Experience How The Real Seattle Lives and Plays

Sure, you know Seattle and Pike Place Market, but delve a bit deeper on this journey through the Southside of the town. It's a tasty and fun outing where you experience how the real Seattle lives and play.


There’s a time and a place for visiting the iconic spots in a city. Yes, you should see New York’s Times Square, Washington’s museums and memorials, and San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. And you should see Seattle’s Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, and wander the neighborhoods near the waterfront. But there’s much more to Seattle.

Whether you’ve already been there and done that, or just want something different and not as crowded, there’s a time and place to check out more unknown neighborhoods, too. There are hidden gems, relaxation, and less-touristy experiences to be found.

Seattle Southside is one of those neighborhoods. Near Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport and sometimes called “Seattle’s Backyard,” Seattle Southside is a laid-back, more affordable, and easy-to-get-to place to explore a different side of Seattle.

What to do
While Seattle Southside’s waterfront can get busy on sunny days, generally you won’t find crowds of oblivious tourists elbowing their way for Instagram selfies here. This is the kind of neighborhood where you can unwind and explore without pressure.

A not-to-miss activity is a chocolate factory tour at Seattle’s Chocolates. After learning how cacao is grown and harvested, you can go behind the scenes for a peek into how this woman-owned chocolate factory makes its meltaway chocolates, truffle bars, and exclusive jcoco bars. Of course there’s sampling, both at the beginning and end of the tour.

While you’re there, it will be impossible to resist stocking up on gifts (for you and for others). Not only is all their chocolate delicious, but each flavor bar is uniquely wrapped in gorgeous patterns and colors. You won’t feel guilty at all knowing that with the purchase of every three-ounce jcoco bar, the company donates a fresh and healthy serving of food — over two million servings have been donated so far through three different food bank partners.

After your chocolate feast, make your way to the Highline SeaTac Botanical Gardens for another riot of color. Depending on the time of year, you could see daylilies, roses, fuschias, irises, and rare plants, too. Be sure to walk through the Sensory Garden, the Seike Japanese Garden, and Elda Behm’s Paradise Garden, a re-creation of one of the original donor’s gardens. Highline SeaTac Botanical Gardens was created thanks to local citizen activists who saved two gardens that needed to be demolished to create Sea-Tac’s third runway. Run by a volunteer foundation and with donations by the City of SeaTac, the Port of Seattle, and others, this garden’s mission is to preserve garden heritage and ensure the garden grows for the future.

Being so close to the coast, it’s important to have a little beach time, too, even if it’s a typically cool Seattle day. At Redondo Beach you can stroll the sands, sit atop a giant log to watch the waves roll in, visit a small aquarium, and chat with the scuba divers when they come ashore to review what they saw underwater. Green River Natural Resources Area is the place to go for bird watching, with its estimated 165 different species.

At Des Moines Beach Park, walk to the end of the boardwalk, stroll the beaches, rent a kayak or a stand-up paddleboard, or take a whale-watching trip. In the summertime, be sure to stop at the Des Moines Waterfront Farmers’ Market at the Des Moines Marina. You’ll find local products and produce, crafts, and prepared foods to sample or take home. Have a picnic on the lawn and listen to a summer concert.

If you’re craving a little adventure, IFly Seattle has an indoor skydiving tunnel where you can experience the thrill of skydiving without strapping on a parachute and jumping out of a plane. Inside a wind tunnel, you ride on a cushion of air to experience the feeling of a free-fall without the need to actually fall. You might even take to the brand-new sport of body-flight and sign up for lessons to learn flips, layouts, barrel rolls, and formation flying.

Where to stay
A great place to base yourself is Cedarbrook Lodge. It’s set on 18 acres so you might not even realize you’re only a five-minute drive from the airport. You can stroll through the hotel’s lawns and gardens (don’t miss the pathway covered in cherry blossoms in springtime) and into the forested wetlands. Lounge next to the outdoor fireplace, work out in the huge fitness center, or book a spa treatment.

An extensive buffet breakfast is included in rates. You’ll be able to try famous Salumi charcuterie without needing to drive into Seattle’s busy Pioneer Square neighborhood (or stand in Salumi’s frequently long lineups). Salumi is owned by Armandino Batali (father of Mario), and he makes some of the best cured meats in the world.

Cedarbrook also features a living room in each of its three residential buildings where you can relax by the fire, browse the take-one-leave-one library, play board games, chat with other guests, and, almost unbelievably, help yourself to snacks like yogurt, cheese string, chips, chocolates, and Häagen-Dazs ice cream.

Save room for dinner, though. Cedarbrook’s Copperleaf Restaurant serves inspired dishes made with local and sustainable ingredients. If the menu doesn’t list the farm or fisher that sourced your main course, your server undoubtedly knows their names.

Making you feel really good about your choice of accommodations, Cedarbrook Lodge has an “Inspire” mission which aims to improve social responsibility through agricultural stewardship, supply chain integrity, natural resource efficiency, and community enrichment. Initiatives include biodegradable to-go food packaging made from sugar cane fiber, recycling kitchen grease into biodiesel fuel, and participating in the Clean the World global hygiene program.

Where to eat
Salty’s Redondo Beach: Famous for its huge weekend buffets where you can eat seafood to your heart’s content. Watching the scuba divers from the window situates you in time and place.

13 Coins: Since it’s open 24-7, you can order anything off 13 Coins’ extensive menu at any time of day or night (particularly helpful if you’ve just landed at Sea-Tac, across the street, and your stomach thinks it is in an entirely different time zone). Try for a seat at one of the high-backed swivel chairs at the bar to chat with the chefs.

Bahama Breeze Island Grille: This multi-room eatery has different areas to choose from, depending on whether you want a laid-back dinner or prefer a table closer to the band. Everything feels fun and beachy and the cocktails are delicious.

Seattle Southside has a number of international restaurants, too, such as Arashi Ramen with its slow-simmered ramen soups, Star Coffee Restaurant featuring traditionally-served Ethiopian food, and Mizu Japanese Steakhousewhere teppanyaki chefs cook and entertain at the same time.

Note: Johanna’s visit to Seattle Southside was hosted by the Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority, but all opinions expressed here are her own, and no one outside of Second Chance Travels reviewed or approved her article.