To understand Seattle and its greater metropolitan area, you must first consider two things: the city’s position on the globe and its position in the 21st century. Seattle is the biggest city west of Chicago, north of San Francisco, east of Tokyo and south of the North Pole. And commanding that position on a shrinking planet, it has become an international center for commerce, industry, and trade in the new millennium.
The Seattle Experience
As a tourist destination people from all over the country and around the world flock to soak up the city’s antiquated charms, regional differences, and commercial bravado. A century and a half ago, Seattle was a hopeful little settlement clinging to the shores of Elliott Bay. A benevolent but wet climate, ample natural resources, and the kindness of the Duwamish and Suquamish people and their inspired leader, Chief Sealth, allowed the village to flourish. Seattle was named for Chief Sealth and his image can be found all over the city. Today the metropolitan area is 3.5 million strong, and includes the robust communities of Bellevue and Kirkland, Bothell, Redmond, Mercer Island, Renton, Kent, Auburn, Federal Way and the dozens of residential enclaves in between.
There is more to do here than anyone has time for: museums, live theaters, a world-class ballet, symphony, zoo, restaurants, shopping, nightlife, glamorous places to stay, and fascinating streets to walk. Then there are the neighborhoods, one after another, each with its own distinctive character from funky Fremont with its delightful hodgepodge of shops and eateries, to chic Madison Park and Queen Anne, on to “wish-it” Capitol Hill and bustling Little Saigon.
But to discover Seattle you must begin with the clichés. A good place to begin your exploration is atop the watchful eye of the Space Needle at the Seattle center. This Seattle icon is hard to miss, and you must take the 41-second elevator ride to the top for the 360-degree view of the lakes, mountains, salt water and sparkling city below. Expand your viewing time with a leisurely meal at the world’s first revolving restaurant.
Below the Space Needle is the magical and stimulating Pacific Science Center. There are five buildings that comprise the complex, creating a masterpiece of childhood delight with their hands-on exhibits.
Nearby, the unusual building with the funny colors and mismatched exterior walls is the Experience Music Project. Designed by world-renowned architect Frank Gehry, this interactive music museum was created by Paul Allen to provide an ongoing exploration of musical diversity from the past, present and future.
the easiest and most unique way to travel between the sighs and sounds of the Seattle Center and downtown Seattle is to hop aboard the Monorail, a remnant of the 1962 Seattle World’s fair. Ride to the Pike Place Market, where you may have to dodge a 40-pound mackerel being tossed through the air by one of the infamous fishmongers. Enjoy a latte’ at the first Starbucks.
Head west to the waterfront and the Seattle Aquarium at Pier 59. This collection of underwater exhibits is a perfect family outing. Next to the aquarium, the IMAX Dome Theater surrounds viewers in scenes like the eruption of Mount St. Helens or dolphins at play. Stroll along the waterfront of fresh fish and chips.
A unique way to enjoy Seattle is from the waters of Puget Sound. Local cruises can take you through Lake Union and Lake Washington, the interesting Ballard Locks or to some of the area’s marinas and harbors. A boat tour to Tillicum Village is an opportunity to witness traditional dances and legends in a northwest coast Indian longhouse. Located on Blake Island, just eight miles from the waterfront, this is a memorable four-hour excursion competes with a fabulous alder-baked salmon feast.
If Victoria, B.C. is on your itinerary, the Victoria Clipper’s popular day or overnight trip can provide a perfect mode of transportation. The Clipper only takes two hours to get to Victoria, leaving plenty of time for immersing yourself in that city’s charms.
Explore historic Pioneer Square
If you head south from the waterfront, be sure to walk up First Avenue to Pioneer Square. This former home of legendary pioneers like Doc Maynard now features a variety of bookstores, art galleries, restaurants, live jazz and blues. On a clear summer night, listen for the roar of the crowd at Safeco Field as Ichiro gets yet another record setting clutch base hit.
Be sure to budget time to take the Underground Tour, a humorous overview of the ancient plumbing conundrums and old-time politics that affected the city’s future, the tour begins in a restored 1890s public house.
In Seattle, the cultural offerings are as interesting and varied as the landscape. The Seattle Art Museum, better known as SAM, is perfectly placed downtown and has a collection of more than 21.000 objects from all over the world. For a slightly more technical fare, you can easily spend half a day at either The Museum of History and Industry or the Museum of Flight at Boeing Field.
Seattle’s 92-acre Woodland Park Zoo is noted for its cutting edge exhibits, expansive horticultural collection and summer performing arts series. Don’t miss the baby elephant at this award-winning zoo.
Stroll the Washington Park Arboretum and the Japanese Garden. Walk down to the waterfront and take the trolley to the International District and hike back up to Freeway Park. Then drive over to West Seattle for a walk around Alki Point where the first settlers landed and a fabulous photo opportunity of the downtown skyline and waterfront.
Just 30-minutes south of downtown in the beautiful Kent Valley, Emerald Downs, the premier thoroughbred live racing venue in the northwest, runs mid-April through September. After your day at the races, head to Renton for the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train to experience the nostalgia of a by-gone era as you travel in luxurious, vintage rail cars along the shores of Lake Washington to the Columbia Winery.
East King County
Don’t miss Bellevue. A drive across Lake Washington to this city of bold glass towers and impeccably landscaped residences is a telescopic view into the vigor and wealth of this region – a theme that is often repeated from Tukwila to Redmond and on to Woodinville. Head east on Interstate 90 and you’ll come to the picturesque village of Issaquah, a little further and you can visit Snoqualmie Falls. And still to the east is the mountain town of North Bend. Here is the gateway to Mount Si and you can hike up near its 4.167 foot summit for a panoramic view of both civilization and wilderness. And it’s all within King County.
The Puget Sound metropolitan area is a sophisticated, cosmopolitan place these days. But from the industrial pockets and noisy diners of Sodo and the cluttered moorages of Fisherman’s Terminal, to the pastoral byways of Carnation and Duvall, this is a region that has never forgotten where it all began.