Last Updated on July 9, 2021 by Jim Ferri
I had arrived with a list of things to do in Seattle, but I hadn’t expected my visit to begin so effortlessly…
Estimated reading time: 13 minutes
By Jim Ferri
At the Westlake Center in downtown Seattle, I stepped off the Light Rail train from Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport. Since it was a comfortable 38-minute ride, and I was somewhat amazed it was only $3 per adult, $1 for seniors.
It was the end of the line, and I took an escalator up a floor to a walkway into my hotel, the Mayflower Park.
It was the easiest and least expensive trip from any airport I could remember.
Moreover, the comfortable Mayflower, one of the city’s most historic hotels, was located right in the heart of Seattle’s downtown. While it was a good location for seeing the sights of Seattle, I found it provided another benefit, as well. It was also adjacent to the Monorail, a relic of the 1962 World’s Fair, that would whisk me off to the Seattle Center on a 90-second ride.
I had been in the city for only about two hours, and already I was feeling pampered.
If you go:
Trains from Sea-Tac Airport to Westlake Center operate every 6 to 15 minutes / Mon-Sat, 5:00am–1:00am (last train from the airport departs at 12:04am) / Sun, 6:00am-midnight (last train from the airport departs at 11:19pm)
Fare: Adults: $3 / Seniors: $1 / Children $1.50
The Seattle Center
The Seattle Center is on the 1962 World’s Fair site, then dubbed “America’s Space Age World’s Fair.” Today, however, it has morphed into one of the most incredible urban parks in America.
The 78-acre downtown park is a monumental art, sports, and recreation complex.
It is also home to the popular International Fountain and the Seattle Space Needle, the latter the most famous trace of the World’s Fair. Now an icon of the city, it and other sites about the park could keep you busy for days.
In addition, many of those sites – the Chihuly Garden and Glass, Pacific Science Center, Museum of Pop Culture, Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Repertory Theatre, the Intiman Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Children’s Museum – hint at the richness of the city’s vast cultural tapestry and the many things to do in Seattle.
Myriad events are held in the park annually. One is Bumbershoot, a large, popular arts and music festival held annually on Labor Day.
With such a prodigious lineup, there’s little wonder why the city is often ranked among the top cities for culture in the U.S.
One of the Top Places to Visit in the City: Chihuly Garden and Glass
A trip to the top of the Space Needle, a must-do for any visitor, requires advanced booking. Unaware of that, when I arrived, I found there would be a two-hour wait for my trip to the top. Looking for something to keep me occupied, I realized that the Chihuly Garden and Glass was quite close by. Right next door, in fact.
The “garden” is the unique and colorful creation of the internationally acclaimed glass sculptor Dale Chihuly. I had seen Chihuly’s works in other places worldwide but being here was to walk on hallowed ground.
It’s a spectacular place both inside and out. So many of Chihuly’s masterpieces sprouted among the flowers in the gardens outside, and the magnificent pieces leave the crowds oohing and aahing. I found it alone to be worth the price of the plane ticket to Seattle.
Two hours later, after leaving the Chihuly, the Space Needle also made me ooh and aah. From the 605-foot tall structure observation platform, I had beautiful views of the city and Puget Sound. Likewise, on a clear day you can see all the way to Mt. Rainier, more than 80 miles away.
If you go:
Chihuly Garden and Glass
305 Harrison Street
Seattle, WA 98109
Tel: (206) 753-4940
Admission to the Space Needle: regular (13-64): $35 / 65+: $30 / children (5-12): $26
Admission to Chihuly Garden and Glass: regular (13-64): $32 / 65+: $27 / children (5-12): $19
Combo ticket Space Needle + Chihuly Garden and Glass: regular (13-64): $57 / 65+: $47 / children (5-12): $35
The Museum of Pop Culture
Not far from the Space Needle, the ultra-modern Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) explores creativity and innovation in American popular music and pop culture. In fact, that includes everything from rock ‘n’ roll to jazz, soul, gospel, country, blues, hip-hop, punk, and other genres.
Originally named the Experience Music Project (EMP), it was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, a rock-music aficionado. It’s been labeled as both “controversial” and “provocative” in its quest to explore creativity in American popular music.
It’s a great place to experience the creative process by listening to musicians, filmmakers, game developers, and authors tell their own stories. As part of the city’s cultural tapestry, it also hosts many in-museum workshops and outreach programs, especially for kids.
Accordingly, it’s filled with musical artifacts and memorabilia. This includes the world’s most extensive collection of artifacts, hand-written lyrics, instruments, etc., of local musician Jimi Hendrix.
