by Lee Foster
A Museum of Flight at Boeing Field, a maturing Northwest Cuisine restaurant scene, and the green splendor of the Olympic National Park epitomize Seattle’s many perennial appeals for the traveler.
Seattle is the major city in the Evergreen State, an appropriate nickname for a region that includes a bonafide rainforest on the Olympic Peninsula west of the city. Windshield wipers play more than a cosmetic role on area autos, although the sky tends to threaten constantly rather than saturate the city with monsoon deluges. Actually, only 37 inches of rain fall in the city each year, though the amount of overcast would suggest more.
Water-oriented Seattle looks seaward both for its livelihood and its recreation. Salmon fishing and shipping vie with the region’s land-based producers of wealth, such as lumbering and agriculture. Boeing aircraft manufacture and computer software development, especially at Microsoft, add diversity to the area’s economy.
Within the metropolis live over 2.5 million people, a comfortable number compared to other congested major urban centers, though traffic, even here, has become a major problem and mass transit investments have helped. The presence of trees and water provides visual relief everywhere from any oppressive sense of population density.
Seattle lies in the cool, wet land west of the Cascade mountains that run in a nearly unbroken chain north-south through the center of the state. East of the Cascades the rainfall is much lower, the weather is warmer, and huge wheat fields or apple orchards are more typical than the forested terrain found west of the Cascades.
When planning a visit here, be aware that there is measurable precipitation on 152 days of the year, but the rain is often soft, except for the major storms of winter. July and August are the sunniest months. The weather is temperate, seldom falling below freezing or above 90 degrees.
Puget Sound, bordering on Seattle, is the boating playground of the state. Power boating and sail boating are popular pastimes.
Sea-tac and Amtrak
Most visitors arrive in Seattle either at the Seattle-Tacoma Airport (Sea-Tac, named also in honor of the late Senator, Henry Jackson) or on the rapid Interstate 5 Freeway north from Portland and Interstate 90 Freeway west from Spokane.
Often overlooked by potential travelers is the convenient Amtrak service running trains north from San Francisco or west from Chicago, offering vista cars for scenery-watching and sleeping accommodations for overnight guests. Train service is also available north to Vancouver.
Once situated in Seattle, you are within a day’s drive of attractions in the manageable 330×460 mile dimensions of Washington State. This is a state for the outdoor enthusiast who likes to admire scenery, hike, fish, camp, ski, and boat.
Chief Sealth’s Heritage
The first people to settle here crossed via the Bering Sea land bridge or by boat some 20,000 years ago. About 4,000 of their descendants lived here when the first European explorer, George Vancouver, arrived in the 18th century. These natives called themselves the Snohomish, Salish, and Duwamish, among other liquid musical names, which now designate some of the rivers of Washington.
Seattle is a corruption of the Indian name “Sealth.” Sealth was chief of the Suquamish tribe at the time the first white settlers arrived in 1851.
The Indians who populated the Seattle region were skillful salmon fishermen and clam gatherers, who supplemented their diet with berries and game in the summer season. They lived in sizable bark and plank houses.
The Native Americans of Washington State maintain a cultural center that can advise you on Indian art, festivals, and museums. The United Indians of All Tribes office is at Discovery Park, 3801 West Government Way Extension. There are excellent displays of Northwest Indian artifacts at the Burke Museum on the University of Washington campus and at the Seattle Art Museum, located downtown.
One major Indian culture experience readily available to travelers is a boat ride out to Tillicum Village on Blake Island, with a salmon bake and Indian dancing. A special part of the experience is a 1913 movie by Edward Curtis on the Indian life of the region. In this remarkable film, Curtis enlists a large cast of Indians to enact a drama of hope, love, discouragement, and war in the Indian context of the Northwest.
The first European interest in the region came from fur gathering companies, such as the English Hudson Bay, or the Russian traders established in Sitka, Alaska, and at Fort Ross in California.
With the discovery of gold in Alaska and the Canadian Yukon in the late 19th century, Seattle boomed as the gateway town to the gold mines. Writers such as Jack London recorded these tumultuous days.
The premier site to visit, explaining Seattle’s role in the gold mining heyday, is the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, 117 South Main Street. The museum recalls the auspicious day, July 17, 1897, when the ship Portland arrived in Seattle from Alaska with more than two tons of Klondike gold aboard. The gold discovery set off a worldwide stampede for the Yukon, by way of Seattle. Genial rangers at the museum can tell you the complete story. The profiteers were the merchants of Seattle. Of those who set out for the Yukon, about 60 percent never made it. Of the 40,000 who reached the gold fields, about 4,000 found some gold, some 300 got rich, and only 50 remained rich five years later. At the museum you’ll see the supplies carried into the Yukon, plus the chilling portrait of thousands of men inching their way up the snowy Chilkoot Pass, with visions of gold dust dancing in their heads. The gold of the Canadian Yukon was a placer gold, which the small-time entrepreneur could dig up in the gravel.
