We left Vancouver just before lunch to drive down to Seattle for the weekend. Our daughter Bailey was with us to make it a party of three. She had briefly been to Seattle on a day trip with friends before, but really, this would be the first time any of us had explored the city.
Google Maps tells me that the drive should take about three hours, but it took us more like five hours. There was a wait of about 40 minutes at the border crossing (which I have heard could be worse!) and then we stopped to grab lunch in town of Bellingham. While we were there we took a short walk to stretch our legs, admiring the street art. There are some nice looking museums in this town too, so it could be worth a longer stop if you have time when you are driving through.
Once we got closer to Seattle, we hit Friday afternoon traffic! We were to later learn that Seattle has the third worst traffic jams in the USA (after New York and Los Angeles) and while we were at a crawl, those leaving Seattle were even worse off and were completely stopped for miles!
We found our AirBnB and once we checked out the facilities we went to the supermarket to get food for dinner and some snacks.
Tip – always check what you have available in your accommodation before shopping. It sucks to buy icecream then discover no freezer! (Yes, I have done this in the past. We ate an awful lot of icecream quickly that day, lol!!)
I had originally planned to spend some time exploring Discovery Park in the afternoon, but since it was now almost 7pm, we instead just visited the Ballard Lock area. Here we got to watch the process of some boats going out of the harbour through the locks. We saw the nearby train bridge open then close again as one of the boats was quite large. We checked out the fish ladder and saw the salmon swimming up stream through the windows under the bridge. There was also a lot of information here about the salmon and other local wildlife. Our favourites though were simply the colours of the sunset and watching the harbour seals frolic right near the dam walls.
Our first stop the next morning was The Crumpet Shop. Bailey had eaten here last time she was in Seattle, and thought it would be a good place for breakfast. Of course we took along our trusty tube of Vegemite, just to make sure the crumpets were as good as at home. They were, and the coffee here wasn’t too bad either. The biggest downside of this place is it’s size. We were lucky to get one of the few tables, but there was a constant stream of people in the shop, many of whom I think would have had to eat elsewhere.
If you have read some of my other posts, you probably have realised I’m a huge fan of free walking tours. They are really popular in Europe, but it was interesting to learn that they are not so popular in the US. (In the words of our guide “Americans are suspicious of anything free!”) In Seattle the only free tours are run by the company Seattle Free Walking Tours. They offer two different free tours, the first one being through the famous Pike Place Market.
(Note: I have just noticed that as of October 2019 Seattle Free Walking Tours are also doing a Seattle Old Cemetery tour on certain days. That could be interesting!)
It was interesting to discover that Pike Place Market is not actually a market. Well, it is, it’s just not ONLY a market. It’s considered an area, and has a population of around 2000 people. But Pike Places does still operate as a place where only local farmers and artisans can sell their wares, you will not find McDonalds here!
You will find a Starbucks though, but that is because this is where Starbucks began. When the very first store was opened here it was run but some local guys, so fell within the rules of operating in the pike Place Markets. Now they would not be allowed to open here. The original store is still there, but in fact, this is not the exact location they started. The very first place was a block down the street, but it wasn’t a cafe, it was just a store selling coffee beans. Unfortunately it burned down, so they relocated, opened the current location and and started making coffees themselves.
We didn’t get a coffee from this store, because firstly I am not a huge Starbucks fan (interesting side note: Starbucks did not survive in Australia because Aussies in general are coffee snobs and theirs wasn’t up to our standards!), and secondly, the line was about 100 metres down the block. Even once you get to the doorway the wait is about 25minutes, so some of those people must be waiting hours!
As we walked around the markets we got to try some of the fresh produce, including perhaps the tastiest smoked salmon I’ve ever had. We got it from the oldest stall in the markets called City Fish. If you want to watch the famed “fish throwing” you will have to hunt down a different seafood stall, this one called Pike Place Fish Co.
We then took a walk past the chewing gum wall. This strange sight started when kids lined up to enter the adjacent theatre were told they were not allowed to chew gum inside. They would stick it on the wall next to the door as a rebellious response. Eventually it became as eyesore and was cleaned off, but just as quickly it would be back again. This has continued and each year the chewing gum has coated more and more of the nearby walls and now it takes up nearly the whole alleyway. It is still cleaned off once a year. The cleaning happens in October so we got to see it near it’s peak (and in case you are planning to come here to see the wall!).
The tour lasts a bit over an hour, but a lot gets crammed in. I suppose it’s easy since it only covers a small area. It can also get very busy – Saturdays in summer see over 100 000 people visit the markets. The tour is run twice a day and we went on the earlier 9:30am tour. I would recommend you do the same as later in the day the area was even more crowded.
