The Saturday City: Seattle

the seattle space needleI associate Seattle with three things: Starbucks, music, and hippies. It’s a city filled with coffee shops where musicians and artists entertain while residents talk about saving the world. It’s a liberal city; it’s an alternative city, but it’s also a cool city. It’s clean, sits next to water and nature, and it has great food and an exciting nightlife. I expected all of these things when I went to Seattle. Over the years, I have heard people talk about Seattle and its charm. Seattle had to be cool, I thought. After all, everyone loves the city.

When I went to Seattle last month, I discovered that it wasn’t what I thought it would be. I thought Seattle was a great place to visit, but I wouldn’t live there. For me, the measure of a truly amazing city is if I could see myself living there. I could live in many cities but I don’t think that I would want to live in Seattle. It was too small for me.

However, that’s not to say I don’t enjoy my time there. I found that there was a lot to do and there was some amazing food to dine on. Some of the things I enjoyed were:

Pike Place Market. Pike Place Market is located right downtown near the waterfront and is one of the major “things to do” here. The stores open early and you’ll find people selling all sorts of fish, produce, food, jams, flowers, and gifts. The market is filled with people all day so expect crowds no matter when you go. There is some great food but expect to pay more than you would elsewhere in the city. Don’t forget to see the famous fish throwers. It’s fun to watch!

pike place fish market

Woodland Park Zoo. Woodland Park Zoo which spread across 65 acres has more than 1000 animals from 290 species. While I am not a big fan of zoos (I don’t like caged animals), this zoo does a nice job of treating the animals better and providing detailed educational information to visitors.

Mount Rainier National Park. There are hundreds of miles of hiking at this national park, located outside the city. You’ll find the best weather in the summer but the fall foliage is something not to be missed.

Space Needle. Probably the city’s best known landmark, the Space Needle offers breathtaking views of the city and surrounding mountains from the top. Space Needle elevators travel at 800 feet per minute, which is as fast as a raindrop falls to earth. There’s really not much else to the needle, it’s just a place for a beautiful and panoramic view.

Seattle Art Museum Downtown. A 48-foot Hammering Man sculpture marks the outside of this vast museum. There are a lot of good art exhibits, with a heavy focus on modern art. There are always special exhibits (when I was there, it was Picasso). Try to visit their special museum nights where the museum offers live music, drinks, and interactive art activities. It’s a better way to spend an evening than at the bar.

chinatown garden

Japanese Garden. I love Japanese Gardens and I was impressed by the one in Seattle. It’s peaceful with a waterfall, koi fish and turtles, rock gardens, and bonsai trees. It’s a good place to relax and contemplate life. It’s located in the arboretum on the east side of the city.

Ballard Locks. The locks provide a link for boats between the Puget Sound and the Ship Canal. Locals and tourists alike watch the parade of boats pass through as the locks’ water levels are adjusted. I highly recommend the fish ladder which allows salmon to pass between the fresh and salt water. There are glass panels below the water line to watch the fish as they swim. It’s pretty cool.

Pioneer Square. Located right near the underground tour, Pioneer Square is where Seattle began. You’ll find old gold rush buildings, big squares, and a lot of history. I liked seeing the old brick buildings and salons. The area has a certain old time charm to it. And, supposedly, the best coffee in town is at the nearby Zeitgeist coffee shop.

Boeing Museum of Flight. If you like planes, this place is a must see. You’ll see planes through the ages and get a chance to see the original Boeing “factory.”  You can see the original Air Force One too. Keep in mind this place is located out of the main part of the city.

the fremont troll below aurora bridge

Fremont Troll. Located under the north side of Aurora bridge (where else would you find a troll?), this troll was commissioned as an art project by Fremont. The troll eating an original Volkswagen Beetle and visitors are encouraged to climb on the troll and have fun.

The Underground Tour. I heard mixed things about this tour but I really liked it. You learn a lot about the early history of the city, how it was constructed, and what life was like back in the 1800s. You’re taken to the original sidewalks BELOW the current ones when original Seattle was 14 feet lower. The jokes may be cheesy but I highly recommend it for the history lesson you get.

For those looking to save money, the bus is a free ride zone in the downtown area from 6 am to 7 pm.  If you are looking for cheap food, head to Chinatown for dim sum and cheap dumplings. On the corner of 2nd ave and Pike is Osaka Teriyaki, which does huge lunch specials for 5 dollars. It’s quite good.

If you want to tour the bay but not pay a lot of money, take the ferry to Bainbridge island. It’s only 6 dollars and you to see part of the harbor without paying the huge price of the tour boats.

seattle harbor

While I don’t get all the hype about Seattle, it’s a good city. You should visit because there’s great food, the city is beautiful and clean, and it’s set right in the mountains so it’s perfect for nature lovers. While the city didn’t live up to the hype, I’d love to come back one day and explore more. After all, every city deserves as second chance.

  1. You also forgot to go see Bruce/Brandon Lee’s grave, just outside of downtown and then there is also Jimi Hendrix’s grave in Renton. Oh, and you mentioned the Space Needle, but mentioned nothing about the Experience Music Project or the Science Fiction Museum, which are also located next to the Space Needle at the Seattle Center. It’s too bad you didn’t get to Easy Street Records or Dick’s Drive In (best experienced at 2 a.m. after the bars close) or Top Pot Donuts….and no, I’m not from Seattle, nor do I ever want to live there, but I do spend quite a bit of time there since I live in Portland. There are also some amazing live music venues (Neumo’s, Triple Door) and shopping (downtown and Capitol Hill) areas. Seattle kind of grows on ya, like a good mold….maybe you need to visit again and have a proper tour guide!