But it also delves deeper than popular music. There are also sections devoted to animated art, Star Wars costumes, influential films, and indie video games, among many other things. It’s also the home of the Science Fiction Hall of Fame.
In addition, even the Frank O. Gehry-designed building is captivating and said to mimic a smashed guitar in homage to Jimmy Hendrix. So plan to spend a few hours if you enjoy popular music and popular culture.
If you go:
Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP)
325 5th Avenue N
Seattle, WA 98109
Admission: tickets must be purchased online for a timed entry: prices range from $27-30, depending on the day of the week.
Pike Place Market, One of the Top Places to Visit
Another day I walked over to Pike Place Market, just a few blocks from the Mayflower and the city’s famous waterfront.
It’s a Seattle institution, a multi-level underground arcade that’s the oldest continually operated farmer’s market in the U.S. I had been there once before, and I still found it as interesting and as captivating as ever.
Undeniably, one of the more popular places in the market is the Pike Place Fish Company.
What draws the crowd are the fishmongers who toss fish to be weighed and filleted, over the heads of shoppers and gawkers. In fact, come any time of day, and you’ll often see tourists waiting for the show to begin.
Thanks to the efforts of local architect and educator Victor Steinbrueck, the market was saved from being razed in 1971. So today, you’ll still find crowds inside and buskers at its entrances.
At its main entrance, you’ll also encounter Rachel the Pig, a large brass piggy bank. Donations dropped in Rachel benefit low-income groups around the city.
If you go:
Pike Place Market
85 Pike Street
Seattle, WA 98101
Tel: (206) 682-7453
Weird and Wonderful Things in Seattle
There are two renowned places adjacent to the market at opposite ends. To be sure, one is weird, the other, for many, fabulous. As a result, both attract a lot of attention.
At the Market Theater on Post Alley, right beyond the south end of the market, is the “wall of gum,” a great mass of chewing gum. Covering walls on both sides of the street, it was started and added to by people lining up outside the theater. If you’re looking for something a bit bizarre in Seattle, you’ll find it here.
On the other hand, if you’re looking for the original Starbucks, you’ll find it across the street from the north end of the market. It’s something of a wonder to many coffee lovers. In fact, so many search it out there’s even a rope stanchion out front to keep visitors in an orderly line.
However, just don’t ask for the store’s location at another Starbucks since you’ll likely be given the wrong directions. It happened to me twice since, as I later learned, other stores don’t want to give the popular original location more business.
If you go:
Starbucks (the original)
1912 Pike Place
Seattle, WA 98101
Just a 10-15 minute-walk down First Avenue from Pikes Market is Pioneer Square, the city’s historic center. During your walk, you’ll see small cafés and restaurants implanted between shops and offices and an occasional seaplane flying by in the distance.
Pioneer Square is the city’s original neighborhood, and it was also saved by architect Victor Steinbrueck. It’s an area of about 20 square blocks, some lined with Victorian Romanesque buildings.
There is a totem pole in the square right across from the storefront for the Underground Tour. The tour provides a humorous narrative on the founding of Seattle.
Nearby I found the Klondike Goldrush National Historical Park, just a five-minute walk away. It is, undoubtedly, the most unusual park I’ve ever been in – a small storefront museum operated by the National Park Service. Nevertheless, it’s an interesting place that explains Seattle’s role in the 1890’s gold rush when about 70,000 prospectors passed through the city in their search for riches in present-day Alaska.
The Museum of Flight at Boeing Field
One of my favorite places in Seattle turned out to be a $25 taxi ride out on the outskirts of the city. (On the other hand, if you’re not in a rush, you can also reach it by public transportation.)
It was the Museum of Flight, one of the most significant air and space museums in the world. It is home to more than 160 historic aircraft, including the SR-71 Blackbird. Sit in its cockpit or take a ride in a flight simulator, all hands-on and quite fascinating.
I found most interesting the section of the museum dedicated to World War II since it explained the aerial war from both sides of the conflict. Walking about a Messerschmitt, a Spitfire, and many other aircraft, all either hanging in flight above me or parked on the ground, I got a new historical perspective of the war.
In addition, step outside and you can board a Concorde, Air Force One, and Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner. Making it all the more interesting is the reality of the surroundings; Boeing Field is a working airport where you’ll see the liveries of dozens of different world airlines.
Consequently, every few minutes, planes being tested land or take off close by, or pilots take delivery of new aircraft. Don’t miss it.
If you go:
The Museum of Flight
9404 East Marginal Way South
Seattle, WA 98108-4097
Tel: (206) 764-5700
Admissison: tickets must be purchased online for a timed entry: Adult (18-64) $25 / Senior (65+) $21 / Youth (5-17) $17 / 4 years and younger free