I grew up in the Pacific Northwest and spent the first 22 years of my life there. Since then, I’ve lived there on and off. The Seattle area has its quirks that make it a very special place. The ability to take a tranquil walk through the woods and find yourself by the ocean for a pastel-colored sunset in less than an hour makes the soul feel so at peace in this part of the world.
While Seattle’s typically known as a rainy, gloomy city, it actually gets less rainfall in inches than many other major cities like New York. Admittedly, the number of days it rains does put Seattle in the top 10, but most locals would say it’s a mild sprinkle most of the time rather than a torrential downpour.
Despite the overcast skies, Seattle is a beautiful part of Washington State to visit. But before you head out, here are some things to know before visiting the Emerald City gem of the Pacific Northwest.
How long should your stay be?
Seattle has a lot of activities and experiences to indulge in, but I’d say a three-day weekend would suffice if you’re short on time. In those three days, you’ll have plenty of time to enjoy popular attractions like Pike Place Market, the Space Needle and majestic mountain backdrops.
Enjoy some fantastic, freshly-caught cuisine at Anthony’s – a seafood staple – or classics at the Red Mill, which serves tasty burgers and onion rings. Immerse yourself in the city’s culture with a visit to the eclectic Museum of Pop Culture, or snag tickets to an NFL Seattle Seahawks game (don’t forget to wear green).
But if you want a more in-depth Pacific Northwest adventure, you’ll need at least a week to add on day trips and excursions to the surrounding areas.
A ferry ride out to one of the many beautiful islands in Puget Sound requires an entire day on your itinerary. For nature lovers, a hike at Rattlesnake Ledge – a 40-minute drive from the city – promises amazing views from an 1100ft elevation. During ski season, make the 51-mile drive to the Summit at Snoqualmie for some action on the slopes.
You can use Seattle as a base, but you may want to look into accommodations in Snoqualmie, Bainbridge Island or Leavenworth if you intend to extend your stay outside the city.
Don’t let the Seattle Freeze scare you
The Seattle Freeze is a moniker applied to unfriendly locals, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. While there’s a bit of truth in this stereotype that making friends in Seattle is difficult, that more applies to the transplants who move there long-term rather than everyday interactions.
This is a similar phenomenon in other cities, but the Freeze has been a popular topic of conversation for almost two decades. It's often used as an excuse for people to keep to themselves. But don’t let this typecasting of Seattle push you away; the reality is that Seattleites are incredibly friendly.
At 6am, a barista in Seattle will say sweeter things to you while you’re still fully waking up than anywhere else I’ve visited. Simply put, there's no such thing as the Seattle Freeze.
The dress code is casual
While you may hope to dress in your vacation best while venturing around Seattle, you’ll likely feel more comfortable in a less flashy outfit.
Unlike some more fashion-forward cities like Paris, New York City or Italy, Seattle is more in line with Nordic countries that adhere to the Law of Jante ideal, which stresses that it’s best to dress and act without attracting attention.
You’ll likely see most people sporting North Face jackets, jeans and sneakers. Even Amazon corporate headquarters employees are encouraged to dress as comfortably as possible, with some even coming into the office in sweats.
By adapting to the Pacific Northwest chill vibe that residents are bound to, you’ll fit right in. But if you do opt to get a little fancier, get ready for major compliments from the locals, who'll be pleasantly surprised and excited to see someone putting in some extra effort.
Try the local brews (Starbucks doesn’t count)
Technically, Starbucks is a local coffee institution in Seattle as it’s the original location of the very first cafe, but there are so many other options available in the city serving delicious brews.
Seattle’s reputation as the coffee capital is well-earned. The city tops many lists from all over the country as the best location to fulfill your caffeine fix. Coffee culture is extremely important to the locals, so find a cafe that’s anything but a Starbucks to get to the true heart of Seattle java.
Join students studying at Cafe Allegro in the University District or support Black-owned Black Coffee, which gives back to local youth programming. You can also stop by one of the many Caffe Vita locations around the city for some of the best roasts.
Diva Espresso serves a great iced coffee at any time of the year. For something a bit more unique, find Vietnamese coffee creations at Sip House or Coffeeholic.
Bring a raincoat, but not an umbrella
The easiest way to spot a tourist in Seattle is when it starts to rain. Visitors will grab an umbrella, while true Pacific Northwest citizens will reach for a raincoat.
It may seem senseless to bypass a tool specifically designed for rain, but Seattleites understand that most rain will be light and probably go away after an hour. Taking out an umbrella for such a mild moment isn’t very useful and makes you look like a novice.
To properly prepare for the possibility of rain during your visit, make sure you have a good raincoat or waterproof jacket, preferably with a hood. If you forget to pack one before your trip, Seattle has plenty of shops, including the REI flagship store, to set you straight.
Is Seattle safe?
Most of Seattle is safe to explore and walk around during the day and night. However, locals may discourage you from a specific block downtown – around 3rd Ave, 2nd Ave, Pike Street and Pine Street – where crime is more likely to happen.
Like any travel scenario, keep valuables out of sight on both your body and in a car. Most locations in Seattle take card payments, so leave large amounts of cash at home or locked in a safe at your hotel. Be aware of your surroundings in crowded places like Pike Place Market, where a pickpocket could target you while you’re caught off guard.
Seattle is also an inclusive and welcoming city for the LGBTQIA+ community – especially in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, where you’ll find rainbow sidewalks and many queer-friendly bars and clubs.
And while the racial demographics of Seattle aren't as diverse as larger cities, Seattle celebrates BIPOC communities with various events at institutions like the Museum of Pop Culture and the Seattle Art Museum.