Guide to Capitol Hill, Seattle

Capitol Hill: The Colorful Center of Seattle’s Social Life

The restaurants, nightclubs, shops, and parks of Capitol Hill constantly buzz with youthful excitement near the center of the city.

Naomi Tomky
June 5, 2023

Brimming with the trendiest restaurants and packed music venues, filled with people from dawn until long past dusk, and always full of energy, Capitol Hill is one of Seattle’s most exciting neighborhoods. Conveniently located near the city center, just up the hill to the east of downtown, it is the heart of Seattle’s LGBTQ+ community and plays an important role in the city’s social life. During the day, shoppers meander between the bookstores, cafes, boutiques, and used clothing stores, taking breaks in Volunteer and Cal Anderson Parks. At night, diners crowd everything from budget burrito shops to prix fixe Italian restaurants, before they head to sip craft cocktails, see live music, or dance the night away. While the north and east parts of the neighborhood boast some of the most expensive houses in the city, including historical mansions, the area closest to the major arterial, Broadway, tends to be filled with students and young adults. The Pike-Pine Corridor holds many cool restaurants and live music venues.

Getting to Capitol Hill

Without luggage to carry, Capitol Hill is only a medium-long walk from downtown (though it is straight-up one of Seattle’s notorious hills). Otherwise, it’s well connected with the Link Light Rail to Downtown and the airport to the south and the University District to the north. The streetcar runs the length of Broadway and also connects the neighborhood to First Hill, and numerous buses run from various points on the hill to downtown.

While it is possible to drive to Capitol Hill, between the traffic and parking, it’s generally not advisable.

Volunteer Park

Covering almost 50 acres of Capitol Hill, this Olmstead-designed park cascades down the neighborhood’s northern edge. The regal art deco Seattle Asian Art Museum crowns the top of it, along with the water tower, which is open for anyone willing to climb more than 100 stairs – and for which they get rewarded with an incredible view of the city. Nearby is an Isamu Noguchi sculpture, Black Hole Sun, the Volunteer Park Conservatory, and an amphitheater.

Cal Anderson Park

Most people come to the neighborhood’s impromptu gathering place because the grassy open space makes a good central meeting spot and great people-watching, though it also has a nice fountain, reflecting pool, and walking paths.

Where to Eat and Drink on Capitol Hill

One of my favorite things about La Dive is their support of up-and-coming chefs through pop-ups on Sunday mornings.

Blotto, a tiny takeout pizza shop produces excellent pies and serves creative side dishes like burnt potatoes. There’s not much room in the shop, but they have a big patio and you can always bring your food down to Cal Anderson Park for a picnic.

La Dive is a natural wine bar that takes life lightly, with a fun menu of bubbly drinks and brightly colored cocktails. They pour chambongs, slushie drinks, and chocolate cake jello shots, along with their orange wines and pet nats. The tables spill out onto the sidewalk, giving it a European feel and drawing passersby into the buzzy vibes, and the eclectic food menu runs the gamut from light snacks to big bowls of dumplings.

Altura, one of Seattle’s few truly fine-dining restaurants, course after course of Northwest ingredients worked into Italian dishes come, often with a touch of luxury sprinkled on top. The hyper-seasonal menu changes often, rotating through items like local halibut, fresh salmon, nettles, and chanterelle mushrooms, and incorporating them into handmade pastas, seafood charcuterie, and plates of roasted lamb.

Dance the Rumba

The bar that Inside Passage is in, Rumba, is also quite good and has one of the most extensive rum collections in the country. Sit at the bar and express interest and the bartender will almost always happily share some of their incredible knowledge – and collection – with you.

Inside Passage, a bar-within-a-bar takes a turn for the fantastic, making tropical drinks with a touch of whimsy. The flavors and balance of the drinks are as on-point as the décor, which includes a giant tentacled sea monster (that’s Kiki), and creative drinks come served in ceramic fish, rice cookers, and treasure boxes.

The mint green and white tile give Boat Bar, an l-shaped bistro a classy nautical feel, an excellent match for its menu of simple, elegant seafood and snacks. The eponymous platter makes an easy way to sample some of the region’s finest, with fresh-shucked oysters, geoduck (giant clam), scallops, and prawns, while the menu adds high-low combinations like clam dip with Ritz crackers, and a few vegetables to round out a meal. Meat dishes come from next-door sibling and beef specialist, Bateau.

Where to Stay on Capitol Hill

There are not many hotels on Capitol Hill, but the few that are there make it easy to stay close to all the neighborhood action. At the top of the hill, a modern bed and breakfast called the Gaslight Inn creates a home-away-from-home for guests in a more residential section of the hill. For a more traditional hotel experience, the Silver Cloud on Broadway sits just steps from the streetcar and within a block of the restaurants and bars of the neighborhood. Though the Hotel Sorrento sits a few blocks away from the official boundaries of Capitol Hill, it gives guests all the advantages of a Capitol Hill location and plenty of character, too. The graceful old hotel embraces its long history while keeping furnishings and fixtures up to date, in the rooms and at the signature lounge, the Fireside Room.

Who Should Stay on Capitol Hill

Staying on Capitol Hill is great for anyone who wants to be right in the middle of everything. While it is a bit more of a nuisance to get to the Downtown attractions, a Capitol Hill hotel room puts you in the perfect spot to stumble out the door and straight into a café, and to keep the walk home from dinner or a bar quick and easy.

About the author

Naomi TomkyAward-winning Seattle-based writer Naomi Tomky explores her hometown and the world with a hungry eye, digging into the intersections of food, culture, and travel. Find her on the shelves of your local bookstore as the author of The Pacific Northwest Seafood Cookbook and Fodor's Seattle.