A Visitor’s Guide to Winter in Seattle

12/07/2022 | by BuildUp | Local Area Guide

The city of Seattle has a reputation for being rainy and gloomy, but there are plenty of activities to lighten up the winter! Whether you’re looking for day trips to one of the many nearby national parks, family-friendly activities, or food and drink suggestions, rest assured that there is a lot of festive fun to be had during the Seattle winter.

Although it can be tempting to stay bundled up in your vacation rental home, we do recommend getting out a little bit during your time here to soak up the sights, sounds, and winter delights.

From trendy Capitol Hill to the shores of the Puget Sound, Seattle in the winter is a magical time that we’re sure you’re going to love. Just don’t forget your rain boots!

Here’s our list of how to make the most of your time celebrating the holidays in Seattle.

How to Pack for Winter Weather

If you’re wondering what the winter weather is like in Seattle, we’re here to tell you: bundle up! You might not see freezing temperatures in the city but December and January do see nighttime average lows of about 39°, with February warming up marginally. In December and January expect on average 14 days of precipitation. In February, this decreases slightly to 12 days.

There are so many wonderful winter activities in Seattle but it’s much easier to enjoy them if you’re warm and dressed for the weather.

If you want to visit Seattle during the cold season, then you might be wondering what to bring along. There are some things that you definitely don’t want to forget.

On top of our normal packing list, we also recommend you bring:

  • A good waterproof jacket (drizzly days are the norm)
  • Scarf
  • Gloves
  • Sturdy shoes

Pro Tip: If you truly want to blend in with the locals, you can wear Patagonia from head to toe.

Top Things to Do During Seattle’s Winter

1. Play in the Snow

Photo Credit: pxhere.com

The snow capped mountains are calling and you must go! Washington State is rife with beautiful nature, and when winter settles in, snow sport experts and amateurs alike head for the gorgeous mountains close to Seattle.

Put on your snow chains and get ready for a day of skiing, snowboarding, snowshoeing, sledding, or even inter tubing! When you need to catch your breath, you can shelter in one of the cozy lodges for some hot chocolate or hearty chowder.

The winter season is one of the best times to bask in the beauty of the Pacific Northwest! These are our top recommendations to get your fill of snowfall:

  • Snoqualmie Pass: ~45 minute drive
  • Stevens Pass: ~2 hour drive
  • Crystal Mountain: ~2.5 hour drive

2. See the Zoo All Lit Up

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Illuminate your holidays at Woodland Park Zoo’s incredibly popular WildLanterns display. Walk amongst colorful pathways and feast your eyes on the different creative displays — make sure to leave time for all the fun photo ops!

This is definitely one of the top family friendly winter activities in the Seattle area, so bring the kids along! Additionally, the WildLanterns display will stay open through January 22, 2023, so it’s a suitable New Years’ activity if your schedule gets too packed around the holidays.

3. Take a Winter Hike

Photo Credit: Jeff Hollett via Flickr CC2.0

Washington’s majestic Cascade Mountains and lush forests are right there waiting for you when you’re ready to take a city break.

For safety, always make sure to check the Washington Trails Association trip report in advance to see if there are any avalanche advisories.

Bundle up, rent a pair of snowshoes, and get excited about what’s in store! Soon you’ll be walking through trails of towering pine trees with their boughs laden down with snow. It doesn’t get very much more “winter wonderland” than this!

Check for easy, flat trails by Snoqualmie Pass or Stevens Pass.

4. Visit a Bavarian Village

Photo Credit: Sam DeLong via Flickr CC2.0

Once a logging town on the verge of collapse, the local government of Leavenworth determined to transform the town into a Bavarian escape, in hopes that tourists would come flocking. The plan worked!

Leavenworth is now an immensely popular destination all year round for those who want a little taste of the Old World. This Bavarian-themed village is extra adorable in the winter, however, with snowy streets and half-timbered buildings illuminated by the rosy glow of Christmas lights.

