Nestled between the salty Puget Sound and the magnificent Cascade Mountains, you can either visit the Emerald City during its rainy season or during the summer.
Thankfully, neither option will disappoint.
While sun chasers may be quick to book during the few months Seattleites can count on sunshine, there’s so much to be enjoyed throughout the entire year. Depending on what you want to see and do in Rain City, there’s a right season for you.
Summer: Best Time of Year for Sunshine
Or rather, only time of year for sunshine. Though that’s a bit of an exaggeration, the city does spend approximately 62% of the year under a cloudy sky. But the city gets a reprieve in June, July, and August.
Every year, the city gets a “fake” summer: a couple weeks of dry, sunny weather and elevated temperatures in late May and early June. Then there’s a week or two of the city’s final bout of rain before the real summer sets in come late June.
The city broke its heat record in 2021 with a high of 108 degrees Fahrenheit, which is a huge leap from the norm. Seattle summers average a low of 54 degrees and a high of 72 degrees Fahrenheit. Those temperatures may sound on the cool side, but man, does that sunshine make a difference. Join Seattleites in taking advantage of the sunshine by doing everything — from sports to eating and enjoying art — outside.
Though the greater Seattle area is rampant with hiking, camping, and swimming options, you don’t have to leave the city to go to the beach, play in the fountain at the Pacific Science Center, or rent a watercraft (stand up paddle board anyone?) to get out on Lake Union, Lake Washington, or even Puget Sound. Alternatively, you can enjoy animals playing in the sun with some great whale watching.
Don’t forget the city’s famous open-air market, Pike Place Market! It’s one of the few Seattle spots that’s as much a tourist attraction as it is a favorite for locals. Then, once you’re full of delicious snacks (summer is salmon season), walk it off through one of the city’s 489 parks and natural areas, which take up about 12% of the city.
Since it’s dry enough to walk around comfortably, you might as well take in all the outdoor attractions, too. Check out the Fremont Troll and the disgusting yet impressive Gum Wall. Visit the Space Needle where you can admire the Olympic mountain range to the west, the Cascade mountains to the east, and the glorious Mt. Rainier to the South.
If all else fails, check out the city’s numerous festivals from the Fremont Solstice Parade to Seafair.
Related Read: The 15 Best Hikes Near Seattle, Washington
Autumn: Best Time of Year for Art (and Apples)
The beginning of shoulder season in Seattle means fewer crowds and better prices. However, with temperatures only dipping to a low of 43 and a high of 67 degrees Fahrenheit, the locals are often still outside, squeezing every last breath of sunshine and warmth out of the year.
With fewer than usual overall crowds inside, spend Seattle’s second wettest season under cover and take advantage of the city’s art scene — in all its forms. Check out museums (the Seattle Art Museum, Chihuly Garden and Glass, MoPop), the concerts, the Seattle Aquarium, and the Underground Tour.
Having trouble staying warm? Grab a drink; beverages are art, too. That’s right, Seattle, AKA the Coffee Capital of the World, resides in a state with the top five largest numbers of breweries, wineries, and cideries. So whether you’re looking for some warm caffeine or a beer blanket as the temperatures cool down, you’ll have plenty of local options to explore. Some places may even have tours!
Pro tip: if you want to go where the locals go, avoid Starbucks (despite the fact that it started in Seattle).
Finally, for the one type of art that you must get outside, venture under the impending clouds for stunning fall foliage. Keep in mind that Seattle is the Emerald City, so a lot of trees just stay green. If you don’t see any fun colors while walking around, check out the Washington Park Arboretum for some guaranteed wow factor.
Tangentially, Washington State produces about 60% of the nation’s apples and fall is apple season, so it’s worth mentioning. Go apple picking, enjoy some apple pie, or try some fresh-off-the-orchard apple sauce. Whatever you do, don’t insult the city by buying apple cider that comes in a packet. Get the fresh stuff. You’ll taste the difference.
Related Read: 9 of the Best Airbnbs in Seattle, Washington
Winter: Best Time of Year for Lights
In Seattle, there’s one big snow storm (with no more than a couple feet of snow) every two or three years, which pretty much translates to no city-wide preparedness for snow. That means that in the unlikely event that it snows enough to stick on the ground longer than overnight, you’re walking or you’re not getting anywhere. If you have a car during your visit and have experience driving in the snow, be extra careful because Seattleites do not have your level of experience and are notoriously bad snow drivers.
