Seattle is an amazing city with one of the most beautiful backdrops in the world — vast expanses of water and majestic mountains rising in all directions. The downtown area roars with skyscrapers and cranes building even more of the tall geometric shapes, while the surrounding hills provide endless rows of condo and apartment buildings as well as houses that started popping up during the last pandemic 100 years ago. Green spaces work into the landscape in ways that frame the urban feel and it all comes together in a patchwork of city meets nature that seems to work to inspire the onlooker.
What better way to get the feel for Seattle’s big picture than to view the Emerald City from a perch that allows full access to the skyline. Recently, our world changed and while the bustling bee-hive of Amazon workers, food trucks, tourists hustling, and bar economy seemed to stop humming, life still exists under the surface of this energetic city. The following list serves up ten of the best opportunities to view the skyline of this magnificent city.
Best view of Seattle skyline — Table of Contents
If you’re interested in locations that can serve up a view with the buzz, take a look at another article I wrote outlining the best rooftop bars in Seattle.
- Dr. Jose Rizal Park
- Bhy Kracke Park
- Gas Works Park
- Mt. Baker Ridge Viewpoint
- Joe and Jack Block Park
- Ferry to Bainbridge Island
- Smith Tower
- Space Needle
- Sky View Observatory
- Volunteer Park Water Tower
- Interactive Map
1. Dr. Jose Rizal Park
Just look for the beige commanding deco style building atop Beacon Hill (southeast of downtown). The former VA hospital was home to the original Amazon.com back in the day and of course the behemoth company outgrew these retro digs within a few years. Today it’s still used as an office building and across the street toward the city is an understated Seattle city park. The stretch of green clinging to the side of Beacon Hill is named after Dr. Jose Rizal, a famous Philippine hero (1861-1896) and was commissioned in 1981 as a symbol of Seattle’s Filipino pride.
There is a specific dog park and a few other buildings and play toys in the area, along with a convenient stretch of parking leading up to the expansive view of Puget Sound set behind Downtown Seattle. Just below the hill is the rushing Interstate 5 and the energetic drum of motors carries up the bluff, but not enough to distract from the birdseye sweep of the city. There are reports of homeless people at times in the area, but I’ve never encountered problems.
2. Bhy Kracke Park — Seattle’s skyline from Queen Anne
The Queen Anne neighborhood just north and west of Downtown Seattle hosts a number of parks with fantastic viewpoints, such as busy Kerry Park. But this gem, pronounced “Bye – Crack – E” is way less crowded. The feel is more like a secret garden than a city park and seems to align well to provide ample distance between visitors.
The space is perched midway on Queen Anne hill and perfectly suited to view Lake Union, the Space Needle, the new buildings of South Lake Union — and even a little bit of Puget Sound. If it feels like someone’s backyard, it’s because the land runs adjacent to several family homes. The houses in the neighborhood are fantastic examples of the earliest days of wealthy Seattlites — earning fortunes on timber, fishing and other early pioneer industries.
3. Gas Works Park
What better example of Seattle’s patchwork of industry meets water meets nature than this swath of land capping the north end of Lake Union. Once a booming refinery, the carcasses of early industry are still strewn around a monochromatic green space. A large mound rises up to provide you views of the city and also wonder about what’s buried beneath. There is a lot of space in this area, making it realistic to keep appropriate distance from others while also taking in interesting views of sky, water, land and city in every direction.
4. Mt. Baker Ridge Viewpoint
Where the other locations on this list offer an obvious, almost in-your-face experience with the skyline, this subtle viewpoint, tucked into a small commercial zone on 31st Ave S provides a wonderful context. The Mt. Baker Ridge is a stretch of hills that rises up from Lake Washington and this little viewpoint clings to the side of a steep hill. An industrial looking system of steel grates creates a convenient decking from which to view the neighborhoods through the valley below, leading to the rising downtown buildings in the distance. Perfect for sunsets and easy access to quickly park and find a bench socially distanced from others to eat lunch or simply find quiet time while gazing at the view.
5. Best skyline views of Seattle from industrial zones – Joe and Jack Block parks
All this talk of water is true — Seattle depends on it and there is no better place to take in the hustle and bustle of industry than a wharf-view park. While a serene park in the middle of a heavy industrial zone might seem like a paradox, this works. Don’t be deterred by the closed chain link fence — the walking entrance is accessible during park hours and the lonely entry road involves walking past heavy machinery that might delight kids and construction geeks.
The two parks are adjoined by a bridge crossing an old railroad line that literally runs into the sound, waves crashing up against the creosote soaked deck planks and rested metal cables tightening and releasing with the pattern of the foamy water (photo above). Jack got a little bit ripped off, because Joe Block Park is way more magical of the two. The architecture design reminds of the 1997 timeframe, with large nautical nods and concrete shapes and ramps accented with metal — but the spirit here is whimsical and delightful once the pathway opens up to a tiny beach, complete with driftwood, pebbles, picnic tables and local wildlife.
More people seem to take the upwardly inclined path to the fantastic orange tubed viewing tower, which is impressive with views of Downtown Seattle and the industrial harbors and the various vessels choreographed in and out at all hours. I find a special peace on the water level dock — oil stained pilings and all. While we’re only getting started on great views of the Emerald City — this location feels more intimate and connected.
