With world-class shopping, gorgeous natural spaces, and vibrant nightlife, Bellevue is one of Washington’s most engaging destinations. At one point in time, it was a suburb of Seattle; these days, Bellevue is more accurately described as a satellite city, given its fast growth and its established reputation as one of the Pacific Northwest’s premier technology hubs. The Seattle Times even referred to the city as the “new Brooklyn.”
If you’re visiting Bellevue, you’ll have no shortage of things to do and places to visit, and if you’re feeling overwhelmed while putting your travel schedule together, we can help. Here’s everything you need to know, including tips for dining, lodging, and exploring with confidence.
Stop By The Bellevue Botanical Garden
The Bellevue Botanical Garden (BBG to the locals) is a 53-acre park with woodlands, wetlands, and cultivated gardens, and it’s one of the city’s most popular destinations. More than 300,000 people visit each year.
The garden is made up of several smaller gardens, each with its own character. Stop by the Fuchsia Garden or Rhododendron Garden to see their namesakes in bloom, or walk the Ravine Experience, which features a 150-foot suspension bridge that allows visitors to observe the wildlife without disturbing the floor of the conifer forest.
Visit the garden’s website for hours and other information. Generally, the park is open from dawn to dusk, and there’s no fee for admission or parking -- in other words, if you’re headed to Bellevue and you’re at all interested in spending time outdoors, there’s no reason to leave the botanical garden off of your itinerary.
Browse The Shops Of Bellevue Square
While Seattle is famous for its high-end shops and boutiques, Bellevue has an even greater array of upscale shopping options. Bellevue Square is one of the best spots to dive into the town’s retail culture.
Here, shoppers can browse some of the more than 200 retail stores, then dine at one of more than 50 local-to-global restaurants. The shopping experience is largely focused on major brands and high-end fashion, but there’s something for everyone (you’ll even find a LEGO store on the mall’s first floor).
The nearby Lincoln Square and Bellevue Place expand the dining and shopping options considerably, and we strongly recommend taking advantage of the valet parking and concierge services to make the most of your trip. Check out the Bellevue Collection’s website to browse the area’s various attractions.
Visit The Bellevue Arts Museum
Just across the street from Bellevue Square, the Bellevue Arts Museum is an unconventional museum with no permanent collection. Instead, it features an ever-changing gallery of modern art pieces, focusing on artists from the Pacific Northwest. You’ll also find regular public workshops, lectures, and talks.
Since the experience changes regularly, you’ll want to check out the museum’s website prior to visiting.
Head Out For A Hike At Mercer Slough Nature Park
Hikers won't want to miss Mercer Slough Nature Park, the largest remaining Lake Washington wetland. Three trails run through the 320-acre park, and an educational center at the entrance provides visitors with detailed information about the area's diverse flora and fauna.
Walking the interconnected soft-surface trails, asphalt pathways, and boardwalks, you'll take in gorgeous views of the wetlands and encounter some of the area's 170 species of wildlife. Head to the nearby Blueberry Farm to pick blueberries (provided that they're in season) or simply stroll by the hardhacks while enjoying the scenery.
The park is open all year, but trail accessibility can change with the seasons; check the city’s website for up-to-date info.
Eating In Bellevue
Bellevue offers a variety of enriching culinary experiences, and whether you want a five-star meal or a gourmet hot dog, you’ll be able to find something satisfying with enough effort. With that said, we reached out to locals to find Bellevue’s best dining spots, and these restaurants received the most resoundingly positive reviews.
Chef John Howie’s Seastar Restaurant is a stellar option in downtown Bellevue. The menu is wide ranging, though the sushi and sashimi are the clear favorites. If you prefer your food cooked, you’ll find delectable steaks, tuna, and lobster macaroni and cheese on the dinner menu. The restaurant also has a gluten-free menu, and while it’s fairly expensive, the carefully crafted dishes are well worth the expense for fine-dining connoisseurs.
