Seattle sports travel guide
Our city guides are meant to showcase the best of a metropolitan area from the perspective of a sports fan visiting to watch a game or two. Here’s our guide to the best of Seattle sports travel.
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You don’t necessarily need sports as an excuse to visit the Pacific Northwest, undeniably one of the country’s most picturesque regions. But if sports is your reason for traveling — and if you’re visiting our humble site, then it most likely is — there are far worse places than Seattle to visit.
Quirky, charming and vibrant despite its sometimes persistent rainy days, the Emerald City offers plenty to see outside the games, and most of it is centered around the downtown area. Come for the games, but see as much of you can while you’re there.
Read on for some suggestions to help you plan your ideal Seattle sports travel vacation.
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The landscape: Where to watch sports in Seattle
Seattle is home to three teams in the “major” professional sports leagues, with a fourth on its way. In December 2018, the NHL granted Seattle an expansion franchise that will begin play in the fall of 2021. The new hockey club will play at what currently is known as KeyArena, in the shadow of the Space Needle — the facility will be rebuilt from the inside in preparation for the new team’s arrival.
There’s still a hole in the heart of the Seattle sports scene, though. The SuperSonics left KeyArena for Oklahoma City in 2008, and failed efforts to lure another team to town in its place have only toyed with the psyches of jilted Sonics fans. Less than a year after the Sonics left, Seattle Sounders FC began play and have become one of the more well-supported teams in Major League Soccer.
Largely, though, pro sports in Seattle is centered around the SoDo (shorthand for “South of Downtown”) area, with two stadiums across the street from each other. The former home of the Mariners and Seahawks, the Kingdome, stood where CenturyLink Field is now; the Seahawks played two seasons at the University of Washington’s Husky Stadium while their current home was being constructed.
The college sports scene is dominated by the University of Washington, whose major athletic teams compete in the Pac-12. Husky Stadium and Alaska Airlines Arena, both on campus, occupy picturesque spots alongside Union Bay.
• Alaska Airlines Arena at Hec Edmundson Pavilion: Home of University of Washington basketball. Located at 3870 Montlake Blvd. NE.
• CenturyLink Field: Home of the Seahawks and Sounders. Located at 800 Occidental Ave. South in the South of Downtown neighborhood.
• Husky Stadium: Home of University of Washington football. Located at 3800 Montlake Blvd. NE.
• T-Mobile Park: Home of the Mariners. Located at 1250 1st Ave. South in the South of Downtown neighborhood.
The strategies: Arriving and getting around Seattle
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA), commonly known to locals as “SeaTac,” is the main air gateway into the region. As the name might suggest, it’s located roughly halfway between Seattle and Tacoma, about 15 miles south of downtown Seattle. It’s a primary hub for Alaska Airlines but is served by most other major airlines. Seattle has a well-known reputation for being a far-flung city sports-wise, as it is two hours by plane from the nearest MLB or NFL city.
The region is accessible by train, as Amtrak operates three routes through Seattle, with destinations as far away as Los Angeles and Chicago. The primary train depot, King Street Station, is just steps from CenturyLink Field. Several bus companies operate popular services from Portland, Spokane and Vancouver, among other cities.
Interstates 5 and 90, which intersect just south of downtown, are the main highway routes into Seattle. I-90 runs the length of Washington state and over the Cascades, while I-5 leads north to Canada and south to Oregon and California.
Where to stay
For Seattle sports travel vacationers, downtown has hotels for most types of budgets sprinkled throughout — some are located along the Sound, some are near the popular Westlake Center shopping district, and some are near Seattle Center. More hotels are opening near Pioneer Square (closer to the stadiums) and are generally cheaper than downtown.
For even better deals, try the Lake Union and Queen Anne districts north of downtown, as well as the suburb of Bellevue (across Lake Washington) and the airport, but you’ll most likely need a car to get around if you choose these locales.
Seattle is one of those cities that seemed fiercely car-dependent until the last 10-15 years, but light rail is slowly becoming a more viable option. Sound Transit operates two lines, one running between Westlake Center and the airport and the other between the airport and the Tacoma Dome. The former line, known as Central Link, has a Stadium station just behind T-Mobile Park. Commuter trains, called the Sounder Train, run from Tacoma and from Everett to King Street Station.
