Planning on visiting Seattle? If you only have one day in Seattle in your schedule, don’t worry! You can see a lot of the Emerald City during a day trip.
The very first time I visited Seattle, way back in 2006, I had only one day to explore the city, and I had no idea what to do aside from Pike Place and the Space Needle.
Now, as a long-time Seattle resident, I can share all my ideas for what to see in Seattle in one day, for those who are making a short visit.
I’m presenting not one, but three different itineraries. The first is the basic tourist itinerary featuring the most popular tourist spots. The second is best suited for those who like nature and the outdoors. And the third focuses on quirky and offbeat stuff, because hey, that’s my brand! And it’s fun!
If you’ve got a day trip to Seattle coming up, select one of these itineraries and get going. Or pick and choose from all three to customize your own perfect day in the city!
Logistics of a Day Trip to Seattle
A couple notes before we dig in to the details. First, remember that Seattle does see rain a lot from autumn through spring. Locals rarely carry umbrellas. We prefer light rain jackets like this one from Columbia.
If your one-day visit is during summer, you’re in luck – most summer days are sunny and beautiful, with no rain!
Second, having a car would be ideal to see all these sights, as the itineraries do require visiting multiple neighborhoods. See DiscoverCars.com if you need to rent a vehicle. If not, the light rail, buses and Uber/Lyft can get you around.
And finally, if you don’t want to be bothered with any planning at all, you can book the Seattle 3-Hour Bus Tour, which provides access to Pike Place, Pioneer Square, the Fremont Troll, and much more, and comes with free transportation!
Alternately, there’s Seattle City Pass, which includes five major attractions for one price. This one doesn’t include transportation, but will save you some money on admission if you’re already planning to visit the Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, Chihuly Glass Museum, Woodland Park Zoo, and the Harbor Cruise.
#1: One Day in Seattle: The Basic Tourist Itinerary
If you simply want to do touristy stuff while you’re in Seattle – there’s no shame in that! – then this first itinerary is for you.
8 am: Pike Place Market
Pike Place (not Pike’s Place) is the famous Seattle market along the waters of Elliott Bay. It’s got coffee shops, souvenir shops, clothing stores, and plenty of places to eat.
At this hour, many of the restaurants will be serving breakfast, so stop in and grab a bite. Walk through the hallways to browse or purchase gifts.
Check out the famous “fish toss” at Pike Place Fish Market, where vendors periodically toss fish back and forth for the tourists.
If you’re a Starbucks person, get in line to check out the original Starbucks store, which opened in 1971. The store itself is nothing special, but it’s kinda cool to say you were there.
And make sure to head down to Post Alley for the infamous Gum Wall, a brick building with thousands of pieces of chewed gum left behind by visitors.
10 am: Space Needle
The Space Needle opens right at 10 am, so you may have to wait in line. Obviously, you’ll want to buy your ticket in advance.
This is Seattle’s most iconic attraction, so it’s high on every tourist’s list. Visibility can vary greatly by season, but even if it’s raining and cloudy, it’s a fun experience to go up 500 feet to the observation deck.
There aren’t many places in America where you can view three national parks at once, but the Space Needle is one such place. If there’s good visibility, you can see Mt. Rainier, as well as the mountains of North Cascades NP and Olympic National Park.
11:30 am Chihuly Garden and Glass OR Seattle Aquarium
Chihuly Garden and Glass is a cool facility next to the Space Needle that features the glass work of Dale Chihuly. It’s one of Seattle’s coolest museums. You’ll be amazed at the things that an artist can do with colored glass.
Alternately, you may choose instead to visit the Seattle Aquarium down at Pier 59. The aquarium features many of the animals that live in the waters around Puget Sound, including octopus, otters, seals, jellyfish, eels, and seahorses.
The aquarium is a really popular activity for kids, but it’s not just a kid’s attraction – adults will find it fascinating as well.
1 pm Lunch & Harbor Cruise
It’s a 30-minute walk along the waterfront from Chihuly Glass to Argosy Cruises, the company that operates the popular one-hour Seattle Harbor Cruise.
Before boarding, stop at Ivar’s and get a bowl of clam chowder. Seattle isn’t really known for its food, but Ivar’s is a local staple. Eat chowder or fish & chips on the outdoor patio while waiting for your cruise.
Take the 2:45 pm Harbor Cruise (book in advance!) for an orca’s eye view of Seattle. The cruise itself is very affordable, and you’ll see the Space Needle and all of the city’s notable spots from the water.
4 pm Pioneer Square
Seattle’s oldest neighborhood, Pioneer Square, is only a 10-minute walk from the cruise location, so walk over and explore the area.
