5 Seattle Tourist Traps to Avoid, and Where to Go Instead

Seattle has so many activities and attractions, it can be overwhelming to decide what to do and what to skip on your first visit. Here are my recommendations on five Seattle attractions to avoid, and five definitely worth the visit instead.

Skip: The Gum Wall

The Seattle Gum Wall is exactly what it sounds like: a wall. Covered in gum. If you happen to be walking in the area, it’s a fine stop to add to your route, but I wouldn’t go for the sole purpose of seeing it. Plus, the wall is frequently flooded with people wanting to take selfies or add their own chewed-up bubblegum.

Instead try… Pike Place Market

I know, I know – Pike Place Market is probably the quintessential tourist trap when it comes to Seattle. But I have to say, you should visit at least once. The market itself has a lot of interesting history, and I thoroughly enjoy walking through all the stalls and vendors. You can get some great views of the water, and there are lots of options for shopping, eating, and drinking. I would recommend trying to visit on a weekday or earlier in the morning/later in the evening to avoid the massive crowds that tend to form.

Skip: Original Starbucks

Fun fact: the “Original Starbucks” at Pike Place Market is actually considered the second Starbucks store, because the true first store was located in another location! Sure, it’s cool to walk by, but there are always extremely long lines and unfortunately, it is literally just another Starbucks store. Not worth the hype, in my opinion.

Instead try… The Starbucks Reserve Roastery

Of course, it wouldn’t be a trip to Seattle without paying homage to Starbucks in some way. The Starbucks Reserve Roastery is a really cool spot I’d recommend visiting. The building itself is historic with gorgeous architecture, and you can actually book tours to see how everything works. Plus, the menu has some unique items you won’t find at other Starbucks locations, like a flight of cold brew to sample three different flavors and ice cream/coffee concoctions.

Skip: Seattle Aquarium

Confession: I haven’t actually been to the Seattle Aquarium myself, but I don’t plan on visiting anytime soon either. I’ve heard mixed reviews on the aquarium, and pricing tends to be quite expensive, so I wouldn’t say you have to visit it while you’re in town. Of course, if you especially love aquariums you may have a good time, but there are so many other unique spots you could visit instead that the aquarium would be low on my list of must-visits.

Instead try… MoPop

MoPop, or The Museum of Pop Culture, is a really unique museum located in the heart of Seattle. MoPop features different exhibits on books, movies, bands, and pop culture movements. I’ve been twice now and thoroughly enjoyed each visit, especially the exhibits on Nirvana and the history of horror movies. Plus, the MoPop building itself has some interesting architecture, and is located right by the Space Needle which makes for good photo opps. I would recommend MoPop more for older crowds, as little kids may not be super interested in the types of exhibits they host.

Skip: The Seattle Great Wheel

The Seattle Great Wheel is a large Ferris wheel that will give you a birds-eye view of the downtown skyline. Unfortunately, tickets to the ferry will cost you $11-$16 a person, depending on age. I’d prefer to head somewhere else for free views of the skyline, and just admire the Ferris wheel from the ground. I will say that seeing the Ferris wheel lit up a night is a pretty sight, but again, I’d recommend enjoying it from the ground than paying for tickets to go up.

Instead try… Kerry Park

Kerry Park is a small park located in the historic Queen Anne neighborhood. The park offers sweeping views of the city, and is completely free! Sure, the view will be different than if you were in the Ferris wheel right downtown, but I personally prefer to see the city, water, and the mountains beyond all in one view. The Queen Anne neighborhood is a beautiful area to drive through as well, with lots of older homes and mansions.

Skip: Alki Beach

Alki Beach is a strip of sand that runs along Elliot Bay. You’ll get some decent views of the skyline, but given the beach is only about 2.5 miles long, it can get overcrowded and kind of dirty. If you’re looking for a quick stroll through the sand, Alki Beach will do just fine, but it isn’t a must-see in my opinion.

Instead try… Discovery Park

Discovery Park is a large public park located right in Seattle, with 10+ miles of walking trails through forests, bluffs, and along sandy beaches. I highly recommend the Lighthouse Loop Trail which will take you to West Point Lighthouse. Discovery Park is a great area for hiking, wildlife-watching, and photography. Because some of the areas within the park are protected, the trails and facilities are well-kept and you’ll really feel like you’ve stepped into another world. As a bonus, the park is completely free to visit!

Famous Seattle Filming Locations

Today we’re going on a tour of some famous filming locations throughout Seattle (and the surrounding areas). Seattle is an awesome town that has served as the setting for some pretty iconic movies and TV shows, so keep reading if you want to experience some of these locations for yourself!

Gasworks Park

Gasworks is one of my favorite Seattle parks to visit, regardless of whether you’re a movie buff or not. Located right on Lake Union, it provides fantastic views of the skyline, and is the perfect spot for a stroll or picnic. You might recognize Gasworks from 10 Things I Hate About You, one of my favorite 90’s romance movies. In the film, they converted the park into a paintball field, and while this was sadly just for the movie, the park is still well worth a visit. Gasworks was also featured in Singles, another well-known 90’s movie.

Lake Union

Speaking of Lake Union, the houseboat that served as Tom Hanks’s home in Sleepless in Seattle can be found docked in Lake Union. My personal favorite way to explore Lake Union is by paddle-boarding, though I’m sure it would be a blast to sail around as well. Lake Union is located in the heart of Seattle, and will give you great views of the city as you enjoy the outdoors. Even if you don’t spot the exact houseboat from the movie, they’re all fun to see (though deceivingly expensive)!

Stadium High School

Continuing on the 10 Things I Hate About You theme, next up is Stadium High School. Stadium High School is an actual public school located in Tacoma, about 45 minutes south of Seattle. The school served as the main setting for 10 Things I Hate About You, and the football stadium was featured in the iconic scene where Heath Ledger serenades Julia Stiles from the stands. You’re welcome to park and wander around the grounds, although they do close the stadium during football games.

Twede’s Cafe

Twede’s Cafe, located about 45 minutes east of Seattle in the town of North Bend, is an iconic establishment featured in the TV show Twin Peaks. The cafe has a cool retro feel, and most of the employees are happy to point out some of the filming spots throughout the cafe that were used for the show. Even if you just pop in for some pictures, I highly recommend taking the time to enjoy a “damn fine cup of coffee” and a cherry pie! It is the place where pies go when they die, after all! I even have a whole guide to North Bend and the neighboring town of Snoqualmie if you want to make a day, or weekend, trip.

The Olympic Peninsula

Of course, a list of famous filming locations throughout Washington wouldn’t be complete without mentioning possibly the most famous PNW-set series of all: Twilight. Twilight is set in the small town of Forks, located several hours northwest of Seattle on the Olympic Peninsula. Forks is a quiet town that has definitely capitalized on the success of Twilight by putting up signs marking the border between vampire and werewolf territory and even opening a museum featuring memorabilia from the movies.
Another great option is to visit Rialto Beach, located in Olympic National Park, or La Push, located in the Quileute Reservation. Both spots provide beautiful opportunities to stroll along the rocky beaches and take in gorgeous views of the coastline. Check out my guide to the Olympic Peninsula if you want more recommendations for your visit!

What are some of your favorite Seattle-set movies and TV shows? Are there any iconic filming locations I missed?