Looking for budget friendly vacation ideas for the Pacific Northwest this year? With the high cost of airfare you might want to consider taking a “Staycation” in Seattle (or a mini vacation in Seattle if you live within driving distance)! Seattle, the “Emerald City”, offers many things to do and explore beyond the well known Space Needle.
We have compiled a huge list of things to do in Seattle that are budget friendly. You can also check out these Discount Tickets for Seattle if you’re planning to attend an event or show!
Find activities by area of interest:
Always Free In Seattle / Frugal Fun In Seattle
Free Museum Days
Festivals, Fairs & Events
National, State and Local Parks
Beaches, Pools & Lighthouses
Movies & Concerts
Sightseeing & Attractions
Discount Tickets for Sporting Events, Theater & More
Open Air Markets
Seattle Staycation Tips
If you are interested in what to do in the Greater Puget Sound area this summer be sure to check out the following:
Fun & Frugal Weekly Events in the Pacific Northwest
Summer Fun Ideas for the Pacific Northwest
Pacific NW Travel Reviews/Ideas
Weekly Budget Friendly Getaways post
Kids Eat Free in Seattle and Portland Areas
Seattle Center Area
The Seattle Center area offers many great options to enjoy the summer. The fountain at the Seattle Center is one of my kids’ favorite areas to hang out on a hot day. You can then explore the Gates Foundation Visitor Center across the street completely free and much more! These are our favorite free and cheap ideas for this area, but be sure to scroll down for some of Seattle’s bigger attractions also located in this area (Space Needle, EMP, Pacific Science Center & more).
- Seattle Center International Fountain offers both water play for kids in the summer
- Check out the Artists at Play playground, with a 35-foot Climbing Tower, colorful Labyrinth, ADA-accessible Carousel, child-inspired musical instruments, listening stations, sound swings, play mounds, and “story lines” offer child-friendly amusement in keeping with the mission and purpose of Seattle Center.
- The Free festival of lights show also takes place in the evenings on August weekends and on New Year’s Eve!
- Free Walking Tour (donations accepted) or self guided tour at Seattle Center
- The Center for Wooden Boats – The Center for Wooden Boats is a resource for all who love sailing or wooden boats, and it has things to do for free. Admission is free and allows you the chance to get up close to the collection of non-motorized boats. Free sails take place every Sunday on Lake Union. They also offer free reading time for kids and more!
- Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Visitor Center – admission is free to this interesting center, which highlights work being done around the world with the help of the foundation.
- Whole Foods FREE events
- Frye Museum – They offer free admission and free parking (big perk in downtown Seattle!)
- Free Tickets To King 5 New Day Show
- Check out the festivals, and movies and concerts section (below) for more free fun here!
The Seattle Waterfront offers some great spots to eat, parks, ferries, the Aquarium, The Great Wheel and Boardwalks just for starters. You can then take an elevator or walk up some stairs to enjoy the Pike Place Market, The Post Alley, and then you are about a 10 minute walk from Seattles Shopping district.
(**Update – the Seattle Waterfront has been undergoing some significant construction projects so many local business are currently closed or in transition. Be sure to check their websites when planning a visit to the waterfront.)
Here are our favorite free and frugal ideas for this area:
- Pike Place Market (just above the waterfront). Don’t forget to visit the Notorious Gum Wall (Update – they have recently cleaned the infamous gum wall)
- Ye Olde Curiousity Shop – Ye Olde Curiosity Shop is a store, but also a bit of a museum. You can see Sylvester the mummy, a collection of shrunken human heads, and other surprising and interesting items.
- Olympic Sculpture Park – They also offer free public tours through the year (60 minute tours) so be sure to check their calendar for that too!
- Coast Guard Museum on Pier 36
- Don’t forget to check out the festivals section (below) for special events on the waterfront!
(Photo Credit: Kirotv.com)
Heart Of Downtown
Downtown Seattle (sometimes referred to as the Shopping District), boasts the 5th Avenue Theater, Benaroya Hall, The Seattle Public Library, Westlake and Pacific Place Malls, Sky bridges, and great shopping.
- Play Area at Westlake Center – there is a new fun play area for the kids at Westlake Center, that is free and a great spot to take a break. Often times there are folks making balloon animals for kids, who work for tips, so its a fun thing to treat the kids to as well!
- Visit the large fish tanks in Nordstrom. There are two of them in the Children’s Department. It’s also very close to the sky bridge, which my kids love to walk across, to head into Pacific Place Mall.
- Volunteer Park Conservatory
- If you love coffee, visit the Monorail Espresso, one of Seattle’s original Espresso Bars and my favorite cup of java in the city!
