While we may not have seen any wizards, we definitely were off to see the Emerald City for our most recent vacation. Nicknamed for its lush green forestry, Seattle boasts natural elements that set the stage for a romantic fairy tale getaway. The sea, rivers, forests, lakes, and fields surrounding Seattle provide views that nourish the eyes and a cool climate that awakens the skin. With a vibrant foodie scene and abundance of outdoor activity options, it was an ideal destination for Dave and I.
Seattle is an urban playground.
Located between the saltwater Puget Sound (an arm of the Pacific Ocean) to the West and Lake Washington to the East, Seattle is known for successful businesses such as Boeing, Microsoft, Amazon and Starbucks. It is also at the forefront of progressive issues such as environmental awareness and marijuana politics. But as a travel destination, Seattle is known for its world-famous beauty, notable music scene, coffee and contemporary attractions.
The city also has an interesting history as a pioneer town that was inhabited originally by Native Americans, and later settled by lumber, mining and fishing industries, which brought along an often overlooked history of prostitution. Today many people pay to tour the underground system of tunnels that was created after the Seattle Fire of 1889 which destroyed the city. The town was rebuilt on the ruins of the damaged infrastructure, but these hidden subterranean passages that once were the main roadways and storefronts of old downtown can still be explored. It is a city for historical travelers.
With wide open spaces, green trees, city parks and stunning views of mountains and Puget Sound waters, this is a destination for outdoor lovers too. It is also a great destination for foodies with fresh fish and wineries, not to mention weekly markets of fresh produce throughout the city and at the famous Pike Place Market. And as the home to several well-known museums and arts institutions, the city has a vibrant cultural scene as well. It was all of these things that put Seattle at the top of my travel destinations for this year.
For our first visit, we chose to go in August to escape the Texas heat and also give us a getaway before the football season begins (my husband works in sports radio). And it could not have been a better time to visit. While the city’s reputation is rather synonymous with rainy weather, Seattle’s oceanic climate during the summer months is absolutely refreshing. With humidity-free temps ranging from 60s to the 80s (Fahrenheit) during this time, a walk outside is invigorating and sweat-free. I have also read that early October is a less traveled, but beautiful time to visit as well so any time between May and October is likely a good bet for decent weather.
We felt alive in Seattle.
The city is healthy and active. With steep hills, picturesque neighborhoods, and an extensive biking trail system within city limits, this city is certainly one of the fittest in the United States. And that doesn’t even include the nearby activities like skiing, mountain hiking, sailing, camping, kayaking and more that are located within a few hours drive.
While planning our trip, I was very tempted to do it all. There is just so much to consider for a first visit — so many amazing places to see. We researched trips to Mount Ranier, Canada, Friday Harbor, Whidbey Island and more. In the end, we decided that we did not want to rent a car and that we would focus on the heart of Seattle this first trip. With this foundation, we hope to be able to branch out and explore beyond the city limits in the future. However, we had a great trip without the hassle of a car and our days were filled with plenty of activities.
You do not need a car to visit Seattle.
On the other hand, if you are physically fit and without small children, I would highly recommend renting a bike. Seattle’s bike paths have been recognized as one of the top urban bike infrastructures in the United States and we were definitely impressed with the extensive system that weaves along the waterways and connects the various neighborhoods. Dave and I selected the Maxwell Hotel (read my review) which provides complimentary bicycles — this not only saved us a lot of money, but provided a daily activity for us. We rode nearly everyday of our visit, and even rode for 12 hours straight on one day (with stops for brews and bites of course).
But if biking does not suit your preferences, then there is also a fairly decent rail line called the Link Light Rail. In fact, we took the light rail from the airport straight into downtown upon arrival. Look for the signs leading your way once you deplane. It connects to the airport through the airport parking garage, and took us about 45 minutes to get to the last stop closest to our hotel. The rail line runs from downtown Seattle to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac). Downtown stations are located in Downtown at Westlake Center, the financial district, Pioneer Square and the International District. It cost us about $3 to purchase a ticket, which was available from a kiosk in the station. There is no ticket taker before you board, but there was a ticket checker on the rail so keep your ticket handy.
We never tried the Metro buses but that system also appeared to be safe and active. And of course, there were almost always taxis that could be hailed as well. I also read good reviews about Uber, an app that allows for you to hail a car without even having to dial a number. Just be prepared for some walking and dress appropriately for activity and you will be just fine.
Seattle is a casual town.
Dressy attire is not required. In fact, it is an incredibly laid-back town. We spent each day in activewear with backpacks. We brought along a layer to add as the sun set — it would definitely get chilly for our Houston oriented bodies. While locals would bemoan the warmth when it hit 79 degrees, we were in Fahrenheit heaven. We dined at the bars of really nice restaurants in our Lululemon wear and found that there were hooks under the bars for not only purses but also helmets at some locations. In some ways, the city reminded us of Austin, Texas in this regard (read Austin article). It’s a place where bike messengers share elevators with tech millionaires, and fishermen have lunch alongside top surgeons.
While selecting your hotel, I think it is important to make a choice that will allow for you to best explore if you are not renting a car as I have suggested. If you decide to rent a car, then you will have more flexibility but just be aware of the added costs and frustrations with parking in a dense location. Of course, you can also look into the Zip Car, an hourly rental car option, which would be returned to designated parking spots. Any hotel that is located near the Light Link will give you the ability to explore on your own by foot to some of the best neighborhoods. When seeking a place to stay, I would recommend focusing on Downtown near Pike Place Market or Queen Anne neighborhood near Seattle Center. We also really enjoyed the Fremont and Ballard neighborhoods but the Light Link does not go out to these neighborhoods yet, though plans are currently in the works.
Seattle has been called a “city of neighborhoods” and while we were not able to explore them all in our brief visit, we definitely tried our best to visit some of the hot spots. As each destination is so different, I will be working on articles for our favorite areas, including Downtown, Queen Anne, Ballard/Fremont, and West Seattle. But to name a few, our favorite activities were the Fremont Sunday Market, Surf Ballard stand-up paddleboarding, and Alki Beach. Top meals were had at Matt’s in the Market, Toulouse Petit, Tilikum Place Cafe, and Paseo. And there are also still many activities and businesses that I was not able to check off my list…
It’s not hard to find serenity in Seattle. Despite the caffeine-inspired pace of some of the touristy locations, there are options away from the crowds if you can hop on a bike or rent a car. But while I usually avoid the touristy spots in most cities, in Seattle these locations are so iconic that the visit would have felt incomplete without stopping at Pike Place Market or Seattle Center’s Space Needle. Would you visit Paris for the first time and not see the Eiffel Tower?
Seattle is a great city and I can not wait to return.