Here’s a local’s secret for you: Believe it or not, some of the Seattle area’s best offerings can be experienced without stepping foot downtown. In Seattle Southside — anchored by the three small cities of SeaTac, Des Moines, and Tukwila — you can kayak with seals, feast on some of the Emerald City’s best food, and explore a few of the region’s most extraordinary parks, museums, and cultural touchstones. Bonus: It’s all within a short drive of the airport.
To jumpstart your trip planning, below you’ll find an admittedly incomplete list of the incredible spots that await you in Seattle’s backyard. (You’ll just have to visit in person to find the rest on your own.)
Note: Some of the businesses and sites listed below may not currently be operating as described due to safety guidelines. Please contact all locations prior to visiting.
Spot #1: Redondo Beach
If the world were a more perfect place, every person who touches down in Seattle would be taken immediately to stroll the mile-long boardwalk on Redondo Beach. It’s surrounded by the wildest of wildlife, like whales, seals, bald eagles, and blue herons flying over Puget Sound. (The people-watching isn’t bad, either.)
If you want to be in the thick of things, rent a kayak or SUP from the Olympic Outdoor Center and get right on the water. Nearby you’ll also find the MaST Center Aquarium, which — hot tip — is free to check out during its public hours on Thursday evenings and Saturdays.
A great day here, SUP or stroll, usually ends with a meal at Salty’s at Redondo Beach, where the only things more beautiful than the mound of fresh seafood on your plate are the mounds above your plate — namely, Maury Island and the Olympic Mountains.
Spot #2: Seattle Chocolate
There’s no sweeter way to experience Seattle Southside than with a tour of Seattle Chocolate. But it isn’t just about the sugar kick: This woman-owned chocolate company has been crafting quality confections in the Pacific Northwest for 30 years. During the tour, you’ll learn about the history of chocolate-making and the importance of ethical sourcing, an ideal the company holds to fiercely.
You’ll also tour the factory, watching the machines at work (no Lucies and Ethels at the conveyor belt anymore) and, of course, indulge in plenty of delicious samples. These whimsically wrapped chocolate bars are iconic in Seattle, so be sure to take home a few for your friends.
Spot #3: The Museum of Flight
The Museum of Flight is the largest privately held aviation and space museum in the world. It’s home to over 175 aircraft and spacecraft alongside tens of thousands of artifacts, spread across a 15-acre indoor/outdoor campus. In other words, give this one a solid afternoon on your calendar.
Of the massive list of exhibits and attractions, you should definitely climb aboard JFK’s Air Force One, geek out over the Apollo exhibit, and get the kids exploring the hands-on activities in the Kid’s Flight Zone. But as impressive as the displays are, what really makes the museum unforgettable are the stories about the groundbreakers and innovators who left their mark on the world through aviation, science, and space travel.
Spot #4: Highline Seatac Botanical Garden
At Highline Seatac Botanical Garden, the history of Seattle is told through heritage gardens, native plants, and a captivating array of colorful blooms. You can also expect waterfalls, forest views, and plenty of meditative walking trails and spaces.
Most movingly, the lush Seike Japanese Garden is a tribute to a local Japanese-American family who was sent to a Japanese internment camp during World War II. Despite this injustice, three sons served in the US military, and the middle son, Tol, was tragically killed in action. His life is memorialized in this serene pond and mountain-style garden. The Highline Seatac Botanical Gardens are free to the public every day of the year.
Spot #5: Spice Bridge International Food Hall at Tukwila Village
The Spice Bridge International Food Hall opened in late 2020 as one of the most exciting additions to the Seattle area food scene in recent memory. Each vendor is part of Food Innovation Network’s Business Incubator Program, which helps women of color and immigrants found businesses. Judging by the exhilarating aromas swirling around inside the hall, the project has been a massive success.
Arrive hungry — and maybe with a bag for takeout — so you can eat your way around the globe, sampling everything from Argentinian pastafrola to Cambodian stuffed chicken wings to Congolese beignets to organic Afghani pulled lamb sliders. Come curious, too.
Spot #6: Foster Golf Links
If you hold to the opinion that vacation is spelled G-O-L-F, bookmark a day to tee off at Foster Golf Links. This public golf course, hugged and intersected by the gentle curves of the Duwamish River, was founded way back in 1925 — it’s something of a Seattle classic. The 18-hole course is mostly flat and easy to walk without a golf cart, but it’s still a challenge for your average Tiger or Phil.
Afterward, be sure to grab a bite to eat and a cold beer on the patio of Billy Baroo’s Bar & Grill, views of the rolling greens and river everywhere you look.
Spot #7: Robert Morris Earthwork
If Mother Nature ever masqueraded as a human artist, she’d probably create something along the lines of the Robert Morris Earthwork. In 1979, 4Culture — then known as the King County Arts Commission — commissioned artist Robert Morris to produce a larger-than-life sculpture using nothing but land as his canvas. Inspired by ancient Peruvian amphitheaters, Morris cleared the undergrowth from an abandoned gravel pit, sculpted and terraced the earth, and planted the undulating slopes with rye grass.
Akin to ancient ruins, what remains is a breathtaking work of art that looks like it’s been there for thousands of years. Perhaps the best part? The Robert Morris Earthwork is open year-round and free to the public.
Spot #8: Copperleaf Restaurant
As you make your way to the Copperleaf Restaurant, you’d be forgiven for wondering if you’ve taken a wrong turn. Located in the heart of the Cedarbrook Lodge, the lush green setting absolutely belies its proximity to the airport. It’s a total urban oasis.
If you’ve ever wondered what Seattle tastes like, Copperleaf Restaurant is the place to find out. Its menu focuses on locally sourced and foraged fare from some of the region’s best farmers, fisherpeople, and artisans, and the restaurant frequently holds events dedicated to local specialties from truffles to tomatoes. It’s arguably the best place to savor your last bites of Seattle Southside before boarding your flight.