Looking out from a Sentral First Hill apartment’s rooftop deck. Photo by James Baigrie.
An Insider Guide to Seattle’s First Hill Neighborhood
BY KELLY KNICKERBOCKER
As one of Seattle’s oldest and most densely populated neighborhoods, First Hill provides a unique experience from block to block — lush tree-lined lanes north of Madison Street, the twin spires of St. James Cathedral, and plenty of quirky local finds in between. The district’s location, nestled between downtown and the colorful Capitol Hill neighborhood, means that calling First Hill home also conveniently positions you to make the most of the entire city.
Ready to see what we mean? Read on for our top recommendations of what to do, where to go and, of course, what to eat and drink around First Hill. Even better, everything is easily reachable by foot from your base at
Sentral First Hill
EAT LIKE A FIRST HILL LOCAL
Fresh Vietnamese eats from the sibling-led team at Ba Bar. Photo courtesy of Ba Bar.
First Hill’s dining options cover (most of) your must-have bases, from diner-style burgers to Asian-European fusion. Want even more choice? Cross over into adjacent ‘hoods like Capitol Hill and the Central District.
206 BURGER COMPANY
Bedecked in Seattle sports memorabilia (Go Hawks!), 206 Burger Company is a family-run, counter-service eatery serving — you guessed it — a variety of specialty burgers. We like the Sounders burger with bacon, caramelized onions, pepper jack cheese, and pickled jalapenos. Their versatile, housemade veggie patty comes in several iterations too, including Hawaiian-style with grilled pineapple and teriyaki sauce. Top it all off with a side of hand-cut fries and a thick shake.
206burgercompany.com, 1000 Madison St.
Drawing inspiration from Saigon’s vibrant street food culture, Ba Bar is known for its slurpable phở made with your choice of beef brisket, local oxtail, steamed chicken, or tofu and mushroom. Siblings Eric and Sophie Bahn are at the helm, ensuring the restaurant reflects the authentic Vietnamese flavors and foods they couldn’t find when they first moved to Seattle. The soup takes center stage, but don’t sleep on the elevated eatery’s other offerings, including vermicelli bowls, crispy imperial rolls, five-spice rotisserie duck, and garlic crab noodles.
babarseattle.com, 550 12th Ave.
From the large-scale artworks to the dishes garnished with edible flowers and fresh herbs, everything about the bright, plant-filled Di Fiora is Instagram-worthy. Offering Southeast Asian flavors with a European twist, the spot could have been plucked out of a trendy Bangkok neighborhood. Try the Pasta Pad Cha, featuring squid ink noodles, cherry tomatoes, and caviar. The Ka Ree Curry and Malaysian Coconut Soup, both available with tofu, are solid vegetarian options.
difiora.com, 1320 University St., Ste. 1
GEORGE’S SAUSAGE & DELICATESSEN
Part Polish deli, part Eastern European grocery store, George’s instantly transports you to another place and time. The grab-and-go establishment has been in business more than 40 years but somehow still flies under the radar; those in the know get the hot pastrami piled high on rye or the grilled Polish sausage sandwich. Top off your order with a bowl of homemade soup, potato salad, or an assortment of European packaged sweets you won’t find elsewhere. 907 Madison St.
ITALIAN FAMILY PIZZA
This low-key establishment specializes in East Coast–inspired pies — we’re talking perfectly baked, foldable slices. Meat-eaters can sink their teeth into The New Yorker, topped with sausage, cherry peppers, and ricotta, while the simple Tomato Pie made with homemade red sauce and the sauceless margherita (sounds odd, tastes good) will satisfy anyone. Monstrously large at 23 inches, the pizzas are not for the faint of heart (or stomach).
italianfamilypizzamenu.com, 1028 Madison St.
Bedecked in blue and white, this lively Greek restaurant features a double-height dining room and floor-to-ceiling doors that open onto a cozy patio. An ode to the cradle of Western civilization, the decor features bright cyan chairs, artworks depicting Greek life, and a few lines of Greek poet C. P. Cavafy’s poem “Ithaka” scrawled on the walls. The regional seafood plates are dialed all the way in, including whole grilled Mediterranean sea bass with lemon and herbs and grilled Spanish octopus.
omegaouzeri.com, 1529 14th Ave.
If you want to swig beer from an oversized, boot-shaped glass or dunk bites of a giant pretzel into cheesy fondue sauce, there’s only one option on the Hill: Rhein Haus. A destination for bocce ball and bratwurst, the German-themed restaurant and (dog-friendly) beer garden are a slice of Bavaria in the Pacific Northwest. Grab a seat outside near the maypole, get your group on the list for bocce, and enjoy a stein of pilsner, plate of currywurst, or the veg-friendly spätzle while you wait for the court to open up.
rheinhausseattle.com, 912 12th Ave.
