by Terri Guthrie
Hands down… Seattle is one of my favorite cities in America! There is always something interesting to do and see…plus it’s just beautiful with the sound and mountains as a glorious backdrop.
We’ve spent a lot of time in this city as our daughter lived in the Seattle area for five years. We continue to go back to Seattle several times a year and still we’ve only scratched the surface of things to do and see. Every trip is always a new adventure in America’s fastest-growing major city.
On one of our city tours we learned lots of interesting information. The city name comes from the Indian Chief “Seattle”. This choice location in the Pacific Northwest was previously inhabited by Native Americans for at least 4,000 years before the first permanent European settlers moved in. It’s is a coastal seaport city that’s the mothership to Nordstrom, Starbucks, Boeing Aircraft, Amazon.Com, T-Mobile and Microsoft…and now a stream of new software, biotechnology and internet companies. I always hear of cutting edge ideas coming out of this city like the recent news story of the Seattle boss that decided to take a pay cut so ALL his employees could all make a minimum of $70,000 a year.
There’s a lot of rich history in this city as well. Logging was Seattle’s first major industry, but by the late 19th century the city had become a commercial and shipbuilding center as a gateway to Alaska during the Klondike Gold Rush. The Underground Tour is a fun one to go on to learn more about this time period.
Seattle is located between the saltwater Puget Sound (an arm of the Pacific Ocean) to the west and Lake Washington to the east. The city’s chief harbor, Elliott Bay, is part of Puget Sound, which makes the city an oceanic port. The city is surrounded by numerous spectacular mountain ranges and national parks. The king mountain is Mt. Rainier. It is majestic and is always peeping through the clouds. If it’s clear, you can see the 14,410-foot giant looming over the state.
This place is an outdoorsman’s paradise with the sea, rivers, forests, lakes, and fields. At one time, this area was rich enough to support one of the world’s few sedentary hunter-gatherer societies. Today the surrounding area lends itself well to sailing, skiing, bicycling, camping, and hiking year-round.
Two things I was surprised to learn about this trendy city one is Seattle has a large lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender population. According to 2014 estimates from the United States Census Bureau, Seattle has the highest percentage of same-sex households in the United States, at 2.9 per cent, surpassing San Francisco. The other surprising fact was how extremely hilly this city is – but this time Seattle is second…only to San Francisco for being the hilliest city in the USA. Like Rome, the city is said to lie on seven hills – very big hills so wear some good walking shoes!
It’s hard to know where to begin to talk about things to do in this fun northwest city. Where I usually start is Pike Place Market eating breakfast at Lowell’s with a view of beautiful Elliott Bay. I can’t get enough of this historic, beloved downtown public market that has been in business since 1907. It’s a year-round farmers market and a visual riot of vegetable, seafood, cheese and amazing flower stalls along with handicrafts and tourist-friendly knickknacks. And, of course, the flying fish! Vendors at Pike Place Fish Market gleefully toss salmon to each other and crack jokes, always drawing a crowd at the fish stall by the market’s main entrance. Plus, there’s always “fun” characters hanging around this area.
For less of a crowd, take the stairs to “Down Under,” a wood-floored maze of small shops beneath the main-level market. And mosey into the shops and stalls across the street from the main market, including what is touted as “the original” Starbucks. There are always some local unique musicians playing out front. Beecher’s Cheese is another of my favorite stops at Pike Place. It’s fun to watch them make cheese and taste some yummy samples.
The Space Needle is certainly a must see and is the vertical icon of the city that is so kitschy it’s become cool, and it gives a great view of the city from the top. Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, its 605 feet tall and looks like a spaceship on stilts, towering over Seattle Center complex where you could easily spend hours at the Pacific Science Center or the fantastic Chihuly glass display.
A great way to get around by water is the Washington State Ferries. They are an impressive operation! They are clean, professional and always on time. Ferries shuttle all around Puget Sound and they’re a key, and the prettiest, part of Washington’s transportation system. You can have a fun, quick and cheap sightseeing boat ride as a walk-on passenger on the Seattle-Bainbridge Island ferry. It’s a great day trip! Board the ferry at Pier 52 on the downtown Seattle waterfront, get off at Bainbridge and walk into the friendly little town of Winslow — its restaurants, cafes and shops are a 10-minute walk from the ferry landing on the main drag of Winslow Way. Back on the ferry, enjoy the spectacular urban skyline view as you approach downtown Seattle. It’s pretty romantic!!!
