Overview of Seattle districts
Seattle, Washington, is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. Located between Puget Sound and Lake Washington in King County, of which it is the county seat, and overlooking Elliott Bay, Seattle is nicknamed The Emerald City. The city is a damp green gem, with an abundance of evergreen trees throughout, and spectacular views of the Cascade mountains to the east and the Olympic mountains to the west. The cultural and business center of the Pacific Northwest, the city and its surrounding areas are the home of the Space Needle, Boeing’s aircraft assembly plants, Microsoft, Amazon.com, Costco, Nintendo of America, Starbucks, T-Mobile, and the University of Washington, as well as a vibrant arts and music scene and an excellent park system.
Seattle-anadians know that the entire west coast is located upon a giant tectonic plate.
This plate may, or may not slide into the Pacific at any moment.
Seattleites usually describe Seattle locations in terms of “neighborhoods.” This is partly because of a potentially confusing system of street addresses (see Get around). The breakdown into neighborhoods is informal and mutates over time, and while there are often signs on major arterial roads to let you know that you are “entering” a particular neighborhood, the placement of these signs is arbitrary and occasionally controversial.
Still, knowing what neighborhood you’re looking for can be a good sanity check when you’re looking for an address. A Seattleite would describe 1401 45th Ave SW as being in West Seattle, and 1401 NE 45th St as being in the U-District (University District), which you’ll note are diagonally opposite on the map. See Get around for an explanation.
The Seattle City clerk maintains an interactive map that starts with the high-level districts, but lets you click on those to get the detailed neighborhoods too.
Overview of Seattle districts
Seattle’s retail core, home to the waterfront, the Pike Place Market, and some of the most stunning architecture in the city
The oldest neighborhoods in Seattle, containing art galleries and innumerable restaurants
Perched on the hills northwest of Downtown and home to the Seattle Center and the Space Needle
A diverse, densely-packed cluster of neighborhoods, rich and poor, from the nightlife of Pike-Pine to the quiet residences of Madison Park. This area is also said to be the gay capital of Seattle.
A mostly residential area, home to the canal locks. The area is known for its Scandinavian heritage and thriving Historic Downtown Ballard.
The self-proclaimed “center of the universe”, a bohemian (though rapidly gentrifying) area noted for its public art
Home to the sprawling University of Washington campus and its adjacent neighborhoods
The city’s mostly residential northernmost tier, bordering Shoreline
Continuing south of downtown past the sports stadiums, this industrial district contains the well-hidden but thriving Georgetown neighborhood.
Beacon Hill is the newest neighborhood to explode with easy access via Beacon Hill Light Rail Station. Columbia City also hosts many restaurants, theaters and clubs. Once a mostly residential area that’s home to the lovely Seward Park. Rainier Beach is still an affordable residential area to live.
A scenic residential area with numerous parks and good vistas over the harbor
Seattle was founded on the rough, physical industries of fishing, logging and coal mining, with San Francisco as her primary customer. Boeing, founded in 1916, grew to be Greater Seattle’s primary industry as natural resources were depleted. The region’s strong economic dependence on Boeing gave the oil recession and cancellation of the SST (Supersonic Transport) in the early ’70s a grim effect. Over the last twenty-five years, the area has become less seedy and more developed with the massive influx of Microsoft money (and other software and biotech proceeds), but Pioneer Square is still the original Skid Row.
(Yesler Way was a “Skid Road” for logs skidded downhill using dogfish oil to Henry Yesler’s lumber mill).
Seattle is also substantially influenced by the presence of the University of Washington (the largest single campus in the state and recipient of over $1 billion in research grants annually), as well as multiple smaller colleges and universities. Seattle is also the center for financial, public health, and justice systems in the northwestern part of the U.S.
Locals have long talked of the “Seattle Freeze,” referring to the cold politeness of residents. The theory is that while locals are very polite and warm on first interaction, most residents are also very reserved and interactions rarely lead to real acts of friendship (an invitation to dinner, personal conversations, etc.). For visitors it is best to treat this as shyness–expect to make all the “first moves” to meet people here.
Residents’ shyness also extends to anger and annoyance. Locals often make fun of themselves for their passive aggressive culture, where even in the most upsetting circumstances they will retain their polite nature.
