How to see the film locations from Sleepless in Seattle

Embrace all things ‘Sleepless’ in Seattle and discover that the Emerald City is still a shining star in a vibrant state, writes Jocelyn Pride.

It’s been ages since I’ve curled up in front of a TV, waiting for the moment Sam offers Annie his hand saying, ‘Shall we?’ Even though it’s predictable, and I always shed a tear, this is different. I’m IN Seattle. This year marks the 30th anniversary of Nora Ephron’s blockbuster rom-com Sleepless in Seattle, starring darlings of the 90’s screens, Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. The story follows Sam, a recently widowed architect who moves to Seattle with his son, Jonah to start afresh, and Annie, a journalist who lives in New York. With many twists and turns, a ‘potential’ love affair engineered by Jonah, develops. Despite the passage of time, or maybe because of it, snippets of the movie are woven throughout the fabric of this energetic city.

sunset seattle skyline

Travel facts

Getting there: United Airlines flies daily to Seattle via San Francisco or Los Angeles from Sydney and Melbourne.
Staying there: For a creative, buzzy vibe stay at The Maxwell, a Staypineapple property where the lifts have puzzles to pass the time between floors, and neighbourhood dogs come for playdates with the resident doggo.
Being there: Make the most of every moment with a CityPASS that saves you time and money at several city attractions. Argosy Cruises offers a range of cruises on Lake Union. Show Me Seattle specialise in small group tours, including a guided food lovers tour of Pike Place Market.

Pike Place Market

“Everyone always wants to see this spot,” says Bob, a Show Me Seattle tour guide. “We get a lot of Sleepless fans.” Peeking through the door of the Athenian Seafood Restaurant in the historic Pike Place Market, the clock winds back to the hilarious scene when Sam and his mate, Jay (Rob Reiner), chat about sex and tiramisu over a bowl of steamed clams. The bar, the view, the menu, are all the same. A tour is a great orientation to one of the oldest markets in the country. However, Pike Place is a destination in itself.

The picturesque Port of Seattle has two piers that serve as a launching pad for eight world-class cruiselines that journey to Alaska and the Inside Passage. The market sprawls over 3.6 hectares – and draws me back the following day for more Sleepless nostalgia. Wandering between rows of heavenly scented flowers; past theatrical fishmongers throwing their wares; squeezing through laneways bursting with fresh produce, and holding my breath through an alleyway lined with pre-loved bubble gum, I reflect on the scene where Jonah first meets Victoria, the woman he doesn’t want his dad to date. On the edge of the marketplace, I make the steep descent past the Inn at the Market sign. Although Sam and Jay don’t go inside the swanky hotel, the dialogue between mates analysing whether or not Sam has a ‘cute’ butt is a good giggle. Later, I return to the Athenian for a bowl of mussels and clams, with a good drop of Washington white and jag ‘the Tom Hanks sat here’ stool at the counter. In Annie’s words, I figure, ‘It’s a sign’.

Pike Place Market, Seattle
Exploring Pike Place Market is a feast for the senses. © Visit Seattle

Downtown Seattle

In the middle of downtown, Lake Union is the go-between where fresh water and the saltwater of Puget Sound merge. It’s also where Sam and Jonah lived.

“Floating homes were first built here in the 1880s,” says Kiki, onboard guide on my Argosy Locks tour. “In the 1930s there were around 2,500. It was an unsafe place with many brothels and speakeasies.” Sleepless changed everything. Now limited to around 500, floating homes in Seattle are hot property. As we glide past the idyllic housing plots of watery paradise, against a backdrop of lush greenery, Kiki points out the home used as the movie set. Reportedly selling a few years ago for a multi-million-dollar sum, the legacy of a movie that grossed around US$250 million back in the 90s is far reaching.

The house featured in the Sleepless in Seattle
The house featured in the Sleepless in Seattle is best seen from the water. © Jocelyn Pride

The Space Needle

Although no acting scenes took place inside Seattle’s Space Needle, it’s essential to visit for any first-timers. Built in 400 days to withstand a 9.0 earthquake and 100 mph winds, this iconic structure would be a triumph today, let alone in 1962, the year it opened to coincide with Seattle’s World Fair.

“In 43 seconds, you’ll be at the top,” the lift operator announces. Timed to the millisecond, I step out onto the 360 degree observation deck towering 184 metres above Seattle, and gasp. With a glimpse of Mt Rainier, Washington’s highest peak framing waterways dotted with islands, and an urban-scape in keeping with the creative vibe of the city (after all, it is the home of Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon and the first Starbucks), Seattle looks like a magical toy town.

Chihuly Garden and Glass
© Shutterstock/ Chihuly Garden and Glass

Things to see and do in Seattle

Born in nearby Tacoma, Dale Chihuly famed as a revolutionary glass artist, his series of galleries and gardens at Chihuly Garden and Glass are beyond anything imaginable. From exquisite garden scenes to gondolas seemingly floating on water, massive chandeliers suspended from ceilings and icicles rising from the floor, everything is made of glass. A short walk away, The Museum of Pop Culture is a hive of creativity. Brainchild of the late Microsoft co-founder, Paul Allen, and designed by Frank Gehry, the exterior is a creation of thousands of aluminium shingles forming curves that float and change colour with the light. Inside, innovative spaces house a mix of temporary and permanent exhibitions with one honouring two music megastar Seattleites – Jimi Hendrix and lead singer of Nirvana, Kurt Cobain. Before passing away in 2012, Nora Ephron commented that it was important to make a movie that was timeless. Modern day Seattle is testament she achieved her goal.

Tucked into the northwest corner of the country in Washington State, Seattle is surrounded by natural beauty and myriad experiences. Even with three National Parks (Olympic, North Cascades and Mt Rainier); seven main rainforests (including UNESCO listed, Hoh), the highest mountain peaks in the lower 48 states, kilometres of rugged beaches and quiet waterways, not to mention being the country’s second largest wine producer, Washington State still has that glorious best-kept secret feel.

Olympic National Park.
Olympic National Park. ©Unsplash/ Jachan DeVol

A state full of film sets and pop-culture classics

Once you’ve explored the Sleepless in Seattle hotspots that catapulted the city to fame, explore wider Washington State. Film buffs may recognise scenes and landscapes from Twin Peaks in Snoqualmie, Twilight in Forks and Columbia River Gorge, and An Officer and a Gentleman in Port Townsend and Tacoma.

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