Seattle is where my heart remains. I call it home from time to time…in general though it is where I grew up and where I often visit as it is where family lives. This past year of the pandemic I called it home once again and know you are all waiting for my recommendations and guidance on what to do when visiting Seattle, my hometown.
My family history is very deeply rooted in Seattle and goes way back to the early 1900s when my Italian grandparents first settled in the area. They were farmers in the lower Duwamish River area (now known as South Park, Boeing Field and Georgetown) and they were some of the originals and most influential farmers in starting the Pike Place Market. In addition to being farmers they were important figures for the Italian heritage of this city. They helped sponsor over a dozen Italian families to the Seattle area.
To start my tour of Seattle obviously I´d suggest going to the Pike Place Market where my grandparents and his brother sold their produce when it first opened. As you walk around be sure to take a look down at the floor, it is here that you will find the names of the all the donors who helped build the market. If you look hard enough you will find my grandparents and their three daughters there (Desimone). They are all toward the middle of the marketplace near produce (Eastern side). If you continue along near the end you will see an extension of the market to the left where arts and crafts are sold. Head toward the window to view the Puget Sound and the ferries go by (you can also do this outside further along but on a rainy day this might be better). This section is actually a bridge over Western Avenue (widened over the years) and it’s named after my grandpa´s brother Joe (Giuseppe) Desimone who is always mentioned in history of Seattle books for being one of the founders of the Pike Place Market. Books and photos of him are common place in my household.
I would also suggest going to the downstairs part of the market, it is my favorite. You can even continue and make your way down to Western Avenue and onward to the waterfront (there is a stairway). Interestingly enough along Western Ave. just below the market I spent many days as a kid. My dad owned a book printing shop and I would hangout while he worked. Following my grandparents footsteps I even sold things here…usually artwork that I drew as a kid…lol…and yes, people bought it often. You could say I am very familiar with this market…spending many days roaming it with my dad. Back on the main floor heading South past produce and the restaurants you can watch the fish being thrown when someone orders. In front of there is the Market Pig (Rachel), a must visit. For those looking for the popular gum wall, head down the stairs from the pig into the alley…and waa la! The gum wall started by those who were in line waiting to enter the clubs in the alley. Gum has been cleaned (aka removed) several times now in an effort to stop people from adding their gum when they visit but eh good luck…tradition is tradition and well now Instagram famous. Another stop you likely want to know about is the Starbucks…..which is from Seattle…and here in the market is the claimed first store….it actually isn´t the first but since the first was nearby somewhere sure why not…expect a long ass line if you must go to Starbucks #1! The Pike Place is the original Seattle farmer´s market and it was even bigger until the 1980s when they wanted to remove it completely…obviously a good chunk was saved from that fate. Given the farmer roots of the region know that you can also find more farmer´s markets else where as the vibe has extended onward to most Seattle neighborhoods and many Washington cities. Each are different so if you want more local fare maybe visit these year round markets: U District on Saturday am or Ballard or West Seattle on Sunday am. More farmer´s market´s.
Obviously you could easily go from Pike Place to the waterfront and walk around, catch a WA State Ferry or take a spin on the Great Wheel. I´ll cover that area soon but my second recommended stop on the Seattle tour is actually further South.
I suggest a visit to the Museum of Flight. Not only is it packed with all types of planes, many of which you can enter but it also goes along with my history tour. This is the area where the farmers originally grew their crops, including my grandparents and his brother. Aka where my mother and her sisters and all the Italians sponsored lived/grew up. This also happens to be the area Boeing started it´s airplane factory and expanded it´s operations by purchasing more land from the farmers nearby. The museum here is impressive, the largest private air and space museum in the world, it is worth your time and will keep you very entertained. The original red barn of Boeing is also part of the museum (moved from the Duwamish River). If you have more interest in planes I´d suggest heading to Everett to see the current manufacturing plant for Boeing which you can tour (I´ve yet to do this!). Boeing was until 2020 the largest private employer in the state (Amazon took the spot)…for something like 75 years.
More about the important farmers of my family.
Following these two stops is my all time favorite recommendation, take a WA State Ferry! You can do this from the Seattle Waterfront. Take one to Bainbridge Island as a walk-on and go out on the deck when the ferry starts moving. Get wonderful views of the city, the Puget Sound, the islands and even the many mountains on a clear day. If you are really lucky you might spot also some resident Orcas or transient whales…or simply a seal, sea lion or porpoise. Views here are incredible, the ferry system is very unique to the area and happens to be the second largest in the world only next to Istanbul´s ferry system. Like I always say “the best way to see local is by using the local transit”, well this is actually how many people commute around here and it´s super unique (24 million passengers a year). Arriving to Bainbridge you must exit but you can either jump back on and return (if low on time…crossing is approx. 30 minutes) or you can get off and walk the few blocks into town to wander around the charming island, visit it´s shops, restaurants and marina until you want to go back (ferry runs until 11:30 pm or midnight – check schedule here). You can also rent a bike (or take one over) and tour the hilly but beautiful backroads of the island. That is what I do…lol. P.S. If really short on time take the 15 minute West Seattle Water Taxi to get a portion of the views (Once off, grab a drink at Marination Station and wander towards Alki Beach – to your right a few miles). Either option is less than $10.
