In June 2005 we disembarked from an Alaskan cruise, with another week to spend in the Pacific Northwest before flying home. We were already in Vancouver, so it made some sense to stay a few days. But we decided to bypass Seattle for some of the wonderful natural landscapes, figuring that we’d already had an urban experience. My wife and I also figured that if business ever brought us to this general part of the world, it would likely be to Seattle.
It took nearly four years, but I guessed right on that one. Unfortunately, it was an ultra-short conference trip, arriving mid-afternoon, commuting from Seattle to Tacoma twice, spending two nights in Seattle, and heading back to the Midwest on a redeye. In between, there were some little nuggets: Mount Rainier emerging from the clouds on Wednesday as we headed back to Seattle on I-5, 90 minutes and a great lunch at Pike Place Market, and the awesome site of 160 beers on tap at Tap House Grill. There was an obligatory stop at the Original Starbucks, although it was not a pilgrimage for me (and appeared to be visited only by those on such a journey, not Seattleites).
I stayed at Hilton’s Homewood Suites just north of the Convention Center on Pike Street, a great location for a meeting there, and not bad for any other downtown location. Central Seattle has two foci: one centered around Sixth Avenue and Pike, and another about a mile north near the Seattle Center (and the Space Needle). All of my time was in the former location (or on I-5).
Tacoma is Seattle's little sister, about 45 minutes south on I-5. This town of about 175,000 people has undergone a significant renaissance over the last few decades. The central area south of Elliott Bay is now home to several museums, including the Museum of Glass, celebrating, among others, native son Dale Chihuly. The famous Chihuly Bridge of Glass connects the museum and Union Station over I-705 and has hundreds of pieces housed over head, lit by natural light (although supplemented by fluorescents on cloudy days). Two crystal towers rise mid-span, which are just gorgeous in the sunlight.
Tacoma and Seattle share the same feature I love about Vancouver and San Francisco: just a little bit of driving, and you’re out of urban America and in some wonderfully wild country. When the weather’s clear, Mount Rainier is a part of every day’s experience, and it particularly looms over Tacoma. It’s rather cool to be driving an interstate, look off to your left and see the snowcapped peak of Rainier, and signs that say ‘Use 512 for Mount Rainier’. 90 minutes or less will have you at one of two western entrances to the park.
This trip just scratched the surface of what Seattle has to offer. I explored the city vicariously through the spouses of several friends at the meeting, who toured the Seattle Art Museum, took ferries to the islands, walked along the harbor, and enjoyed more of the market. I’d like to be them next trip.