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Tips for Tourists Visiting Seattle, Washington

Updated on April 30, 2015
The Space Needle with its retro orange paint.
The Space Needle with its retro orange paint. | Source

Introduction

If you're planning a trip to Seattle, read ahead to learn some weather tips and general Seattle travel tricks.

The Weather

First, we'll begin with some notes about the weather. Seattle's unpredictable weather can throw a wrench into your vacation plans. Most Seattle locals don't even bother checking the forecast because they assume it will be wrong. A day can start out with a misty rain and end with a pop of brilliant sunshine.

The Famous Rain

Seattle is known for it's frequent and supposedly constant rain, but is the reputation deserved? To some degree, no. Seattle doesn't receive any unusual amount of precipitation. On average, Seattle receives about 37 inches of rain per year. New York City, on the other hand, receives about 47 inches. The difference is in perception. Seattle features more days of light, misty rain, while New York City has infrequent rounds of pouring rain.

Summer evening at the Shilshole Marina.
Summer evening at the Shilshole Marina. | Source

Summer Travel

Summer is the best time to visit Seattle. This is when Seattle gets most of its yearly sunshine. Mornings and evenings tend to be mild and cool. Afternoons feature plenty of sunshine and warm temperatures. Seattle's summer weather is tricky, however. There may be stretches of time with cool temperatures that don't rise above the 60s or there may be a monster heat wave with recording-breaking highs in the 90s and beyond. Most homes and apartments in Seattle do not have air conditioning. Most folks find relief either in their cars or at a mall. These heatwaves, however, are rare.

To pack properly for a summer visit, take a range of clothes to meet a variety of temperatures. Packing at least one sweater or light jacket is a good idea for the cool summer evenings, or if you plan to spend time out on the water. Don't forget your sunglasses!

Fall afternoon in Discovery Park.
Fall afternoon in Discovery Park. | Source

Fall Travel

Seattle's autumns are crisp and cool. September is still a very pleasantly warm month as the summer wanes down. High temperatures usually hang around the low 70s in September. October, however, sticks around the low 60s and upper 50s. The stretches of wet days begin to return in the fall, after the summer dry spells. Fall is a very nice time to visit Seattle as the crowds are much lighter and the weather is still beautiful.

Jackets and sweaters for layering are must-have items for fall travel. If you don't want to get wet, bring some rain gear.

Crisp winter day at the Ballard Locks.
Crisp winter day at the Ballard Locks. | Source

Winter Travel

Seattle winter's are dark, gray and chilly. In the dead of winter, the sun usually sets around 4PM. Most days are at least cloudy and rainy. There are occasional sun breaks, but the average high in the winter months is about 45 degrees Fahrenheit. Seattle rarely gets any significant snow, but when it does, it has the potential to shut down the city for days as the city lacks adequate resources for efficient snow removal.

Bring coats, gloves, mittens, hats and anything else you need for cold winter conditions.

Warm spring day at the University of Washington Arboretum.
Warm spring day at the University of Washington Arboretum. | Source

Spring Travel

Spring is a truly lovely time to visit and see all of Seattle's wonderful outdoor attractions. The city has an abundance of beautiful flowers and trees that blossom brightly in the spring. The University of Washington Quad features a number of cherry blossom trees that are a must-see for any spring tourist. Temperatures begin to emerge from the low 50s to the warm 60s in the spring. Nights, however, are still plenty cool with low 40s. Seattle does not accumulate much rain in the spring, but there are still plenty of cloudy days.

Pack plenty of warm clothes for unpredictable weather in the spring.

Where Are the Umbrellas?

Umbrellas are a rare, endangered creature on Seattle streets. Few locals carry them, which occasionally turns into an unwise decision. However, most rain in Seattle is misty and light. Pouring rain is a rare occurrence, but it certainly can happen.

Busy crowd at the University of Washington on a spring day.
Busy crowd at the University of Washington on a spring day. | Source

Travel Tips

Now that we've covered the weather, we can move on to other topics, including a few random bits that a travel book may not cover. This is not an exhaustive list, just a few of my own observations.

Parking

In many popular areas, especially downtown Seattle, parking is expensive. Seattle has some of the most expensive parking in the United States. A two-hour visit to Pike Place Market could cost you over $20, after including taxes and fees. If at all possible, avoid parking altogether. Park away from downtown and take a bus or other form of transportation. Whatever you do, don't park illegally. If you get towed, you will find yourself paying astronomical fees for the mistake.

Public Transportation

Seattle has a good network of buses and other forms of transportation. Tourists who arrive at SeaTac airport can take the Link Light Rail to make a quick and easy trip to downtown Seattle. Seattle has solid bus coverage. To make travel a breeze, you can even pick up a ORCA card to store public transportation funds. For more information on public transportation, visit the Metro website.

