Home to the city’s main business district, downtown Seattle is a truly modern metropolis and a perpetual buzz of activity, far removed from its modest past when wooden buildings dominated the landscape. A compact area, it contains notable landmarks and attractions including the Central Library, the Paramount Theater and the vibrant Pike Place Market, one of north America’s most famous street markets.
Dense urban neighbourhoods are clustered here too, including bustling Belltown with its notable restaurants and a lively bar and dance-club scene. Or if shopping is your thing, Westlake Center and Pacific Place have a mix of high-end and regular retailers, along with one-of-a-kind boutiques and home furnishing stores.
Below are seven of the more unusual things to see and do in downtown Seattle; the ones you may not see in the guide books, but are worth trying all the same.
But before that, a very quick word on hotels in downtown Seattle. We recently wrote an article about the range of options available to visitors, focusing on those at the budget end of the scale. You can read our article on the best 5 cheap hotels in downtown Seattle here.
1. Seattle Underground
There’s a network of subterranean passages and basements in downtown Seattle that offers a fascinating insight into the city’s past. Prior to the late-19th century, this underground world was at ground level and a perpetual buzz of activity, but the Great Fire of 1889 resulted in a huge regeneration effort that lead to the city effectively being rebuilt on top of itself. Consequently, the hidden web that lay beneath was left to rot. In later years, a small portion of the area was restored and made safe and accessible to the public, where today Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour invites visitors on a captivating 75-minute stroll through its entombed storefronts and sidewalks.
LOCATION Pioneer Square Drive HOURS April-September 9am-7pm daily; October-March 10am-6pm daily
2. Knee High Stocking Co.
An eclectic mix of sophisticate travellers and hip scene locals frequent this classic speakeasy-themed craft cocktail bar that’s tucked away in a suitably nondescript corner of Capitol Hill. A brooding man on the door will welcome you in (though ‘welcome’ is perhaps an overstatement) and once inside, dark, moody corners add to the authentic atmosphere. A lengthy drinks menu featuring spirits and seasonal cocktails, along with small food plates with a Filipino-American twist, will keep you satisfied and the prohibition era music is sure to get your toes tapping.
LOCATION 1356 E Olive Way HOURS Mon-Thurs 5pm-12am; Fri-Sat 12am-12pm, 6pm-2am; Sun 11am-3pm, 6pm-12am
3. Ye Olde Curiosity Shop
This narrow, cluttered gift novelty store is more like something out of a theme park horror ride than a place to pick up charming souvenirs. Situated on the waterfront, north of Pioneer Square, the shop dates back to the end of the 19th century and today features such ghoulish items as a pig in a jar, a two-headed calf, and a 350-year-old African voodoo monkey with its intestines removed and braided onto its head. For the more genteel minded, there’s also a ship scale model constructed entirely of matchsticks.
LOCATION 1001 Alaskan Way, Pier 54 HOURS 10am-6pm daily
4. Rock Box
In a city with music woven into its DNA, it’s little surprise that Karaoke is such a popular form of entertainment here. This Japanese style karaoke lounge in Capitol Hill is one of the city’s best nightlife venues (and there’s some serious competition in that field), featuring a full bar serving a wide range of exotic drinks, plus a food menu of charcutterie and cheeses courtesy of neighbouring restaurant Cure. Of course, the real action takes place in front of the mic, where those of an extrovert persuasion can showcase their vocal talents in front of friends and strangers like. For guests a little shy about their singing voice, the lounge also has 11 private rooms suitable for between 1 and 15 guests, plus a larger party room that can accommodate numbers up to 35. Happy hour runs every day until 7pm and all day Sunday.
LOCATION 1601 Nagle Place HOURS Mon-Wed 4pm-2am, Thurs-Fri 4pm-3am, Fri-Sat 3pm-4am, Sun 3pm-2am,
5. Post Alley Gum Wall
Hygiene freaks may want to avoid this quirky – but rather unsanitary – site, where an entire brick wall is almost completely covered in sticky chewing gum, a tradition said to date back to the early 1990s. The wall, which lines an alleyway along Seattle’s Market Theater near Pike Place, has become something of a tourist attraction thanks to the creative ways in which people have rendered their chewy, disposable food stuff, turning it into a veritable wall of art. Just don’t lean on it…
LOCATION Pike Place Market
6. Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room
Seattle may lay claim to being home to the world’s first ever Starbucks, but the city also boasts another unique branch of the famous American coffeehouse chain. As the name suggest, the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room is not just an ordinary Starbucks – it is an all-embracing experience that invites visitors to walk around and admire the roasting machines , purchase an array of coffee-themed merchandise and paraphernalia, and sample limited edition coffee featuring small batches of rare and precious coffee beans.
LOCATION 1124 Pike Street HOURS 7am-11pm daily
7. Bruce Lee’s Grave
Fans of the iconic martial arts guru and actor Bruce Lee can come and visit his final resting place at Lake View Cemetary, located next to Volunteer Park, a 48.3-acre park in the Capitol Hill neighbourhood of downtown Seattle. The site draws pilgrims from all over the world, including, as legend has it, a trio of Mongolians who once trekked 3,700 miles to pay their respects to their hero. Alongside Lee’s gravestone is another belonging to his son, Brandon, who was accidently shot dead during filming of a movie, aged just 28.
LOCATION Lake View Cemetary, 1554 15th Ave East