What Is Seattle Known For?
Seattle, known as the Emerald City, is a vibrant and dynamic city recognized for its cutting-edge technology sector, flourishing arts scene, and remarkable natural surroundings. It’s the birthplace of tech giants such as Microsoft and Amazon, contributing significantly to the global tech landscape. Seattle’s rich music history, particularly as the epicenter of the grunge movement, has left an indelible mark on global pop culture. The city is also renowned for its iconic landmarks such as the Space Needle and Pike Place Market, and its world-famous coffee culture, courtesy of Starbucks. Moreover, Seattle boasts a strong commitment to environmental sustainability, manifested in its verdant parks and eco-conscious policies, aligning with its nickname drawn from the lush evergreen forests of the region.
Seattle, the emerald city, is not just the largest city in the Pacific Northwest; it’s a vibrant cultural hotbed brimming with rich history, innovative industries, and a distinctively eclectic vibe that is unrivaled…except by its drug use, homelessness, grungey vibes, and dirty streets.
What Seattle is known for has changed over the past several years. While it’s still known for its beautiful landscapes and unique approach to politics, several other things have crept into the picture.
Luckily, there are still a ton of amazing things in Seattle that outweigh the bad.
While there are many people who extoll the virtues of Seattle, there’s so much more to the City of Goodwill than just these highlights. In this listicle, we’ll delve into what really makes Seattle tick.
We’ll uncover some of the hidden gems and local favorites, alongside the more renowned features that put Seattle on the world map.
Whether you’re a lifelong resident, a first-time visitor, or simply curious about this dynamic city, we invite you to join us as we explore what Seattle is known for.
The Top 23 Things Seattle Is Known For…
1. Space Needle
The Space Needle is probably one of the most distinctive and recognizable landmarks in Seattle. Standing at a height of 605 feet, it was one of the tallest structures west of the Mississippi River at the time of its construction in 1962.
The tower was built for the Century 21 Exposition, a World Fair held in Seattle, themed around the 21st century.
These days, visitors can travel to the top of the tower via an elevator to enjoy breathtaking panoramic views of the city.
If you haven’t been for a while you’ll want to head back as The Space Needle underwent a major renovation in 2018 during which a revolving glass floor and glass benches were added (both of which make for better but scarier views of Seattle).
2. Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is a public market overlooking the Elliott Bay waterfront. While it is still a seafood and farmer’s market at its heart it’s more of a tourist bazaar than anything with all kinds of trinkets being sold.
Since its opening in 1907, it has become one of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the United States.
The famous fishmongers who toss fish to each other have become a must-see spectacle for most tourists but you’ll have to be there at just the right time!
However, the market is not just a tourist attraction, but also a vital part of the local economy, supporting small farmers, artisans, and business owners.
Seattle is the birthplace of Starbucks, the largest coffeehouse chain in the world.
The original Starbucks store was opened in 1971 at Pike Place Market and it still operates, retaining much of its original look and charm.
Today, Seattle hosts not just the original store, but also a large Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room, where visitors can learn about coffee roasting and preparation.
4. Microsoft & Amazon
Amazon, the world’s largest online retailer, was founded in a garage in Bellevue, a city right outside of Seattle, by Jeff Bezos (maybe you’ve heard of him?) in 1994.
Amazon’s headquarters, (with the new addition of the Amazon Spheres), is located right in Seattle.
But they’re not the only ones to dominate the local talent pool.
Microsoft, one of the world’s largest software makers, is headquartered in the Seattle suburb of Redmond. The high-paying jobs created by Microsoft have attracted talent from around the world, significantly influencing Seattle’s economy and raising the cost of living for everyone not employed by one of the local tech giants.
5. Grunge Music
Seattle became the epicenter of the grunge movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s, forever changing the world of rock music.
The city birthed bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden, and Alice In Chains, whose music was characterized by its sludgy guitars, heavy drums, and angst-filled lyrics, reflecting the disillusionment of the youth at the time.
While the current punk movement of Seattle feels more like a merchandising move than anything there is still a counterculture vibe in the city and punk is kept alive by local venues such as The Crocodile and Neumos.
6. Emerald City
Seattle’s nickname, “The Emerald City,” is a tribute to the lush evergreen forests that surround the city and are visible throughout much of the region.
The nickname originated from a contest run by the Convention and Visitors Bureau in 1981 to establish a new city slogan.
Beyond its literal connection to the greenery, the nickname also highlights Seattle’s commitment to environmental sustainability, as seen in its many parks, the design of its buildings, and its policies and programs.
7. Chihuly Garden and Glass
Located in the Seattle Center, Chihuly Garden and Glass is an exhibit showcasing the studio glass of Dale Chihuly.
