A September 2004 trip
to Seattle by billmoy
Quote: The "Emerald City" of Seattle is one of the most scenic cities and is populated with lots of friendly people. This metropolis of the Pacific Northwest usually is at or near the top of the charts when there are polls listing the "most livable" cities in the United States.
Pike Place Market is an enjoyable place to soak in some local atmosphere, even if it can be a bit touristy here. If nothing else, you can watch "flying" fish and taste some freshly baked goods here.
Headline-grabbing architecture has germinated in Seattle over the last few years. Rem Koolhaas adds his Dutch touch to the cityscape with his new central branch of the Seattle Public Library, which is exciting in aesthetics as well as functional for its employees and users (wow, good looks, fun, and practical). Frank Gehry does it again with the gaudy Experience Music Project, a colorful kaleidoscope of warped aluminum and stainless steel plates. The Seattle Art Museum by Robert Venturi has lost a bit of its initial luster when compared to these flashy new buildings, but it is getting some new life thanks to an under-construction expansion designed by Brad Cloepfil. The new baseball and football stadiums are popular additions to the sports scene. Going back a bit, the L.C. Smith Tower still turns heads upwards as it did after its erection in 1914, when it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.
Over the years, I have visited Seattle three times and have accumulated many lasting memories. A slightly sad fact is that during my most recent trip in 2004, I found out that three restaurants and one hotel that I have previously been to have disappeared off the map. This just goes to show that it is terribly difficult for these service-related businesses (especially restaurants) to survive and prosper amongst stiff competition. One hopes that those spots that create delicious meals and supply comfortable stays are the ones that flourish, and not the places that dispense mediocre food and indifferent service.
Thanks to my college buddy David Deress for his recent guided tour of Seattle. He pointed out a few places that were off the typical tourist radar and entertained my companion and me with some insider anecdotes. Also thanks to my friend Robert Lum for letting me share a few of his wonderful photos of the Seattle Public Library.
The Seattle Aquarium on Pier 59 has a few display tanks by the entrance with a sampler collection of fish if you do not want to shell out for the admission price. The cool sea creatures can be hard to spot because of the glare and lack of display lighting, but what do you want for free?
Seattle is a mecca for coffee lovers. The first Starbucks stand opened in 1971 in the Stewart House building of Pike Place Market and is still operating, so make a pilgrimage there if you love their coffee.
The locals are generally friendly, so it follows suit that they obey crosswalk signals. Even if there are no cars around, people will wait patiently until the lights change from stop to walk. They also stay within the crosswalks, so do not jaywalk if you are trying to blend in with the residents.
The core downtown zone has free Metro bus service during peak hours. The ride-free area is a trapezoidal area bordering the Elliott Bay, from Battery Street down to Jackson Street, and with 6th Avenue as the upper boundary. If you want to ride around a lot, think about buying a one-day Visitor Pass covering the Waterfront Streetcar, Elliott Bay Water Taxi, and Metro buses.
Seattle is easy on the feet if you walk on streets parallel to the waterfront, but a perpendicular road means you may be climbing up a very steep incline. Some of the streets have higher grades than those found in notoriously hilly San Francisco.
The Washington State Ferries form the largest system of its kind in the United States and includes routes to Bainbridge Island. If you want a boat to British Columbia, ride the Victoria Clipper. The best ride to Vancouver is with one of the long-distance bus companies.
Hotel | "Hotel Seattle"
I personally stayed here at the Hotel Seattle with a favorably discounted rate. Unless you ask for a cheaper rate as well, you will be stuck with a normal rack rate that would frankly make this property overpriced. If your room rate here is three digits per night, you are paying way too much.
The hotel does benefit from a favorable location in downtown Seattle that is within walking distance of many tourist attractions, dining establishments, and leisure activities. Its handsome narrow elevation faces one of those notoriously steep streets that seem to go straight up from the waterfront, so watch your step when you walk to the front door and into the quaint lobby. There is also a restaurant on the main level, although I did not get a chance to eat here.
