There are plenty of attractions to see and experience in Seattle, and the best way to visit the best of them is with the Seattle City Pass.
All About the Seattle City Pass
The Seattle City Pass is the best way to see up to seven of Seattle’s top attractions for nearly half what it would cost to see them separately. The pass includes five attractions, two of which are standard and then you can choose three more from the remaining 5.
At the time of this writing, the Pacific Science Center is closed, so there are only six attractions available. The price of the City Pass has temporarily dropped to reflect this.
The full price for five attractions is between about $130 and $200, depending on which attractions you pick and what slots you book. You can purchase the Seattle City Pass for $111 (including the processing fee), which is a savings of up to $89. The website for the City Pass advertises a savings of $109, which is how much you would save based on the most expensive tickets at the five most expensive attractions. Either way, it’s a great deal.
The City Pass is valid for 9 days after you activate it at your first attraction. That’s more than enough time to visit them all. In fact, you could visit all six in three days if you plan accordingly. Spend one day at the zoo, one day at all the Seattle Center attractions (Space Needle, Chihuly Gardens, and MoPOP), and one day at the harbor (Argosy Cruise and Seattle Aquarium). Just make sure you book all the attractions in advance, as they do hit max capacity, especially in the summer.
What Attractions Are Included
As mentioned, there are seven attractions to choose from with the Seattle City Pass, although one of them is temporarily closed. The first two attractions – the Space Needle and the Seattle Aquarium – come standard with the pass. After that, you can choose three of the remaining four attractions.
If you want to see all six attractions, you can pay an additional $3-5 for the last attraction. The exception is the cruise, which you only get a 20% discount on, so don’t choose that one as your last.
In all the years I lived in Seattle, I never once made it to the top of the Space Needle. In 2015, I sat on the grass below the Space Needle with my dad watching the fireworks for New Year, but as spectacular as that was, it’s not quite the same as going up to the top.
The Space Needle opened in 1962 for the World Fair. Construction was completed in a mere 8 months, along with the rest of the Seattle Center, the monorail, and many other projects around town. The building is 605 feet high and gives a wonderful view of Seattle, although it isn’t the tallest structure in the city.
There are two levels at the top from which to view. The highest level is a circular concourse around the outside of the needle with glass barriers with a full panoramic view of the city. There are benches to sit against the glass for that perfect selfie, and even a few cameras where you can scan your ticket to get photos taken and then collect them later online.
One floor down is the rotating deck where you can grab a cocktail at The Loupe Lounge, the only glass-floored, revolving lounge in the world. The SkyCity restaurant was there since 1963, but that was closed when they installed the glass floor in 2017 and opened the lounge. You don’t need to grab a drink to visit this floor, but the view through the glass under your feet isn’t as impressive as the floor above.
With the Seattle City Pass, you get the day and night ticket which includes two visits to the top of the Space Needle. Visit in the morning before it gets busy, and then returning in the evening after 5 p.m. for some more photos of Seattle at sunset. Plan to spend about an hour each visit at the Needle.
When I last visited the Seattle Aquarium in 1995, it was one small concrete building on pier 59 with a handful of attractions and, if I remember correctly, only cost a couple dollars.
In 2007, the aquarium more than doubled in size, with a large new building and many new exhibits. Now, the aquarium is working on another massive expansion called the Ocean Pavilion which will completely reimagine the waterfront and expand the aquarium with several new attractions including a 325,000-gallon tank to house small sharks, manta rays, and other sea creatures.
Until that expansion opens in 2023, there’s still quite a bit to see at the aquarium. There are exhibits for most of the fish and other creatures native to the Pacific Northwest, including two very playful sea otters. The aquarium opened in 1977 primarily for educational purposes and has maintained that function ever since. The first attraction is a hands-on exhibit where you can touch the sea urchins, starfish, and other creatures (but don’t pick them up!).
Vanesa and I spent nearly an hour and a half going through all the exhibits, but I’m known to move fast through museums and attractions. If you prefer to take your time, or perhaps are traveling with children, plan to spend at least a couple of hours there.
