Looking for a hip and happening spot to explore in Washington State? Head to South Lake Union, Seattle, where you’ll find everything from cool cafés to alluring art galleries. The once gritty industrial neighborhood on the southern banks of Lake Union has been transformed into a cosmopolitan district with plenty of action.
Defined by the lake, South Lake Union, or SLU, is a paradise for outdoor lovers in Seattle. From summer SUP yoga sessions to holiday boat parades in winter, there’s always something on the go. It’s also the heart of Seattle’s tech sector, with Amazon, Google, and Facebook calling SLU home.
From fantastic restaurants and buzzing bars to inspiring public art, you’ll find plenty of things to do in South Lake Union, Seattle. Get started planning your visit with this complete guide!
What to see & do in South Lake Union
Lake Union Park
Escape the hustle and bustle of Downtown Seattle with a stroll around Lake Union Park. This 12-acre urban gem has lovely grassy areas for picnicking and easy access to the lake’s shoreline. Lake Union Park also offers an array of fun water-based activities, from canoeing to sailing on the lake.
The Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) and the Center for Wooden Boats are based in Lake Union Park. Visit these excellent Seattle museums to learn more about Seattle’s rich maritime heritage. When you’re done, hop on a cruise around Lake Union on one of the historic vessels or rent a rowboat and explore on your own.
Wander along the Historic Ships Wharf and admire the beautifully preserved boats. Watch people sailing model ships on the Model Boat Pond. This is the perfect spot to kick back and relax and take in some enchanting views.
Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI)
Learn about the region’s legacy of maritime innovation at the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI). Located in the historic Naval Reserve Armory overlooking the lake, the maritime museum is a fantastic place to delve into the history of Seattle.
Stroll around the galleries at the Museum of History & Industry and find out about major events in Seattle’s history and how they shaped the city. Read accounts of how early settlers tamed Seattle’s unforgiving landscapes to create a home.
Learn about the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 that destroyed downtown and the 2001 Nisqually Earthquake that shook the city to its core. You’ll also discover why Seattle is an attractive hub for tech giants like Google and Amazon.
When you’re done, relax over a coffee in the café and take in the lovely lake views. Don’t forget to browse the gift shop on your way out. Here, you’ll find some amazing books, great gifts, and handcrafted souvenirs made by local artisans.
The Center for Wooden Boats
If you love the water and all things that float on it, then the Center for Wooden Boats shouldn’t be missed! Based in Lake Union Park, the Center for Wooden Boats is an amazing museum that brings historic wooden vessels back to life. You can also rent these exquisitely restored vessels for the day or buy one if you have deep pockets!
Spend a few hours browsing the museum’s fascinating exhibits that show the process of building and restoring these beautiful boats. You can watch shipbuilders in action and marvel at their superb craftsmanship.
After your visit, head down to the historic livery on the water and rent a boat to take out on the water. Aren’t you much of a sailor yet? Sign up for a few sailing lessons or join the Sunday Public Sail regatta manned by volunteer skippers.
Gas Works Park
Another great park to visit for a break from the city is Gas Works Park. This little urban gem is located on the northern shores of Lake Union in the Northlake neighborhood.
Gas Works Park offers spectacular views of Lake Union and the city skyline and is a popular spot for flying kites. The park sits on the site of the old Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant and showcases some interesting ruins of the old plant that are worth a few good photos.
Other parts of the old plant have been given a lick of paint to transform them into a fun climbing and playing area for kids. A gentle hill in the center of the park catches the wind and is perfect for flying kites on a good day. It’s also the best spot to sit during the annual Seafair Summer 4th July 4th celebration to watch the incredible fireworks display.
Visit Seattle in winter? After relaxing at the park, head a few blocks north up N Northlake Way to Lake Union Hot Tub Boats. Rent a hot tub boat for you and your travel crew to enjoy a leisurely float on the lake.
El Corazón / Funhouse
Are you a hard rock fan? Love metal, alternative, and grunge music? El Corazón/Funhouse is the place to go in South Lake Union to get your rock on. Famed for being the place in which Pearl Jam played their first five shows, this live music venue is hailed as the place where ‘grunge broke.’ And if it’s hard rock you want, then hard rock is what you’re going to get!