You’ll notice that due to zoning laws to preserve the character of the area, there aren’t skyscrapers in this part of town, except for Smith Tower, a striking white building with a pointy top.
Fun fact: Once the tallest building in the entire western half of the U.S., Smith Tower is now only the 37th-tallest building in Seattle!
Pioneer Square has some interesting local businesses and art galleries. This is also the place for the Seattle Underground Tour, which literally takes guests underground into an abandoned lower level that used to house stores decades ago.
Another can’t-miss is Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which details the 1890s gold rush that found prospectors boarding ships from Pioneer Square to Alaska in search of riches.
5:30 pm Kerry Park
Tiny little Kerry Park, a half-block greenspace on the hill in the Queen Anne neighborhood, has what many consider to be the best view in Seattle.
On a clear day, you’ll see the downtown Seattle shoreline and skyline, plus the Space Needle, with majestic Mount Rainier looming off in the background. It’s the true postcard photo from Seattle!
OPTIONAL: A Kerry Park visit won’t take more than 10 minutes, as there’s nothing to do there other than take a picture of the skyline. If you prefer a more substantial park visit, go instead to Gas Works, a 20-acre park which also has awesome views of Seattle, plus the remnants of an old oil plant.
6 pm Fremont Troll
The Fremont Troll is one of Seattle’s many strange and unusual roadside attractions. It’s 13,000 pounds of concrete and it sits underneath a bridge. Stop by to get a quick photo.
6:30 pm Dinner in Fremont or Ballard
Grab a bite to eat at one of the many cool restaurants in Fremont or nearby Ballard. In Fremont, I recommend Nuna Ramen, Red Star Taco Bar, or Local Tide (seafood.) Standout Ballard eateries include Gracia (Mexican), Parish (Cajun), and the Ballard Cut (upscale food and whiskey.)
8 pm Sunset in the Park (summer/fall)
If it’s a sunny summer or autumn day, head to Golden Gardens Park, Discovery Park, or Alki Beach and take in the sunset along the beach.
If your visit is during winter, you’ll obviously have to skip this, or move it up in the itinerary, since it gets dark as early as 4:30 pm during the heart of winter.
All of these parks have short walking trails and plenty of space along the beach to sit and relax while people watching and enjoying the sunset.
9 pm Capitol Hill nightlife
Capitol Hill is the busiest area for nightlife in Seattle, with countless restaurants and bars. If you like cider, visit Capitol Cider, the largest independent cider bar in the country. They have more than 30 ciders on tap, and 200+ in bottles and cans.
Or stop in at Optimism, a local brewery with unique flavors, such as Raspberry Solarpunk and the espresso-and-chocolate flavor called Before the Dawn.
Meanwhile, LGBTQ+ folks should check out Union Bar, a modern bar with video screens playing dance music, located right next to Optimism.
Itinerary #2: Seattle Nature + Outdoors
The Pacific Northwest is the ultimate playground for those who love the outdoors. You could drive to the Cascade Mountains and spend all day hiking.
But with only one day in Seattle, you’ll probably want to stay close to the city. With that in mind, here’s an itinerary that may work for folks who love nature and walking.
8:30 am Seward or Discovery Park
I like to start the morning with a nice walk or run in Seward Park or Discovery Park. Discovery has more extensive hiking trails through the forest, while Seward has a nice, flat 2.5-mile loop trail along Lake Washington.
You can potentially see bald eagles flying overhead at either spot, so keep your eyes open! I’ve seen bald eagles myself at both places. Discovery Park definitely has more, though.
10:30 am Harbor Cruise and Lunch
After your morning exercise, give your feet a rest and enjoy an hour-long boat tour. The Seattle Harbor Cruise takes you past Seattle’s most noteworthy attractions, including the Space Needle and the Olympic Mountains.
Board the 10:45 Seattle Harbor Cruise, and you’ll be back in time to grab lunch at Ivar’s or somewhere else along the water. Or make the short walk up to Pike Place and grab a bite there.
ALTERNATE AFTERNOON OPTION: If you want to get out of the city for a more substantial hike in the mountains, skip the afternoon activities and head to Rattlesnake Ledge Trail. It’s a 5.3-mile round-trip hike with 1450 feet of elevation gain and a sweet view of the lake below. And it’s only a 40-minute drive from Seattle!
Head to the mountain right after lunch, and you’ll get back to the city by dinner time.
1:30 pm Japanese Garden / Washington Park Arboretum
One of the oldest Japanese Gardens in the country, the Seattle Japanese Garden is 3.5 acres of ponds, trees, and flower gardens. The Garden costs ten bucks and is open from March through November.
The Garden is part of the Washington Park Arboretum, a 230-acre green space featuring plants from around the world. This is a great place to spend an hour or two.
