Even on the clearest of Seattle mornings I can often see the fog rolling away over the ocean, while the smell of fresh fish still lingers on the morning dew. I live near Ballard and the docks where the Deadliest Catch boats tie up, and gruff fisherman unload their loot.
Mornings when I wake up with the windows open, I’m often lucky enough to hear a seagull screeching nearby. During the day, a steady hum of cars serves as our big windowed, little apartment’s steady soundtrack. The apartment sits at a major crossroads of three areas of Seattle. When the bridge goes up, just across the street, traffic backs up for blocks to allow sailboats to cross through from the ocean and Puget Sound into Seattle’s Lake Union. Life in Seattle is certainly unique. It’s a playground, because anything you could ever want to do; sport or entertainment, food or drink is right at your doorstop. In fact, there are at least 15 microbreweries in less than a mile from the apartment. I couldn’t even count the restaurants within that range – downtown Ballard and Market Street is such a foodie paradise, I’ve barely begun to explore its options. For the first time in my life I live where the air is salty and the smell of fish dampens the air near Salmon Bay down the road. I don’t mind a bit.
To my excitement, a few months ago a friend I studied with during my time at the university of Bamberg, Germany told me that after all of our promises to visit each other “some day”, she was coming to visit me. In Seattle! I had just reasearched and pulled together a fairly all-inclusive Seattle-week itinerary while planning for a visit from my Mom and and brother last month and converted that itinerary to a compact three-day tour of Seattle for Anja’s visit.
Seattle is definitely a place to visit in the summer time and I feel like I live in the thriving heart of it now. You really couldn’t ask for a more perfect summer. It doesn’t rain much from June to mid August and Seattle is jam-packed with festivals and events. Some of these festivals are so packed with Seattleites, I myself abstain from the crowds. Sometimes they’re so packed you can’t even move. Regardless, there is always something to do.
During my family’s visit we began with a trip to the iconic Pike Place Market to follow in the footsteps of Sleepless In Seattle’s Sam Baldwin (Tom Hanks). We began with the walkway down into the market, which is where the scene of Tom Hanks and his friend discussing whether or not Hanks has a cute butt, is set. For my latest trip there, I had some better insight to what to look at around the Market recently, after an absolutely stellar food tour of the Market with a “Taste Pike Place Market” food tour by our guide Lesley.
During your walk through the Pike Market (note, it is not Pike’s Place, it is Pike Place) you will find yourself stuffed into lines and hoards of people. It’s a rush, remember to be prepared and keep your belongings tucked close to your person. You will probably be brushing up against many people. Don’t let that sway you from visiting this neat place at least once, though. When I first moved to Seattle before having visited the Market, I would see women engulfed in huge bouquets of brilliantly colored flowers all over downtown. I eventually realized that they were loading up on the $5-$20 bouquets, bountiful throughout the market. Indulge in the many seasonal samples provided by friendly Market vendors of peaches, berries and other goodies. The vendors are quite friendly.
Inside the Market be sure to visit:
- One of the fish stands, there are many. The fish is fantastic, and the fish throwers just might flirt with you.
- Honest Biscuits – For the real down-home cookin’ from the South.
- Market Spice – There are samples of their famous tea in front of the store)
Snuggled up next to the fish markets on the west side of the building is the restaurant Athenian – take a quick peek in there for pictures of scenes from Sleepless in Seattle and a glimpse of the bar where Tom Hanks (as Sam Baldwin) was filmed admitting to his limited knowledge of “what modern women want.” Tiramisu, obviously.
- Sam: What is “tiramisu”?
- Jay: You’ll find out.
- Sam: Well, what is it?
- Jay: You’ll see!
- Sam: Some woman is gonna want me to do it to her and I’m not gonna know what it is!
I don’t know about where to find Tiramisu, but the Bottega Italiana gelato shop on 1st street, right out in front of the Market is a must-stop on a warm day. It immediately brought memories of wandering the streets in Europe where everyone knew how to enjoy ice cream’s simple pleasures. Other stops on the same block that you shouldn’t miss are:
- Pike Brewing (I recommend their taster flights, one of each if there is more than one of you!
- Ellenos yogurts (irresistable!)
