The rainbow-painted crosswalks are the first sign that you’ve arrived in Seattle’s gay neighborhood. The pride flags in the windows of nearly every business and the large, visible LGBT population make it even more obvious. Welcome to Capitol Hill!
Capitol Hill might be the most popular area of Seattle for dining and nightlife. The fact that it’s also a gay epicenter, with a dozen gay bars, makes the neighborhood that much better.
Beyond the gay nightlife, there are so many things to do in Capitol Hill, including shopping for hidden treasures, attending shows at music and theater venues, and (of course) eating at some of the city’s best restaurants. The large neighborhood on a hill just east of downtown is easy to explore by foot, bus, streetcar, or light rail.
The Hill is one of the most fun gay neighborhoods in the country, and as a Seattle resident, I’m fortunate that I get to spend time here every week. If you have one day to experience the best things to do in Capitol Hill, from nature to dining to nightlife, read on for a suggested itinerary, including some of my favorite insider spots.
Coffee & outdoors
As the original home of Starbucks, Seattle reigns as one of America’s best coffee cities. Capitol Hill has a bunch of popular coffee shops, including Caffé Ladro and Capitol Coffee Works. I’ll often visit Top Pot Doughnuts and treat myself to one of their amazing old-fashioned chocolate glazed doughnuts.
Next, it’s time for some outdoor recreation. While the Seattle area has a ton of incredible mountain hikes, many of them require a full day to complete. To get a quick taste of nature without leaving the Hill, start the day with a morning hike in Interlaken Park, one of the many beautiful parks in Seattle. The park is hilly and forested, so even a 30-minute walk on its modest loop trail will make you feel as though you’re miles away from the big city.
From there, it’s not far to Lake View Cemetery and Volunteer Park. As the final resting place of actors and martial arts legends Bruce and Brandon Lee, the cemetery sees its fair share of tourists eager to view the graves and pay their respects.
The park houses the Volunteer Park Conservatory and Asian Art Museum, one of the three locations of the Seattle Art Museum. The small conservatory only costs a few bucks and has a particularly impressive cactus room. The Asian Art Museum, located in a 1930s Art Deco building, is one of Capitol Hill’s top cultural attractions.
Volunteer Park also boasts killer views of the Space Needle. Head up to the Water Tower Observation Deck for the best backdrop for your Instagram photos!
Shopping & dining
For lunch, I recommend heading to Fogón Cocina Mexicana, which offers delicious Mexican food and drinks. Go with the enchilada or chilaquiles for lunch, or wait until 3 p.m. for the happy hour specials.
The rest of the afternoon is a great time to do some shopping and chilling out. Browse the excellent selection at Elliott Bay and Twice Sold Tales bookstores. The neighborhood has no fewer than five record stores still going strong. Spin Cycle and Zion’s Gate have particularly good vinyl sections.
I can spend hours at the vintage clothing stores here—this is the neighborhood that partly inspired Seattle-native Macklemore’s Number 1 hit “Thrift Shop,” after all. You can usually find good stuff at Rove Vintage, Lifelong Thrift, and Out of the Closet, which supports AIDS research and treatment.
Ice cream lovers have numerous options, such as the unique flavors of Salt & Straw and the traditional offerings of Old School Frozen Custard. I like to get a waffle cone at Molly Moon’s, then head to Cal Anderson Park across the street for people watching and to join in a game of pickup soccer or volleyball.
Arts & dinner
From 5 to 8 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month, Seattle art galleries and even some bars participate in the Capitol Hill Art Walk, which is a great way to experience the neighborhood. If I’m in the mood for a theatre or film event, I’ll check out 12th Avenue Arts, which runs daily performances on two stages.
For something edgier, small venues Neumos and Chop Suey host indie rock concerts, with DJs and dance parties on nights when there’s no band. Fans of grunge music can make a quick detour inside Linda’s Tavern to have a drink in the last place where one of the city’s most legendary musicians, Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, was seen before his death.
When it’s time for dinner, stop by either Capitol Cider or the Pine Box. Capitol Cider has a lengthy menu based on locally sourced ingredients, in addition to a whopping 20 ciders on tap, making it one of the largest independent cider bars in the US.
The Pine Box is a popular restaurant that occupies a spacious, century-old building that was once a mortuary—in fact, Bruce Lee’s funeral was held here in 1973. Inside, you’ll find lots of beers on tap and several inventive dishes, though I usually keep it simple and opt for the pizza. It might be the best slice you’ll find in Capitol Hill.
Capitol Hill gay nightlife is so varied that it can cater to all types of people. After 9 p.m. is when things really begin to pick up. Madison Pub and Diesel are my favorite spots for an early drink—Diesel for the strong cocktails and Mad Pub for the laid-back atmosphere where people can have conversations or play pool without having to yell over loud music.
Sometimes I’ll check out Queer/Bar, a trendy spot that regularly hosts drag shows, or Union, which carries an upscale vibe with its fireplace-and-couches interior. When I’m seeking a less mainstream crowd, I visit Pony. This small bar attracts a very queer crowd full of alternative types who might feel out of place in some of the more preppy bars.
Capitol Hill has plenty of karaoke options. The charmingly divey gay bar Crescent Lounge hosts karaoke seven nights a week. R Place and The Cuff both have karaoke on specific weeknights, and then they switch to dancing on the weekend. If clubbing in a gay environment is your thing, definitely hit up R Place, the Cuff, or Neighbours Nightclub on a Friday or Saturday to find packed dance floors.
Lesbian bars are becoming increasingly rare in the US, but Capitol Hill can claim a good one in Wildrose, which has been in operation since 1985. At the other extreme, C.C. Attle’s is a super-masculine gay bar that has various themed nights.
And, if 2 a.m. rolls around and you’re still not ready to call it a night, grab a slice of New York-style pizza at Hot Mama’s, or hit up a late-night diner like Glo’s or Lost Lake for greasy post-bar food to wrap up your perfect Capitol Hill day.