While we did take some time to stop and eat, meet with friends, read, and relax while in Seattle, this post will focus on the activities we managed to pack in.
The initial weather forecast for Seattle wasn’t that great, but after we got there (in the rain), made it to our hotel, had a snack, and were ready to head to explore, it had become very nice and sunny. Our hotel was right by the famous Space Needle, so we decided to take the opportunity to go up that right away, while the weather was cooperative.
While at, we also bought a City Pass, which gave us access to four other sights along with Needle, saving you about half the cost in entry fees, if you visit them all.
You do get some nice views of Seattle from the Space Needle:
But overall, the experience is a bit underwhelming. They have some interactive displays of other Seattle sites up there, so we virtually checked out the Pike Street Market area, but overall there isn’t that much to do. I think the CN Tower and Empire State Building were somehow more impressive.
Though it must be said that the Space Needle involves much less rigmarole getting up there (at least in October)!
We had some time before dinner, so we also walked far enough to get an actual view of the Pike Street Market, and some of the waterfront. Seattle looked very pretty:
Thursday was supposed to be cloudy, but Thursday didn’t get the memo, apparently, and instead was beautiful and sunny all day. So we focused on outdoor activities.
We started at the Olympic Sculpture Park. It wasn’t quite what we had pictured in our minds, which was that it would be a traditional park, only with city art installed in it. It had more concrete barriers and paths than we were expecting, and it wasn’t that large.
But it did contain some rather interesting art:
And a very cool fountain:
Our City Pass included a one-hour Seattle Harbor cruise, so we walked to the waterfront next to get tickets for that. We had lunch in the Pike Street market area, and on the way to the restaurant we happened by the famous bubblegum wall (where that walls are full of designs in gum). It’s both interesting and gross.
The cruise was quite informative. We got a bit of a history of the pier and of some of the buildings viewed from shore, like the hotel where people could fish outside their window, and the office building that met the city height limits without losing any floors, by giving all tenants low ceilings. And we learned about some of the tourist sites, like Space Needle, built for a World’s Fair, and the Ferris wheel, a more recent addition.
We got a closeup view of the boat loading operations, whose cranes look a bit mysterious from the shore:
We also got an excellent view of Mount Rainier—unlike when we were actually there!We also saw some sea lions. And the tour guide talked about the Seattle weather, noting that the annual amount of rain there is less than many other American cities—such as Honolulu! But it’s just that those cities tend to get heavy rainfalls during a short season, whereas Seattle has a very long season of light rain.
Once off the boat, we walked to the Pioneer District, which is the oldest part of Seattle. We noticed that it was more run down than the other parts of the city we’d been in, with more homeless and litter. It was fine during the day, but I wouldn’t want to be there at night.
While there, however, we did take the Underground Tour, which was fascinating! (Though low on pictures.) It was funny, because on the way there, I was asking Jean, “Which city was it that they raised the whole level of by adding dirt, or something?” And he looked at me like I had two heads, as he had never heard of such a thing.
Well, Seattle is that city! It’s still a pretty hilly place, but back in the day, it was even more hilly, and the lowlands had problems with flooding and issues with a lot of stuff—like raw sewage—flowing down and pooling where people were trying to live. So when the whole of downtown Seattle burnt down, they decided to tackle this problem by moving some earth down off the top of the hills, making those less steep, and raising the lowlands, actually pushing the water line back.
Sounds a bit crazy, but was actually a good idea that worked well. Only problem is that to complete the whole project was to take a good 10 years. And Seattle businessmen did not feel they could wait that long to rebuild.
So they didn’t. They rebuilt immediately, but with the intent that their second floor would eventually be the main floor, and that the first floor would be underground.
On the Underground tour, apart from learning about all this (and more), you tour the old sidewalks and lower levels of buildings, still located underneath the modern sidewalks and main doorways above.
It’s a very interesting tour, all day presented with a lot of humor—highly recommended if you ever visit Seattle.
This had made for a lot of walking in a day, so on the way back we took the light rail, then the monorail—an almost absurdly short ride, but it’s cool. (We later learned it was built for the World Fair, and just never expanded from that.) And on the way back to our hotel, we found a new path through Space Needle Park, featuring another neat fountain:
Friday offered up some of that famous Seattle light rain we’d been hearing about, so we decided it would be museum day.
We started at the Pacific Science Center (City Pass!), whose special exhibit was the science behind Ripley’s Believe or Not. We were surprised to see a Government of Ontario logo on the way in; turns out the exhibit was developed at Science North in Sudbury! It was a good exhibit—fun and interesting.
And we visited the butterfly room.
Our City Pass had included an IMAX movie, so we saw Sharks 3D. It was well done, really, presenting the efforts to better understand great white sharks and encourage their protection.
The next stop was the Chihuly Museum (where we also had lunch). Chihuly does incredibly beautiful work in glass. Some of it was featured in indoor galleries, other pieces outside in a garden.
Our final museum du jour was the Seattle Aquarium. (This is a true research aquarium—no dolphins doing tricks here.) While not the most impressive aquarium we’ve ever visited—it was a bit small—we did enjoy seeing the tropical fish, their good collection of sea birds, and the various types of otters. You’ve got to love otters! It was also interesting to learn that animals here aren’t necessarily stuck for life; where possible, they get released and replaced with new ones (who are later released, too).
Rainy Saturday morning, we polished off our City Pass with a visit to the EMP (experimental music projects) museum. As predicted in advance, I found it much more interesting than Jean, so we have very few photos!
It had special exhibits on:
- Horror movies
- Icons of science fiction
- Jimi Hendrix in London
- Nirvana: Bringing punk to the masses
- The art of the music video
Unlike Jean, I found something of interest in each exhibit, though the music video one was probably my favorite, Interesting to see some of the more recent innovations in that art form (interactive, 3D, remixing, fan versions)—along with the more familiar history—as I really don’t keep up with music videos anymore. I also spent a bit of time in the room where you experiment with the keyboards (and many other instruments), learning how to play along with famous songs and such. Fun, though I didn’t have much time.
The afternoon cleared up, so we visited the Capitol Hill neighborhood. It’s characterized by a lot of interesting shops—bookstore / cafe that specializes in technical and science books (from science fiction to heavy computer programming); music stores highlighting all types of music, not just the most popular—that sort of thing. There’s also a Jimi Hendrix statue there, and Broadway St. features some dance steps on the side walk.
(But I don’t have pictures to prove any of that…)
I think we got a lot in, including a lot of walking! Despite all that, we missed a few items on the list:
- Doing a wine tasting and bringing some Washington or Oregon wine home (weren’t in the mood when we walked by the place)
- Visiting the Museum of Flight (too far; closer to the airport)
- Visiting the Seattle Museum of Art (ran out of time)
- Taking a culinary tour (just going to restaurants won out)
I guess there’s always next time…