Washington State

National Parks
Ferry in Seattle Washington
© Mike Leco /

Washington's ferry system has routes to the larger islands in the Puget Sound, Olympic Peninsula, San Juan Islands and Vancouver Island, British Columbia.

Seattle, Washington - The Emerald City

Seattle, Washington is located in the far northwestern corner of the United States, if you don't consider Alaska. It is approximately 100 miles south of the Canadian border, nearly 3000 miles west of New York City and over 1000 miles north of Los Angeles, California. The city is situated on a series of low hills overlooking the deep-water harbor of Puget Sound about 75 miles inland from the Pacific Ocean. It is nearly surrounded by water with Puget Sound on the west, Lake Washington a few miles to the east and Lake Union connecting them across the north.

Seattle is in the midst of some spectacular natural scenery

On clear days the Cascade Mountains are visible on the eastern horizon and the Olympic Mountains loom across the Sound to the west. The snowcapped volcanic peak of Mount Rainier dominates the southern view. This city is set in the midst of some of the most beautiful natural scenery in the USA.

The climate is surprisingly mild this far north. Warm currents off the Pacific Coast tend to moderate the local weather. Summers are never very hot and winters are not very cold. Little snow falls in the city. Seattle is often called the rainy city, but that is not accurate. The city does not receive a lot of rain, but it does get about 220 days of cloud cover every year, and most of the rain occurs during the winter months. Sunshine and blue skies can be rare from October through March.

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport or Sea-Tac is located about 10 miles south of downtown Seattle just west of Interstate route 5. Transportation to downtown is available for $7.50 via express buses.

Seattle Center is a popular attraction

Seattle Center, dominated by the 605-feet high Space Needle, is located 1 mile north of downtown and is easily accessible via a short Monorail ride. For sixteen dollars, you can take an elevator to the top and appreciate a spectacular view of the city with its surrounding lakes and mountains. Seattle Center is also the location of the Pacific Science Center, the Children's Museum, the Children's Theater, the Opera House, the Bagley Wright Theatre, the Seattle Center Playhouse, the Key Arena and the new Experience Music Project. It also contains an amusement park, a video arcade, a fast food gallery and an assortment of shops.

Pike Place Market in Seattle Washington © Mike Leco /
Pike Place Market is a famous attraction in Seattle. Overlooking Elliot Bay, the market features local produce and seafood stands as well as unique shops and restaurants.

Pike Place Market is located at the western edge of the central downtown area overlooking the Puget Sound waterfront. It offers an array of shops, kiosks and vendors selling fresh seafood, vegetables, flowers and all sorts of wonderful gifts. It is renowned for its flying fish market, where the seafood vendors toss their sales over the heads of amused spectators. The market also contains many restaurants, specialty shops and those ubiquitous Seattle coffee houses.

The Waterfront is just below Pike Place Market

The Seattle waterfront is located at the bottom of the hill just behind Pike Place Market. Many of the old fishing piers have been converted to restaurants, specialty shopping malls and tourist attractions. The Seattle Aquarium is here. Michelle says it is worth the price of admission just to see the adorable live sea otters. An Omni-Max theater offers an interesting view of the 1980 eruption of nearby Mount Saint Helens. Argosy Harbor Tours depart from a waterfront dock and provide a wonderful way to see the city from a different perspective. You can also find speedboat tours, sailing ship excursions and para-sailing adventures along the waterfront. There are some excellent seafood restaurants in this neighborhood.

Pioneer Square Historical District is just a short walk south of the Pike Place Market and the waterfront. This neighborhood contains many restored Victorian structures. It includes art galleries, antique shops, boutiques, a great bookstore and a lot of bistros, sidewalk cafes and bars. A great picturesque totem pole and a bronze statue of native chief Sealth adorn the square. An interesting underground tour of Seattle takes you beneath the streets and sidewalks surrounding Pioneer Square.

