We spent three lovely days in Seattle. It was enough to see the highlights, although a fourth or fifth day would have given us time to explore other neighbourhoods or even the nearby islands a bit.
First day we spend with our lovely host from Portland, Nicole. The three of us spent the whole day walking around in a bit grey weather. We had our final lunches, laughs and talks before we had to say goodbye to her.
The next two days were action-packed. The great thing about Seattle is that it is very compact and easily walkable. We did not use public transportation – except for the infamous Seattle monorail that Matte was thrilled to use.
Seattle is known for Space Needle, Pike Place Market, flying fish at that market, the first ever Starbucks, a wall full of chewed gum, and of course for its music: Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, Foo Fighters, Macklemore, Pearl Jam and Alice in Chains are all originally from Seattle. That is why there is a whole museum dedicated for music and pop culture.
We, of course, had a look at all of the above.
The most packed areas in Seattle were Pike Place Market, 1st Avenue one block up from that and nearby Old Town and Waterfront areas. All of these four are packed in downtown.
I will not say much of the waterfront, since frankly I do not think it is much worth going to. To me it is kitsch and dated. It reminded me a lot of the touristy bits of many other seaside towns, but especially Monterey. I don’t know why they are all so much the same. I also don’t know why they are built like that. I don’t think they are places where locals go much to enjoy themselves and I have always failed to see why tourism could not bring enjoyment to the residents as well. The best and most successful areas are always the ones where both visitors and locals want to go too.
It is of course obvious, that there are many people who enjoy those kitchy, non-authentic tourist villages. They have always been filled with people. But it just not where I can enjoy myself.
Besides, to get there you have to walk under a double-decker highway, which definitely takes all the charm out of a beautiful waterfront. Seattle is a good example of how not to do it, although I have heard rumours of plans to dig the highways underground. That would be a massive improvement.
The Old Town has its charming moments as well, but I would not reserve too much time to venture in that area either. We did bump into a guy who had had something stronger than water and wanted to share his ‘amazement’ and love for the Old Town of Seattle. So yes, I guess it depends what ticks your boxes. Have a look and decide for yourself.
The market itself was not our favourite. It is quite dark and the stalls does not have very interesting or unique selection. It was also crowded every time we went through, which makes it hard to stop and browse.
Pike Place Market has a famous fish market, where the employers shout and throw fish around when people order them. It can be quite entertaining, but truth be told it is still a bit more awkward than entertaining. Every time I’ve passed the fish market it is just mostly tourists standing in a circle and waiting for someone to order a fish, so that they could see the fish fly across the stall.
If I would live in Seattle, I would go to Pike Place Market for one thing every weekend: to pick up a beautiful, blush bouquet of flowers. So many other people did as well and it made the city look fabulous with so many people walking around with gorgeous flowers.
A contrast to this beautiful sight was offered right under the market. The Gum Wall is a popular tourist attraction. Quite simply put, it is an alleyway with brick walls covered in colourful chewing gum that people add every day. It is a collection of fresh DNA and bacteria, right there at your fingertips.
It is quite disgusting to be honest, but weirdly enough still makes you smile and laugh when you see it. It feels stupid and liberating at the same time. Like a piece of modern art which makes no sense but still makes you curious. There is always a flock of tourists taking pictures with the wall behind them. I resisted being part of that group at first, but Matte persuaded me for a quick snap.
To get to Seattle Center, where the Space Needle is, you can take the monorail from Westlake Center. It was built in 1962 for the Seattle World Fair, for which the Space Needle was also built for. A later added feature is that nowadays the monorail goes through the EMP Museum building, which does add a fun feature for the ride.
From the window sealing of the monorail train you can already get the first glimpse of the Space Needle.
It was an easy choice not to pay 50 dollars and take the elevator to the top. I had a look up there three years ago during sunset and even though it was a lovely sight, once was enough when it comes with a proper price tag. It is still a fun-looking building, modern 1960’s architecture and cool scifi-looking lifts.
Right next to the Space Needle is the EMP Museum (Experience Music Project Museum), which to both of tops the Space Needle as an architectural key point. We had already seen Gehry’s buildings in Sydney and Los Angeles, but this was magnificent and beautiful to look at from every angle.
