City Guide: Seattle on a Budget
Seattle is a place of glorious contrasts. Pristine forests and gleaming skyscrapers. Grunge music and corporate giants. This Pacific Northwest metropolis of 4,000,000 is that perfect balance of city and nature, truly offering something for everyone. It also possesses a progressive personality, proudly boasting legalized marijuana, a large LGBT population, and a $15/hour minimum wage for its workers.
A relatively new city, Seattle takes its name from Chief Si’ahl, a Duwamish tribal leader who made contact with the first American settlers. Originally a logging town, Seattle is now the home of corporate colossus Amazon, with Microsoft and Boeing in nearby communities. Music is a huge part of Seattle’s ethos, spawning the entire grunge movement with bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden (who, incidentally, got their name from a local art installation).
Read on to learn about how to get the best out of Seattle on a budget!
Where to Stay
Green Tortoise Hostel has a prime Downtown location; you can stand out front and hit Pike Place Market with a fish. If you’re traveling solo, this is the perfect way to do Seattle on a budget.
Like with any place, Airbnb is going to be a very good option, especially if you’re traveling in a group. Expect to pay between $30-70/night with taxes.
Some of the coolest neighborhoods include:
- Downtown/Waterfront (walkable, close to all the attractions)
- Pioneer Square (great for nightlife, historic)
- Capital Hill (LGBT-friendly, great for nightlife)
- Belltown (centrally located)
- Fremont (kinda artsy)
What to Do
Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is among the most famous public markets in the United States. If you’ve ever seen a commercial with people flinging freshly caught fish, chances are it was filmed at Pike Place Market. The final scene of Mission Impossible 4: Ghost Protocol was filmed there, as well.
This sprawling yet walkable waterside market has been operating since 1907. You’ll find everything from restaurants and bars to record shops to the very first Starbuck’s in Pike Place Market. Just across the street (which is easy to cross, thanks to a state law requiring drivers to stop for pedestrians), you’ll find upper-level boardwalks for enjoying the view of the water and the mountains.
I’ll be honest, it can get pretty inundated with tourists, especially on the weekends. However, I feel that the word “tourist” has moved on to join a class of words like “hipster;” it’s just a part of life now. Pike Place Market is cool and fun, and everyone likes things that are cool and fun, hence a lot of people come here.
One of the best ways to enjoy Seattle on a budget is to get a CityPass. If you’re going to spend several days here and have time for all or most of the most popular attractions outlined below, you may want to consider purchasing one. CityPasses offer discounts to usually five hot locations in cities all across the country. For Seattle, the booklets are $99 for adults and $79 for kids. The attractions are:
- The Space Needle
- Seattle Aquarium
- Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour
- Museum of Pop Culture OR Woodland Park Zoo
- Chihuly Garden & Glass OR Pacific Science Center
Basically, if you’re hitting up the Space Needle, the Museum of Pop Culture, and the Chihuly Garden & Glass, the CityPass would already pay for itself. All those attractions are between $30 and $34 apiece for adult tickets, which puts you over $100 just for those three. Could be worth it for you.
The Space Needle
The Space Needle wowed onlookers back in 1962 when it was unveiled as part of the World’s Fair. With a distinctly retro UFO-inspired look, it’s still an instantly recognizable symbol of Seattle almost half a century later.
The Space Needle is one of the most sought-after tourist attractions in Seattle, so expect considerable wait times. But once you do get to the top, the views are insane.
Chihuly Garden & Glass
Located right next to the Space Needle is Chihuly Garden & Glass, a collection of incredible blown-glass works of art by local artist Chihuly. There are a plethora of strikingly lifelike glass sculptures both in the “Glasshouse” and in the Garden, and they are really, really cool. This is not the cheapest attraction in Seattle, but one I highly recommend.
Ah yes, the #1 reason a lot of people visit Washington state!
