Put your wallet away and enjoy four-star Seattle on a two-star budget

A $4.75 ride on the West Seattle Water Taxi buys this view of downtown Seattle 

Business travel has its perks, but the downside is there's usually little time to break away from the confines of a conference room. A world-class city like Seattle - home to Amazon.com, Starbucks, Boeing and Microsoft - deserves a few extra days, even if it's on your own dime. Traveling in style is always easier when someone else is paying, but leaving the expense account behind doesn't have to translate into a budget motel or dinner at a fast-food restaurant.

You'd rather sleep in luxury and enjoy cocktails and dishes created by award-winning chefs, right? If this sounds more like your kind of weekend escape, read on.  Four-star Seattle on a two-star budget is your mission. Here's the plan:

Sleepful in Seattle 

Prepare for sticker shock. Thousands of cruise ship passengers and baseball fans fill downtown hotel rooms in the summer, keeping demand strong and rates high.  

If you're looking for a room last-minute, download the the Hotel Tonight  ap to your smart phone, and look for discounts on same-day bookings. A room at the Pan Pacific Hotel in downtown Seattle recently showed up for $245 compared to the hotel's best-available online rate of $275.

For more substantial savings, bid for a room on Priceline. You won't find out the name of the hotel until your bid has been accepted and your credit card charged, but it's hard to go wrong if you you narrow your choices to four-star hotels in the downtown area. Travelers posting information about their deals on Bidding for Travel report snagging rooms from $85 (Grand Hyatt Pike Place) to $125 (Sheraton). 

Better yet, check the listings for luxury apartments on Airbnb. Examples include a two-bedroom, two-bath apartment  in the close-in First Hill neighborhood for a nightly rate of $195 and a $100-a-night private studio cottage in the hip Fremont neighborhood.

Urban drinks and gourmet eats

Two words: Happy hour. Enjoy drinks and dinner for two at some of Seattle's swankiest spots for $30 or less. Did I mention the free wine and $1 oysters?

Topping a long list of downtown hotel happy hours is the Four Seasons Seattle,   serving smoked salmon flatbread ($7), shortrib tacos ($8) and lava salt pretzels ($8) along with drink specials daily from 5 p.m.-7 p.m. in its Art Lounge overlooking Elliott Bay.  

Happy hour at the Four Seasons Seattle 

Locals have been known to make dinner out of the hotel's cheese and antipasti buffet ($14 from 4:30- 9 p.m. and $8 from 9 p.m.- 11 p.m. daily), stocked with a dozen local and imported cheeses; olives; cured meats; and roasted veggies.

A "Shuck it for a Buck'' $1 oyster special continues through August 30 from 4:30 p.m.-5:30 p.m. Guest wine experts offer free tastings each Wednesday. 

Most high-end restaurants offer afternoon and late-evening deals. At the clubby El Gaucho steakhouse, starters to go with your $65 New York steak will set you back $12-$19.  Stick to the generous afternoon and late-night happy hour in the bar, and you'll dine well on a $6 soup spiked with black truffles and a $7 mac and cheese made with English cheddar.

Storyville Coffee

For a quiet cup of coffee, skip the noisy crowds at Starbucks and sip your latte in style at Storyville Coffee hidden in an upstairs corner of the Pike Place Market. Soft, yellow lighting sets the mood for enjoying a relaxing cup while lounging on leather chairs grouped around a fireplace or near windows overlooking the flower and produce stalls.   

Dessert? Sign up for a $10 tour at Theo's Chocolate bean-to-bar roasting factory. The hour-long visits include free samples and a souvenir chocolate bar.

High culture/low cost 

Nearly all Seattle's museums are free on the first Thursday of the month, including the downtown Seattle Art Museum where the normal adult admission is $19.50. The museum is also free to seniors on the first Friday of the month. Free all the time is the museum's outdoor Olympic Sculpture Park on the Seattle waterfront.

Stroll the Olympic Sculpture Park on the Seattle Waterfront 

Discounted tickets for cultural events, concerts and theater performances show up daily on Goldstar.com. Look for half-price specials at pricey venues such as the the Triple Door, Benaroya Hall, and Teatro ZinZanni theater.  

Cruise Control

If $23.75 isn't in the budget for a sightseeing tour of Seattle's harbor, consider a 10-minute ride aboard the West Seattle Water Taxi  for $4.75. The commuter run across Elliott Bay doesn't include the historical commentary offered on the commercial cruises, but it comes with the same four-star view of the Seattle skyline.

The West Seattle Water Taxi 

When you arrive, kimchi quesadillas and hawaiian shave ice await at the Marination Ma Kai,  a gourmet Hawaiian/Korean food truck operation reincarnated as a waterside pub with an outdoor patio.  Knock $2 off daily drink specials and a dollar off beer and wine during happy hour. Order a JalapeƱo Fizz and a sampling of mini-tacos. There are five - kalbi beef, miso ginger chicken, spicy pork, sexy tofu and kalua pork. At $2.50 each, you can afford to try them all.


  1. Great story! Aren't we lucky to live here?

  2. Thx so much for this post, Carol! I'm heading to Seattle in early Nov and will take your tips along with me. It's been far too long since my last visit to the city, so I'll be rediscovering it all over again.