A First Hill institution, this storied Italian restaurant and cocktail lounge dates back to 1953, when doctors, lawyers, priests, and politicians would hobnob around the U-shaped bar. Sitting slightly below street level, you can tuck into a hearty slice of Vito’s famous lasagna, served in a pool of zesty marinara with crisped, bubbling cheese on top. Not hungry? Sip on a stiff drink while enjoying a rotation of jazz, blues, and lounge musicians who play (nearly) nightly.
vitosseattle.com, 927 9th Ave.
SNACK AND SIP
Inside the private Birch Road Cellar social club. Photo courtesy of Birch Road Cellar.
Whether you’re up early or late, First Hill and its surrounding environs provide ample opportunity to sip a luxurious cup of coffee or a happy hour drink. When you’re living here, strong java, locally brewed ales, and inventive cocktails are never far away.
BIRCH ROAD CELLAR
Located in the historic carriage house of First Hill’s
, Birch Road Cellar is a private, BYOB social club that creates space for upscale, low-stress gatherings. The stately first floor lounge exudes speakeasy vibes, with low light, bar-side seating, and exposed brick walls. Members and their guests have access to a range of additional amenities, including a private dining room that overlooks neighboring First Hill Park, a veranda and patio, and on-site cellar storage.
birchroadcellar.com/firsthill, 1212 Minor Ave.
BOON BOONA COFFEE
Coffee connoisseurs across the Hill rejoiced when Renton-based Boona Boona opened its first Seattle location here in 2021. The sunny shop doles out robust, single-origin African roasts as drip coffee, seasonal lattes, and bags of beans to go. Efrem Fesaha, the Eritrea-born, Seattle-raised founder, sources beans through extensive partnerships with farms across Uganda, Ethiopia, Burundi, and beyond.
boonboonacoffee.com, 1223 E. Cherry St., Ste. C121B
Hidden behind a nondescript glass façade at one of the neighborhood’s busiest intersections, The Hideout is one of First Hill’s best kept secrets and one of the city’s coziest cocktail bars. Colorful, original artworks adorn the walls, many available for purchase. While you sip a craft cocktail or ice cold Rainier, flip through the latest issue of the Vital 5 Review
, a zine filled with drawings submitted by the bar’s patrons. Feeling creative? Grab a clipboard and sketch your own submission.
hideoutseattle.com, 1005 Boren Ave.
Though it’s known as the Evergreen State, Washington is the country’s leading producer of apples. Locust Cider makes the most of that proximity by producing a creative array of ciders, from a seasonal dark maple to their classic, lip-puckering dark cherry. The First Hill outpost is the neighborhood’s first taproom, and the team is happy to fill your pint glass or growler while explaining the process of turning fermented apples into delicious beverages.
locustfirsthill, 500 Terry Ave.
PELOTON CAFE & BIKE SHOP
This Central District spot wears many hats: gear and repair shop for bikes (real ones — not the Mr. Big–killing stationary kind that shares its name) plus restaurant and bar. Well-suited for two-wheeled travelers, Peloton provides loads of bike parking out front and a walk-up window for ordering on the go. The recently revamped dining room is a comfy spot for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Plus, every plate, from breakfast burritos to cold cut sandwiches, is available in a vegan, vegetarian, or meat-based iteration.
pelotonseattle.com, 1220 E. Jefferson St.
SUGAR BAKERY & CAFÉ
No matter what kind of day you’re having, a quick stop at the itty-bitty Sugar Bakery and Café will only make it better. The housemade baked goods, like salted caramel croissants and buttery brown sugar cinnamon brioche, really shine. Need a celebratory cake (or just a craving-satisfying slice)? Sugar Bakery has you covered, with options ranging from pink champagne and confetti birthday to lemon chiffon.
sugarbakerycafe.com, 1014 Madison St.
Seattleites are committed to caffeine, and this design-centric café quickly became a local favorite after launching during the pandemic in 2021. The light, bright interior and proximity to Seattle University make it a favorite among students looking for space to duck in and study, but URL’s coffee drinks have universal appeal. Creative and indulgent, many of the signature offerings are topped with a dollop of housemade whipped cream.
@_u_r_l, 524 Broadway.
Along with lush house plants and pots, Glasswing also stocks minimalist designer clothing. Photo courtesy of Glasswing.
For a wide selection of homewares and home furnishings, design aficionados should set their sights on neighboring Capitol Hill. If you’re on a mission to add some personality to your pad, add
Homestead Seattle and
Standard Goods to your checklist.
This meticulously curated design shop at Capitol Hill’s
specializes in designer clothes, plants, and home goods. The lust-worthy wares fit for a magazine spread will inspire you to create a similar sense of warmth and homeyness at your own pad. From chunky sweaters to ceramic mugs and hand-poured candles, Glasswing has a gorgeous (and giftable!) selection to peruse.
glasswingshop.com, 1525 Melrose Ave.
