Surviving (and Thriving) in Seattle Rain

Surviving (and Thriving) in Seattle Rain

    If you visit Seattle any time between October and April, you will get rained on. There’s no avoiding it. There’s no “We’ll just duck into a museum if it starts raining!” No. You will get wet. 

    But that doesn’t have to ruin the trip.

    Fortunately, Seattle rain means less violent thunderstorms and more a gentle, near-constant sprinkle. I’ve spent two winters in Seattle — as a San Diegan, so you know I wasn’t used to wet weather before — and found myself barely even registering it. 

    If you accept that your trip will be a little damp and that it doesn’t have to put a damper (ha ha) on things, you’ll have a much better time than if you try to avoid the rain altogether. 

    That said, you don’t want to show up completely unprepared. 

    So from the perspective of someone who did not grow up with Seattle weather but came to love it, here’s how to make the most of your rainy trip to the Emerald City.

    What to Bring

    Step one is packing the right gear. Umbrellas seem like an obvious necessity, but be warned that getting caught with one will immediately label you as a tourist. Nonetheless, I still recommend packing it just in case you get caught in a rare downpour, or want to spend the full day outside. But you likely won’t need it just for casually walking through town. 

    What you definitely do need, even for city-based adventures, are good shoes. Rain boots aren’t necessary, but no converse sneakers or sandals unless you like wet feet. Most people wear something leather, or rubber-toed boots for muddy excursions. Anything that’s a little splash-proof will work.

    You’ll also definitely want a jacket with a hood. The PNW loves their North Face and their Columbia for a reason! You can get by with just a hoodie or light raincoat for most months, but I recommend something heavier for December-February, where snow and temps below freezing are possible.

    As a glasses wearer, I’m also never seen without my baseball cap. It helps to keep the drizzle off your lenses.

    How to Get Around in the Rain

    Public transit in downtown Seattle is decent, but most bus stops aren’t covered overhead and standing in the rain for up to 15 minutes every time you need to go anywhere can get old fast. 

    I recommend staying near a Link station if you’d like to avoid renting a car. This is Seattle’s subway, and it’s fast and underground (which means dry). When my brother visited, he stayed in Pioneer Square, and we had no issues jetting around town via Link. It theoretically costs money to ride, but I’ve never seen anyone actually pay for it — not that we endorse such things 👀

    Definitely rent a car if you plan on spending a lot of time in the surrounding mountains or woods. Some of the more urban wooded areas have bus stops, but those buses sometimes come as rarely as once an hour. Take it from someone who’s made the mistake before: you don’t want to emerge from the trees to see your bus drive off as the sun sets and realize you’ll be there after dark. 

    Outdoor Activities for Seattle's Rainy Days

    You don't need to spend every wet day indoors, hiding from the weather! Here's some ideas for making the most of the outdoors when it's raining.

    Go for a rainy hike.

    Because the rain in Seattle isn’t super heavy and most trails are through wooded green space with lots of overhead coverage, hiking in wet weather isn’t as damp and miserable as you might expect. It’s actually one of my favorite rainy day activities.

    The woods just feel so much more alive! You can sit in a lush, mossy forest, close your eyes, and hear thousands of raindrops trickling through the leaves. You don’t even need to get too far out of the city to experience this – places like Carkeek and Discovery Park are right in town but can still feel pretty wild.

    Hike to the water's edge from Discovery Park, and you're greeted by a misty coastline and this old lighthouse.

    Plus, trails are way less crowded on wet days, and all the creeks and waterfalls are that much more impressive. Visit Coal Creek Falls during the dry season and you’ll be wondering where the waterfall went.

    You do need to come prepared. This is where that hooded jacket and those good boots you already bought earlier come in handy.

    If you’re going to be out for a while, or in less wooded areas, I also suggest bringing a waterproof backpack. Or, if you’re thrifty like me, just take a trash bag and rip two holes to pull the straps through. Voila!  

    And remember to stay on the trails. This is good hiking advice for all conditions, but especially in the rain. While the main trails in Seattle seem to rarely flood or get too muddy, I can’t promise the same if you start bushwhacking.

    Explore downtown.

    You really don’t need to save downtown for a dry day. Naturally, the city is built to be comfortable during the rain. Lots of buildings have overhangs, and there are some areas where you can walk entire blocks without being exposed to the elements. In many neighborhoods, you won’t even find any puddles on the sidewalk.

    Two of my favorite areas to wander on rainy days are Pioneer Square (Seattle’s historic district with tree-covered plazas) and South Lake Union (newly remodeled tech hub by Seattle Center). 

    One of the worst is Cap Hill — it’s probably just poor drainage on the roads there, but I could swear it rains ten times harder in Cap Hill than anywhere else. Which is a bummer, because it’s one of the coolest neighborhoods in town. Definitely visit that area on a dry day, if you can.

    Feel free to peruse the waterfront but expect to get blown about by the wind. On the plus side, you’ll find this perpetually-crowded tourist hub to be nearly empty on these days. 

    And regardless of what neighborhood you find yourself in, you’re never more than one block from a cozy coffee shop to duck inside, warm up, and dry off.