The European-style property has 78 guest rooms with en-suite bathrooms. European hotels can be charming and upscale, but remember that there is also a lower end of the spectrum with spartan spaces. My room had two twin beds with rather lumpy mattresses and mushy pillows. This surely was no heavenly bed! The smallish room had a television set, a phone that I never used, and a private bathroom with a small countertop. The facilities were decent enough, but you are always conscious that you are residing in a budget hotel. The window of my room did open to allow for some natural ventilation. My 2-night stay here was passable and I encountered no real problems, so if you just want a place to sleep, this may be right up your alley.
The Hotel Seattle had a decent niche as a budget hotel a few years ago, when its competition included the nearby Pacific Hotel. However, that property and others like it have disappeared as prices in general have creeped upwards in the city. There has been a steady influx of nice, very nice, and luxurious hotels in Seattle during the last few years. The Hotel Seattle has stayed the same in the meantime, and in effect, by comparison, it looks dated and in decline. It could be a fine boutique hotel with a bit of sprucing up. It still bears the city’s name, but the weight gets heavier and more difficult to hold every year.
Member Rating 2 out of 5 on October 21, 2004
315 SENECA STREET
Seattle, Washington 98101
Ironically, a man (not one or two or three girls) was behind the take-out booth window. It really is not easy to choose when there are so many varieties (the sign proclaims over 50 types of bread alone). Crusty loaves of bread in different shapes and lengths were displayed in one section, but I was not in the mood for a sourdough sandwich or a crackling baguette. There were also many shelves of pies, scones, cookies, and muffins behind glass. Order up and get your purchase in a plain brown paper bag.
I did have a delectable cinnamon roll, which was one of the best ones I have ever tasted. It was a sizeable rectangular portion with cinnamon and a bit of sweet glaze that does not overwhelm your sweet tooth. Not only that, but each scrumptious spiral contained lots of raisins and pecans, making for a tasty treat. I did not finish my cinnamon roll in one sitting, but I thoroughly enjoyed the last few bites during the plane ride home. There were several types of croissants (plain, chocolate, spinach, fruit) that were good but a step below the cinnamon roll.
Next to the bakery is a tiny diner with about a dozen seats along a counter. Here you can have a sit-down breakfast or lunch (assuming you get a seat) besides having the baked treats. On a cool day, you may want to try a soup, sandwich, or a bowl of chili. Main courses include baked salmon and the ever-popular meatloaf. You can also enjoy your purchase at a few sparse tables adjacent to the diner along one of the interior paths in the market.
Three Girls Bakery is open from 6am to 6pm. I was not expecting it to be open on Sunday, but there it was, and my taste buds and stomach were thankful that it was. I am a big fan of these little independent places that have been around forever and sell high-quality products that are not monotonously cranked out like they are at way too many mall stands and generic chain locations.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 21, 2004
Three Girls Bakery
1514 Pike Place
Seattle, Washington 98101
Restaurant | "Spud Fish & Chips"
Spud is a local institution famous for its fish and chips, and it has been serving them here since 1935, when it was a summertime sidewalk shack. The original owners sold two pieces of battered cod with fries for a dime in those days, but nowadays, you will need a few more dimes. A few other Spuds opened up, and locals had various opinions on which one was the best. This Spud in Alki was recently sold by the original family to Ivar’s, a famous local chain of seafood restaurants.
There is a free parking lot behind the building, which looks like a mod house with a bunch of add-ons, but is still more civilized than a wooden shack. Line up and place your order at the counter. The menu features seafood delicacies (and one chicken dish). Seating is on the second floor, so do not trip on the stairs while you are carrying your tray of food up. The dining area has intimately cramped seating, but there are some pleasant views overlooking the beach and the water. The walls display vintage old photos of Seattle and Spud.
With the order of fish (or chicken) and chips, you get three, average-sized, but crispy, pieces plopped atop a tray of golden fries. The chicken strips were good and not too greasy, and you have sauces ranging from ketchup, hot sauce, and some funky bottle with vinegar and almonds, creating a tangy and bitter taste that is not bad on the fries. The prawns and chips follow the same concept. It is all basically fast food that the kids will dig, but it is reasonably good here. Old-timers may contend that the prices have climbed over the years while the quality and the size of the pieces have declined, but that is a matter for debate. The fountain drinks come in sizes that seem to be large and extra-large. There are some dessert items like milk shakes and pies.
