Few cities enjoy as remarkable a setting as that surrounding Seattle. The lush evergreen rain forests that lend The Emerald City its nickname are complimented by stretches of beach, ocean, island chains, snow-capped mountains, urban polish and sheer wilderness.
Still, it's a cutting-edge, high-tech, eclectic city, which headquarters the likes of Amazon, Microsoft, Expeditors International of Washington, Weyerhaeuser, Costco, PACCAR, Nordstrom and (of course) Starbucks.
Attractions range from the kitschy-but-play-your-money's-worth Pinball Museum to the (surprisingly) free-of-charge Frye Art Museum and the geographically distinctive outdoors. Though it may not be a tourist magnet, Seattle can be anything you make of it.
In this Seattle travel guide by GET.com, we'll let you know how to enjoy this unique city on a budget:
Finding Cheap Flights To Seattle
According to the Port of Seattle, 42.3 million passengers passed through Seattle/Tacoma International Airport, or SEATAC, in 2015, about 90 percent of them domestic travelers. Top U.S. destinations were the California Bay Area, Los Angeles, Portland, Anchorage and Denver. Top carriers were Alaska, Delta, Southwest and United, in decreasing order.
We thought we'd investigate a few common destinations, and the East Coast, to find the cheapest flight deals.
Searching on Kayak using Los Angeles' LAX as home base, we found tons of nonstop, basic economy round-trip Wednesday flights to SEATAC. These averaged $164 using combinations of Spirit, Alaska Airlines, Virgin America and United.
To engage a single carrier both ways, Delta had nonstop flights for $181 total, as did Virgin America and Alaska. We couldn't beat our price on Alaska's site, but we did see that coach seats could cost as much as $225 each way. Refundable coach tickets averaged $930 total while a nonrefundable first class ticket was $500 to $600 versus a refundable one for $1,050.
Using another common destination, this time Denver, round-trip fares started at $224 on American but had hours-long layovers. We were more interested in nonstop flights, and once again, Alaska Airlines came in with a bargain $270 and early morning flights; 2 more options at the same price paired Alaska and United. Checking once more on Alaska's site, we saw that nonstop, nonrefundable coach fares could cost up to $475 total while refundable ones ran $948. Nonrefundable first class fares averaged $425 to $635 while refundable ones cost about $1,180.
Switching to the East Coast, we thought we'd check out a Washington, D.C., trip to and from Washington state. Exploring the question of which days offered our least expensive options, we found that while a Tuesday-Tuesday itinerary was our cheapest fare at just $305. We had to depart from Baltimore's BWI on Spirit but return to Dulles on Virgin America to come off that cheap. In addition, we had to switch planes at Las Vegas going and San Francisco returning, with travel times consuming 9 and 10 hours, respectively.
Our next-best fare was a Virgin America set of mid-morning flights using Dulles International and totaling $343; we still couldn't shake a nearly 3-hour layover at San Francisco, however. A number of red-eyes kept costs to under $400, but they, too, had lengthy layovers. We continued sifting through options, finding a United fare for $431 flying on Wednesdays. The flight to Seattle took off at 9 a.m. and landed a bit before noon. The return trip, however, had 1 layover in Denver that was a mere 35 minutes. That could prove a bit tricky for the less mobile.
Ultimately, we settled on a United fare flying on Tuesdays using Dulles for $450. Departure takeoff was at 9 a.m. While the return trip was a red-eye, it landed at a little past 6 the next morning. Opting for the flexible economy fare would have cost a scary $1,370, but we were a little bit tempted by a first class ticket that totaled $947, a little more than double our economy coach fare.
Finding Cheap Hotels In Seattle
Stay in Pioneer Square, and rooms will start at $300 to $350 a night even for the Best Western Plus. Try the Waterfront, and expect prices to start around $400. Around Lake Union Park, you might be able to find a room at Courtyard by Marriott for $250. Opt for a hotel near the University of Washington, and you'll still be looking at a minimum $250.
Near SEATAC, prices start dropping. When evaluating charges, remember that parking, shuttle service, breakfast and Wi-Fi may be surcharge options (check out our guide to finding free Wi-Fi in that case).
