Exploring Seattle (Self Guided), Seattle

Seattle is a coastal city and a major seaport. Museums, amazing eateries, unique neighborhoods, and open air activities make Seattle a major tourist attraction of the Pacific Northwest. Take this walking tour to explore the amazing mix of urban attractions and outdoor recreation that Seattle has to offer.
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Exploring Seattle Map

Guide Name: Exploring Seattle
Guide Location: USA » Seattle (See other walking tours in Seattle)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 9
Tour Duration: 3 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 6.0 Km or 3.7 Miles
Author: doris
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Waterfall Garden Park
  • Columbia Center
  • Seattle Central Library
  • Seattle Art Museum
  • Seattle Aquarium
  • Pacific Science Center
  • Space Needle
  • Museum of Pop Culture / Sci-Fi Museum & Hall of Fame
  • Center for Wooden Boats
Waterfall Garden Park

1) Waterfall Garden Park (must see)

The Waterfall Gardens in 2nd Avenue South in Seattle offer a peaceful escape from the bustle of the city.

The Waterfall Gardens designed by Masao Kinoshita, featuring a 22 feet waterfall was commissioned by the Annie Casey Foundation in 1977 to honor the workers of the United Parcel Service, UPS. The company, originally called the American Messenger Service, began in a saloon on 2nd avenue, not far from the garden. Under instructions from UPS millionaire, Jim Casey, Masao Kinoshita’s Boston architecture firm surrounded the park with a massive fence and gates that are kept closed at night.

The waterfall garden was built by Japanese stone masons and designed like a traditional Japanese garden. Besides the beautiful waterfall, Gingko trees cover the park with shade and provide an ambience of tranquility. The park has many bistro style iron benches where one can have a quiet lunch. Waterfall Gardens have inspired a painting by the artist Robin Weiss.

Admission to the park is free and visitors of all ages are welcome. The gardens are kept clean and well maintained. There is an onsite attendant to ensure that the cleanliness and beauty of the park are undisturbed. Waterfall Gardens are not visible to the street and one can escape into serene isolation when visiting the park. The only giveaway to passersby is the roar of the waterfall from within the four walls.

Visitors to Seattle will enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of Waterfall Gardens, built to honor the carriers of one of the best-known parcel services that delivered parcels on time to millions worldwide.

Why You Should Visit:
Neat little spot to eat your lunch, bring your to-go coffee, or to just see a waterfall.
The sound of water cascading down makes you forget everything else.

If there isn't an attendant there are likely to be homeless people. They are unlikely to bother out-of-townies (except asking for money) but use your urban spidey-sense and be safe.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 8am-5:30pm
Columbia Center

2) Columbia Center (must see)

The Columbia Center located at 701, 5th Avenue Seattle is the tallest building in downtown Seattle and in the State of Washington. The skyscraper towers over the city of Seattle offering breathtaking views of Seattle and its surroundings from the observation deck on the 73rd floor.

The Columbia Center was first designed to be 1005 ft tall. FAA regulations reduced the height of the building because it stood on the flight path of the Sea-Tac Airport. It opened in March 1985 as the Columbia Center. Later the name was changed to Columbia Sea First Center and in 1999 became the Bank of America Tower. In 2005 the Columbia Center resumed its original name after a full circle.

The base of the building is made of Rosa Purino Carnelian granite. The design was by Chester L Lindsey architects and built by Howard S Wright Construction. Martin Selig the developer of the Columbia Center said of the building, ‘the Space Needle told people where Seattle was, the Columbia Center tells people that Seattle has arrived.’ The building has 76 floors and six escalators from the higher floors to the lobby. The design has three interlocking arches that give a three-tower appearance to the structure.

The Columbia Center is a worthwhile destination for high rise and skyscraper architecture enthusiasts and visitors who want to take in the entire views of the city of Seattle from the observation center.

Why You Should Visit:
Cheaper and taller than the Space Needle and, with the exception of a very small portion of the floor, almost 360 degrees.
Also, no timeslot needed – just ride up the elevator and get off at the right floor.

Preferably, visit on a clear day when you can see long distances. If you get your hand stamped during your daytime visit you can come back at night for free and see Seattle all lit up.
Sight description based on wikipedia
Seattle Central Library

3) Seattle Central Library (must see)

The Flagship library of the Seattle Public Library system presents a new and innovative architectural face to the world. The building looks as if it has floating platforms enclosed by a glass outer layer supported by steel netting. The intention of the design was to celebrate the relevance of books even in the electronic age. The Seattle Central Library opened its doors in May 2004. The building was designed by the Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus of the OMA/LMN Company and the building was constructed by the Hoffman Construction Company of Portland Oregon. The library showcases the institution of a library as no longer only for books but a range of information media that controls knowledge in the digital age. The structure encompasses an area of 33,700 square meters and can hold over a million books. The library has separate children’s collections, a staff floor, an auditorium, a book spiral, a reading room, meeting platform, mixing chamber and a parking space of 4,600square meters. The unique book spiral runs in the form of a ribbon that saves space but runs on continuously. Visitors will revel in the splendor of modern architecture of the Seattle Central Library that not only caters to the present generations of book lovers and information seekers but looks towards their bright future in the electronic media age.

