Updated July 26, 2019
Seattle, as most of its 38 million annual visitors discover, offers more than just strong coffee, a temperate climate and fresh seafood. Its two downtown cruise terminals serve as the homeport for seven cruise lines and the embarkation site for more than 200 Alaska and Pacific Northwest-bound cruises each year, but even cruisers know there's more to Seattle than that.
Known as the Emerald City for its lush greenery and more than 6,000 acres of in-city parks, Seattle also offers sparkling gems of art, culture, history, dining and entertainment for those lucky enough to have set aside a day (or, ideally, more) to explore the city before or after their cruise.
With three national parks (Mt. Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic), each just a two-hour drive from the city, a scenic day trip out of town (by rental car or tour bus) is one highly recommended way to explore the region. But those who stay local will find that many of Seattle's most impressive and worthwhile attractions are right downtown (many within blocks of each other), making it easy to pack lots of local adventures into one day.
Whether it's your first time in Seattle or you're back for a return visit, we've put together a one-day itinerary that includes many must-see destinations, some insider tips and suggestions for staying caffeinated and fueled up during the day.
Get up early, put on good walking shoes and head for the nine-acre historic district that encompasses the famed Pike Place Market (1st Avenue and Pike Street), which is less than a mile from the Bell Street Cruise Terminal at Pier 66 (2225 Alaskan Way) and 2.3 miles from the Smith Cove Cruise Terminal at Pier 91 (2001 West Garfield Street).
While the crafts market and most of the 200 onsite shops don't officially open until 10 a.m., many of the market's cafes, takeout counters, bakeries, specialty food stands and restaurants open for business as early as 6 a.m., while the fresh produce and seafood stands begin business by 7 a.m.
Some options for breakfast in the Pike Place Market include Le Panier (1902 Pike Street), a nationally acclaimed French-style bakery and cafe; Three Girls Bakery (1514 Pike Place, in the section known as the 'Sanitary Market'), a market mainstay since 1912 known for its pastries, soups and sandwiches (takeout or counter seating); and Lowell's Restaurant and Bar (1519 Pike Place, in the Main Arcade), which offers water views and a breakfast menu that includes bagels served with house-cured lox made from wild king salmon and the Dungeness crab omelet lauded by celebrity chef Mario Batali and featured in numerous publications.
After breakfast and, hopefully, before the crowds make it hard to move around, tour the Pike Place Market's shops, food and flower stands, and the offerings of the craft market vendors. Get your picture taken with Rachel, the bronze 550-pound pig-shaped piggybank (below the Public Market sign and clock; at the corner of Pike Place), watch the employees at the Pike Place Fish Market toss fish around (just behind the pig) and, if the line is not too long, stop in for a coffee at the Starbucks cafe (1912 Pike Place) that still sports the chain's original sign, mermaid logo and many other features from the company's early days.
Regarding coffee, the symbolic lifeblood of Seattle, there are plentiful alternatives to Starbucks or Seattle's Best throughout the city to stay caffeinated. Check out Caffe Umbria (320 Occidental Avenue S. in Pioneer Square and in Ballard, 5407 Ballard Avenue NW); Victrola Roastery and Cafe (310 Pike Street); and the Cherry Street Coffee House (at 103 Cherry Street and nine other locations around town).
After visiting Pike Place Market, many visitors choose to make their way down to the waterfront (Alaskan Way) via the stairs of the Pike Street Hill climb. From here, visit attractions that include the Seattle Aquarium (1483 Alaskan Way; Pier 59), which boasts an underwater dome that sits in a 400,000-gallon tank filled with hundreds of Puget Sound fish; the 175-foot-tall Seattle Great Wheel (1301 Alaskan Way), which has 42 gondolas that make three revolutions per ride; and Ye Olde Curiosity Shop (1001 Alaskan Way; Pier 54), a quirky blend of souvenir shop and museum -- complete with mummies, shrunken heads and other hard-to-look-away-from oddities -- that has been on Seattle's waterfront since 1899.
After poking around the waterfront shops and attractions, stick nearby for lunch and stop into any number of restaurants with a water view and an emphasis on seafood. Options include Ivar's Acres of Clams (1001 Alaskan Way South; Pier 54), the recently remodeled flagship location of an iconic chain of local seafood restaurants known for chowders, fish 'n chips and fresh seafood entrees; Elliot's Oyster House (1201 Alaskan Way; Pier 56) or; back toward the Bell Street Cruise Terminal (Pier 66), Anthony's Bell Street Diner and Anthony's Fish Bar (2201 Alaskan Way; Pier 66), two casual spots serving seafood-centric dishes. (Tip: Anthony's Pier 66, adjacent to the Bell Street Diner and Fish Bar, is a great option for ultra-fresh seafood meals as well, but it is more formal and only open for dinner.)
