In the last several years, it seems like most of my vacations have been day trips or over long weekends with not nearly enough time to see everything I want to see. I basically make a list of all the things I want to see or do and then try to check them all off. When it comes to a city like Seattle, it can be overwhelming trying to get everything into a short period of time. But I look at it like this: see as much as you can, don’t forget to eat, and if you miss something, there’s always next time.

Seattle skyline

I have been to Seattle only one other time, when I was sixteen and I was visiting my friend who had moved from my neighborhood a few years before. She lives in Silverdale/Bremerton area which is on the other side of Puget Sound from Seattle. I spent most of my time over there, and on the day that I flew home we went Pike’s Place Market and the Space Needle.

Now that more than 15 years have passed and I’ve done quite a bit of traveling, I feel like I can write this post describing my top picks for a day trip to Seattle. You’ll notice that the Space Needle is not on it. That’s because I don’t think it’s worth it. Sure, if you have a few days to visit you might want to go up there and see the city from the sky. But if you’re short on time and money, save your twenty bucks and go on the underground tour instead. Here’s how to spend 24 hours in Seattle!

Where to stay: Best Western Plus Pioneer Square Hotel

The Underground Tour

The Underground Tour was hands down one of the coolest experiences I’ve done in any city. If you are the least bit interested in history (especially weird history), abandoned places, or puns – this is the tour for you. Seattle has had a pretty crazy past with a bunch of people and city officials who didn’t know what the heck they were doing so the city that you see now is basically the second story of what existed in the late 1800s. There are still several parts of the original first level in use, but most of it is closed to the public. The official name is Bill Spiedel’s Underground Tour, named after the dude who started it back in the 1960s. He convinced the city to make Pioneer Square a historic district to save the buildings, and the underground in turn.

The tour starts with a little bit of history about Seattle’s beginnings and the crooked people who started it. Then your guide takes you into the underground where you can see the where the buildings once had entrances on the bottom level. There’s a lot of leftover stuff down there, old signs and disintegrating doors. Along the way you hear all about the crazy pioneers who settled Seattle and their misadventures. Like exploding toilets. Yep, that happened.

The Underground Tour is about 75 minutes long and they have tours throughout the day. While you’re in Pioneer Square check out the hidden waterfall garden built to celebrate 100 years of UPS on 2nd Street.

Pike Place Market, Seattle

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market is an obvious must do. If you have ever mentioned Seattle to anyone they probably have brought this place up. Pike is an outdoor market with stalls selling all kinds of food, flowers, souvenirs, and other homemade items. One of the most famous stalls, the Pike Place Fish Market – the guys who throw fish – makes for a fun entertainment break. Many of the stalls offer samples of their product and overall it’s a fun experience even if you don’t buy anything. The first ever Starbucks is also there (opposite end of the Fish Market) and the gum wall (downstairs behind the Fish Market) is fun to see, if ABC gum doesn’t gross you out.

Where to stay: Motif Seattle

Starbucks Reserve

Speaking of Starbucks, the Starbucks Reserve or “Gold Star Store” is a mecca if you are a coffee lover like I am. They take roasting to a whole different level here. The building is absolutely beautiful, you can see the entire roasting process going on starting with the green beans and ending with a delicious cup of special Reserve coffee that you can only buy at that store. The only trouble is parking, there is no designated parking place for the store and all parking in the area (like most areas in downtown) is metered. Pay for more time than you were anticipating, it’s a great place to relax and enjoy a cup of coffee or tea or a sandwich and you don’t want to be super rushed.

Fremont Troll, Seattle

The Fremont Troll

I saved my favorite thing for last, even though we went here first. If you’ve ever picked up one of those “Weird USA” books in Barnes and Noble you may have come across the Fremont Troll before. This concrete behemoth is one of those roadside attractions worth stopping for. He fills the entire area below the Aurora Avenue Bridge. It doesn’t take more than a few minutes to check him out and take a few pictures so it’s a perfect way to start your day out before exploring the rest of Seattle.

While Seattle is a great city with plenty of things to see and do, Washington is a big state with so much else to offer! If you are planning a trip be sure to check out my other post about western Washington.


Author: I’m Erin of The Thrifty Travelista, a Southern California native who started traveling at a young age. Since returning home after teaching English abroad in South Korea and Germany I have been focusing on thrifty travel destinations and finding unique and free things to do and see in the cities that I visit. I’m trying to change the perception that travel has to be expensive – travel is for everyone!

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One Comment

  1. Hey Erin,

    The next time, I highly recommend the ghost tour and Alki beach 🙂

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