Starting in the downtown Seattle Center neighborhood, you’ll get your bearings by visiting the iconic Space Needle, a futuristic 520’- tall observation tower that whisks you up to 360 degree views of Seattle and beyond, way beyond. Come early or later (open until midnight) for smaller crowds – especially pretty to come right before dusk. The restaurant at top is pricey. Just in front of the Needle, you’ll find the EMP (Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum,) a fantastical blob-like mass designed by Frank Gehry. EMP pays homage to local boy Jimi Hendrix with extensive exhibits as well as a large interactive area where visitors can try out their own music. My husband was happy in his own jam session with an electric guitar. Science fiction buffs will flock to that section.
On the same block lies the Pacific Science Center, appealing to families with interactive areas focusing on dinosaurs, insects, marine life, etc. – and a fun water park outdoors where adults play along with kids. A gorgeous gem, visit the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum, with room after room of Seattle-glass artisan Dale Chihuly’s incredible work as well as gorgeous natural flower gardens surrounding them. If you’ve ever been into the V&A in London, it is Chihuly’s chandelier that hangs over the entrance foyer.Seattle’s waterfront was the original Skid Road, but the historic district now is thriving with gorgeously restored buildings, unique boutiques and inviting cafes, and is also backed up to the delightful Pikes Place Market, an enormous mostly indoor farmers’ market that sells everything under the sun, and more, including seafood and fish shops that are famed for their showy antics – such as the Pikes Place Fish Market. Here, employees enjoy ‘tossing’ large fish to each other, to the crowd’s cheers. This fishmonger is serious, however, about only selling sustainable seafood – no endangered fish or farm-raised salmon is allowed. It partners with the renowned Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program. To experience the Market coming to life, arrive at opening time at 9 a.m. – and by 11 or so, the crowds will have filled in. You’ll find many coffee shops, including the original Starbucks – still with its logo out front with its truly topless mermaid – nipples intact. You’ll also find the famed Crumpet Shop (we recommend the plain one with butter,) Piroshka Pierogies, Fran’s Chocolates and dozens and dozens of other venues in which to taste and sample. Check out Ventures Gifts for Good, a shop which sells beautiful and intriguing products made by local artisans as well as by developmentally disabled people. Moving on, the nearby Seattle Aquarium is a joy, with fine exhibits depicting the salmon’s life cycle, as well as a large sea otter area (eliciting endless “aw, how cute, I want one’s” from the crowd,) a fabulous underwater dome filled with local sea life (you could sit here for hours, transfixed) and a mesmerizing exhibit of the brilliant orange Giant Pacific Octopus, the largest in the world – and this one’s a showoff! After seeing all of that live sealife, stroll to Pier 57 next door and feast on some cooked seafood at The Crab Pot, a wildly popular Seattle tradition that serves up seafood boils of mussels, clams, crab, shrimp, andouille sausage, salmon, corn and potatoes – but you can just order something else, like a filet of Copper River salmon, as I did, and smile very broadly as you eat it.
You’ll definitely need to see the Ballard Locks, more properly known as the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. Built in 1911, this fascinating landmark and its adjoining museum draw onlookers daily as it shows how Seattle’s freshwater lake system is protected from the saltwater of Puget Sound. The locks also have a ‘fish ladder,’ designed to help the migrating salmon “jump” up the levels to enter the fresh water of Salmon Bay. A glorious arboretum lies in front of the locks, filled with an assortment of exquisite trees and flowers. The locks are open all year from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m, but tours and visitor center hours vary seasonally.
Beyond the locks, take in a stroll in the charming Ballard neighborhood – once a bastion of Scandinavian immigrants, now a hip enclave of bistros and shops with brick streets and shady lanes. Seattle is full of these pedestrian-friendly neighborhoods – others are Belltown (where we serendipitously encountered the delicious, inexpensive and undiscovered Sarajevo Lounge – yes, with Bosnian food and entertainment!,) Fremont (find the giant troll – everyone will know what you mean,) Madison Park and Magnolia, to name a few. Despite that Seattle drizzle, EVERYone seems to be outside, but on a sunny day – they are basking. The area is chock-full of cyclists, and a really special way to get your Seattle sightseeing in while having a bit of exercise is with the Seattle Sampler bike tours, led by the acclaimed and very well-run Bicycle Adventures. The operator is willing to work with those who don’t need hotel rooms, and those who want a shorter tour than the standard 4-day-er. The tour includes three city days and one in the magnificent Cascade Mountains, cycling through an old railroad tunnel to head down into waterfalls, thick forests, rock walls, lakes and tumbling rivers – what a extraordinary way to get out of the city for a short respite.There’s so much more – more museums, more parks, more shops, more cultural offerings, more of everything. You’ll want to return, almost guaranteed. Latte in hand, layers on your body for that drizzle, salmon in your belly – what a rich experience you’ve just had.
Where to Stay: The Best Western Executive Inn is perfectly situated – if you have a west facingroom then your window will look out on the Space Needle, (a three-minute walk away) the Pacific Science Center, the EMP and Emerald City Trolley Stop. A very pleasant 15-minute walk through the Belltown neighborhood takes you to the waterfront and Pikes Place.
For more about Seattle, click here. www.visitseattle.org
Images © Mark Rush