An island of urbanity surrounded by evergreen forests, towering mountains, and the waters of Puget Sound — and laced with thousands of acres of parklands — Seattle is well-deserving of its Emerald City nickname. The one-time rough and tumble frontier port in the Pacific Northwest now makes a fine jumping-off point for cruises to Canada and Alaska. You'll want at least a day or two to explore the natural and cosmopolitan attractions of this city by the sea. Here are seven of our top picks.
1. Take in the view from the Space Needle.
The icon of Seattle, its futuristic Space Needle began life as the centerpiece of the 1962 World's Fair and today draws a million visitors a year. Hitting the observation deck of the flying saucer-topped 605-foot structure offers views of Mount Rainier, the waterfront, and downtown. (Reserve your “launch time” online in advance to avoid lengthy waits.) For a more leisurely appreciation of the view, plan for a 500-foot high dinner in the revolving SkyCity restaurant.
2. Eat your way through Pike Place Market.
Many visitors' first stop in Seattle, Pike Place Market is the city's cherished public market, an exuberant, neon-strung collection of purveyors hawking fresh produce and flowers, seafood, and handcrafted items. Since its 1907 origins in the rough frontier town, the maze of buildings on the nine-acre waterfront complex has evolved into a protected historic site that supports farmers, small businesses, and artisans. It's also the prime place for a sampling of the best of Seattle.
3. Take a Puget Sound cruise.
The Washington State ferry does inexpensive mini cruises of Puget Sound, stopping at the small town of Winslow on Bainbridge Island. You'll have about a half an hour to wander the tiny town before heading back to Seattle. While in transit, you'll have stellar views of the 14,400-foot high Mount Rainier, and on the return trip, you can admire the Emerald City's skyline.
4. Taste the local brew.
Whether you're a coffee connoisseur or just can't jump start your day without java, you're going to want to drink coffee here in the birthplace of the mega chain that brought Frappuccinos to America. Caffeine up at the original (1971) Starbucks at Pike Place or at the nearby Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room. Be sure to also scope out one of the slew of independent shops.
5. Explore Chinatown.
Seattle's Chinatown-International District has been home to immigrants from China, Japan, Vietnam, and the Philippines since the late 19th century. There are restaurants serving noodles, dumplings, pho, and bubble tea, and the Uwajimaya supermarket sells a world of Asian delicacies. You can also visit the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience and sign on for one of their in-depth walking tours.
6. See fantastical art.
Seattle is the place to experience the work of renowned glass artist Dale Chihuly. The Washington state native's intricate pieces are found around the world, but you can see his largest suspended sculptures as well as smaller works at Chihuly Garden and Glass. The Garden is located next to the Space Needle, and you can get a combo pass to the Needle and the Garden.
7. Explore the future of flight.
No traveler should miss the Boeing Tour at the Future of Flight Aviation Center, the only place in the country with public tours of a jet assembly plant. The place where Boeing jets, including the 747 and Dreamliner, are born gives flight to countless travel dreams. Here at the largest building by volume in the world, you can see the jets being made, digitally design your own, take flight in a simulator, and get a glimpse of what's on the horizon at the Future of Flight museum.