by Lee Foster
Three orca whales swam lazily below me as the seaplane climbed skyward from Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. The whales rolled over playfully in the glassy smooth water, almost as if performing for my pleasure.
The encounter with orcas was a final choice moment in my quest to discover the water-rich side of Seattle and the nearby San Juans. Much is made of the ever-threatening rain and omni-present grey skies of Seattle. But on this trip I wanted to celebrate the flipside–the many ways that water contributes to the joy of travel in this Northwest metropolis.
I had come to Seattle to seek out a good lodging from which to view the water, an outstanding restaurant at which to consume the sea bounty and enjoy the waterfront, a fine place for kayaking, biking, and hiking along the water’s edge, and a romantic beach at which to enjoy a sunset and a glimpse of Seattle’s water-framed skyline. Finally, I planned to get out on the water, taking a boat north to the San Juan Islands, returning to Seattle on a seaplane. In the final hour of my adventure, I saw the majestic orcas below me.
On the Water
Here is what I discovered about water-rich Seattle:
*Lodging on the water: Inn at the Market Seattle, from its sixth floor and above, presents an enchanting view of Puget Sound, featuring the comings and goings of the ferries. The Inn’s fifth floor deck, for hotel guests only, is a great place to sip a glass of Northwest Pinot Noir at sunset or a bracing latte at daybreak.
*Dining on the sea bounty, preferably with a view: One of my favorite dinners was a cooked Dungeness crab purchased from the Flying Fish shop at Pike Place Market and a bottle of Chilean Merlot wine from the adjacent DeLaurenti Grocery, consumed in the comfort of my room at the Inn at the Market Seattle. The Inn accommodates such behavior, providing a refrigerator in your room for such purchases. I also enjoyed the Dungeness crab at Chandler’s Crabhouse on Lake Union. While savoring the view of yachts on Lake Union, I indulged in baked crab smothered in garlic and butter. Another fine-dining choice with a view of the water is Palisade Restaurant, overlooking a marina in the Magnolia district. I devoured crab cakes, walnut salad, and Alaskan halibut while watching the last light of day fade and the yachts and city skyline light up the night.
*Kayaking on Lake Union: Kayaking is a major viable watersport in the calm waters of Seattle’s Lake Union. I checked out a couple of kayaks among the 125 available at his NorthWest Outdoor Center on the lake. Lake Union is so calm that even a beginning kayaker will feel comfortable. Guided outings can be arranged. From Lake Union you are rewarded with another striking view of the Seattle skyline, especially tantalizing from the on-the-water perspective of the kayaker.
*Biking and hiking along the waterways: From Gasworks Park on Lake Union the Burke-Gilman Trail provides level, paved paths carved through the bustling city, along scenic waterfront areas and past well-landscaped residential areas. Two picturesque wineries, Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia Crest, plus the Red Hook Brewery, await the cyclist in Woodinville. All offer tours, tastings, and food to enjoy indoors or outdoors. The wonderful waterside parks, Matthews Beach and Magnuson, warrant some lingering for a cooling swim or to peruse sculptures like Soundgarden. Terrene Tours can handle all the support details for a bicycle tour, providing the bikes and helmets, picking you up at your hotel, and even rescuing you from a flat tire. Good hiking or jogging options adjacent to the water include the Myrtle Edwards Park along the Seattle waterfront and the paved trail around Green Lake in North Seattle.
*Romantic beach for a sunset and view of the city: Alki Park, in west Seattle, is the place for a sunset walk with a view of the sun reflecting off the city skyline. You can stroll, jog, bike, blade, and picnic at this grassy park. The continuing drama of ferries and large commercial ships entering the busy harbor adds to the pleasure of Alki Park. Kerry Park on Highland Avenue in Seattle was my second favorite sunset viewing point, with the Space Needle and downtown skyline directly in front of me. From Kerry Park the city at night shows itself to illuminated advantage.
*Get out on the water: My final pleasurable water adventure amounted to an excursion north from Seattle to the San Juan Islands. I took the Victoria Clipper III Ferry on a three-hour, high-speed, narrated trip north to Orcas Island, staying at the historic, lovingly-restored Rosario Resort & Spa. While exploring on Orcas I drove to the top of 2,454-foot Mt. Constitution, highest point in the San Juan Islands, to survey this magnificent watery domain, with islands everywhere in my 360-degree view. I made some intriguing discoveries on Orcas, such as the lively pottery art world. A Washington State ferry helped me island-hop to Friday Harbor on San Juan Island. My destination was the Friday Harbor House, located on a bluff above the marina. Harbor House is a contemporary lodging complete with a hot tub and fireplace in the room. I devoted a day to exploring the island by car, checking out the historic parks portraying the British-American struggle for control of the San Juan Islands in the 1860s.
San Juan Islands
One pleasant stop just outside of town is the picturesque San Juan Vineyards in a converted and restored 1896 schoolhouse that offers wine tastings and picnic grounds.
From Whale Watch Park on the west side of San Juan Island I strained my eyes for orcas, but not until my seaplane ride back did the magic moment of seeing whales occur. Nevertheless, the natural beauty of the island, with its abundant wildlife and varied terrain, compensated for the earlier absence of cetaceans.
Friday Harbor boasts a Whale Museum, celebrating the magnificent orca whales. If you want to engage in an incendiary political conversation, ask about the projected Native American harvesting of whales.
I returned to Seattle on Kenmore Air’s deHavilland Otter, one of the larger craft in its fleet of seaplanes. The smooth, one-hour flight from the San Juan Islands to Kenmore’s base on Lake Union was the perfect way to cap off my immersion in Seattle’s water wonders.
Even the dreaded rain proved to be an exaggeration for my trip, which turned out half sunny and half cloudy over a week. Travelers can fulminate about Seattle weather if they wish. But looking at Seattle’s water-rich environment as a positive is another approach, and seemed much more satisfying to me. I can’t promise that a traveler will see orcas, but all the other pleasures of my trip can be easily duplicated.
Seattle, The Water-Rich City, If You Go
Contact the Seattle-King County Convention and Visitors Bureau at http://www.seeseattle.org.
The overall state tourism information source is Washington State Tourism Division at http://www.experiencewa.com.