Ascending the Heights of the Seattle Space Needle

Not only is the iconic Space Needle a comely figure in the Seattle skyline, but it boasts breathtaking vistas, a restaurant, and museums galore at its feet.Read More

You can always pick out the Seattle skyline – thanks to the iconic Seattle Space Needle. (Source: iStock / Ricks Moulton)

An icon of the northwest, the Seattle Space Needle was built for the World’s Fair back in 1962. It’s become a veritable landmark in the decades since, and now attracts tourists with an acclaimed restaurant, observation deck, and exhibits in and around the Space Needle itself. Join us on a tour of this Washington monument, won’t you? (No, not that monument.)

Brief history and overview of the Seattle Space Needle

As mentioned above, the Space Needle was built in the ’60s to be the centerpiece of the Seattle World’s Fair. Word has it more than two million people visited the monument during the Fair, with some 20,000 people ascending to the top each day via the tower’s elevators.

While several designs were proposed for the tower, they were ultimately combined to form the core of what we know today – an hourglass, a flying saucer, and a giant balloon. While these ideas were critical to public acceptance of the project, equally as important was the tower’s integrity; it was built to withstand winds of up to 200 mph and endure the jostle of earthquakes lower than 9.1 on the Richter scale.

A view of the Seattle Space Needle under construction in 1961. (Source: Wikipedia)
A view of the Seattle Space Needle under construction in 1961. (Source: Wikipedia)

For several decades following the World’s Fair, the hovering disk at the tower’s top was home to two restaurants. These were replaced in 2000 by one larger restaurant dubbed SkyCity – a destination unto itself with 360-degree views. In fact, the restaurant rotates 360 degrees every 47 minutes to ensure all dinners enjoy the full vistas stretching out from Seattle. (It’s currently being renovated, though, so you’ll have to wait for that bucket-list dining experience.)

Also built into the Seattle Space Needle is an imitation carillon (which can recreate the sound of 538 bells), a Skybeam that shoots light skyward from the top of the tower during special celebrations and holidays, and of course, observation decks.

What to experience at the Seattle Space Needle

Over the decades, the Space Needle has become a multi-layered experience that is best enjoyed over an entire day – or perhaps even several days.

First, we recommend you take the elevator up to the uppermost observation deck. With near-360 views of the city, the mountains beyond, and the Pacific Ocean, you’ll need to take some time to soak everything in. There are also tower viewers you can use to get a closer look at parts of the city or natural features in the area. Recently installed glass walls mean you get even more breathtaking views – nothing gets in the way of you and the sprawling world beyond.

Looking out at Seattle from the Space Needle's observation deck (Source: Seattle Space Needle Facebook)
Looking out at Seattle from the Space Needle’s observation deck (Source: Seattle Space Needle Facebook)

In 2018, renovations were completed on a new glass floor observation area as well. If you descend down the Oculus (the grand staircase) from the top observation deck, you’ll be able to stand on the glass floor and look down onto the city below. (If you’re iffy on heights, maybe skip this.)

While SkyCity is under renovation, you can grab a bite and a drink in the Seattle Space Needle. If you’re on the upper observation deck, head to Atmos Café where you’ll find coffee (it is Seattle, after all), craft brews, and snacks. For a more indulgent experience, opt for 360 at the Top, a separately ticketed experience that includes wine tastings (with food pairings) and reserved seating.

Check the Seattle Space Needle website for full details and ticket pricing.

Side trip: Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit

At the foot of the Seattle Space Needle sits the Chihuly Garden and Glass Exhibit. Dale Chihuly is a celebrated glass blower and artist whose vibrant, multicolored creations appear in major sites across the world – including the Kew Gardens in London, the New York Botanical Gardens, and throughout Venice, Italy.

Chihuly is a Washington native, however, so it’s only fitting that many of his more impressive pieces are housed in Seattle. At his eponymous exhibit, you can wander beneath floating “fauna” of glass, underneath kaleidoscope-esque ceilings, and through lush gardens, punctuated with glass sculptures that seamlessly fit into their surroundings.

Dale Chihuly's vibrant flowers add new life to the surrounding gardens. (Source: Shutterstock / Irina Mos)
Dale Chihuly’s vibrant flowers add new life to the surrounding gardens. (Source: Shutterstock / Irina Mos)

Tickets run $32 for adults and $19 for children, though you can purchase packages that give you access to the Chihuly Exhibit and the Seattle Space Needle; these cost $59 for adults and $36 for kids.

Side trip: Pacific Science Center

Also a hop, skip, and a jump away from the Seattle Space Needle is the captivating Pacific Science Center – both educational and thoroughly entertaining, especially for kids.

Comprised of multiple hands-on exhibits, the Pacific Science Center targets children between four and 12 with areas like the Butterfly House, Professor Wellbody’s Academy of Health & Wellness, the Tinker Tank maker space (great for budding builders), and VR stations where kids can experience new environments in a dynamic, interactive way.

For extra family fun, head to the Pacific Science Center, where hands-on exhibits will keep the kids entertained for hours. (Source: Shutterstock / khunrarai)
For extra family fun, head to the Pacific Science Center, where hands-on exhibits will keep the kids entertained for hours. (Source: Shutterstock / khunrarai)

Additionally, the onsite IMAX theater gives families the opportunity to experience science-based documentaries on the big-big screen; and the ginormous Laser Dome, complete with a concert-quality sound system, delivers mesmerizing laser performances for visitors.

Tickets run $14-25, depending on what exhibits and areas of the Science Center you want to visit. Check the website for more information and up-to-date pricing.

There are quite a few other spots near the Seattle Space Needle worth exploring – including the Seattle Children’s Museum, the funky-looking Museum of Pop Culture, and (the slightly farther afield) Pike Place Market. We definitely recommend checking them out and building out an itinerary of spots to visit after you soak in the majesty of the Space Needle itself.