The Pink Door (1919 Post Alley; Pike Place Market) is a bit hard to find (there's no sign, only a pink door), but offers fresh and unpretentious Italian-American food, seasonal specialties and -- bonus -- has an outdoor patio overlooking Elliot Bay.
If you'd like to stay on the waterfront, head back past the Bell Street Cruise Terminal to the Olympic Sculpture Park (2901 Western Avenue). The nine-acre park features a small beach, walking paths, great views and more than 20 sculptures by a wide variety of major artists, including Louise Nevelson, Alexander Calder, Richard Serra and Claes Oldenburg.
Had enough waterfront wandering? Then make your way back up the hill to Seattle's downtown core for a visit to the Seattle Art Museum (1300 1st Avenue), which features special exhibitions as well as a permanent collection strong in African, Native American, Pacific Northwest, Oceanic, modern and contemporary art. Take a gander too, at the Seattle Central Public Library building (1000 4th Avenue), an award-winning 11-story angular, sustainable, steel and glass structure. (Tip: Take the library's chartreuse escalator -- or the elevator -- to the 10th floor for a great view of Elliott Bay and stop for a coffee and a snack at Chocolati, the coffee cart on the library's third floor).
From the library, walk .4 mile northwest on 5th Avenue (toward Spring Street) to Pine Street and the Westlake Center shopping center (400 Pine Street). From there, ride the monorail to Seattle Center (305 Harrison Street), a 74-acre park and entertainment hub on the former site of the 1962 World's Fair.
Festivals, concerts and special events take place at Seattle Center year-round, but permanent highlights include the Pacific Science Center (200 2nd Avenue North), with IMAX theaters and a tropical butterfly house; the EMP Museum (325 5th Avenue North), a popular culture museum focusing on music, science fiction and fantasy; Chihuly Garden and Glass (305 Harrison Street), with eight galleries, a garden and a glass house filled with the work of glass artist Dale Chihuly; and the iconic 605-foot-tall Space Needle (400 Broad Street), which has a rotating restaurant and an observation deck up top.
While a Space Needle visit and the 41-second, glass-fronted elevator ride to the observation deck is, for many, the quintessential Seattle experience, there are less expensive and usually less crowded options. During very busy weekends at the Space Needle, consider the observatory at the Smith Tower (506 2nd Avenue; Pioneer Square), a 38-story office building completed in 1914 that was once the tallest building west of the Mississippi, or the Sky View Observatory (701 5th Avenue) on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Tower.
Downtown, the Zig Zag Cafe (1501 Western Avenue; on the Pike Street Hill Climb) is a popular cocktail bar for locals and visitors alike. Canon (928 12th Avenue), which boasts "the Western Hemisphere's largest spirit collection at 3,500 labels and counting" is getting a lot national buzz.
Wine-lovers can taste wines (in flights or by the glass) from a wide variety of winemaker-owned Washington wineries at The Tasting Room (1924 Post Alley, Pike Place Market).
On the drink menu at Brouwer's Cafe (400 N. 35th Street in the Fremont neighborhood) is a choice of 50 different scotches, more than 64 craft beers on draft and more than 400 bottles. Pair a brew with the cafe's Belgium-inspired food.
If you want to eat dinner at Seattle Center after spending the afternoon there, a nice option is the Collections Cafe (305 Harrison Street) inside Chihuly Garden and Glass, where meals are served on shadow-box tables filled with knick-knacks from Chihuly's personal collections. Sky City, the restaurant just below the Space Needle Observation Deck, offers a prix fixe three-course menu as well as a la carte menu items including a pan-roasted wild king salmon and Kobe steak and lobster tail, but for many the main attraction will be the thrill of dining in a rotating restaurant and the free ride up the elevator (which usually costs more than $20 per person).
Back downtown, you can't go wrong at any of the Tom Douglas restaurants, whether it be his flagship Dahlia Lounge (2001 4th Avenue), specializing in Pacific Northwest cuisine; Etta's (2020 Western Avenue), for seafood; or Serious Pie (1124 Pike Street), which serves gourmet pizza. Ethan Stowell's elegant Goldfinch Tavern offers up "New American" dishes -- including plenty of seafood -- from a spot overlooking Puget Sound inside the Downtown Four Seasons hotel (99 Union Street). Marination (2000 6th Avenue) serves up inexpensive Hawaiian-Korean cuisine.
In Seattle, you can spend the evening in any number of live music clubs, such as The Triple Door (216 Union Street), or at a movie theater such as the Cinerama (2100 4th Avenue), which can show films in all formats.
Seattle also has a healthy schedule of live theater and special event performances at venues such as the Paramount Theater (911 Pine Street), the Moore Theater (1932 Second Avenue), the 5th Avenue Theater (1308 5th Avenue; Rainier Square), the Seattle Repertory Theater (155 Mercer Street; Seattle Center) and the ACT Theater (700 Union Street). While some theaters may have last-minute tickets available, during the busy summer season it's a good idea to check the program schedules and purchase a ticket ahead of time.