Exploring Seattle Southside: Things to Do on a Layover at Sea-Tac Airport

Long layovers happen to all of us. Most airports have upgraded enough to include a hotel or two, a spot for a shoulder massage, or a few restaurants with better-than-mediocre food. But it doesn’t matter whether you’re waiting for an international connection or unexpectedly delayed, spending the day at an airport is never one’s first choice.

Major airports are often on the outskirts of the closest metropolitan city, which is the case with Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac). As the Emerald City glows in the distance, grabbing a Lyft or hopping on the train may seem like an easy way to kill those in-between hours. Still, unexpected traffic delays can often overpower even the smoothest treks between Seattle proper and the surrounding suburbs. 

I began my career in the area twenty years ago, exploring the Rainier Valley and all that it had to offer. On a recent media visit, I rediscovered all that I appreciate about the area, all there is to see and do. If you’re flying through Sea-Tac with a long layover ahead, leave your luggage in storage and enjoy the best of Seattle Southside.

Relax in Seattle Southside

Whether traveling alone or with a group (kids or adults), a chance to relax during a long layover is a welcome one. Westfield Southcenter Mall is a quick, 10-minute Lyft ride from Sea-Tac, and offers a bright, open space to peruse and decompress. Longtime mall anchor Gene Juarez Salon & Spa features a full range of services from facials and massages to hair and nails. Aveda fans will be thrilled to find their mall location offers a shortlist of complimentary beauty services within reach of their full line of products.

Are you looking for a more relaxing layover experience? Most Sea-Tac hotels provide free shuttle service to and from the airport if you’re looking for a quieter space to spread out during your layover. Many, like the Hilton Seattle Airport & Conference Center who hosted me during my stay, feature full restaurant and bar services in addition to fitness areas and heated pools. For the cost of a reasonable overnight stay, you can nap, swim, eat, workout, or take a break from flying while you’re waiting on the departure of your next flight.

Explore Seattle Southside

In addition to Westfield Southcenter Mall, there are plenty of activities for adventurers big and small. With only a few hours of layover time, the Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden is a perfect escape from busy airport corridors. Minutes north from the terminal, the botanical garden is open during daytime hours, free to access, and showcases a collection of community growing spaces gifted by the Puget Sound Daylily Club, the Puget Sound Fuchsia Society, the King County Iris Society, and the Seattle Rose Society. The attached Seike Japanese Garden sprouted from the troubled history of the region long ago, originally built by the Seike family in 1961 following their imprisonment in a Japanese internment camp. 

Sweet tooths visiting the area may want to make a beeline to the sweet haven of the Seattle Chocolate Company factory located in nearby Tukwila. Another quick car ride from Sea-Tac, the woman-owned operation, now nearly thirty years in business, offers tours throughout the day. Learn about the harvesting of cacao, the processing of chocolate, and the incredible reach of this treasured local chocolateria, with a full selection of chocolate bars and truffles available for sale in their onsite shop.

Travelers young and old also appreciate the beauty of The Museum of Flight. Just a twenty-minute drive north from Sea-Tac, the museum displays the history of Boeing, one of the most prominent companies in the Pacific Northwest, in addition to featuring a wide variety of aircraft from experimental airplanes and World War I biplanes to fighter jets and helicopters. The enormous, glass-enclosed viewing room is a sight to see, with planes parked and perched in every angle.

For a more Pacific Northwest experience, head to the Des Moines waterfront area just south of the airport. Far less crowded than Seattle, the Des Moines waterfront features a small collection of restaurants and shops, including Auntie Irene’s Coffee Shop, a local favorite for both coffee and ice cream, and the dockside respite of Anthony’s HomePort, where seafood is the name of the game. Enjoy a walk along the dock or grab a seat to watch as boats sail by.

Eat and Drink in Seattle Southside

Seattle’s eating and drinking scene is well-known, but the southside area has accumulated a handful of south-situated outposts of city favorites. International dumpling destination Din Tai Fung opened its Westfield Southcenter Mall location just a few years ago and remains easier to access than its downtown counterpart. For ramen lovers in the group, the opening of Arashi Ramen was a much-anticipated one, and the tiny Tukwila location has a reasonable waiting list on most days.

Two of Seattle’s most beloved restaurants, 13 Coins and Dick’s Drive-In, also have locations in the area. The large, leather wingbacks of 13 Coins have long been sought after by Seattleites, and the SeaTac location delivers the same great 24-hour menu that daytime dwellers and night owls alike have appreciated for years. Locals have been lining up at Dick’s Drive-in for decades now, and with the company finally opening a southside spot in Kent, it’s worth the run from the airport for fresh burgers, fries, and shakes between flights.

The Museum of Flight (Boeing), Seattle, Washington [dailyblender.com]
A sight to behold at The Museum of Flight, Seattle, Washington [dailyblender.com]
Seattle Chocolate Company, Tukwila, Washington [dailyblender.com]
Tasting through the deliciousness of Seattle Chocolate Company, Tukwila, Washington [dailyblender.com]
Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden, SeaTac, Washington [dailyblender.com]
The Highline SeaTac Botanical Garden is marvelous at any time of the year. [dailyblender.com]
Aveda, Southcenter Mall, Tukwila, Washington [dailyblender.com]
Ahhh…Aveda. Westfield Southcenter Mall, Tukwila, Washington [dailyblender.com]
Anthony's HomePort, Des Moines, Washington [dailyblender.com]
Yes, I’ll take all the garlic Dungeness crab. Anthony’s HomePort, Des Moines, Washington [dailyblender.com]
Des Moines Waterfront, Des Moines, Washington [dailyblender.com]
The beauty of the Des Moines waterfront, Des Moines, Washington [dailyblender.com]

~Jennifer Matthewson

Photo credit: Jennifer Matthewson / Daily Blender


**This piece was developed in partnership with Seattle Southside Regional Tourism Authority and included a media familiarization tour of the area. Many thanks to all of the vendors who were part of the tour.

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