- Free 90 Minute Tours of the restored Paramount Theater! Come out on the first Saturday of each month at 10 am for your free guided tour!
- Free Cell Phone Guided Tours of the Seattle Public Library – If you have not been to the Seattle Public Library, it’s worth a stop to view the architecture of the building. There are many picturesque spots in the library, in addition to all the other benefits public libraries usually have. You can also download a Self Guided Tour of the library highlights here.
Chinatown in Seattle is a truly authentic experience. There are wonderful restaurants, great markets and festivals too! Another benefit of visiting Chinatown is that parking rates are much more affordable in the International District than they are in Downtown Seattle.
Here are our favorite free and affordable picks for the area:
- Hing Hay Park
- Kobe Terrace
- Uwajimaya – Large Asian Market, full of plenty of goodies and an awesome food court!
- Wing Luke Museum (check out the free days below)
- Visit the Seattle Pinball Museum
Positioned across the water from Seattle, you can get there from Seattle by crossing the West Seattle Bridge or by boat. It offers great beach fun, wonderful restaurants, art and more!
- Alki Beach – A favorite local beach, lined with sandy beaches on one side, and rocky shores around the corner. There are miles of bike or skating paths, restaurants and coffee shops, beautiful views of Seattle and more!
- West Seattle Water Taxi – Operates between Seacrest Park in West Seattle and Pier 50 on the downtown Seattle waterfront. Not only is it a great way to get back and forth from the Seattle Waterfront to West Seattle, but it’s like a mini ferry ride or harbor cruise for a fraction of the cost!
- Alki Lighthouse
- ArtsWest Playhouse & Gallery
- West Seattle Art Walk
- California Avenue – full of restaurants, shops and an old theater for second run movies!
Seattle offers so many opportunities to enjoy museums and the arts for free – more than just about any other city I have been to.
Here is a list of how to get into Seattle area museums completely free:
- Frye Museum – They offer free admission and free parking (big perk in downtown Seattle!)
- Klondike Goldrush Museum In Pioneer Square
- Coast Guard Museum on Pier 36
Seattle Area Museums offering free admission on the first Thursday of each month:
- Free Admission To Seattle Art Museum
- Free Admission To Seattle Asian Art Museum
- Free Admission To The Burke Museum
- Free Admission To The Museum Of History & Industry
- Free Admission To Wing Luke Museum
- Free Admission To The Museum Of Flight
- Free Admission To Henry Art Gallery
- Free Admission To The Northwest African American Museum
- Free Nordic Heritage Museum
Seattle Area Museums offering free admission on the first Friday of each month:
More Free Museum Days:
- Get Free Passes to a variety of local museums through the King County Library programs. You can find these by clicking on the Books & More tab at the top of the site, then clicking “Museum Passes”under Services. Once you choose the date you would like to visit, you will be prompted to enter your library card info.
- Free Family Days At Seattle Asian Art Museum –Admission to the Seattle Asian Art Museum is free on the first Saturday of each month for families.
- Bank of America offers free museum days, where card holders can get in free the first Sat/Sun of each month
- Museum of Flight Free Membership for Students allows free admission for students and an accompanying adult.
Here are the main festivals, fairs and events going on around greater Seattle this summer:
- Seattle International Film Festival – May 19th – June 12h; This is an opportunity to view films from famous directors to independent filmmakers, with over 300 films to choose from. Takes place at theaters all around Seattle.
- Northwest Folk Life Festival – May 27th – 30th at Seattle Center. This is a chance to experience the music, art, dance & stories of the Northwest. Activities range from Family Hands-On Activity area, Family Dance Tent, milk carton derby & more.
- Lake Union Wooden Boat Festival – July 2nd – 4th, 2015, Saturday/Sunday,10am – 6pm, Monday, 10am-3pm; Lake Union park; Free admission, free boat ride, food, music & more
- Seattle’s Family 4th of July Event – Gas Works Park noon to 11pm or South Lake Union Park 3pm to 11pm. Both locations are FREE to the public and also feature reserved seating available for purchases. Both locationas will have live entertainment, food booths, and more. The day ends with the Western Display Fireworks over Lake Union.
- West Seattle SummerFest – July 8th -10th; 10am-6pm on Friday and Saturday (the California Stage and Beer Garden stay open later), 11am-5pm on Sunday. Entertainment, shopping, and lots of fun for kids. FREE admission.
- Chinatown International District DragonFest – July 16th & 17th; Seattle; non-stop cultural performances including Dragon and Lion dances, Japanese taiko drumming, martial arts demonstrations, the Chinese Girls Drill Team, and much, much, more. For Seattle’s foodies we are proud to bring back the 5th Annual $2 Food Walk presented Delta Air Lines with over 40 restaurants offering a wide array of international $3 bites!
