Seattle Washington is another one of our favorite large U.S. cities which we have not revisited for too many years. Our 2021 trip allowed us to get back to the city, where we wandered around various neighborhoods.
Since we don’t spend much time shopping in stores, we focused our downtown stops on architecture and art. We visited the Seattle Art Museum which provided a high-level overview of world art with several particularly interesting Chinese and Japanese pieces and several pieces from contemporary Washington State arts and the intricate elevator gate from the old Chicago Stock Exchange building. Our visit also managed to coincide with two temporary exhibitions, one a retrospective of the work of a woman Aboriginal artist and one on a particular phase of Claude Monet’s work. For more details on the exhibit, see our blog on Seattle museums.
We also made stops at the following:
- Amazon Spheres are three interconnected multi-story glass spheres whose ground floors are occupied by a cafe and an exhibit by on-site contemporary artists with the upstairs (which is open to the public only two Saturdays per month) serving as a conservatory.
- Glass Art Galleries including Vetri, Traver, and the Seattle Glassblowing Center.
- Seattle Central Library is an architecturally noteworthy, Rem Koolhaas-designed building consisting of several distinct platforms wrapped in glass and surrounded by a steel net around a glass skin.
Pike Street Market Area
Pike Street Market is a long-established Seattle must-see stop.
- The Gum Wall. We began with the Market Theater Gum Wall in Post Alley. In 1993, theater patrons began sticking different colors of chewed gum onto the outside walls of the theater in interesting color patterns. Although workers scraped the gum away, they gave up when, in 1999, the gum wall was declared a tourist attraction.
- Pike Place Market is Seattle’s one must-do stop. It is the largest continuously operating public market in the nation. It has stalls with a huge selection of ultra-fresh seafood, vegetables, flowers, and other foods, such as pasta (chocolate raspberry linguini, anyone?). And it’s not just the market. Across the street are three blocks jammed with popular food shops and lines of patrons waiting to sample their wares.
- Original Starbucks store. No, this is not the location of the first Starbucks that was started in 1971. In 1976 Starbucks moved its first store to this location. Today it is the only Starbucks that still sports the original logo. While the store has character, it also has incomparably long lines. Would you stand for hours in a long line all to say you got coffee in the original store or would you go a short distance away and get the same brew in 2 minutes? You choose.
- The (Wines of Washington) Tasting Room is a co-op that presents wines from winemaker-owned Washington wineries. The winemakers rotate at the tasting room to educate customers on their wines. The Tasting Room offers roughly 80 wines in wine flights or by the glass and the bottle. On our first visit, the winemaker from Nota Bene Cellars (Tim Narby) walked us through his 2 red flights. We found much to like in both the Rhone and Bordeaux-style flights. We were particularly impressed by the Rhone-style 2016 Una Notte GSM blend and the 2014 Ciel du Cheval Syrah and from the Bordeaux flight, the 2013 Merlot and 2014 Malbec. They all are produced from Red Mountain AVA (southeastern Washington) grapes and are priced at less than $60 per bottle. On another visit, the host compiled a tasting flight from Wilridge Winery. Of the four wines we tasted, the 2014 Crawford Vineyard Syrah and the cabernet franc-prominent (31%) 2015 Melange Noir Bordeaux-style blend with grapes from the Columbia Valley’s Naches Heights AVA stood out. We also had a disappointing dessert wine (2014 Late Harvest Semillon) from Lost River Winery.
Seattle Center was originally built as the home of the 1962 World’s Fair. It is dominated by the 604-foot Space Needle. The tourist, arts, and educational area also retain other remnants of the fair including the:
- The monorail that whisks visitors from downtown to the center;
- Modernist International Fountain;
- An amphitheater with its mosaic mural; and
- A 34-foot totem pole.
More recent additions include:
- McCaw Events Center which uses solar panels to generate some of its power;
- Kobe Bell, a gift from Seattle’s Japanese sister city; and
- Sonic Blooms, two-story-tall metal flowers which use solar power to move the flower sculptures, generate sounds, and light them.
The center is also home to two cultural and arts centers (Museum of PoP and Chihuly Garden and Glass, which we explore in more depth in our Seattle museum blog.