The Radisson had a king room for $147 a night. To get 2 queen beds instead, we had to pay $177; making it refundable cost $30 a night more, bringing a week's stay to $1,650. Parking was $20 a night additional, and while shuttle and in-room Wi-Fi were included, breakfast at the hotel restaurant was not.
Through Orbitz, we could pick up a room with 2 queen beds at 3-star Holiday Inn Express, which was also near SEATAC. It was one of the very few hotels that included free parking, breakfast and Wi-Fi. Making our reservation refundable brought cost to $227 a night, $1,800 for a week.
North, toward Shoreline, 3-star Comfort Inn & Suites had rooms with 2 queen beds for $150 a night, $1,220 for the week. They, too, came with free parking, hot breakfast and Wi-Fi. Nearby, 2-star Days Inn Seattle Aurora offered the same for a refundable $147 a night.
Don't be afraid to check out Airbnb in Seattle. We easily found a 1920s cottage apartment that slept 5 for $135 a night, $1,106 a week with discounts and fees. It was within convenient distances to attractions, and the newly renovated kitchen came with our first day's breakfast of fresh fruit, bagels, yogurt, oatmeal, coffee and tea.
Going even more economical, we found a studio apartment on Capitol Hill that easily slept 4 for $98 a night, totaling $914 for the week. It was comfortable and colorful, exuding the perfect Seattle vibe.
Tak a look at our guide to getting cheap hotel stays for more ideas.
Eating InexpensivelyImage source: Michou World Class Deli
Whatever you're craving, Seattle has it, and chances are, it will be good. Since Seattle is such a sprawl, we focused on the downtown area's inexpensive high points - and yes, coffee can be appetizer, entrée and dessert here. In the Pike Place Market:
- Piroshky Piroshky scratch-makes and shapes the taste of Russia in 14 sweet, 6 meat and 9 vegetable types of piroshky. Best of all, they'll warm them for you.
- Le Panier- This very French bakery's lunch menu includes "crusty baguette sandwiches" and feuilletés – savory stuffed puffs; expect all the traditional French pastries and delicacies, too.
- Michou World Class Deli is one of those places where you gaze into the cases and want one of everything; choose from 20 different sandwich combinations, 5 green salads, at least 25 mixed salads, 5 entrée specialties and 6 desserts.
For a few more tasty (yet wallet friendly) spots, try:
- Italian Family Pizza on 1st Avenue sitcks to real Italian pizza, salad, beer and wine – soda, too. A favorite is the giant 23-inch pizza for $21 to $26; a 10-inch runs about $7.
- Moore Coffee, on 2d Avenue, specializes in caffeine but also serves breakfast, lunch and serious "snacks." Choose among sweet and savory freshly made waffles, gourmet sandwiches and wraps, fruit, salads and more.
- Calozzi's Cheesesteaks, on 4th Avenue, serves up cheese steaks so loaded you barely see the bread. Order a roast pork Italiano, the Donnie or a steak sandwich "wit' Whiz." Once you're past the first bite, calories become irrelevant.
- Umma's Lunch Box, on 5th Avenue, is the place to can enjoy Korean cuisine; order from the menu, or choose from the buffet. Prices vary by your selected plate size, and happy hour is $2 cheaper; save $1 the next time by recycling your container.
- Tacos Chukis, on Broadway East, keeps Mexican counter-ordering simple but good with tacos, baby burritos, quesadillas, mulitas, tortas and nopal asado. The namesake taco chukis and adobada pork are musts.
If you don't already have a credit card that rewards you for restaurant purchases, you might want to take a look at our pick of restaurant credit cards.
You may be able to save on admissions to multiple locations by purchasing a Seattle CityPASS. Offering savings of 45 percent, it includes admission to 5 attractions: the Space Needle, Seattle Aquarium, Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour, the Experience Music Project Museum or Woodland Park Zoo, and Chihuly Garden and Glass or the Pacific Science Center. The cost is $74 per adult and $54 per child.
