Seattle, WA; exploring the city on the cheap…

Seattle's Space Needle, downtown, Mt. Rainier and Elliott Bay from Kerry Park.

Seattle, WA; a frugal traveler’s guide to doing the city on the cheap…

605 foot tall Space Needle towers over the city.Many of best destinations are free for the exploration!

We first honeymooned in Seattle 47 years ago and have repeatedly returned to this classic city by the bay. From the serene waters of Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains to the west and the Cascade Mountains to the east, Seattle offers a wealth of visitor amenities and attractions – many of them free of charge. Join us for a frugal explorer’s tour of the city on the cheap!

If flying into SeaTac Airport, about 20 miles south of Seattle, take the light rail line right into the center city.  From there, rely on a variety of public transit options to get around the city – avoiding the cost of renting an auto (you’ll also avoid the parking and traffic hassles that all-too-often snarl this picturesque city by the bay).

Seattle has one of the best public transit systems in the nation, from Metro bus lines, the Monorail, light rail, streetcars, Uber, Lyft and taxis. For details, downtownseattle.com. And, if driving into the city, plan to park that vehicle and use public transit to get around town almost seamlessly!

For views of this spectacular city ringed by rugged mountains to both the east and west and fronting on Elliot Bay, skip the pricey ride to the top of the 605 foot-tall Space Needle.  Instead, take in a majestic, free view from Queen Anne Hill’s Kerry Park on W. Highland Drive. Here you’ll take in stunning views of the Space Needle, downtown, Elliott Bay, the Olympic Mountains and Mt. Rainier shimmering in the distance.

Stately home typical of those on Queen Anne Hill.

While on Queen Anne Hill, stroll Queen Ann Avenue for a tour of lovely old mansions and stately homes and check out the shops and restaurants within a few blocks of the Boston Street intersection. Just north of Queen Anne Hill is a favorite part of Seattle, lining the north bank of the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

The canal’s Hiram Chittenden Locks allow commercial and pleasure boats to lock up or down, traveling from Lake Washington and Lake Union west to Elliott Bay; the surrounding park is offers free boat watching and a fish-ladder allowing viewing of fish as they navigate the locks.

A big commercial fishing vessel navigates the Chittenden Locks on the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

The Burke Gilman Bike Trail heads east from Elliott Bay along the Ship Canal, through Ballard, Fremont and the University of Washington and north up Lake Washington, making Seattle a world-class bicycling destination. Scores of bike shops in the area rent bikes for easy and photogenic cycling adventures.

Cyclists meet at Fremont Farmer's Market, right off the Burke-Gillman Bike Trail.

Weekend farmers markets are part of the year-round culture in Ballard, Fremont and the University District near University of Washington. Stroll organic farm goods, crafts and find a variety of delicious street food like salmon sliders!

No visit to Seattle is complete without a visit to the iconic Pike Street Public Market for free street music, flower growers and craftsmen extraordinaire and the liveliest place for people-watching. Views of Elliot Bay spread out below. Stop for a bite and something to drink at one of the many eateries throughout the sprawling market. A favorite, the Athenian Restaurant, was also part of the 1993 hit movie Sleepless in Seattle.

One of many other-worldly art creations at Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle Center.

Seattle Center, anchored by the Space Needle and the site of the 1962 World’s Fair, offers a plethora of tourism activities and attractions. Spend your tourism dollars at the Chihuly Garden and Glass or the nearby Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop), separated by the Monorail with speedy service to downtown retailers and hotels.

The Chihuly Garden and Glass experience features the mind-expanding work of Dale Chihuly, with colorful and stunning art works in eight galleries, a centerpiece Glasshouse and a lush outdoor Garden. Next door, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPop), anchored by rock and roll, serves as an entryway museum with innovative galleries such as Sound Lab, Sky Church (a concert venue with the world’s largest LED screen and high-tech lighting and sound) and a huge collection of over 100,000 historical objects. The 140,000 square foot building designed by Frank O. Gehry is stunning architecture.

Make a day out of exploring the film sites of the hit 1993 movie Sleepless in Seattle, starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Hanks plays Sam the architect, who moves to Seattle with son Jonah; Ryan plays Annie, a reporter for the Baltimore Sun; their cross-country connection makes for a romantic and scenic movie.

Daffodils and tulips at one of many flower vendors in Pike Place Market.

Those movie locations include the Pike Street Market and the Athenian Restaurant, the Dahlia Restaurant (where Sam dates a woman with a most-irritating laugh and Annie has the date staked out by a private investigator), Sam and Jonah’s houseboat home on Lake Union and Alki Beach Park in West Seattle.  For a roadmap to these and other movie locations, see:   http://www.movie-locations.com/movies/s/Sleepless_In_Seattle.html#.WOmERDxHaEc.

The historic Pioneer Square area, with nearby ballparks home to the Mariners and Seahawks and downtown ferry terminal (with frequent departures to both Bainbridge Island and Bremerton) make another walking tour option, with antique shops, boutiques, restaurants and bakeries a’plenty.

How to get to Seattle, WA: From Stockton, take I-5 north; it’s 810 miles and 12.5 hours; or, fly into SeaTac Airport.

For more information: Downtown Seattle, as well as public transportation, downtownseattle.com; WA State Ferries, wsdot.wa.gov/ferries/; for Washington State tourism, experiencewa.com.

Two Washington State ferries near Anacortes, WA.

Read more from Tim Viall’s travel blog, follow him on Facebook or Twitter; or, email him at tviall@msn.com. Happy travels in your world!

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  • Blog Author

    Tim Viall

    Viall is a local travel writer who retired in late 2012 after 10 years as executive director of Stockton, CA's, Emergency Food Bank and six years with the Downtown Stockton Alliance. Previously, a 21-year career in daily newspapers helped shape his ... Read Full
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