While Seattle is well known for its rain and dark, gloomy skies, it may surprise many how pleasant the weather can be, particularly during the summer months. November through March brings the worst of the unpleasant weather, with cool temperatures, heavy cloud cover and rain falling on most days. The short days and low angle of the sun during these months only add to the dark, gloomy feeling which is very unpleasant and depressing for some. The coldest month is January with average lows in the mid to upper 30s (about 3°C), with temperatures occasionally dropping below freezing.
Most precipitation falls as a light rain, or a drizzle, with snow falling in the city only occasionally (though the surrounding mountains receive heaps and heaps of snow). Most cold-weather systems come from the north, which generally results in dry weather when temperatures are below freezing. Nonetheless, Seattle is hit by a major snow storm about every 2-3 years on average, which can paralyze the city’s transportation network (hills and ill-prepared drivers are two commonly cited reasons for such). November is the wettest month, sometimes bringing in fairly intense wind and rain storms, which are often classified as a “Pineapple Express”. The record low for Seattle is 0°F (-18°C)
In contrast, the weather can be quite pleasant from April to October, with exceptionally nice weather in July and August where highs average in the mid 70s and rain is uncommon. Skies are mostly clear and smog-free, though mornings can produce an on-shore flow resulting in low clouds and fog which typically burns off by mid-day. The northern latitude (47.6 degrees) results in long days with a sunset of 9:11 p.m. on solstice. Summer heatwaves can push temperatures into the 80s and 90s, and despite only low to moderate humidity, they can be uncomfortable as air-conditioning is not prevalent in the city. The record high for Seattle is 103°F (39°C).
As one might expect, the transitioning seasons of spring and fall can be a mixed bag, though as a rule, the closer to summer brings the greater chance of warm temperatures and clear skies. Winds are heavier in the winter than summer, but overall Seattle is not a windy city, adding to the comfort during the summer. The region does feature micro-climates due to the number of hills, mountains, and bodies of water, which can result in significantly different weather conditions over short distances. This also makes forecasting difficult and sometimes unreliable.
The Visit Seattle operates two visitors centers:
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (IATA: SEA), universally nicknamed “Sea-Tac”, is located in the city’s southern suburbs. It is a major domestic for Pacific Northwest, West Coast, and Hawaii/Alaska destinations, and internationally handles frequent trans-Pacific routes, as well as direct flights to the major European airports, and to Dubai. The airport is about a 25 minute drive from downtown Seattle when there isn’t heavy traffic, and somewhat longer during rush hour.
All international flights arrive at the South Satellite terminal, and after clearing immigration and customs, passengers are funneled onto a tram back to the main terminal, outside the security checkpoint. You will need to pick up any checked bags to clear customs, then place them back on a conveyor belt to be transported to the main terminal, where luggage can be reclaimed at carousel 1 at the main terminal. Carousel 1 is in the main baggage hall which is located to the right after leaving the train and going upstairs to the ground level. All connecting passengers arriving in the US will need to re-check their baggage with their airline and pass through security, as is usually done upon arriving at the first airport when entering the US.
Air charter companies such as Monarch Air Group , Mercury Jets fly a variety of private charter aircraft and jets, from charter luxury Gulfstream’s down to economical piston twins for small groups and individuals.
There are several choices for getting from the airport to the city center:
Click here for the trip planner program which tells you which buses to take to get to your final destination. If you intend on using public transit in the Seattle area, it is advisable to download the ‘OneBusAway’ app, which shows real-time arrival estimates for buses and light rail trains serving the greater Seattle region. Nearby hotels do send their own shuttles to the terminal to pick up to pick up and drop off guests so no need to use public transportation to get there.
Various airlines, most notably Kenmore Air offer charter and scheduled seaplane service to Lake Union in downtown Seattle; Boeing Field to the south of Seattle (but north of SeaTac); and to Kenmore on Lake Washington to the east of Seattle. Boeing Field offers services to the San Juan Islands, namely Orcas Island, Friday Harbor, and Lopez Island. Lake Union offers scheduled flights to a variety of locations, including Vancouver and Victoria in Canada, and most locations in the San Juan Islands. Kenmore Air Harbor offers advance charter and seasonal service to effectively any islet in the region accessible by seaplane.