3 pm Kayak or Paddleboard on Lake Union
Lake Union is one of the best spots for water activities in Seattle, given its proximity to downtown. Most of the year, you can rent kayaks or paddleboards and enjoy time on the lake while looking over at the city skyline.
5 pm Ballard Locks
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, or Ballard Locks, are a series of locks on Salmon Bay. It’s like a mini-Panama Canal! You can stop by for free to see the locks in action, and you may even spot a seal.
There’s also an indoor fish ladder that allows fish to traverse the locks. Come during the salmon run for the most activity!
6:30 pm Dinner in Ballard or Fremont
As mentioned above, Ballard and Fremont are good neighborhoods for grabbing dinner. See itinerary #1 for my suggested food spots in these neighborhoods.
8 pm Sunset in the Park (summer/fall)
As with itinerary #1, I’m going to recommend you end the day by taking in a sunset in either Discovery Park, Golden Gardens Park, or Alki Beach.
If the weather’s nice, you may want to jump in the water and swim. Golden Gardens and Alki Beach are best for swimming.
Other Outdoor Options
Want some other ideas for your day? Volunteer Park is a nice outdoor space in the vibrant Capitol Hill neighborhood that includes the Volunteer Park Conservatory (botanical garden), the Water Tower Observation Deck, and the Asian Art Museum.
Another option is to take a ferry from downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island. Bainbridge has museums, restaurants, and gift shops. The real treat is the ferry ride itself, which provides a great view looking back at Seattle. Sometimes you can even orcas swimming past!
You can board the ferry in downtown Seattle, either driving your vehicle onboard, or walking on as a pedestrian.
#3: What to See in Seattle in One Day: Quirky Stuff
Ok, let’s get to the most fun itinerary for one day in Seattle! This one is for folks like me who like weird attractions and strange museums.
From the Gum Wall to the Fremont Troll to the giant popsicle statue, Seattle has a few quirky and unique activities that are worth checking out.
If you don’t mind walking 15-20 minutes between attractions, you can use your feet for the first several hours of this itinerary.
The walking loop from Pike Place to MoPOP and back down to Pioneer Square is about 3.5 miles of walking in total.
If you’re ok with that level of physical activity, then you won’t need a car or Uber with this itinerary until 4 pm.
8:30 am Pike Place
Yes, it’s another itinerary that starts at Pike Place. Your focus is going to be on the weirdest parts of the market.
Check out the pig statue in the main corridor near Pike Place Fish Market, right next to where the famous “fish toss” takes place.
Then head into Post Alley to see the Gum Wall.
Walk through the market itself to see some of the market’s oddities, most notably Pike Place Magic Shop and the “Giant Shoe Museum,” a small exhibit near Old Seattle Paperworks.
Finish your Pike Place visit with a stop at the oldest Starbucks location.
9:15 am Biscuit Bitch
Grab food at one of Seattle’s most popular breakfast spots, a fun location with a bit of attitude. Biscuit Bitch is known for its biscuits and gravy, but they also have good breakfast sandwiches and coffee drinks.
This place can get very busy, so if the wait is too long, you can always get breakfast elsewhere in Pike Place.
10:15 am Giant Red Twin Popsicle
At the corner of 4th Ave. and Blanchard St., you can’t miss the 17-foot-tall red twin popsicle. This is one of the best spots for a funny selfie.
10:30 am MoPOP
Near the Space Needle sits the Museum of Popular Culture, or MoPOP. This museum focuses heavily on music history and memorabilia, with additional exhibits on film, video games, and other elements of pop culture.
And don’t miss the statue of Soundgarden’s Chris Cornell outside the museum.
The exhibits and collections at MoPOP change regularly. As of this writing, featured exhibits include two displays on science fiction, one about horror films, and three exhibits dedicated to Seattle’s most famous musical acts – Pearl Jam, Nirvana, and Jimi Hendrix.
11:30 am Olympic Sculpture Park
The 9-acre Olympic Sculpture Park is a must-visit for fans of quirky public art. See several interesting pieces while taking in views of the Space Needle and the Olympic Mountains.
12 pm Seattle Art Museum
Olympic Sculpture Park is actually operated by the Seattle Art Museum, so after seeing the sculptures, why not head over to the actual museum?
This downtown museum is easy to spot by the giant moving sculpture outside the building, “Hammering Man” by Johnathan Borofsky.
The museum has just about everything – modern art, classic pieces, and artwork of all types from around the globe.
12:45 pm Seattle Public Central Library
Seattle might be the only city where I recommend visiting the public library. There’s a special reason for this suggestion.
The downtown library has a unique design that has appeared on lists of the best architecture in the country.