Seattle’s waterfront area is beautiful. In addition to just watching the ferries on the water, we particularly enjoyed two sites:
- Olympic Sculpture Garden is part of the Seattle Art Museum. It is a pretty park located on the city’s waterfront and contains sculptures by artists including Alexander Calder, Mark de Severo, Richard Serra, Roxy Paine, and others. The park also has a playground and a small natural “Pocket Beach”. The beach is a natural habitat for plants and marine life. At low tide, visitors can see some of the sea life that clings to the rocks.
- Ye Olde Curiosity Shop is a normal souvenir store with several very unusual twists. It has displays of mummies whose bodies dried out in hot, dry air; shrunken heads; dried fish carcasses; player pianos; early 20th-century mechanical games; dried whale penises; animal heads; tiger skin rugs; and displays of preserved, deformed animal fetuses such as that of a pig with three legs, three eyes, two tails, three mouths, and two noses. Very unusual and worth a visit.
Pioneer Square was the first city settlement. While very historic, it has always been pretty run down. This is especially true now that homeless encampments have popped up here during Covid (as in all major West Coast cities). Among the most interesting sites are:
- Klondike Gold Rush Museum, which talks about the gold rush and Seattle’s role;
- Underground Seattle. One can take a tour that tells the history of the city from the perspective of alleys and rooms from the city’s past which is now below street level;
- Waterfall Garden Park, a small corner that has been turned into a lovely, intimate park with a lovely waterfall.
Seattle Near-In Neighborhoods
While we spent much of our time in the above very touristy areas, we also wanted to explore some of the city’s near-in neighborhoods. Although we did have a couple of specific destinations in some of these areas, most of our explorations entailed semi-random walks intended to gain general, impressionistic views of the different areas. Our self-directed neighborhood walks included:
The Queen Anne area of Seattle is a mixed residential and commercial area. It includes Seattle Center (discussed above) and provides a contrast to many of the central city’s more contemporary buildings and feel. Developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Lower Queen Anne is characterized largely by older multi-family buildings while Upper Queen Anne is largely older, well-maintained single-family homes. Highland Ave, and especially the area near Kerry Park, which provides panoramic views of the city, the bay, and Mt Rainier, has some particularly upscale homes and apartments.
We spent one afternoon just walking the pretty neighborhood and exploring a couple of its restaurants, plus another day devoted almost entirely to Seattle Center. Unfortunately, however, our other primary planned stop, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center, which provides interactive exhibits and guided tours of the foundation’s multiple philanthropic ventures, was temporarily closed due to the pandemic.
This younger area, and especially the blocks around 12th Avenue and Pike and Pine Streets, have more than its share of popular, trendy, and often loud bars, restaurants, and breweries. While we were there on Sunday and Monday evenings, many of the area’s meeting places and favorite stops had large crowds.
South Lake Union
We mostly focused on Valley Street, Fairview Ave, and Lake Union Park in this area–the areas bordering the pretty lake and its leisure boat marinas. These streets are home to a number of upscale restaurants such as Daniel’s Broiler and Duke’s Seafood and some fun bars, such as the large, almost block-long Flatstick Pub with its indoor miniature golf and “duffleboard” courses. (Duffleboard is a form of tabletop shuffleboard played with pucks and handheld “pusher” cues on felt-covered tables with miniature golf-like obstacles.)
The south shore of the lake is largely dedicated to Lake Union Park from which you can swim, kayak, and canoe. It is home to the Seattle Museum of History and Industry, the Center for Wooden Boats, a historic boat wharf, a Model Boat Pond, a water fountain through which children run and ride bikes and scooters, and beautiful views over and across the lake.
Belltown is an area just north of Pike Place Market area. It consists largely of newer, relatively upscale multifamily apartments and condominium buildings. We did run across a particularly interesting building in our wanderings, a brick building on the corners of Second Ave and Lenora whose brick façade has been carved in bas-relief with historical images and stories.
Madison Park is largely a residential neighborhood on the Eastern edge of the city that is on the shore of Lake Washington. Although we were drawn to the area by a restaurant, we used the opportunity to explore the city’s Japanese Garden (pretty, but a bit of a disappointment relative to those in San Francisco and even Portland) and a small corner of the Washington Park Arboretum and Botanical Garden. Although we would have also liked to visit the city’s Asian Art Museum, it had not yet reopened from the pandemic.