Where to Stay in Seattle

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by Santorini Dave • Updated: March 11, 2019

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The Best Area To Stay in Seattle

Where to stay in Seattle? Downtown. Especially in the neighborhood surrounding Pike Place Market.

For most visitors, the best place to stay in Seattle is downtown. This is where most of the city’s top restaurants, attractions, and shops are located, all within an area dense and compact enough to be easily walkable. Puget Sound views are incredible from here, and local transportation lines (including light rail, city bus, streetcar, and monorail) converge downtown as well, which makes getting around greater Seattle without a car easy. Most of the best hotels in Seattle are found within this dynamic downtown corridor, especially in the neighborhood surrounding Seattle’s star attraction: Pike Place Market.

Just south of downtown, the historic Pioneer Square neighborhood – and Seattle’s original downtown – is now home to art galleries, leafy pedestrian squares, some of Seattle’s best restaurants, and the ever-popular Underground Tour. Pioneer Square is a great choice for visitors attending games or concerts at either of Seattle’s big sports arenas, CenturyLink Field or Safeco Field, as it’s easily walkable to both the stadiums and downtown attractions. It’s also a good home base for those who are considering day trips from Seattle, as Seattle’s King Street Amtrak station is located here, and the Washington State ferries are within easy walking distance.

Just west (and downhill) of Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square, Seattle’s Waterfront neighborhood sits – anchored by a busy harbor at the south end and a pebbly park to the north. Because it is separated by a steep hill, this strip along the water feels a bit removed from the rest of the city, but it is where many of Seattle’s best tours and things to do can be found – the Seattle Aquarium, Great Wheel, Washington State ferry and Argosy tour boats – all sharing gorgeous views of Elliott Bay, Puget Sound islands, and the Olympic Mountains.

North of downtown sit Belltown (known for its bars, music venues, and nightlife) and the vast entertainment complex known as Seattle Center. Seattle Center’s campus is home not only to Seattle’s iconic Space Needle, but also museums (Pacific Science Center, Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle Children’s Museum, Chihuly Garden and Glass), a multipurpose sports/entertainment arena (currently under reconstruction), fine arts and music venues (Seattle Children’s Theatre, McCaw Hall, Seattle Repertory Theatre, and the Vera Project) and a fantastic playground and interactive fountain. Seattle Center is also where the city’s two biggest festivals are held, on Memorial and Labor Day weekends, but with so much to do in this neighborhood, the best time to visit Seattle is anytime.

The Best Places To Stay in Seattle

View of Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood and the Space Needle, as seen from Lake Union.