Seattle has a large thriving Asian community

The Chinatown/International District is a short walk up the hill from Pioneer Square. This colorful neighborhood is the home of a large population of immigrants from China, Japan, the Philippines, Korea and the Pacific Islands. There are many shops and grocery stores selling Asian products and many restaurants featuring various Asian cuisines. The Wing-Luke Asian Museum and the Hing-Hay Park are located here. The impressive Seattle Asian Art Museum with its extensive collection of oriental artifacts is located on nearby Capitol Hill.

The broad blue waters of Lake Washington border Seattle on the eastern side. Neighborhoods around the lake, Mercer Island and the eastern shore communities of Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond are all upscale. They are primarily middle to upper income neighborhoods with fashionable shopping malls and some corporate offices. Redmond is home to that little company called Microsoft.

Lake Union in Seattle Washington © Mike Leco /
Seattle is surrounded by mountains and water. North of downtown, Lake Union is a popular spot for boaters, rowers, kayakers and seaplane activity. On clear days, Mt. Baker can be seen in the distance.

Lake Union and its surrounding communities are interesting

Lake Union bisects the city just north of downtown as it wends its way from Lake Washington on the east side to Puget Sound on the west. The lake is filled with activity from the commercial fishing vessels, motorboats, yachts, kayaks and seaplanes that continuously ply its waters. Houseboat communities on the lake were featured as Tom Hank's home in the film "Sleepless in Seattle." The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, located near the lakeside community of Ballard, are worth visiting. You can not only watch the incessant stream of maritime traffic navigating the locks, but you can also watch the incessant stream of migrating Salmon navigating the fish ladders.

Fremont, a community that once declared itself an independent republic of free thinkers, is located along the northern shores of Lake Union. Besides funky bars, sidewalk cafes and little shops featuring offbeat merchandise, it has a rocket ship, a bronze statue of Lenin and a huge troll beneath the bridge. Nearby are the Woodland Park Zoo and the campus of the University of Washington.

Snoqualmie Falls east of Seattle Washington © Mike Leco /
Snoqualmie Falls is a 268 ft. waterfall located about 25 miles east of Seattle.

Some of the best attractions lie outside the city

Many of the best attractions in the Seattle area are located outside of the city. Olympic Peninsula with Olympic National Park lies across the Puget Sound, and on a clear day, its snowcapped peaks are visible from downtown. Mount Rainier National Park and Mt St. Helens National Monument are both only a 4-hour drive from downtown Seattle. The Cascade Mountains rise just beyond the eastern limits of the city. A few hours drive over Snoqualmie Pass takes you to the Columbia River Plateau and the Yakima Valley. This is the rich agricultural heartland of Washington and is its wine country. A few hours boat ride brings you to the San Juan Archipelago where you can view whales, seals and other wildlife in the natural splendor of unspoiled wilderness.

Shopping, Culture, Sports and Adventure abound

Seattle is a good city for shopping. It has a wide variety of department stores, boutiques and specialty shops right in the downtown area. Pike Place Market, the Waterfront, Pioneer Square, Fremont and the Chinatown/International District all offer lots of interesting shops featuring unusual merchandise. There are major shopping malls in Lynnwood, Bellevue, Northgate and South Center. For serious bargain hunters, there are large factory outlet malls in Auburn, 30 minutes south of downtown Seattle, and in Burlington, 65 miles north of the city.

Seattle has a symphony, a ballet, and over 400 theatre companies. It has a full complement of major league sports teams. The Seattle Seahawks, a NFL football team, and the Seattle Sounders FC, a MLS soccer team, play at Qwest Field. The Seattle Mariners, the city's major league baseball team, plays across the street at Safeco Field. Seattle also has a minor league hockey team, the Thunderbirds, and it plays at the Kent Events Center, which is located a short drive south of Seattle.

Seattle is most famous for its outdoor sports such as hiking, backpacking, skiing, fishing, hunting, mountain climbing, boating and kayaking. The opportunities for wilderness adventure are nearly limitless in this area of spectacular natural beauty.

Visit our Seattle Attractions page for more information about what to see and do in the Emerald City!

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: ©
Photo Description: The view of the Space Needle and Mt. Rainier from Kerry Park, located on the south side of Queen Anne Hill.