Seattle City Guide

18 minutes

InterExchange Career Training USA provides detailed city guides for our international student participants who will be working in the U.S. as part of an internship or training program with an American business.

For more information on Career Training USA, visit our website.

The Seattle Guide

Known by many nicknames—Emerald City, Rainy City, Jet City—Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest region of the U.S. The people of Seattle, known as Seattleites, are 560,000 strong and hold the record for being the most literate city in the country. Well known for its proximity to water, forests and mountains, as well as for its strong coffee, food, music scene and urban culture, Seattle is one city you won't want to miss.

Getting there
Air: If you are flying to Seattle, you will arrive at Seattle Tacoma International Airport (known as SEA-TAC). There are a variety of options to get into the city, including the newly established Light Rail that will take you straight to downtown on an elevated platform, or to link up with other forms of public transportation such as the King County Metro Bus System. Because Seattle is primarily a driving city, it is definitely a good idea to rent a car, though the city buses can take you pretty much anywhere you need to go. It's about a 20-30 minute drive from the airport to downtown Seattle.

Light Rail Info:
King County Metro Bus info:

Amtrak: Amtrak provides all train service along the west coast of the U.S.( The train will drop you off downtown, near the International District, and you will be directed to city transportation that will take you specifically to where you need to go.

Once you are there
Driving is the most convenient mode of transportation to really see the city, but if you don't have access to a vehicle there are always these options below:

Bus: The King County Metro Bus system operates from around 4:30 AM to 1:30 AM, with extensive routes that can take you to all the neighborhoods in the city, however be prepared to wait as he buses run on a 30 minute to 1 hour schedule, unless you are in peak zones.

Biking: Seattle has a reputation of being a liberal town with strong environmental tendencies. Biking is a popular option for the eco-conscious and the more adventurous. You can visit this website for information on bike rentals below:

For a comprehensive list of transportation options you can visit the city of Seattle website:

Weather and Climate
If you've heard anything about Seattle weather, it most likely has something to do with rain. For three out of four seasons of the year, you can expect a constant drizzle of rain or at least overcast skies. Sound depressing? No fear, just go in the summer! Summertime is the best time to visit Seattle. Seattle is known for it's mild climate, meaning summers are incredibly pleasant, not humid and not too hot but still warm enough to enjoy all of your summer activities. Of course, if you aren't afraid of the rain, come any time of year and see how 560,000 Seattlelites enjoy their city.


Seattle is a city of neighborhoods, all of which were once separate towns that were annexed early in Seattle history and became Seattle territory. Each neighborhood has it's own distinct feel and unique attributes. Below you can find a brief description of the look and feel of a few of Seattle's most prominent neighborhoods to watch out for while you are there.

University District
University of Washington is one of the oldest institutions on the west coast, and the neighborhood surrounding the school is the University District, called the U-District by locals. Inhabited mainly by college students and other urban dwellers, this area is culturally rich and has something for everyone. The main street in this neighborhood, University Way—known as "The Ave"—is a grungy artsy street with vintage stores, boutique clothing shops, tiny authentic eateries, books and cafes. Most of the establishments are highly affordable here, where you can enjoy a wealth of mom and pop shops catering to broke college students.

Capitol Hill
Located near downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill is the most densely populated residential area and the center of counterculture in the city. Capitol Hill houses many of the city's most historical mansions, dating from the turn of the 19th century. Capitol Hill is a cultural hotspot, the center of LGBT life in the city, and has a prominent nightlife scene, vibrant coffee/café culture and a fiercely burgeoning arts scene including theatre, visual arts and music. Broadway, the main street that runs through the neighborhood is densely packed with a variety of ethnic restaurants, vintage and hip clothing stores, and cafes.

This is the city center, and is a major shopping district, full of upscale department stores, major chain stores, and restaurants and cafes. It is also where all of the city's skyscrapers and corporate offices are located. A popular public hang out where people go to shop and eat, you can spend a whole day wandering downtown by foot. Due to its central location, you can easily get from downtown to the Pike Place Market, Capitol Hill, Belltown and Chinatown.
*tip: The public Metro Bus system is free when riding between Chinatown and Downtown in the underground tunnel, in the Ride Free Area. More info:

This neighborhood is Seattle's center for nightlife and fine dining, with a bit more local flavor and culture than downtown. The streets of Belltown are packed and brimming with excitement on weekend evenings. Compared to other popular areas to go out, Belltown caters to a more posh and yuppie crowd, as opposed to Capitol Hill's urban, hip feel.