  • Best Neighborhood in Seattle for Sightseeing: Pike Place Market
    Pike Place Market is the heart of Seattle sightseeing. Well-situated amid great local shops and amazing restaurants, most hotels around Pike Place Market have great views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. Aside from the Market itself (a must-do for visitors), hotels here are within walking distance of Pioneer Square’s historic district, the Seattle Art Museum, Belltown’s nightlife, Waterfront attractions and ferries, the monorail to Seattle Center and the Space Needle, and Downtown shops and shows. When it comes to sightseeing, the closer your hotel is to Pike Place the better located you are.
  • Best Neighborhood in Seattle for Nightlife: Belltown
    Jazz clubs, rock venues, award-winning restaurants, prohibition-style speakeasies; you’ll find them all in Belltown, a vibrant neighborhood just north of Pike Place Market. The city’s young and hip flock to this area for its trendy boutiques, bars, and eateries – expect additional activity on weekend nights, especially right after the bars close at 2am. Belltown is convenient to many of Seattle’s best attractions; walkable to Pike Place Market, Seattle Center (home of the Space Needle, Chihuly Museum, food and music festivals, and MoPOP), Downtown shopping, and the waterfront Olympic Sculpture Park.
  • Best Neighborhood in Seattle for Food and Restaurants: Pike Place Market and Ballard
    Pike Place Market and the surrounding area are chock-full of great places to eat – from cheap (but drool-worthy) food stalls to ethnic eateries to haute cuisine. Some of the best are Matt’s in the Market (classic NW), Sushi Kashiba, Place Pigalle (French, romantic), Country Dough (hole-in-the-wall Chinese noodles and flatbread), Steelhead Diner (upscale comfort food), Pasta Casalinga (housemade pasta, casual and crowded), Pike Place Chowder (insanely popular for good reason), Il Bistro (great pizza, open late) and Aerlume (fine dining, great views). Outside of Seattle’s main tourist core, the best neighborhood for food and restaurants is Ballard. Many of Seattle’s top chefs have been drawn to this hip but sleepy area northwest of downtown, where great restaurants abound. Some of the best places to eat in Ballard are The Walrus and the Carpenter (oysters), Un Bien (Caribbean-style sandwiches), Sawyer (innovative comfort food), No Bones Beach Club (vegan tiki bar), La Carta de Oaxaca (Mexican), Delancey (pizza), and Copine (modern, upscale French).
  • Best Neighborhood in Seattle for Families: Seattle Center
    Anchored by the iconic Space Needle, Seattle Center is an arts and entertainment mainstay located just north of Belltown. Created for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, the Center’s campus houses many family-friendly attractions like the Pacific Science Center, The Museum of Pop Culture, Chihuly Garden and Glass, an amazing playground, and the Seattle Children’s Museum and Theatre. The Seattle Monorail provides easy access to downtown and Pike Place Market. The neighborhood generally quiets at night, but check your dates – if you’re traveling during a festival weekend (especially Memorial Day or Labor Day) or when there’s a major concert at Key Arena, expect busier streets and difficult parking.
  • Best Neighborhood in Seattle for First Timers: Pike Place Market
    Great Northwest restaurants and shopping, beautiful Puget Sound and mountain views, and proximity to other iconic activities make the neighborhood surrounding Pike Place Market the best area for Seattle newbies. Beyond the Market itself (the city’s #1 can’t-miss tourist spot), hotels near Pike Place Market are well-situated for top Seattle attractions like harbor cruises on Elliott Bay, underground tours of historic Pioneer Square, the waterfront Aquarium and Great Wheel, ferry boats to Bainbridge Island, and the monorail to Seattle Center (home to the Space Needle, Museum of Pop Culture, and the Chihuly museum).
  • Most Romantic Neighborhood in Seattle: Waterfront, Pike Place Market
    This one is all about the views. The majestic Olympic Mountains in the distance and ferry boats slipping silently across the bay – whether from a balmy summer evening balcony or cozied-up by a fire on a chilly, drizzly day, there’s no better romantic backdrop in Seattle than a Puget Sound panorama. The best views can be found in the Waterfront neighborhood and in the area around Pike Place Market; the Market area has better access to shops and restaurants, while the Waterfront’s relative seclusion makes it a better choice for a more private getaway.
  • Best Neighborhood in Seattle for a Local Vibe: Ballard
    With great nightlife but a cozy maritime neighborhood feel, Ballard is located about 6 miles northwest of downtown. With a beautiful beach and marina, Nordic Heritage Museum, Ballard Locks, excellent weekend farmer’s market, and craft breweries, this family-favorite offers no shortage of things to do. Ballard is an ideal spot to stay for those looking for great local pubs, hip cafes, trendy and delicious restaurants, top-notch live music – and almost no tourists.
  • Best Neighborhood in Seattle for Walking: Pike Place Market
    Hotels near Pike Place Market are within a 10-minute walk of the Seattle Waterfront, great shopping and shows in Central downtown, and the bars and restaurants of Belltown. Walking from Pike Place Market to the Pioneer Square historic district takes about 15 minutes, and getting from Pike Place to the Space Needle takes about 20 minutes (though you can always hop on the Monorail downtown and get there in 5).
  • Safest Areas of Seattle: South Lake Union, Ballard
    Generally, the farther you get from the epicenter of downtown Seattle, the quieter and safer-feeling the vibe will be. (While no Seattle neighborhood is terribly unsafe, some have a higher population of homeless folks and panhandlers than others.) South Lake Union is a lovely, quieter neighborhood that’s connected by streetcar to the downtown core, so sightseeing is still convenient. If proximity to downtown isn’t a necessity, Ballard is a great choice for a local, safe, neighborhoody vibe.
  • Unsafe Areas of Seattle: Pioneer Square, University District
    Seattle is a very safe city, with no neighborhood seeing a large amount of dangerous crime. The city does have a higher than average population of homeless and down-on-their-luck folks, however, and panhandling can be a nuisance – especially in neighborhoods where social programs are located, such as Pioneer Square and the University District.