The Have a Heart dispensaries are pretty good. The joints usually cost about $20 per gram, although certain shops have extra high-quality cannabis that runs $30-35 per gram. These are good-sized, conical blunts made of compacted bud, no paper, sticky with resin. While I’m not an expert on bud I can tell you that these are moderately strong, and a little goes a long way, especially if you’re a new smoker or haven’t smoked in a while.
What I think is a good move is to go to Have a Heart in the Belltown neighborhood, then drive to Kerry Park to smoke. This is a nice little park that overlooks Puget Sound and the Seattle skyline. The views are engaging, and the surrounding area is both walkable and replete with cool old houses. As long as you’re not acting like a complete fool, you can 100% legally smoke and explore the place, which makes for good vibes.
Pro Tip: You can use the Weed Map app to find the best dispensaries near where you’re staying.
In the trendy Fremont neighborhood, past the bookshops and ice cream parlors and consignment shops, tucked under a highway overpass, is a troll. Literally, a troll. An 18-foot cement troll clutching a VW Beetle. Why? Because they could.
“They” being the Seattle Arts Council who held a contest to beautify the underside of Aurora Bridge. A group of local artists created the “Fremont Troll,” dedicating it in 1990. The VW in his clutches formerly held a statue of Elvis, though this was stolen years ago.
Tagging or in any way altering the appearance of the statue is frowned upon. You are, however, encouraged to climb all over the Troll.
Nestled on the northwest corner of the city is Discovery Park, Seattle’s main green space, at 534 acres. The park contains almost 12 miles of walking trails and plenty of things for people of literally all ages. It’s easy to enjoy Seattle on a budget when you have natural beauty like this free to the public.
Museum of Pop Culture
The Museum of Pop Culture was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, and showcases the most enduring aspects of contemporary American pop culture. Current exhibits include the Seattle grunge music scene, horror films, and even Minecraft. Although the coolest aspect of all may be MoPop itself:
Where to Eat
Again, Pike Place Market is going to have just about anything you could have a hankering for, although it’s most authentic to get some good seafood there. Steelhead Diner and Lowell’s are just two of many. This being a public market, you can also sample foods like sausages, pastries, and cheeses, and buy fresh produce to make back at your hostel or hotel.
Pro Tip: Cooking your own meals can be fun and makes it easier to do Seattle on a budget.
Seattle has a high Asian population, and so you’ll find some authentic eastern cuisine. If you find a Filipino diner, try some long silong, an interesting mix of rice, scrambled eggs, and red sausages.
Looking for a drink with more bite? Go to Russell‘s, a chill, unpretentious bar with good vibes. But there are a lot of options for nightlife.
It goes without saying that Seattle is also a premier coffee town. Home of Starbuck’s, Seattle’s Best, and countless other independent coffee roasters, it’s hard to find a bad cup of coffee in this town. There are even several places that use the traditional Ethiopian method of brewing coffee, such as Adey Abeba and Jebena Cafe (the jebena is a traditional Ethiopian coffee carafe).
When to Go
Spring and Summer are the best months, although let’s be honest…you’re going to encounter overcast skies and drizzle year-round.
Getting around Seattle is pretty easy, especially in the Downtown/Waterfront areas and even a ways out into the residential areas. Drivers are required by law to stop and let you cross, which many big-city visitors might find refreshing. Sound Transit provides The Link light rail, which goes straight to Sea-Tac Airport, as well as the Seattle Streetcar. However, outside of the downtown areas, you’ll want to grab an Uber or Lyft.
What to Avoid
I know this is an unpopular opinion, but I just don’t get the Gum Wall. It’s literally an alley behind Pike Place Market where people just started sticking their chewed gum. Over the years the wads of gum have literally turned into multicolored stalagmites of eww. A lot of people like it, but I wouldn’t worry about it.
That’s it! I hope you enjoyed this city guide, and got some tips on how to enjoy Seattle on a budget. As always, if there’s anything I left out, feel free to add it in the comments below!