Travel

The Overnight: What to do in Seattle if you're there on a business trip

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Key Points
  • Seattle is getting more and more visitors, and up to a quarter of its hotel rooms downtown are booked by business travelers at any given time.
  • If you're headed to the Emerald City and have just a few hours in town after a meeting, we've gathered some tips and ideas to help you make the most of your time.
The Seattle Space needle.
Courtesy: Space Needle LLC

Seattle is well-known for its caffeine-fueled culture and for being the birthplace of Jimi Hendrix, grunge music and a company that invented same-day delivery of just about anything bought online.

Now, its allure is increasingly getting discovered by business travelers.

Starbucks, Amazon, Costco Wholesaleand Microsoft are among the major employers who call the greater Seattle-area home. So it's no surprise that Visit Seattle, the marketing organization for the city, reports that at times, 25% of the city's more than 14,000 downtown hotel rooms are filled with business travelers in town to take meetings and make deals.

Overall, there were 21.3 million overnight visitors to the Seattle area in 2018, according to Visit Seattle, and the group expects 2019 numbers to have gone up about 3% from the previous year.

"My top recommendation for travelers is to visit one of our world-class restaurants with views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. Order a glass of our incredible Washington wine, watch the ferries carry passengers to and from their island destinations, and take in a city that is literally surrounded by nature," said Tom Norwalk, president and CEO of Visit Seattle.

If you're headed to the Emerald City and have just a few hours in town after a meeting, we've gathered some tips and ideas to help you make the most of your time.

Downtown Seattle

Seattles waterfront and skyline.
Courtesy Visit Seattle & Alabastro Photography

Take a pre-meeting walk or run through the Seattle Art Museum's nine-acre waterfront Olympic Sculpture Park and be rewarded with views of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound while passing artwork by Richard Serra, Louise Nevelson, Alexander Calder and many others.

Or show up early at the historic Pike Place Market to stroll by fruit, vegetable, seafood and craft vendors setting up before the crowds arrive, especially during cruise season, which runs May through September. Guided tours and downloadable Market walking guides are available.

Starbucks' first store opened in the Market in 1971, and you can grab a coffee, get a souvenir or take a selfie at the store that recreates the groundbreaking first branch.

Or better yet, pop into one of Seattle's many independent coffee shops. Seattle Coffee Works, Victrola Coffee Roasters and Storyville Coffee are all nearby.

For breakfast, grab a pastry at Le Panier, the Market's French bakery. Or order a Dungeness crab omelet or Hangtown fry with oysters at Lowell's, a casual Market mainstay with a waterfront view marketed as "almost Classy since 1957."

Don't miss the MarketFront public plaza, overlooking the newly revitalized downtown waterfront area. And be sure to bring along some quarters to view the odd and outsize shoes displayed behind sideshow-style curtains at the Giant Shoe Museum in the Market's "down under" shopping area, next to Old Seattle Paperworks.

From the Market, head downhill (use the Pike Street HillClimb or take the elevators from the parking garage) to the Seattle waterfront, which is lined with restaurants, shops and attractions that include the Seattle Aquarium, the Seattle Great Wheel and the flying ride Wings Over Washington. An underground tunnel recently replaced a noisy double-decker freeway running along and above the waterfront and now new park and public spaces are being developed in what is already a quieter and far more pleasant part of the city to visit.

Ye Olde Curiosity Museum in Seattle, WA.
Harriet Baskas | CNBC

Tucked in among the waterfront shops selling mugs, magnets and Sleepless in Seattle nightshirts is the Ye Olde Curiosity Shop on Pier 54, which dates back to 1899. Part souvenir store and part cabinet of wonder, the shop's displays include natural history oddities and objects such as shrunken heads, mummies and a four-legged chicken.

There's also more traditional art. More than 200 works dot Seattle's downtown neighborhoods. And the Seattle Public Library system's 11-story glass and steel Central Library building (between 4th and 5th Avenues and Madison & Spring Streets) is also a must-see stop for fans of architecture and, of course, books. Designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and LMN Architects, the building has a "Book Spiral," one all-red floor and great viewing spots from the 10th-floor reading room.