One of the oldest neighborhoods in Seattle caters to a diverse population with something for everyone. Trendy cafes, vintage shops, neighborhood pubs, tons of ethnic restaurants and its proximity to the water make this neighborhood worth the visit. Known also for Golden Garden Park, a beautiful sandy beach that leads into the Puget Sound, with views of the Olympic mountain range. In the summer people come to Golden Gardens for bonfires and beautiful west coast sunsets.

The neighborhood motto, "De Libertas Quirkas" or "Free To Be Peculiar" should paint a clear picture of this artsy eclectic neighborhood, known for it's offbeat parades and fairs featuring nude cyclists and other sights to be seen. With many unique bakeries, restaurants, galleries, bars and microbreweries this neighborhood is not to be missed. If you are in the area, don't forget to say hi to the Fremont Troll- a massive concrete troll underneath built underneath the Fremont Bridge.

West Seattle
The West Seattle neighborhood is known as the first landing point of white settlers in the Seattle area in the 19th century. Today it is one of Seattle's most popular waterfronts, home to Alki Beach, which has a beautiful view of the Olympic mountain range over the shore of the Puget Sound. This community is located just across the West Seattle Bridge, and has a whole host interesting restaurants cafes and bars.

Mostly a residential neighborhood surrounding Green Lake, a popular recreational area for runners, roller-bladers, bikers, ball players, crew and even medieval swordfighting, the surrounding neighborhood is full of quaint neighborhood bars and eateries. After you take a stroll around the lake you can replenish at Chocolati (, chocolate café with homemade treats and hot beverages, or experience a 12-egg omelet from the famous 24-hour joint Beth's Café

Queen Anne
This neighborhood is based around Seattle's tallest hill and thus offers sweeping views of the Seattle skyline and shows Seattle's early roots with its 19th century architecture. The main road, Queen Anne Avenue offers upscale and trendy boutiques, restaurants and hotels. For the best view of Seattle visit, Kerry Park in Queen Anne to see one of the best skylines in the world.

Coffee Culture

As the birthplace of Starbucks, and other internationally famous brands like Tully's and Seattle's Best Coffee, Seattle is definitely known as the coffee capital of the United States. These days however, the Seattle coffee scene isn't solely defined by these well-known coffee makers, but is now made up of a plethora of local artisan roasters. Below find some of the best spots to grab a cup of Joe around town.

Espresso Vivace Roasteria- Hailed as the best coffee in Seattle, you must see what all the hype is about.

Bauhaus Books and Coffee- Amazing vibe in this spacious artsy two level coffeehouse, with a fantastic view of the iconic Seattle Space Needle.

Victrola Coffee Roasters- Sometimes good coffee comes with an attitude, but not at Victrola. Friendly baristas serve up cups of carefully selected coffee from around the world, all roasted in house. No matter how you like your coffee, you can expect excellence from Victrola in the package of another Capital Hill café.

Stumptown Coffee Roasters- Hailing from Portland, Stumptown has nationally recognized standards for excellence. Enjoy your coffee prepared by one of the expertly trained baristas here.

Allegro Espresso Bar- Seattle's oldest espresso bar, established in 1975, has a secret quiet atmosphere and strong coffee that has been attracting a diverse crowd for years.

Café Besalu- Supposedly the best croissants in the city, if you enjoy a pastry with your quality brew.

Joe Bar- A popular two level coffee shop just off of the main street, this café serves up some of the best crepes, sandwiches and coffee in the city, with a strong local artist showcasing.

Zoka- Seattle based artisan coffee roaster. Sit in one of their spacious cafés, sip their amazing coffee and watch the rain.

Trabant Coffee and Chai- Unique chai shop that serves excellent coffee and delicious chai in a Soviet influenced café. Great for sitting and also has weekly open mic's.

