Free and Cheap Things to Do in Seattle

By Andrea Karim on 4 September 2008 (Updated 8 July 2014) 35 comments

Seattle's natural beauty and mild weather make it a fairly easy city to enjoy without dropping a ton of cash. Here are some of Seattle's local attractions that cost under $5 per person. (See also: Best Travel Reward Credit Cards)

Artsy Stuff

 

Seattle Museums offer free days on the first Thursday of every month for the general public (some of the museums also have free to seniors the first Friday of every month and free to families on the first Saturday of every month). At the Seattle Asian Art Museum, tickets for adults are only $5 on a normal day. Other local treasures that are expensive on a normal day but free on the first Thursday of every month include the Wing Luke Asian Museum, the Frye, and the University of Washington Burke Museum.

The Asian Art Museum also butts up against the Lakeview Cemetery, where Brandon and Bruce Lee are buried, and Volunteer Park, which features a free Conservatory.

Speaking of dead celebrities, you can also visit the Jimi Hendrix memorial in Renton, just 20 miles south of Seattle.

Park-y Stuff

Seattle has a wealth of public parks, but it really depends on what your needs are. You can play tennis in a variety of outdoor courts, which is great when tennis clubs are few and far between (but not so great when dealing with our 9,000 days of rain per year or whatever). Some great beaches can be found at Golden Gardens and Alki. We also have a large number of off-leash dog parks, should you need somewhere to let your pooch run free.

(Wise Bread Pick: Easy Walk Dog Harness)

My favorite place in all of Seattle is the Arboretum, which is maintained by the University of Washington. It's open year-round, and is completely free to the public. (Also, it has great parking that rarely fills up.)

Nerdy Stuff

 

Seattlites are fairly proud of their highly-educated population (we beat Minneapolis in 2005 for the title of Most Literate City in the US, but those buggers keep taking the number 1 spot), so it's no surprise that we would build a huge central library that you can easily lose your children in (we will return them to you). We also have a huge number of used book stores, which can be fun to browse. Also, if you are looking for fellow nerds, you can head to the Science Fiction Museum (see above). Linux fans can walk past any of the dozens of Microsoft campuses and scream obscenities. (Technically, this is free, but Microsoft does ask for a donation of a part of your soul.)

Sporty Stuff

In spite of our hornrim glasses and pocket protectors, Seattlites are a fairly fit bunch. You might enjoy seeing the city on foot on a variety of walking tours (I like the International District, next to the stadiums, best). If you prefer two wheels to two feet, you can get a decent backyard view of Seattle by taking the Burke Gilman Trail from Ballard to Kenmore on your bike (you can also walk, rollerblade, jog, or whatever suits your fancy).

Downhill mountain biking trails can be found under the I-5 Colonnade, if you have the desire to hurdle yourself across a crazy downhill course but don't have the vehicle necessary to get you out of the city. If you have your own set of discs, free frisbee golf can be enjoyed at the Lakewood Park Disc Golf Course. Being something of a disc golf newbie, I can also attest that Lakewood has a pleasant share of wild fruit, from apples to blackberries, growing around the course. The UW Rec Sports Center rents out canoes for $7.50 an hour, which is good and cheap with split between a couple people. You can row around the Arboretum, or even under the 520 freeway.

If exerting yourself isn't what you had in mind, it's worth noting that you can see the Mariners lose to any team in the league for as little as $6 per person (OK, OK, I know that's more than $5, AND you'll have to prevent yourself from buying the IchiRoll, the beer, or the chocolate-covered strawberries).

Obvious Stuff (But Without the Added Cost)

If you're not from Europe or Asia, you'll probably be as thrilled as I am with Pike Place Market, Seattle's public market since 1907. I personally just enjoy walking around and gawking at the gorgeous flowers and produce and views of the water, since everything is a touch pricey (farmer's market prices). Kids also get a kick out of reading the names on the market's floor tiles, where you can find some pretty funny, intriguing, and sentimental dedications and names (the tiles were purchased as a part of a fundraising campaign by people who wanted to help rebuild the market, which regularly falls into disrepair, in the 1980s). The most famous site at the market is, of course, the fish-throwing guys.

It costs a lot to take the elevator to the top of the Space Needle, but I personally just enjoy walking around it and looking up. The Smith Tower offers a great view of downtown, but costs $7.50 per adult (still cheaper than the $16 that the Space Needle charges).

You might have noticed that Seattle has an awful lot of water, something that the Army Core of Engineers took advantage of when they built the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. The locks are built between the Puget Sound (salt water) and our local lakes, Lake Union and Lake Washington. It's fun to watch boats come and go using the locks, and kids are especially enchanted with the fish ladder (please do not ask me why).