For drivers, the region’s street grid can get complicated at times because of hills and lakes that get in the way. If you’re confining your driving to downtown, know that the downtown street grid is diagonal, but straightens out north of Denny Way (near Seattle Center) and south of Yesler Way, about where SoDo begins.
There is generally plenty of event parking in lots and structures surrounding both CenturyLink Field and T-Mobile Park. Lots can be accessed via the 4th Avenue exit off I-90 westbound. Parking in Pioneer Square and downtown is also an option, though expect at least a half-mile walk and some fairly hilly terrain, depending on where exactly you are coming from.
The highlights: Points of interest in Seattle
Even if your reason for coming to Seattle is sports travel, the region has so much more to offer. Here are just some of the things to see:
The great outdoors
From Puget Sound to Mount Rainier, Seattle is well-known for its natural scenery. While most of it can be glimpsed without ever leaving downtown, they can also be experienced first-hand as well. Ferries, boat tours, canoeing and sailing are all possible on the Sound from various piers along the waterfront. Mount Rainier is part of a national park that offers the usual outdoor activities such as hiking, camping and fishing.
Ride the monorail
Seattle Center and Westlake Center are two of the most commonly visited areas of town by tourists, and the two locales are connected by a monorail line that runs back and forth every 10 minutes. Seattle Center is not only home to the Space Needle, but also the Museum of Pop Culture, the Pacific Science Center and several other attractions. Westlake Center is a four-story mall in the center of downtown, surrounded by countless shops and restaurants.
Local cuisine in Seattle, and in the Pacific Northwest, usually begins with seafood. Many such restaurants are accessible along the pier and at the iconic Pike Place Market. Any further discussion of local cuisine must continue with coffee — between chains Starbucks, Seattle’s Best and Tully’s, and countless independent shops, Seattle is the flashpoint for the explosion in popularity of coffeehouses throughout the country.
The following is a brief list of well-known establishments that a visitor to Seattle may find worth checking out:
• Pike Place Market (85 Pike Street): If you’ve ever watched a broadcast of a game taking place in Seattle, you almost certainly have seen a clip of the fishmongers at Pike Place Market throwing fish around. Pike Place is a collection of seafood purveyors, eateries and shops nestled amid a hilly few blocks of downtown. Go for the halibut and chips and stay for the coffee — the original Starbucks is just outside the market, at 102 Pike St.
• Ivar’s Acres of Clams (1001 Alaskan Way at Pier 54): The flagship of a regional chain of seafood restaurants (which also has a presence at all of Seattle’s sports venues), Ivar’s is one of many eateries along the waterfront and is well-known for its clam chowder. At the stadiums, look for the Ivar Dog — pieces of fried cod and cole slaw in a hot dog bun.
• The Crab Pot (1301 Alaskan Way at Pier 57): Another waterfront seafood restaurant, known for its crab boils (called “Seafeasts”) dumped onto diners’ tables.
• Red Mill Burgers (312 N. 67th St. and 1613 W. Dravus St.): A favorite local burger joint. Most burger offerings come with bacon.
• Top Pot Doughnuts (many locations; flagship at 2124 5th Ave.): Doughnuts (the store proclaims to offer more than 40 different kinds) and coffee seem like the perfect antidote to a rainy Seattle morning, and as such, Top Pot attracts crowds of locals and tourists alike.
Besides football and basketball, the University of Washington boasts strong programs in a number of sports, including baseball, softball, soccer and volleyball. Meanwhile, Seattle is home to other college sports programs in the University of Seattle and Seattle Pacific University, and prominent sports programs from around the state — Washington State football and Gonzaga basketball, to name two — periodically host games in Seattle.
The Seattle Storm of the WNBA hosts games at Key Arena, filling the void left by the SuperSonics. Minor-league sports also abound in the form of Triple-A baseball (the Tacoma Rainiers, who play at Cheney Stadium) and junior ice hockey (the Seattle Thunderbirds, who play at the ShoWare Center in Kent, and the Everett Silvertips, who play at Comcast Arena).