15 tips for traveling in Seattle, Washington

25 05 2014

I recently traveled to Seattle for the American Alliance of Museums Annual Conference, and in my downtime I made the effort to get to know this ‘Emerald City’ on the sound. Seattle itself has a population a little over 600,000, but its metropolitan area comes in at over 3 million. It feels similar to both Portland, Oregon and Denver, Colorado in both size and attitude. It’s casual with a touch of urban, and boasts great food, music, and beer. What’s not to like?

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  1. Downtown Seattle has a hill that rivals San Francisco, California and yet Seattle doesn’t seem to have the reputation San Francisco does. It’s not a problem per se, just be aware of it and plan accordingly. For instance, wear appropriate shoes if you plan on walking.
  2. Do walk. It’s very walkable and the public transportation is very easy.
  3. Do take public transportation. There’s a light rail line from the Seattle-Tacoma Airport that will drop you right in the middle of downtown Seattle. Follow the signs at the airport though, as it’s a little less than intuitive to get to the airport station from the terminal. Fare is only $2.75 and it takes approximately 45 minutes to get downtown. Cab fare runs $40 if you prefer, and take around 30 minutes. There’s also a monorail. It was built for the 1962 World’s Fair and it’s worth a ride for that history. It runs from 5th and Pike to the World’s Fair site now called “Seattle Center”.
  4. Stay in the downtown area if possible, there are many options to fit your personal taste. That said, with the ease of public transportation it wouldn’t be an issue if you stayed elsewhere.
  5. In the Pacific northwest, Portland seems to hold the top spot for doughnuts with its iconic VooDoo Doughnuts. However, Seattle gives Portland a run for that spot with Top Pot Hand-Forged Doughnuts & Coffee. I’m going to go ahead and say it: I liked Top Pot better. The doughnuts are better; batter, frosting, and all. The coffee is better. And the atmosphere is better. Stop in and let me know if you agree!
  6. Spend some time at Pike Place Market. Yes, this the home of the famous fish throwing. Is that the reason to go? No. If they happen to do it while you’re walking by it’s pretty fun, but it’s not worth waiting around for with all of the camera ready tourists. Go for the Market itself. Fresh flowers. Fresh produce. Fresh fish. I enjoyed a Sunday morning stroll while the merchants were still setting up much more than my mid-afternoon visits among the throngs of tourists.
  7. While you’re at Pike Place Market stop by and pay homage to the coffee revolution at the original Starbucks. Whether you ‘like’ Starbucks or not, they did launch the revolution that allows you and me to be able to get a really good cup of coffee on virtually any corner. Even in the suburbs. I had a heavenly made to order, pour-over Ethiopian coffee. And it was worth the 15 minute or so wait in line (at 8am on a Sunday). Don’t be surprised if the line is literally around the block if you go midday. Take note, there’s nowhere to sit in this small storefront so why not take your brew out to the benches over looking the sound?
  8. For a really good cup of espresso head down to Pike and 5th and stop at Monorail Espresso, serving Seattle one cup of finely crafted espresso at a time since 1980. Take cash though, as no cards taken at this hole in the wall.
  9. Take in some culture. Seattle has a bounty of cultural options. There’s the Seattle Art Museum downtown, plus their two sister sites the Asian Art Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Park. The Sculpture park is free and open to the public. It has some beautiful works, framed by vistas of the sound and the Seattle skyline. Take a stroll through it for a quick recharge. There’s also the Chihuly Garden and Glass and the Experience Music Project Museum both located on the grounds of the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, home of the Space Needle.
  10. The Space Needle. It’s classic. It’s iconic. It’s worth checking out but I’m not sure it’s worth paying to go to the top. Full disclosure: I didn’t go to the top. I wonder though, if it’s worth it given Seattle’s grey and usually cloudy weather.
  11. Head to the International District. It’s walkable from downtown, or you can easily take public transportation. Historically, Seattle had significant populations of Asian immigrants, and the international district is like Chinatown, Japantown, and Little Saigon all rolled in to one. You can find dim sum, pho, sushi, noodle houses, and an izakaya all within a few blocks. In addition to good food there are some lovely boutiques and shops. My favorite was MoMo.
  12. Turns out, Seattle goes crazy for their soccer team the Sounders. Seattleites go full-on hooligan for their home games (and I mean that in a good way). I was nearly swept up by the sea of fans heading down to the stadium, which is located on the south side of downtown near the International District. It’s easily accessible by public transportation and I’m sure going to a game would be a blast! I would have gone, if I had only had more time.
  13. See some live music. Seattle is after all, known for it’s music scene. One of my very favorite musicians, Kishi Bashi, was playing at the ShowBox while I was in town. It was magic, and exactly what I needed after 3 days of conference sessions.
  14. Eat good food. As a native of landlocked Colorado, the novelty of fresh seafood still influences my dining choice when near the coast. Copper River salmon. Oysters. Pacific Cod. Halibut. I enjoyed it all. I’m also always on the look out for a great bowl of ramen, which is sadly hard to find in Denver. Wann Izakaya did not disappoint. Their tonkotsu ramen featured everything I look for: deeply rich broth, perfectly cooked noodles, slow-cooked pork, pickled vegetables, and a marinated soft-boiled egg. I went twice. It was that good.
  15. Watch a sunset on the waterfront. At the very least, go down to the water front even if it’s grey and cloudy. Or if you have the time and desire, go up in the Great Wheel for a memorable sunset reflected not only on the sound but also on the downtown skyline.   10320302_10154172281385068_219598353621164849_n
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