This post was inspired by the author of Bucket List Publications blog. On her list of things to do in 2014 she mentioned visiting WA state. Since that’s where I live, and my husband and I also love traveling, I figured I will start the “travel” category of my blog with the obvious and closest — home. There are a million touristy things to do in WA in general and Seattle in particular. But there are also other, little known, off the beaten path places that are definitely worth visiting if you are in town. Below is a tour that I typically take my friends and family from out-of-town on when they come to visit!
If you are staying downtown, I would recommend the W, Hotel 1000, or the Four Seasons. All of those hotels are newer and have a cool vibe to them. If you are not staying downtown, I would recommend either taking a bus or a train downtown, because parking is expensive, and the best way to tour Seattle is actually by foot. If you do find yourself with a vehicle, the best place to park is at the garage on 3rd and Union, which has the best “early bird” special — but you have to check what the early bird hours currently are. I don’t believe there is a cheaper garage downtown, and you definitely do not want to be paying an hourly rate. Make sure you re-park before the designated time you need to be out. Street parking is free after 8p.m. There is also a bus system that runs in a tunnel under the city. Busses are free downtown during work days, so you can hop on any bus if you need to and will not have to pay anything as long as you stay within the ride-free zone.
Start in Pioneer Square.
1. Visit the viewing point at Smith Tower. It’s the oldest skyscraper (and was the tallest on the west coast for a while) in Seattle and is half-empty. The view is actually not that great from the top, but the feel of riding in an elevator operated by an actually human operator is pretty cool. Add to that original tile, mosaic, wood carvings and the mood is almost haunted. An antique store on the bottom of the Smith Tower is also where the infamous underground tour begins that I hear is pretty good but I’ve never been on it (on my bucket list!). The tour starts on the hour every hour beginning at 10:00a.m.
2. Go up to 5th and Columbia to visit the top of the Columbia Tower. This is the highest viewpoint in town, but it is only open during business hours: 8:30a.m. to 4:30p.m. On a clear day, you can see Tacoma, and Vancouver, B.C.! Admission is much cheaper than the Space Needle, since people don’t generally know that it exists. There is also a Starbucks on the 40th floor, which is just a cool place to hang out. Have a snack there.
3. Go down to 4th and Spring to visit The Public Library. It’s an architectural feat, it’s free, and it’s cool. Make sure to go to the very top viewing point by using the escalators (which have cool artsy… things… inside) and then take the elevator down to the red room on the 4th floor (it will seriously mess with your brain).
4. If it’s summer, stop by the Gelato place on the corner of 3rd and Union. Then head down to Seattle Art Museum one block down at 2nd and Union. Admission is free every 3rd Thursday of the month.
5. Go down Union until you can’t go any further. Take the stairs down to the waterfront and get on the Ferris Wheel.
6. Go back up and head to the first Starbucks at Pike Place Market. This is a “duh” place, but it’s actually pretty difficult to find. It’s also quite crowded. My favorite place to eat at Pike Place is Pike Place Grill. It has the best chicken wings downtown (the best chicken wings in Seattle are at Wingdome in Greenwood, but that’s too far for you to walk to at this point). I like it because you can watch the hustle and bustle of the market in a relatively down-to-earth atmosphere.
7. If you are a shopping type of person, head up Pike/Pine until you hit the stores. Don’t get scared by the block between 2nd and 3rd street — the shopping is on 4th-8th streets. The Pacific Center is actually a huge shopping mall that connects to Nordstrom and has stores like Tiffany’s, Coach and J. Crew. The more upscale shops are a few blocks up on 5th and University (Prada, Luix Vuitton).
8. After you are done shopping, take the monorail from downtown to the Space Needle and snap a picture by it. The monorail entrance is inside the Westfield Center. If you are a tourist, you will probably want to go on the top of the Space Needle. Although it’s probably wise to do so in order to be able to tell your friends that you have, the view from the Space Needle is not that great, because you can’t see the Space Needle from the Space Needle, and Seattle skyline is actually nothing special without the Space Needle. In addition, admission to the top is a robbery in broad daylight. The Space Needle also has a revolving restaurant. The food there is actually horrible, but costs a lot. If you want to experience a good revolving restaurant, I would recommend flying to Phoenix, Arizona, and visiting Compass on the top of the Hyatt downtown.
