Seattle has a reputation for being a relatively expensive city for residents and visitors alike. It’s not a fact we’re proud of—we don’t want the world thinking of us as a high-priced town filled with coffee and technology.
That’s why I always like writing about some of the free things to do around town. Here, then, in no particular order, are some of my favorite fun free things to do in Seattle.
The Fremont Troll
One of the more interesting pieces of artwork in the city is the Fremont Troll: An 18-foot-tall sculpture lurking underneath the Aurora Bridge. The sculpture was commissioned in 1990 for a contest aimed at taking back the space under the bridge; at the time, the area had become inhabited by homeless and drug dealers. Now, thanks to the troll, the spot is one of the top-visited sights in the city. Passersby are free to snap photos with the troll, or even climb on him. The Troll is so large that it’s actually clutching a real Volkswagen Beetle.
Go the beach
Because Seattle is situated right on Puget Sound, the city has several excellent beaches. The water will be cold even during the hottest part of the summer, but you’ll still find warm sand and lots of people picnicking, playing volleyball, and, maybe even swimming. The best beaches include Alki Beach in West Seattle and Golden Gardens in Ballard. I also like the beaches in Discovery Park.
The Fremont Troll
Seattle Art Museum and Seattle Asian Art Museum
While these museums charge admission, the first Thursday of every month is free at both of them. The Asian Art Museum also is free for families on the first Saturday of the month.Both museums have world-class permanent collections as well as regularly changing exhibitions.
Frye Art Museum
Located just east of downtown, the Frye always is free (and always has free parking). The museum’s collection includes paintings and sculptures that range in origin from the 19th Century to the present. I also love the Frye’s wide range of workshops, classes, and concerts, including free programs by the Seattle Classical Guitar Society.
Olympic Sculpture Park
This 9-acre park just north of downtown sits on the edge of Belltown near the waterfront. I suggest strolling along the footpath as you take in the contemporary art, including Paul Allen’s 5-ton “Typewriter Eraser” sculpture. For a whole afternoon at the park, grab lunch from a downtown deli and picnic here, then take a free 60-minute guided tour. Times of these tours vary throughout the year.
Viewfinder Tip: Go early on free days at the Seattle Art Museum and Seattle Asian Art Museum. By evening, both facilities are very crowded.
Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market probably has the best people-watching in the city due to its concentration of interesting locals and tourists from around the world. Take your time walking through the market and you can likely feed yourself on samples of Chukar cherries, Beecher’s cheese, salmon, bread dipped in olive oils, and more. (Also, of course, look out for those flying fish.)
Officially called the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, all the locals know this spot as the Ballard Locks. The locks are designed to move boats between Lake Washington and Puget Sound, two waterways of different heights. Watching boats load into the locks is a quintessentially Seattle experience.
As an added bonus, the locks comprise a set of fish ladders that visitors can watch through an underwater viewing gallery. Salmon, trout, and other species of fish pass through these locks year-round. Fish are present at all times, but the best times of year to see the ladders in action are late August, late September, July, and late spring.
Throughout the city you’ll find farmers markets with vendors selling freshly picked fruits and vegetables, locally produced jams, cheeses, baked goods, and more. You’ll also find artists selling jewelry and other trinkets, as well as musicians busking for a dollar or two.
Flowers at Ballard Market
Two of the most popular farmers markets are located in Fremont and Ballard; both are open only on Sunday mornings. If you can, visit Columbia City Farmers Market on Wednesday nights; this market has a bit more of an ethnic flare as it’s located in a culturally diverse community.
Simply walking through Fremont is a great free thing to do. The neighborhood itself is quirky—locals have dubbed it “The Center of the Known Universe.” One of the highlights of a neighborhood stroll is the smell of chocolate emanating from Theo Chocolate. Follow your nose to the factory and you’ll find free samples in the company store. Theo produces some of my favorite chocolate bar flavors, including Sea Salt, Chili, and Coconut.
Go for a hike
Seattle’s parks are free so if you’ve stuffed yourself at the Pike Place Market or Theo Chocolate, you can burn off some calories by hiking around the city’s best trails. The city also boasts a bunch of walking paths, including a 3-mile route around Greenlake and a waterfront path downtown along Western Avenue.
What kinds of free activities do you seek out when you visit a new city?