The Klondike era brought instant prosperity to Seattle. One aspect of the prosperity was that the streets in the downtown were raised to the second level of the buildings, creating an underground world that can be visited today in the zany Underground Tour, first organized by Bill Speidel, leaving from Pioneer Square. This tongue-in-cheek tour through the dank underground gives witty guides an opportunity to poke fun at Seattle politics and at Tacomans, the rivals of Seattlites.
More enduring wealth has been created by the lumbering industry, the salmon fishing fleets (aided first by the technological advance of canning and then of freezing fish), and by the pioneering aviators who built the Boeing empire in this rather remote region.
The celebration of the aviation heritage is a Museum of Flight at Boeing Field, 9404 East Marginal Way South. The museum focuses on the wonder of flight, from the Wright Brothers to the Jupiter program that put an American spaceman on the moon. Exhibits remind a traveler that a mere 60 years passed between the flight at Kitty Hawk and landing a human on the moon. As narrator Walter Cronkite put it in an introductory video, “So much has been accomplished in so little time.” Over 35 historic aircraft, from a barnstorming Curtiss Jenny to a Boeing B-47 Bomber, are on display in the Great Gallery. A thorough interpretive program assesses the impact of Aviation on American life.
Boeing adds a huge component to the regional employment. For example, in Renton, Boeing employed thousands in high-paying jobs to manufacture the most popular jet of all time, the Boeing 737.
Slightly inland, in Redmond, Bill Gates set up his Microsoft software empire, complete with a host of camp followers. As with California’s Silicon Valley, however, the secrecy of these enterprises makes it difficult for the traveling public to interact with the industry.
Space Needle to Chittenden Locks: A Seattle Tour
Start a Seattle visit with a look at Seattle Center, legacy of the 1962 Expo. The 74-acre landscaped site includes the Space Needle, with its 500-foot-high revolving restaurant and observation deck. There is also a more casual restaurant at a lower deck. From the Space Needle you can view the layout of the city and its lovely, watery perimeters. Notable also is the Pacific Science Center, with its intriguing hands-on aerospace exhibits.
A brisk walk or Monorail ride from the Seattle Center toward downtown takes you near the Pike Place Market, a classic stop. Originally an open farmer’s market, started in 1907, the area now combines fish markets, produce markets, craft-sellers, and restaurants. As local suppliers of Northwest produce have become more numerous, Pike Place has evolved from a market selling imported California vegetables and fruits to a showcase for the best of the Northwest. Thousands of buyers and sellers interact daily in this egalitarian setting, known for its inexpensive, available spaces and its entrepreneurial, small-scale operations. The Pike Place area merits plenty of time to browse and enjoy, with many discoveries resulting. You might stumble upon the Phoenix Rising Gallery, which shows innovative glass blowing, or the Ring of Fire Gallery, which carries imports mainly from Kenya. Near the market entrance, DeLaurenti is a classic Italian grocery with rows of fine mustards and olive oils. A good restaurant from which to observe the Pike Place scene is the elevated Copacabana, across the street and between the main market entrances.
Some of the original impetus for a Northwest Cuisine came from B. Fuller’s Mortar and Pestle, downtown, in the Sheraton. At Fuller’s try their Wild Greens Salad, which may contain up to thirty ingredients, including edible flowers. Fullers helped set in motion an emphasis on the aesthetic use of the Northwest’s local land-and-sea products in its menu.
One of the joys of the Northwest is its shellfish, as well as salmon and halibut. The Brooklyn, Second and University, presents a large selection of oysters from around the Pacific region far and near. The atmosphere here is described by one local as “snappy casual.” My favorite oysters were from the San Juan Islands. There is no shortage of good regional wines to accompany these gustatory delights. Try the Columbia Crest Semillon or Fume Blanc or the Hogue Chardonnay.
Close to Pike Place Market is the old Seattle Waterfront from Piers 48-70. These piers have now been displaced, as in other major west coast ports, by container shipping. The older piers have become shopping, restaurant, and recreation spaces. Walk the waterfront to feel the mood of the area. Elliott’s Oyster Bar and Seafood Restaurant is a seafood eatery with a view and moderate prices, located on Pier 57.
At Pier 69, you can find transportation to Victoria, British Columbia, well worth a visit if you have a day for the trip over, a look around, and the trip back. Consider also an overnight in Victoria to look at the Provincial Museum and to savor the city on a two-nation vacation. A high-speed catamaran, the Yictoria IV, makes the 1-3/4 hour crossing.
Getting out on the water is a recommended Seattle experience. The Tillicum Village salmon bake and Indian dancing experience on Blake Island, mentioned earlier, would be a good choice.