That being said, snow is not common. Though this is by far the Seattle season with the highest levels of precipitation, the temperatures only drop a little more following autumn, down to an average of 36 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. During this three month period of time, the big change is less temperature and more light.
Up by the 49th parallel, there is a pretty drastic change in daylight hours from summer to winter. Seattle doesn’t have white nights or anything, but come December, the city has gone from 16 hours of daylight during the summer to 8 and a half.
So what does a city do when it loses half of its natural daily light? It creates its own.
During Seattle winters, there are an abundance of great light displays to admire including a recently-saved, 60-plus-year-old tradition with the Seattle Star (previously the Macy’s Star) in downtown, Seattle’s Enchant Christmas and Lumaze events (which may not be open during the pandemic), holiday lights at Pike Place Market, Candy Cane Lane off Ravenna Boulevard, the wintry display, Campus Luminata, at the Seattle Center, WildLanterns at the Woodland Park Zoo, the Christmas Ship Parade of Boats, and, of course, fireworks from the top of the Space Needle on New Year’s Eve.
Leave it to a population that spends a majority of its year in dark, cloudy gloom to know the best ways to brighten a city.
Spring: Best Time of Year for Festivals (and Flowers)
The days lengthen and even the sky begins to break more, allowing more sunlight to coax out new buds.
Though it’s technically the second driest season of the year, the precipitation levels are much closer to autumn’s than summer’s. In Seattle, April showers just bring more showers.
The flowers do spring up as well though, especially the cherry blossoms, which are most famously admired on the University of Washington campus.
The temperatures return to an average of 42 to 63 degrees Fahrenheit, which is warm and lovely for locals, but still too cold for tourists. This translates to a still budget-friendly shoulder season with lots of local festivals.
Technically, there are more festivals in Seattle during the summer, but that’s mostly because there are a ton of little festivals going on almost all the time as Seattleites attempt to soak in enough vitamin D to last the next three quarters of the year.
When it comes to the city’s most famous festivals, there are just about as many in spring as in summer. Plus, with fewer tourists, spring is the best time to take advantage of them.
Though there are many more than these, the biggest festivals during spring in Seattle include Emerald City ComiCon, Taste Washington, Seattle Restaurant Week, Northwest Folklife Festival, and the Seattle International Film Festival.
Ultimately, the biggest factors for when you will visit Seattle are weather, crowds, and prices. For the sunniest, warmest weather, your best bet is July or August. For the fewest crowds and best prices, visit in April, May, September, or October. Otherwise, find a festival or concert you’d specifically like to enjoy and go then!
Related Read: The 10 Best Scenic Drives in Washington
Travel Tips for Seattle
- You can usually rely on average temperatures when packing for your Seattle trip. The city’s climate is so temperate that if it hits more than a few degrees below freezing or jumps into the 90s for several days in a row, it’s probably making national news. Even the extremes typically last no more than a week before the snow or heat is washed away with a good Seattle rain.
- The Seattle Freeze is not a weather phenomenon. It refers to the fact that Seattleites aren’t the most hospitable bunch. Don’t take it personally. If you had a Vitamin D deficiency, you’d be that way, too.
- Seattle doesn’t actually get a lot of rain, it just has a small amount of rain constantly. So, unless you’re visiting during July or August, bring shoes that will dry quickly and a rain jacket. You can bring an umbrella if you want, though using one in Seattle will identify you as a tourist.
- The humidity is pretty high with an average daily humidity of 76%, but you wouldn’t know it unless you looked it up. If you’re coming from a location known for its humidity (like New Orleans or Florida), Seattle won’t feel humid at all.
- As of a few years ago, the Seattle area now has a wildfire season in August. Though the city itself rarely sees the fires, it cannot escape the smoke. Between late July and early September, keep an eye on Seattle’s air quality index and plan accordingly, especially if you are sensitive to smoke.
- Seattle traffic is becoming known as the worst in the country. Either avoid driving anywhere before 9am as well as between 2pm and 7pm, or put together a killer playlist to jam out to while you’re sitting in traffic.
- Parking downtown is usually inconvenient and, though it’s getting better, Seattle isn’t known for having great public transportation. Depending on what you’re there to do, consider walking shoes and rideshare options in case the closest stop on the Light Rail doesn’t quite get you to your destination.
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