Why You Should Visit:
The architecture is world-class, the building is gigantic, and there is a generous amount of space dedicated to reading either just in chairs or sitting at desks.
Totally worth the visit just to experience even if you're not a fan of architecture or a library person.

The views from the upper levels are generally great, from all sides of the building.
Make sure you go up to the top and find the lookout that looks all of the way down through the atrium.
There's a little gift shop there as well which had some very cute things in it.
The 4th 'Red' floor, which is very red, is definitely worth seeing, too.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Thu: 10am-8pm; Fri-Sat: 10am-6pm; Sun: 12-6pm
Free admission
Sight description based on wikipedia
Seattle Art Museum

4) Seattle Art Museum (must see)

The Seattle Art Museum popularly known as SAM has three facilities. The main museum is located in downtown Seattle, the Seattle Asian Art Museum, in Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill and the Seattle Art Museum building in the Olympic Sculpture Park on the central Seattle waterfront. The facilities feature a wide range of art from different parts of the world and also showcase the art of prominent Northwestern artists and sculptors.

The formation of the Seattle Fine Arts Society in 1906 marked the beginning of the development of the Seattle Art Museum. Dr. Richard E Fuller, a member of the society gave the funds to build a museum to house his vast collection of Chinese and Japanese art in collaboration with the City of Seattle. The building was designed by another member of the society, the architect Carl F Gould. Now the original structure is guarded by Jonathan Borofsky’s 48-foot tall kinetic Hammering Man sculpture.

Besides the collection of Dr. Fuller, the museum featured the works of famous Northwestern Artists like Mark Tobey and Morris Graves. The Dimestore magnate Samuel H Kress added his European Art collection to SAM and the institution also received the Japanese art collection of Manson Bachus. The most popular of the exhibitions hosted by SAM was the Treasures of Tutankhamen exhibition in 1940. The museum also housed the Katherine C White collection of African Art in 1981 that was partially donated and partially funded by the Boeing Company. SAM soon expanded to the Volunteer Park facility to house its vast collection of Asian art and later to the waterfront Olympic Sculpture Park with views of the Olympic Mountain and Elliott Bay.

The Seattle Art Museum is open through the week and on select holidays. Members of Sam, children under 12 and military personnel are admitted free of charge. Photography is allowed for select exhibits. The museum offers visitors one ticket to visit the downtown facility and the Volunteer Park facility within a week.

Why You Should Visit:
Calming & relaxing gallery. Very nice permanent collection. Selections from heavy hitters while dedicating considerable space to Pacific Northwest style art and culture.
Particularly strong on modern art: both non-representational and representational. Strong, too, in three-dimensional works.
Very good museum shops, including a gallery where local artists exhibit and the works are for sale.

If you're not visiting Alaska, a visit to SAM is a great way to be introduced to Alaskan art and totems.
If possible, go on the first Thursday of the month; admission is free!

Opening Hours:
Wed, Fri-Sun: 10am-5pm; Thu: 10am-9pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Seattle Aquarium

5) Seattle Aquarium (must see)

The Seattle aquarium located in pier 59 on Elliott Bay is a public aquatic facility accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums. The building showcases the different types of aquatic life native to the shores of Seattle.

The aquarium built by architects Bassetti Norton Metler and Rekeviks opened in 1977. It was first managed by the City of Seattle department of Parks and Recreation. In 2010, the management of the facility was taken over by the nonprofit organization called the Seattle Aquarium Society.

The aquarium houses a range of exhibits that will delight biologists and marine and aquatic life enthusiasts. Dive shows take place frequently and divers communicate with visitors explaining the types of fish in the exhibit tanks in detail.

Exhibits at the Seattle aquarium include the Window on Washington Waters exhibition tank that features fish and aquatic life native to the State of Washington and Seattle like salmon, rock-fish and sea anemones. The building also has a wave tank called Crashing Waves exhibiting the aquatic life of the Washington shores. The Life on the Edge exhibit shows the tide-pool life of Seattle’s inland sea. Viewers can see the life of the Giant Pacific Octopus in the Life of a Drifter exhibit. The aquarium also has an artificial coral reef with fish that live near the reef and an exhibit on aquatic mammals and birds that live on the seashore. There is also an exhibit showing the unique aquatic life found in Puget Sound with an underwater glass dome to enable viewers to view the different types of Puget Sound fish through a glass tunnel.