The least expensive waterborne outing is a 35 minute crossing and return on the Washington state ferry to Bainbridge Island.
The cost is nominal to take the ferry as a passenger on short trips around Puget Sound. Ferries, an essential part of Washington transportation, leave from Pier 52 to destinations on Puget Sound. Besides the recommended ferry trip to Winslow, as a starter, you could plan trips to Bremerton or other nearby locations, aided with a ferry schedule. The ferries to Alaska leave from Bellingham.
Argosy Cruises, Pier 56, operates harbor-circling outings that show the container shipping and ship dry-docking facilities, plus give views of the dynamic Seattle skyline.
At Pier 57 you’ll see public fishing. Pier 59 offers sweeping views of the downtown skyline from its upper decks. At Pier 59 an aquarium, Mt. St. Helens exhibit, and Maritime Museum are available to the traveler.
Fireboats at Pier 54 test their pumping powers in a festive display each Monday morning.
Pier 51’s Ye Olde Curiosity Shop bulges with souvenirs and some exhibits, such as a fine scrimshaw collection and an ancient Seeburg player piano.
The area is pleasant to walk, strolling from the Pike Place Market toward the downtown, stopping at one of the many restaurants for a Rainier or Olympia beer and a seafood lunch, perhaps clam chowder made from local clams.
Slightly inland from the water, as you proceed toward the Pioneer Square district, stands the Seattle Art Museum, a major repository of Northwest Indian culture. The masks of Northwest Indians, giving visual expression to their spiritual world, are particularly poignant, especially for the strong graphic look of the eyes and other facial features. Outside the museum stands a symbol of Seattle, a kinetic sculpture titled Hammering Man by Jonathan Borofsky.
The entire downtown grid of the city is easy to walk. The north-south streets are Avenues, First through Sixth, and are fairly level. Cutting across them are the named streets, which proceed steeply, creating a kind of stairmaster city.
One good view of the city from land is from the 73rd floor observation desk of the dominant black skyscraper, the Bank of America Tower, formerly the Columbia Seafirst Center, on Spring Street and Fifth Avenue. From this vantage point you can look at the downtown and waterfront, including the huge container shipping operation. Walking the downtown grid amounts to a shopping and aesthetic pleasure. Buses are free, including a bus system that runs in a tube under Third Avenue. While exploring, for example, stop in at the City Center shopping area on Fifth Avenue to see the public displays of glass art, for which Seattle is noted. Look for local artist Dante Marioni’s yellow vase titled “Whopper.” The downtown is also the choice hotel location. Besides the national chains, Seattle boasts some good local boutique hotels, such as the Vintage Park Hotel, Fifth and Spring, where guests gather on selected evenings with the concierge over a complimentary glass of wine to get tips on enjoying the city.
A block inland from the waterfront, you’ll find the Pioneer Square district, the center of Seattle during the vital Alaska Gold Rush. Handsome brick buildings, especially those around a triangle of open space at 1st and Yesler, were built after an 1889 fire destroyed the flimsy, former wooden structures. After a few decades of skid row dereliction (the term actually originated here from the skid road over which logs were dragged to the mill), Pioneer Square has emerged as a craftsy, recycled site of handsome brick and stone buildings, housing restaurants, bookstores, art galleries, and antique shops.
The most famous building is the Pioneer Building, sitting on the edge of a triangular park. There are many appealing shops to explore in the Pioneer Square historic area, characterized by handsome, brick, low-rise structures. Elliott Bay Books has acres of titles in a comfortable, sprawling store, with a coffee bar below. Warshal’s carries every nuance in flyrods for the fish-obsessed. Metsker’s Maps can show you just about any place on earth. Northwest Woodworker’s Gallery exhibits a collection of handmade wood products. North Face is one of several prominent outdoor-equipment makers located in Seattle (manufacturers here include REI and Eddie Bauer.) Lois Flury Gallery sells Indian photos from Edward Curtis, the master documenter of vanishing Indian cultures in the early 20th century. At the Glasshouse you can see a glass artisan work between 10-2 each day, turning out the art glass that fills the showroom. For a pause amidst all this gallery and shop browsing, stop in for a latte at Starbucks. Seattle drinks its coffee with high seriousness. (The word Starbucks was given by a couple of English-lit graduates to their first coffee house, in the 1970s, recalling a coffee-drinking character named Starbucks in Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick.)
Among Seattle’s communities, the Asians preserve a notable ethnic identity. An area called the International District includes people from China and many other Asian nations. For an orientation, stop for a self-guided tour map at the Japanese Hall, Nippon Kan, 628 South Washington. To place yourself in the center of this district, go to S. Jackson and 5th, and stop in at Uwajimaya, a lavish oriental grocery and specialty shop. For a quick lunch, try a plate of sushi and a bow bun, filled with vegetables or meat, at the in-store restaurant.