- Bite of Seattle – July 15th – 17th; Seattle Center; FREE admission. A chance to sample 50+ Seattle-area restaurants offerings, celebrity chef cooking demonstrations & more. We went to this last year & had a blast trying out yummy foods but it was very crowded & not the easiest to manuever around the crowds with kids, so this may be more fun for a date night! (Jen)
- White Center Jubilee Days – July 13th – 17th. Enjoy a Dance-a-Thon, Garden Tour, Fireworks, Carnival, Car Show, Parade, Robotics Competition, and more!
- Seafair – June 15th – August 21st. Seattle’s traditional summer festival. A month-long, region-wide barbecue, that brings an entire community together in celebration. Events include a Rock ‘N Roll Marathon and 1/2 Marathon, Seafair Triathalon, Sefair Torchlight Night, and much more!
- SLU 2016 Block Party – Friday August 12th 11am-11pm – FREE, South Lake Union; Beer garden, burger grilling competition, food sampling, children’s play area, movies and more.
- Bumbershoot – Seattle’s Music & Arts Festival – September 2th – 4th; Seattle Center. This is Seattle’s popular music & arts festival over Labor Day weekend, which features the best in music, film, comedy, dance, theater, visual arts & more. Tickets and VIP packages are available for purchase on the website. They also have a “Youngershoot” Festival for kids, which is put on by the Children’s Museum of Seattle with indoor & outdoor activities for kids ages 10 & under.
If you are from the Northwest, then it is easy to take for granted what natural beauty surrounds us. We have a number of parks as well as great programs which run in many of the parks throughout the summer!
- Take advantage of the free National Park Entrance days. And, don’t forget that as part of the Every Kid in a Park initiative, all 4th graders and their families have free admission for a year to America’s national parks.
- Or the State Park free days
- Blake Island – First come usage. Camping available. Only accessible via boat.
- Seattle Center Skate Park – They offer various free events in the summer.
(Jen and I took blog pictures from Kerry Park, and that is the view of Downtown you can get if you trek up there. It’s a great spot for pictures with the city in the background!)
- Kerry Park – on Queen Anne with great views of downtown Seattle, especially on a gorgeous day with Mt Rainier clear!
- Oxbow Park – in Georgetown, and home to the worlds largest Cowboy Hat & Boots (known as Hat n Boots Historic Buildings)! Plus you can visit their trailer park mall, indoor beach and more!
- Lincoln Park
- Schmitz Preserve Park
(Image Credit: Seattle Parks)
More City Parks:
- Occidental Square – Occidental Ave S & S Main St
- Hing Hay Park – 423 Maynard Ave S
- Freeway Park – 700 Seneca St
- Pioneer Square – 100 Yesler Way
- Westlake Park – 401 Pine St (they have added a kids playground here!)
- Waterfront Park – 1301 Alaskan Way (currently open, but surrounded by very noisy construction)
- Denny Park – 100 Dexter Ave N
- Lake Union Park – 860 Terry Ave N (the walking bridge is currently closed and under construction)
- Victor Steinbrueck Park – 2001 Western Ave
Sunny days may be fewer here in the Northwest, but when they show up we have some great beaches and water activities to enjoy it!
Here are some of our favorites:
- Find a list of Seattle area outdoor pools, indoor pools and wading pools here. Prices range from free
- You can also check out our Master List of Waterparks in the NW here
- Find a list of Seattle area beaches and amenities here.
- Alki Beach & Lighthouse
- Golden Gardens
- Madison Park Beach – There’s a nice grassy area for sunbathing, restrooms, and a diving board with diving boards.
- Seward Park Beach– This is one of our families favorites, for beach play, picnic structures, playground and more. Park is huge, you have to drive it. It can get crowded on nice days.
- Madrona Beach
- Magnuson Beach
- Discovery Park Lighthouse
You will find free movies and concerts all throughout the Pacific Northwest during the summer. Here is a list of those included in or near the downtown Seattle area.
- Community Cinemas is a great program offering free admission to independent films (and free parking in most areas, which is a real plus in downtown Seattle).
- Movies at the Mural – FREE movies by moonlight at Seattle Center all summer
- Regal Summer Movies Series (all movies rated G or PG) – $1 ea
- Cinemark’s Summer Movie Club (all movies rated G or PG) – $5 for 10 movies ($.50 ea) in advance, or $1 at door
- Center City Cinema – free programs available through them too!