The aquarium encourages school field trips and offers free admission for children under the age of 3. The building has a cafe offering seafood and other fare and a gift shop with books and gifts for all ages.

Why You Should Visit:
Relatively small aquarium compared to others in the US; however, the focus is on local marine life and it is well presented.
You can touch sea stars, cucumbers, coral – with luck you can see the staff feeding the stars, anemones, sharks, etc.
Definitely welcoming to everyone of all ages, as it has lots of hands-on activities for kids and the staff/volunteers are informative and friendly.

Admission is part of the Seattle CityPass, although individual entrance is also available.
Use the map provided because you could miss a section without knowing it and it would be a loss not to see the entire aquarium.
Use, also, the elevators in the public parking across the street to get up the hill to Pike Place Market.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 9:30am-5pm
Pacific Science Center

6) Pacific Science Center (must see)

The Pacific Science Center is the main Science Museum of the city of Seattle. The Center is a teaching museum that has many traveling exhibits and a fleet of vans that travel to provide science education for students across Washington State.

In 1962, when Seattle hosted the World’s Fair, the Pacific Science Center was born. The buildings hosting the World’s Fair opened as the Pacific Science Center once the World’s Fair closed. The institution run by the independent nonprofit Pacific Science Center Foundation leased the land and buildings until the year 2004 when the organization purchased the property. The architect was Minoru Yamasaki, who designed the World Trade Center in New York.

The early exhibits at the center were carried over from the World’s Fair. Exhibits from the World’s fair that are still on display include the Lens and Mirror Machine and the ramp where buildings were raised at a tilt. The facility also features a domed laser light show and two IMAX theaters. The institution has eight buildings, a room showcasing tropical butterflies and a planetarium. The center has many hands-on exhibits and hosts traveling exhibits. In 2012, the Pacific Science Center will hold special programs to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the World’s Fair.

The Center is located at 200 Second Avenue North and has an onsite cafe for the convenience of visitors. The buildings are disability-friendly and wheelchair accessible. A floor plan is provided for visitors to navigate the many unique exhibits available at the Pacific Science Center.

Why You Should Visit:
One of the better science centers in the US considering the variety of options available and the level of detail.
They offer different plans, either for the exhibits alone or with the movies (plenty of movie offerings, too).
The gift shop is very nice and full of many well-priced items for taking home as gifts.

If looking to do lots of things downtown, make sure you take advantage of the CityPass as it will save you 40-50% and you can knock out a lot of these attractions.

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri: 10am-5pm; Sat, Sun: 10am-6pm
Space Needle

7) Space Needle (must see)

The icon for the 1962 World’s Fair, the Seattle Space Needle has become the symbol of the city over the years. The Space Needle is a 605 feet high observation tower built to weather winds of up to 200 miles per hour and earthquakes of a magnitude of 9.1 on the Richter scale. The tower also has 25 lightening rods to withstand lightning damage.

Edward. E. Carlson, the President of Western International Hotels is said to have doodled the design of the space needle. His diagram looked like a balloon. Architect John Graham and his team changed the original sketch and gave the top of the tower a saucer shape rather than the balloon shape of the Carlson sketch. The tower has 832 steps from the base to the top and three elevators. The space needle was ready in December 1961 and the structure’s famed revolving restaurant hosted a gala in March 1962, one month before the opening of the World’s fair. The tower hosts fireworks displays for major holidays or events and from 1999, the Legacy Light, a powerful beam of light, illuminates the skies from the top of the Space Needle on all major holidays.

The Space Needle stands in the center of Seattle on Broad Street. The observation deck hosts public and private events and the tower is open to visitors throughout the year.

Why You Should Visit:
The new renovations have you in awe right off the elevator. Lots of glass and lots of view – they did a great job getting rid of the cage.
You also get to go to the lower section to stand on the revolving floor and look down, which is very cool.
The virtual reality bungee jumping experience at the base is free (yes, even if you don't have a ticket!).

Try to get your tickets and your reservations for the café a few days in advance – especially if visiting on a weekend.
Note that if you eat at the (expensive) restaurant, you can go to the viewing tower free, but if you do it backwards you won't benefit from that.
Note also that you're NOT required to print out the tickets when you purchase them online – just open the email you receive after the online purchase, click on the link to view tickets and when you're asked to present the tickets, just show the worker the tickets on your device to be scanned.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-8pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Museum of Pop Culture / Sci-Fi Museum & Hall of Fame

8) Museum of Pop Culture / Sci-Fi Museum & Hall of Fame (must see)

The Museum of Pop Culture or MoPOP (previously called EMP Museum) is a nonprofit museum dedicated to contemporary popular culture. It was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2000 as the Experience Music Project. Since that time MoPOP has organized dozens of exhibits, 17 of which have toured across the US and internationally.