After the tour finished we had a couple of hours to kill. We wandered around the markets some more, looking at some of the areas we didn’t go to on the tour.
We were also on the lookout for somewhere for lunch. Searching for an ATM we came to The Pike Brewing Company (there are so many craft beer places in Seattle!) which looked like a really great place to stop for a meal and a beer, but since neither Bailey nor I drink beer, we moved along.
Eventually we chose to eat at el Borracho, a taco place. The food was good and we ordered a sharing plate of seven tacos and some guacamole and that was enough for all three of us.
If you are looking for somewhere fancy, you will need to search for “The Pink Door” which serves Italian food and provides nightly entertainment. This place is so popular that it has not had any signage outside it for thirty years. It literally is just a pink door in a brick wall down an alley way. To help you, the alley way is the popular Post Alley, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find!
By 1pm we were ready to do the second of Seattle’s free walking tours, this one was called Seattle 101 and basically is a rundown of Seattle, past, present and future! This tour walked us around a lot more of the city and really did give us a lot of information. Did you know that Seattle was originally called Duwamps??? No, I am not making that up! When the settlement was founded the local people in the area were the Duwamish people, hence the name. Not long after though the name was changed to Seattle – named for the leader of the Duwamish people of the time, Chief Seattle.
There have been some interesting times over the years. In 1889 the whole central section of Seattle burnt to the ground. It was all thanks to a pot of hot glue in a carpentry shop being knocked over. In a comedy of errors, firstly someone poured water on what was an oil fire (glue was made from animal fat) and then the fire spread to next door – a liquor warehouse! With all this great fuel, the fire spread rapidly. Luckily no one was killed in the fire, and the city was rebuilt quickly with one rule – all buildings had to be made of bricks not timber. A small memorial to the fire can still be seen on 1st Avenue and Madison Street where it started.
As we walked towards the waterfront, we entered what looked like a construction zone. We were walking through an area that was once a huge freeway through the city centre. Earlier this year a long awaited tunnel underneath the Seattle city centre finally opened, and now the elevated freeway has almost been removed. “Come back in a couple of years” our guide said “you will find a two mile long open area with parks, gardens and bike paths for everyone to enjoy”. Sounds good.
Once the walking tour was over we were in need of a coffee break. We could have walked just over the road to a local coffee shop, but instead we walked a couple of kilometres to the big Starbucks roastery. These are special stores that serve more expensive coffees, but also have the roastery on site. When we arrived I immediately regretted this decision! The place was jam packed. It’s huge, and there is also a tasting bar and a large retail area, but overall there is very little seating once a coffee is purchased. Simon and Bailey grabbed a coffee to go and we escaped from the crowd.
A little further up the road was a second hand book shop called Twice Sold Books that we had heard about. The special thing about this store is not only that it has books, but it has four resident cats too. We picked up a couple of books we had been looking for and got some much needed animal time in while we were there.
We made our way back to the centre of Seattle thinking it must almost be time for dinner. Bailey got a little distracted by some of the shops though, so we spent some time picking up some bargains before our stomachs really started to protest.
I had tried my hardest to avoid it, but Simon insisted on eating at the Seattle Hard Rock Cafe to add that one to his HRC collection. I made a really bad error with my order though – I got one of their burgers that I have had on multiple occasions in the past. It was tasty, and it wasn’t until I got to the last couple of mouthfuls that I realised I was eating beef! Months ago I made a conscious decision to cut beef out of my diet for environmental reasons. Sometimes that makes things a bit tricky but this is the first time I had completely forgotten my resolve! Whoops. I will have to do better next time.
On the way back to our AirBnB we took a detour to Kerry Park. This is a tiny sliver of grass in a residential street with an amazing view over the Seattle skyline. There is almost no parking so we had to park a long way down the street as many other visitors were also enjoying the view as the sun went down. We walked back to the park as the rain started to come down. I got a couple of quick snaps, then scampered back to the car before I got really wet. We drove home with an impressive electrical storm happening around us, and got back in time to be inside as the storm really let loose.
Day two of our Seattle weekend was drizzly and overcast! This was not the ideal weather for what we had planned. We were off to the Seattle Space Needle for the views over the city. We had decide to get a combined ticket with the Chihuly Garden and Glass and since the weather was so bad we went there first. It is located at the base of the Space Needle.
Tip: In Seattle on a Sunday? All the street parking we saw was free, so consider that instead of going straight to a parking garage.