Crowds

Seattle is a popular tourist destination, even in the winter. Summer sees the heaviest crowds, but off-peak seasons have their busy times too. Many destinations, such as Pike Place Market, attract regular local visitors as well as tourists, making these places busy all year round.

Traffic

Seattle's traffic can change from smooth to disastrous very quickly. Traffic is especially important to monitor if you have a plane to catch. Before you head anywhere near downtown, be sure to check out WSDOT's traffic map. Trust this map over Google's traffic map.

Bring Your Own Bags

Seattle recently passed a law banning plastic bags at grocery stores. If you don't want to bring your own reusable bags, you'll have to pay a nickel for each paper bag you use.

Free Things

Seattle offers special days in which museums and other cultural institutions are free. For most museums, this free day falls on the first Thursday of each month. You can view a list here.

The octopus that did not get released during Octopus Week.
The octopus that did not get released during Octopus Week. | Source
Things to buy at the Emerald City Comicon.
Things to buy at the Emerald City Comicon. | Source
The University of Washington marching band performs on a boat during the opening day of the boating season.
The University of Washington marching band performs on a boat during the opening day of the boating season. | Source
The Blue Angels performing above Lake Washington during Seafair in 2011.
The Blue Angels performing above Lake Washington during Seafair in 2011. | Source
New Year's Eve at the Space Needle.
New Year's Eve at the Space Needle. | Source

Special Events

If you're the kind of traveler who enjoys unique experiences at your destination, try to plan your Seattle trip around some fun special events. This list provides just a small sampling of the many annual events in Seattle.

  • January: The annual Seattle Boat Show has attracted people to Seattle for over 60 years. Visitors can look at over 1,000 boats in addition to plenty of marine gear.
  • February: The Seattle Aquarium hosts an annual Octopus Week every February. Fun activities for all ages include lectures, octopus feedings and games. The week's events lead up to the release of a Giant Pacific Octopus into the Puget Sound.
  • March: March hosts the annual Emerald City Comicon, a gigantic festival dedicated to comic books. Fans can attend panels, dress up as their favorite superheroes and buy lots of comic-related goodies.
  • April: For over 35 years, the Cherry Blossom and Japanese Cultural Festival has been a staple in Seattle. The festival's activities vary every year, but the festival always promises artistic performances, food to try to even Go tournaments.
  • May: Seattle's boating season officially starts on the first Saturday in May each year. This annual event is capped with a huge boat parade through local waters.
  • June: The Seattle Rock 'n' Roll Marathon is a big draw in the summer. This fun course has live bands playing at multiple points throughout the route.
  • July: Seafair is Seattle's biggest special event in the summer. This popular event runs practically all summer and involves many activities, including the famous pirate landing at Alki Beach and a performance by the United States Navy's Blue Angels.
  • August: The new kid on the block, the Seattle Music Fest, is now over ten years old. Alki Beach and the surrounding West Seattle area host this event.
  • September: The Bumbershoot Festival offers Seattle locals and tourists a great way to end the summer with a variety of music performances, art offerings and parades.
  • October: For over 20 years, the Earshot Jazz Festival has offered plenty of fantastic jazz music events.
  • November: The Seattle Marathon always takes place on the Sunday following Thanksgiving. It's a great way to burn off all that extra pumpkin pie you ate.
  • December: Seattle's famous Space Needle is the place to be on New Year's Eve. Thousands of impressive fireworks launch from the tower to the delight of the crowds below.

Conclusion

Seattle is a great city with a lot to see and do. Whether you bring your umbrella or not, the locals will be happy to see you!

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    • Say Yes To Life profile image

      Yoleen Lucas 3 years ago from Big Island of Hawaii

      I lived in the Seattle area for nearly 4 years. It truly is a beautiful city. It has the most parks of any urban area in the US.

      I'd like to add that there are 4 ski resorts within a 2 hour drive of the city, which are great to visit during the winter. Snoqualmie and Stevens Pass have fabulous season pass deals, especially if you buy it in May. It can be cheaper than buying a week's worth of lift tickets!

      Seattle is also a great place to hunt for semi precious gemstones, if you go to the quarries in Monroe and Granite Falls.

      Seattle is also justifiably famous for its coffee. I had my only taste of white coffee at one of its stands; it has a nutty flavor. They also sell chocolate-covered coffee beans in candy dispensers.

      Seattle gets the Northern Lights an average of 25 nights a year. I saw them once, at 1am on August 12, 2000. It was spectacular!

      I love and miss Seattle. Too bad the job situation there is so screwed up. However, it's a fabulous place to retire young!

    • cactusbythesea profile image
      Author

      cactusbythesea 5 years ago from Seattle

      Thanks for the feedback, BSloan!

    • BSloan profile image

      Barbara Sloan 5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Great Hub. I'm hoping to visit Seattle in the next couple of years.