The Experience Music Museum opened in the year 2000 at the Center of Seattle. At first, the museum did not succeed financially and the Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame was established in 2004. Although the Science Fiction Museum as a permanent collection was de-installed in March 2011, a new exhibit named Icons of Science Fiction opened as a replacement in June 2012, at which time the new Hall of Fame display was unveiled and the class of 2012 inducted. Nominations are submitted by the public but the selections are made by "award-winning science fiction authors, artists, editors, publishers, and film professionals."

MoPOP is home to exhibits, interactive activity stations, sound sculpture, and various educational resources.
> A 140,000-square-foot (13,000 m2) building, designed by Frank O. Gehry, that houses several galleries and the Sky Church, which features a Barco C7 black package LED screen, one of the largest indoor LED screens in the world.
> Exhibits that cover pop culture, from the art of fantasy, horror cinema, and video games to science fiction literature and costumes from screen and stage.
> Interactive activities included in galleries like Sound Lab and On Stage where visitors can explore hands-on the tools of rock and roll through instruments, and perform music before a virtual audience.
> IF VI WAS IX, a guitar sculpture consisting of more than 500 musical instruments and 30 computers conceived by UK exhibit designer Neal Potter and developed by sound sculptor Trimpin.
> The largest collections in the world of artifacts, hand-written lyrics, personal instruments, and original photographs celebrating the music and history of Seattle musicians Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix.
& more!

Why You Should Visit:
Though the permanent exhibits/displays are rather hit-or-miss, this is a good idea for a museum and the design & architecture are also worthy of seeing.

Either purchase a CityPass ticket or a combo ticket to the Space Needle and Chihuly's Garden and Glass exhibit to bring the price down. You can get the CityPass right inside the museum!
If you're short on time, dare to ask when buying your ticket/s if there's a way to come back the following day.

Opening Hours:
Daily: 10am-7pm
Sight description based on wikipedia
Center for Wooden Boats

9) Center for Wooden Boats

The maritime history of the Pacific Northwest is preserved and documented in a unique museum in Seattle called the Center for Wooden Boats. Boat enthusiasts and other visitors can not only view the wooden boats but touch the boats, row, paddle or sail in the collection of classic wooden boats at the museum.

Architect Dick Wagner designed the Center for Wooden Boats at Waterway #4 at South Lake Union and the first campus opened in 1981. The events and exhibits at the first museum gained great popularity and in 2008 a new campus was rented by the Center at the Cama Beach State Park, north of Seattle. The facilities of the CWB have over 100 small boats including sailboats, rowboats and tugboats. Historical boats and larger steamboats are also on display. Two steam launches take visitors around the wooden boat exhibits.

Admission to the Center for Wooden Boats is free and visitors are invited to make donations to support the organization. Free public rides on boats are arranged on weekends. Sailing competitions and special maritime exhibitions are held at the campuses. The annual wooden boat festival held by the Center draws crowds of boating enthusiasts to Seattle every year.

Operation Hours: Tuesday - Sunday: 10 am - 6 pm.

Walking Tours in Seattle, Washington

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Center Walk

Center Walk

Seattle Center is a 74 acre campus within the city that combines a park, museums, entertainment and a fairground. It is one of the most famous places in Seattle where the entire family can have fun. You can visit the famous Experience Music Project Museum or go visit the Children's Museum that will offer an absolutely unique experience for your children. Take this walking tour to discover the...  view more

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 1.5 Km or 0.9 Miles
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Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 0.9 Km or 0.6 Miles
Top Landmarks Walking Tour in Seattle

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Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.6 Km or 2.9 Miles
Souvenir Shopping Part 1

Souvenir Shopping Part 1

It would be a pity to leave Seattle without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to Seattle, that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 3.3 Km or 2.1 Miles
Souvenir Shopping Part 2

Souvenir Shopping Part 2

It would be a pity to leave Seattle without having explored its specialty shops and bringing home something truly original. We've compiled a list of gifts and souvenirs, which are unique to Seattle, that a visitor might like to purchase to reflect their visit.

Tour Duration: 1 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 2.7 Km or 1.7 Miles
Seattle's Famous Museums and Galleries Tour

Seattle's Famous Museums and Galleries Tour

Seattle is an amazing tourist attraction that has something of interest for everyone. Besides its amazing architecture, this city offers a wide variety of spectacular museums and galleries on art, history, science and music. This walking tour will lead you to some of the most famous museums and galleries that Seattle has to offer.

Tour Duration: 2 hour(s)
Travel Distance: 4.7 Km or 2.9 Miles

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