After a fried and battered meal here, walk it off along the 2.5 miles of the Alki Beach. Look for the miniature Statue of Liberty, a 1952 figure of copper-plated plaster that is about 9 feet tall, not including its pedestal (the real Statue of Liberty stands over 150 feet high). Then drive up past the rolling hills and posh homes of West Seattle to the elevated lookout for some glamorous views of the Seattle skyline. There is also a totem pole stationed here as if to guard the precious landscape.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 21, 2004
Spud Fish & Chips
2666 Alki Ave. SW
Seattle, Washington 98116
The large neon sign with the clock and the distinctive red letters announces the location of the Public Market Center. Not coincidentally, here is the most talked-about attraction of the market–the fish stall! The merchants of Pike Place Fish are world-famous for flinging fish to each other like circus acrobats. Unfortunately, when I was here on a Sunday morning, there were no flying fish. You see, it is not just an act, but part of the commercial sale of merchandise. When a crowd gathered with open camera lenses, but not open wallets, the guys even subliminally suggested that you could actually BUY some fish. No selling, no slinging! It was too bad because I have seen these fishmongers in action and they are like the Harlem Globetrotters of the fish world, tossing the slippery salmon while chatting away. One time a fellow missed an errant fish like a rookie receiver, and the guys all yelled, "discount"! Look out for the fake monkfish planted in the ice; it will try to snap at you if you get too close!
The fish market is the star of the show, but there is a lot going on here. There are good restaurants (some with great views of Elliott Bay) and a variety of terrific food stands and bakeries. Various stands sell fresh produce, flowers, fruits, and vegetables, while organic goods are featured on Wednesdays. Look for treats like Russian buns; candied cherries; and colorful, chewy candy sticks with fruity flavors. Wander around and perhaps you may get a free sample of something. There are merchants selling t-shirts, toys, hand-crafted objects, and retro souvenirs.
If you are near the fish market, look out for Rachel, a brass sculpture of a pig that is actually a piggy bank collecting money for the Pike Place Market Foundation. It was designed by local artist Georgia Gerber in 1986 and is definitely cuter than those glass boxes in airports collecting leftover change. There are typically all sorts of entertainers and street life going on, including musicians, mimes, balloon blowers, and perhaps some hucksters. This market can be a crazy slice of Seattle, and thankfully, it is not too homogenized like a suburban mall.
The hours of the hundreds of vendors vary at Pike Place Market. If you are coming from the waterfront, the best way up is to take the elevator. The way down is easier, as you can go down the Pike Street Hillclimb, a several-storied staircase that is bordered by a few restaurants and stores.
Pike Place Market
85 Pike Street
Seattle, Washington 98101
I have been here three times and never get tired of the breathtaking views from the top. The queue to buy tickets can be long, but that may depend on the weather and the day. Look for discount coupons in tourist brochures, as the full price is a bit steep. Oh well, it is a Seattle icon and wouldn’t you feel like a fool if you went all the way to Seattle and did not go up the Space Needle?
You will pass through a security checkpoint before you reach the elevators. The gift shop is new and improved, and the line to the elevators conveniently passes by it so your kids can gawk at the enticing merchandise in the store (when you leave the elevators on the way out, you will have to walk through the shop to reach the exit, so the layout is a clever marketing ploy). The elevator will fill up, so try to get a spot at the front so you can look out the glass windows while you are riding up (or down). The elevator operator will give you a quick speech while your ears are popping.
Once you have reached the full-circle observation deck (this level is 520 feet high), venture to the outdoor platform for some fresh air. You are all caged in while standing outside, but you can stick your camera through the gaps for some amazing views of Seattle and beyond. If you look (nearly) straight below, you will see the rest of Seattle Center, like the EMP, the arches of the Pacific Science Center, Key Arena, the International Fountain, amusement park rides, and plenty more if you look hard enough. The scenery is truly spectacular on a clear day, but if it is rainy you may just want to stay inside and look at the display photos pointing out all the landmarks. The downtown skyscrapers are south, Capitol Hill and Lake Washington are east, Queen Anne and Lake Union are north, and shimmering Elliott Bay and Puget Sound are west. There are free telescopes with which you can see the mountains on a clear day, which is not a given in Seattle.
