Tourists in Seattle tend to follow a pattern. They hit the big three: The Space Needle, the Public Market and the Experience Music Project Museum, then head out. That’s a shame, because the Emerald City (named for its fringe of forests) is flush with attractions that prove its reputation as a city with beauty and brains.
Here are some sites that are beloved by locals and slightly off the tourist tracks.
The Ballard Locks
Where else in the world can you watch salmon swim upstream at eye-level? The famed fish ladder -- viewable through an underwater tunnel -- is just one attraction at The Ballard Locks (also called the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks). Built exactly 100 years ago as a link between the Puget Sound and the Ship Canal, the locks host an endless marine parade. Barnacle-encrusted barges, fishing boats from Alaska and sailboats pass through the waterway as workers raise and lower the levels. Visitors can watch from just a few feet away and even chat with sailors as they pass. The surrounding botanical gardens provide a great place for a picnic. Best of all, admission to the Ballard Locks is free.
Head 30 minutes out of the city for an experience that feels worlds away. Like most large waterfalls, Snoqualmie is majestic and often framed by rainbows. Its up-close observation decks and scenic, riverside hiking trails are the icing on the cake. For more spectacular views, head to the rustic Salish Lodge, which boasts one of the best hotel locations ever: directly on top of the waterfall. One of the highlights of a trip to Snoqualmie is the drive, which cuts through mountains capped with snow and evergreens.
Harbor cruises usually run more than $20 -- not a bad deal for some killer skyline views. But savvy travelers (and commuters) hop aboard the ferry to Bainbridge Island for the same sights at a fraction of the price. The 35-minute sailing starts near the Public Market and ends at Bainbridge Island, where waterfront mansions (many owned by Microsoft execs) come into view. Once the ferry docks, explore this small, artistic community’s galleries, craft shops and trendy cafes. Better yet; head to a bike rental shop and cruise along trails that pass through meadows, forests and the seashore.
Easy Street Records
From Jimi Hendrix to Nirvana, Seattle has produced some of the country’s most influential artists -- and it’s still a music mecca. Billion-dollar museums and tacky bus tours aren’t very grunge, so head to Easy Street Records for a more authentic experience. With two locations in West Seattle and Queen Anne (Kurt Cobain’s former stomping ground), this factory-sized music shop hasn’t changed since the city’s music heyday. The store is crammed with rare albums (most on vinyl) and people still line up for new releases. It’s like time-traveling to a world before iTunes.
Seattle Public Library
Forget your preconceptions about libraries. This one is actually cool. It was designed by Rem Koolhaas, the famed Dutch architect known for his cutting-edge designs (he created the CCTV tower in Beijing and the Guggenheim in Vegas). Eight glass and steel layers, stacked like teetering cubes, house some pretty remarkable features: A “living room” area with 50-foot glass walls, a four-story spiral of stacks that allows for uninterrupted browsing, holograms along the escalators, and at the top, views of the city and the sound.Click here for deals on Seattle hotels.