One Day in Seattle – What to See and What to Skip

one day in seattle downtown
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When people only have one day in Seattle, they often message me asking what are the “must-sees” during their trip. While I highly recommend spending more than a day in Seattle, I understand that people may be here on a layover, waiting for a cruise, or in the middle of a road trip to the Pacific Northwest. Not a problem – there’s still plenty to see during your time here!

As someone who’s lived in the city for decades, I’m always happy to provide insider knowledge on the places you must see during your 1 day in Seattle. While you won’t necessarily be the only tourist at some of these spots, I’m also not going to send you to the most popular ones (sorry, Space Needle!). This one day in Seattle itinerary will keep you in the city so you won’t be running around to too many different neighborhoods and wasting time.

This guide will give you helpful tips for planning your trip to Seattle for one day, provide a sample itinerary of what to see and what order to visit them in, and tell you a few attractions I recommend avoiding during your short trip.

Tips for Visiting Seattle in a Day

Here’s how to make the most of visiting Seattle in 1 day to maximize your time.

How to Get Around Seattle

Most of this itinerary for 24 hours in Seattle will have you walking with the exception of taking the Monorail, but here are the quickest ways to get around town if you need a break from walking.

  • Link Light Rail – Seattle’s newest and quickest way to get around, there are about a dozen of stops on here between the airport and the University of Washington; the state is actively working on expanding this so that new routes will be available in the future – starts at $2.25 for a single ride
  • Monorail – runs every 10 minutes from the Seattle Center Station (across from the Space Needle) to the Westlake Center Station (at 5th Avenue and Pine Street) – $3.00 for a single ride
  • Taxi, Uber, and Lyft – available throughout the city – prices vary anywhere from $10-$50

I actually don’t recommend renting a car for just a day in Seattle unless your hotel offers free parking in a garage. Parking in Seattle can be a nightmare and it’s often only for a few hours, so you’ll have to go back and move your car if you’re on the street. Also, many tourists don’t realize that a majority of street parking means parallel parking on a steep hill, which they may not be comfortable with.

While there are big hills depending on where in the city you are, the city itself is pretty walkable, so it’s easy to spend your one day in Seattle on foot. This is especially true if you’re breaking up your day with different activities like my one day Seattle itinerary suggests.

Where to Stay in Seattle

While I have a whole post on where to stay in Seattle based on the neighborhood, it’ll be most convenient to stay in the downtown area for your Seattle one day trip. That way you won’t have to take an Uber to any of the places on this list, and you can also quickly stop back in your hotel during the day if you need something.

Here are a few of my recommendations:

  • Hotel Max – Hotel Max is a trendy and affordable hotel in the middle of downtown. The hotel is covered with artwork from local artists. (rates start at $125 per night)
  • Kimpton Hotel Monaco – This hotel is in the middle of downtown, has a fitness center, and select rooms with views of the city. (rates start at $165 per night)
  • Loews Hotel 1000 – This is my most recommended hotel, as modern, beautiful, and only a few blocks from the waterfront and Pike Place Market. (rates start at $215 per night)

How to Spend One Day in Seattle

I’ve included both a short version of your itinerary for Seattle in a day for quick reference as well as a more detailed version with notes you’ll want to pay attention to.

Here’s the short version for things to see in 24 hours in Seattle:

What to See in Seattle in One Day
Morning
Breakfast at Le Panier or Honest Biscuit
Shop at Pike Place Market
Mid-Morning
Walk down by the waterfront
Ferry ride to Bainbridge
Noon
Lunch at The Crab Pot
Afternoon
Take the monorail
Walk around Seattle Center
Visit Chihuly Museum or MoPop
Evening
Dinner in South Lake Union
Observatory deck at Smith Tower

Here is a more detailed version of your itinerary for when you visit Seattle in one day. I’ve provided options for the entire day and you can choose to do all of them or pick and choose which ones fit into your schedule best. These are a mix of local places as well as a few more popular places that are worth it to visit.

Morning: Explore Pike Place Market

le panier

In the morning, stop for breakfast down by Pike Place. If you’re looking for something sweet, I recommend getting coffee and fresh pastries at Le Panier. My absolute favorite thing to get here is the macarons, which you can always get to go as a snack for later for your Seattle 1 day trip.

If you prefer something savory, you’ll love the warm biscuit sandwiches at Honest Biscuit. You can’t go wrong with either one, to be honest! Don’t be surprised if there’s a bit of a wait to order and get your biscuit – it’s worth it, so don’t worry.