Cheapest Eats

The cheapest food to be had in Seattle is at the international eateries sprinkled throughout the International District (formerly known as Chinatown) and the U-District (the neighborhood that surrounds the University of Washington). Vietnamese food is exceptionally affordable, but we have some decent taco wagons throughout the region as well. Also keep an eye out for happy hour specials at more upscale establishments or smaller bars. (See also: Best Credit Cards for Dining Out)

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Guest's picture
Jim

Great post. My girlfriend and I were just in Seattle over Labor Day Weekend. There is a water tower in Volunteer Park with a great view of the skyline for free. The Conservatory is technically free, but they do ask a $3 donation from each vistor.

Guest's picture
LizLovely

My ultimate favorite thing to do is to go pick up some super cheap (and super delicious) french fries, burger and shake at Dick's on Queen Anne Hill. And then go to Kerry Park (particularly on a clear, dark summer night) and munch on the food and stunning scenery with friends.

Guest's picture
lefou

@Lizlovely I do not recommend munching on the stunning scenery.

Andrea Karim's picture

Huh, I never noticed the water tower, which is odd, since I usually crane my neck to look at the sky. That's got to be a really awesome view.

I was going to mention going to Dick's, but, well, I really don't like their food. Cheap, yes, but definitely not something I recommend to visitors. I know it's a Seattle institution, but I've not been impressed with it so far. They are known for their fair wages, though, so if you need a greasy burger late at night, Dick's is a good place to go.

Guest's picture
Faye

It's so unbelievable that you don't like Dick's! Forgive me for sounding rude, but it's just shocking!

Guest's picture
Guest

You say the Frye is expensive on a normal day.... not true. It's free EVERY day!

Guest's picture
Guest

Word of warning, do not take young children to the Frye Art Museum.... They have some paintings there that are inappropriate for young children to see.... Believe me, it is not worth the questions you may hear...

Guest's picture
Guest

What in the world? There isn't anything at the Frye Art Museum that you won't find at ANY other museum in the world or that every human on earth won't find in their own shower! My daughter who's 11 currently has art displayed there as a project for her middle school!

If you're so sensitive you probably shouldn't be going to any art museums.

Guest's picture
Guest

What I'd find in my shower, I wouldn't want displayed to the world.

Guest's picture
Guest

I agree with the first guest's comments. I enjoy the Frye Art Museum more than the SAM, but you do want to check what the traveling exhibits are there before going with kids. They had a great display in 2011 called the Degenerate Art Ensemble described as "dynamic, event-based sensorial extravaganzas ... showcased through music, sculpture, props, costumes, musical instruments, animated films, photo and video documentation, and video projections." It was very surreal and conceptual, so I wouldn't have wanted to try and explain it to a young child.

Guest's picture
Guest

A day or weekend trip up to Vancouver is nice too. Amtrak has a daily Seattle-Vancouver train. Leaves Seattle at 7:45 and get to Vancouver at noon. The return trip leaves Vancouver at 6pm.

More info

Guest's picture
kdub

You forgot Gas Works park. That place is so cool, especially at night when the city is all lit up across the water.

Guest's picture
Guest

You mentioned Alki Beach. I just wanted to add, make sure you go to the other side of Alki, and visit the tidepools. I'm 35 and still enjoy see all the little crabs and sea cucumbers up close. And while you're there, stop in and see the the Log House Musuem, just a a block or so from the beach.

Guest's picture
DebtKid

Great list! Now I've got some great date ideas...now just need to find the date...

I would add the new sculpture park to this list as well. It's down near the north part of the waterfront. It's free, and while some of the "art" is a little strange, most of it is really quite impressive!

Guest's picture
Guest

Hi guys,

I'm from Seattle, and I have some of my favorite places wish to share:

If you're looking for: __________, you might want to check out: _________

Pho / Pho Viet Anh (Roy& 4th)
Spring Rolls / Lemomgrass (12th and Jackson)
Dishes / Greenleaf (yeah, the restaurant beats Tamarind Tree about food, but it doesn't have a Bar as Tamarind)
Best Vietnamese Restaurant / Rainier BBQ (MLK & Graham, off 161 I-5)
Vegetarian / Moonlight

Steaks / Jimmy Mac Roadhouse (Renton)
Nightlife / Broadway (Broadway grill on Broadway is good too)
Dessert / B&O Esspresso (Olive & Bellevue Ave)
Korean Grill / Restaurants in Federal way and Aurora Ave (WA-99)

Please, don't do "House of Hong" or "New Hongkong" - they suck, as well as all other small restaurant in Chinatown. Check out TopGun for Dim-Sum or if you're so im love with Chinese food, check out V-Garden at Jackson and 4th.

Guest's picture
Guest

What about seafood? Where's the best?

Andrea Karim's picture

I have to disagree on Greenleaf - I don't think it's nearly as good at Tamarind Tree, and doesn't have the sheer menu variety. Maybe a bit cheaper, but just not as nice overall. Tamarind Tree does a fairly good job being affordable AND fancy. There's another rather nice Vietnamese place called Lemongrass that I recommend to friends and family.

For Chinatown, I recommend Sichuanese Cuisine - it's a little grimy, but the food is stellar.

All the dimsum places are awful, though. And pricey.