Boeing Field (IATA: BFI), is located 5 miles south of downtown Seattle. Also known as King County International Airport. Home to the Museum of Flight at King County Airport, featuring historical aviation exhibits including an ex-British Airways Concorde. Although some shuttle flights are available (JetSuiteX will begin offering service to Oakland International in July of 2019), BFI is mostly used for general aviation & cargo. Companies like Erin Air and Air Charter Advisors offer access to single/twin engine props and business jets at the airport.
Amtrak provides service from all along the west coast from King Street Station, located S King St between 2nd & 4th Ave, south of downtown near Safeco Field. There are:
Interstate Highway 5 (I-5) cuts through the middle of Seattle north to south. I-90 runs from the I-5 interchange in Seattle all the way to Boston, and crosses one of the two Lake Washington bridges to Bellevue, along with SR-520 further north. I-405 runs parallel to I-5 on the east side of Lake Washington. Be aware however, that Seattle is a city known for terrible traffic (third worst in the nation behind Los Angeles and New York), especially around rush hour, so be ready for crawling along slowly as you enter the city, especially on infamously congested I-5, southern I-405, and the SR-520 bridge.
The closest thing to a “central bus station” is the Greyhound Terminal at 503 S Royal Brougham Way south of downtown which is served by Greyhound, Olympic Bus Lines, Northwestern Trailways, Link Light Rail and a series of ST & King County Metro buses traveling south along “Bus Way Rd” and north into the tunnel under downtown. Additional long distance bus companies are at the airport (south end of terminal, at lower level by Door 00), King Street Station and/or in other parts of town. Plans are underway to demolish the old bus station on Stewart St and build a new hotel in its place. Not all bus companies come this way either, they can be at the airport or elsewhere. See the below links as to where they stop at in Seattle:
In addition to Greyhound there are other choices:
The below are more regional going from Seattle to outlying suburbs and adjacent cities:
There are three regular ferry services in the Seattle area:
Cruise ships to Seattle may be docked at one of two terminals in the Port of Seattle.
For an American city of its size, Seattle is rather easy to get around.
Seattle’s road designations make sense once you understand them but, if you don’t understand them, you can end up many miles away from your destination.
North-South roads are labeled “Avenues” while East-West roads are labeled “Streets”. The city is roughly divided into a semi 3 by 3 grid with 7 directional sectors (NW, N, NE, E, W, SW, and S). Street addresses are written with the sector before the name, e.g. NE 45th Street or just NE 45th. Avenue addresses are written with the sector after the name, e.g. 45th Avenue NE or 45th NE.
Another way to remember avenues: University Way NE, the main street through the city’s University District (neighborhood) is called “The Ave” by the locals, and all avenues run north-south. But, don’t confuse University St with University Ave; they’re two completely different streets!
“Ways” are long diagonals, “Drives” are long, circuitous routes, “Courts” are one block long.
There are four major exceptions:
1. Downtown streets and avenues have no directional designation.
2. There is no SE section. Instead, the S section is extra wide.
3. East of downtown, avenues have no directional designation (streets are preceded by ‘E’).
4. North of downtown (between Denny Way and the ship canal), streets have no directional designation, but avenues are followed by ‘N’.
The twelve streets in the central business district are named as six first-letter pairs (south to north): Jefferson, James, Cherry, Columbia, Marion, Madison, Spring, Seneca, University, Union, Pike, Pine. One way to remember the order of the street pairs is with the mnemonic “Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest.”
Breda electric articulated
Metro Transit (electric, hybrid, and diesel city buses) actually works pretty well. The web trip planner is straightforward and accurate, as long as your bus is on time. Using Google Maps’ trip planner works well too, but fare information can sometimes be incorrect. Adult bus fares are $2.75, regardless of time of day. The youth fare is always $1.50.
A fare is required on all buses and should always be paid while boarding the bus. Pay exact fare, as drivers carry no change. You can get a free paper transfer from one Metro bus to another Metro bus, but the only way to transfer for free between transit agencies is with an ORCA card, which costs $5.00 in addition to the money you put on it, available at all Link Light Rail and Sounder stations or online (Click on “Get a card”).
