It can be hard living in the shadow of an older sister, a more famous sibling. And in the Pacific Northwest, Seattle kind of steals the show every time. Nobody plans a trip to Edmonds. And even if they do, they still say they’re going to Seattle. (Sorry Edmonds, I love you too!)

So a few weeks ago, when my daughter and I started planning a weekend getaway, we bucked our natural instinct to head into Seattle, and planned a trip to Bellevue.

With its towering skyscrapers, upscale shopping, more than 100 beautiful parks and a primo lakeside location, Bellevue has plenty of attractions to rival its glitzy neighbor. Plus, pro tip: there are a lot of great things to do that are free or very inexpensive. Take that, Seattle 🙂

There are a few things to keep in mind if you visit, especially if accessibility is an issue. For starters, even though there are plenty of sidewalks, walking paths and paved trails, Bellevue is hilly. So even though your destination may only be a few blocks away, it won’t necessarily be an easy stroll. You might be going up a steep hill the entire way. Also, with the traffic detours due to the ongoing light rail construction, bus schedules aren’t always reliable. Plan accordingly if you’re going to use public transport. If you’re driving, know that just like in any big city, parking can be hard to find. However, if you have a handicapped parking placard, you can park for free in metered street parking. Sweet!

Enjoying our Blazing Bagels in the Bellevue Botanic Garden.
Enjoying our Blazing Bagels in the Bellevue Botanic Garden.

So what inexpensive attractions can you find in Bellevue, Washington?

Bellevue Botanical Garden
Fifty-three acres of gardens, trails, water features and an awesome coffee house, of course. Admission is FREE. While there are some stairs, you can usually find a ramp nearby. Paths are a combination of concrete, gravel and decomposed granite/packed dirt. The botanical garden is built on a hill so take that into consideration as you explore. Check their calendar for classes and special events like the Garden d’Lights.

Many Bellevue parks and beaches are free or inexpensive attractions
Clyde Beach Park at night

Waterfront Parks
Bellevue sits on the eastern shore of Lake Washington, so city planners were smart enough to set aside some public spaces for beaches and parks. Some are as small as half an acre. The most popular, Meydenbauer Beach Park, is currently closed for a $17.5M expansion that will include a new curved fishing pier extending out into the lake. Most offer launch points for boats and/or kayaks, sandy beaches, playgrounds, picnic areas and fishing docks.

Other outdoor fun: Bellevue Zip Tour (not cheap, but hella fun!), Kelsey Creek Farm Park (free), Mercer Slough Nature Park (free), The Crag Climbing Wall ($4-$9).

Bellevue Arts Museum tickets are inexpensive on regular days, free on the first Friday of the month
Bellevue Arts Museum

Bellevue Arts Museum
The regular price for an adult ticket is just $12, but the first Friday of every month, BAM offers FREE admission. There is also free parking under the museum and the entire facility, including the third floor outdoor sculpture garden, is wheelchair accessible.

Other arts and culture: Hall Spassov Gallery (free), KidsQuest Children’s Museum ($12, discounts available).

And then of course, there’s the food. Here are a few suggestions:

Fried bananas and coconut ice cream drenched in chocolate at Araya'a Place.
Fried bananas and coconut ice cream drenched in chocolate at Araya’a Place.

Bellevue Brewing Company
Family-friendly taproom allows minors until 8pm and they can make the pizzas vegan or gluten-free, just ask.

Blazing Bagels
Coffee, tea, sandwiches, vegan bagels and house-made vegan cream cheese. Amazingly delicious!

Araya’s Place
Vegan Thai food so good you won’t miss the meat. One caveat: there’s a big step to get in through the main entrance so bring a friend to help.

You can find plenty of other low cost suggestions and links to all that Bellevue has to offer at the Visit Bellevue website.