The 2 hour drive from Seattle is worth it when you know there’s schnitzel and strudel waiting for you at the end! Check the city’s calendar to learn about tree lightings, concerts, and other events!

If you intend to stay overnight then try to book ahead—this is one of the most popular weekend getaways from Seattle!

5. Festive Fun in Bellevue

Photo Credit: Aldo Garcia

Jaunt across the bridge to the parallel city of Bellevue to enjoy all sorts of fun at this festive time of the year!

  • Ice Skating: Gliding across the ice is such a freeing feeling, and you don’t have to go too far from Seattle to experience it! This is a great date night or family-friendly Seattle winter activity, especially since the rink stays up past the New Year and into mid-January. Don’t forget to warm up afterward with a cup of hot chocolate!
  • Botanical Garden Lights: While you’re in Bellevue for the day, why not visit their luminescent holiday display at the Bellevue Botanical Gardens? Passionate botanists outdo themselves every year at the Garden d’Light, draping greenery and creating scenery with delightful Christmas light displays. Meander through the pathways and learn even more about the flora and fauna that make the PNW so special.
  • Snowflake Lane Parade: From November 25-December 24th, the city puts on a dazzling nightly parade down Snowflake Lane. Clap along in wonder as toy soldiers drum down the street and snowflake dancers whiz along behind. This is a holiday happening you won’t want to miss!

6. Have a Night at the Ballet

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

From November 25th-December 27th, the curtain goes up on one of the most anticipated performances of the holiday period. The Pacific Northwest Ballet Company will present one of the most cherished works of dance: George Balanchine’s The Nutcracker.

With stunning sets and costumes designed by renowned artist Ian Falconer (Olivia the Pig) and music composed by beloved Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, this is an event that shouldn’t be skipped.

7. Rent a Hot Tub Boat

Photo Credit: lakeunionhottubboats.com

No, we’re not mistaken: you really can lease your own hot tub boat on Lake Union! Grab a few friends who are down for a winter day full of adventure and relaxation and start your steamy journey around the lake.

The weather may be freezing, but as long as you stay submerged in your toasty haven, you can enjoy Gas Works Park and the Seattle skyline without catching a chill.

After drying off, why not end your night at one of the popular South Lake Union restaurants? There are plenty of great ones to choose from.

8. Visit a Museum

Photo Credit: Josh Grenier via Flickr CC2.0

Seattle’s gray, chilly weather can make even the most dedicated Pacific Northwesterner seek shelter. Luckily, Seattle has many museums perfect for opening your mind and sheltering from the elements. Here are a few popular Seattle museums.

9. Watch the Christmas Boat Parade

Photo Credit: John Morris Photography

If you’re in Seattle during December, head over to Lake Union for a unique holiday light display. Owners proudly deck their boats out with lights and sail them around the lake, stirring up some holiday cheer. Book a spot at one of the waterfront restaurants so that you can get the best (and warmest) view!

The 2022 Christmas Boat Parade is on December 18 from 7-9:30 pm.

10. Catch a Hockey Game

Photo Credit: commons.wikimedia.org

Vancouver, Canada is a lovely destination but you don’t have to travel all the way there just to see a hockey game! If you’re searching for an indoor and inexpensive winter activity, grab some popcorn and cheer on the Everett Silvertips hockey team!

You can get to Everett either by a 30-minute drive north of Seattle, or by taking a direct train from King Street Station.

Of course, a recent cause for excitement is that Seattle now has its own hockey team, the Seattle Kraken! Don your blue and white and cheer on the team with the locals during one of these lively games.

11. Visit Enchant Christmas

Photo Credit: Blake Patterson via Flickr CC2.0

If you want to enjoy a magical holiday experience, check out Enchant Christmas in Seattle. This family-friendly experience features a Christmas marketplace, local food vendors, kids’ activities, and even Santa Claus!

The big draw of the park is the Light Maze, where kids (and adults) can run around and get some unique photos to look back on all year. There’s also an outdoor skating rink where you can enjoy whizzing around in the cool winter air.

