Like most big cities, Seattle has a lot of really fun things to see and do. But also like most big cities, a lot of it is extremely expensive. Take the Space Needle, for example. As of this writing, tickets range from $24.50 to $37.50 per person. Yikes. Since I’m not willing to pay that much to ride an elevator, you’ll have to ask someone else if the view is worth it. But if you, like me, like to have as much fun as possible without breaking the bank, here are six cool things you can do in and around Seattle for little to no cost.
Pike's Place Market
I read a blog once that claimed Pike’s Place was overhyped and not worth a visit, but I have to disagree. Pike’s Place a treat for the senses with its colors and sounds and smells, and everywhere you look, there’s something fun to see. If you’ve ever seen the mildly corny FISH! customer service video while training for a new job, Pike’s Place is where you’ll find those famous flying fish—and honestly, it really is as entertaining as the video makes it look.
But Pike’s Place is more than just a fun place to get some grub. It’s also part of the Pike Place Foundation, an organization that provides housing, social services, and access to nutritious food for low-income families and individuals.
Cost: Aside from anything you want to buy at the market, the only potential cost for visiting Pike’s Place is parking. You can park in the garage starting at $4/hour, or you can look for metered street parking nearby, which is free for the first two hours and on weekends and holidays.
West Seattle Parks
Instead of going up in the Space Needle for a view of Seattle, head around to West Seattle, where several public parks offer great views of the Seattle skyline, the Puget Sound, and (on a clear day) the Cascades. It’s also a great place to watch for Bald Eagles, or bring your canoe, kayak, or SUP and take a paddle along the shore.
Ballard Locks is the busiest boat lock in the US, and it’s fascinating to watch ships both large and small come under the drawbridge and navigate from the lower waters of Puget Sound to the higher waters of Lakes Union and Washington. At low tide, the difference in water levels can be as much as three stories! There are plenty of walkways and viewpoints to give you a front row seat to the workings of the lock.
Ballard Locks is also an important fish ladder for migrating salmon. There’s a viewing area for watching the fish acclimate to the change from salt to fresh water, but you can also see large schools of salmon from the top of the fish ladder. You may even spot some seals, and the locks are home to the largest colony of Great Blue Herons in Seattle—75 nests!
Carl S. English Botanical Gardens
Right next door to the Ballard Locks are the Carl S. English Botanical Gardens, a beautiful collection of flowers and trees. Even as a lover of plants, many of them were new to me. It’s a lovely spot to take a stroll and forget that you’re in a big city for a little bit.
Cost: Free, but donations are welcome.
And while you’re in the neighborhood, you can take a peek at the Instagram famous Freemont Troll.
Whidbey Island is full of picturesque farms and beautiful beaches. It’s also a favorite spot to watch for whales, with Orcas, Gray whales, Minke whales, and porpoises frequenting the surrounding waters. Thanks to my sister’s careful attention to the Orca Network’s Facebook page, we were lucky enough to see a small pod right off Ebey’s Landing.
The nearby West Beach is rather narrow, but it still makes for a lovely stroll. We found lots of beautiful rocks and enjoyed the island’s dramatic coastline.
If you’re feeling munchy after your adventures, stop for some yummy ice cream from the Farm Stand at K&R Farms.
Cost: Visiting Ebey’s Landing requires a $10 Washington State Parks Discovery Pass, but that covers all passengers in your car and will also get you into Fort Ebey, Fort Casey, and any other state park in Washington. It’s good for a single day, so if you’re staying in Washington for a while and want to visit parks over multiple days, it might be more cost effective to get the $30 annual pass. West Beach is free.
Similk Beach is a quiet little beach on Fidalgo Island. It’s covered in an impressive array of driftwood, and we spotted crabs, herons, and osprey. It might not make it into most travel guides out there, but it was honestly one of my favorite spots near Seattle. When the weather is nice, it would make a great place for a quiet picnic or a paddle around the bay.
What are your favorite affordable things to see and do around Seattle? Share your thoughts in the comments below!