Free Things To Do in Seattle
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Since 1907, this bustling market near the downtown waterfront has been the go-to place for local produce. Today, you can find almost everything, from local artwork to vinyl records. Plus, the flower market is a particular must-see, according to reviewers. Though Pike Place Market is one of the most tourist-heavy attractions in Seattle (plan to run into crowds, especially during the weekend) that's no reason to scratch it off your to-do list. Recent visitors said the abundance of vendors and lively atmosphere make it an experience you shouldn't pass up, no matter how busy it gets.
The streets surrounding Pike Place Market are peppered with restaurants and coffee shops, and there's an information booth just west of the marketplace at First Avenue. If you want a little help navigating the massive market, guided tours and food tours are available from third-party companies. You can find a list on the market's website here.
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There's no better way to get a healthy dose of culture than to enjoy some fine art, especially when the art is outdoors and free to peruse. In other words, you should plan on visiting the Olympic Sculpture Park, a 9-acre section of the Seattle Art Museum that's filled with works by such sculptors as Alexander Calder, Claes Oldenburg and Roxy Paine. Once you've had your fill of art, turn your attention to the view, which stretches over Elliott Bay to the Olympic Mountains and is a big hit with recent visitors.
Past visitors to the park said it's an enjoyable way to experience the art and ambiance Seattle offers, especially during the warmer months. However, some said the park wasn't a "must-see" and only recommend making a stop if it's near other attractions you're visiting.
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If you're looking to get outdoors without getting out of the city, this is the place. Sprawling across more than 500 acres in northern Seattle, Discovery Park is the city's largest green space. You'll find hiking trails, meadows, beaches and sand dunes abound. One must-see is the West Point Lighthouse, which can be reached by following the North Beach Trail, while the South Beach Trail leads to a spectacular view of Mount Rainier and the city skyline. Trail maps are available at the visitor center near the park's main entrance.
And if you're not one for hiking, keep in mind the Discovery Park also features a tennis facility, a cultural center and a play area for the kids. Many park visitors say this is one of Seattle's finer gems, with something for everyone to enjoy. Hikers commented that there is a trail suitable for every experience level and you'll likely see wildlife on your trek. Others recommended visiting at sunset to admire the photogenic views.
- #7View all Photos#7 in Seattle5.3 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND5.3 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, SightseeingTYPE1 to 2 hoursTIME TO SPEND
These locks – operated by the Army Corps of Engineers – are popular among visitors and locals in Seattle. The locks allow boats to pass between Puget Sound and the Lake Washington ship canal, offering a live demonstration of Seattle's maritime lifestyle (many have compared the locks to a miniature version of the Panama Canal). After you've watched a couple barges pass by, head to the south side of the locks where fish ladders help salmon migrate during the summer months; if you're lucky, you might catch a glimpse of a sea lion looking for a quick bite to eat. The fish can be seen up close from special viewing windows. The Chittenden Locks are also home to the Carl English Botanical Gardens, which feature a variety of unique plants and beautiful views.
Many visitors suggested taking one of the free tours offered to learn more about the history of the locks. A few reviewers were disappointed that the visitor center was closed the day they stopped by. If that's something you want to explore, make sure you check the hours ahead of time. You can also learn more about the locks on one of Seattle's best boat tours.
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This small viewpoint park, which offers amazing views of Elliott Bay and the Central City (and occasionally Mount Rainier), is a favorite with photographers. Sunset is a particularly popular time to visit, when the city lights up and the Space Needle is a beacon in the night. While the park is tiny, you can see the sculpture "Changing Form" and a childrens play area at the Bayview-Kinnear Park just below the viewpoint of Kerry Park.
Recent visitors said the views are astounding and advises others to come on a clear day and be prepared for crowds.
- #10View all PhotosfreeMount Si#10 in Seattle29.6 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, HikingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND29.6 miles to city centerFree, Parks and Gardens, HikingTYPEHalf Day to Full DayTIME TO SPEND
If you don't have time to make the drive to Mount Rainier (about 80 miles southeast of downtown Seattle), Mount Si offers a popular alternative. Sitting about 30 miles east of the city center, Mount Si offers several opportunities to strap on your hiking boots and hit the trails. According to most, Mount Si is also a good place to get warmed up before tackling some of the more challenging trails found in nearby Mount Rainier National Park.
On a clear day, views from the summit stretch across the city to the Olympic Mountains. The Mount Si trail to the summit is about an 8-mile hike there and back with an elevation gain of 3,100 feet. Many recent travelers said the hike is a fun way to get in some exercise on vacation, though they add it is definitely not for novices. Inexperienced hikers may want to stick to the trails in Discovery Park. Others were impressed with the great condition of the trail. Note: There are restrooms located at the bottom of the trail, but no facilities along the path.
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If you like history, Pioneer Square should be at the top of your to-do list. This neighborhood was one of the first settlements in the Northwest U.S. (hence the name), and it has maintained much of its Old West identity. Today, you'll find the cobblestone area peppered with art galleries, restaurants and shops, not to mention an ornamental pergola, which provides shelter to those waiting to hop on the cable car.
No visit to Pioneer Square is complete until you tag along on the Underground Tour. The tour leads you through a maze of subterranean passageways – which were once the city's main roads before the Great Seattle Fire in 1889 – where you learn about the quirkier side of historic Seattle, from legends of thieves to the history of the flush toilet. The Underground Tour recommends that participants be at least 7 years or older to keep up with the 75-minute walking tour. Tour tickets cost $22 for adults, $20 for seniors and students (ages 13 to 17, or with a valid college ID), and $10 for children ages 7 to 12.
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