  2. Love that city! Don’t get up there nearly often enough. I enjoy checking out the view from the Space Needle each year when I’m teaching right below it at the World Rhythm Festival, held at the Seattle Center. Thanks for highlighting the city. And I agree with RenegadePilgrim’s comment . . . there are tons of other amazing attractions that I bet you’d dig catching next time ’round!

  3. I lived in Seattle for 5 years while I went to the University of Washington and I think it took me traveling away from it to really appreciate it. The things you have listed here are a really great way to get to know the city and I also recommend Top Pot in Queen Anne (as mentioned by RenegadePilgrim) and the Experience Music Project (all about Jimi Hendrix). The neighborhoods worth exploring are Fremont, Queen Anne and Capitol Hill to get some of the liberal culture and great bars and cafes.

    Another great free thing is to visit the beautiful parks; my favorites are GasWorks with a great view of the city and Greenlake. I’m partial to the Univeristy District since it’s where I lived but it’s a cool place to visit too and the UW campus is beautiful!

    Great post Matt! I definitely think Seattle is worth visiting. If you are lucky to catch a day with good weather it’s an absolutely beautiful and unbeatable city!

  4. My short list:

    -I prefer the Ballard farmers market over Pike Place Market. Better food, cheaper prices and cooler shops to browse through. Local city life at it’s best.
    -Listen to KEXP. Seattle is all about the music and KEXP is Seattle’s best radio station — maybe the best in the country — and a great introduction to the local music scene.
    -The Museum of Flight is great, but the Future of Flight is even better. Take a tour of the Boeing assembly line where the 747’s and 787’s are built.
    -Tour the city on bike. There are lots of places to rent bikes in the city, some great places to ride (like the Burke Gilman path) and a really cool mountain bike park right underneath the I-5 expressway — and about a 1/2 mile from downtown.

    Not sure how many of your readers have kids but the best places for family fun are the Childrens’ museum, Science Center and International Fountain in Seattle Center; the Seattle Aquarium downtown; the Woodland Park Zoo and — 1/2 hour north of Seattle — the really fun Everett Children’s Museum.

    If you’re coming to Seattle for a music festival make it Northwest Folklife in the spring instead of Bumbershoot in the fall.

  5. Alouise

    I went to Seattle back in 2005 for a few days and loved it. I actually found I didn’t have enough time to see everything; I didn’t make it to Pike Place or to Pioneer Square. One other place I’d recommend is the Experience Music Project. For a music nerd, like myself, it was pure heaven.

  6. Hey Matt–
    Interesting, your take on Seattle–I’ve lived here 7 years, and I share your opinion of it being too small (from San Fran, visit NYC a fair amount). I’m trying to find where life will take me next.
    However, I’m glad that you did get to a few of the sites tourists don’t often visit–Ballard Locks, Bainbridge Island, etc. Most who are here for a short time end up only visiting the Market and Belltown.
    While it’s a decent food city (doesn’t hold a candle to Vancouver) it’s tough to find hole-in-the-wall cheap eats–but the grocery stores, markets, and availability of great produce is amazing, must say.
    In any case, glad you enjoyed our part of the world!

  7. Cameron

    Hey Matt,

    After living there 5 years, I agree with you. It’s a great city, but it is quite small. I also agree with Annie though, that it’s taken my moving from the city to really appreciate it.

    I think the location of Seattle is its best feature. The mountains surrounding the area, the sound, all of that is great. I do, however, think Seattle would be better with a different crowd of people. While I enjoy the hippie/hipster scene, it gets a bit old after a while. Everyone trying to be ‘different’ ends up looking the same.

    It’s a great city though and one I will surely go back to, to see friends, to experience nature and to have some great Asian food!

  8. Seattle is fantastic! Free bus rides downtown (as you mentioned). Light rail from airport to downtown is dirt cheap, fast, and clean. Ferry rides are peaceful; I like the one to Bremerton, also. Although I could spend an entire week at EMP, Seattle is a great walking city. I “discovered” the UPS fountain/park/monument near Pioneer Square on my last visit.

    A link to my blog post “Old Man and the Sea(ttle Hostel).”
    Happy 2011!

  9. Ahhh how I miss Seattle! I lived in Vancouver, BC for six years and visited Seattle regularly. You mentioned some of my fave things to do there – the Underground Tour, the Fremont Troll, and, of course, Pike Place.

    I must also recommend Beecher’s for the best Mac n Cheese I’ve ever tasted, Campagne for one of the more expensive (with a view) French dinners, and Bainbridge Island for the locally crafted beer and fish and chips. Also worth noting that the Pan Pacific Hotel has the most comfortable beds I’ve ever slept on (in case you’re wondering, I got a really great deal on the hotel rate!!).

  10. I don’t think you get all the hype because your stops did not span all of Seattle, and you stuck to tourist areas. What about green lake, period? Or central district’s Caribbean markets? Or the u-district’s shopping area, or the beach in leschi? Or the admiral district? Etc, etc. I have lived in this city for years and not been bored. You have shown me exactly why you think it’s a small city, of which you are mistaken. Next time, find a tour guide who is either a native and/or can show you some of the least known gems Seattle has to offer.

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