The 10 Best Neighborhoods in Seattle for Tourists

Blossoming cherry trees on the campus of the University of Washington, in Seattle’s University District.

1. Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market is one of Seattle’s most visited and beloved attractions (by tourists and locals alike), and the dense surrounding neighborhood is the epicenter of Seattle sightseeing. Sure it’s touristy, but its streets and alleyways retain a gritty-yet-charming local vibe that survives despite the visiting crowds. Small galleries and shops are everywhere, as well as countless restaurants that range from small Market stalls to blow-your-budget gourmet cuisine. Hotels near Pike Place Market offer spectacular views of the waterfront, Elliott Bay, and Olympic Mountains – and generally hefty price tags. Attractions that are walkable from Pike Place Market include historic Pioneer Square and the Underground Tour, the Seattle Waterfront (Great Wheel, Aquarium, and Wings over Washington virtual flying experience), downtown theaters and shopping, the Seattle Art Museum, Washington State ferry terminal, Argosy harbor cruises, Chihuly Museum, Pacific Science Center, and Museum of Popular Culture.

2. Downtown

Downtown Seattle is an easy-to-navigate grid of shopping, restaurants, theaters, and office buildings that sits roughly between Third Avenue and Interstate 5. Home to the flagship Nordstrom store and the high-end shops of Pacific Place Mall, downtown also offers cultural attractions like Benaroya Hall (where the Seattle Symphony plays) and the 5th Avenue and Paramount Theatres, both hosting a rotating calendar of big-name performers and Broadway-worthy shows. Downtown Seattle hotels make a great home base for sightseeing, as they are well-located for transit (via light rail, bus, streetcar, and monorail) and conveniently walkable to Pike Place Market, historic Pioneer Square, and the trendy restaurants of South Capitol Hill.

3. Belltown

Belltown is all about late-night bars, high-rise condos, and small local businesses. Located just north of downtown, Belltown is convenient to many of Seattle’s best tourist attractions, but also popular with locals for its many trendy boutiques, bars, and eateries. Jazz clubs, rock venues, prohibition-style speakeasies; they’re all well represented here. Not an ideal choice for those seeking peace and quiet – expect additional activity on weekend nights, especially after 2am. Walk to Pike Place Market, downtown shopping and shows, Seattle Center (home of the Space Needle, Chihuly Museum, food and music festivals, and MoPOP), and the waterfront Olympic Sculpture Park.

4. Pioneer Square

The onetime heart of downtown, historic Pioneer Square is home to some of the city’s oldest surviving buildings, the Klondike Gold Rush Museum, and the ever-popular Underground Tour. Recently, the area has experienced a resurgence in popularity, adding modern art galleries, boutique shops, trendy restaurants, and tree-shaded cafe tables in leafy Occidental Square. Pioneer Square is within walking distance to Safeco Field and CenturyLink sports stadiums, the downtown ferry terminal at Colman Dock, and Pike Place Market. Pioneer Square is well-placed for transit, with light rail, a streetcar line, multiple bus routes, and Amtrak all represented here. Do note that there are several social service agencies located in Pioneer Square that attract a fair number of homeless people. If you stay in this area, expect to see some congregating and minor panhandling, but these folks are less dangerous than they are down on their luck.

5. Waterfront

Seattle’s downtown waterfront neighborhood is all about maritime feel and scenic views of ferries gliding across Elliott Bay. From the pebbly beaches of Myrtle Edwards Park on its north end to the busy working harbor to the south, there are all sorts of things to do along this beautiful Puget Sound seaboard: Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park, The Seattle Aquarium, The Great Wheel, and fantastic seafood restaurants. Opportunities to get out and explore the Salish Sea include Argosy Harbor Cruises, the Victoria (or San Juan) Clipper, the WA State ferries at Colman Dock, and the West Seattle Water Taxi. There are only a couple of hotels that sit directly on Seattle’s waterfront – spring for a bay-facing view, if you can. The walk from the waterfront up to downtown and Pike Place Market isn’t far, but it is steep, and separated by a busy roadway. This separation makes the waterfront district feel disconnected from the rest of downtown – which may or may not be what you’re looking for. Also, there’s currently construction underway to better link the downtown core to the waterfront district, so expect the area to be a bit of a mess.

