Comparing the Best Seattle Views

Space Needle vs. The Skyview Observatory vs. The Smith Tower

Going to the top of a tall building to take in scenic views is popular for visitors to any city. Seattle is no different. We have great Seattle observation decks. However, which one is the best for you?

With so many great Seattle views throughout the city which should you go see? Each of the following observation decks provides exceptional photos for your Instagram account. However, which of the following Seattle observation decks are the best?

The Space Needle
The Space Needle is one of Seattle's best observation decks
The most iconic building in Seattle

If you know nothing about Seattle you should do a Seattle City Tour. But even those who know nothing about the Emerald City, still probably know that the Space Needle calls Seattle home. Riding the elevator to the top of the Needle is usually on of the top of everyone’s list when planning their trip to Seattle. However, this may not be the best use of your time and money when visiting.

The Pros

There is no other building like the Space Needle. Going up to the top is a special experience. In the summer of 2018, architect Alan Maskin and Gary Noble Curtis completed a $100 million “spacelift” of Seattle’s most iconic building. That renovation included removing almost all metal caging barricades. Those have now been replaced with tempered glass. Making it feel less like being in a building and more like being in a cloud. Also, the bottom floor of the observation deck used to be a spinning restaurant. While the bottom floor still spins, the restaurant has been taken out to make for more viewing areas. In fact, the floor of the spinning restaurant has been replaced with glass. This means that you can stand on a glass floor over 500 feet in the air while spinning counter clockwise. Furthermore, tickets purchases can be combined with tickets to the Chihuly Garden and Glass which is directly below the needle.

The Cons

Big crowds, long waits and expensive tickets. It is incredibly popular which means getting up to the top can be time consuming. In the summer I would anticipate at least a 90 minute wait to get to the top, even if you purchased your ticket in advance. If you choose to “walk up” without purchasing tickets in advance, it could take several hours. It is also expensive with a ride to the top running you about $45 per adult after taxes (depending on season/time of day.) If you combine it with Chihuly tickets the the price will be over $60 per person. You can purchase a Blast Pass for an additional $40 per person to bypass the line. However, that option is only available at the box office. While it was once the tallest west of the Mississippi, its 605′ peak is now the 8th tallest in Seattle.

Protips

Go early in the morning to pay less and avoid crowds and purchase tickets in advance. Avoid going during Bumbershoot and Folk Life on Labor day weekend and Memorial Day weekend as crowds will be dense. Tickets to the Space Needle can be added to the Space Needle on your Totally Seattle Tour, but considering how long it takes to get to the top, your time is best spent doing this outside of the time on the tour.

The Skyview Observatory atop the Columbia Center
Columbia center is the tall black building. The Skyview observatory is on the 73rd floor and is one of Seattle's best observation decks
The Tall black building is Columbia Center. The Skyview is located on the 73rd floor.
The Pros

The Columbia Center is the tallest building in Seattle. It stands at 937 feet tall and is 76 stories high. The building was completed in 1985. The Skyview Observatory is on the 73rd floor and offers unobstructed Panoramic Seattle views. As far as scenic views go, there isn’t anything better than this observatory. The cafe offers snacks, flat bread pizzas, sandwiches as well as local beer and wine. Tickets start at $20 before tax and the observation deck is far less crowded than the Space Needle.

The Cons

The Columbia Center is an office building and is not surrounded by many other tourist attractions. If you are going to the Skyview Observatory you likely will not be able to walk to anything else of interest when you are done making its location the biggest challenge in visiting. This Seattle observation deck is on a bit of an island.

Pro tip

If you don’t wish to pay the full ticket price to go to the tallest observation deck in Seattle you can simply visit the tallest Starbucks in the world on the 40th floor. You don’t need to pay to ride in the elevator but your cappucino may be a little more expensive that you are used to. If you do go all the way to the top while there is an event going on at Century Link Field, you may be able to sneak a birds eye view into the stadium. Tickets to the Skyview can be added to any Totally Seattle Private Tour. We can drop you at the front door and wait until you come back down. We will be waiting for you when you exit. It is the easiest way to see the tallest building in Seattle.

The Smith Tower Observatory and Bar
Smith Tower offers great Seattle Views and a wonderful Seattle Observation deck
The Smith Tower was the first skyscraper of Seattle completed in 1914
The Pros

The Smith Tower was Seattle’s first Skyscraper. It was completed in 1914 and its peak is 462′. While it is the 23rd tallest building in Seattle, the Smith Tower will forever be one of the most cherished buildings in Seattle. At one time it dominated the Seattle Skyline and was the tallest building west of the Mississippi from its completion in 1914 until the Space Needle was finished in 1962. The Seattle views themselves are not extraordinary but the experience of going to the top of the 35th floor is special riding in an original OTIS elevator. All original tile and marble adorn the hallways with ornamental ceilings in the lounge. It is one of the best date spots in the city. Tickets to the top start at $20 but can be as low as $12 depending on the time of day you plan your visit. I recommend going during Happy Hour.

The Cons

Obviously when the neighboring Columbia Center building is more than twice the overall height of the Smith Tower, the view isn’t the main attraction. What the Smith tower lacks in height it makes up for in history and character. With a little imagination you can order a drink at the lounge and feel like you are ordering a drink at a Speakeasy during prohibition. The other downside is the neighborhood it is located in Pioneer Square is close to some questionable pockets of the city where rough characters like to congregate.

Pro Tip

While we can include admission to the Smith Tower with any Totally Seattle Tour, I highly recommend going to the top of the Smith Tower after completing one of the the Underground Tours. There is something about taking a 75 minute tour on the history of Seattle and then going up to the top of the oldest skyscraper in Seattle. It really makes for a better understanding of Seattle’s historic past. Most importantly the Smith Tower is the only observation deck with re-admittance. That means you can go up once and enjoy the observation deck and then return later in the evening for drinks and to enjoy the sunset. Just make sure that you don’t lose your proof of purchase or you’ll pay again. Also, the very top tower is a residential unit that is currently looking for a tenant.

Which one is the best?

I’ve done my best to ensure that you fully understand the strengths and weaknesses in each of Seattle’s most famous scenic viewpoints. However, if you want to know which is think is the best I would have to say it is the Skyview Observatory at the Columbia Center. Going to an observation deck is all about the view. As a result you can’t argue that the tallest building in Seattle offers the best view. And with it being less expensive and less crowded than other options, I think this is the best value for the best of all Seattle views.

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