The Coolest Neighborhoods in Seattle

Mount Rainier looms over Seattle on the Pacific West Coast
Mount Rainier looms over Seattle on the Pacific West Coast | © Danita Delimont / Alamy Stock Photo
Jacklyn Grambush

There’s way more to Seattle than Starbucks, the Space Needle and Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital. The Emerald City is a stalwart of the Pacific Coast’s inimitable culture – a lightning rod for innovators, witnessed in everything from cuisine and technology to art and entertainment – and there’s no better place to immerse yourself in the true lifestyle than in its many diverse communities. Leave behind the Seattle you think you know from film and TV and discover a whole new side of the city.

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Columbia City

Don’t let the small size of this South Seattle neighborhood fool you; its neighborly hometown vibes belie a wealth of international cuisine. Some call Columbia City a bite-sized United Nations of restaurants. When you’re not eating your way around the world – from Caribbean to Senegalese, Ethiopian to Vietnamese – you’ll discover live performances just around the corner at welcoming venues including Columbia City Theater, as well as boutiques with tons of thrifty finds. Make sure you visit in late summer when you can savor the tastes of Columbia City at the Farmers Market and BeatWalk festival.

Central District

The Central District may have changed over the years, but the soul of this historically Black community is still vibrant in its locally owned restaurants such as the Garfield Community Center and Fat’s Chicken and Waffles. In the first instance you’ll likely venture into this district, only 2mi (3km) from downtown, to scope out the former homes of Bruce Lee and Jimi Hendrix. Allow us to nudge you towards the present as much as the past; for no trip into the Central District is complete without checking out the magnificent MLK mural and other art depicting African American history around the Douglass-Truth Public Library.

Georgetown

South of SoDo is where you’ll find Georgetown, one of the oldest neighborhoods in Seattle. Homely cafes including All City Coffee and even more welcoming dive bars such as Star Brass Works Lounge are great local haunts, but the coolest spot to check out is the Georgetown Trailer Park Mall. You heard it right: a collective of trailers act as an open-air mall where you can find everything from custom aquariums and cookies to hand-made jewelry and even a wedding chapel.

Green Lake

Seattle is surrounded with some spectacular scenery and the Green Lake neighborhood is one of the many serene spaces just north of the city. The community hugs its eponymous Green Lake Park, where you’re welcome to swim, paddleboat or simply sit back and take in the sights. That said, you might like to do something a little different with your vacation, such as line-dancing at the Little Red Hen honky tonk bar or competitive table tennis at the Green Lake Table Tennis Club. Whispers around town say that there’s a “hidden” taco truck called El Naranjo, but there’s every chance that it’s really parked on the north end of the lake near the gas station.

Hillman City

Slow down with a stroll into Hillman City, a quieter, primarily residential neighborhood southeast of the city. A quick spin on the Link light rail plus from downtown (followed by a bus hop), Hillman City is an intimate area that you’ll fall in love with for sure. Its revival, after some less buoyant times, is a pleasure to experience. Happy hour at Union Bar and freshly roasted beans at Tin Umbrella Coffee will wet your whistle with your preferred brew.

Ballard

Known for its Scandinavian and maritime roots, Ballard today is a fizzing circuit board of fun and games, day and night – boutiques, bites and bars. Meander along Ballard Avenue for hip new bars, restaurants and shops, or wait until 10am on Sunday for the year-round Ballard Farmers Market. The Brewery District is the go-to corner, unbeatable for pilsners and IPAs in hotspots including Lucky Envelope Brewing, where treats on tap include raspberry sour ale and peanut-butter cream stout. Sated, you’ll want to see the National Nordic Museum, the Golden Gardens Park and the Ballard Locks, which eases vessels between Union Lake and Puget Sound.

Belltown

This neighborhood was originally a hill, until the Denny Regrade Project in the 19th and early 20th centuries flattened the land on which Belltown eventually rose. Known for its nightlife, this trendy part of the city knew it had arrived when it was named the “barhopping hub to watch in 2017” by the Seattle Times. The Crocodile bar, which has hosted Nirvana, Cheap Trick and R.E.M., among others, has recently renounced its famous premises for a new location, but it’s the neighborhood must-visit, so keep tabs on developments at thecrocodile.com. And don’t leave Belltown without a mosey around the Olympic Sculpture Park, with its monumental artworks over 9 acres (3.6ha), and its views of Puget Sound.

