Seattle Wander Guide Part 1 ~ Urban Exploration
Last week, I wrote about our trip to Seattle from the standpoint of searching for our new home. And even though it was a whirlwind of chaotic traveling, it was still a pretty great vacation filled with good food, pretty sights, and interesting history. If you’re thinking of visiting the Emerald city anytime soon, may I offer up some suggestions?
Where To Stay
A few times in the past, the husband and I have stayed in B&Bs when traveling. However, a lot of them are very old, Victorian, and flowery in their decor which is not our cup of tea. So when we ventured to the Pacific Northwest last month, we decided to give Airbnb a try for the first time.
We stayed in a fantastic apartment in the southeast Portland neighborhood of Hosford-Abernethy. As I mentioned before in my Portland Japanese Garden post, you have got to eat at Pine State Biscuits for brunch and Salt & Straw for some yummy ice cream!
I highly recommend Airbnb. Obviously, we chose places that had great reviews and were modern, light, and airy in appearance. It’s a great choice if you’re on a budget but want something nice and private. I’ve also read fantastic things about HomeAway.
As for hotels, there are some fantastic ones, but I’m
paranoid leery of bedbugs no matter how nice the hotel. So, I can’t offer any recommendations there. You’re all gonna have to do your own research on that. ;)
We wanted more than anything to live like the locals, so we chose to utilize Seattle transit as much as possible. It’s cheaper and much less stressful than renting a car in my opinion. There are taxi-like services like Lyft which could be incredibly helpful if you don’t know anyone or anything about the area, but it could get pricey depending on distances. We considered using Car2Go once but that’s still driving in an unknown city.
The bus and the light rail worked out just fine for us. If you’re already used to a transit system in your hometown, then you’ll know most cities work the same. It was a little bit of a learning curve for us, but we used our navigation on our phones and selected the bus option. There are also smartphone apps like OneBusAway for checking on the bus schedule in real time so you’ll know if it’s running early or late.
You’ll either need cash or tickets to ride. The husband and I each purchased an Orca card for $5 at a ticket vending machine at the airport and then loaded money onto it so we wouldn’t have to worry about carrying cash or buying tickets all the time. If you go this route and plan to use the light rail immediately thereafter from the airport, make sure to “tap” (scan) your card before boarding! For the light rail, you have to tap before boarding and again after your stop for the correct payment to be calculated and deducted. (We learned that when they did a random check. Oops.)
The Touristy Hits
- Pike Place Market ~ You could easily spend a whole day here. The only thing I didn’t really like is that it’s very touristy and kind of grimy. It IS a market with food after all! I highly recommend not going on a weekend if you can help it. Our friends took us on a Saturday morning, and it was insanely busy. We sampled quite a few different foods. Beecher’s Handmade Cheese has really good cheese… world’s best though? I have no idea. There’s a lot of cheese out there, folks. There are also so many bakeries at the market, and Piroshky Piroshky has so many hand held pies from which to choose that are rather tasty. Looking for some meat? You HAVE to go to Uli’s Famous Sausage. It’s a cozy little spot tucked away inside the market… a great place to stop to get away from the tourists while having a beer and a sausage platter or a sandwich.
- Ballard Locks ~ This was actually pretty interesting. We took an impromptu tour which was free and learned quite a bit of history. Apparently, July is the time to go if you want to see the salmon navigate the fish ladder.
- Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour ~ The husband and I along with our friends actually did the Underworld Tour which is the adult version involving a free cocktail and tales of con artists and debauchery. It was highly entertaining and fun to walk the passageways underneath Pioneer Square. Supposedly, the regular tour will give a little more history of the Great Seattle Fire of 1889 that destroyed around 25 blocks of the city. Remember, the adult tour IS for adults. If you can’t handle more flavorful language and/or stories relating to the seedy underground world of Seattle, you may want to opt for the regular tour.
*An Obscure Attraction*
Before the husband and I left home, I grabbed a bunch of quarters we had in our change bottle just in case we needed change for a bus or whatnot. We happily spent all those quarters at this Mystery Soda Machine. It sits on a random sidewalk in Capitol Hill, and no one knows who stocks it or anything. We came away with mostly normal soda from Pepsi to Coke to Mug root beer to a dumb Coke Zero. We did score a free pop (sort of.. it costs $.75 and it only gave us $.50), and I scored a Ruby Red Squirt.
The Touristy Misses
- Gum Wall ~ I thought this was disgusting, which is to say it is everything I imagined. It’s very interesting and colorful. I’ll give it that. If you’ve seen pictures, it looks the same in real life. So obviously, this isn’t a must-see in my opinion. But, if you’re at the market, you might as well pop on down to take a gander. *Update: In November 2015, the Gum Wall was cleaned to preserve the brick. Sooo, it is not as gummy as it once was. So, BYOG (bring your own gum)!