    Hop on a ferry.

    There’s plenty of ferries and boat tours that leave from the waterfront, but the most popular is the Bainbridge Island Ferry. That’s the one I’d recommend on a rainy day.

    Because… it’s covered! While you can venture out into the wind and rain to pretend you’re a sailor lost at sea, you can also head straight for the sheltered outdoor decks or the fully indoor space by the café, where you'll be cozy and dry:

    Driving your car onto the ferry is an option too.

    No matter what season you visit, the sights from the Sound are not to be missed. This ferry lasts a little over half an hour and provides some killer views of the Seattle skyline and the nearby islands cropping up through the mist.

    The island is gorgeous, but I’ve done the trip twice, and honestly? I think the ferry ride is my favorite part. It’s easily the best view you’ll find anywhere in Seattle.

    Ride the Great Wheel.

    If you’re eager to admire the Sound and skyline but getting on a blustery boat ride seems like a liiiiittle much for you, consider a trip around the Great Wheel

    This 175 foot ferris wheel is located right on the edge of Pier 57 and makes you feel like you’re floating over the water. It’s definitely a tourist trap with prices to match, but it does provide you with a covered space and stellar views. The line is also way shorter when it’s raining out.

    If you’re up for a splurge, you can even be served a fancy dinner while you ride.

    Wander through the University of Washington.

    Seattle’s biggest university is located north of Lake Union and super accessible by Link. This is a must for architecture enthusiasts and people who have dark academia moodboards.

    The gothic arches and stained glass windows seem more at home in Europe (or at Hogwarts) than in Washington state. You’ll also find buildings in French Renaissance and Brutalist styles, and one inspired by Duwamish longhouses called wǝɫǝbʔaltxʷ (wah-sheb-altah).

    The crown jewel is Suzzallo library, which is lined with stone statues and a spectacular vaulted ceiling. Definitely poke your head in, but be quiet. It’s an active university library full of studying students (and they will give you the stink-eye if you disturb them).

    There’s also a rare book collection — more about that later.

    While wandering UW (exclusively pronounced “yoo-dub”) doesn’t have to be a rainy day activity, you’ll definitely catch more of those spooky, dramatic vibes when it’s stormy out.

    Admire Snoqualmie Falls.

    Yep, this is the Twin Peaks waterfall!

    This whole area is super cute and packed with the aforementioned Lynchian pit stops, but now I want to talk about the falls themselves.

    These falls are roaring after a good long rain. And unlike other waterfalls, you don’t need to hike through the woods or up a mountain to catch a glimpse. There’s two viewing points, one near the base and one up top by the lodge, and both are practically drive-up.

    There are also some hiking trails nearby, if you want to get out a little further.

    This is one that you probably don’t want to do in the dead of winter, however — rain here is no big deal, but the mountain pass frequently gets packed with snow and strands people on either side, so be sure to check the forecast.

    Indoor Activities (that might not be on your radar!)

    So you’ve hit MoPOP and Pike Place and the Chihuly Garden, and you’ve wandered downtown and got a bit damp. Now what? What’s a traveler to do when the rain simply will not let up, and you need a chance to dry out?

    After hitting the big attractions, there’s still more places you can slip into when you just need a break from the rain. Here’s a few indoor attractions that you might not have considered.

    Hit some of the smaller, quirkier, or more underrated museums.

    While the museums at Seattle Center are world-class, there’s plenty more to check out around town. 

    On the funky side of the spectrum:

    • The Rubber Chicken Museum (Wallingford): super small but free exhibit inside Archie McPhee. Played deadpan serious. Archie doesn’t play around when it comes to rubber chickens.
    • Pinball Museum (I-District): play decades old arcade games in downtown.
    • Official Bad Art Museum of Art” (Pike/Pine): a collection of kitschy, ugly, and oddly charming art inside a cafe.

    The Rubber Chicken Museum at Archie McPhee is small but thorough. Photo by Andy Nystrom on Flickr.

    On the more educational side we’ve got:

    • National Nordic Museum (Ballard): offers a look at Puget Sound’s immigrant history.
    • Northwest African American Museum (Central District): a rotating collection celebrating black culture, with an emphasis on the PNW.
    • Burke Museum (UW): a natural history and science museum with an impressive array of taxidermy and hands-on exhibits.

    And for art fanatics:

    • SAM (downtown): the city’s major art museum with a huge collection of art from many different cultures.
    • Asian Art Museum (Volunteer Park): a second location for SAM, this one dedicated specifically to art from Asia.

    There’s also a few smaller regional art museums displaying mostly local artists, like the ones on Bainbridge Island and in Bellevue

    Heads up that if you have an EBT card from any US state, you can get into most museums in Seattle for free or at a huge discount. 

    Check out some nifty thrift shops and curios.

    Seattle is an excellent place for thrifting. You can even walk into any regular Goodwill in the city and spot crazy cool finds but the best spots are the local haunts.