Bulldog News- From the outside, this place looks like an average newsstand, but it also boasts some of the best coffee and pastries in the area with lots of reading material.

Remedy Tea- For tea lovers in Seattle, have no fear. This cafe serves 150 organic teas and is a zen place to enjoy some peace and tea served hot or by the pound.


Seattle has played a major role in shaping the music of the world today, producing artists that introduced grunge music to the world. Home to many influential bands that contributed greatly to the American and international music scene, from Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Jimi Hendrix to more recent indie folk bands such as Fleet Foxes, Band of Horses, and the Postal Service. Seattle today retains its vibrant pioneering music scene. Below are some venues to see tomorrow's big acts.

The Cha-Cha Capitol Hill – Hipster dive bar with cheap drinks, great Mexican food, with up and coming bands that play an assortment of Acoustic, Alternative, Adult Contemporary, Americana, Bluegrass, Blues, Country, Folk, Gospel, Goth, New Age/Ambient, Singer/Songwriter, Rock, and Pop.

Crocodile Lounge Belltown- A prominent music venue that once housed performances by REM, Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Yoko Ono, today it holds an important place in Seattle's music scene, see today's best indie bands at this historic Seattle venue.

Baltic Room Capitol Hill- The Baltic Room hosts popular DJ's and live bands on a nightly basis. Intimate dance floor and plenty of seating.

Chop Suey Capitol Hill- Most diverse venue in Seattle, catch anything from Hip hop, metal to eletronica at this asian themed bar.

The Comet Capitol Hill- Established in 1948, this old dive bar has nightly live music with smaller local acts- get your fill of local Seattle flavor here.

High Dive Fremont- Great Shows, great BBQ, great drinks, in one of Seattle's artsy neighborhoods.

Neumo's Capitol Hill- Neumo's puts on live music performances to packed showrooms with some of today's most popular indie bands.

The Gorge – An outdoor amphitheatre located 3 hours outside of Seattle in George, Washington, this venue provides sweeping views of the Columbia River and is considered one of the most scenic concert venues in North America. Home of the famous Sasquatch! Music Festival in late May, this venue is known to pack up to more than 20,000 music fans.

Triple Door Downtown- Romantic and upscale, this venue serves fancy fare from neighboring Wild Ginger restaurant and boasts a world class sound system. Shows are catered to sit down audiences.

Paramount Theatre- Magnificent old style theater and architectural masterpiece. This old venues puts on movies, musical performances, theater and much, much more!

Things to Do and See Around Town

Green Lake- Originally a glacier lake, this is a small freshwater lake that is roughly 3 miles around and popular for walkers, runners and people searching for recreational fun. Come here for a leisurely walk or run and enjoy beautiful lake views right smack in the middle of the Green Lake Neighborhood, which offers a ton of neighborhood restaurants, cafes and bars.

Space Needle – Built for the World's Fair in the 1960's to offer a vision for the future, the Space Needle is now an iconic part of the Seattle Skyline. Buy a ticket up to see a panoramic view of the city, or have brunch at the rotating restaurant at the top.

Lake Washington- The largest freshwater lake in the county, locals come here to enjoy the beach in the summer and have picnics. Bordered by four neighboring cities, you can bike around the lake if you are feeling athletic and adventurous. You can enjoy the lake from one of many lake front park areas.

Gasworks Park – Easily one of the strangest yet most beautiful parks in Seattle, this public park is on the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company's factory. It displays the sole remaining coal gasification plant in the US. Located on an isle strip that juts into the middle of Lake Union, this park offers one of the best views of the Seattle skyline, and is definitely worth a visit. Popular at night and during the day this park is truly unique a gem of the city.

Pike Place Market- Opened in 1907, this famous market is one of the oldest continuously operated public farmer's markets in the United States. The Market is located on the water front and offers local fresh fruits and vegetables, a vibrant fish market where fish mongers are known to throw large salmon across the room, restaurants and other unique shops.

Pioneer Square- Complete with cobblestone streets and turn of the century architecture, Pioneer Square is the historic district of Seattle, and was the original downtown, dating back to the 1850's. Today Pioneer Square has delicious cafes and restaurants, antique shops, art galleries, night clubs and bars. Be careful to travel in groups at night. While it is popular nightlife destination, there have been reportings of criminal encounters after dark for those traveling alone.

