If you are like Kati and I, you find yourself in some great cities for a long layover. Or you just happen to end up in a city that you might never have expected to be in. Seattle has been one such city for us as we were traveling to Alaska and were stuck in Seattle for a day due to weather. It turned into a great experience and was a high light on our trip. We were worried, but the sun was shining and the city was gleaming like a new penny. We loved it.
Seattle is known for its rainy, gray days. That’s what makes sunny afternoons even more special! When the sun comes out, Seattleites know exactly what to do.
For a city built for rain, you’ll find quite a few activities for once the clouds clear. Here are ten things to do in Seattle on a sunny day.
Take a Ferry Ride
When the sun is out in Seattle, there’s no better place to be than on the water. Taking the ferry is a great way to enjoy the day and escape the city.
Where to go? The easiest crossing is between Seattle and Bainbridge Island. Walk down to the Ferry Terminal at the Waterfront, buy a ticket, and wait for the boat to arrive!
From there, it’s a lovely 35-minute crossing to Bainbridge. Be sure to spend time on the upper deck. On a clear day, you’ll enjoy a spectacular view of the Seattle skyline, Mount Rainier, and, of course, the sparkling Puget Sound. And don’t forget to keep an eye on the water! Orca whales have been known to hang around Elliot Bay—although if anyone spots an orca during the crossing, the ferry captain will be sure to make an announcement.
Once you’re on Bainbridge, walk up to Winslow Way—the city’s main street—where you’ll find quirky art galleries, impressive restaurants, a wonderful craft brewery, and a few fantastic bakeries. Going back to Seattle is even easier than arriving—the Bainbridge-to-Seattle ferry is free for walk-ons, so all you have to do is show up. Plus, the return trip means you’ll get another chance to enjoy the salty smell of the Puget Sound (and search for orcas!).
Climb up to Kerry Park
For a simply stellar view of Seattle, go to Kerry Park. Fair warning—it’s quite a climb. Kerry Park is perched on top of a steep incline in the hilly Queen Anne neighborhood. (You can also drive if you have a car.)
From here, you’ll find an unbeatable view of the city. Have you seen a picture of Seattle on a postcard? This is where that photo was taken. From Kerry Park, you can see the entire skyline, the Space Needle, Elliot Bay, Puget Sound, the ferries coming and going, and—on a clear day—Mount Rainier in the distance. (On days like this, Seattleites like to say, “The Mountain is out!”)
If you have time, it’s worth it to visit Kerry Park twice—once during the day, when you can see Seattle in its sunny glory, and once at night, when the city lights up.
Order a Beer at Fremont Brewing
Now, Seattle has a lot of fantastic beer spots. The city is known for its craft brews! You’ll be able to find fantastic, local beer in every neighborhood in the city.
But on a sunny day in Seattle? You’ve got to go to Fremont Brewing.
Seattleites flock to Fremont Brewing’s outdoor beer garden—located in the Fremont neighborhood—once the sun comes out. The vibe is chill. The beer is cold. And you can enjoy all the free pretzels that your heart desires. Grab a seat at one of the long tables. Chances are, there will be a dog or six for you to befriend.
Even if you don’t make it to Fremont Brewing, you can enhance a sunny Seattle afternoon with some local beers. Look for local labels like Elysian, Mac & Jack, or the ever popular (and cheap) Rainier. (Rainier is no longer brewed in Seattle, but it’s still popular with locals looking for an inexpensive drink.)
Plan a Picnic at Green Lake or Gas Works Park
When the sun comes out in Seattle, so do Seattleites. They’re heading straight to the top picnic spots for some snacks in the sun. Two of the best places for a picnic? Green Lake and Gas Works Park (near Fremont/Wallingford).
Green Lake and Gas Works have all the ingredients for a splendid sunny picnic. They have generous grassy areas to spread a picnic blanket; proximity to water, which creates a cool breeze; and are close to restaurants and bars in case you need a refill of anything.
The draw of Green Lake is—of course! —the lake itself. Not only can you picnic here, but you can walk off those calories by taking a stroll along the trail which loops around the lake. The three-mile trail is flat, and well-loved by walkers, runners, and bikers.
Gas Works Park, which is located on the north shore of South Lake Union, provides a stunning perspective of SLU. Here, you can perch near the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company and watch as seaplanes land and takeoff in the distance. Enjoy the beautiful view of the Seattle city skyline across the water. And if you get thirsty, it’s only a short walk to Fremont Brewery nearby.
Walk Along the Water (Myrtle Edwards Park)
If the sparkling Puget Sound calls your name, then spend your sunny day in Seattle at Myrtle Edwards Park. The waterfront park—which is located north of Pike Place Market, and southwest of the Space Needle—provides a beautiful respite from the city, and a chance to gaze lovingly at the glittering waves of Elliot Bay.
Start by visiting the sculptures at Olympic Sculpture Park. Here, you’ll find impressive works by world-famous artists like Richard Serra. Then, start to wander north along the water. You’ll fall in love with the quiet trails and the stunning views across Elliot Bay. Be sure to visit tiny Pocket Beach. The cool sea breeze, sandy inlets, and huge rocks will make you forget that bustling downtown Seattle is a short walk away.
Wander along Elliot Bay Trail until you hit the W Thomas Street Pedestrian and Bicycle Overpass. Here, you’ll get to see yet another beautiful view of the water (this one from an elevated perspective).