If you buy a special day-and-night ticket, you can ascend the Space Needle twice on the same day, capturing the city during dramatically different lighting conditions. If you are dining at the revolving SkyCity at the Needle restaurant, your elevator ride is free.
400 Broad Street (seattle Center)
Seattle, Washington 98109
Attraction | "Experience Music Project"
The EMP was heavily funded by Microsost co-founder and entrepreneur, Paul Allen. He was supposedly quite a fan of local rock icon Jimi Hendrix (who is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in suburban Renton), so the original intent was to establish a museum to display his vast collection of Hendrix memorabilia. This plan somehow fell through, but its scope expanded to become a place to honor not only rock and roll music but its older (blues, soul, jazz, gospel, and country) and younger relatives (punk and hip hop) siblings. Hendrix does get his own gallery inside, and perhaps the architect is honoring the Purple Haze guitarist with the use of purple on the exterior.
Unlike the great Guggenheim Bilbao, which is one monochromatic mass, the EMP consists of several crumpled balls of various colors. Twenty-one thousand shingles, each a distinctly sized puzzle piece, were fitted to create the exterior layer in hues of purple, silver, gold, red, and baby blue. The first three colors are stainless steel; red and blue are painted aluminum. The mirrored purple panels are as mesmerizing as sequins on a Tina Turner dress. Gehry was inspired by the shapes and shades of electric guitars during his design process, though one may sarcastically compare the forms with a smashed-up Pete Townshend guitar. The project strikes me as a blow-up of a kid’s science project, with the giant red heart, and perhaps a silver liver and a golden gall bladder too. It does not win the science fair, but it does get noticed and perhaps that is what matters in this setting. The tracks of the Monorail slice under the baby blue blob, which helps to tie the EMP into the Seattle Center fabric.
The EMP is filled with musical memorabilia (including a gallery of guitars) and captivating old video clips, but it also promotes its interactive aspects like the Sound Lab where visitors can try their hand at playing instruments or mixing music. An additional attraction to the complex in June 2004 is the new Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame, which will cost you a few extra dollars.
These curvy and crinkly blobs are not my favorite Gehry concoctions, but he does employ colors liberally to stretch his architectural vocabulary. If you have the time and the money, check out the inside of the Experience Music Project. If you can only visit one, I recommend walking around the EMP and going up the Space Needle.
EMP Museum at Seattle Center
325 Fifth Ave North
Seattle, Washington 98109
Koolhaas is the mastermind of Rotterdam’s OMA (Office for Metropolitan Architecture), which partnered in a joint venture with LMN Architects of Seattle. The dark, angular glass-and-steel exteriors of the library form an irregularly faceted jewel. The functions of the library were intelligently grouped to help establish the layering and massing of the 11-storied building. An innovative diagonal grid structural system allows for greater earthquake and wind resistance. The metal mesh within the bluish "smart glass" permits winter sun to enter the building while it screens out the unwanted summer glare.
Early on a Sunday afternoon, people were already clamoring to invade the exciting interiors at the 1pm opening time. As the library rests on a slope, the entrance along 4th Avenue meets the Children’s Center on Level 1, while the entrance at 5th Avenue leads to the "Living Room" on Level 3. Daily tours, some of which are special architectural tours, commence daily from the welcome desk on Level 3, which also includes a gift shop and coffee cart. There is a reading room on Level 10, though visitors may spend more time here gawking at some nice views of the city. Level 11 is reserved for the staff office spaces. Colorful furniture and whimsically conceptual artworks are dispersed throughout the library. Distinctive interiors and elements include boldly hued escalators and stairs. There is a parking level below the library.
The ingenious innovations of the user-friendly library start in the so-called Mixing Chamber on Level 5. This is the informational brain of the library, where staff members are empowered to help others thanks to wireless communication devices that let them roam around, freeing them from being chained to their desks. This space also supports a bank of computers for public use. The Books Spiral is a continuous ramp of nonfiction books that extends from Levels 6 through 9. The Dewey Decimal System is marked on the floors to help people find the volumes, and there are extra book stacks built in for future expansion of the collections (only a fourth of the materials are hidden in closed stacks). The ramp has a gentle two-degree slope, making it easy for one to locate books or just do some browsing. A dumbwaiter allows items to be easily transported from the Books Spiral down to the Mixing Chamber (these spaces have ominously diabolical names!), and advanced technology allow them to be automatically sorted with more speed and accuracy.