Seattle Public Library
Courtesy Visit Seattle

The Seattle Art Museum has a permanent collection of more than 25,000 works of art. The museum entry is free the first Thursday of each month, and many downtown hotels offer packages that include museum passes for special exhibitions.

Save your museum ticket. Should you have extra time, it is also good for entry (within a week) to the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood. The museum reopens Feb. 8 after a $56 million renovation.

Fun at the former Fair grounds

The site of the 1962 World's Fair is now a 74-acre urban park known as Seattle Center. You can walk there from the downtown core, but it's more fun to take the 2-minute ride on the Seattle Center Monorail.

In addition to free attractions, such as the International Fountain, Seattle Center offers time-pressed visitors a cluster of worthy activities to choose from, including MoPOP, the Museum of Pop Culture, which will appeal to fans of music and science fiction. Artist Dale Chihuly's creations and collections fill eight color-filled galleries at the Chihuly Garden and Glass and spill into the adjacent Collections Café, which has Dungeness crab cakes and other Northwest fare on the menu.

Seattle's 605-foot-tall Space Needle, a now iconic space-age souvenir of the 1962 World's Fair, is at Seattle Center, too. The Space Needle has two recently renovated observation decks, including one with the world's only revolving glass floor.

Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Space Needle are often crowded, but both offer discounts for visits during less crowded off-hours. The 902-foot-tall downtown Sky View Observatory is a less expensive, less crowded alternative to the Space Needle.

Chihuly Garden and Glass in Seattle, WA.
Harriet Baskas | CNBC

Where to Stay

Many business travelers land at Seattle's large convention-friendly properties such as the Hyatt Regency (1,260 guestrooms) and the Sheraton Grand Seattle (1,236 guestrooms). But Seattle also has a growing list of hip, boutique properties such as the 90-room State Hotel, with a rooftop terrace, wall of door knobs and colorful multi-story mural, and the Hotel Theodore, where rooms and hallways are decorated with artifacts and images curated by Seattle's Museum of History and Industry.

Where to eat and drink

Seattle has an exciting and evolving dining scene with many nationally known venues and chefs. Here are just a few to check out.

Start – or end – the evening with a cocktail at restaurateur Renee Erickson's below-ground Deep Dive in the Amazon Spheres. The menu at this speakeasy-style bar include upscale classic cocktails, rare spirit and creative concoctions with names such as Mixtape, Hans Solo, Curiosity Killed and Love through Space and Time.

There are various breweries, brewpubs and distilleries in many Seattle's neighborhoods and a good selection downtown, including Pike Place Brewing's Pike Pub, Old Stove Brewing and Copperworks Distilling Co.

Move on to a downtown dinner at Loulay Kitchen & Bar in the Sheraton Grand Seattle. The creation of Thierry Rautureau, "The Chef in The Hat", menu favorites include French cuisine classic, crab fritters, seafood stew, sturgeon and cheeseburgers topped with duck egg or foie gras.

If you haven't quite mastered the art of dining out alone, make a reservation for Loulay's balcony level table for one, which overlooks the busy restaurant and the kitchen.

To impress visitors, Brian McGowan, CEO of Greater Seattle Partners, a regional trade and investment group, says he books dinner at "the legendary Canlis, whose view, cuisine and service are equally amazing." The iconic fine-dining destination has view of the city, Lake Union and the Cascade mountain range and four course dinners for $135 per person.

And what about the rain?

Yes, Seattle has a well-deserved reputation for being gray and drizzly. But the city's annual average precipitation of 38.17 inches is less than that of Boston, Houston, Miami and New York. More drizzles than downpours often give Seattle more days of moist and cloudy weather.

You won't see many locals carrying umbrellas. To blend in, pack a rain jacket, a cap and wear water resistant shoes.