I took so many pictures it was just too hard to only pick one of two.
Ofcourse we had to look inside too and actually ended up paying the general admission for the EMP Museum, which was quite steep. After all, Seattle is the city of rock’n’roll, so it felt like a true Seattle experience to throw ourselves into the world music for a few hours. There is a great music lab, where you can try playing several kind of instruments, try your vocal capabilities or even record your own song. All of the features are suitable for beginners or more advanced museum goers.
Our geeky selfs were also intrigued by different kind of fantasy and sci-fi themed exhibitions, with a lot of items and gear from iconic pop culture tv-shows and movies. I felt like a little girl in a candy store when I saw all the stuff from Battlestar Galactica.
Besides from EMP Museum and Space Needle, Matte was also really looking forward to see Freeway Park, which is a great example of brutalist architecture. Influenced greatly by architect Lawrence Halprin, it was finally built in 1976.
However the park turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The concrete waterfalls were all turned off and now what was left was a damp smell of pee and used drug needles lying around. That was the reality on the day we visited, but I do feel we caught the park on a bad moment.
The park has caused the city some problems with a higher crime rate back in the day, and even with some alterations to the park, it still felt a bit empty and distant space. By turning off the key water features the whole idea behind the design seamed to vanish in front of our eyes. Why build something so massive, to not use the potential and let it die?
I must say the location to me does not attract lovely day picnics either. Cramped between highways I found the park quite noisy. Still, Matte had a more positive outlook towards the park and how it is even today. He still enjoyed the park design, combining the city and green space together.
What we both enjoyed, on the other hand, was the new Central Library of Seattle. To me more impressive from the inside, it is a wonderful way to attract citizens to visit libraries and get an easy access to culture.
In addition to markets, music and architecture Seattle is known for one particular brand: Starbucks.
The first ever Starbucks is located next to Pike Place Market and was opened 1971. But we really recommend to skip the insane line for that Starbucks and go get actually good coffee from Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room.
Whereas the original Starbucks offers, in the end, the exact same experience as your local shop, the Roastery is something completely different. It is refined and all comes down to what it was originally all about: the coffee. A good selection of different types of beans, different types of brewing methods and different types of classic toppings.
So don’t waste your time on the queue at the original Starbucks. Just take your selfie, then go get some coffee at the Roastery, Seattle Starbucks fix guaranteed. While you are at it, you get to see other places than downtown. Like the great Capitol Hill area, where the Roastery is located.
We stayed at an AirBnb near Capitol Hill, a bit off downtown and were so happy with the choice. A great, hip neighborhood with a great selection of good food, drinks and shops.
For example Melrose Market Studios was a great place for breakfast. We returned there twice for toasted sandwiches-to-die-for at Homegrown. Market is quite small, but the surrounding is rustic and inviting.
In Capitol Hill area you can get a good dinner at Ikina Sushi, we were gladly used all our last US dollars. The chefs were wonderful and we had a good chat while enjoying the food.
We have noticed in many bigger city, that choosing your AirBnb a bit off center quite often pays off. You see things you would not otherwise and quite often we have loved the neighbourhood more than the central locations themselves. If the reviews mention a nice street nearby, it is quite often the case for real.
All in all Seattle is a superb city destination to visit. It is compact and versatile, it is easy to find good food and exciting shops to explore. Interesting architecture and easy to move around. And what is best, leaves you with the feeling that there would be more to see.
Our last moments in US were almost as memorable. Tired of figuring out where to put our luggage and a few blog posts overdue we decided to spend the last 5 hours at the Greyhound station in Seattle. The experience was quite bizarre random people popping in to use the bathrooms and even the staff acting crazy and making us feel uncomfortable.
We were quite happy when we finally got to our bus to Canada. I have to say based on this experience I can strongly recommend taking the bus over the USA-Canada-border, even with a foreign passport. Getting across has never been this easy and comfortable. The bus was on time and arrived in a very central location in Vancouver, BC. All this for 14 dollars. Could not ask for more.