Board at the front and exit at the back. All buses now feature live, GPS-based destination signs inside, which can help you determine when your stop is coming up. It is recommended that you use the University of Washington’s One Bus Away app for real time arrival information.
When traveling to destinations outside of the downtown core, you should make sure to ask the drivers in Metro buses with green and white “EXPRESS” signs in their windows and those whose route signs say “VIA EXPRESS” if they are going to your destination. Some of these express routes are intended for regular commuters traveling between residential neighborhoods and downtown and make few or no stops between, but many may be useful for getting to destinations such as the University District, West Seattle, and Ballard.
Especially when traveling during the off-peak time make sure to press “Request Stop” button right after the stop you are planning to get off. Busses tend to skip a stop if no one requests it and there’s nobody on the stop waiting.
Sound Transitbuses have many convenient express routes that travel South (to Tacoma on Rt# 590, 593, 594), East (Redmond on Rt #545, Bellevue on Rt #550, Issaquah #554), and North (Bothell on Rt #522, Everett Rt 510, 512, 513). Some of these buses run during only rush hours, but most, including the routes to the destinations mentioned above, run all day. Check the schedule to make sure. The fare schedule is slightly different than Metro, with no off-peak discount: $2.50 all for trips within King County, and $3.50 for trips crossing the county line.
Link Light Rail operates between the University of Washington and Sea-Tac Airport via Westlake Center downtown, running through South Seattle and Tukwila. Fares are $2.00—$3.00 depending on how far you travel; ticket machines are located at all stations, and the tickets must be retained for the duration of your trip.
Sound Transit also operates a commuter rail service called the Sounder between Seattle-Tacoma and Seattle-Everett. However, the Sounder is limited mostly to rush hour service on the weekdays, with some service for special events like Seahawks and Seattle Mariners games.
In Seattle, there is also the South Lake Union Streetcar, which runs between Downtown and South Lake Union, the First Hill Streetcar which operates between the International District and Broadway in Capitol Hill, the Seattle Center Monorail, which makes a quick connection between Downtown and the Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle, and a passenger ferry, the King County Water Taxi, which offers a quick connection between Downtown at Pier 55 and West Seattle, at Seacrest Park near Alki. The water taxi also offers beautiful views of Downtown, the Olympic Mountains, and much of the city.
Community Transit buses have many convenient direct express routes going north to various places in Snohomish County such as Everett (#410, 412, 510, 512), Edmonds (Ferry Terminal on #416), Mukilteo (#880, 417), Silver Firs (north of Bothell on #435) etc etc. The buses numbered in the 400s travel between downtown Seattle and Snohomish County while the ones numbered in the 800s travel to/from University Washington. They only go up to Snohomish County from Seattle during the afternoon/evening rush hours between 3:00PM and 6:30PM and into Seattle from Snohomish County in the mornings 5:00AM to 9:30AM. Otherwise they serve as local services in/around Snohomish County up north (numbered in the 100s & 200s).
If you need any help, go to the Customer Stop at Westlake Station in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, or ask a local. Seattlelites are always eager to help and may even offer help if they just see you looking at a tourist map!
Unlike some other American cities, visitors should not be intimidated by the thought of navigating Seattle by car. While rush-hour traffic can be quite frustrating (especially on the freeways), the city’s streets and roadways are otherwise quite hospitable. On weekends, you can often rent cars at locations throughout the city for well under $60/day. Other car-sharing options include car2go, ReachNow, and Zipcar.
Be mindful of where you park because parking laws are enforced and the fines can be hefty! A parking ticket can be in excess of $45 for going overtime in a 2-hour zone.
Bicycling is better than in most North American cities because of extensive bicycle trails and lanes, temperate weather (rarely too hot or too cold) and accommodating drivers. Notable down-sides are damp roads, frequent rain, and hills, so you may wish to wear a water-proof jacket and gloves. Many major roads in Seattle have well maintained and separated bicycle lanes. Bicycle usage has increased significantly since the early 2000s and car drivers are perhaps a bit more accustomed to bicycles than in other major cities in the U.S.
