AAA Travel Tips & Articles / Seattle Off the Beaten Path

Seattle Off the Beaten Path

AAA/Katie McPhee
By AAA Travel Editor Katie McPhee
July 09, 2018
Historic skyscrapers, scenic beaches, an under-the-bridge troll and a university library that bears a striking resemblance to Harry Potter’s Hogwarts—there are more things to see in Seattle than just the Space Needle and other typical tourist attractions. Follow this guide to discover some of the top things to do in Seattle that are off the beaten path.
sightseeing, landmark, weird, bridge, photo spot
AAA/Katie McPhee
Fremont Troll
N. 36th Street & Troll Avenue N.
(206) 632-1500
Head to the Fremont neighborhood for a taste of Seattle’s fun and quirky public art. Tucked under the north end of the Aurora Bridge is the Fremont Troll, a massive mixed-media sculpture inspired by the “Three Billy Goats Gruff” fairy tale and created by local artists Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter and Ross Whitehead. Though he looks menacing—with a Volkswagen Beetle clutched in one hand and a shiny hubcap for an eye—the troll is friendly to visitors and is a popular place to snap a quick photo. You’ll also find tons of nearby places to eat in Fremont that are off the beaten path.
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Gas Works Park and view of Lake Union in Seattle
Wikimedia / CC BY SA /WikiPedant
Gas Works Park
2101 N. Northlake Way
(206) 684-4075
Grassy hills, waterfront views and…rusted gas plant machinery? The site of a former coal gasification plant (used to manufacture gas from coal) may seem an unlikely place for recreation, but Gas Works Park retains its steampunk charm and provides stunning vistas of Lake Union and the surrounding Seattle suburbs. The machinery makes for a unique photo op and puts this park on the list of fun things to do in Seattle that are off the beaten path.
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View of a sandy beach with a forest in the background at Golden Gardens Park in Seattle, Washington.
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Golden Gardens Park
8498 Seaview Pl. N.W.
(206) 684-4075
Relax on a quiet, sandy beach at Golden Gardens Park, one of the best things to do in Seattle at sunset. Though it’s a bit of a drive to get there (about 8 miles from downtown), the park offers uninterrupted views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. Wetlands, forest trails, a playground and a bathhouse are on the grounds, and beach fire pits are available for use in the evenings. Visit on a weekday to avoid any potential crowds, especially during summer months.
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The Living Room atrium inside The Seattle Public Library's Central Branch.
AAA/Katie McPhee
Seattle Central Library
1000 Fourth Ave.
(206) 386-4636
If you’re into architecture, don’t miss a walk through Seattle Central Library, part of The Seattle Public Library system. Opened in 2004 with a price tag of $165.5 million, the downtown location occupies an entire city block and features a striking, futuristic design by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas. Enter via Fifth Avenue to see the light-filled “Living Room” with its soaring ceiling, then proceed up the chartreuse escalators to check out the other floors. A self-guiding cellphone tour shares facts and information at 20 different stops around the building. It’s one of the few downtown Seattle activities with no admission fee (and plenty of air-conditioning).
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Letterpress prints and souvenirs at Pike Street Press in Seattle, Washington.
AAA/Katie McPhee
Shop Local
The most popular place in Seattle to shop local is around Pike Place Market, where chain stores are almost non-existent. In addition to the dozens of independent shops housed inside the market, you can find locally made goods near the waterfront at Pike St. Press (1510 Alaskan Way), which stocks Northwest-themed letterpress cards, posters, vinyl stickers and stationery. In the Capitol Hill neighborhood, bookworms flock to The Elliott Bay Book Company (1521 10th Ave.) while the Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room (1124 Pike St.) is a one-stop shop for beans, gifts and everything else related to the coffee giant.
The open-air observatory level at the Smith Tower in downtown Seattle, Washington.
AAA/Katie McPhee
Smith Tower
506 2nd Ave.
(206) 624-0414
Learn about the early-1900s movers and shakers who called Seattle home at the Smith Tower, said to be the oldest skyscraper in the city. Self-guiding tours take you through re-created offices and switchboard rooms and then up to the 35th floor observatory level via a manually operated elevator ride. At the top you’ll have 360-degree panoramas of the city and surrounding mountains from a caged, open-air deck as well as access to a speakeasy-themed cocktail bar.
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The Suzzallo Library Reading Room on the University of Washington campus, Seattle.
AAA/Katie McPhee
University of Washington
1410 N.E. Campus Pkwy.
(206) 543-9198
Spend a few hours wandering the University of Washington campus, located just north of downtown. Beautiful scenery abounds, with rose bushes and cherry blossoms in spring adding pops of color to the Gothic buildings and red brick expanses on campus. One of the top things to see is the Reading Room at the Suzzallo Library; its striking resemblance to the Hogwarts’ Library has made the room into somewhat of a tourist attraction. To reach the Reading Room, enter the Suzzallo Library and proceed up the grand staircase to the third floor.
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View of the Seattle skyline from the King County Water Taxi in Washington.
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Water Taxi to West Seattle
801 Alaskan Way (Pier 52)
(206) 477-3979
No visit to Seattle is complete without a boat ride on the icy-cool waters of Puget Sound. A cheap and off-the-beaten-path option is the King County Water Taxi, a passenger-only ferry that makes the trip across Elliott Bay to West Seattle in 15 minutes or less. Check the schedule online and embark at Pier 52; the fare is just $5.75 each way. Disembark in West Seattle to rent bikes, explore Alki Beach Park or check out the local restaurants. Tip: You’ll avoid most crowds if you visit on a weekday.