An eclectic one-stop home decor and design shop on Capitol Hill, Retrofit specializes in vintage and contemporary pieces, including Midcentury-inspired sofas and chairs, retro-style area rugs, and throw pillows. Want to zhuzh up your Sentral First Hill home? Owners Lori and Jon also offer in-room design services and can recommend themes, fabrics, and brands to meet your needs.
retrofithome.com, 1103 E. Pike St.
STOCKBOX NEIGHBORHOOD GROCERY
First Hill is densely populated, but parts of it still lack good grocery stores. A decade or so ago, the idea for Stockbox — a hub for fresh food and community — sprouted from a student project at the Bainbridge Graduate Institute. Today, Stockbox is a highly convenient and necessary shop along First Hill’s southern edge, where First Hillers can drop in for local produce, pantry staples, grab-and-go lunch items, and more. 901 James St.
TAKE IT OUTSIDE (AND BRING A FURRY FRIEND)
Freeway Park’s concrete walls create a surprising hideaway. Photo courtesy of Seattle Parks and Recreation.
When you need to step out, stretch your legs, or encourage your pup to burn some energy, head to one of First Hill’s urban green spaces. There are a handful of vibrant gardens and inviting parks sprinkled throughout the otherwise fast-paced, go-go-go neighborhood.
FIRST HILL PARK
In recent years, First Hill’s neighborhood association led the charge to revamp this underutilized public park and garden next to the Stimson-Green Mansion. Now it’s used for everything from yoga and reading to Zoom calls and picnics. New features include expanded seating and planted areas, a grilling station, and a bronze statue of two bear cubs. (Why bears? In 1906, the Stimson family fostered two black bear cubs orphaned by logging operations nearby.)
seattle.gov, 201 University St.
Given its location on top of the interstate, it’s pretty incredible how peaceful and serene this public space is. Freeway Park’s zigs and zags, Brutalist architecture, mature trees, and water features will make you forget there’s a highway buzzing beneath you. The park hosts community events throughout the year, from used book sales to holiday caroling and craft-making, and provides a walkable connection between First Hill and downtown Seattle.
seattle.gov, 700 Seneca St.
The Seattle University campus is essentially one giant park, complete with hidden gardens, edible plants, pollinator pathways, and bird and wildlife habitats. Near the north end of campus, the Union Green is SU’s largest grassy area. It’s open to the public for relaxation, picnics, leashed dog walks, you name it. For folks whose dogs do well in off-leash settings, check out the Plymouth Pillars Park in Capitol Hill.
seattleu.edu, 901 12th Ave.
SOAK UP SOME CULTURE
Admission to the Frye Art Museum is always free. Photo courtesy of Frye Art Museum.
Though relatively tiny, First Hill still offers some mighty cultural attractions. In addition to the First Hill destinations outlined below, there are a few others nearby that are worth mentioning.
Paramount Theatre in the central business district hosts touring acts and is accessible on foot via Freeway Park. Meanwhile, in Capitol Hill,
Neumos is one of the city’s stalwart indie rock venues.
FRYE ART MUSEUM
Displaying paintings and sculptures from the private collection of its founders, the Frye specializes in works from the 19th and 20th centuries. Aside from its permanent collection, the museum hosts traveling exhibitions as well as classes, workshops, and lectures. Visit on a Saturday or Sunday to enjoy an insightful 30-minute guided tour, and top off the experience with a bite at Café Frieda. Admission to the Frye is always free, thanks to the legacy of Charles and Emma Frye.
fryemuseum.org, 704 Terry Ave.
MUSEUM OF MUSEUMS (MoM)
The Museum of Museums (MoM) is unmistakable. The First Hill arts center is located in a bright white Midcentury former medical facility off Broadway. A neon marquee out front beckons passersby to step inside for rotating exhibits that span form, format, and medium. That might mean contemporary works that reflect on the fleetingness of the present, or a church-like installation that examines ideas of simulation and belief.
museumofmuseums.com, 900 Boylston Ave.
TOWN HALL SEATTLE
Located in the hallowed halls of the former Fourth Church of Christ, Scientist, Town Hall Seattle is part of the cultural heartbeat of the city. The performance hall and gathering space hosts hundreds of events every year, inspiring Seattleites to engage in everything from civics and science to the arts. It’s good practice to keep tabs on their event calendar — concerts, plays, author readings, and more are added daily.
townhallseattle.org, 1119 8th Ave.
Explore Seattle’s First Hill Area Map
READY TO EXPERIENCE SEATTLE LIKE A LOCAL? LIVE OR STAY AT SENTRAL’S COMMUNITY IN THE HEART OF SEATTLE’S FIRST HILL NEIGHBORHOOD:
Explore Sentral First Hill
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