Among outlying sites away from downtown Seattle, consider the University of Washington. Surprisingly large (35,000 students), the campus is a world unto itself, with interesting museums of geology and zoology, the Henry Art Gallery, and the youthful milieu from NE 42nd Street to NE 47th Street. The Burke Museum on the campus, as mentioned earlier, contains an outstanding collection of Northwest Indian artifacts, including canoes and baskets. Downstairs is devoted to the geology, flora, and fauna of the state, with elaborate displays from mineral crystals to butterflies. For an orientation to the university, stop at the Visitor Center, NE 40th Street and University Way. The University arboretum is a pleasure to walk, especially when certain sections are in bloom, such as Azalea Way in May. Japanese maples of many varieties are one of the arboretum specialties.
Also away from downtown, take a look at the North Pacific fishing fleet and shipping locks. The Salmon Bay Terminal is the place to see the commercial salmon fishermen at work. Small boats put out from here into nearby waters. Larger trawlers travel all the way to Alaska’s rich fishing grounds. Reach the terminal from 15th Avenue West.
Near the Salmon Bay Terminal, at Commodore Park, stop to see the Chittenden Locks and Fish Ladder. There you’ll be mesmerized as small craft and large ocean-going vessels proceed through the level differential from freshwater Lake Washington to saltwater Puget Sound. The locks raise or lower the water level from 6-26 feet, depending on the tides. At the fish ladder you can watch through glass windows as the salmon rest between energetic leaps to move upstream. Each year, about a third of a million salmon make the migration through the locks to spawn in the freshwater streams. Those windows have a pretty fascinating history, reports of them on sites like https://replacementwindowschandler.net will keep you on the edge of your seat, if you are interested in windows and salmon, all the better.
If you want a rustic hike in forests, while in Seattle, you can find it near the Chittenden Locks. Go to Discovery Park and hike the 2.8 mile Loop Trail, which will take you through meadows, forests, and even allow access to a beach. If the weather is clear, you’ll enjoy spectacular views of the Olympic Peninsula Mountains to the west. For parks such as this, Seattle gets high marks for its “quality of life.” Another such amenity, stretching over 13 miles through the city from the Gasworks north, is the paved Burke-Gilman Trail, enjoyed each day by thousands of bikers, hikers, and joggers.
When collecting views, know that the postcard view of Seattle’s skyline, with Mt. Rainier in the background, is from Kerry Park, located on West Highland Drive along the Queen Anne Hill. This promontory is a favorite place for locals and visitors to view the city in the late afternoon light. The choicest residential real estate in the city tends to be at such sites with commanding views.
Nearby Seattle Trips
The premier nearby trip to consider from Seattle is a visit to Olympic National Park and the Olympic Peninsula. This forested wilderness was set aside in 1938, partly to save the large herd of Roosevelt elk.
Allow a minimum of two days to make this trip, and don’t pass up the opportunity to see the Hoh Rain Forest on the west side. Access to the park is from Port Angeles. Some attractive places to lodge in the area are the dozen Victorian bed-and-breakfasts in Port Townsend.
If you have only one day for a trip from Seattle, consider a look at viticultural Washington State or at Mt. Rainier.
Northeast of Seattle, in the town of Woodinville, you’ll find the largest winery in the state, Chateau Ste. Michelle. The quality of Chateau Ste. Michelle wines is high (particularly their Chardonnay). Across the road from Chateau St. Michelle is another winery, Columbia, and adjacent to that is a major boutique brewery, Red Hook, whose outdoor decks and restaurant beckon the traveler. At Red Hook you can sample their five types of beers and ales. Woodinville could be said to be a major destination in the wine/beer touring scene in the Northwest. The horticulturalist in the crowd will enjoy a stop here at Molbak’s, one of the most prominent nurseries in the northwest.
From Woodinville you can drive south and east past Redmond, Microsoft Country, and on to Snoqualmie Falls, through some fairly wooded countryside. Atop Snoqualmie Falls rests the fashionable Salish Lodge. Fans of the legacy TV series Northern Exposure haunt the region looking for show settings.
When the mountain is “out,” as the locals phrase it, you’ll be enticed to visit Rainier, the mountain and National Park south of Seattle. Rainier offers many short day hikes. Allow three hours driving time each way for a Rainier trip.
Seattle’s appeal for travelers is perennial and assured. Visitors who see the city during one of the infrequent periods of enduring sun can consider themselves especially fortunate.
Seattle Region: If You Go
For tourism info, contact the Seattle-King County Convention and Visitors Bureau at http://www.visitseattle.org.
The overall state tourism information source is Washington State Tourism Division at http://www.experiencewa.com.