A list of "Rain City's" Top 10 spots includes an intergalactic experience
POSTED: 1:30 a.m. HST, Jul 31, 2011
With my umbrella at the ready, I stepped onto the streets of Seattle for the first time. Sunshine greeted me with nary a cloud in sight. Beyond the modern skyline, Puget Sound glittered beneath the Olympic Mountains, and I even caught a glimpse of evanescent Mount Rainier. So-called "Rain City" had made a good first impression.
Little did I know then that I would often return to Seattle for a corporate job, and later marry someone from the area. Yes, I have had to use my umbrella during a number of subsequent stays, but the charm of the Northwest's largest city has remained. Over the years I have compiled a list of the top places to see in Seattle:
1. Space Needle
What would a visit to Seattle be without ascending the iconic Space Needle? At 605 feet high, the 360-degree views of the surrounding Olympic and Cascade Mountains, Puget Sound and the city proper are decidedly panoramic. For a memorable experience, dine at the rotating SkyCity Restaurant, where my friends once had their wedding reception. The SpaceBase gift shop offers souvenirs galore, including a Lego replica of Seattle's most famous structure. The surrounding Seattle Center can easily fill up the rest of your day with its Children's Museum, funky fountains, SkatePark, Pacific Science Museum, Fun Forest Amusement Park and more.
2. Pike Place Market
Where else can customers have the catch of the day tossed to them in front of dozens of camera-snapping tourists? Besides a plenitude of seafood and other foodstuffs (e.g., there are half a dozen merchants who sell honey), Pike Place vendors hawk everything from clothes to eclectic arts and crafts. The market recently celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2007. It's an ideal place to purchase omiyage and fresh-cut flowers or simply stroll around and people-watch.
Northwest, Continental, and Hawaiian Airlines fly nonstop from Honolulu to Seattle-Tacoma (Sea-Tac) International Airport. A round-trip economy ticket costs approximately $400.
WHAT TO SEE AND DO
WHERE TO EAT
WHERE TO STAY
Red Lion Hotel on Fifth Avenue
The Westin Seattle
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Note: Information is subject to change.
3. Experience Music Project
Whether you love it or hate it, this Frank O. Gehry-inspired building certainly is arresting. Rock 'n' roll fans, take the monorail from downtown Seattle to EMP, and you'll know you've arrived when you stop at the twisted, colorful sheet metal edifice that is said to resemble a smashed electric guitar. Inside are hip-hop and guitar galleries, paraphernalia from Seattle native Jimi Hendrix and an exhibit dedicated to Northwest musicians (after all, this was the birthplace of grunge). If you are inspired, try out your talent in the Sound Lab or, for wannabe rock stars, On Stage.
4. Seattle Art Museums
SAM consists of three notable venues. The Seattle Art Museum has comprehensive and well-laid-out exhibits organized by type and geography. Among my favorites are an extensive Native American art collection and a uniquely designed Porcelain Room containing 1,000 delicate pieces. The Seattle Asian Art Museum has a smaller but still impressive collection and is located in lovely Volunteer Park, a tranquil setting designed by the Olmstead brothers. The park also features a conservatory worth visiting and a water tower that can be ascended 75 feet for panoramic views. The Olympic Sculpture Park features intriguing contemporary artwork set against the backdrop of Puget Sound.
5. Pioneer Square Historic District
Gazing at the gleaming skyscrapers that make up today's Seattle skyline, it might be hard to imagine that it once was a lumber town inhabited by settlers. Today a native Tlingit-style totem pole towers over the original Pioneer Square, and the district covers some 30 blocks. The best way to discover the history of the area is to take the Underground Tour, an engaging subterranean walk that is sure to bring Seattle's history alive.
6. Floating homes
Made famous by the movie "Sleepless in Seattle," these unusual residences occupy approximately 500 moorings along Lake Union and Portage Bay. The Floating Homes Association provides the following definition: "A house on a raft semi-permanently moored to a dock. It is always attached to city utilities." Cruise northward along Lake Union on Fairview Avenue East to catch a glimpse of the picturesque floating abodes in the Eastlake neighborhood.
7. Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame
SFM is often mentioned in the same breath as the Experience Music Project. The two share the same distinct building, and entry tickets include admission to both. SFM is the first museum dedicated to this unique genre and goes well beyond "Star Wars" and "Star Trek." Exhibits cover famous authors like H.G. Wells, aliens, robots, Mars, technology, spaceships, the future and the fantastical. "What if?" is the name of one display, and that is the question you will carry with you when you exit, intrigued yet unsettled.
8. Museum of Flight
Boeing has played such a large part in Seattle's industrial history that the metropolis was nicknamed "Jet City." Go back to Boeing's roots by visiting the Red Barn, and learn about the Birth of Aviation. See a wide collection of fighter planes in the Personal Courage wing. Board a real supersonic Concorde, the original Air Force One or a replica of the International Space Station's Destiny Research Laboratory. Hands-on experiences abound, such as operating flight simulators, sitting in cockpits and performing shuttle landings.
9. Lake Washington Ship Canal and Hiram M. Chittenden Locks
This is my in-laws' favorite place to take out-of-town guests to visit. Salmon, most bountiful in summer, struggle their way up fish ladders, oblivious to the tourists observing them through wide windows. Above, fresh water meets salt water as ships pass to and from Puget Sound. The modest visitor center shows a short film about the area, and the nearby 7-acre Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens make for a peaceful stroll. Admission to the canal, locks and gardens is complimentary.
10. Woodland Park Zoo
This zoo is sure to delight little ones while captivating animal lovers of all ages. The Northern Trail does an excellent job of featuring local species, such as elk and bald eagles, in their natural habitats. Australasia, with its wallabies and emus, also appeals to guests. Other designated areas within the 92-acre grounds include Tropical Asia, Temperate Rain Forest, African Savanna and the Tropical Rain Forest. The zoo also houses an aviary, butterfly forest, raptor center, bug world, day/night exhibit, carousel, new flamingo and penguin exhibits, and replicas of African and Thai villages.
Each time I stop by Seattle, I try touring someplace different, and have learned that the metropolis offers something for nearly everybody. Trekkies, art aficionados, history buffs, grunge musicians, boating enthusiasts, wannabe aviators, nature lovers, seafood gourmands and others all find their niche here. May you discover the best of what the Emerald City has to offer during your next visit.
Monica Quock Chan is a Honolulu-based freelance writer and former marketing executive.