Days 48-49 (September 15-16)
Rain breaks for the morning. Sailboats race in Lake Union; they look tiny next to Seattle’s sprawling skyline. The size of the city still surprises me.
As if being called to our Mecca, our first stop in Seattle is, of course, REI’s flagship store. Apparently I’m too excited to take any pictures, but just trust me and make it a stop on your Seattle itinerary. We spend a lot of money here, but every purchase can be justified as a need for our trip. Goodbye worn out Merrell hiking shoes, hello red Oboz hiking boots!
Tonight we will rest our heads at the Best Western Executive Inn, just a couple of blocks from the Space Needle. The hotel gives us a day pass to park the Subie in their lot, so we do so and hit the pavement for a day of walking downtown Seattle.
We first head to Seattle Center. The star of this 74-acre park (the original 1962 World’s Fair grounds) is Seattle’s best-known landmark: the Space Needle. The space needle is indeed cool, but we are really blown away by the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) that was recently built right next to it.
The Pacific Science Center is housed in the former United States Science Pavilion from the 1962 fair. One must pay admission to walk around inside this area of pools and geometric structures, so with our time limited in Seattle, for now we are content with peering through the fence.
We are here on a Saturday, so we anticipate that Pike Place Market will be crazy-crowded.
The market is even more packed with people than we could have imagined. We are body-to-body on the street and the iconic Pike Place Market sign is backlit under cloudy skies. This makes for difficult shopping and picture-taking, although I must say that the colors, lighting, and buzz of activity inside the market’s arcade are components for some surprisingly fun iPhone snapshots. For a brief moment I feel like a legit street shooter!
Once we leave the main arcade/fresh food vendor area and head to lower levels, moving about is much easier. There are some interesting things to see on the other levels of the Pike Place Market, but we have a lot of territory to cover today so we don’t spend much more time exploring here.
We stop at a bustling produce stand just outside the main arcade, run by friendly interesting characters. The fruit that we buy here is we the best fruit we’ve ever tasted! I assume a lot of it comes from the Yakima Valley. We are tempted to try some exotic fruits, but this is walking around food for us, so we stick to stuff that doesn’t require a knife and will hold up without refrigeration: nectarines, apples, and a bunch of beautiful purple grapes that are 2-3 inches long. These grapes are heavenly (That’s Robert enjoying them in the photo below).
Just across from the main arcade of the market is Beecher’s Handmade Cheese, a favorite of ours for a decade now. The cheese shop is way too crowded to get into, so instead we join the herd of people with noses pressed to the glass, watching the cheese being made. Try their Flagship or New Woman varieties if you can find them locally, or you can order from Beecher’s website.
Back in Bellingham I had picked up a tourist brochure for Pioneer Square, Seattle’s oldest neighborhood, so we set off to walk a mile south on 1st street through the mostly empty downtown commercial district.
What wasn’t clear from the tourist brochure is that – while Pioneer Square has some hip restaurants and shops – this is an area very much in transition.
While this doesn’t make us uncomfortable (we generally find areas like this far more interesting that the “must-see” tourist spots), some visitors may not be ready for Pioneer Square yet. The neighborhood includes blocks and blocks of beautiful buildings, many undergoing restoration/renovation/gentrification. But this area retains some grit. Hundreds of homeless still hang out and sleep alongside trendy eateries, sparkling new storefronts, and wedding venues.
That said, I do encourage you to visit Pioneer Square. We are never once asked for money, and the only odd encounter we have on our walk is when a woman in the business district jumps out in front of me and yells “boo”, which I find more entertaining than unsettling. I have the distinct feeling that she knew I would.
From Pioneer Square, we walk to the waterfront and about half a mile north to Pier 54, where we find the original Ivar’s Acres of Clams. The restaurant, which dates to the 1930’s (but as since been remodeled) has a great atmosphere, and serves delicious fresh seafood. We are not looking for a big meal, so we skip the wait by sitting in the bar area, where we enjoy a couple of happy hour appetizers off the bar menu and some tasty adult beverages.
Fueled up for our walk back to the hotel, we take breaks every so often for pictures along the waterfront and to get out of out of the heavier rain. From the Great ferris wheel to gargantuan cruise ships, Seattle’s waterfront is a visual amusement park.
We are quite ready for a shower after four nights of camping and our 7-mile walking tour of Seattle. We check into the Best Western, and the view from our 3rd floor room is awesome! We are only about block from space needle, so we have a front row seat for the MoPOP’s colorful light show (its roof changes colors at night).
On Sunday morning we (briefly) see blue skies and finally good light for some picture taking. Alas the cloudy skies return while we are touring the MoPOP, so the two pictures below are the only blue sky images we have from our time in Seattle.
Touring Frank Guerry’s architectural masterpiece is worth the $28 museum admission alone, and the exhibitions are quite well curated.
I will share more about MoPOP in a later post.
On our way out of town we drive by the Old Rainier Brewery, now converted to commercial space and live/work artists lofts.
Mount Rainier, here we come! I sure hope you’re not hiding behind clouds. I need to see some tall mountains!
You can catch up on all of our Washington State travels here.