You can pick up a free Seattle Bike Map (as well as other local city and county bike maps) at locations through the city, including the Seattle BikeStation, 311 3rd Ave S between Main St & S Jackson St almost next door to the train station. They also give suggestions on how to bicycle where you are going and how to do it safely. The google maps “bicycling” mode directions are also very useful in Seattle — just search for a location on google maps, then choose the “bike” icon and you’ll see bike-specific directions.
Bicycle transportation in North Seattle is facilitated by the East-West oriented Burke-Gilman Trail. This is a flat, paved walking/jogging/cycling trail that winds its way from the north end of Lake Washington, down around the University of Washington, then west towards Ballard. The trail connects the neighborhoods of Ballard, Fremont, Wallingford, the U. District, Ravenna/U. Village, Laurelhurst, Sand Point, and Lake City. The trail is on an old railroad right-of-way, so it maintains a very consistent elevation and is excellent for commuting or a casual day’s touring.
The major north-south bike path in central Seattle is the Myrtle Edwards path, located along Puget sound, starting at the north end of downtown and continuing northwards to the Ship Canal Locks and the Ballard neighborhood. The trail also winds along the downtown waterfront and travels south to the port of Seattle with connections to West Seattle. This path has beautiful views of the Olympic Mountains and Mt. Rainier, and can be more peaceful than the Burke as it does not intersect with any roads.
All Metro buses are equipped to carry three bicycles on racks on the front, at no extra charge.
Bike shares are provided by LimeBike ($1 to start and then $0.25 per minute; the green and yellow bikes), and Jump ($0.25 per minute; the red bikes which can be activated via the Uber app). Seattle Bike Blog explains how to use the bike shares. Daily bicycle rentals are available at a number of locations downtown($45 per day) and along the Burke-Gilman trail (from $30 per day). Longer term bicycle rentals, with bike delivery to your hotel or residence, are available from Seattle Monthly Bike Rental($80 per week)). Bike helmets are required by law in Seattle.
Ride Sharing is becoming increasingly popular as an alternative to taxi cab services in Seattle, offering an arguably friendlier and more reliable service at a cheaper price. Programs including Lyft and Uber involve downloading their mobile application to request a ride. The local drivers who drive for the companies are now required by the city to have a for hire permit and undergo thorough background checks.
To request a ride, the ride share programs usually requires the rider to download their mobile application and create an account and store credit card information. When requesting a ride, the rider enters their pick-up location, and drop-off location. When a driver confirms your ride request, a GPS map will track the driver’s location as well as show a picture of the driver.
Pike Place Market
Seattle is home to a number of top-notch museums. Downtown is home to the renowned Seattle Art Museum, which displays a good overview and assortment of art from around the world. In the Central District is the Seattle Asian Art Museum, an off-shoot of the Seattle Art Museum which focuses on Chinese & Japanese Art, but includes works from as far away as India. The Asian Art museum is currently closed for renovation until 2019. Additionally, The Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience is in Chinatown/International District is the only Asian Pacific American museum in the nation. Nearby is the Frye Art Museum, a small private collection featuring 232 paintings by Munich-based artists. Not a museum, but open to browsing by the public, is the Seattle Metaphysical Library, in Ballard, which specializes in material not found in normal libraries. Finally, in Sodo is the Living Computers: Museum + Labs. Experience computing technology from the 1960s to the present inside one of Seattle’s top-rated museums. Originally founded by Paul G. Allen, this museum features interactive exhibits, daily tours, educational workshops, the world’s largest collection of working vintage computers.
Surrounding the Space Needle on the grounds of the Seattle Center are several more big museums, including the Pacific Science Center, an interactive science museum, the Experience Music Project, a Rock & Roll museum with a special Jimi Hendrix exhibit, and the Science Fiction Museum Home of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.
On the north end of South Lake Union is the newly reopened Museum of History and Industry, called Mohai for short.
Downtown is home to the popular Seattle Aquarium. The University District holds the The Henry Art Gallery, one of the biggest contemporary art galleries in Washington. Also on the university campus is the Burke Museum, a combination natural history/archaeology museum. Further out in Georgetown is the Museum of Flight, with a large collection of aircraft ranging from wood and fabric crates to the sleek Concorde.