I loved all the glass creations that artist Dale Chihuly has here on display. He is a Seattle local and of indigenous background and he brings that with him into his beautiful glass works. There are also some of his paintings on display. Keep an eye out for him during your visit too – he is known for just popping in, sometimes he will sign books, other times he will be in the cafe getting a coffee or a meal.
The weather had improved a little by the time we made our way to the Space Needle, but it still was not great. There would be no views of the city with a snow-topped Mt Rainier in the background for us!
The Space Needle offers two levels of viewing platforms. The first level is outdoors with glass seats that allow visitors to lean back over the drop. There are also various photo opportunities set up with built in cameras. The Space Needle has an app you can download, and by scanning your entry ticket on both the app and at the photo locations you will get immediate access to free, downloadable photos! At least you should – but it didn’t work for me! As you walk in there is the obligatory group photo and that came through the app, but none of the ones I took upstairs worked. (That may have been my error though!) I actually think this was a pleasant surprise to be able to download these photos free. Everywhere else I have seen have required payment for the photos.
The second, lower, level of the viewing platform is revolving, and has a glass floor. I did not find it at all unnerving to stand on this glass floor – there was something more solid about it than some of the others I have come across over the years.
When we descended we were asked by staff if we wanted to try out a virtual reality bungy jump off the tower. If you are given the offer, don’t bother – it was over in a minute and, for want of a better word, unrealistic!
While the Space Needle is one the itinerary of almost everyone that visits Seattle, I was not all that impressed with it. It may be better if the weather is clear, but in this part of the world, that is less often than not! Chihuly on the other hand was fabulous, so if you are planning on going to the Space Needle, definitely get a combination ticket and visit both.
After our Space Needle visit it was time to leave Seattle, but before we drove all the way back to Vancouver, we had one more stop – the Boeing factory in Everett, about 45km north of Seattle.
We arrived at the Boeing Future of Flight Museum at around 2:30pm, and were able to purchase tickets there for the 3:30pm session. We had debated whether to get our tickets in advance or not as the website says the tours can often be full. I was unsure exactly what time we would arrive though, and would have booked the last tour of the day at 5pm and we would have had a bit of a wait, so in hindsight I’m glad we left it to buy them when we arrived.
The tour goes for 90 minutes and takes visitors through the biggest building in the world by volume. It’s a bit crazy, it doesn’t look that big, but this shed is actually 8 stories tall. We first got to see the assembly lines for the 747 and 767 first and hear about how they are made. Each plane has about 6 million components (about half of them are bolts and screws and rivets). Boeing have been making these planes the same way for years.
We were then taken to see the area where the newer 777’s and 787’s are built. They are made in an entirely different way and only have 3 million components and are built much faster. We were excited to see one of the new Qantas 787’s almost completed.
We also got to see a tiny glimpse of the new 777X planes that will be first in the sky in 2020. One of the distinguishing features of the new planes are folding wingtips to make the wings 11 feet longer. We got to see these wingtips peeking around the end of a bay, but couldn’t see the whole plane – it’s still being kept under wraps. The first two planes will be going to Emirates and we saw them sitting awaiting delivery, but again they were all wrapped in plastic so we couldn’t see them properly.
No photos were allowed on the tour – in fact visitors are not allowed to take bags, cameras, phones etc with them to the factory at all, but we were able to watch some of the planes from the rooftop viewing platform at the Future of Flight Museum. If you are very lucky you might also see the huge Dreamlifter planes (the modified 747’s that collect some of the other 777 and 787 components from around the world) either parked right next to the viewing platform, taking off or landing. Unfortunately we were not lucky.
The museum also has displays on the future of flight (not surprisingly!) and a little on the history of Boeing too. For $25usd a visit to the Boeing factory is a great addition to the itinerary or everyone – but plane enthusiasts will really love it here. Of course there is also a gift shop with Boeing branded everything! There are actually some pretty cool things to buy here, not just the usually souvenir stuff.
A visit to the Boeing Factory can also be done as a tour from Seattle
Click here to see details of the tour
After the Boeing factory it was back on the road to Vancouver. We again had a little wait at the border, but it wasn’t too terrible.
When we arrived back we were spending the night at yet another of Vancouver’s hostels, this time the HI Vancouver Downtown. We were pretty much only here to sleep before we jumped back in the car in the morning before the next leg of our adventure.
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Josie is a forty-something budget traveller. She only discovered travel in her late thirties, but since then has travelled extensively including taking an adult gap year. She is now based in Australia and loves sharing all she has learned about travelling on a budget but with the comforts a Gen Xer requires.