When you cross the Overpass, you’ll find yourself in the Queen Anne neighborhood. Maybe a quick cool-down at the Queen Anne Beer Hall will be next.
Kayak or Paddleboard in South Lake Union
As you picnic at Gas Works park, the sparkling water of South Lake Union may prove irresistible. If you’re dying to be on the water, you may want to look into some rental options nearby for kayaks and paddleboards.
There are several options surrounding the lake. Moss Bay is a good one. You can rent a kayak or a paddleboard by the hour. But if you’re dreaming of cracking open a cold one in your kayak, you may want to look elsewhere—they do not allow alcohol on their vessels. Perhaps you’ll want to rent a hot tub boat, instead. Yes—this is a thing (just google “Lake Union Hot Tub Boats”). They allow alcohol as long as it’s not in glass containers.
Keep in mind that you may not want swim in Lake Union. Because of all the boat traffic nearby (not to mention the seaplanes!) the water may not be safe—if you do swim, you should definitely wash off afterwards.
But you can definitely swim in Seattle. Between the lakes and the Puget Sound, there’s water everywhere. Consider Green Lake, instead. Or, go to Magnuson Park in the north part of the city and take a dip in Lake Washington.
Then, of course, there’s the Puget Sound itself. You can go to places like Golden Gardens or Alki Beach to swim in the Sound.
Grab a Snack at Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is a wonderful place to visit in Seattle even on a rainy day—that’s what the covered section of the market is for! But Pike Place is especially enchanting when the sun comes out.
Because there’s so much to see, it’s a good idea to wander the length of Pike Place a few times. This way, you can get a lay of the land and decide upon which snacks you’d like to try. When in season, you absolutely can’t miss out on a box of yellow-red Rainier cherries. All year round, look for Seattle brands like Beecher’s Cheese (the cheese curds are delicious) or creamy Ellenos Yogurt.
Once you’ve decided on a snack—and said hello to Rachel, the Pike Place Market bronze pig, and watched a few of the fish tosses—walked to the northern end of Pike Place. The green space here (Victor Steinbrueck Park) is the perfect place to sit and snack. From the park, you’ll have a beautiful view of Elliot Bay. To the south, you’ll be able to see the curved roofs of Seattle’s two sports stadiums. And, in the distance, you may even be lucky enough to spot Mount Rainier on a clear day.
Cheer on the Home Team
Speaking of sports stadiums…Seattle has a couple of stellar places to watch a game. In the south of the city (called SoDo, or, South of Downtown) you’ll find Century Link Field (where the Seahawks and the Sounders play) as well as T-Mobile Park (where the Mariners play). Some locals still call T-Mobile Park by its old name, Safeco Field, and you may hear Seattleites refer to Century Link Field as “the Clink.”
A summer baseball game at T-Mobile Park is an idyllic way to spend an afternoon. Bleacher seats are inexpensive and offer a great birds-eye view of the field. So, grab a hot dog and a beer and settle down!
Fortunately, you can enjoy a baseball game even if a summer storm rolls through. T-Mobile Park was built for a rainy city. When the sky begins to darken and when drops began to fall, an engineer in a booth high above the playing field will simply press a button—and the stadium’s roof will roll forward, shielding the players and fans from the Seattle drizzle.
If rain does hit, check out the nearby Pioneer Square bar “Damn the Weather.”
Sunbathe at Golden Gardens (or Alki Beach Park)
Seattle isn’t known for sandy beaches. Here, you’re more likely to find shores strewn with rocks and barnacles and giant hunks of washed up trees. But there are a couple of exceptions in the city—and they’re excellent spots to spend a sunny afternoon.
First, there’s Golden Gardens. This sandy stretch is north of the city, in the northern part of Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood. Not only is a great place to sunbathe, but you’ll have a fantastic view of the sailboats bobbing in the water nearby—and, if you visit at night, a spectacular Seattle sunset. You can even use one of the public fire pits if you get there early enough to claim one.
Alki Beach Park, on the other side of Elliot Bay, is located in the West Seattle neighborhood. It’s smaller than Golden Gardens and has more of a boardwalk vibe. (At Golden Gardens, it can be easily to forget that you’re close to a city.) The draw at Alki Beach is the stunning view of the Seattle skyline from the shore.
Cool Down at a local Creamery
Finally, enjoying local ice cream is a fantastic way to spend a sunny Seattle afternoon. For a city known for gray skies and rainy days, Seattle has an excellent selection of ice cream stores.
You’ll find Molly Moon ice cream stores all around the city. Their flavors are based on local ingredients, like Washington state lavender and strawberries! One of their locations is on Capitol Hill, where they have a store across the street from Cal Anderson Park. Grab a cone, lie in the sun, and enjoy people-watching.
Capitol Hill is also home to the Portland, Oregon ice cream brand Salt and Straw. (So, maybe a taste test is in order?) Salt and Straw also has locations in the Ballard neighborhood.
Love ice cream but hate dairy (and gluten)? Go to Frankie & Joe’s, which serves 100% vegan and gluten free scoops.
Finally—if you followed the first suggestion on this list and hopped on a ferry, you’ll definitely find excellent ice cream on Bainbridge Island. The island’s Mora Creamery draws boatloads of Seattleites every summer.
So don’t worry if you have a long layover and now know what to do. Enjoy the city. Explore the sights. Enjoy an ice cream. You can never go wrong.
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