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.
At the Westlake Center in downtown Seattle I stepped off the Light Rail train from Seattle’s Sea-Tac Airport after a comfortable 30-minute ride (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.
The comfortable Mayflower, one of the city’s most historical hotels, was located right in the heart of Seattle’s downtown, a good location for seeing the sights of Seattle. I soon found it provided another benefit, as well: it was also adjacent to the Monorail, a vestige 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 all of about two hours and already I was feeling pampered.
The Seattle Center
Originally the site for the1962 World’s Fair, the 74-acre Seattle Center is both a focal point of the city and one of the greatest urban parks in the country.
It is home to the Seattle’s Space Needle, perhaps the most famous vestige of the World’s Fair, as well as the Chihuly Garden and Glass, Pacific Science Center, EMP Museum, Seattle Opera, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Intiman Theatre, Seattle Children’s Theatre, Children’s Museum, all hinting at the richness of the city’s vast cultural tapestry and the many things to do in Seattle.
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, required advanced booking and since my ascent would not be for another two hours, I spent the time touring the adjacent Chihuly Garden and Glass, the creation of the internationally acclaimed glass sculptor, Dale Chihuly.
I had seen Chihuly’s works in several other places around the world but being here was to walk on hallowed ground.
It’s a spectacular place both inside and out – many of his masterpieces sprout among the flowers in the gardens outside – and the magnificent pieces leave the crowds oohing and aahing. Chihuly alone was worth the price of the plane ticket.
The Space Needle, another vestige of the Fair, also leaves one oohing and aahing. From the observation platform of the 605-foot tall structure there are beautiful views of the city and Puget Sound; on a clear day it’s said you can see all the way to Mt. Rainier, more than 80 miles away.
Close to the Space Needle is the Experience Music Project, locally referred to as the EMP. The Frank O. Gehry-designed building is captivating, and said to mimic a smashed guitar in homage to Jimmy Hendrix.
The brainchild of Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, the museum has been labeled as both “controversial” and “provocative” in its quest to explore creativity in American popular music in all its genres. This walk through Rock ‘n Roll history contains the Hendrix Gallery, as well as numerous other artifacts including one of Elvis’s black leather jackets.
But it also delves deeper than popular music. There are also sections devoted to animated art, the costumes of Star Wars, science fiction, and video games, among many other things. Plan to spend a few hours if you enjoy popular music.
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 arcade that’s the oldest continually operated farmer’s market in the U.S. On this, my second visit, I found it as interesting and as captivating as ever.
One of the more popular places in the market is the Pike Place Fish Company, where the fishmongers toss fish to be weighed and fileted over the heads of shoppers and gawkers. Come any time of day and you’ll often see tourists waiting for the show to begin.
Inside the old building you’ll find farmers and fishmongers, ethnic foods and ethnic restaurants, arts and crafts, vintage clothing and collectibles. The crowds, the neon, the many tons of fish and produce and flowers, and the street musicians outside create a colorful tableaux.
Weird and Wonderful
There are two renowned places outside the market at opposite ends, one weird, the other, for many, wonderful.
Right beyond the south end of the market, at the Market Theater on Post Alley, is the “wall of gum,” an incredible mass of chewing gum that covers the walls on both sides of the street. If you’re looking for something a bit bizarre in Seattle, you’ll find it here.
If you’re looking for the original Starbucks, something of wonder to many coffee aficionados, you’ll find it across the street from the north end of the market. There’s a rope stanchion out front to keep visitors in an orderly line.
Just don’t ask for the store’s location at other Starbucks, however, since you’ll likely be given the wrong directions (as I was twice) since, as I was told, other stores don’t want to give the popular original location more business.
Only a 10-15 minute walk down First Avenue from Pikes Market is Pioneer Square, the city’s historic center. Along the way you see small cafés and restaurants implanted between shops and offices with an occasional seaplane flying by in the distance.
An area of about 20 square blocks, some lined with Victorian Romanesque buildings, Pioneer Square is the city’s original neighborhood. There’s a totem pole in the center of the square right across from the storefront for the Underground Tour, which provides a humorous narrative on the founding of Seattle.
A five-minute walk away I found the Klondike Goldrush National Historic Park, a small storefront museum operated by the National Park Service. 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 (although you can also reach it by public transportation).
The Museum of Flight, one of the largest air and space museums in the world, is packed with more than 160 historic aircraft including the SR-71 Blackbird. Sit in its cockpit or take a ride in a flight simulator. It’s hands-on and quite fascinating.
What I found most interesting was 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 historic perspective of the war.
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.
Every few minutes planes land or take off close by, as planes are tested or pilots take delivery of new aircraft. Don’t miss it.
If you go:
701 Pike Street; Suite 800
Seattle, Washington 98101
Tel: (866) 732-2695
Mayflower Park Hotel
405 Olive Way
Seattle, WA 98101
The Museum of Flight
9404 East Marginal Way South
Seattle, WA 98108-4097
Chihuly Garden and Glass
305 Harrison Street
Seattle, WA 98109
Tel: (206) 753-4940
Starbucks (the original)
1912 Pike Place
Seattle, WA 98101