Born in Tacoma, Washington, Chihuly has become one of the most renowned glass artists in the world. His work is characterized by large, colorful, and dramatic sculptures that are often displayed in public spaces.
The exhibit (located next to the Space Needle) is a spectacular display of his creativity and craftsmanship, featuring a garden, a glasshouse with an expansive 100-foot-long sculpture, and eight galleries of work.
8. Seattle’s Underground Tour
The fire destroyed 25 blocks of mostly wooden buildings in the heart of Seattle. The city was then rebuilt one to two stories higher than the original street grade leaving much of the lower infrastructure intact.
The tour is a fascinating glimpse into the past, offering insights into the city’s history, and the boom and bust cycles of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Plus you get to see a really old toilet.
9. Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks are the city’s beloved NFL team. And when I saw “beloved” I’m not kidding. People are crazy about the Seahawks.
Since joining the NFL in 1976, the team has developed a fervent fan base known as the “12th Man,” a term that reflects the fans’ role in creating a noisy and challenging environment for opposing teams.
Seattle’s Seahawks fans are known for their loud, enthusiastic support during games, and their noise has even been recorded as causing minor seismic events, known as “Beast Quakes.”
The team’s home, Lumen Field, is known as one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL and the Seattlites take their involvement as being integral to the team’s success (although there’s been less of it lately).
In addition to the Seahawks the city has a couple of other sports teams with loyal followings.
The Seattle Mariners, the city’s Major League Baseball team, were established in 1977. They play their home games at T-Mobile Park, which features a retractable roof and spectacular views of the Seattle skyline. Despite a long history without a World Series appearance, the team has had several noteworthy players, including Hall of Famers Ken Griffey Jr. and Edgar Martinez.
The Seattle Sounders FC is the city’s Major League Soccer team. Established in 2007, the team has quickly risen to prominence within the league, winning the MLS Cup in 2016 and 2019. The team’s matches are known for their high energy and enthusiastic fans, and they consistently rank at or near the top of the league in attendance. The Sounders’ “March to the Match”—a procession of fans playing music and chanting from a nearby park to their home field of Lumen Field—is a beloved game day tradition.
10. Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)
The Museum of Pop Culture, also known as MoPOP, is a strikingly modern and colorful building designed by renowned architect Frank Gehry, located in Seattle Center.
Founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, MoPOP is dedicated to the exploration and celebration of contemporary popular culture. The museum’s exhibits cover a diverse range of topics including music, science fiction, fantasy, horror, fashion, sports, and video games.
Notable exhibits have included tributes to Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, showcasing Seattle’s strong music history.
The museum is interactive and immersive, offering experiences like sound-mixing panels and sci-fi artifact displays, making it a fun and educational visit for all ages.
11. The Fremont Troll
In Seattle’s vibrant and quirky Fremont neighborhood, under the north end of the George Washington Memorial Bridge, resides the Fremont Troll.
This massive concrete sculpture, also known as the Troll Under the Bridge, was created by four local artists: Steve Badanes, Will Martin, Donna Walter, and Ross Whitehead. The sculpture was the winner of a competition sponsored by the Fremont Arts Council in 1990, aiming to rehabilitate the area under the bridge which was becoming a dumping ground and experiencing increased crime.
The Troll is 18 feet high and clutches an actual Volkswagen Beetle as if it had just swiped it from the roadway above. This unique and whimsical piece of public art encapsulates the eccentric spirit of the Fremont neighborhood, whose motto is “De Libertas Quirkas,” or “Freedom to be Peculiar.”
Back on the subject of multi-national companies that squat in Seattle, we find Boeing.
The Boeing Company was founded in Seattle by William Boeing on July 15, 1916. Originally, Boeing was incorporated in Seattle by William Boeing as “Pacific Aero Products Co” just over a year after the first controlled powered airplane flights. The headquarters has since moved to Chicago, but Seattle maintains a significant Boeing presence, most notably the Boeing Everett Factory, an airplane assembly building—the largest building in the world by volume.
The company’s influence can still be felt in the city, especially in the “Jet City” nickname that Seattle has acquired.
13. Seattle Public Library
The Seattle Public Library’s Central Library is a marvel of modern architecture, with its unique glass and steel construction.
Opened in 2004, the building was designed by renowned Dutch architects Rem Koolhaas and Joshua Prince-Ramus. The eleven-story library features a “books spiral,” a continuous ramp that allows visitors to traverse the entire book collection without the need for stairs or elevators, and public meeting rooms that contribute to the Library’s mission as a community gathering space.
Beyond its striking architecture, the Seattle Public Library system is known for its comprehensive collection and extensive range of public programs and services, all aiming to promote literacy and a love of reading in the community.