6. Seattle Center

Anchored by the iconic Space Needle, Seattle Center is an arts and entertainment mainstay located just north of Belltown. Created for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, with a space-age theme and mid-century design, the Center’s campus houses many great attractions like the Pacific Science Center, The Museum of Pop Culture, Chihuly Garden and Glass, and the Seattle Children’s Museum and Theatre. The Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, and many theater companies make their home at Seattle Center, which is also the site of many of the city’s biggest urban outdoor festivals: Bumbershoot, Folklife, PrideFest, and Bite of Seattle. The Gates Foundation Visitor Center and Olympic Sculpture Park are nearby, and the Seattle Monorail provides easy access to downtown and Pike Place Market. Though it’s not Seattle’s most scenic neighborhood, hotels around Seattle Center are generally less expensive than those downtown, and parking is cheaper and more readily available. The area around Seattle Center quiets at night, making it a good option for visitors who want to avoid the busiest parts of the city, but lodge near popular attractions. Check your dates, though – if you’re traveling during a festival weekend (especially Memorial Day or Labor Day) or when there’s a major concert at Key Arena, expect the opposite: busier streets, more expensive rooms, and difficult parking.

7. South Lake Union

The up-and-coming South Lake Union neighborhood is a hi-tech hub, home to Amazon.com and many other prominent tech and biomedical companies. In addition to its namesake urban lake, there are loads of great restaurants in the area, as well as a couple of great museums and easy streetcar access into downtown. This is a generally quieter area than downtown, and hotels here are more likely to have swimming pools, Space Needle views, and lower rates. South Lake Union’s best attractions include beautiful Lake Union Park, the Museum of History and Industry, the Center for Wooden Boats, and the Kenmore Air float planes at that take off and land at Lake Union’s southernmost tip.

8. Capitol Hill/First Hill

Capitol Hill is one of Seattle’s most vibrant and well-loved neighborhoods, popular with locals for its nightlife, counterculture, and hundreds of great bars and restaurants. Its north end features stately old homes and leafy Volunteer Park: home to the Volunteer Park Conservatory and the Seattle Asian Art Museum (currently under renovation), and its south end borders Seattle University. Capitol Hill’s best attractions include Melrose Market (a foodie haven), the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room, Cal Anderson Park, and Elliott Bay Book Company – Seattle’s best bookstore. It’s an easy walk into downtown from most points in southern Capitol Hill, though you might want to take cab back up. (It’s pretty steep.) This neighborhood is also great for transit – there’s a Capitol Hill light rail station, many bus routes, and a streetcar line that runs through the International District and into Pioneer Square. First Hill lies just south of Capitol Hill, just across the freeway from downtown. Though they’re close neighbors, First Hill has a quieter vibe than Capitol Hill, and is sometimes called “Pill Hill” for its many hospitals and medical offices. First Hill’s best attractions are St. James Cathedral, the Hotel Sorrento’s charming fireside lounge, and the Frye Art Museum.

9. University District

Northeast of Seattle’s downtown, the University District (“U-District” to locals) is home to the main campus of the University of Washington, which features gorgeous gothic architecture, two trip-worthy museums (Henry Art Gallery and Burke Museum of Natural History), mountain views, and famous springtime-blossoming cherry trees. The neighborhood around campus has plenty of good (and cheap) restaurants, bars, and indie boutiques. There’s also a fantastic year-round farmer’s market every Saturday and a variety of chic shops and great restaurants in University Village – an upscale outdoor shopping center located just downhill from campus. Though this neighborhood is a bit removed from downtown, light rail and multiple bus routes make the U District easily accessible to many other neighborhoods and Sea-Tac Airport.

10. Ballard

Six miles northwest of downtown Seattle, charming Ballard developed as a Scandinavian enclave, anchored by maritime-based industries like fishing and boatbuilding. Today Ballard retains a cozy neighborhood feel, while its local institutions like the Nordic Heritage Museum, Ballard Locks, Shilshole Bay Marina, and Golden Gardens Beach Park have become popular attractions for locals and tourists alike. Ballard’s weekly farmer’s market (held year-round on Sundays) is one of the city’s best, featuring local produce, arts and crafts, and entertainment. Seattle’s burgeoning craft beer industry is well-represented in Ballard, with many of the city’s top microbreweries found here. Ballard also makes a great spot for a night out, due to its many great bars, award-winning restaurants, and nightly live music.

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