Seattle Underground Tour – Learn all about the history of Seattle through this spooky yet exciting tour of the Seattle Underworld. Begin the tour in a restored pub and nightclub from the 1890's and proceed to discover old streets and the remains of the old city buried deep under the new constructions of today's world. Remarkably preserved pieces of Seattle history lay under your feet!

Original Starbucks- Operating out of downtown at the Pike Place Market, you can visit the origin of this major global coffee chain.

Experience Music Project- Some people say this museum looks like a crumpled up candy wrapper on the Seattle Skyline and it was met with great controversy upon it's construction. Whether you love it or hate it, check out this interactive museum with contemporary exhibits that cater to sci-fi fans and music history buffs.

Chinatown/International District- Chinese immigrants began settling in Seattle during the 1800s. As the years went on other asian populations (Filipinos, Japanese, Vietnamese etc) grew in Seattle to create the International District. Many of these Chinese restaurants have been here for decades, and are all open late in the night until around 3 A.M, which is much later than other parts of town.
You can also visit the largest Asian specialty market in the Northwest, called Uwajimaya that carries everything from books, beauty products, appliances to fresh and cooked foods.

Central Cinema- Seattle's only dine in Cinema! Great food and drink you can enjoy while watching a movie on the big screen. Advance tickets make movies $6, and special nights feature sing alongs, quote-alongs and hecklevision!

University District Farmer's Market- Every weekend this market boasts an assortment of the freshest produce and products from local farmers and businesses.

University Village- This open-air shopping center offers a variety of stores ranging from local boutiques to internationally famous brand stores.

Washington Park Arboretum- A public park near Capitol Hill and Montlake area, the Arboretum is a public park filled with botanical wonders. The most beautiful time to go is during the springtime, when the 4,600 species of plant life are in full bloom. There are numerous trails to follow and explore if you want somewhere nice to go for a walk.

Must Eats

Paseo- Carribean Sandwich shop in Ballard. Named the best Cuban meat sandwich in America by Esquire Magazine. Enough said.

Than Brother's Pho- Hands down, the best Pho restaurant in Seattle. For those of you who are not acquainted with this dish, Pho is a Vietnamese beef noodle soup and is a delicious and satisfying meal. Chicken and vegetable options are available as well. Enjoy complimentary cream puffs here!

Tubs Subs- Not sure what exactly packs so much flavor into these juicy creative sandwiches, but this seemingly ordinary sandwich shop is not to be missed. People travel far and wide for Tubs gourmet subs. Try the Cajun, my personal favorite.

Dick's- California has In-n-Out burger, but Seattle has it's own Dick's Burger joint. As a Seattle native, to this day, I have never tasted a better burger than one served from this 50's style American burger drive in. Serving old-fashioned burgers, and fries with real potatoes, and incredible old fashioned ice cream sundaes, you MUST visit Dick's if you come to Seattle. Open until 2:00 AM, and after decades of increased prices, a cheeseburger is still $1.40.

Ezell's Famous Chicken- Reported as Oprah's favorite fried chicken.

Salumi Artisan Cured Meats- Armandino Batali, Mario Batali's father, started this neighborhood shop as a post-retirement dream project. It is now one of the most unique and prized eating establishments in Seattle. Located in historical Pioneer Square, come experience unique innovations in the traditional Italian style of cured meats.

Mr. Gyro's- Voted best Greek gyro's in Seattle. Meats and juicy and flavorful, and the sides and sauces are drool-worthy.

Red Mill Burgers- Named by Oprah has one of the 20 Hamburgers you must eat before you die. When in America…

Thai Thom- Best Thai food in the city- if you can get a seat. Cheap and fast in a lively dining environment.

University Teriyaki- Japanese-American teriyaki joints seem to be a west coast phenomenon. See what the rest of the country is missing

Aladdin Gyro-cery- Open late until 2:00 AM, enjoy tasty (cheap!) Middle Eastern food – perfect for late night or a quick lunch!