My daughters and I also have taken the ferry to Vancouver Island and stayed a few days in the beautiful city of Victoria. My husband and I, in our motor home, used the ferry as our way to get to the San Juan Islands and island hopped for a few weeks. We found out that many locals that live on nearby islands use the ferry system daily as their transportation into Seattle for work. What a dreamy commute!
The Museum of ¬History & Industry doesn’t have the most enticing name -but don’t miss it. MOHAI, as it’s called, reopened in late 2012, with new galleries and multimedia displays, in a new location in Lake Union Park at the north edge of downtown. Its exhibits on life in Seattle and Puget Sound cover everything from the maritime past to cutting-edge culture.
Outside in the waterfront park, at the south end of Lake Union, watch boats scud across the lake and float planes take off. We once did a city aerial tour by a sea plane on Kenmore Air. It was a blast!
While there, boat-lovers shouldn’t miss the nearby Center for Wooden Boats, with displays, more than 100 historic boats, a wharf, rental boats and free vintage-boat rides on Sundays. No admission charge.
The Downtown waterfront is currently under construction but will soon be finished. Soon the traffic-roaring Alaskan Way Viaduct, which cuts off downtown Seattle from its waterfront, will be tumbling down soon and be replaced by a tunnel. For now, there’s a broad sidewalk along the harbor front with a variety of shops and eateries. You can never go wrong with chowder, fish and chips. Ride the Seattle Great Wheel, a 175-foot tall Ferris wheel with enclosed gondola-type cabins, for a view from on high of the city, Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. It is a lot of fun and great for picture taking.
The essence of this region is at the Ballard Locks, where you can watch salmon and boats. They have everything from fishing boats and tugs to kayaks and yachts. The locks carry boats up and down, letting them travel between Puget Sound and Seattle’s freshwater waterways (about 20 feet above sea level). A fish ladder lets salmon swim up past the locks to their freshwater spawning grounds; glass viewing windows let people watch them. This was very educational.
One of my pilot husband’s favorite places to visit is the Boeing tour where you can see Boeing‘s “Future of Flight” exhibits (and design your own jet digitally) and see jets being made inside the Boeing factory, about 25 miles north of Seattle in Everett. The Boeing plant is the biggest building by volume in the world — 472,000,000 cubic feet — and holds the production lines for various Boeing jets, including the 787 Dreamliner. We were fascinated.
Food tours are very popular in Seattle as they have bragging rights that would impress any gourmet or wine critic. This last trip we dived into the hip food scene of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, home to some of the city’s best restaurants, cafes, coffee houses, bars and nightclubs. Capitol Hill is an eclectic neighborhood with a food scene that matches. Not only do you get to taste awesome food, but our tour guide was super informative about Capitol Hill’s history and culture. We ended our tour with a cup of locally blended coffee and a slice of Salted Carmel Pear Pie at High Five Pies.
And last but not least for any wine lover is a visit to Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington State’s oldest winery, located just east of Seattle. The French-style Chateau is located on 87 acres of land with gorgeous mature trees that once belonged to a lumber Barron who used it as a hunting retreat and rural working farm. This stunning Chateau and grounds are not to be missed. They also offer free wine tours and tastings and awesome summer concerts with big name entertainment. This rural area called Woodinville is in the fertile Sammamish Valley where there are several wineries and great restaurants. I would highly recommend any visitor to spend a day enjoying the fruits and the beauty of this unique area of the Pacific Northwest.
So when should you visit this fabulous place known as the Emerald City? Seattle’s climate is usually described as oceanic, with cool, wet winters (Seattle is in the top 5 rainiest major cities in America) but on the flip side they do have warm, relatively dry summers. A few years ago we drove our motor home to Washington for the summer and stayed four months. The Washington state and national parks are worthy of an entire travel column of their own. We do have plans to return for another long summer visit as it was the most glorious summer weather we have ever experienced. June – September is Seattle at its best……summer is the premier time to go. Put this place on your bucket list!
Terri Guthrie and her pilot husband, Ron, travel around the world and share their experiences with readers of The Cross Timbers Gazette.