Travelers planning to visit multiple attractions may benefit from Seattle CityPASS , which grants admission to 6 Seattle attractions within 9 days of first use for a much reduced rate and includes expedited entry in some cases. The included attractions are: Space Needle (for two visits); Seattle Aquarium; Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour; an Option Ticket with choice of either Pacific Science Center or Museum of Flight ; and an Option Ticket with choice of either Experience Music Project – Science Fiction Museum or Woodland Park Zoo.
Seattle’s Downtown from the Space Needle
Most of the architectural attractions in Seattle are located in a small portion of the downtown area, easily traversed on foot. Among the highlights are the Rem Koolhaas/OMA designed Central Library, a unique, contemporary building with an enormous glass-fronted atrium; the Experience Music Project designed to resemble Jimi Hendrix’s smashed guitar done in a manner only Frank Gehry could conceive; the Smith Tower, an Art Deco skyscraper which has an observation deck and is Seattle’s oldest skyscraper; the Columbia Center, the tallest building in the Pacific Northwest and one with its own observation deck; the Seattle City Hall, designed by Bohlin Cywinski Jackson Bassetti Architects, with its roof garden, designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd. and Swift & Company; and the new Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Campus, designed by NBBJ, with its 12 acre garden also designed by Gustafson Guthrie Nichol Ltd.
Of course, the most popular view in Seattle remains the one from the revolving top of the Space Needle at the Seattle Center. And given the retro-futurism look of the Space Needle, a fitting way to get there is via the Monorail, which connects the Seattle Center to Downtown.
Seattle is peppered with parks, from small urban squares to large forested areas with views of the Puget Sound.
The major supermarket chains in Seattle are Safeway and Albertsons (both owned by the same company), along with QFC and Fred Meyer (both owned by Kroger). For general merchandise, Fred Meyer and Target also have stores in Seattle. Many specialty and organic supermarkets, such as Metropolitan Market, PCC (a local co-op grocery chain), Trader Joe’s and Whole Foods Market can also be found throughout the area. Due to Seattle’s large ethnic Asian immigrant population you can easily find grocery stores catering to those groups such as Uwajimaya (Japanese) located in the International District, and H-Mart (Korean) and 99 Ranch Market (Taiwanese) in the surrounding suburbs.
Although steeped in history and always busy, Pike Place Market is not often visited by locals. Dozens of farmer markets dot the region, with many active only in the summer months (May-Oct). The primary neighborhood farmer markets in Seattle include: University District and Magnolia (Saturdays); Capitol Hill and West Seattle (Sundays); Columbia City (Wednesdays); Lake City (Thursdays); Phinney Ridge (Fridays); and City Hall (Tuesdays).
Fresh seafood is found in abundance at both markets and restaurants. Local favorites include Alaskan salmon (king/Chinook, sockeye, and coho/silver being the descending hierarchy of quality), halibut, and lingcod for fish; Dungeness, snow, and king crab; oysters; mussels and clams; and a variety of other seafood. Pacific Northwest cuisine is featured at a number of local eateries, and emphasizes seafood, foraged plants (mushrooms, ferns, asparagus, seaweeds, berries), game meats such as elk, and other less common meats like duck and rabbit.
Seattle also features a wide variety of Asian-fusion cuisines owing to its diverse population, particularly with Japanese, Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Filipino, and Hawaiian influences. A number of restaurants from diaspora populations, including Indian, Ethiopian, and Cambodian cuisines, are also available.
Local specialties that are common souvenirs include smoked salmon, Rainier cherries, apples, and of course, coffee.
Few, if any, American cities can challenge Seattleites’ love of coffee. Seattle’s love of coffee is perhaps signified best by Starbucks, Seattle’s Best Coffee (now owned by Starbucks), and Tully’s as they each have expanded all over the country and world, but locals aren’t satisfied by these internationally-recognized chains alone, evidenced by hundreds of good locally owned coffeehouses. Microbreweries and beer in general are a Northwest specialty, and Seattle has many to offer for beer enthusiasts. The larger ones, like Redhook, have their products distributed around the country like their coffee cousins, while others can only be found in local stores or bars (some notable ones even don’t bottle their product).
In Washington, bars have a full liquor license, while taverns are restricted to beer, wine and cider. Seattle bars have world-class beer selection, featuring local Northwest style micros, many of them crafted in Seattle.
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