When a tourist thinks of seeing the great sights of the United States, Seattle is not a name that comes up very often. A typical potential traveler to the US will have places like Orlando, New York, Las Vegas, or San Francisco on their itinerary before Seattle will even be considered. Nevertheless, my fiancée and I visited Washington’s largest city and took in some of the sights, sounds, smells, and sensations. Here are some of the highlights of our time in Seattle, in no particular order.
The most iconic piece of Seattle’s skyline was well worth the visit. The views of the city were rather nice, but I honestly preferred the historical tales of the construction of the Space Needle to the spectacle. The walk up to the lift was home to several large boards giving timelines for the project, with historical reference points such as the moon landing thrown in for context.
This is the first of the attractions that we went to using the City Pass – a worthy investment for any traveler to Seattle. The City Pass is essentially a book of coupons for access to set attractions around the city for a lower price than it would be to purchase them individually. I have used a similar Pass in Paris before, and the Seattle one certainly saved us some money and hassle.
Pike Place Market
While the Space Needle might be the most visually striking part of Seattle, Pike Place gives the hardest assault on the senses. The chaos of an exceedingly busy farmer’s market filled with shops trying to sell everything from ceramic piggy banks to glasswork to fresh fish, bulging with customers foaming to buy as much as their wallet allows them (and maybe a bit more on top of it) was overwhelming for me at times. I found the market fascinating, with so many different stores, but I also had to seek the quiet corners on a couple of occasions to re-ground myself.
One of the more famous stores at Pike Place is the first-ever Starbucks. The line to enter is reputedly long, but we simply walked in. This ease of access compared to the stories that I’d read makes me worry that my fiancée, my brother (who joined us on the trip briefly) and I didn’t actually end up going to the first Starbucks, but simply one close to it. Let’s just hope we caught Starbucks on a quiet day.
Next to Pike Place market lies another Seattle icon – the gum wall. It is exactly what its name suggests – a wall where people have placed their gum. Not a few people, though. Hundreds, perhaps even thousands of people. It is disconcertingly interesting to consider both the sheer amount of gum on the wall and the creativeness of some of the more elaborate contributions. There are names spelled in gum, symbols, and even the American flag in gum. It is even more compelling to consider that the wall is cleaned on a not-too-irregular basis for hygiene purposes.
Gas Works Park
A park is a park is a park, right? All you need is some green grass and open space and you’re set, surely? Not at Gas Works Park. The site of a disused gas works (shock! horror!), this park boasts great views of the downtown Seattle skyline across the river, acres of space (so you never feel like you have to crowd next to another group), and a nice balance of sun and shade. All in all, a great place to spend a lazy couple of hours in the sun reading, throwing a disc, or simply people-watching.
A short walk from Gas Works Park is the Fremont Troll, a large figure mostly comprised of cement. The troll sits underneath one of the major bridges in Fremont, holding a car in its grasp and staring blankly at all those who would behold it. I feel like the concept is creative, but it was let down a little in its execution. While it is certainly impressive, the troll is not remarkably striking or visually appealing. It is dull and grey, except for its eyes and the car in its clutches. Perhaps a mixed media creation would have popped better, but the troll gets a bit lost in the grey cement surrounding it. The only historical background available at the site is a small plaque. If you visit Gas Works Park or the surrounding areas, you should go visit the troll, but it is a short visit.
The EMP Museum is unlike any other museum that I have ever been to. The curators of the museum are clearly trying to widen the audience that is interested in museums in general. While most museums are filled with items of historical value from a broad spectrum of topics, the EMP museum chooses instead to focus on smaller collections in topics of great pop culture interest, with kooky side exhibits thrown in. For example, the exhibitions that were showing whilst my fiancée and I visited Seattle focused on science fiction, fantasy, horror Movies, a history of Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix, indie video games, and wearable art. There was a section showing music videos on a film cinema-sized screen. There was an extra paid section exploring Star Trek (which we chose to skip because we’d never watched any).
EMP Museum is well-aimed at young adults looking to explore the history and present of what interests them. As my fiancée and I fit very firmly into that demographic, we were enraptured by EMP, spending most of a day there. I was most surprised by the horror section. My fiance and I both have extremely low tolerance for being scared. I am not interested in most horror films. And yet, exploring the way horror is constructed, watching short blurbs on key films in the genre, and learning about some of the masters of the craft was incredibly informative, as it is not an area that I have explored much due to fear.
EMP Museum is one of the top reasons to go to Seattle. If you’re in the city and you have a day, go. It is also part of the City Pass, so you can save some money there.
Chihuly Garden and Glass
Directly next to the Space Needle and EMP Museum lies the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. Chilhuly is a famed glassblower and artist from Seattle, known for pushing the limits of glass as a medium. The museum is relativey small and there is not much information to be found, but this is clearly an intended design, to avoid detracting from the pieces themselves. There are truly some beautiful pieces in the museum. However, as it is small, it takes less than an hour before you’ve admired everything, so don’t plan an entire afternoon around it.
The experience at Chihuly is short and beautiful. If you make the trip to visit either the Space Needle or EMP, be sure to check it out. It is a calming experience to walk through rooms filled with coloured, crafted glass. Another reason to ge the City Pass. The more I mention the City Pass, the more I feel compelled to say that I wasn’t paid by them to write this post.