14. Salmon Runs at Ballard Locks
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, known locally as the Ballard Locks, serve as a gateway for boats moving between the saltwater of Puget Sound and the freshwater of the Ship Canal, which connects eastward to Lake Union and Lake Washington.
Tourists and locals enjoy watching boats navigate the locks but one of the biggest attractions is the fish ladder, designed for salmon to bypass the locks. This becomes a particularly fascinating spectacle during the annual salmon migration when countless fish can be observed through underwater windows as they navigate their way up the ladder.
15. Mount Rainier
At 14,410 feet, Mount Rainier is the highest mountain of the Cascade Range and is an iconic symbol of the region.
Visible from many parts of Seattle (and from Portland on rare occasions) the active stratovolcano is often cloaked with a pristine layer of snow, adding to the city’s picturesque landscape.
The mountain is part of Mount Rainier National Park, which offers a variety of outdoor activities such as hiking, skiing, climbing, and camping. A trip to the summit is a serious undertaking, requiring glacier travel skills, but there are numerous hiking trails around the base of the mountain that are suitable for all ages and abilities.
16. Craft Beer Scene
Seattle is known for its vibrant craft beer scene, which has been a part of the city’s culture since the mid-1980s.
Today, the city boasts more than 60 breweries, offering a wide variety of beer styles. This beer culture is a point of pride for Seattleites and is deeply ingrained in the city’s social fabric.
Seattle is renowned for its fresh, locally-sourced seafood thanks to the cold, clean waters of the Pacific Northwest that provide ideal growing conditions for oysters and other delicacies.
Whether you prefer them raw, baked, grilled, or fried, Seattle’s top restaurants serve oysters in a variety of preparations that highlight their natural brininess and sweetness.
Seattle also hosts oyster-centric events, such as Elliott’s Oyster New Year, which celebrates the return of local oyster season.
18. Pioneer Square
Known for its Renaissance Revival architecture, art galleries, restaurants, and bustling nightlife, Pioneer Square is Seattle’s oldest neighborhood.
The neighborhood was the city’s original heart and soul (like 100+ years ago…), a place full of character that now blends its historical charm with modern amenities.
Landmarks include the Smith Tower, once the tallest building on the West Coast, and the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, which offers insights into Seattle’s role in the Gold Rush of the late 1800s.
Pioneer Square is also home to the aforementioned Underground Tour, where visitors can explore the remains of the old city that existed before the Great Fire of 1889.
As added perks, homeless is rampant in this area of the city and you’ll likely be asked for spare change on just about other corner. On the corners that you’re not asked for change you’ll just be treated to the smell of totally-legal pot from people who think everyone in the world needs to watch them smoke it. But, I digress.
19. Lake Union
Lake Union is a freshwater lake entirely within the Seattle city limits and the home of many of Seattle’s wonderful beaches.
It’s a hub of activity, where seaplanes take off and land, kayakers paddle, and sailboats glide across the water.
Around its shores, you’ll find a mix of residential and commercial areas, including tech companies, biotech firms, and the flagship REI store.
The lake is also home to a collection of houseboats and boat hotels which add a unique element to the cityscape and were made famous by the film “Sleepless in Seattle”.
On its southern shore is the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI), which provides insights into the region’s history.
20. Seattle Great Wheel
The Seattle Great Wheel is a giant Ferris wheel at Pier 57 on Elliott Bay in Seattle. At 175 feet tall, it was the tallest Ferris wheel on the West Coast of the United States when it opened in June 2012.
Each of its fully enclosed gondolas can seat up to eight people, and the ride includes three full revolutions. The wheel provides a unique view of downtown Seattle, the waterfront, and the surrounding area, and is especially popular at sunset and during the city’s frequent fireworks shows. With its striking presence on the city’s waterfront, the Great Wheel has quickly become another iconic part of Seattle’s skyline.
At the end of the day, Seattle continues to shine brightly in the Pacific Northwest, buoyed by a diverse range of attributes that define its unique character.
While all the flashy and shiny parts of the city are on full display, it’s the lesser-known aspects—the hidden gems like the Fremont Troll, the annual salmon runs at Ballard Locks, the city’s rich craft beer scene, and its flourishing oyster industry—that truly encapsulate the essence of Seattle, and add depth and color to an already vibrant tapestry.
While the city’s problems are real and don’t seem to be going away anytime soon, we’re all hopeful that the city’s strengths outweigh these issues as we move into the future.
So, what is Seattle known for? Well, the answer is complex, nuanced, and ever-changing.
Yet, at its core, it’s a city known for its indomitable spirit, its innovative mindset, its cultural richness, and its stunning natural beauty. So, whether you’re a lifelong resident, a frequent visitor, or an intrigued outsider, there’s always something new to discover, to enjoy, and to fall in love with in Seattle.