If you’re looking for local coffee that’s not Starbucks during your Seattle one day trip, these are my top recommendations:

  • Storyville is an escape from the madness downtown, as tourists don’t seem to bother coming here. It’s a bit tricky to find the Pike Place location at first, so look for the sign on the street near Pike Place Market. (located in Pike Place and 1st & Madison)
  • Victrola Coffee Roasters is the perfect place to stop at when you want to shop at Westlake Center and the surrounding shops. (located at 3rd & Pine)
  • Elm Coffee Roasters is known for its single-origin, house-roasted coffee beans and is close to the Bainbridge ferry and waterfront. (located at 2nd & South Main)

After that, head down to Pike Place Market to get there before the crowds do. I love being able to talk to the vendors as they’re just opening their shops and buy fresh produce and flowers before the lines form. You’ll find a variety of handmade products, including jewelry, hats, and more. 

Note – this is the only time of day I’ll recommend visiting the market. Anywhere from mid-morning on will be too crowded with tourists, which will completely change your experience. You also don’t really need to see them throwing the fish during your one day in Seattle to complete your experience, and it can be hard to get a spot to watch that by the afternoon anyways!

Mid-Morning: Walk Around the Waterfront + Ride the Ferry

seattle waterfront

When you’re done shopping, take a walk down by the waterfront for one of the most scenic things to do in Seattle in a day. If it’s Sunday, you’ll see huge cruise ships loading and unloading by the piers. You’ll often see seals hanging out by the piers and or local musicians playing on the sidewalks. The waterfront is a great place to visit when you’re looking for cheap things to do in Seattle, as you can spend an hour walking around without spending money.

There are plenty of souvenir shops to visit if you need some gifts to take home. Some popular places to stop at are Ye Old Curiosity Shop, Simply Seattle, and The Seattle Shop. You can find everything from T-shirts to mugs to more unique items like smoked salmon. 

Many people dream of riding a ferry when they visit Seattle thanks to the movies, so I recommend a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island if you have the time (if you only have a half day in Seattle, skip this). You can walk on, enjoy the 35-minute crossing, and then stay on the ferry for the return trip back to Seattle.

I would allocate at least 1.5 hours in your one day in Seattle itinerary for this, as you may have to wait for the ferry. You can plan which one you want to be on by looking at the schedule in advance if you want to plan out your things to do in Seattle in one day.

The Bainbridge ferry is on Pier 50, so you’ll walk over there, pay your admission (it’s $9 per adult), and walk on the ferry when they announce it’s time. Once you reach the other side, stay on the ferry when they say it’s time for everyone to disembark (walk-ons are allowed to stay on just for the ride).

Alternatively, if you’re looking for an activity that doesn’t take up as much time, you can stop at the Seattle Aquarium on Pier 59 (admission starts at $22 per adult). They have a wide range of Seattle sea life such as octopi, otters, eel, and more.

Noon: Try Local Seafood

summer in seattle crab pot

Once you get back from your ferry ride, you’ll likely be hungry and ready for lunch. You must try the seafood in Seattle when you visit, as it’s one of Seattle’s most famous foods, so head over to Pier 57 to The Crab Pot for lunch. This restaurant is a fun place to try a variety of seafood in a casual setting. I recommend getting one of the Seafeasts, where they’ll dump a pile of oysters, mussels, corn, potatoes, and more on your table.

If it’s a sunny day outside, ask to sit on their outdoor deck for your lunch. You’ll get beautiful views of the boats going across Puget Sound during the afternoon. Note – you’re not able to make reservations here, as it’s first-come, first-serve, so you can expect a wait if you visit Seattle in the summer.

In the chance that The Crab Pot ends up being too crowded, you can walk down to Pier 54 to Ivar’s for another local favorite for seafood. They have a restaurant you can eat at inside, or you can stop at the Fish Bar to get your food to go. There’s plenty of benches around the area to enjoy your meal outside on a sunny day.

Feeling a little thirsty? I recommend stopping at Pike Brewing to sit in their bar and try one of the more popular beers in Seattle. If you have time, you can visit the free Microbrewery Museum that’s open when Pike Pub is open. This museum has the most extensive collection of beer-related memorabilia and art in the world. They also offer tours to go under the brewery and see how their beer is made.

Afternoon: Visit the Seattle Center

instagrammable spots in seattle chihuly space needle

Get around Seattle in one of the most historic ways by taking the Monorail from Westlake Center to the Seattle Center. Located at 5th and Pine, it costs $3 per adult to ride, and it runs about every 10 minutes. One of the fun facts about Seattle is this began operating in 1962 to help transport visitors for the World Fair. The Monorail is one of the more popular things to do in the Pacific Northwest thanks to its history.

Once you get to the Seattle Center, you can walk around the base of the Space Needle, see the International Fountain, and more. There’s always some event going on at the Seattle Center, whether live music is playing outside or events are going on inside. You can also grab a quick snack or coffee at one of the dozen vendors inside.