El Corazón hosts a variety of weekly events with a focus on rock, metal, punk, alternative, and hardcore. And it isn’t for the faint-hearted.
The 800-capacity room with two stages is often packed to the hilt. Be sure to book tickets in advance to avoid missing out.
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From well-known local groups to budding new bands on the block, El Corazón/Funhouse caters to it all. Check out their event calendar to check for upcoming concerts. Rock on!
Argosy Cruises – Lake Union
What better way to experience a lake-centric neighborhood than from the waters of the lake itself? Hop on one of Argosy Cruises‘ boats and enjoy a guided cruise around Lake Union to see a different side of Seattle. Established over 70 years ago, Argosy Cruises has been celebrating the rich history and tradition of lake life with narrated, family, family-friendly tours.
Choose between two wonderful tours, both of which offer quintessential Seattle cruise experiences. Relax on a gentle one-hour harbor cruise and soak up spectacular views of the city skyline. Learn about the history of Seattle and the workings of the shipping port, and take in the historic waterfront.
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For more time on the water, join the two-hour Locks Cruise that glides through the beating workboat heart of Seattle. Find out how skippers manage the ever-changing tides of Puget Sound and explore the floating homes and houseboats of people who live on the water. You can enjoy a drink from the full-service bar on board while you make your way around the locks.
Where to eat & drink
South Lake Union’s buzzing dining scene has something for everyone. Whether you need a hearty breakfast before a sunrise paddle or a late-night spot for tacos and tequila, SLU won’t disappoint.
For sea-smackingly fresh seafood and ice-cold beer, head to Duke’s Seafood to get your fill. Tuck into heaving platters of prawns, local Whidbey Island mussels, or Dungeness crab from Alaska. If you prefer land-based food, there are also grass-fed steaks and burgers on the menu and a full-service bar for drinks.
When tequila calls, it’s time to head to Cactus South Lake Union. Jostle with the Amazon crowd over killer margaritas and delicious American/Mexican southwestern-inspired cuisine. Tapas-style plates are ideal for sharing for an off-the-beaten-track brunch.
Rare steak and good red wine kind? Daniel’s Broiler is your best bet for top-notch steaks and award-winning wines. Tuck into USDA Prime Steaks, North Pacific King Salmon, and lobster tails against a backdrop of stunning lake views. Great for date night!
Fresh seafood and beautiful views are on the menu at The White Swan Public House. Grab a picnic table overlooking the water and order some chowder, scallops, crab mac and cheese, finger-licking fish and chips, and fresh oysters.
Have some old-school fun at Flatstick Pub, where you can unwind over a pint of local ale and a game of pinball. Casual and laid-back are the orders of the day, as well as easy-eating grub like burgers and nachos.
For something more sophisticated, head to the 14th-floor rooftop Mbar where you can lounge next to firepits on wraparound seating with panoramic views. The Middle Eastern–meets-Mediterranean cuisine pairs perfectly with a variety of fine wines from the bar.
Where to stay
For comfort and convenience, make your base the citizenM Seattle South Lake Union. A short walk from Denny Park and the iconic Space Needle, the hotel offers well-appointed guest rooms with comfy décor and en-suite bathrooms. Tuck into a delicious continental breakfast every morning and relax over drinks in the lounge after a day of sightseeing.
Perfectly located opposite the Lake Union waterfront with easy access to downtown Seattle, EVEN Hotel Seattle DTWN Lake Union provides a modern and stylish retreat. Designed with health and wellness in mind, guest rooms have in-room fitness zones, and the restaurant serves fresh, hearty fare. Stay fit in the on-site fitness center and stay connected with complimentary Wi-Fi throughout the building.
Set within walking distance of the Seattle Center and the Space Needle, the modern Astra Hotel, Seattle is the perfect base for exploring the city. Unwind in modern, well-appointed guestrooms with sweeping views of Seattle. Enjoy a hearty breakfast and great coffee at Caffe Ladro and lunch at the casual Otium Grill & Greens. End the day with sundowners at the Altitude Sky Lounge rooftop bar against a backdrop of panoramic vistas.