Seattle is a great city — a world-class travel destination! Situated in the beautiful Pacific Northwest, it has much appeal as a several day (or even week-long) stop especially when part of a circuit through other great sites in the region, such as Vancouver and Victoria B.C, or the Olympic and Long Beach peninsulas, or Mount Rainier and Mt. St. Helen’s. By far the largest city in America’s Northwest, with over four million residents, it’s a bustling growing metropolis with a memorable skyline set on the shores of lovely Puget Sound. Lush and green, fenced in by the Cascade Mountains to the east, with westward views of the Sound and Olympic Peninsula, it’s one of the most dramatic settings a city could have.
Seattle is a very diverse city which has differing significance to different people. Perhaps it’s best know to the millions worldwide who enjoy their morning Starbucks as the” Coffee Capital” of the world (and if you’re so inclined you can still visit and get a cappuccino or latte at the original Starbucks near Pike’s Place Market). Seattle is also home of the Seattle’s Best coffee, a chain subsequently bought out by Starbucks. To aviation buffs Seattle is known as “Jet City” because of the importance of flight to the city’s history, especially its close ties with the Boeing Company which manufactures most of its planes near Seattle. Some call Seattle “Rain City”, an over statement really as Seattle only gets 37 inches (about 95 cm) of rain a year. Better to consider it “Cloud City” because there are 10 months of cool gray weather and only 2 months of sunshine each year. But with a warm cup of coffee in your hand and a waterproof jacket, the weather won’t keep you from having a good time. You’ll find it’s the many great things you can do in the city that makes it such a worthwhile destination.
I’ve visited Seattle several dozen times over the years, always enjoying each visit.
Some of my favorite things to see and do in Seattle:
1) Seattle Waterfront: If you have limited time in the city, focus at least a day on the waterfront area and Pike’s Place Market. The harbor area on Puget sound stretches for a number of miles, but most of what you’ll want to explore lies in the shadow of Pike’s Market. There are many great restaurants (including Ivar’s and Elliott’s Oyster House), novelty shops, and the interesting:
Seattle Aquarium: A smaller aquarium but with exhibits on sea life in the Puget Sound area that’s especially fun if you’re with kids. We enjoyed its “Life on the Edge” tide-pool exhibit, a a touching pool where you can pick up or touch sea stars, sea cucumbers and anemones There’s a salmon ladder, a huge walk through tank with larger fish (“Window on Washington Waters”), as well as exhibits of sea life from around the world. The views of the Seattle skyline from the Aquarium are among the best in the city. Takes just a few hours to leisurely walk through the place.
2) Pike’s Place Market: Near the waterfront but really a world to itself, Pike’s is the most popular attraction in Seattle. Spanning 9 acres and designated a National Historic District, it was designed and still primarily functions as a farmer’s market, with dozens of vendors selling produce, flowers, seafood, cheese, meats and handicrafts. Most famous among these is Pike Place Fish, where fishmongers throw a fish around every time a purchase is made (if you’ve not seen a 10 pound salmon fly through the air, you need to watch these merchants). There are lots of unusual specialty shops and small cafes, but above all Pike’s Market is the place in Seattle to people watch. Just north of the market is Victor Steinbrueck Park, a popular lounging area with two 50-foot-tall totem poles and great views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Peninsula.
3) Seattle Center: Situated on the grounds of the 1962 World’s Fair (held over a half century ago, if you can believe it!), an interesting complex of buildings and activities, spanning 74-acres. It’s the kind of place you could linger for several days, or just see a sight or two that interest you. It’s hallmark structure is the Space Needle, at over 600 feet tall the most iconic symbol in Seattle’s skyline. An elevator ride takes you to an observation deck and restaurant, and you get outstanding panoramic views of the city, like the photo above. The complex includes Key Arena (popular sports and concert venue), Seattle Children’s Theater, ballet and dramatic theater venues, the Chihuly Garden and Glass, and the otherworldly EMP Museum and Science Fiction Hall of Fame. Designed by architect Frank Gehry with money donated by Paul Allen, Microsoft co-founder, EMP explores popular music; the complex also houses the Science Fiction Museum, a unique collection (so far as I know the only SciFi museum in the workd, so a must see stop if you’re a science fiction buff like your humble narrator).
4) Downtown Seattle: I also enjoy walking through the city away from the waterfront. There’s great architecture to enjoy and nice public spaces. Lots of shopping of all types is available and there’s no shortage of quality restaurants. Just drift around; don’t even bother with a map, just go somewhere that interests you. Sometimes I count Starbucks outlets as a diversion when strolling the city; you’d be surprised at how many of these you’ll find, not to mention the various mom and pop coffee stands around the city. The “Coffee Capitol” title is well earned.
As you head south you end in:
5) Pioneer Square, the historic heart of the city featuring some great older buildings and a lot of unique architecture. My favorite stop here is the Klondike Gold Rush Museum, a National Park Unit that, so far as I know, is the only one with a twin unit, the other being in Skagway, Alaska. The Klondike Gold Rush is a period of history that has fascinated me since I was a child and I’ve explored the geography of the Gold Rush extensively (including the Chilkoot Trail, Yukon River, Dawson City and Klondike Creek), adventures I’ll be posting on the blog sometime in the future.
6) University of Washington: Situated several miles north and east of downtown, this is a lovely campus that’s worth a visit if you have the time. The grounds are beautiful and park-like and it’s especially a treat to walk here in the fall when thousands of trees are dressed in their colorful foliage. The architecture is enjoyable and the University has one of the greatest bookstores in the Northwest, often featuring author events.
7) If you are fascinated by the era of flying and love aircraft of all types, then you must stop at the Museum of Flight, a few miles south of Seattle adjoining Boeing Field. The Museum features over 150 aircraft many of which are historically important. It also houses part of an old wooden Boeing factory as well as a number of older Boeing aircraft. However, if you want to visit the modern Boeing twin aisle airplane assembly plant, you need to head north of Seattle to Everett for the Boeing Factory tour. Here you’ll find the world’s largest single story (by volume) building where several assembly lines are actively building these high tech marvels (eg. 777, 767, 747 — they may even have worked out the 787 by the time you visit). The single aisle aircraft factory (737) is in nearby Kent but I’ve never visited it before and don’t believe tours are offered there.
That’s only part of what you can do in Seattle but these are some of my favorite activities. Hope you have fun in the “City by the Sound”!
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