With the Sun out for our entire three-day visit, producing daytime high temps near 60 and evening lows in the mid 40s, we spent as much time walking around town as possible. In fact, our only non-pedestrian transportation was to and from the airport. Otherwise, we hit the pavement.
You can find a nice selection of walking tours here, provided by the Seattle city government. We paved our own path, starting from the Sheraton Seattle, at the southeast corner of Pike and Sixth. It’s a straight shot one-third of a mile down Pike Street to Pike Place Market, which sits above the waterfront on a bluff that’s well hidden by the long run of buildings and shops. As you approach the market, with the famous neon ‘Public Market Center’ sign and accompanying clock, you’ll see the Corner Market on your right, and a ramp that looks like its headed straight underground. It allegedly takes you to shops and cafes (we didn’t check it out), and is your first hint of the extent and labyrinthine nature of the entire market complex. On the far corner of Corner Market is a fruit and vegetable stand that just begs to be photographed, and before that is Left Bank Books, your center for all things radical. Featured that Saturday was a quote from Noam Chomsky assailing the legitimacy of all government.
Directly ahead of you under the neon sign is one of the market’s most famous stalls. Folks camp out for 20 minutes or more at Pike Place Fish, waiting to see, photograph and video the fishmonger’s patter and fish tossing skills. It is pretty impressive to watch a salmon in full flight, and those who launch and catch it seem to delight in having their tosses come as close as possible to clipping the bystanders. When they’re not shouting at each other, they also have fun chatting up the tourists.
The market extends down both sides of the street, including food stalls, artists, cafés and all other kinds of business. If you like people, crafts, food, and watching any of them (except the first) get made, you’ll be tempted to spend the day here. We popped into Beecher’s Handmade Cheese for lunch, crestfallen when we found that they were out of crab, making it impossible to order Dungeness sandwich grilled with their Flagship cheese. I settled for a cup of vegetarian chili, a sandwich with ham taking the place of crab, and a terrific bottle of root beer. If you want, you can sit at the counter atop a milk can and watch the cheese being made through the class. Seats are at premium, though, so be prepared to wait.
Down the street was a piroshki shop, more fish vendors, and a succession of bakeries, including one where’d I scored a cinnamon roll on my previous stop that morning. The original Starbucks is also here, and we popped in just to say we’d been there.
There are several ways to descend the bluff down to Alaskan Way, and walk along the harbor itself. One is a stairwell within the market on the back of the main arcade, worth finding just for the view out over the harbor. (I took a few pictures from there early in the morning after finishing my cinnamon roll.) There are several elevators at a few points, including one at Lenora Street, on block past the Market’s end at Virginia Street. Turn towards that waterfront, pass under the Alaskan Way Viaduct with traffic over head, and you’ll find a three-story elevator and open air stairwell that will put you right on the water’s edge. We’d taken this route on our way to and from Waterfront Grill at Pier 70 the night before, a mile and a quarter walk that runs along the renovated harbor. Once full of the sounds of stevedores and winches, it now is a mix of anchoring for pleasure craft, new upscale hotels, and offices, all retaining the appeal of their original addresses at ‘Pier 52’ or the like.
On this Saturday afternoon, we continued up Western Avenue through the Belltown neighborhood, one of the many, many distinct areas within the city. We passed shops, folks talking on street corners, apartments and brownstones new and old, and emerged at Broad Street and the Olympic Sculpture Garden. We turned right and sharply uphill, heading for Seattle Center and the Space Needle, which emerged above the horizon at every intersection.
Seattle Center was the grounds of the 1962 World’s Fair, which resulted in the Space Needle, Key Arena, and a number of other buildings. It’s one of the city’s major cultural centers and gathering places: located here are the Experience Music Project (in its multicolored, multi-curved Frank Gehry building) and the adjacent Science Fiction Museum, the Seattle Children’s Museum, a small amusement park named the ‘Fun Forest’, and the Pacific Science Center. Lots of people were here, heading into or out of each of these attractions, or just enjoying the beautiful day (some with the help of a coffee or ice cream). A monorail track ran right into the center of things, but we didn’t see any trains running. By the time we arrived at our final destination a few hours later, some of us wished we’d waiting longer to see about catching one.
After an hour’s trip up the Space Needle (with no waiting), we headed back down Broad Street past the Olympic Sculpture Park. There’s a great view here across Elliott Bay to the mountains beyond, and I paused for a few pictures while my group let their momentum take them downhill. At the Bay, we turned left and walked down Alaskan Way, passing our dinner spot at Pier 70 and enjoying the water and the sun. I don’t remember a whiff of salt air (here or on the ferry), which makes we wonder how big a fraction of Puget Sound is freshwater. Alternatively, it makes we wonder if my nose works.
By now we’d been on our feet for three miles, and given that I’d put in five more on a treadmill that morning, I was ready for some alternative transport. Within central Seattle—bounded by Battery St (Pier 67) to the north and Jackson St (Pier 46) to the south, and as extending east to 6th Avenue—buses are free. Unimpressed, my colleagues plowed on. We passed on the other side of Pike Place Market, directly above the Seattle Aquarium on what might be Pier 60, eventually reaching the Ferry Terminal at Pier 52.
Feeling like I’d earned it, I followed my purchase of a ferry ticket with a purchase of a delicious dark beer. Before I could fully enjoy it, however, the boarding call sounded, and we were off to Bainbridge Island