Starting on the south side of downtown, arrive in Chinatown between 7 and 7:30 am. The hour will allow you to explore the vibrant district and snap a shot in front of the Historic Chinatown Gate before it gets too crowded. At 8 am, grab a quick bite at Eastern Cafe or Fuji Bakery. If you don’t like to eat that early, check out the Historic Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee House for a list of over 20 different teas from which to choose.
Heading North to Pioneer Square, take Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour for an idea of what Seattle was like in the 19th century. Tours start on the hour every day as early as 9 am. The first 15 minutes is an introduction during which you can eat food from Doc Maynard’s Public House (in case nothing appealed to you in Chinatown). To fit in the rest of the day, take the 9 am tour.
If you’ve started the day a little later or aren’t interested in the Underground Tour, A Piece of Cake, Harbor City Restaurant, and Mike’s Noodle House are great breakfast places in the International District that don’t open until 9 am, 8:30 am, and 9:30 am, respectively.
Continuing northward, around 10:30 am after the tour, you can check out the Waterfront depending on your interest level in Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, the Seattle Great Wheel, and stunning views (of which there will be more opportunities later on). Otherwise, move up the hill to Pike Place Market, a great place to wander and explore for hours. Snap a picture with Rachel the Piggy Bank, gather to watch the famous fish throw, or go and find the (in)famous Gum Wall. Keep an eye out for keepsakes, souvenirs, and food. Take your time, relax, and eat lunch. Be adventurous!
With more than a day, make sure to hit the Seattle Art Museum (SAM). With only 24 hours, the Olympic Sculpture Park is a wonderful branch of SAM to give you a taste of Seattle art with the stunning Pacific Northwest landscape as the backdrop. Not only is it on the way to our next stop, but it’s also free and outside. In Seattle, you have to take advantage of being outside on the few days that the weather allows.
Pike Place Market is the 33rd most visited attraction in the world. It will be brimming with people, so prepare yourself. If it’s raining, don’t fear: most of Pike Place is under cover. However, in the event of rain, you may want to skip the Olympic Sculpture Park.
No later than 4 pm, head to the Seattle Center; it’s a straight shot from the Olympic Sculpture Park up Broad Street. Start with the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop). It would be easy to spend an entire day here, but what you’ll experience the rest of the day will be worth leaving early. If you’re in need of a snack, Culture Kitchen at MoPop is open until 5 pm.
Keep moving and walk across the campus no later than 6:30 pm to Chihuly Garden and Glass. They close at 8:30 pm, and you’ll want an hour or two to gaze and gawk at Chihuly’s superior work.
Once you pull yourself away from that exhibit, it’s time for the one and only Space Needle. After exquisite views of Elliott Bay at Pike Place Market and Olympic Sculpture Park during the day, get excited for a 360-degree view of Seattle at night.
Dinner at SkyCity Restaurant inside the Space Needle is a fun, pricier option, though you will need a reservation. Otherwise, the Seattle Center provides a laundry list of dinner options. Make sure to check each restaurant’s hours ahead of time to fit dinner in between attractions if necessary.
Last, but certainly not least, hit the town for some live music—Seattle style. Hop on the monorail before it stops running at 11 pm to head back towards Downtown. Check out any of the nearby venues, including The Crocodile, Showbox, and The Triple Door, or head up to Capitol Hill for Neumos. Alternatively, post-Space Needle could be a good time to call it a night.