- Famous Pike Place Chowder (daunting because the line usually stretches down the block)
Also, skip the line for the “oldest” Starbucks. The first and original Starbucks was in another part of town and burned down, so trust me, the coffee is the same as it is at every other Starbucks on every surrounding block and not worth the ridiculous wait. What is worth a look, is the sign hanging out front with the original bare breasted mermaid logo, and the busker out front who is talented enough to score that spot. I’ll save the picture on that one and let you take your own gander. Instead, find La Buona Tavola – Truffle Cafe, tucked away and easy to pass by. It’s just down the block to the South, from Starbucks, and there you can taste an assortment of truffle sauces and all kinds of specialties you won’t find anywhere else! They also have a great assortment of wine, and tastings! I never knew I could fall so in love with truffle seasonings or a green concoction that is part pecan and tastes like Nutella.
On the other, south end of the Market is the iconic Gum Wall. Seattle mourned when her gooey walls were scraped clean for days — a powerful pressure sprayer sloughed off 20 years of memories and colors. But alas, the gum was eroding the old brick upon which it clung. It’s gross, and you will be walking through gum, but I’ve yet to have any stick to my shoes. I heard rumors that the wall began by a man sticking a penny to the wall with his gum, and the idea continued on. You’ll still find various coins squished on with a stick of Spearment of Bubblicious, and I’m half surprised the local homeless population hasn’t made use them.
Look closely, stuck between the globs of gum are love notes, business cards and other such updates, such as: “10:00am Zombie Llama was here.”
After loading up on food, snacks, samples, slobbery gum germs and brews at the Market we take a quick wander up to 4th ave to scope out the 11-story glass and steel Seattle public-central library to venture to the top floor and then back over to the Westlake Center to hop on the Monorail, which only has two stops. The Monorail isn’t that exciting. It’s a quick ride to the Seattle Center, luckily it’s $2.25, and I only did it because I hadn’t done it previously, it seemed like a must-do for anyone who lives in Seattle. It was created in 1962 for Seattle’s World Fair. Apparently, eight million people rode the monorail during the half year the fair was open; today, it is visited by around 2 million travelers and sightseers.
The Monorail plops you right into the center of the Seattle Center, right at the foot of the Space Needle. Here, we purchased the Seattle CityPASSes:
- For $74 per person, you get admission to
After scanning the Seattle skyline from the top of the Space Needle and trying to find all the places you might recognize, it’s neat to get a bird’s eye view of the city and surrounding islands. I admit, it’s something I’ll probably only do once because of the price.
Next, it was time for the Experience Music Project, better known as the EMP museum. I could skip this one on my next adventure. There are interactive exhibits, a tribute and great history of Jimmy Hendrix, Nirvana, and guitars but I had the most fun making music in the music room upstairs, rocking out on an actual electric guitar hooked up to a computer that could make it sound any way I wanted, or attach it to other instruments for a full band effect! Yet all in all, I found it underwhelming. Seeing the Star Trek exhibit that was also taking place in the EMP would have cost an additional $5 to the $22 entry.
Afterwards, we made our way to what my brother and I were most excited about: the Chihuly “Garden and Glass”, which is as awesome as the looks. It’s just beside the EMP and Space Needle, so very easy to get to while you’re already in the Seattle Center. Check it out, take photos, don’t touch the glass – one piece of art the size of a dinner plate starts at around $5,000, so you can only imagine what the hanging structure in the glass atrium is worth. I only wished there was a better history of Dale Chihuly (a native of Tacoma, WA) inside the museum. His artwork is displayed around the world, and I didn’t know a thing about him until looking it up after walking through the exhibit. Think of it as walking through Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory in your dreams, but not being able to touch or taste anything.
I was originally torn between the infamous Duck Boat Tours and the Argosy Harbor Tours. Then I realized that the CityPass included the Argosy tour and the decision was made. I hear many negative opinions on the duck boats, and their recent accident on the Aurora bridge which led to the death of five international students, which were heavy on my mind. I work with international students a the community college just up the road from where these students were from, so you’ll understand my hesitation. I know that their tours are one of the best ways to see Seattle, and would still probably take the tour if given the opportunity.
The Argosy Harbor tour is a compact hour-long trip on a boat that leaves from Seattle’s Elliot Bay docks. Our tour was led by Lars, who had great insight to some of the history of Seattle and an explanation to much of the waterfront. I think the Lock Tour (also offered by Argosy) would be a fun alternative – I’ve been through the Hirem M. Chittenden Locks via canoe and shared the space with great sailboats and speed boats and it is a neat adventure. There are many tourists who visit the Locks just to watch the boats go through. Also, seeing Seattle from a boat on Lake Union would give you the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the Sleepless in Seattle houseboat, which is only viewable by the public by boat. The house recently sold for 2.5 million dollars to a couple who apparently have their own love story behind the purchase.
