several stops including downtown Seattle 
  • King County Metro and Sound Transit buses 
  • Shared van ride services like Capital Aeroporter
  • Ride share like Uber and Lyft 
  • Check to see if your hotel offers an airport shuttle  

This video from Sound Transit will show you how to use Light Link Rail to get from SeaTac to downtown Seattle: 

Final thoughts on things to see in Seattle in one day 

Seattle, Washington, is a stunningly beautiful city that’s a unique combination of sleek and modern alongside rugged natural scenery. 

To visit Seattle in one day will require some planning, but you can definitely see the best of the best with just a day trip. Especially if it’s your first visit, I recommend you stick to the top sites and then do more when you have the chance to go back. 

As a Seattle native, I’m a little biased about the Emerald City. I hope you love it as much as I do. 

Seattle day trip tours and activities mentioned in this article 

More articles to help you visit Seattle in one day 

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Seattle in one day

How to Spend 1 Day in Seattle (Tips from a Native) 

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