9. Since the Monorail is a round-trip ticket, do actually head back downtown to eat a fancy dinner. Remember to re-park your car before you head to a restaurant. You may actually want to drive there at this point. The best restaurants include El Gaucho, and Six – Seven Lounge at the Edgewater hotel on the waterfront. For a less pricey experience, choose Wasabi in Belltown. It’s Sushi like you’ve never tasted in your life!
Other areas of Seattle to visit if you find yourself with plenty of time on your hands and a car:
1. Fremont. It has a statue of Lenin and a troll under Aurora bridge on 6th Ave. The best place to eat is Paseo — an unmarked cuban sandwich place right on Fremont Ave. by 45th St. You will not see a sign, but you will see a line. It’s worth the wait.
2. Ballard. Ballard locks is a stinky place but pretty cool. It’s where the ships wait for the water to fill up to transition from the harbor into Lake Union. There are lots of places to eat in Ballard and it’s pretty compact so feel free to choose what suits your mood.
3. Queen Anne. Queen Anne has two hidden gems: a tiny viewpoint called Kerry Park, which has a cool statue and a breathtaking view of Seattle up close. If you head further down W Highland Drive, you will find a beautiful garden on your right. Not too many people know about it. Best time to visit would be spring or summer.
4. Discovery Park. Located on an old Ft. grounds, Discovery Park is as mysterious as it is beautiful. What you are trying to get to there is Westpoint Lighthouse. I believe there is a hike towards it, but you can also find it by driving all the way down (I don’t believe it’s legal to park down there though, so the hike is your best bet).
The Olympic Peninsula is an awesome place to explore. You could do an easy weekend trip around it. This is how I would do the trip — it can also be reversed:
From Seattle, head South towards Tacoma/Olympia. Take exit towards Rt. 101 to Ocean Shores. Then hop on Rt. 8 which will turn into Rt. 12. It’s a LONG drive to Ocean Shores. Ocean Shores is a tiny town with a beach. What people do there is fly kites.
From Ocean Shores, head north on Rt. 109. It will give you beautiful views, as well as a passing through a very charming town that is built old-style but was actually established in 1994. It’s pretty cool. Stop by one of their coffee shops for a break. Keep heading that way until you get to Moclips. Then turn right on Hwy 26/Moclips HWY towards 101. Do not attempt to proceed north on 109 because it turns into a dirt road, and although it does show up on google maps, it is pretty much impassable and you will not be able to cross the river unless it hasn’t rained in WA for the past 3 months (Haha! I’m so funny! No rain in Washington!). Merge with rt. 101 and keep driving. If it’s time to camp out, there are several camp grounds by lake Quinault, but you better get there early (like 7-8p.m.) to get a spot. Or you can keep driving until you get to the part of 101 that’s close to the beach. There’s a great camping site there as well.
Keep driving until you get to the sign towards Hoh rainforest. The rainforest is only worth visiting if it has been raining. (This comes from my experience there on a bright sunny day after a week of no rain. It looked unimpressive at the least…). After you are done with whatever length of hike you wanted to do at the rainforest, head to Forks. Congratulations! You’ve reached the Twilight zone, and there’s actually absolutely nothing there except one very tiny convenience store. Of course feel free to stop by anything that catches your eye on the way there.
After a bathroom break at the Forks convenience store, keep heading north until you reach rt. 113 towards Neah Bay. Head there. What you are trying to find is a 1 mile hike towards a viewpoint that looks out on a beautiful cave and a lighthouse on an Island across the bay. If you are lucky, you might see an Orca, or Indian canoers training for whale hunting. That hike is at the very tip of the Olympic Peninsula, and it’s going to take you a couple of hours to get there from rt. 101, but it’s definitely worth the trip. I’d say it’s one of my favorite places in WA state.
