By Lisa M. Mulvey
The largest city in the Pacific Northwest is divided into 18 unique districts, boasts no less than two dozen museums, has over 5,500 acres of parkland, a nine-acre historic public market and lays claim to title of the “Center of the Universe.” It’s no wonder no one sleeps in Seattle!
With seven-year-old triplets in tow and only a few days to explore, my husband and I considered two options. One: embrace the most heavily caffeinated population in America and attempt to buzz through the city and see everything on our “100 Things to See in Seattle” list. Not too difficult to do with an estimated 35 coffeehouses per 100,000 residents saturating the city. Or two: order a handcrafted reserve pour-over coffee, and take the time to appreciate the aroma while venturing out on a quest to sample the key spots the city has to offer. Having previously waited nearly three hours in line for an espresso from Omotesando Koffee in Shibuya, Tokyo, we’re partial to quality over quantity. And although the pre-triplet version of us would most certainly have attempted option 1, we looked forward to option 2 – providing there was something to keep the kids entertained.
Direct flights are available to Seattle from Shanghai Pudong and take around 11 hours – with Delta, China Southern or Hainan Airlines. On arrival, we quickly established areas of intended exploration based in large part around highly regarded local coffeehouses and formed a plan of action. Belltown instantly popped out as the perfect base for our agenda – just south of Seattle Center, north of Pike Place Market and the downtown area and west of Olympic Sculpture Park. Belltown offered a pleasantly walkable experience. Though the area offers a diverse array of various accommodations from luxury hotel to Airbnb, we opted for Seattle Belltown Apartments to accommodate our boisterous family of five.
The apartment was equipped with a kitchenette, plenty of space – including a balcony overlooking Elliott Bay – a games room and 24-hour gym. The apartment was located on an area of Bell Street that was often designated as “pedestrian-only,” coming to life at night with free dance lessons and live music. The girls were even swept into the spotlight by local instructors during salsa night! With Belltown as a launch pad, it’s a leisurely stroll down 2nd Avenue past one of the best jazz clubs in the country – Tula’s Restaurant and Jazz Club – and countless other animated eateries, bars and tattoo parlors. Just before the Moore Theater, Seattle’s oldest operating theater, hang a right walking downhill towards the water for nearly two blocks arriving at the doorstep of Pike Place Market.
By 6am, Pike Place Market is already alive with activity. Though shops aren’t typically open until 10am, fish mongers, florists and farmers start setting out their wares at sunrise. With a Clover brewed coffee in one hand and a kettle boiled bagel from Seattle Bagel Bakery in the other, keep an eye out for flying fish, a weighty pig named Rachel and some of the most talented buskers in the city. Don’t miss Lamplight Books hidden within the maze of lower level shops and All Things Lavender tucked into Flower Row. Spanning nine acres, its intensity can be intimidating. Free specialized pocket guides, visitor maps and resources can be found online for a reason!
Just around the bend from the market, heading towards the downtown area on 1st Avenue, lies a treasure trove of hidden (and not-so hidden) gems. Marvel at the elaborate masks, hand-woven blankets and traditional pottery found within Milagros Mexican Folk Art. After, indulge in sinfully delicious gelato at Bottega Italiana where ingredients are of the highest quality with no corn syrup, preservatives, artificial colors or flavoring. Explore the work of local artists at SAM Shop (located within the Seattle Art Museum) – a great place for both kids and adults to idle.
While in the neighborhood, jump on a “duck.” In a 90-minute amphibious expedition, Ride the Ducks provides memorable storytelling about Seattle’s history, including the Great Fire in Pioneer Square. Though a little pricey ($35/adult, $20/child), it’s a giggle-infused way to efficiently tour about 20 miles of Seattle sights – including the “Center of the Universe” (as self-proclaimed by Fremont residents). It’s also perfect to explore Lake Union where houseboats (including the one from When Harry Met Sally), unusual green spaces and fascinating float planes provide remarkable scenery.
For another full day adventure from Belltown, walk north along 2nd Avenue towards Broad Street. Check out the menu at Kushibar and return later for the perfect people-watching sushi hotspot. Head to the right on Cedar Street to 3rd Avenue and grab a cup of locally roasted espresso from Street Bean Coffee, a non-profit café that supports struggling youth within the community. Once on 3rd Avenue, it’s a hop, skip and a jump to Seattle Center – an interactive paradise of science, art and music. The list of attractions here is simply astounding with both indoor and outdoor venues, activities and sights.
An abbreviated visit to Seattle would incorporate three of the best attractions in the area: the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass museum, and the Pacific Science Center. Book the earliest reservation possible at the Space Needle (typically around 10am) and board the elevator as it climbs 520 feet into the Seattle sky! Aside from the incredible 360 degree views, interactive exhibits and complimentary telescopes make this icon a hands-on experience. The family could play “I Spy” for hours!
At the base of the Space Needle is the Chihuly Garden and Glass museum created by Tacoma-born Dale Chihuly, a world-renowned glass artist. The campus includes eight galleries, a 4,500-square-foot Glasshouse, vibrant garden, theater and bookstore. Children are welcomed with a unique scavenger hunt program that encourages close observation and uncovers “secrets” throughout the complex. Plan on exploring for a few hours as the bookstore alone can be hard to draw yourself away from.
Be wise about time when visiting the Pacific Science Center (PSC) as the hours are generally 10am until 5pm. Not to be confused with the Seattle Children’s Museum (located within the same campus), the PSC boasts five full buildings of interactive science, math and technology exhibits, a Butterfly House, two IMAX theaters, a planetarium and laser light shows. Traveling exhibitions are also an enormous draw at the PSC and certainly worthy of all the excitement.
Walking about three blocks south on Broad Street from the PSC, you’ll bump into the nine-acre Olympic Sculpture Park (OSP). It also happens to be located within a few blocks of Bell Street, close to our accommodation. The OSP is a free public park with walking trails, incredible Elliott Bay views, distinctive art installations, a beach and free tours. Created and managed by the Seattle Art Museum, it was transformed from an abandoned industrial zone to a breathtaking green space. From the OSP, Seattle’s finest waterfront attractions are right at your feet. Myrtle Edwards Park features a 1.25-mile running and biking path along the water, and the northern tip of Alaskan Way which extends south a few blocks to Pike Place Market – incorporating the Seattle Aquarium and the Seattle Great Wheel along the way.
So much to do and so little time – and this is just a small sample of what Seattle has to offer. Being such a dynamic city we’ll have to return and continue the exploration – as well as try the remaining coffeehouses.