Spend more than a little time in Seattle

Approaching Seattle Center

If you’re a fan of Frazier or Grey’s Anatomy or THAT famous movie, then you may already be a little bit familiar with the skyline of Seattle.

But sleepless is what you’ll likely be if you try to pack in all Seattle has to offer in just a short visit to this sumptuous part of North America. There is so much to see, explore, experience and enjoy.

We spent an action-filled five days in the impressive capital of Washington State this time last year.

From our arrival by air, Seattle provided us with spectacular scenery, large expanses of usually calm water, great shopping, fabulous food with a slight French influence, and the warmest of welcomes.

Seattle's Space Needle in distance

Seattle’s Space Needle from Elliott Bay.

We came, via Los Angeles, in mid-April – early spring in the northern hemisphere – when temperatures were roughly the same as that in Melbourne in winter.

Locals confessed that Seattle really only had about two hot weeks a year, in August, but they also said they were also spared the worst of the cold and snow typical at that latitude because of the enormous heat sink created by the large bodies of water between it and the sea.

Our five, short days in Seattle were largely crisp and cool and an afternoon breeze typically came in from the west as the sun set over the wonderful Puget Sound, bathing the nearby stunning peaks of Mt Rainier and Mt St Helens in superb highlights.

Mt Rainer under cloud

Despite the impression from afar that Seattle is a very rainy city, we were blessed with only one or two light, brief showers, nothing that stopped us getting out and about whenever we could.

In fact, the cool weather was perfect for walking at any hour around a tidy city which is well endowed with both large and specialist shops as well as really good restaurants, cafés and bars.

Department stores Macy’s, Nordstrum and its discount sister store Nordstrum Rack – all within comfortable walking distance of one another – offered good bargains and high-quality merchandise.

But there were eye-openers, too. For instance, I stood, dumb-founded, at the street-level entrance to Macy’s when confronted the vista of an entire floor of shoes! Thank goodness my middle name’s not Imelda.

Dotted around the city were plenty of gift shops and jewellery stores and, if you’re seeking outdoors/hiking gear, there are lots of specialty stores offering quality items at prices we just never see here in Australia.

Seattle's Pike Place Markets

Seattle’s Pike Place Markets.

If you prefer a more organic shopping experience, then you shouldn’t miss exploring the historic Pike Place Market which sprawls across several city blocks fronting Elliott Bay.

It begins at street level with its colourful fruit, vegetable and fresh fish and meat vendor stalls and then spills over the waterfront cliff face, offering several levels of quaint shopping nooks accessed by well-worn wooden staircases that lead to lower levels and several landings which themselves boast great views.

Freemont Bridge

The impressive Freemont Bridge in Seattle.

For me, Seattle’s atmosphere was familiar and inviting. It was not unlike an amalgam of Melbourne and Perth: clean, cosmopolitan and very beautiful, with friendly locals who always wanted to know if I was carrying any of our colourful Aussie currency.

Trout ladder on lock

The trout ladder on Seattle’s locks.

Having just one afternoon designated for non-city area sight-seeing, we jumped on the Argosy Cruises 2 1/2-hour locks tour which began on the fresh water of Lake Union, almost in the shadows of a certain teaching/research hospital which is now an international star thanks to Grey’s Anatomy.

Seattle's Medical Institute

Seattle’s medical institute from Lake Union.

Both sides of this waterway are steep and covered with impressive homes, apartments and churches.

Look familiar? That's the house made famous in Sleepless in Seattle (repainted).

Look familiar? That’s the house made famous in Sleepless in Seattle (repainted).

Our comfortable cruise took us right past those famous floating homes from Sleepless in Seattle and out through the Hiram Chittenden Locks to the much larger saltwater Puget Sound.

Seals and cormorant on bouy

A cormorant sits atop a bouy with seals sunning themselves below.

We saw plenty of wildlife on the water and cruised past more grand homes perched precariously on cliff tops. Indeed, you could even see one stretch where, a decade earlier, torrential rain had washed several mansions off their perches and into history.

Collapsed houses from cliff-face

A decade earlier there was a line of homes along this cliff-top … their remains are now at the base after the cliff-face collapsed.

Our cruise returned us to the other side of this water-bound city, facing the pretty Elliott Bay, disgorging us below the Alaskan Way viaduct that runs in front of the Pike Street Market.

It was so easy to fill up the memory card on my new digital camera during this cruise and I kicked myself for not buying a spare or larger card because, by the time we got back into the more sheltered waters, I barely had enough space to photograph the iconic Seattle needle and missed entirely the impressive commercial buildings and boardwalk that line its shores.

Trina in cruise mode

We celebrated with a champagne in between taking photographs.

Because our trip was largely business, we didn’t get to explore much beyond the city limits on this occasion and we ran out of time to even travel up the needle, but two colleagues who joined us the day after we arrived had themselves spent a few days exploring northern Washington and nearby British Columbia by car.

They spoke of the awesome wilderness experiences to be had in the glacier-capped mountains and old-growth forests of Olympic National Park, the lush landscapes of nearby British Columbia and an amazing journey to Mt Rainier.

Indeed, it’s only a few hours’ drive – and a border crossing – and you can be in Vancouver, so Seattle is a great place to base yourself if you want to explore the relatively affluent and certainly attractive north-west America/south-west Canada.

It won’t be hard to entice me back.

(Originally written in 2005 after a five-day visit to Seattle for a Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma conference.)


Words: Trina McLellan
Pictures: Trina McLellan (and one of me by Cait McMahon)

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