Lil' Jon Restaurant
In the mood for a simpler American plate? Lil' Jon Restaurant is one of Bellevue’s oldest restaurants, as the Sjolander family has operated it continuously since 1967. Locals say that the prices are fair, the coffee is hot, and the service is friendly.
This is one of the best places in town to grab a roast beef sandwich or a patty melt, and if you’re visiting during breakfast hours, the homemade cinnamon rolls are unmatched (just head there early -- once the cinnamon rolls are gone for the day, they’re gone).
Belle Pastry is a small bakery on Bellevue’s Main Street and a perfect spot to enjoy a cup of coffee while planning your day.
You can’t go wrong with the bakery’s ever-changing seasonal options, but be sure to grab some croissants for the road. The Seattle Times named Belle Pastry’s croissant one of the two best options in the Seattle metropolitan area, and given the city’s French heritage, that’s saying something.
Where To Stay In Bellevue
Given Bellevue’s enchanting nightlife and numerous shopping districts, you might not want to spend much time cooped up in a hotel room. Then again, you might be surprised -- the city has some truly outstanding accommodations. Here are a few of our favorites.
Bellevue Club Hotel
The Bellevue Club Hotel is an athletic club, spa, and hotel, and if you’re looking to treat yourself, it’s an outstanding place to spend a few days. The hotel has four dining options and 24-hour room service, and it’s located about a mile from Bellevue Square and 2 miles from downtown.
Guests also have access to a full-service spa with facial treatments and massage options. Be sure to check out the hotel’s website for spa/retreat packages.
The Woodmark Hotel
If you’re headed to Bellevue, chances are you’re planning on spending some time exploring the greater Seattle metropolitan area. The Woodmark is located in Kirkland, Washington, a short drive from Bellevue, and it offers easy access to Bellevue, Seattle, Redmond, and Woodinville Wine Country.
Set on the water of Lake Washington, the hotel offers an impressive array of amenities, including in-room couple’s massages, private boat tours, breathtaking waterfront views, and two dine-in restaurants.
A Few Travel Tips
Pay Attention To The Local Events
While tourists can easily spend their days shopping, dining, and exploring Bellevue’s green spaces, the town’s regular events also deserve some attention.
During the summer and fall, stop by the farmers markets. Bellevue also hosts an annual jazz and blues festival in May, a family-friendly Fourth of July celebration, and an arts fair toward the end of July. Until recently, the town held an annual strawberry festival, though that tradition ended -- at least temporarily -- in 2019.
Check the Bellevue Downtown Association’s calendar when scheduling your trip to make sure you don’t miss out.
You Probably Don’t Need To Rent A Car
For the most part, Bellevue is a walkable city, so your best bet is to stay on foot and use ridesharing services, buses, or taxis when you need to take a longer journey. Here’s a useful pedestrian map of downtown Bellevue. For getting from city to city, check out the King County Metro’s website, which has bus schedules and other info.
The city recently began accepting applications from bike-sharing companies, and you can rent bikes in nearby Seattle or Kirkland to explore the city in this manner. The city offers a color-coded bike map for cyclists.
With that said, if you do decide to drive to Bellevue or rent a car, free parking is plentiful in most parts of the city.
Hotels Are Often Cheaper On The Weekends
Bellevue’s a major player in the technology industry, and as such, its hotels often fill up during the week as businesspeople head to the city for conferences and meetings. For travelers, that means that accommodations are often slightly less expensive on weekends.
When contacting a hotel, be sure to ask about spa packages, dine-in discounts, and anything else that might reduce the overall cost of your trip. Bellevue isn’t an inexpensive city, per se, but it’s quite affordable when you plan early.
These days, a trip to Bellevue is a wholly different experience from a trip to Seattle. Both towns have plenty to offer, but Bellevue has come into its own as one of the Pacific Northwest’s hidden gems (or not-so-hidden gems, depending on the person you ask).
Plan your trip as early as possible and be ready to explore. There’s a reason that Bellevue is regularly ranked one of America’s best places to live -- and for travelers, it’s certainly a wonderful place to spend a few days.