Head back toward rt. 101 the same way you got there — via rt. 113. DO NOT take Rt. 112 to Port Angeles. It looks like a beautiful scenic road by the coast. In reality, it is a ways away from the coast, which is hidden by the forest around, has absolutely no scenery around, is in horrible condition, and has so many sharp turns that by the time you get to Port Angeles you will be light-headed.
If you have an extra day, stop by Sol Duc hot springs off of Rt. 101. It’s a resort with natural healing hot springs, and offers camping and RV grounds as well as cabins. It also has a hike to a waterfall and the best massage! Or you can head to Port Angeles. If the night catches you there, and you are not a cheap Inn type of person (or have money to spare), head to Olympic Lodge a few minutes away from the town center. It’s the best place to stay in Port Angeles, but do not upgrade to their master suite. Although the fancy tub will be tempting, what you do not know is that the heater in that room is as loud as a tiger (it literally woke us up at night) and the bed is as soft as cardboard. They have a wonderful pool and spa to relax in, which is available no matter what room you stay in. The best place to eat in Port Angeles is Port Angeles Crab House located by the Red Lion hotel downtown. They have the most delicious crab I’ve ever tasted, and it’s well worth the $27.00 price tag.
If you have another extra day, you can take the 90 minute ferry from Port Angeles to Victoria, B.C. If you hop on the morning one (there are two), the town will have just enough things to do by the time the second ferry leaves back. Or you can make a dash for the ferry to Seattle.
Head towards Kingston. On your way there you will pass the town of Sequim. Sequim has a cool animal safari and lavender fields, which will be open or closed depending on what time of day you made it there. Unless you are attempting to catch the very last ferry, do not worry about being late, because you technically want to be. The reason for that is because there is a wonderful creperie at the entrance to the Ferry terminal. Once you leave your car in line, head up there and order a fancy crepe and a Nutella Latte. They are to die for! The place was rated best creperie in WA fo 2013.
Take the ferry across the sound to Edmonds. From Edmonds, follow the signs to I-5 towards Seattle.
Rt. 20 to Rt. 2 Loop
This is another cool weekend loop, but take note that Rt. 20 is generally only open during the summer months because of snow and landslides at the passes. You can start on Rt. 2, head north on Rt.97 and then back on Rt. 20, or the other way around. Rt. 20 is a bit more scenic in my opinion. There are many stops to make, including Lake Diablo, the water of which is turquoise, Washington pass rest area, which will have blue birds and squirrels eating out of your hand if you let them, the apple orchards, and the historic towns of Winthrop on Rt. 20 and Leavenworth on Rt. 2. If you are an adventurous kind, you can look up Mountain Loop Road — a dirt road that connects the town of Granite Falls and Rt. 20, and go that way instead of I-5. It is as beautiful as it is haunting. It’s also where the hike to the abandoned Gold Rush town of Monte Cristo begins. That is a day hike and I believe is currently closed for road repair. I’ve never taken it, but have seen videos and they are pretty cool. That road is also where the ice caves form — frozen waterfalls that thaw from the bottom up, forming giant caves made out of ice!
Since I am writing for a specific person who also wanted to try snowboarding, I would suggest this site. It has many different slopes of various levels of difficulty, as well as options for snowboarding lessons. Stevens pass on Rt. 2 also offers a snowboarding site if someone wants to tag this on to the loop above.
Of course this place is a trip of its own. Climbing Mt. Rainier can be a pretty exciting adventure that I can’t have any input on because I’ve never done it.
Museum of Flight
Another cool place that I’ve never been to. It’s actually on my list of things yet to do in WA state.
I sincerely hope my trip suggestion helps someone have a good time here, and will be happy to answer any questions or provide more suggestions in the comment section. If you live in WA, is there anywhere else you’d recommend going for someone out-of-state?
Stay tuned next Saturday for my list of things we still want to do in WA!