Guest's picture
LaffingKat

We're fortunate to have a really lovely rose garden at Woodland Park that's free to the public.

Guest's picture
Guest

just to add to the list of: if you want________ try __________

amazing and cheap Thai food/Thai Thoms in the U district on University Way and (about) 47th. Note: it is a hole in the wall, but do not be decieved, the best Thai food I have ever had.

Great sushi happy hour/Cutters on Western Ave by Pikes Market.

Great views of the sound with lighthouse, mountains/Discovery Park in Magnolia.

Rental bikes, inexpensive used bike/Recycled Cycles down on the water by the University (1007 NE Boat Street)

Rollerblading on the water including rentals/Alki beach rentals. The rental place is located right on the Water taxi dock when you arrive at Alki beach. You then have 4 mi. of paved path to blade that follows the beach all the way around Alki Peninsula. BTW the water taxi leaves Pier 55 and costs $3. A fun ride!!

Have fun!

Guest's picture
Lynn

It's really an all around good night, for a good cause, and free. Can't top that.

Guest's picture
Guest

Lemongrass is some of the best vietnamese food & affordable for the sheer goodness & it's actually vietnamese food, not doctored to appeeal to more bland taste buds- I always let ppl know to go there!

Guest's picture
marianne

Hello All, I found this on the Washington State Tourism site and its great! Top 10 Things to do in Seattle WHen it Rains . Really terrific ideas and most are within walking distance of downtown. Seattle is such a great city!
http://www.experiencewa.com/top-10-things-to-do-in-seattle-when-it-rains...

Guest's picture
Guest

Great View Of Seattle!!!

Guest's picture
Eric

Gasworks does have an awesome view and is popular to bring your sig. other to for blanket fun on the hill (although for some reason the cops have been cruizing the park lately kicking out everyone by 11pm thank you Mayor Nickles)

Golden Gardens located in Ballard, a little ways past the locks, it's great for bonfires at night for spotting hotties by day.

On Capital Hill next to Volunteer park you'll find the cemetary. Here you can takes pics of Bruce and Brandon Lee's graves as well as a few other celebrities (I don't know off hand which others as these 2 were the only ones I was interested in)

If you like Biking there is the Burke-Gilman Trail which runs from Redmond to Ballard or go off-road in Discovery Park, located in Magnolia.

Guest's picture
MJ Bredehoeft

I didn't see any mention of Green Lake and all the great things there are to do there. I hadn't walked around the lake in 20 years and my husband and I did it a few weeks ago and it was wonderful watching the wide range of ages doing the wide range of activities that go on at Greenlake. Even if you just want to sit on a bench and people watch, it is a great afternoon of entertainment. Marilynn - Phinney Ridge

Guest's picture
Guest

This site has been extremely helpful in finding wonderful things to do for not alot of money. All of your posts have been helpful as well. I haven't been to Seattle in 15 yrs, so I definitely need to do my research. Thanks to all!

Guest's picture
SugarPlum

Shanghai Gardens. Get the barley noodles with hand shaven chow mein. Its wonderful!

Guest's picture

Some great storage ideas here. I also use shoe boxes as lingerie drawer dividers, lining them in wall paper or fabric. Large, attractively patterned gift bags from the dollar store also make neat, inexpensive containers for storing all kinds of things: http://savvysavingbytes.com/2009/07/storage-for-pennies/

Guest's picture

Oops! My comment, meant for the  inexpensive storage discussion, somehow ended up here.

 

Have never been to Seattle but am looking forward to seeing it one day...

Guest's picture
Alice

Great list! Red Tricycle also has a great list of cheap things to do in Seattle. My family and I are always looking for budget friendly meals and activities.

http://www.redtri.com/seattle/top-ten-free-or-cheap-things-to-do-with-ki...

Guest's picture
Guest

You mentioned Pike Place Market as being a bit too expensive, but it's actually the BEST place in the city to buy fresh cut flowers. You can get a bouquet that will knock anyone's socks off for just 10 bucks or less!

Guest's picture
Guest

You can also get some good food at a reasonable price. Some of the best (and not too expensive) Hom Bows in Seattle are right across from the Market. And the Pike Place Chowder in Post Alley has an 8 oz cup of their award winning chowder (really, lots & lots of awards including induction into the Great Chowder Cook-Off Hall-of-Fame) for $5.

Guest's picture
Scott

Can anyone tell me where the better record shops and coffee shops that have live music playing would be? Never been to Seattle until next month and have always dreamed of going from coffee shop to coffee shop listening to great acoustic sounds...Any pointers would be great!!

Guest's picture
Kati

If you are ever in belltown and are willing to try a new Sushi place, I highly recommend Wann's. It's on 2nd and Lenora, they have an amazing atmosphere, staff, happy hour all day Monday and Tuesday and hard to beat prices plus the sushi is the best I've ever had, and I eat a lot of sushi. Definitely check it out if you have the chance.

Guest's picture
Hari

Planning to come to Seattle for this Christmas & thank you andrea for the nice collection