Free Things To DoImage source: Mount Rainier National Park Service
Seattle sits amid a number of Washington state's most precious natural treasures:
- Olympic National Park covers most of the peninsula to Seattle's west and is home to amazing old-growth temperate rain forest, glaciers, tide pools, rivers, waterfalls and even hot springs. Hike, camp or kayak. It's like no place else on earth.
- North Cascades National Park lies to Seattle's northeast, against the U.S.-Canada border. Though some go to climb the rocks and scale glaciers, the wilderness park is also popular with bicyclists, hikers, backpackers and naturalists.
- Mt. Rainier National Park to Seattle's southeast, with its view to Mt. St. Helens, is a favorite for its alpine meadows of wildflowers. You don't have to climb the mountain. Hiking trails give perfect views of surroundings and the snowy summit.
- The San Juan Islands National Monument is a conservation area that protects the archipelago's habitat and wildlife. However, 3 islands are accessible by ferry: San Juan Island, with its Friday Harbor; Orcas Island, with its Moran State Park; and Lopez Island, perfect for cyclists. Once there, pedestrians and cyclists can ride the inter-island ferry for free. The area is famous for whale-watching.
If you don't have the time or transportation to travel that far:
- Discovery Park on Magnolia Bluff. Spend a day looking out over Puget Sound, exploring West Point Lighthouse, comparing rocky versus sandy beaches and tide pools, and hiking the 7 miles of trail loops. The 550-acre park has an environmental learning center, playground and picnicking facilities. It's also bicycle- and bird-watcher-friendly.
- Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park in Pioneer Square commemorates the historic quest for gold through exhibits and educational programs.
- Flaming Geyser State Park, southeast of Seattle near Black Diamond, is popular with kayakers, rafters, boaters and fishermen seeking salmon. It has 3 miles of freshwater beach on the Green River, more than 4 miles of hiking trails and amenities.
- Kubota Garden in the Rainier Beach neighborhood is a Japanese Garden. Enjoy the public park's bridges, water features, unique plants and trees, and koi.
- Washington Park Arboretum has 2 sites: the arboretum on Union Bay's south side and the Center for Urban Horticulture on the north. It's also a public park, with miles of paths and multiple gardens.
- Bellevue Botanical Garden is a 53-acre "urban refuge" of "cultivated gardens, restored woodlands, and natural wetlands." Enjoy over a dozen different gardens as you walk the paths.
For free museums and museum free days in Seattle, you can check out FreeMuseumDay.org. Unlike many sites, it actually links you directly to the attraction's website so that you can double-check for times and directions. First Thursdays are popular, but some places offer alternate free or pay-as-you-wish days.
Museums on Us® from Bank of America gives you free access to the Seattle Art Museum, the Northwest African American Museum and the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. The only catch is that you have to have a Bank of America credit card or debit card, plus ID, and you only get in free on the first full weekend of every month.
The most likely financial "rides" in Seattle come from physical rides. For example, tickets for the Seattle Great Wheel cost $13 apiece for 3 revolutions. A sunset dinner cruise can easily command $75 a person, and seating and service may not be nearly as elegant or romantic as what you envisioned.
Should you elect to "Ride the Ducks of Seattle," you'll pay $28.50 per adult, $17.50 per child and most likely an additional $2.50 per quacker for the privilege of touring Seattle while acting ridiculous; admittedly, many find it fun and would do it again, but – killjoys that we are – we just couldn't bring ourselves to do it.
The same goes for the Space Needle and its starter admission of $22 per adult and $14 per child; 2-visit day-night tickets are $32 per adult and $24 per child. Of course, maybe we're just no fun – or maybe Seattle has so many other fantastic attractions, views, experiences and treasures that we didn't even miss these last few. Our wallets certainly didn't anyway.
Adam Luehrs is a contributing writer at GET.com based in California. He likes traveling to new and exciting destinations, preferably on his credit card company's dime. When not on the road, Adam enjoys hiking around the mountains of San Diego, trying out new food and reading history books. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.Editorial Disclosure: Any personal views and opinions expressed by the author in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect the viewpoint of GET.com. The editorial content on this page is not provided by any of the companies mentioned, and has not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of the companies mentioned, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.