For two years in a row, I visited Seattle in the middle of January. The first time I flew. The next time I took the Coast Starlight train up from San Jose. This August we drove we from southern Oregon splitting the drive up with stays in Beaverton and Lake Oswego. This bustling port city with its surrounding mountains remains my favorite city in the US. I love the food, we have many friends there, and there is plenty to do with kids and without them.
So what is there to do in Seattle?
There are the typical tourist activities like Pike's Place Market and the Space Needle, which you can read more about here. But together those won't take more than half a day. There are food tours, underground city tours focusing on the seedy underbelly and dark past of Seattle, and the colorful Chihuly exhibit right in the shadow of the Space Needle. I recommend doing all of these on a first visit to Seattle, but if you’re staying a few more days or have already done these tried and true tourist activities, what else is there to do?
View Art at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM)
The Seattle Art Museum is located on 1st Avenue and open Wednesday (10 am to 5 pm), Thursday (10 am to 9 pm), and Friday to Sunday (10 am to 5 pm). Entrance to the museum is by donation only, and the recommended donation is $19.95. Special exhibits cost extra and require their own tickets.
In January 2018, the exhibits included the African Renaissance, Everyday Poetics, Sondra Perry: Eclogue for [In]Habitality, Talents and Beauties: Art for Women in Japan, Extreme Nature: Two Landscape Paintings from the Age of Enlightenment, Porcelain Room, Paintings and Drawings of the European Avant-Garde: the Rubinstein Bequest, Art and Life Along the Northwest Coast, Pacific Currents, Close-Ups, Leisure and Culture in Imperial China, John Grade: Middle Fork, and Big Picture: Art After 1945. My favorite exhibits were Art and Life Along the Northwest Coast and Big Picture: Art After 1945. I enjoyed the biting and satirical cereal boxes located in the Art and Life Along the Northwest Coast. The large canvases of heavily textured paint and multimedia pieces of the Big Picture: Art After 1945 caught my eye, and we spent a considerable amount of time there.
What I liked about the Seattle Art Museum is the size. It's a small enough museum that you can see everything within a couple hours and not have that feeling you missed something. And even though it's small, it has a wide variety of paintings, sculptures, and objects. It's a great museum for art lovers and people who feel lukewarm about art museums. (I don't get you; art is awesome.)
WANDER THROUGH A BOTANICAL GARDEN in Ballard
Ballard might not be the most happening neighborhood in Seattle, but it does have the Ballard Locks and adjoining botanical garden. If you’re a plant person like myself or geek out over interesting mechanics like marine locks, then this is a great place to check out. The botanical garden is small, and we were able to see most of it within half an hour.
We enjoyed watching small craft go through the locks. I would have loved to see a large watercraft go through the much larger lock. Al explained the mechanics of locks, but I’m still not sure if I understand how they work. All I know is they allow watercraft to go from a shallower area of a harbor to the deeper open water.
Catch a Classic Film at Central Cinema
Located in Seattle's Central district, Central Cinema features classic movies in a relaxed dinner theater setting. Film offerings range from classics like Dr. Strangelove (the film playing when I went) to Beyonce vs. Gaga vs. Britney vs. Madonna Sing Along Encore. Tickets cost ten dollars for adults. Food offerings include popcorn, pizza, a variety of hot appetizers, and seasonal entrees. Along with your food, you can order a cocktail, draft beer, or a glass of wine from the bar. It's a fun, social film viewing experience in a comfortable setting (they even have couches!).
Walk on the Beach in West Seattle
Did you know beaches in Washington can be private? I didn't know that. That's not a thing where I grew up in California. Alki Beach Park, a public beach, in West Seattle covers approximately 135 acres between Alki Point and Duwamish Head. It has a half mile of beachfront and was the first public salt-water bathing beach on the west coast. The water temperatures range from 46 to 56 degrees Fahrenheit depending on the season. There are picnic benches, an art studio, and bathrooms. There's even a miniature Statue of Liberty.
The beach used to be home to the Luna Park amusement park and featured a carousel, a Ferris wheel, a roller coaster, a restaurant, and a boat chute. Today, all that remains are pilings visible at low tide at Duwamish Head. The beach has some of the best views of the downtown skyline, and it's one of the only sandy beaches in Seattle.
To get to Alki Beach Park you can take a water taxi from Pier 50 or drive there. Parking wasn't too bad in January.
Take the Ferry Out of Seattle
It might seem silly to recommend getting out of Seattle in a guide for what to do IN Seattle but taking the ferry across the sound to the Olympic Peninsula or one of the many islands provides some of the best views of the city and the surrounding mountains. I took the ferry across to visit friends in Bremerton, and round trip it cost $8.35 and was an hour each way. Popular island destinations include Bainbridge Island, home to many Microsoft execs and several wineries; Vashon Island with cute shops and the Bike Tree; and Whidbey Island, the largest Puget Sound island and great for hiking and camping. Keep in mind, only Bainbridge and Bremerton are accessible from ferries in Seattle.
So whether you're an art lover, a film buff, or enjoy relaxing on the beach, you can find something to do in Seattle. Oh, and really, you should go to the Chihuly Garden and Glass. It's one of the coolest art exhibits ever.