Seattle: Recreation


Seattle is consistently ranked among the top U.S. tourist destinations. Many attractions are located in the pedestrian-scale downtown area or within easy access by bus and monorail. Tourists can choose from several diversions, including historical sites, internationally acclaimed cultural events, and outdoor activities in the spectacular mountains, forests, and waters surrounding the city.

A popular Seattle landmark is the Space Needle, focal point of the Seattle Center, the 74-acre park and building complex constructed for the 1962 World's Fair. The 605-foot Space Needle features an observation deck for viewing the city, Puget Sound, and adjacent Cascade and Olympic mountains. At its base is the $100 million Experience Music Project, a nonprofit interactive museum tracing the history of American music, which was funded entirely by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The Seattle Center, linked to the central business district by free bus service and the high-speed Monorail, contains an amusement park and sponsors outdoor concerts as well as other events.

Pioneer Square, near the waterfront downtown, is the city's historic district. This area offers a trip back to late-1800s Seattle via cobblestone streets, the original Skid Road (an expression that later evolved into Skid Row), and restored brick and sandstone buildings, many of them housing shops and restaurants. A unique point of interest beneath Pioneer Square is the "underground city," five blocks of sidewalks and storefronts that were left standing after the 1889 fire, when the street levels were raised.

Seattle offers an abundance of attractions related to the maritime industry. Harbor traffic on Elliott Bay can be observed from Waterfront Park, located in the pier area just off Alaskan Way. South of the park at Pier 53, the Seattle Fire Department boats, Alki and Chief Seattle, are berthed; a favorite local event is practice day, when the fireboats shoot high water arcs into the bay. At Fishermen's Terminal, a working commercial fishing port, residents and visitors enjoy watching fishermen mend nets and tend their boats. Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, among the busiest locks in the world, furnish diversion for navigation enthusiasts as scores of large and small vessels are transferred daily between salt

The Seattle Art Museum, designed by architect Robert Venturi, opened in 1991.
The Seattle Art Museum, designed by architect Robert Venturi, opened in 1991.
and fresh water. The Seattle Aquarium on the downtown waterfront links the waterfront to First Avenue, which lies just above. For those wanting to go out onto the water, ferries provide rides along the coast and across the sound; tour boats offer longer cruises and excursions to points of interest in the area.

Seattle is known for the Woodland Park Zoo, which contains about 1,000 animals in their natural habitats with minimal fencing and barriers; special features are 50 endangered species and the world's largest group of liontail macaques. Washington Park on the University of Washington campus is the setting for the Arboretum, 200 acres of public gardens, including a Japanese tea garden, with especially striking displays of blossoms and foliage during spring and fall.

Arts and Culture

Seattle is the cultural and entertainment hub of the Pacific Northwest as well as one of the nation's leading cities for theater and opera. Rivaled only by New York in the number of equity theaters based in the area and considered one of the leading U.S. cities for opera performances, Seattle is the only place in the Western Hemisphere where Richard Wagner's Ring cycle is performed annually. Attaining wide recognition has in fact become a Seattle tradition, yet cultural events also emphasize regional artists and performers.

The arts scene includes the Seattle Symphony, located in the world-class Benaroya Hall; Seattle Opera; the Pacific Northwest Ballet; numerous art galleries; the Seattle Art Museum; the Seattle Asian Art Museum; and the Experience Music Project rock and roll museum. The 2003–2004 season marked the Seattle Symphony's Centennial Season.

The city is rich in theater arts with 80 companies, 13 of which are professional. The Seattle Opera, recognized internationally for its compelling and accomplished performances, moved into its new state-of-the-art home, Marion Oliver McCaw Hall, in August 2003. The Seattle Repertory Theatre Company, the city's principal and nationally-acclaimed professional theater company, stages its annual productions at the Bagley Wright Theater at Seattle Center. Downtown's Paramount Theatre houses both the Fifth Avenue Theatre and visiting Broadway shows. Live theater is presented by area companies, including a Contemporary Theater (ACT), now housed at the renovated Eagle's Auditorium; Empty Space; and Intiman. Several small theaters are also active in the Seattle metropolitan area. Dramatic and musical performances are regularly scheduled at the University of Washington. Seattle hosts large-scale musical concerts and has gained international attention as the place of origin of many trend-setting rock and pop groups.

Seattle supports a number of museums and galleries specializing in a wide range of areas. The Seattle Art Museum displays a large collection of Oriental, Asian, African, and modern art; of special interest is a collection of paintings by the Northwest Mystics school. The Charles and Emma Frye Art Museum downtown features exhibits of eighteenth- and nineteenth-century and contemporary paintings. The Belle-vue Art Museum in Bellevue Square specializes in works by regional artists. The Henry Art Gallery at the University of Washington is one of the oldest art museums in the state. Commercial galleries, most of them clustered around Pioneer Square, regularly schedule shows.