Make a quick stop inside the 11-story building to see how the large clear roof and its grid pattern look from the inside. It’s such a unique building.
12:45 pm Lunch at Skalka
Grab lunch somewhere downtown. My favorite place in the area is Skalka, a small eatery that serves only one item: Khachapuri, a stuffed bread dish from the country of Georgia.
It’s essentially a large bread bowl filled with a combination of cheese, eggs, meat, or veggies. And it’s delicious.
1:45 pm Pioneer Square
As mentioned earlier, the city’s oldest neighborhood has one of its coolest tours – the Seattle Underground Tour.
This group outing takes tourists below street level into the rarely-seen lower level that was abandoned when the city rebuilt itself after an 1889 fire.
Take the 2 pm Underground Tour, which lasts until roughly 3:15. Afterwards, check out the many other quirky activities in Pioneer Square, such as the “Sinking Ship” parking garage, Waterfall Garden Park, and Merchants Café, the oldest bar in Seattle (it opened in 1890!)
See the full list of fun things to do in Pioneer Square.
4 pm Fremont Troll & Lenin statue
Now it’s time to head to some other neighborhoods. Fremont might be Seattle’s quirkiest area. There’s the famous Fremont Troll, of course.
You’ll also find a fun statue called Waiting for the Interurban, and a controversial statue of Russian leader Vladimir Lenin.
Lenin ruled 100 years ago, and is regarded as a divisive figure, with some calling him a ruthless dictator. The statue is occasionally vandalized (a common tactic is painting its hands red), but for now it remains on display.
5 pm Archie McPhee
For 40 years, Archie McPhee has been selling toys and novelty gifts in the Wallingford neighborhood. It’s great for adults as well as kids.
You’ll crack up at the gag gifts, like a dill pickle-scented air freshener, and a Pez set featuring the characters from The Office. They also have tons of weird snacks, such as hard candy flavored like bacon, pickle, kale, and lobster.
Tip: The pickle-flavored candies are actually pretty good. The macaroni and cheese-flavored candies… not so much. I plan to keep coming back until I’ve tried them all.
Inside Archie McPhee, there’s a small Rubber Chicken Museum which you can visit for free. Super quirky!
5:45 pm Grey’s Anatomy House
If you’re a fan of Grey’s Anatomy, make a quick stop to see the exterior of the house that served as the interns’ house on the show.
It’s located at 303 W. Comstock Street. Be respectful and don’t get too close, as the house is now privately owned.
6 pm Dinner in Queen Anne
Grab dinner in the Queen Anne neighborhood, which has lot of good restaurants in its walkable center. Queen Anne Beerhall offers great pub food, Coba has quality Vietnamese, and Sal y Limon offers good Mexican cuisine.
7 pm Smith Tower Bar & Observatory
Next, venture back to Pioneer Square to spend some time inside Smith Tower. Smith Tower was also mentioned in itinerary #1, but here’s something cool: It has a bar and observatory deck on the 35th floor!
Go upstairs to the chic bar, grab a cocktail, and step out to see cool 360-degree views of the city and the surrounding mountains (on a clear day.)
The nighttime view is just as cool, so you can come here no matter the time of year.
8 pm Jimi Hendrix Statue Park and Statue
Jimi Hendrix Park is located in the Central District near the Northwest African American Museum. The park features a few sculptures dedicated to the famous guitar god, including a purple guitar.
Then drive to Capitol Hill to see the Hendrix Statue, right on Broadway in the heart of the neighborhood.
8:30 pm Museum of Museums
If it’s Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, head to the art center in Capitol Hill known as The Museum of Museums. MoM has art galleries, mini-museums, rotating installations, and a gift shop.
The Museum of Museums is open until 10 pm three nights a week, so it’s a good evening activity for a tourist on a day trip to Seattle.
9:30 pm Linda’s Tavern
End the day at Linda’s, which has the distinction of being the last place that Kurt Cobain was seen alive. It’s a divey but comfortable bar that looks like it hasn’t changed in years.
The legendary Nirvana frontman apparently stopped by here the night before his body was found. Linda’s gets busy, but 9:30 is a good time to beat the crowds and grab a drink.
Heading out of town? See my suggestions for the best road trips from Seattle.
That concludes our suggestions for a Seattle day trip or short visit. Do you have any other suggestions for what to see in Seattle in one day? Leave a comment and let us know!
Looking for a Seattle hotel? Check out these great options:
• Hilton Motif – Excellent views from upper floors and great downtown location
• CitizenM – Upscale lodging in the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood
• Ace Hotel – Modern and trendy hotel in Belltown
• Green Tortoise Hostel – Budget lodging with dorm rooms downtown