Argosy Harbor Cruise
When it comes to sailing on Elliott Bay and the Puget Sound, there are quite a few options to choose from. You can go whale watching, cruise on an 85-foot schooner, or take a general tour of the harbor. The third option is what’s included with the Seattle City Pass.
Argosy Cruises has two different tours – a one-hour harbor cruise and a two-hour, one-way locks cruise to Union Lake on the other side of Downtown. The City Pass includes the one-hour harbor cruise. Perhaps it’s not as nice as whale-watching or a sunset cruise on a schooner, but I still found it quite informative about Elliott Bay, the history of the waterfront, and the role of Seattle’s port.
The cruise leaves every hour and a half or so from Pier 54. You can sit out on the deck (recommended) or in the cabin (better if it’s raining). There’s a bar on board, but drinks are a bit expensive and it’s better to just grab something on the pier before or after the cruise. Other than your camera, there’s not a lot you need for this tour.
The next attraction is one I loved to visit when I was a kid living in Seattle. In fact, my family had an annual pass and I would often ride my bike to spend the afternoon there.
The Seattle Zoo is one of those special zoos which is more of a conservation program and breeding center than simply a visitor attraction. Nearly all of their animals are native to the Pacific Northwest, and many are on the endangered species lists. The zoo is extremely informative about its animals with many talks and demonstrations throughout the day, and the natural woodland habitats of the animals look large and comfortable.
I know there are people out there who just don’t like zoos, and you’re one of them, you can skip this attraction. But if you do like zoos, I think you’ll really like this one. It took us several hours to see all the animals and we had some wonderful surprises, including a baby kangaroo falling out of his mother’s pouch, and a meeting of most of the safari animals in one photo (giraffes, hippos, ostriches and zebras).
Chihuly Gardens and Glass
This next one is an attraction truly unique to Seattle. Dale Chihuly is one of the world’s greatest glass artists, and many of his works are displayed at the Chihuly Gardens and Glass exhibit in the Seattle Center. As the gardens opened in 2012, I was unfamiliar with them from my time living in Seattle.
I was originally misled by the name of the attraction. I thought I was going to see gardens. Well, technically there are gardens, but the flowers are all made of glass! Each display is more spectacular than the last, and that’s saying something considering the first exhibit is incredible.
It takes about an hour to marvel at all the different glassworks in the three different parts of the attraction – the indoor exhibit, the glasshouse and the gardens. There’s also a nice cafe with a brick stone oven for handcrafted pizzas. This is an attraction to do when you visit the Space Needle and MoPOP, as all three are part of the Seattle Center.
MoPOP (Museum of Popular Culture)
This is the one attraction we opted not to do, partially because I’ve already been to dozens of popular culture museums around the world, and partially because our schedule was already so packed, there just wasn’t a lot of time to fit it in.
MoPop, which opened in 2000, is Seattle’s Museum of Popular Culture, featuring many permanent and touring exhibitions all focused on contemporary art, music, film, video games, etc. In fact, after doing a little bit of research on the different exhibits there, I’m a little bummed I missed them. I would have particularly liked to see the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.
If you’ve already seen the other exhibits and want to add on this one, you can pay just $3 more with your Seattle City Pass for admission tickets.
Pacific Science Center
This last attraction is currently removed from the Seattle City Pass as it’s temporarily closed, possibly due to Covid restrictions. Hopefully, the Pacific Science Center will be open again when you get to Seattle and the option to visit will be added back to the City Pass.
It’s a shame the Science Center is closed. I have such fond memories of visiting there as a kid and playing with all the interactive, hands-on exhibits. There’s also an amazing laser dome and two IMAX theaters.
While the Science Center is closed, the rest of the Seattle Center remains open, including the Space Needle, Chihuly Gardens and Glass, the Armory (where you’ll find places to eat), the Monorail, and many other attractions.
Is the Seattle City Pass Worth It
First of all, if you’ve become used to the price of attractions in Europe or Asia, as I have, you might consider the cost of attractions in Seattle to be quite high. Then again, they’re not that bad by American standards.
If you’re going to be in Seattle for a couple days and want to see as many attractions as you can, I would definitely recommend the Seattle City Pass. The only time it wouldn’t be worth the value is when you’re planning to see only a couple of attractions on this list.