Not so cheap
The Pink Door- Located in a small alley next to Pike Place Market, expect a romantic den serving up some of the best Italian food in the city.

Agua Verde Café and Paddle Club- Fantastic and innovative, this café serves affordable Mexican food and offers a lively happy hour. Located on the water, you can enjoy views of the lake and even rent a paddle canoe from their dock.

List- Italian lounge that serves up delicious food. Tip- Go for happy hour and get half price off of their food menu.

Boat Street Café- Great for Brunch made with fresh ingredients. New American Cuisine.

Café Presse- Lively café with excellent French fare on Capitol Hill. Good for Breakfast, lunch and dinner and a full bar at night.

Ivar's Salmon House- Come enjoy west coast seafood and Seattle's premium export-Salmon- straight from the source at this lake front establishment.

Araya Vegetarian Place- Seattle caters to people with all sorts of different diets. Come here and expect delicious vegetarian/vegan Thai Food- this coming from a serious carnivore.

Island Soul Caribbean Cuisine- Delicious Caribbean food with live music produces an a lively island atmosphere.

Dilettante – Romantic mocha bar with an excellent happy hour.

Pike Place Chowder- Famous chowder with a rotating menu and the freshest ingredients on the west coast, served straight from the oldest public market.


What makes any major city complete is a lively nightlife scene. Be warned bars in Seattle close at 2:00AM which is earlier than other major cities, but the diversity of establishments will please even the most seasoned urban dweller. Whether you enjoy cheap dive bars, secret cocktail dens, or dancing you will find a place you like on the streets of the Emerald City.

White Horse Trading Company- English Pub and book store? Seattle is known as the most literate city in the United States after all…

Eastlake Zoo- Beer tavern established in 1974, expect a good crowd, good lake view and a house full of games.

B & O Espresso- If drinking isn't your thing, try for some coffee and dessert at this lounge on Capitol Hill. Delicious treats with great ambiance…pick your poison.

Bathtub Gin & Co.- Hidden speakeasy with affordable high quality drinks.

Sun Liquor- Cocktail lounge with great drinks and a dark yet fantastic atmosphere.

Blue Moon Tavern- Old school dive bar. Opened in 1933 shortly after prohibition, Blue Moon is one of the oldest bars in Seattle. Visited by many counterculture icons over the decades, it was also one of the only bars to serve African American serviceman during World War II.

Über Tavern- If you like beer, this is your spot. Beers from all over the world with a very friendly knowledgeable staff.

Linda's Tavern- Popular local joint. Everyone goes to Linda's. Stop by if you're on Cap Hill.

Chapel- Lounge by day, club by night, located in an old mortuary in a historic 1920's building.

Highline- Vegan restaurant that also doubles as nightclub and bar on Capitol Hill.

The Last Supper Club- Popular dance club in Pioneer Square.

Neighbour's- Gay Bar/ Dance club for all staple on Capitol Hill. Don't miss the famous hot dog stand served Seattle style (with cream cheese and onions) parked outside on club nights.

Re-Bar- Artsy club that is filled with an eclectic crowd, see what Seattle's art scene and counter culture urbanism is all about at this lively spot. With performances, cocktails and dancing, Re-bar is a gay bar that is open and fun for everyone.

View a map of the Seattle area here.

If you know of some great areas or attractions that we've missed, please leave comments and suggestions along with your tips on navigating the city!

For other great info on the Pacific Northwest, and other areas, read our Regional Food Tour blog!

Matthew Graves Matthew Graves

A fan of independent cinema and proponent of the Oxford comma, Matthew began his career at a Miami-based tech startup before returning to West Virginia University to pursue his M.A. in Foreign Languages. He has worked at InterExchange since 2006 and currently serves as a Marketing Project Manager.

Career Training USA
Career Training USA

Experience American culture and add international skills to your resume.

Sign Up Learn More Call Us
U.S. Department of State-Designated J-1 Visa Sponsor
Alliance for International Exchange
Exclusive partner of the Erasmus Student Network for J-1 Visa sponsorship of internships in the U.S.
European-American Chamber of Commerce New York
Generation Study Abroad
Global Ties U.S.
International Au Pair Association
WYSE Travel Confederation