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7 Cool Things to Do in Seattle

On the surface, Seattle is full of iconic views, good coffee, and whiffs of a bygone grunge era, but dig deeper and you'll also find progressive cuisine, heritage craftsmanship, and a city armed with urban planners ready for the future. Cracking the city takes a bit of patience (and rain boots). How best to navigate it? Just follow this list—our top things to do in Seattle.

See recent posts by Jenna Scatena

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See Pike Place Market’s new major expansion.

One of Seattle’s major draws just got a whole lot bigger. Pike Place Market, one of the country’s first farmers’ markets, received a stunning $74 million expansion this summer. MarketFront, its new gleaming steel-and-glass emporium on the cusp of Elliot Bay, showcases Seattle’s creative class with 47 tables where you can peruse local produce and hand-made wares while chatting up the farmers, purveyors, and craftspeople who brought them. Drop by Old Stove Brewing Co., a true Pacific Northwest brew house and gastropub, for a crisp amber ale, then duck into Little Fish and nibble on local fish that’s cured, salted, and smoked on site. The public plaza is the perfect place for a break, with a viewing deck overlooking the Olympic Mountains, Mount Rainier, and Puget Sound.

RELATED: The Best Farmers’ Markets in the U.S.

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Go paddle-boarding on Portage Bay.

The appeal of sailing through Portage Bay—a serene inlet in northern Seattle—is all about gawking at Dwell-worthy houseboats and marine life. The best way to see all of it? Ask the experts at Agua Verde, who specialize in aquatic sightseeing adventures. Their popular stand-up paddle-board and kayaking tours will have you gliding through the waterways of the houseboat district or the Washington Park Arboretum, a 230-acre sanctuary home to eagles, herons, and beavers. You’ll see a different side to Seattle nightlife during their monthly nocturnal moonlight tour.

RELATED: America’s Most Beautiful Lake Towns

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Shop independent boutiques in Ballard.

Think of Seattle’s mellow Ballard neighborhood as one walkable outdoor indie mall. While there’s plenty of places to eat (including popular oyster bar The Walrus and the Carpenter—be prepared for a wait), a trove of boutiques along its leafy streets show off Seattle’s smart style. Channeling the maritime district’s Scandinavian roots, Prism appeals to nearly every kind of fashion-forward visitor with its utilitarian clothing for men, women, and kids as well as outdoorsy weekend supplies and apothecary section (we love the face oils and sweet-scented soaps made in eye-popping color combos). Digs is another standout for its trendy modern homewares, from ceramic sculptures to geometric brass vases.

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Dine on the water.

If you haven’t already guessed, dining in Seattle is as much about the water and the views as it is about fresh seafood. One of the best nautical restaurant experiences in town can be found on the shores of Lake Union, at Westward. Only novices enter through the front door—adventurous diners arrive by kayak, then make a beeline for one of the fireside chairs on the beach. The deck, illuminated by string lights and overlooking the water, is another good seating option. Time your visit so that appetizers arrive at sunset, then watch the day fade into night as you dig into modern interpretations of Seattle surf and turf, like wood oven-roasted rainbow trout with rhubarb and walnuts and mustard-glazed boar ribs.

RELATED: 8 Amazing Beach Restaurants

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Go flightseeing.

Seeing Seattle by sky isn’t limited to waiting in line for a ride to the top of the Space Needle. Hop aboard a tiny seaplane for a bird’s-eye-view of the Seattle skyline, coastline, and Puget Sound—a classic way to explore the beauty of the northwest. Kenmore Air offers a variety of tours, from 20-minute narrated scenic flights to longer air expeditions that take in the nearby San Juan Islands or British Columbia, up the coast.

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Head out on a cocktail crawl through Capitol Hill.

Caught in a downpour? Don’t let Seattle’s rain get you down—there are plenty of bars in the bustling Capitol Hill neighborhood that can help you forget about the weather, or transport you to another place and time altogether. Case in point: Havana Social Club takes you to Cuba by way of their potent rum-inspired cocktails and tropical décor. (Be prepared to dance.) For a more intimate imbibing experience, Needle & Thread is a favorite for its classy speakeasy-style bar and Prohibition-era craft cocktails. At Witness, drinks like the Son of a Preacher Man (bourbon with black tea, lemon, and honey liqueur) bring a touch of Southern comfort to Seattle—as do their gourmet bar bites, like buttermilk beignets and chicken and waffles.

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Dive into Seattle’s diverse cultural heritage.

It’s not a true visit to any city unless some time is dedicated to learning about its cultural heritage. That means venturing to the International District, just south of downtown Seattle. Orient yourself at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience for a crash course in the region’s Asian history. Multimedia exhibits, artistic displays, folk art, and historic structures connect the impact past and present Asian communities and individuals have had in shaping the city (hello, Bruce Lee). They also offer informative neighborhood walking tours. Explore the rest of the district by foot: we suggest swinging by the 45-foot-high Chinatown Gate, Fuji Bakery for curry buns, Maneki for affordable James Beard Award-winning Japanese food, and Uwajimaya for quirky souvenirs like colorful tea sets and sushi kits.

RELATED: 13 New Museums to See Now

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