The Museum of Flight traces the history of flight from Leonardo da Vinci to the present with such exhibits as "Apollo," which chronicles manned space exploration, and more than forty aircraft. The Suquamish Museum is devoted to the preservation of Puget Sound native culture; artifacts, photographs, and oral histories are featured. Daybreak Star Arts and Cultural Center in Discovery Park pays homage to Northwest Coast tribes through indoor and outdoor displays of paintings and carvings. The Burke Museum displays artifacts and geological materials relating to Northwest Coast native and Pacific Rim cultures; dinosaur exhibits are a highlight. The Museum of History and Industry concentrates on the heritage of Seattle, King County, and the Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Science Center, located at Seattle Center, presents exhibits pertaining to science; laser shows and films are shown at the Eames/IMAX Theater; the Science Center also is home to the Boeing 3D IMAX Theatre. The Seattle Children's Museum, also at Seattle Center, offers such hands-on activities as a child-size neighborhood for both adults and children.

Festivals and Holidays

Seattle and its environs, a major attraction for the television and film industry, support an annual, world-famous international film festival. Other festival celebrations include the International Children's Theater Festival and the Bite of Seattle food festival. The Northwest Folklife Festival is held at Seattle Center on Memorial Day weekend in May; this annual event features traditional folk music, folk dances, and the culture of the people of the Pacific Northwest. Held annually for 23 days in mid-July to early August, the Seattle SEAFAIR includes boat races and exhibitions, parades, a queen coronation and pageant, fishing derbies, food, and entertainment. Also in July and August is the famous Pacific Northwest Wagner Festival, presenting performances of the composer's complete Ring cycle, staged at Seattle Center Opera House. Seattle Center is the site on Labor Day weekend of the Seattle Arts Festival, popularly known as "Bumbershoot;" rated as one of the five top festivals in the nation, it is a celebration of the city's arts community with more than 400 performances ranging from grunge bands to Russian tightrope walkers. The year closes with the Harvest Festival in November and the Christmas Cruise in December.

Sports for the Spectator

Seattle is the only city in the Northwest to support professional teams in all three major sports. The Seattle Seahawks of the American Football Conference play at Qwest Field, a 72,000-seat, open-air stadium built in 2002. The Seattle Mariners play American League baseball at Safeco Field, which has a retractable roof. The SuperSonics, a National Basketball Association team, hold their games in the Key Arena in the Seattle Center, which is also the scene of hockey action from the Seattle Thunderbirds of the Western Hockey League. Soccer fans enjoy matches featuring the Seattle Sounders at Qwest Field. WNBA women's basketball is played by the Seattle Storm. Area colleges and universities field teams in all primary sports. There is also horse racing at Emerald Downs, minor league baseball with the Everett Aquasox and Tacoma Rainiers, PRCA Rodeo, and numerous other spectator and participatory sports.

Sports for the Participant

Considered one of the best recreational cities in the United States, Seattle offers a variety of outdoor activities. Especially popular are water sports such as fresh- and salt-water fishing, boating, swimming, scuba diving, and whitewater rafting on lakes and waterways within an hour of downtown. Hiking and horseback riding can be enjoyed on miles of forest trails maintained in area parks and mountains; skiing and mountain climbing, including guided climbs to the top of Mount Rainier, can be pursued at several locations in the mountains surrounding Seattle. Five golf courses, 151 tennis courts, 12 beaches, 10 swimming pools, and 33 play fields can be found in the area's 397 parks and open spaces.

Shopping and Dining

Shopping can be a unique experience in Seattle, where high-fashion merchandise and recreational gear coexist on shop counters. Major department stores and designer boutiques are located downtown within walking distance of hotels and in suburban shopping centers throughout the area. Seattle is the nation's primary manufacturing and retail center for recreational and outdoor equipment. Northwest Native American handicrafts and art items are available at local artisan centers, specialty shops, and galleries and museums; goods imported from the Orient are featured at shops in Seattle's International District, where Chinatown is located. Historic Pike Place Market near Pioneer Square is one of the few remaining authentic farmer's markets in the nation. A terraced walkway leads from the market to Alaskan Way, a colorful waterfront streetcar route lined with piers, marine equipment shops, and seafood restaurants.

Seafood is a Seattle specialty, and seafood stands and restaurants featuring dishes prepared from daily catches abound. The city has also gained a national reputation as the center for "Northwest cuisine:" Olympia oysters, geoduck clams, wild mushrooms, fresh produce, whole-grain breads, and local cheeses and wines. Many restaurants feature scenic locations that enhance dining pleasure, and opportunities for alfresco dining are plentiful. Asian food is found on many local menus, and citizens have gone wild for coffee—coffee shops and espresso carts can be found in the usual locations and even in gas stations and hardware stores.

Visitor Information: Seattle/King County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 701 Pike Street, Suite 800, Seattle, WA 98101; telephone (206)461-5800; fax (206)461-5855; email