12. Soak in a Hot Spring

Photo Credit: femme

If you’re visiting Seattle during winter, one of the best things to do is to take a trip up into the mountains where there are some beautiful hot springs. The Scenic Hot Springs by Stevens Pass is a magical option–watching the steam rise while snow falls around you is a special experience. Be advised that these springs are reservation only.

There are plenty of hot springs in the surrounding areas including Olympic Hot Springs and Sul Duc Hot Springs. Whatever you choose, be sure to research the trails beforehand.

13. See This Natural Wonder

Photo Credit: pixahive.com

If you want an otherworldly experience, then carve out some time on a clear evening to view bioluminescence light up the waters of the Puget Sound. Bundle up and head down to the main ferry deck for boat departures and arrivals.

The strong blasts of water stir up the glowing organisms and on a clear day can create an organic light show! If you want an even more up-close-and-personal experience, you can book a bioluminescence kayak tour from San Juan Island.

We think that this could be one of the most rewarding things to brave Washington’s winter cold for.

14. Have a Hearty Bowl of Ramen

Photo Credit: sasazawa

Being a port city, Seattle’s cuisine has been heavily influenced by the many cultures that have arrived over the years. Trying Seattle’s pan-Asian cuisine is at the top of many tourists’ list, and a hearty, slurp-worthy bowl of ramen goodness can be just what the doctor ordered on a cold Seattle day.

Start with Arashi Ramen, Ramen Danbo, or Kizuki Ramen & Izakaya.

15. Warm Up the Local Way!

Photo Credit: perfectlab

Seattle natives know how to shake off the winter chill.

Beating the cold with a warm cup of java is something every true local does. With its roots in small cafes like Victrola, Cafe Ladro, and Herksimer (not to mention, the world’s first Starbucks), Seattle has perfected the art of creating the perfect pick me up. So take a trip down around downtown Seattle and discover some of the city’s best coffee shops. You can put together your own cafe crawl!

If you’re hungry as well, then settle in for a bowl of the renowned Ivar’s clam chowder (order a side of fish n’chips while you’re at it–you won’t regret it!). Find the main location on the Seattle waterfront, close to the ferry docks. For a full dine-in experience, head to Ivar’s in Mukilteo, which is a cute town to explore in its own right!

16. Ring in the New Year

Photo Credit: Dave Lichterman via Flickr CC2.0

Will you be in Seattle over the biggest holiday of the year?

There are numerous notable public institutions in Seattle that host grand New Years Eve celebrations. Peruse the calendars of the Pacific Science Cen­ter, Chihuly Garden & Glass, and the Seattle Center, which all hold popular events each New Year’s Eve.

The Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) also has interactive programming that makes it a memorable place to ring in the new year.

And of course, it wouldn’t be New Year’s without a gigantic fireworks display, which the Space Needle provides every year!

17. Drink Up!

Photo Credit: Vershinin89

In a city as cold as Seattle, you have to find a way to warm up somehow! Maybe that’s why there are so many incredible breweries dotted throughout the city. Get that warm and fuzzy feeling when you work your way through different craft beers, often on heated terraces. A lot of breweries are kid and dog-friendly, so you can turn it into a family day out!

Definitely start your search in the Ballard neighborhood, which has around 15 breweries all within walking distance of each other. We suggest starting at Rueben’s Brews, the fun and no-frills taproom that has over 24 homemade beers on offer!

For a great wine bar, SODO Urban Works brings 10 local winemakers all to one place, with individual tasting rooms and street food selections. This communal space is an incredibly convenient way to sip your way through some of Seattle’s best urban wineries.

Even better, they’re all located together, so you don’t have to worry about driving between them all.

Enjoy Winter in Seattle

The Seattle winter may be dark and gloomy, but there are still plenty of things that you can do to stay warm and comfortable during the cold season. Whether you want to dodge a rainy day or find the most festive activity possible, use these tips to enjoy the winter in Seattle–during the holidays and beyond!