Speaking of great views, West Seattle has a lot of them. If you’re interested in other vantage points in this part of the city, and much more, check out another post on the The best things to do in West Seattle — including Alki Beach
6. Skyline views on a ferry ride from Seattle to Bainbridge Island
A ferry ride might seem like cheating, because it’s not on a hill or building overlooking the city — but trust that viewing Seattle from the Bainbridge Island ferry offers a magically romantic experience. While an Argosy Cruise of the Puget Sound (these can be fun) is currently out of the question, it is possible to keep safely distanced from others along with some vacant space of green railing on the ferry.
This option allows an otter’s perspective of Seattle’s waterfront and much much more. If you want some great tips, check out another article, All you need to navigate the Washington State ferries.
I love the ferry ride any time of day any day of the year, but there’s more wow around the sunset hour as the orange glow drops below the Olympic Mountains, offering up a magical backlight to the blazing downtown scene. For early risers, the sunrise over the Cascade Range can’t be beat. The iconic ferry system offers a glimpse of the way of life for those living on the various islands in the sound and on the Olympic Peninsula. Plus, Bainbridge Island can be a fun day-trip experience from Seattle filled with hikes, good food options and fresh marine air.
Colman Dock, 801 Alaskan Way, Seattle, WA 98104.
7. Smith Tower Seattle
Of all the pay per view tower locations, there is something special about the Smith Tower that keeps me coming back. It could be the narrow railed outside deck that seems to precariously hang on the side of the 100 year old building or perhaps the craft cocktails shaken into form under the protection of a historic intricately carved and painted Chinese style wood ceiling. This spot is touristy mixed with the fascinating and true gritty history of Seattle served in an elegant coupe glass of observation restaurant and bar.
Start at the lower level museum style exhibit as you wind your way to the metal gate elevator lobby and take in the varied, sordid history of the rum runners during prohibition and all the different business housed in the “modern, architecture feat of the 1910’s.” The vintage bar adds charm but not a lot of seating, so the observation deck is subject to seating availability. Sunsets are popular, so get your seat early.
While the Smith Tower is definitely not the highest thing in Seattle, not by a lot, the location is such that nothing seems to impair the view. The Space Needle is even perfectly framed when looking north up 5th Avenue. A great place to take in a few cocktails as the sun sets.
506 2nd Ave, Seattle, WA 98104. Happy Hour (4-6pm) is $12 while regular adult tickets are $20 for non-locals. Check site for hours as they change between winter and summer.
8. Space Needle — queen of Seattle skyline views
This iconic piece of history came to life at the 1962 World’s Fair hosted by an optimistic Seattle, just coming into its own as an international city. While most of the other exposition buildings were razed in the following years, the sleek tower was spared and continues to wow guests from all over the world with the unobstructed 360 view and newly renovated glass flooring. There are quick snack and drink options and of course, plenty of chances to get souvenirs, selfies and group shots.
The Space Needle has a full-service restaurant that is famous for slowly rotating the dining room in a complete circle offering patrons the unique opportunity to take in everything the city has to offer. Before the restaurant scene was hit with a complete cessation of service the space was closed for renovations. At this point, there is much uncertainty around the culinary concept brewing.
400 Broad St, Seattle, WA 98109. Prices start at $32.50 for adults but options vary. Check site for operating hours.
9. Sky View Observatory — Columbia Center — Seattle skyline’s highest building
Columbia Center used to be the tallest building west of the Mississippi and while this honor was stripped in the late 1980’s by another budding in LA, this skyscraper continues to, well, scrape the sky. There is a posh exclusive club at the top that harkens back to the Wall Street days of the 80’s, but for everyone else the Sky View Observatory serves up a 360 degree vantage unparalleled in the area. History of the building and other interesting facts about the city are also on display. If you’re lucky, the magic of Mt. Rainier will be “out,” as long time locals say.
Once in the lobby of the building look for the kiosks that sell tickets and a special bank of elevators to whisk you up and away. There is also a simple cafe at the observation level for snacks and beverages.
700 4th Ave, Seattle, WA 98104. Open Saturdays and Sundays from 12-8PM. Timed tickets start at $20 with a few up-sell options available.
10. Volunteer Park Water Tower
Back in the day, the city aquifers were located at the top of several prominent hills in order to work their wonders with gravity to provide the city with H2O. The Olmsted Brothers designed stately Volunteer Park with this in mind — making the water tower an interesting architectural focal point upon entering the park from the south approach. Today, this is a fun way to enjoy the stately public area and also get a complete 360-degree view of the entire Seattle scene — from the Olympic Mountains to the burgeoning buildings of downtown Bellevue.
Two doorways on either side (north and south) of the circular brick aquifer lead to 107 metal steps that rise to the viewing area. At the top, there are a few benches for sitting. Wire gratings cover the openings but views are still wonderful and several placards outline the history of the park as well. A favorite attraction to tire your kids, take a romantic stroll or get a true feel for the expanse of the Seattle metro area.