- Outdoor Movies at Magnuson Park – $5 pp (Kids 5 and under free). Includes food trucks, pre-movie activities and more!
- Fremont Outdoor Movies – $5 pp
- West Seattle Outdoor Movies – Free
- Concerts at the Mural – Free concerts through out the summer at the Seattle Center
- Out to Lunch Concerts
- Seattle Present’s at City Hall – Seattle Presents free concerts are outdoor performances that take place noon to 1:30 p.m. Thursdays on the City Hall Plaza, 600 Fourth Ave.
Seattle is famous for some of its well known attractions like the Space Needle, zoos and more. If you plan to visit some of these, I highly recommend looking into the CityPASS. It will allow you to be a tourist in your city for a week at one set cost. There are also more affordable alternatives to some of the more well known attractions like the towers.
Here is a list of great Seattle attractions you can explore this summer:
Under $10 Attractions:
- Woodland Park Zoo – Go on one of their Half Priced Rainy Day Specials for discounted admission
- Ballard Locks
- Ferry Ride – Fares range from around $5-$8 pp (youth fares less) for walk on passengers. Find current Washington State Ferry Fares here.
- Smith Tower – CURRENTLY CLOSED as of 05/16. This observation deck is on the 35th floor and provides views of The Wheel, The Space Needle and more! Its $7.50 per adult, $6 for seniors and students. $5.00 for kids 6-12 and kids 5 and under are free. It is also where you can see the Seattle Chinese Room, a piece of Seattle history!
- Washington Park Arboretum
$10 & up Attractions:
(You may want to consider purchasing an Entertainment book as it includes savings for many of the local attractions, like BOGO free tickets for the Woodland Park Zoo and more in previous years books!)
- CityPASS – If you want to visit more then one of Seattle’s main attractions, the CityPASS is a great way to save. You can visit the following attractions for one price with this pass:
· Seattle Aquarium
· Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour
· EMP Museum OR Woodland Park Zoo
· Chihuly Garden and Glass OR Pacific Science Center
- Columbia Tower – Don’t want to spend the money on the Space Needle, then head over to the Columbia Tower Observation Deck for amazing views and a much friendlier price (Adults – $14.75, Children 6-12 – $9, Children 5 & under – free). Tickets can often be found on Groupon at the price of 2/1. It is the tallest viewing area west of the Mississippi River. You can ride the elevator for FREE to the highest Starbucks in the world on the 40th floor, where the views are spectacular.
- Pacific Science Center
- Underground Seattle Tour
- Ride the Duck Tours
- Argosy Cruises – Be sure to check out Goldstar for discounted tickets for these cruises
- Tillicum Village / Blake Island – Cruise & Salmon Bake on Blake Island (or you can cruise out to Blake Island) – Get discount tickets on Goldstar
- The Great Wheel on the Waterfront – OPEN during construction
- Space Needle
- Chihuly Garden and Glass
- Seattle Aquarium – OPEN during construction
- Seattle Childrens Museum
- Seattle Childrens Theater
Looking for ways to get a deal on event tickets for sporting or theater events. Here are some resources we have used to help us save with our families:
- Goldstar – Offers discount tickets for many different Seattle area events (everything from Pike Place Market Tours to Argosy Cruises, Sporting events and comedy shows). Its a great way to save!
- Teen Tix – Teens can get $5 tickets to over 40 Seattle area art venues.
The markets are a wonderful way to purchase everything from fresh produce and meats to great flowers and keepsakes. They are also lots of fun to just to hang out and people watch. There are often street performers you can enjoy and other events. Turn your grocery shopping into a fun day out!
- Pike Place Market
- Fremont Sunday Market
- Ballard Market
- International District Night Market
- Madrona Farmers Market
- Wallingford Farmers Market
So now you know where to go…here are some of our favorite tips for saving while getting here and throughout your day:
- Plan your trip around one of the Free parking days in Seattle, or when street parking is free in Seattle (Sundays and after 8pm)
- Find Parking for as low as $3 per hour, or special weekend and evening rates here.
- Check out these printable walking itineraries for various Seattle neighborhoods, to make the most out of your visit.
- Consider taking mass transit rather than pay for parking. You can ride a bus or use the Light Rail or Sounder train.
- Pack lots of snacks and water, and then splurge on a humbow or mini donuts at the Pike Place Market. Neither will cost you what it would to eat a meal out, but you still get the fun of eating something someone else cooked for you!
- Park in West Seattle (free street parking in the neighborhoods) and ride the Water Taxi over to downtown
- Use coupons. You can find various deals on restaurants in the Seattle area on sites like Groupon and Living Social.