One hopes that Koolhaas’ idealistic plan fully flourishes in this central resource for the city. It is certainly off to a very good start.
Seattle Public Library
1000 Fourth Ave
Seattle, Washington 98104
+1 206 386 4636
The Hammering Man (similar to one in Frankfurt), a dynamic sculpture by Jonathan Borofsky, stands 48 feet tall and is the virtual symbol of the museum and the adjacent construction site. The curve of the building demarcates the main entrance, with the gigantic letters of the museum name chiseled above. The fourth floor displays a chronological order of galleries of Western art. The artworks from older periods (Renaissance, Baroque) are relatively minor in scope. The collection perks up with its 20th-century works, including hits by Warhol, Pollock, and Lichtenstein. Leftover spaces are allotted for Northwest Modern art, photography, and prints. The third floor rounds up an eclectic overview of non-Western art, which feels stronger than its Western collection due to its novelty and diversity. The "rest of the world" includes selections of Asian, African, Latin American, and Native American art. The second level is reserved for special exhibitions.
The ground floor contains the gift shop, while the cafe is on the mezzanine level next to the grand stair. There are free gallery tours and tea ceremonies on certain days. The museum is closed on most Mondays, and is open late until 9pm Thursdays and Fridays. The entrance fee has risen to double digits over the years, so it is worth it to go on the first Thursday of the month for free admission.
The original Seattle Art Museum (from 1933 to 1991) is now the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Designed by Carl Gould, the building has a pleasing Art Moderne appearance. Located northeast of downtown Seattle in Volunteer Park in the Capitol Hill district, you can visit for free if you have a ticket for SAM.
Though the Seattle Art Museum has a pleasant enough accumulation of art, it is mediocre in comparison to great galleries like the Metropolitan in New York or the Art Institute of Chicago. It is interesting that it is expanding barely a decade after getting into its new digs. The incoming annex, which will include some free public galleries and a high-rise office tower, was designed by Brad Cloepfil of Allied Works Architecture of Portland, Oregon and is scheduled for completion in 2007. Perhaps with the realization of these grand expansion plans, SAM will take its place amongst the top echelon of art museums.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 21, 2004
Seattle Art Museum
100 University St
Seattle, Washington 98101
Attraction | "Pioneer Square Historic Preservation District"
An interesting story that would go well with a beer is the old Skid Road, on which timber logs were slid down the sloping thoroughfare (now Yesler Way) to the lumber mill and docks below. The tale has it that eventually many poor souls would wind up here and the term morphed into Skid Row, a vivid phrase used to describe any strip populated with derelicts and bums. Unfortunately, there still is a significant homeless problem here, as there is in other parts of the city and large urban areas in general.
Many old elements are worth a look around Pioneer Square, starting with the square itself. This park is not in fact a square, but is shaped as a triangle, and it is bordered by the Pioneer Building of 1890. Designed by prolific local architect, Emile Fisher, in the popular Victorian Romanesque-revival style, its attractive masonry facade spells out its name over its central entrance arch, but an earthquake in 1949 made its tower fall. The nearby pergola shelter of cast iron and glass has a Euro-Victorian style to it. Designed by Julian F. Everett in 1909, the pergola has recently been restored. A nearby totem pole by Tlingit craftsmen casts the final touch to this retro plaza.
The L. C. Smith Tower was the tallest building west of the Mississippi River when it was completed in 1914. Designed with its distinctive white exteriors by the architecture firm Gaggin and Gaggin, this landmark of 42 stories is topped with a pyramidal peak and has an observation deck. The nearby King Street Station has a clock tower design that is vaguely modeled after the famous San Marco campanile in Venice. More contemporary elements in the district from the 1970’s include Occidental Park, with its cobblestone paths and a quartet of totem poles, and the smallish but splashy Waterfall Garden.
If you want to delve a bit more into the local history, join one of the popular underground tours. A guide will lead you through grungy below-grade streets, which had been elevated to accommodate the construction of sewers. Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park contains a free small museum featuring exhibits documenting the gold rush of 1897. There is even a Russian submarine at Pier 48, so there is something for everyone around Pioneer Square.
