After filling up on delights from the Pike Place Market in Downtown, I would recommend Seattle Center for your next stop on a visit to Seattle. It is an easy Monorail ride from Downtown which is not only an affordable means of transportation, but also provides great views and a nostalgic experience. Riding from the Downtown Westlake Center, the Monorail passes right by the iconic Space Needle and through the stunning metallic, multicolored, shimmering Experience Music Project dropping passengers off in the center of the action.
Originally the site of Seattle’s 1962 World’s Fair, Seattle Center is now a cluster of culture at the base of Queen Anne Hill. The Seattle Center is the site of the Space Needle and Experience Music Project (EMP), as well as many local civic and cultural events, acting as both public fair ground to arts center hosting the ballet, opera and several theaters.
The Space Needle, dating from the 1962 Century 21 Exposition, is Seattle’s most recognizable landmark. It looks like a UFO stuck on a stick, and for those who are willing to fork out the expensive admission, it offers expansive views of the Northwest from the Observation Deck. You can make a dinner reservation at SkyCity Restaurant and ride up for free. Our budget was tight so we decided to forego a ride this visit, but many call it the highlight of their trip.
Not to sound stingy, but we also did not pay for admission to EMP. Still, it is a sight to see from the outside. The Experience Music Project (EMP) was conceived by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen as a tribute to Seattle-born rock guitarist Jimi Hendrix. The EMP is an interactive rock and roll history exhibition that traces 100 years of Pacific Northwest music history. There’s a sound lab where wannabe rock stars can play instruments, learn about studio and recording technology, or perform for thousands of other EMP visitors. If we had children, this would be a priority for us, but we decided to save for date nights instead.
Another highly rated museum is the new Dale Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. As there are so many wonderful attractions, you can get a combination ticket for several of these attractions together and save money. Glass master Dale Chihuly has put greater Seattle on the art world’s map in the past two decades. And while the glass designs are really impressive, we have seen his designs in Las Vegas before.
Don’t let costly admissions deter you from coming to Seattle Center, these buildings are iconic and beautiful from the outside and it is still a great destination for the public art. There is a healthy energy and artistic vibe, and even if you cannot afford admissions, it still has free sites to see.
One of my favorite free activities and public art projects was the International Fountain. This is a good place to take a break and sit down to watch the sleek, silver globe with splashing arcs of water, which go off hourly and shoot up to 150 feet in the air. I also really loved the new “Sonic Boom” art installation at the Pacific Science Center. A cluster of five flowers up to 33 feet tall, each one is outfitted with solar panels that power a night-light display. It is also an interactive sound installation which is triggered by people approaching the flowers. Very cool.
Actually, we had decided on Maxwell Hotel at the foot of Queen Anne Hill for our stay, so Seattle Center was literally the center of our adventures. We enjoyed riding through each day to see tourists and locals alike enjoying its attractions. On our complimentary bikes, we passed through this area as our starting point and final ride back “home”.
And what a great home base it was, while I recommend Downtown as a first stop, I think that the Seattle Center area was a great base of operations. It was much more quiet and it had a quaint neighborhood feel. In addition, it also had wonderful food options as well. If you are not staying in the area, there are still some culinary destinations that are well worth the ride to the area.
My personal favorite was Tilikum Place Cafe, which was our Sunday brunch spot. A simple walk from our hotel, it is also easy to access from the Monorail. From the moment that you enter this lovely cafe, you feel like you are a regular. The customer service is exceptional, and location was cozy too — but the food was the perfect delectable jumpstart to our day. I read reviews in advance and knew that we needed to try a dutch baby. I had never heard of this before, but it is a pancake cooked in a cast iron skillet and then the center is stuffed with either sweet or savory items. Dave decided that he wanted the savory chorizo and egg option, which allowed for me to try another dish from the menu for us to share. I decided on a baked egg and vegetable dish that also arrived in a skillet. For drinks, I went with a mimosa and Dave selected the very delicious Irish Coffee that came with a french press coffee and liquor on the side. Delicious. Go there. You need a reservation.
Toulouse Petit was also on our radar based on reviews. It seemed a little odd that New Orleans cuisine was so highly rated in Seattle, but it ended up coming together very well once we arrived and settled in. As I had not made dinner reservations, we found an opening at the bar. When crawling as we like to do, the bar is actually a great place to be because bartenders are generally happy to serve meals. On the other hand, waiters do not love to have in demand tables taken up by a couple ordering appetizers only. I would highly recommend that you order the braised and fried bacon as an appetizer. Oh bacon how I love thee. But our fried chicken gumbo was also delicious, and the drinks were great too. The ambiance was romantic with candles that provided a perfect setting for couples on a date.
After naming two gourmet stops, our next food recommendation is on the other end of the spectrum. But I love to stop at local food institutions and Dicks’ Drive-In is definitely that. It is a dive place with a long line of urban youth seeking to take care of munchies, so be ready to stand in line and have patience with a youthful scene. But with cheap prices and a throw-back style, it is easy to see why this is a sobering stop for the city. We shared a burger, french fries and chocolate shake for a little more than $5. And it was good. No really. Maybe my expectations were low, but I can kinda see how this place illicits cravings.
After a night out with burger and bacon, we started to head back to the hotel but decided to have “just one more.” This decision led us to The Sitting Room based on a quick Yelp search of the area. And what a little neighborhood gem. As it was Sunday night, the place was empty which is great for us. We like it quiet. “Just one” turned into three more as they have some really lovely drinks. I recommend the Dorian Gray. And at only a few blocks from our hotel, we walked back all safe and sound. What a great neighborhood!
While it is not the same hood, we also spent a little time in South Lake Union which is a neighboring section of town only a few blocks from Queen Anne Hill. From the hotel, we would connect with the bike paths here and spent time in South Lake Union Park. It is a small park with a rocky water shore where naked babies played in the water, ducks chilled, teens jumped from a crossing bridge, seaplanes take off to Victoria and the San Juan Islands, and we came across a food boat. While I didn’t love the cod-fish tacos, it was a really great concept that I appreciate. And the park is a wonderful place to take a biking break. Next time, we need to do a seaplane ride.
But we were not able to check everything off our list, so I still have some recommendations from my research that we did not do in the area. In SLU, the Center for Wooden Boats gets rave reviews. You can rent a boat or go on a free public sail on Sundays. Also of interest, SLU is the home of the “Sleepless in Seattle” houseboat.
And some other items on our wish list for future visits is to go to Kerry Park. Known for being a good location for the quintessential photo-op, Kerry Park is a small grassy strip on Upper Queen Anne. The views of the Space Needle, downtown Seattle, and Elliott Bay are only rivaled by the sometimes-sightings of Mount Rainier looming above.
Last but not least, we also had originally planned to go to Canlis but changed our minds based on our budget. This is still on my dining wish list. It is widely regarded as one of the top dining institutions in the city and has 180 degree views. But I will have to save up for this one, or maybe hit the happy hour in the bar area.
Overall, we really adored this area of town and, while it is tempting to fork over a lot of money for all the admission fees, we found a way to save our money but still feel a part of the vibe. What we loved most is that it was so quiet, safe and neighborly, which is really nice considering it is one of the tourist centers of the city.