If you’re into art, stop by Chihuly Garden and Glass during your one day in Seattle to see beautiful glass-blown art. Tickets are $32 per adult, but it’s worth it to see this unique collection. Make sure to explore not just the inside part of the museum, but also the glass greenhouse and the outside (which may be my favorite part). This attraction is also perfect for Seattle during the winter and rainy days in Seattle if you need to stay dry for a bit.

Alternatively, stop by MoPOP during your 1 day in Seattle if you want to learn the history of Seattle’s music and see fun memorabilia from the past (it’s also a great activity for kids in Seattle). They have exhibits on Seattle artists such as Pearl Jam, Jimi Hendrix, and Nirvana, as well as rotating exhibits on popular artists. Tickets are $30 per adult and I recommend buying them online before you go, as this museum can be popular.

Evening: Enjoy Dinner and Drinks With a View

old stove

For dinner, head over to South Lake Union to have your choice of cuisine. I recommend Cactus for Southwestern-Mexican cuisine or Daniel’s Broiler for steak dinner with a view. There’s also a nice path to walk around the lake if you have some extra time when you visit Seattle in 1 day.

You’ll see plenty of kayakers on the lake and even seaplanes taking off and landing on Lake Union. You might also spot a hot tub boat on Lake Union, which is a unique way to explore the lake.

If you’re looking for things to do in Seattle for one day involving local beer, I recommend going back to the Seattle waterfront for a beer at Old Stove Brewing. Whether you sit indoors or outdoors, you’ll have amazing views of Puget Sound during the sunset. This is also one of the best kid-friendly breweries in Seattle if you’re traveling with your family.

The last part of your night will be one of the most scenic ones – you’ll head to Smith Tower’s observation deck for one of the best views of Seattle at night. Tickets for the evening time slots often sell out, so make sure to buy your tickets in advance (they can only be purchased in the lobby at this time).

Depending on if it’s still open at the time you go, you may be able to stop by the bar on the Smith Tower for one last nightcap if they’re still open. I guarantee this will be one of the most scenic bars you’ve ever been to!

What to Skip During 1 Day in Seattle

original starbucks

If you only have one day in Seattle, I’m going to save you time by telling you a few places that aren’t worth it to see. Most of these are tourist traps so you’ll end up spending a lot of time waiting in line when all the places I listed above will be less crowded. If you end up coming back to Seattle for a longer trip, by all means, add these into your plan.

The “Original” Starbucks

There is no bigger waste of time during a day in Seattle than standing in line for this coffee shop. First of all, this actually wasn’t the first Starbucks, which most people don’t realize. Second, the coffee selection is the exact same as the dozens of Starbucks in the city, so your drink won’t taste any different.

I recommend walking by it (located in Pike Place Market) to take a picture and then be on your way. Otherwise, you can easily expect to spend about 30-45 minutes in line just to get your drink. The only reason you would want to stop here is if you collect the “You Are Here” Starbucks mugs, as this is the only location you can get the Pike Place one.

Space Needle

I know that most people who only have one day in Seattle think they need to rush here, but I don’t recommend it. You’ll see it when you visit the Seattle Center and be able to take plenty of beautiful pictures of it from the ground. When you visit the Smith Tower, you’ll also get a better view than what the Space Needle provides. For those reasons, I say skip the Space Needle and save your money for other activities.

Seattle Great Wheel 

This is another popular tourist attraction that many people flock to when looking for what to do in one day in Seattle. However, you’re looking at long lines and expensive tickets for this during the day. Instead of trying to get pictures from the Wheel through the glass in your cabin (which won’t turn out the best due to the glare), I recommend coming back here at night. You can get some incredible photos of the city and the water as the Wheel lights up at night and reflects off the water.

If you’re looking for romantic things to do in Seattle, I’d recommend eating at a waterfront restaurant for dinner and then walking by here at night. That way your evening will last longer than just the short ride on the Wheel.

Kerry Park 

Normally, I’d recommend visiting this, as it’s one of the most Instagrammable spots in Seattle at night. However, you’ll be rushed to try to get from downtown to this hill on Queen Anne and then find another Uber back to the city. If you end up extending your stay for a few more days, then I would suggest adding it to your itinerary. Sunrise and sunset are always the most stunning times to go.

Anything Outside the City

There are so many amazing Seattle day trips to take if you have more time, but for only one day in Seattle, it’s most efficient to stay within the city limits. I highly encourage you to come back another time to explore everything the state has to offer and start crossing items off your Washington bucket list.

We can get some bad traffic here in the city, so I’d hate for you to waste a day in Seattle partially stuck in your Uber.

By now you should have a good idea of how you can spend your one day in Seattle while still seeing plenty of attractions. Feel free to take out some of my suggestions to extend some activities or add your own to this!

One Day in Seattle - What to See and What to SkipOne Day in Seattle - What to See and What to SkipOne Day in Seattle - What to See and What to Skip

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