    Here’s a few of my favorite thrift/vintage shops around town:

    • Lifelong Thrift (Cap Hill): suuuuuper cheap and a massive store with a huge range of styles and sizes, plus a whole second floor for home goods.
    • Red Light Vintage (U-District): a little pricer, but with unique and costume items.
    • Fremont Vintage Mall (Fremont): a jam-packed labyrinth to get lost in.
    • Crossroads Trading (Cap Hill and U-District): great for cool shoes and jackets.

    In a similar vein, there’s also no shortage of quirky curio shops. These tend to sell weird art and antiques, taxidermy, crystals, and odd souvenirs like beetles in resin or vintage trading cards. Just what you were looking for!

    Here’s some favorite curio shops for oddball finds:

    • Ballyhoo Curiosity Shop (Ballard): underground shop full of animal bones, creepy antique dolls, and medical displays.
    • Ye Olde Curiosity Shop (waterfront): a tourist trap, but a fun one. Claims to have genuine mummies, but I remain skeptical.
    • Archie McPhee (Wallingford): In addition to hosting a rubber chicken museum, Archie’s is just a really fun novelty store. Watch out for the beast. 

    Browse the UW Rare Book Collection.

    If just perusing the shelves at UW’s library isn’t quite tickling your dark academia fancies, you can dive a little deeper by admiring their collection of rare, historical books!

    This collection ranges from the 17th-20th centuries and covers everything from calligraphy and children’s illustrations to early copies of Shakespeare. Browse exploration-era maps and Victorian fashion plates and then read original editions of writers like Melville and Dickens.

    These books don’t leave the library (obviously) so you’ll need to put in a request if there’s something specific and super special that you’d like to have ready for you. These appointments are currently booked about a week out, but walk-in visitors can still view most of the collection. 

    Staff encourages you to request “as bizarre of research topics as your heart desires” and promises that they’ll have something for everyone. Guess that’s a challenge for you!

    Learn some botany at the Spheres.

    You’ll definitely notice the Spheres driving through downtown. These glass geodesic domes are hard to miss. 

    They’re actually an arboretum! They host 1,000 different species of cloud forest plants in a futuristic, climate-controlled space. In typical Seattle fashion, it also has a coffee shop with a delightful name: General Porpoise.

    Unfortunately, the building is owned by Seattle’s resident corporate overlords (Amazon) so it’s only open to the public on the first and third Saturday of the month and you have to make a reservation. If you know someone who works for Amazon (about 65,000 people in the area), then they can get you in on any weekday.

    Grab a brew (or two).

    As mentioned, coffee is practically ubiquitous in Seattle. 

    But I highly recommend skipping the Starbucks stuff. The “first Starbucks” at Pike Place is just a normal Starbucks with a massive line, and the Reserve Roastery is overpriced and overcrowded. Take a photo of the storefronts if you must, but shop local instead.

    Here’s some of my faves:

    • Fremont Coffee Company (Fremont): a shop made out of an old house with seating in different rooms. Try the earl grey hot chocolate if they have it.
    • Espresso Vivace (Cap Hill): old school spot known for their espresso bar.
    • Victrola (multiple locations): 00s hipster vibes and reliable cappuccinos.
    • Ghost Alley (Pike Place): spooky-themed walk-up window next to the gum wall. A good speedy stop while you’re shopping in the market.

    And this is just a quick taste — you can wander in basically any local shop and get a great cup. Even my coffee-snob of a brother was constantly blown away by the omnipresence of excellent coffee in town.

    But there’s more to drink in Seattle besides coffee. Let’s hit the bars!

    Bars in Seattle tend to be novelty bars, dives, or craft cocktail lounges. There’s not a ton of places where you can easily bar-hop, but Pioneer Square and Cap Hill are pretty good starting points.

    Here’s some of my favorite bars in Seattle:

    • Unicorn/Narwhal (Cap Hill): circus-themed novelty bar with over-the-top decor and sugary cocktails. Try the mango cocktail with the unrepeatable name — you’ll know it when you see it, and it’s tastier than it sounds.
    • Pharmacy (Downtown/Pioneer Square): lesser known basement space with chill vibes and incredible cocktails.
    • Smith Tower Observatory (Pioneer Square): historical building with a killer bar on top. A bit touristy, but surprisingly affordable with a huge array of Old Fashioneds. Go early to skip the wait.
    • The 5-Point Cafe (near Seattle Center): old school diner/bar combo. The food is nothing special, but the energy and drinks are awesome. A Seattle staple.

    The Unicorn Seattle by Scott Moore on Flickr.

    There’s about a million great breweries in town too, but since beer isn’t really my specialty, I’ll direct you to Hop Culture.

    In conclusion?

    Hopefully with these tips in your back pocket, the Seattle rain seems a lot less intimidating. It can be an adjustment if you’re not used to it, but with the right gear and good trip planning, it’s really no big deal.

    And the rainy season is also best for poking around spooky movie sites… like the ones in my article about filming locations. You need the gloomy weather to truly feel like you’re in Twin Peaks or The Ring. 

    So if you see Jack’s Flight Club landing winter Seattle flights in your inbox, now you can click the button to book with no fear :-)