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Long before Seattle was a tech hub or the capital of the grunge subculture, before it was known as the home to aerospace giant Boeing, even before settlers arrived, Seattle was a waterfront town. The Duwamish—the original inhabitants of the area—relied on the Puget Sound for salmon and shellfish. Early settlers built piers to ship their timber. Over the years, the waterfront developed into a modern working port. The Port of Seattle is still the seventh busiest port in the U.S.
This 4-mile walking tour takes you through the prettiest part of Seattle’s downtown waterfront, detours through the Seattle Center, moves down along the kitschy, but fun central waterfront, before dropping you in the historical Pioneer Square and International District neighborhoods.
Start your day at the Olympic Sculpture Park, the Seattle Art Museum’s free outdoor sculpture garden. Start at the corner of Western Avenue and Broad Street. Work your way through the sculptures and down to the waterfront. Once there, head north on the Elliott Bay Trail.
With views of the Olympic Mountains, container ships and fishing vessels and sail boats out on the Sound, rocky beaches, grass and trees and greenery, the Elliott Bay Trail is among the prettiest in the city. After a half mile, head right up the ramp to the Thomas Street pedestrian and bicycle overpass. At the far end of the bridge, head left up 3rd Avenue W., then take your next right onto Harrison Street. Stay on Harrison until it spits you out in front of Key Arena at the west entrance to the Seattle Center.
Immediately to your left, you’ll find the new home of legendary Seattle radio station KEXP. The station has space open to the public, offers free tours and often hosts live in-studio performances by major touring groups that the public can watch. Head to the center of the park to see (or play in) the International Fountain, a massive display that sometimes sprays a choreographed performance to music. At the south end of the Seattle Center, you’ll of course find the Space Needle as well as the Chihuly Glass Museum and the Pacific Science Center.
Once you’ve seen all the Seattle Center you wish to see, exit from the south and head right on Broad Street. This will take you right back to the start of the tour at the sculpture park. If you’re up for more walking, hang a left on Alaskan Way and continue south along the water.
The waterfront is, for better or worse, undergoing a transformation right now as the city gets ready to tear down the old Highway 99 viaduct. The good news is eventually it will feature a pedestrian promenade, a protected bike lane, new parks, and more. The bad is that much of the north end of the waterfront is currently a tour of construction sites. Luckily, 10 to 15 minutes of walking on the Elliott Bay Trail gets you past the construction and over to the waterfront’s classic tourist haunts. You can take a tour of the Seattle Aquarium, take a spin on the giant Ferris wheel and grab seafood from one of several restaurants in the complex.
From there, head east on Spring towards downtown. Take your first right on to Western Avenue and follow it four blocks to Yesler Way. Head left on Yesler for two blocks then head right on Occidental Avenue. Explore the historical Pioneer Square neighborhood, the first neighborhood developed in the city. Enjoy a stroll through Occidental Square, a pedestrian-only plaza ringed by shops, art galleries, restaurants and bars. For upscale eats and drinks, try London Plane or Copal, both located in the square. If you need a caffeinated pick me up before finishing the tour head, walk to the end of the plaza, take a left on Jackson and head one block to Zeitgeist Coffee.
If you’re interested in learning a little bit about one of Seattle’s historical boom times, head across the street to the Klondike Gold Rush Museum. Operated by the National Parks Service, this free museum tells the story of the late 1800s Yukon Gold Rush and Seattle’s role in it.
Finish your tour in Seattle’s Chinatown-International District. The historical and modern center of Seattle’s Chinese-, Japanese-, and Vietnamese-American communities, the CID is filled with amazing shops and restaurants. To get there, continue down Jackson Street to 5th Avenue. Take a right on 5th, then a left on King Street to enter the neighborhood through the ornate Chinatown Gate. Head right on 6th Avenue for one block, then check out Uwajimaya, an Asian grocery store, bookstore and food court. The bookstore and its many knickknacks are well worth browsing through. Back on Jackson, you’ll find KOBO Seattle, a store and gallery filled with Japanese art and artisan crafts. If you’ve managed to hold out all afternoon for food, the CID is tough to beat. Try Shanghai Garden for Chinese. Green Leaf Vietnamese has excellent pho. If you’re in the mood for dim sum, try Harbor City or Jade Garden.
Free National Park Service museum about the Yokun Gold Rush
Gallery and store in the ID featuring Japanese artists and artisans
Space Needle, International Fountain, Glass Museum and more, the Seattle Center is a classic.
Giant ferris wheel on the Seattle waterfront.
Iconic radio station. Their Seattle Center HQ is open for public tours.
Popular dim sum restaurant in the ID
Vietnamese restaurant in the ID
Fish n chips and chowder on the waterfront
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