Stunning vistas, mouth-watering cuisine, world-famous attractions…Seattle has it all! Now that you’ve checked off the Space Needle, Monorail, Experience Music Project, Pike Place Market, Seattle Aquarium and maybe a Mariner’s game from your list, there’s even more to explore if you know where to look. The city brims with cool, hidden gems that make a trip to a new place extra memorable. Head off the beaten path and discover a side of the city you didn’t know existed with our insider’s guide to Seattle’s best kept-secrets!
1. Smith Tower
One of Seattle’s most iconic landmarks, the Space Needle, gets all the buzz for its spectacular views (and they are indeed amazing), but it’s not the only building in town that offers a bird’s-eye view of the city and the surrounding areas. Originally the tallest building in Seattle (circa 1914), the historic Smith Tower offers 360-degree views of downtown Seattle, Space Needle, stadiums and the waterfront.
Pop into one of the manually operated, brass Otis elevators and ride up to the 35th floor observatory and soak in the views from the open-air “Bird Cage,” which wraps all the way around the building. Be sure to stop in the newly opened speakeasy-style bar, Temperance, for happy hour. Bask in the elegantly decorated room, filled with rich wood and detailed ceiling tiles as you sip hand-crafted cocktails and nosh on king salmon poke, bacon popcorn and other shareable plates full of heavenly goodness.
2. Secret Beach
It’s not uncommon for Seattleites to embrace the outdoors on the grayest of days. So, when the sun magically forces its way through the clouds, don’t be surprised if you find yourself competing with half of the city for a spot on the nearby beaches to soak up the glorious rays. Skip the popular Alki Beach, Golden Gardens and Madison Park for a secluded spot even few locals know about, the aptly named Secret Beach.
Hidden away at the end of 39th Ave E. and E. Harrison (near Denny Blaine Park), this oasis offers up one of the few soft-sand beaches around, views of Rainier and the Cascades and waters warm enough to take a dip in, on a hot, sunny day.
3. Center for Wooden Boats
Seattle may be known as the Emerald City, but the sparkling sapphire waters surrounding the city are another one of the region’s precious gems. Tempted to get out on the water yourself? Head to one of the city’s favorite aquatic playgrounds, the Center for Wooden Boats for one of their special Sunday Public Sails. Cruise around Lake Union for free on a spirit boat, steamboat, electric boat, schooner or yacht. Just be sure to come early, as the sailing tours are popular and often sell out.
While you wait for your ride, wander through the hands-on maritime museum for an inside look (yes, you are allowed to check out the interior) at more than 100 unique vessels and learn a thing or two about local boat history. Or, play with the dock toys (interactive exhibits right on the docks) and discover the how to tie knots, use signal flags and absorb the history of lake.
4. Needle & Thread Bar
Remember when you were a kid and had a secret password or knock to enter your best friend’s clubhouse? Well, Capitol Hill’s trendy Needle & Thread Bar is kind of like that, but 100 times cooler. Pick up the old-school rotary phone tucked away next to the old bank vault door inside Tavern Law Bar and ask to get buzzed into the cozy, prohibition-style space.
The joint doesn’t have a menu, which adds to the fun, so just let your talented bartender know your favorite spirit and flavor and they’ll work their magic to whip you up a flavorful concoction – you won’t be disappointed!
5. Jose Rizal Park
Kerry Park is a prime spot for snapping that classic shot of the Seattle skyline, but there are a few other public parks with amazing views that are a little less crowded, so you won’t have to worry about someone photobombing your shot. Perched on the west slope of Beacon Hill, Jose Rizal Park offers postcard-worthy views of the downtown skyscrapers, stadiums, Elliot Bay and the Olympic Mountains. As Seattle insider and Yellow Elm blogger Elizabeth Blanton mentions, the neighboring Jose Rizal Bridge “is an especially good place to take photos after dark and capture the lights of the city.”
6. Theo Chocolate
Want to get your caffeine fix (sans coffee) while tantalizing your taste buds? Discover the sweeter side of Seattle on a behind-the-scenes tour of the renowned Theo Chocolate Factory in Fremont. As you wander through the inner-workings of the building, you’ll receive an excellent education on the history and amazing transformation of the cacao fruit into the mouth-watering treats we love.
Enjoy a peek inside the “confection kitchen” where tasty ideas are born and tested. See the chocolate production process in action from bean to bar! Of course, the tour wouldn’t be complete without the chance to nibble on everything from caramels, to peanut butter cups, to coconut curry chocolate bars. Talk about deliciousness in every bite!
7. Waterfall Garden Park
It may sound like a story from a fairy tale, but the Emerald City has its own secret garden (there are actually several of them), complete with a waterfall, in the middle of the city. Pick up one of the drool-worthy sub sandwiches from TAT’s Delicatessen (we recommend the Tat’strami or the classic Philly Cheese Steak with whiz – that’s cheese whiz for the uninitiated) and make the quick two-minute walk to Waterfall Garden Park.
Pull up a chair at one of the many tables to enjoy lunch in the lush garden. Kick back, relax, listen to the sound of water rushing down the 22-foot falls and forget about the city (and the rest of the world!) for a while.
8. Seattle Underground
You’ve seen the ever-bustling streets of Pioneer Square, but did you know there’s a whole, less active, city below? See the roots of the Seattle as you trek through the catacomb-like maze of the Seattle Underground. Explore a network of storefronts, sidewalks and basements that were once the hub of the city, but became buried underground when Seattle rebuilt on top of the original city after the great Seattle Fire. Not only will you leave with a greater appreciation of the city and armed with a few stories of the city’s interesting and colorful past, but you’ll also discover the purpose of those purple glass squares embedded into Seattle’s sidewalks.
9. Melrose Market
Housed in a historic brick building on Capitol Hill, Melrose Market is a modern, more intimate version of Seattle’s popular Pike Place Market. This hidden gem is the spot to go for locally-sourced, independently-made goods and practically serves as a one-stop-shop for everything you need for hosting a fabulous dinner party.
Find gorgeous flowers at Marigold and Mint, fresh oysters at winning Taylor Shellfish and excellent cuts of meat at Rain Shadow Meats. All that shopping cause you to work up an appetite? Pop into the award-winning Sitka & Spruce for yummy small plates or indulge in a glass of local wine at Bar Ferdinand.
10. Pinball Museum
Pinball enthusiasts and lovers of all things retro rejoice! Situated in the heart of Chinatown, the Seattle Pinball Museum is a labor of love created by two pinball fans and is dedicated to the “preservation of pinball for future generations.” The perfect cure for a rainy day, the amazing museum boasts more than 50 fully-playable vintage pinball machines that are free to play with admission to the museum. Grab an old-fashioned soda, craft beer or cider (all machines come conveniently equipped with cup holders) and spend the afternoon clinking, clacking and whirring on the machines to your heart’s content.
Whether you spend the day basking in the sun in an under-the-radar park or cozied up in a back-room bar, Seattle holds an array of secret spots worth unearthing. After a day of soaking in the vibe of these hidden gems, you may just start feeling like a local!