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Fun Things to Do on the Downtown Seattle Waterfront

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The waterfront at downtown Seattle looks out at West Seattle and the Puget Sound. It's a fun place to walk and explore. You'll find places to sit and take in the view, places to enjoy a quick snack, and places for fine dining. You can watch the ferries and container ships travel across Elliott Bay. There are fun souvenir and novelty shops, art galleries, and a family-friendly arcade. You'll see sea mammals and creatures of all kinds, whether at the Seattle Aquarium or along the shoreline. Much of the activity is free.

Here are my picks for the best attractions and activities to enjoy along the waterfront in downtown Seattle.

1. Washington State Ferries

Picture of Washington State Ferry from Downtown Seattle © Angela M. Brown (2008)
Washington State Ferry from Downtown Seattle
The Washington State Ferries are part of the state's official highway transportation system, carrying people to and from points on and around Puget Sound. A ride on the ferry is a great way to relax and enjoy the scenery, as well as being the only way to get some places. You can enjoy riding the ferry, with or without your car or bike, or can just watch them come and go. The ferry terminal in downtown Seattle is located at Pier 52 and travels routes to Bainbridge Island and to Bremerton.

2. Seattle Aquarium

Adorable Sea Otters at the Seattle Aquarium © Angela M. Brown (2008)
Adorable Sea Otters at the Seattle Aquarium

Located at Pier 59, the Seattle Aquarium gives you the opportunity to see all kinds of creatures from all kinds of points of view. Species that live in the Puget Sound and the Pacific Ocean are the focus. There are a number of cool exhibits, from the furry funny otters to the silvery school of salmon. Tide pools provide the chance to touch sea stars and anemones. In addition to sea flora and fauna, you can also spend time at interactive exhibits exploring such topics as orcas and ocean science, and check out the cafe and gift shop.

Major exhibits at the Seattle Aquarium include:

  • Window on Washington Waters
  • Life on the Edge
  • Pacific Coral Reef
  • Puget Sound Fish and Dome Room
  • Puget Sound Orcas Family Activity Center
  • Marine Mammals

3. Fresh Seafood with a Waterfront View

Pier 54 and Ivar's Acres of Clams in Seattle © Angela M. Brown (2008)
Pier 54 and Ivar's Acres of Clams
Seattle is known for its fresh seafood, and you can't get much closer to the source than enjoying a meal seated on a Seattle pier. You'll find fast food, counter-service type eateries where you can choose such goodies as clam chowder in a sourdough bowl or fried fish and chips. There are more casual, family-friendly restaurants featuring the full range of seafood as well as other dishes. For a special meal, there are fine dining establishments that provide elegant settings and incomparable Puget Sound views.

4. Scenic Cruises and Boat Tours

Downtown Dock for Argosy Cruises in Seattle © Angela M. Brown (2008)
Downtown Dock for Argosy Cruises in Seattle
Along with the sailboats and ferries crossing the waters of Elliott Bay, you'll see the various vessels used for scenic cruises, whale watching, and scenic Puget Sound tours. Scheduled day tours, dinner cruises, and private charters are among your many choices. Here are some of the more popular scenic cruises and boat tour companies operating out of the downtown Seattle waterfront.
  • Argosy Cruises
    This company offers a variety of short scenery tours from Pier 56 in downtown Seattle. Some tour the immediate harbor area, other pass through locks to Lake Union. Argosy now provides the transportation for the Tillicum Village on Blake Island experience, which includes the scenic cruise to the island, where you'll enjoy a traditional dinner and entertainment. Dinner and brunch cruises are available, both scheduled and for private events. Throughout the year you can also choose from holiday and themed cruises.
  • Emerald City Charters
    Based on Pier 54, Emerald City Charters offers 1.5 hour day tours and 2.5 hour sunset cruises aboard large sailing yachts.
  • Victoria Clipper
    While the Victoria Clipper vessels are best known for ferry service to Victoria and Vancouver BC and the San Juan Islands, they also offer day trips featuring whale watching around the Puget Sound. The Victoria Clipper company operates from Pier 69, near the Edgewater Hotel.

5. Olympic Sculpture Park

Olympic Sculpture Park © Angela M. Brown (2008)
Olympic Sculpture Park
One of Seattle's newer attractions, the Olympic Sculpture Park is exactly that - a park filled with large sculptures and art installations of all kinds. Many are quite fun and funky, making this free park a wonderful way to introduce children to fine art. As you wander the zigzag paths through the park you'll enjoy fabulous views, east to the Space Needle and west to the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound. The Olympic Sculpture Park is part of the Seattle Art Museum.

6. Myrtle Edwards Park

Pedestrian Path to Myrtle Edwards Park on Seattle's Waterfront © Angela M. Brown (2008)
Myrtle Edwards Park
Located at the north edge of Seattle's downtown waterfront district, Myrtle Edwards Park is a good old-fashioned city park that happens to enjoy fabulous water and mountain views. There's a bike and walking trail, benches and picnic tables, verdant lawns and sandy beaches.

7. Souvenir Shopping

Entrance to Ye Olde Curiosity Shop in Seattle © Angela M. Brown (2008)
Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on Pier 54

Seattle's waterfront shops carry everything from high-quality, locally-made gift items to the tackiest of tourist trinkets. Most of these shops are located at the south end of the waterfront on Piers 56 and 57. Seattle's best souvenir items include Northwest Coast Art, fine art photographs, sports team merchandise, and glass art. Food and drink items always make for thoughtful souvenirs or gifts, including Washington wines, smoked salmon, huckleberry jam, and locally-roasted coffee.

Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, part museum and part novelty shop, is a must stop. This place is a fascinating piece of Seattle history, first opened on the waterfront in 1899. The walls and ceiling of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop are covered with "curiosities" of all kinds, including a mummy, taxidermy Siamese-twin calves, and a grain of rice engraved with the Lord's Prayer. The shop sells items from the Northwest and around the world.

Seattle Waterfront Photo Gallery

8. The Seattle Great Wheel

Seattle's newest waterfront attraction is this grand Ferris wheel featuring closed, climate-controlled cars that can each seat up to 6 adults. During your 15-20 minute ride you'll enjoy wonderful views of downtown Seattle, Elliott Bay, West Seattle, and the surrounding scenery. At night, the wheel dazzles with colored lighting. The Seattle Great Wheel is located on Pier 57.

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