- Fremont Troll ~ This sculpture is cool if you haven’t seen a thousand pictures of it already. So maybe the moral of the story is don’t look at this stuff online, and you’ll be more fascinated by these weird attractions in real life? I don’t know… to each his own.
- The Space Needle ~ I seriously thought this was overpriced for the experience. It’s $22, and I was ready to go after 10 minutes. But, we stayed as long as possible with our friend pointing out neighborhoods and stuff for us just so we felt like we were getting our money’s worth. As you can imagine, it’s very, very touristy, and several people will ask you to take their pictures. The Sky View Observatory was on our list, but we didn’t make it. It’s actually the tallest building in Seattle and almost half the price. We’ll be hitting that up the next time we visit. And now that I’ve been on the Space Needle, I think it’s better to experience it from afar. *Update: The Sky View Observatory has MUCH better views… 360° view that includes the city, Space Needle, Puget Sound, Olympic Mountains, and the Cascade Mountains at about half the cost. Go there! Especially at sunset!
If you’re into the touristy things, I recommend checking out CityPASS for Seattle for a discounted ticket booklet to various attractions like the zoo, aquarium, and museums.
The Yummy Stuff
The husband and I are food snobs. We recognize it, and we embrace it. With that said, we strive to seek out the best food possible. Our favorites in Seattle:
- Skillet ~ We visited the location in the Seattle Center Armory that is close to the Space Needle. It’s basically American comfort food with a twist. The husband had the fried chicken sammy, and I had the biscuits & gravy, both equally darn delicious… and yes, comforting. Although my biscuits were a little on the hard/stale side, their use of herbs and spices was phenomenal.
- Pie ~ They have a location in the Armory and also in Fremont. It’s pie any way you want it. (That should be their new slogan, don’t ya think?) OK, so it’s actually a selection of sweet and savory pies, and their menu seems to change daily. The husband had a savory sort of beef stew/shepherd’s pie, and I had a mac ‘n’ cheese pie. They were so good and insanely filling. We then split a sweet snickerdoodle pie with our friend. We were stuffed and satisfied.
- Owl N’ Thistle ~ Not gonna lie. The husband and I were drunk by the time we reached this Irish pub for some dinner. But, I like to think I still have a discernible palate even when intoxicated. It’s located on Post avenue near Pioneer Square, and the portions are huge. The husband had the Guinness beef stew which was very savory and rich with juicy, flavorful beef. I had the fish & chips which had a thick and crispy batter and was quite flavorful even without tartar sauce.
- Theo ~ If you’ve got a sweet tooth for some chocolate, this is the place to go. Located in Fremont, they have so many different flavor combinations, and there are plenty of samples! A surprise favorite of mine is their Coconut Curry chocolate bar. They have caramels, but I didn’t get a chance to try any. Next time!
- Ghost Alley Espresso ~ I loved this coffee shop so much. I wish I had taken pictures, but alas, I did not. It’s located in Lower Post Alley, and we walked by it while visiting the disgusting Gum Wall. I was so intrigued by it that I had to stop in on our way back up the alley. That and a smoky bacon mocha called out my name, which was very smooth, chocolate-ly, and not overly sweet. It’s the converted closet and entrance to the 1908 public restrooms which means it’s a very tiny and cozy coffee shop.
- The White Horse Trading Company ~ This is a cozy tavern tucked away in Post Alley near Pike Place Market. The husband and I had this on our list of places to check out because we read of the English pub vibe and resident Irish Wolfhound. Yep, we seek out dogs when traveling. ;) It was a little intimidating at first as it really looks like a place only locals should patron, but we sucked it up and joined ’em. As we walked in, we were plunged into almost complete darkness and immediately and cheerfully greeted by Joe, the owner. The atmosphere is that of Olde England with old books and comfy sofas. Joe serves a limited but distinctive selection of beer and wine and makes a mean cocktail. And let me tell ya, this was our favorite place in the city. We talked to Joe and another local for probably a couple hours. I loved it so so so much that I want Joe to build a loft apartment above his tavern and let us live there. We’d pay him rent, of course. I’ll help out and tend bar. I’ll happily take Aiden for walks. Whaddya say, Joe? ;)
Whew! That’s a lot of stuff to do in a short amount of time. Need to unwind a bit? Check out the Seattle Visitor Guide Part 2… it’s way more chill.
xo ~ Frani
*Update 10/6/2016: Want more food options? Check out Where The Flavor’s At In Seattle. I will try to add to it periodically as I taste my way around Seattle.