202 Yesler Way
Seattle, Washington 98104
Attraction | "Chinatown-International District and the Stadiums"
There are some cultural attractions of note in Chinatown-International District (what a long and unfortunately unwieldy moniker). The Wing Luke Asian Museum displays and preserves the cultural heritage of the Asian Pacific American experience. The hardships of Chinese railroad workers and the injustices of interned Japanese-Americans during World War II are notably documented here. Visitors may also want to visit Hing Hay Park with its Chinese dragon mural and colorful pagoda. Japanese landmarks include the Nippon Kan Theatre, a National Historic Site since 1981, and the Kobe Terrace Park, displaying an 8,000 pound stone lantern. Kobe is the Japanese sister city of Seattle, and coincidentally, Seattle Mariners superstar Ichiro Suzuki played many seasons for the Orix Blue Wave baseball club in Kobe. Ichiro may or may not buy his own groceries in Seattle, but a fun supermarket with unique Asian products is the large Uwajimaya store.
I cannot explain it, but for a Chinatown of this size, it is surprisingly quiet. I expected to hear more hubbub and commotion amongst the locals, but everything seems rather tranquil. One day I spotted a bunch of schoolgirls practicing a marching routine down one block, and that was the most exciting thing I saw here that day. Perhaps it is best that Chinatown-International District is a thriving local community first and a tourist attraction second.
Sports fans may remember the old Kingdome, which formerly housed the local baseball and football teams. It was designed as an indoor domed facility in deference to Seattle’s frequently rainy weather. Actually, it was not that old, as it was built in 1976. Nowadays, modern technology has allowed large sports stadiums to have retractable roofs, and the Kingdome was imploded in 2000.
The two new sports stadiums are near Chinatown-International District. The local architecture firm NBBJ designed Safeco Field, which debuted in 1999. The retractable roof, which can cover but does not enclose the stadium, takes advantage of the precious summer days, and what better way than to enjoy a ball game in the great outdoors if you can help it? Qwest Field debuted as the open-air home of the Seahawks football team in 2002 (it was then named Seahawks Stadium until the new sponsorship in 2004). Some of the upper levels of both facilities have views of the city and the mountains beyond, ironic since these steep nosebleed seats are usually the least desirable. The Stadium Exhibition Center is located between the stadiums.
650 South King Street
Seattle, Washington 98104
Ferries to Bainbridge Island are launched from Colman Dock at Pier 52. Passengers and vehicles are both allowed on board, and a car may be a good idea if you are planning to spend time other than in Winslow, the main town of Bainbridge Island. The voyage across Puget Sound covers the ten miles in 35 minutes. Seagulls will more than likely follow the path of your ferry, so watch out above if you are outside.
Once you land on Bainbridge Island, you swap the big city for the bucolic country surroundings. The small harborside town of "historic" Winslow has about 22,000 residents and welcomes incoming visitors with charming antique shops, art galleries, bookstores, and restaurants. It is a serene and leisurely pace here, not that the generally affable atmosphere of Seattle is anything one would want to run away from. Winslow Way is the main stretch of the town, and perhaps it is a bit touristy here, but this trait can be forgiven because it is so laidback. There is a farmers market held every Saturday in the plaza adjacent to the town hall.
If you are transporting your car on the ferry, you will probably want to head to the Bloedel Reserve, which is stationed at the northern end of the island away from the port. This was the country estate of lumber baron Prentice Bloedel, and it was then opened to the public in 1988. It is a nature conservatory, with gardens, ponds, trees, and many varieties of birds. The grounds feature a Japanese garden, a reflecting pool, and quiet trails to walk about. The Kitsap Peninsula is also not far if you have a car.
If you want to overnight here, there are a few inns on Bainbridge Island as well as a state park campsite. Drivers should be careful on the narrow roads. If you are heading back to Seattle, the most important thing to remember is to keep a ferry schedule handy. This definitely is not the Staten Island Ferry as far as the frequency goes. It runs about once every hour, so catching your return ferry may be the only mildly stressful part of your trip.
590 Winslow Way East
Seattle, Washington 98110