Capitol Hill

As its name suggests, you’ll expend calf power sauntering about Capitol Hill: there are plenty of calorie-busting cascading steps and stairways, which is just as well, since the neighborhood is self-indulgence central, whether you’re vacuuming up the creamy dips at the perennially popular Avis Hummus Bar or making merry with margaritas at Mex-flavored fave La Cocina y Cantina. Capitol Hill – the LGBTQ center of Seattle – encourages community as well as individuality, and these are the places you should not miss: Volunteer Park (comprising the Volunteer Park Conservatory, Seattle Asian Art Museum and Bruce Lee’s grave); top live-music venue Neumos; the Elliott Bay Book Company and the Jimi Hendrix Statue.

Chinatown-International District

With a gentle spurt of new apartment accommodation, there’s also a new generation making home here in the vibrant epicenter of Asian-American Seattle. As you’d expect, this neighborhood is no shrinking violet – you only need to be here in October to feel the heat, as the annual Night Market and Moon Festival fire up the proceedings with sizzling street food, live music and dancing, Expect more exhilaration at the Lunar New Year Festival. If you can’t make it here at those times, you can still check out the Seattle Pinball Museum and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience – the latter can organize street-food walking tours to bring you up close with heavenly treats including bap-like Vietnamese banh mi and bulging, juicy dim sum.

Downtown

The real heart of Seattle, Downtown provides that energetic feel with famous spots such as Pike Place Market and the Nordstrom Seattle flagship store, plus brilliant performing arts venues, including the 5th Avenue Theatre, Paramount Theatre, The Showbox, The Triple Door and Benaroya Hall. If you’re interested in visual and literary arts, then head to the Seattle Art Museum and the Seattle Central Public Library.

Fremont

As the self-proclaimed Center of the Universe, Fremont is known for its eccentric countercultural vibe. It’s the headquarters for big-name companies such as Google and Adobe Systems, as well as high-end boutiques. Some seasonal events include the Fremont Sunday Market, Oktoberfest and the Summer Solstice Parade; or visitors can grab a cup to go at the Fremont Coffee Company and check out the Fremont Troll any time of year.

Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square lays claim to a handful of Seattle firsts, such as Smith Tower, the city’s first skyscraper. In fact, Pioneer Square was actually Seattle’s first neighborhood, settled by the pioneers back in 1852. Then there’s the First Thursday Art Walk, which was the first art walk in the entire nation. A less-pristine neighborhood than others on the list, Pioneer Square is a mix of old and new. Head to Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour, Central Saloon (Seattle’s oldest bar), the Iron Pergola & Tlingit Indian Totem and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park.

Queen Anne

Named after the style of the majority of houses built on the hill, Queen Anne is one of Seattle’s largest neighborhoods. The most prominent landmark is this area is the Seattle Center, which houses the Pacific Science Center, Museum of Pop Culture, Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass. Musical and performing arts shows are put on by the Pacific Northwest Ballet and Seattle Opera at the McCaw Hall, and professional sports teams display their skills at the Key Arena – home of the Seattle Storm – and at Memorial Stadium – home of the Seattle Reign.

SoDo

SoDo was originally an abbreviation for South of the Dome, referring to the Kingdome, the former sports venue for the Seattle Mariners. Now the Kingdome has shut down, SoDo is often said to stand for South of Downtown. This rather industrial neighborhood (it was the site of the first Costco) is best known for its sports, namely CenturyLink Field, home of the Seahawks and Sounders, and the T-mobile Parkway, home of the Mariners. There is also a growing nightlife scene in this area, led by Showbox SoDo.

University District

The U-District, as it’s known, got its name from the most dominant feature: the University of Washington. This young area of town has great gathering places such as the University Village and the Ave, plus there’s the Henry Art Gallery, the Burke Museum, the University District Street Fair and the University District Farmers Market.

Waterfront

In this area visitors will find Elliott Bay, the perfect place for taking a stroll and visiting famous sites such as the Seattle Great Wheel, the Seattle Aquarium and Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. Alternatively, they can head to the Washington State Ferries to explore the nearby islands or snap a spectacular view of the city from the water. Of course, the shore is home to incredible seafood restaurants, including Ivar’s Pier 54 Fish Bar.

West Seattle

Accessible by water taxi from Downtown, this corner of the city feels self-contained – its own domain, if you like, with a loveable laid-back, beach-town vibe. Free time is all about inline skating, stand-up paddle-boarding and pedalling idly – there’s real appeal in the waterfront setting. West Seattle disdains chain brands in favor of unique boutiques. If shopping’s your bag, make your way to the Junction – also known as Junction and Alaska Junction. The local nexus, it’s where life’s a slow whirl of ice-cream parlors and delis as well as a factory-fresh-and-second-hand vinyl store or two. You might dust off your bowling skills here at West Seattle Bowl. And aim to wind up at smokehouse Lady Jaye for pork-belly sandwiches on rye and a Strawberry Manilow (tequila, vermouth, fino sherry, spicy strawberry and lime). You’ve arrived.

Nick Dauk provided additional reporting to this article.

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