The second-last mention of the City Pass in this post, the Seattle Aquarium is a cosy yet refreshing aquarium. Its layout is unusual, spread over multiple buildings on Seattle’s piers. It is home to hundreds of species of fish, a couple of octopi, birds, and, most importantly, otters. Cute, cuddly, fluffy otters, of both the river and sea variety. Kris, my fiancée, and I spent more time watching the otters than we spent at the rest of the aquarium combined. That includes the gift shop, where we spent dozens of minutes agonizingly choosing what otter-branded merchandise we would buy (we landed on a big fluffy otter plush and cups with otters on them). If you like otters, I mean, aquatic life, Seattle Aquarium is worth your time. It is also close to Pike Place Market, so you can combine the two and the next attraction for a good day out.
Sprit of Seattle Ferry
The final milking of our City Pass came from a ferry ride around the coast of Seattle. While there were options to go on trips to see orcas, we went on a short, hour-long zip in the waters around Seattle. There was almost-constant narration from the crew, detailing the sights and dropping interesting historical tidbits about the city. Whilst we didn’t see any whales, we did get another angle on the city, some more information about it, and a couple of photos of seals. Not quite as cute as otters, but still quite cute in their own lazy way.
Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour
Our historical education of Seattle was further improved by Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. In the 19th century, Seattle suffered a terrible fire which burned down a large portion of the city (luckily, no-one was killed). The city planners took the opportunity to rebuild the parts of the area close to the coast exactly one storey higher than they previously were, effectively raising large portions of the city by a floor.
This leaves these areas with underground tunnels, filled with history and dust. There are many tours through these tunnels, but the one that seemed the most well-reputed was Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour. We soon saw why. The tour guide was knowledgeable, funny, and effectively herded the mass of people behind him. Kris, my brother, and I all had a great time on the tour, and the stories he told added a touch of magic to the rest of our time in Seattle. Every time we looked down, we imagined what might be lying below us, left untouched from decades before.
These are the more traditional sights of Seattle, that you’ll see on TripAdvisor and the like. However, we also visited some landmarks which are more obscure and suited to the unique tastes of Kris and I. Here they are:
Kris and I both love Ultimate. The game and community around it are major factors in our decision to stay in Korea for as long as we have. So, when we found out that Five Ultimate, one of the major Ultimate manufacturers have their headquarters in Seattle, we had to pop in, say hi, and leave with a bunch of shiny Ultimate things. After struggling to find their offices (they aren’t allowed to have large signage on the outside of their building – we only successfully found them by going to their address and luckily spotting their WiFi), we were welcomed into the sprawling home of high-quality Ultimate merchandise. We were given a quick tour by Denny (who happened to also have played Ultimate in Korea for many years – small world) and then let loose to buy what we wanted, a privelege we may have abused a little. We kept on chatting with Denny, sharing tales of Korea and Ultimate and life. Whilst not necessary for most, Ultimate players visiting Seatte should try and pop in at Five Ultimate.
It is no secret to those who know us that Kris and I love board games. Naturally, we have to explore the board game options within any given city. Whilst there are a number of highly-rated board game stores in Seattle, Meeples Games was the most convenient for us. I walked in expecting a pokey store with a few shelves and a table to play, but was met with a bustling, expansive, multi-room haven for games. There were games of all shapes, sizes, difficulties, preferences, and tastes. There was even a Magic: the Gathering tournament going on whilst we visited. I found games that I had been searching for for months with no luck in Korea. I found games I didn’t know I wanted (but bought anyway). I found games I wanted, but couldn’t justify taking with because they would have taken up too much space of our bags (I’m looking at you, Marvel Legendary). The staff was friendly and wise in the ways of cardboard fun. The game spaces looked clean, and there were even couches within the store for you to sit and read the back of a box. I wish every board games store was like Meeples.
While we visited Meeples near the beginning of our time in Seattle, by the time we were almost ready to head home, our board game itch began to show itself again. So we decided to visit another Seattle board-gaming mecca – Mox Cafe. Whereas Meeples is primarily a store where you can also sit down and play a game or two, Mox Cafe is primarily a cafe where you can enjoy food and drink whilst sampling a new board game or pulling out an old favourite. Mox has a large sample of games that you can play at their tables. They are fully licensed, and have a good selection of drinks and food (although we didn’t eat there). Kris and I had a good few hours of fun playing Raptor (where Kris the mommy velociraptor was too cunning for me and my scientists) and Castle Panic (where we defended a castle against hordes of orcs, goblins, and trolls). Mox Cafe also has a library for sale that rivals Meeples. While it is a bit out of the way from Central Seattle, it was a great way for us to spend an evening.
From an exceptional museum, a feat of architecture, and a bustling market place to board game havens and a cement troll, Kris and I saw a great deal in our time in Seattle. In coming posts, I will explore The International (the event that brought us to Seattle in the first place), Seattle food, and, finally, our engagement story. There are many more tales to come from our time in Seattle, but if you ever decide to visit the city, keep these landmarks on your list of things to do and see while you are there!