Downtown Seattle Places You Must Visit

PHOTOTiffany Von Arnim/FLICKR

Rising steeply from Elliott Bay, downtown Seattle welcomes visitors to the city with a platter of samples of its best features. From the culinary diversity and fresh ingredients of the iconic Pike Place Market, to the rooftop gardens, to the first Starbucks, the city prides itself on its open spaces and open attitudes. Seattle’s personality comes from its wide array of neighborhoods, but downtown’s simplicity and convenience make it an essential starting point for a weekend visit – and we’ve got all the places you’ll want to visit during your stay.

When Seattle first opened up to skyscrapers, the city only allowed skyscrapers if they included a “public benefit,” a policy that left a legacy of private spaces whose entire everyone can enjoy. The seventh-floor rooftop garden of this otherwise average office building stands out as one of the best places in town to take a breath of fresh air and a break from the hustle and bustle below. Aside from a modest lawn, a few seats, and free Wi-Fi, the garden has stunning views, including the Central Library and Smith Tower.


Starbucks turns 50 this year, so why not make a pilgrimage to its very first location to celebrate? This little shop offers visitors a glimpse into the history of Seattle’s hometown coffeehouse chain, as nearly all of the original features are still intact. Today, it’s one of the most popular Starbucks coffees in the country, as latte lovers clamor to sip a Pike Place® roast at the same storefront that inspired it. (Apparently some people even offer there.) Look for the original mermaid logo on the store window and try to spot the differences from the modern version, order at the old school wooden counter and check out the fixtures vintage from its days as a cafe, tea and spice shop.

Photo courtesy of Pasta Casalinga, by Kyle Johnson

One of Pike Place Market’s new lunch spots, this little pasta shop has an equally small menu. It still includes an option of lasagna and plain tomato sauce, plus one each of “from the garden”, “from the ocean” and “from the farm”. All offerings use seasonal ingredients — often sourced from other Pike Place vendors — in a vegetarian, pescatarian, or meat-based option. But fewer options just mean better, as each features a specially chosen pasta shape to showcase great local foods.

Also located in Pike Place Market, this Chinese bakery stand makes over 1,000 of their buns, which they call hom bow, every day. They offer baked or steamed and stuffed versions with their unique curry beef, traditional BBQ pork, chicken or vegetables. The buns share the deli box with the almond tarts, sesame balls, wife’s cakes and all sorts of other Chinese sweets and flavors.

At first glance, this shop, just below the famous fish throwers, might just be another eclectic gift shop, of which Pike Place Market is home to a delicious variety. But here, your purchase of hot sauces, jewelry, lip balm, wallets, or incense goes even further: it’s actually a consignment store for business incubator graduates. nonprofit called Ventures. The organization focuses on training and resources for people for whom these things are often hard to access — especially women, people of color, and immigrants — and for many who go through the program, this shop is one of the first places they sell.


Although the green spaces and scenic views of downtown need little extra beauty, the world-class works of art scattered around this hill create a free open-air museum open to everyone. Operated by the Seattle Art Museum, its walking paths zigzag around the nine acres, leading visitors from Richard Serra’s impending steel “Wake,” to Teresita Fernández’s Glass Bridge, “Seattle Cloud Cover,” to the serene “Echo” of Juame Plensa, while above all, the instantly recognizable “Eagle” watches by Alexander Calder. The park continues with a waterfront bike path and Myrtle Edwards Park, which extend north along the rocky shoreline, expanding downtown’s outdoor possibilities.

Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas designed the city’s flagship library, which opened in 2004, and it boasts floor after floor of public art, impressive open space and 1.5 million books. But the fourth floor stands out, even among the many unique areas, as the hallway that circles the floors, meeting rooms and computer labs features more than a dozen different shades of red on the floor, ceiling and the walls. It is the most photographed section of the library and shows the intersection of art, function and architecture that makes this building such a beloved and important part of the city.

If you prefer your views with a craft cocktail, the historic Smith Tower satisfies, taking visitors up 35 stories in an old Otis elevator to a Prohibition-themed bar that harkens back to the building’s early years from 1914. up for happy hour and the 360-degree view from what was the tallest building west of the Mississippi until 1931. (Smith Tower remained the tallest on the West Coast until the Seattle’s other attraction, the Space Needle, was erected in 1962.) But even so, the views are still stunning, especially from the elegant Observatory Bar while you sip local microbrews, barrel-aged cocktails, and flights of bourbon.