To top off the downtown Seattle adventure, we ended our day at the Seattle Aquarium. We enjoyed meeting our first giant Pacific Octopus (whose arms can reach over 80 ft long) , coming face to face with some seals, otters, birds and other Puget Sound locals.
A full Seattle experience is not complete without a visit to Gas Works Park, home to the paint ball scene from “10 Things I Hate About You”. First they begin peddling across Lake Union and end up at the park after seeing the Paintball. Sadly, there isn’t and never has been Paintball available at Gasworks, but wouldn’t that be fantastic! The park is great for kite flying or packing in a picnic on kite hill and watching the constant shenanigans over Lake Union. Did you know that the actual high school used in 10 Things I Hate About You, with the huge football feield overlooking the water is an actual high school? It actually exists, but not in Seattle. It’s actually just a quick drive south, in Tacoma.
Next, take a quick jaunt over to the Fremont Troll to experience the real essence of Fremont, one of the most eclectic neighborhoods of Seattle. “De Libertas Quirkas,” or … the freedom to be peculiar is the Fremont’s unofficial motto. I recommend wandering around the neighborhood and in some of the shops to find out why. While visiting the Troll, note the actual Volkswagen Beetle crushed under his huge grip. Yes, it’s a real car.
Now cool off with a trip to Molly Moon’s famous homemade ice cream over in Wallingford. If you don’t believe how any ice cream can be that much better than anybody else’s, just look at the line than can stretch out to the end of the end of the block, on busy days. Sample all the flavors, and especially the uncommon ones like Lavender, Earl Grey, or Strawberry Balsamic! Flavors change regularly.
Of course fully packed days in Seattle work up a great appetite. For your meal options, Seattle has everything under the sun. It’s a foodie heaven. Being home to some fantastic culinary delights, picking just one great spot to eat can be the real challenge. For goodness sake, there only three meals in a day! On the day we were near Pike Place Market we stopped at the Steelhead Diner, mainly because I’d heard that the Poutine (one of my all time favorite foods) there was fantastic. I was worried we wouldn’t be able to find a seat on a Saturday, but luckily we were seated as soon as we walked in. Their great location is just above the famed Post Alley and Pike Chowder. Each of us ordered something different, planning to share and try each other’s plates. It was a foodie experience all around with perfect proportions and textures of salmon, greens, potatoes and perfectly cooked eggs creating one of the best Pacific Northwest food experiences I’ve yet had. And with a great view of the water to boot! It was too early for Poutine, though. That’ll have to happen on another visit.
For breakfast on Sunday we headed over to Chinooks, just next to my apartment, which features an elaborate Sunday brunch menu including the daily catch, oysters, hashes and scrambles and all you’ve ever wanted in a breakfast menu. It’s part of the more famous Anthony’s restaurants, if you’re more familiar with those. If you’re a fan of the television hit “Deadliest Catch“, you can potentially catch the boats (and maybe even the fisherman!) outside the window, which takes up the entire north side of the building as you dine. If you’re into boats, this restaurant is sure to be your new favorite spot. The entire seating arrangement, which is set up just so that each table has a view of the docks, is made so that you can enjoy a view of Seattle’s ship canal and the boats outside, while you eat the freshest catch, and maybe even some of the Pacific Northwest’s local peach lemonade or other local favorites.
For your other meals, check out one of Seattle’s favorite quick stops, Paseo’s or Un Bien, basically the same company and located in two different areas of Seattle. Or if Caribbean sandwiches aren’t your style, you can’t go wrong with pizza. One of my personal favorites is Frelard Pizza, part of the Ballard Pizza Company, features a great patio, great local beers and some of the best pizza and salads in town. There also seems to be less of a wait at Frelard than the other locations. While you’re in that area, don’t miss some of Seattle’s great breweries, many of them offering pretzels or popcorn for free to complement your beer tasting experience. My top favorites are (all coincidentally also dog friendly):
- Stoup Brewing – I love the Citra IPA! (doesn’t taste like citrus)
- Lucky Envelope
- Peddler Brewing – More for the Bicycle themed style, patio and atmosphere than the actual beer
- Fremont Brewing is home to a fantastic beer garden, pretzels and my favorite Summer Ale.
And they all have foodtrucks on site regularly. Anything you could possible imagine exists in Seattle, from fencing, to medieval battles at Gasworks to hip hop classes, flirting classes and escape room games. Come play!