Seattle Neighborhoods & Towns
Seattle is located on peninsula surrounded by several different waterways: Puget Sound to the west, Elliott Bay to the south and Lake Washington to the east. Salmon Bay, Lake Union and Union Bay (collectively known as the Lake Washington Ship Canal) also slice the city in half, with the Ballard, Fremont and University District neighborhoods to the north and the rest of Seattle's neighborhoods to the south.
Seattle's neighborhoods each offer something different to visitors, ranging from a concentration of the city's top sites to charming residences and distinctive eateries. Consider investing in a map and organizing your sightseeing for the day before setting out — and be sure to exercise patience as you navigate the city as heavy traffic can be frustrating.
Downtown, Pioneer Square and Chinatown-International District
You'll find some of the most popular tourist attractions in downtown Seattle, including the famous Pike Place Market. Consequently, some of the best hotels in Seattle are situated here. Downtown is also home to the city's financial centers, a bustling waterfront and many shopping and dining opportunities. Elliott Bay and a string of tidal flats downtown provide great sightseeing opportunities. Downtown also features several cultural sites like the Seattle Public Library, Benaroya Hall and the Seattle Art Museum.
Another popular tourist attraction just south of downtown is Pioneer Square, a historic district that was once the heart of the city. The buildings here have been restored to their previous glory, highlighting their Renaissance-Revival and Richardsonian-Romanesque architecture; the square's century-old, ornamental pergola is a particular eye-catching sight. South of Pioneer Square, sports lovers can watch the Mariners play ball at Safeco Field or catch a football game (or concert or soccer game) at CenturyLink Field, home of the 2014 Super Bowl Champions, the Seattle Seahawks.
South of downtown and east of Pioneer Square, Chinatown-International District is Seattle's ethnic and culturally diverse enclave. Nicknamed "the I.D.," this neighborhood is one of the city's oldest. You'll encounter plenty of specialty stores here, as well as many restaurants serving Asian specialties.
Queen Anne and Magnolia
Situated north of downtown, Queen Anne is a part residential, part business district anchored by Seattle's most famous icon, the Space Needle. This towering landmark stands more than 600 feet tall and offers a great panorama of the entire city. Another visitor favorite, Chihuly Garden and Glass, is located right next door to the Space Needle. Many key events and concerts are held at the Seattle Center (surrounding the Space Needle), which is also home to the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Seattle Children's Museum. Meanwhile while just along the southern outskirts of the Queen Anne neighborhood, you'll find the Olympic Sculpture Park. As for its moniker, the neighborhood draws its name from the architectural style seen in many of the historic mansions built in the late 19th century.
West of Queen Anne is the Magnolia neighborhood, which is mainly residential, and includes the sprawling Discovery Park on its northwestern edge. The park offers plenty of hiking trails and prime vistas of Puget Sound. Magnolia's main drag is McGraw Street, which is lined by trees of the neighborhood's name. Along McGraw, you'll find a smattering of restaurants, cafes and shops.
Capitol Hill and Central District
The Capitol Hill neighborhood, located northeast of downtown, showcases some of the city's oldest Victorian mansions. It's also home to a thriving gay and lesbian scene, as well as many students who attend Seattle University, young professionals and musicians. For those interested in music history, Capitol Hill was home to the famous grunge music scene in the early 1990s. Check out the acts at the Capitol Hill institution, Neumos, which is one of the most popular music venues in the city. At the northern part of Capitol Hill sits Volunteer Park, which features a conservatory and the Seattle Asian Art Museum.
Meanwhile, the Central District (south of Capitol Hill and east of downtown) is primarily a residential area that's historically been home to the city's black community. This part of Seattle boasts some of the oldest black churches, such as the African Methodist Episcopal Church (established in 1886 and built in 1912) and the Mt. Zion Baptist Church (established in 1894 and built in 1975). Other notable Central District attractions include the Pratt Fine Arts Center and the Douglass-Truth branch of the public library.
Nestled across Salmon Bay from Magnolia in the northwest region of Seattle, this neighborhood contains some of the city's most prized historic landmarks, including the Ballard Carnegie Library and the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. Visitors can see the area's maritime influence on Ballard's festivals (like Seafood Fest in July) and atmosphere. Concert halls, charming eateries and lively bars line central Ballard, transforming it into a hub for music and nightlife.
The artsy, bohemian Fremont neighborhood, sandwiched between Ballard and the University District, was originally an independent town until the Seattle government annexed the area in 1891. Even now, Fremont is known for its fierce independence: Its nickname is "The People's Republic of Fremont," and its unofficial motto is "Freedom to be Peculiar." And embrace the peculiar, it does. This neighborhood offers visitors some quirky art to admire; including the Troll under the Aurora Bridge and a massive bronze sculpture of former Russian communist leader, Vladmir Lenin. The area also has popular nightlife spots, and houses offices of some of the country's largest tech companies, including Adobe Systems and Google.
Seattle's University District in northeast section of the city (east of Fremont) is home to the University of Washington, and has an assortment of restaurants and nightlife options, including several bars and nightclubs. You'll encounter plenty of college students in this part of town, but Seattleites and visitors alike enjoy strolling through the neighborhood's gardens and admiring the cherry trees when they're in bloom. University Way, known as "The Ave," is the main thoroughfare in "the U District." The Ave is peppered with fun stores, coffee shops and eateries. Other top spots on campus are the Henry Art Gallery and Meany Hall, which hosts concerts, plays and dance performances.
SoDo and Georgetown
SoDo (or south of downtown) makes up the industrial heart of Seattle, while Georgetown is a popular residential area — and both are located just east of the Duwamish River. Major corporations have headquarters in SoDo, including coffee giants Starbucks and Tully's. And over the years, factory buildings in both SoDo and Georgetown have slowly transformed into apartments, art galleries and trendy bars.
South of downtown and west of the Duwamish River sits West Seattle, which comprises several smaller neighborhoods. Alki Point in West Seattle is considered the original founding point of the city, and its beach is a fan favorite for sunbathing, jogging and people-watching. Thanks to its hilly terrain and verdant landscape, West Seattle also attracts more active travelers; Lincoln Park and Schmitz Preserve Park feature trails for hikers and bikers to take advantage of. Meanwhile, hungry travelers will find a variety of cuisine and libations available at "The Junction," a collection of restaurants and bars found at the intersection of California Avenue Southwest and Southwest Alaska Street.
Also commonly referred to as Southeast Seattle, Rainier Valley is bordered by Lake Washington to the east, the Central District to the north and SoDo and Georgetown to the West. This neighborhood is known for being one of the nation's most diverse, inhabited by residents of multiple races who speak many different languages. And as the people vary, so do the offerings in this section of Seattle. You'll find a plethora of restaurants dishing out flavorful food in this neighborhood, as well as special events like the monthly live music festival Beatwalk in Columbia City (the northern section of Rainier Valley).
Across Lake Washington about 10 miles east of the city center, Bellevue is the Seattle's largest suburb and a major economic hub. This area gets its name from the "beautiful view" it provides of the Olympic and Cascade mountains. Bellevue boasts dining hot spots, a number of notable hotels and many of its own attractions, including the Bellevue Botanical Gardens, several shopping complexes and numerous parks.
Seattle is a large metropolitan area, so abide by all the precautions you would normally follow in a major city. The University District and Broadway can attract the homeless, and those areas are sometimes intimidating for travelers. In general, tourist areas are routinely patrolled by police and remain safe at night.