As you are headed over you will have the cityscape behind you (back of ferry)… the black building (Colombia Tower) is the tallest building in Seattle, the small white pointed one to it´s left is Smith Tower the oldest skyscraper (1914) in the city and once the tallest West of the Mississippi River. On the far opposite side is the famous Space Needle from the Worlds Fair (1962) which you can take a monorail to from the center of downtown (highly recommend). You can go to the top of all three of these buildings….I really want to go up Smith Tower. Looking away from the city to your Right you can see Mt. Rainier (magnificent 14,411 ft volcano) on a clear day just beyond the Port, followed by West Seattle with the ever popular Alki Beach (inner city beach for those sunny days) then just past there will be the island of Vashon and a look farther down Puget Sound which ends in Olympia the WA State Capitol. To the Left of the city is an extension of the Waterfront with it´s many piers followed by the Olympic Sculpture Park (great for a walk-run-bike-art-etc) then out through Magnolia (upper scale neighborhood with expansive Discovery Park) and finally a Northern view of Puget Sound as it exits into the Pacific Ocean.
I always say Seattle is all about the neighborhoods and you won´t know the real City of Seattle unless you visit the neighborhoods, it is where everything that makes the city great and vibrant is located…so this is what I would suggest next. You can go South of the Market/Ferry and see Seattle´s oldest neighborhood, Pioneer Square and get a feel for Seattle before Amazon and Financial skyscrapers existed. I highly recommend doing the Underground Tour. Around here is also the stadiums for the Seahawks (football), Mariners (baseball) and Sounders (soccer) so you could hit a game, get merchandise, tour them or get a beer with the fanatics. Close to here is International District…Asia fit into one little corner. In general the metropolitan area has many Asian cultures living here so instead of just Chinatown, here it is named more broadly. Food here is quite yummy but know you can also find food of many Asian cultures elsewhere but here it is concentrated (more great Asian cuisine is usually found farther North and South of Seattle). Be sure to check out Uwajimaya (Wah Juh My-ya). Don´t miss a visit to Capitol Hill which is like the life blood of the city, it´s the eclectic, happening and LGBTQ neighborhood. Be sure to stop at Dick´s Drive-In for a hamburger (real local fast food), one of many ice cream shops in the city (Molly Moons, Salt and Straw, Frankie and Jo´s, etc), Volunteer Park (the Asian Art Museum here is very good) for views (fyi Bruce Lee is buried next door) and the Jimi Hendrick´s statue (yes, he´s from Seattle). Next up would be Fremont for it´s hippie and eccentric vibes. Check out the Troll under the Aurora Bridge (the huge one overhead) and wander the streets stumbling into random things like the Lenin statue or Saturn as you make your way to Theo Chocolate (fair trade, local and yummy). If you are into sports you could take the Burke-Gillman trail that passes along the canal for a bit. It is 27 miles long and goes all the way to Redmond (where Microsoft has it´s HQ)…Finally if you have time head to Ballard…at the closer end of the trail. It is likely my favorite neighborhood except it feels so far away. It´s a laidback fishing port that is very hip. Ballard is also the center of the area´s Nordic heritage…1 in 8 people in State are descendants (you´ll find parades for independence days of various Nordic countries and a Nordic Heritage Museum). You shouldn´t miss a visit to the Ballard Locks, where boats enter from salt water to fresh water and salmon jump in late summer in order to spawn, a brewery or two (there are tons!) and sunset at Golden Gardens.
Of course you can´t miss an iconic Space Needle visit. I know you all want to go up but trust me it really is only worth the high price if the sky is clear…so save your elevator up for that day and you will be blessed with 360 views of sheer bliss. You may also check out the Pacific Science Center, Museum of Pop Culture (MPop, formerly called EMP – Frank Gehry architecture) or Chihuly Glass Museum for entertainment, the main fountain where I used to play as a kid (and all other Seattlites) and attend any of the cool summer festivals held here like Bumpershoot (music), Folklife (culture/dance), Bite of Seattle (food) and others. There is tons to do in this area plus behind it past the arena (Storm – basketball/Kracken – hockey) is Queen Anne neighborhood full of food options. Don´t miss the viewpoint at Kerry Park (up the hill to the left). If you plan to do the Space Needle and Chihuly you might check out the Seattle CityPass as it includes those and a few others in one decent price.
Besides the basics above I might suggest a more fine tuned offering below.
Museums/Art – Seattle Art Museum/SAM (Native American collection especially), MOHAI (Seattle History) and Aquarium. My brother would add the Pinball Museum and I´ve been meaning to visit Frye Art Museum. You could also add Tacoma Art Museum if heading South. These are obviously in addition to aforementioned museums of Flight, Asian Art (add Wing Luke if you want local Asian history), Chihuly and MPop. As far as monuments/statues go to Sculpture Garden, Black Sun in Volunteer Park, Fremont interesting ones (Troll and Lenin for sure), Totem Poles near Pike Place or Pioneer Square and the plethora of them at Seattle Center. Good street art can be found in Capitol Hill near Carl Anderson Park (Southern side), Metro Transit Corridor of SODO aka South of Dome – when the Kingdome existed – now just S. of Downtown (SODO Track along 5th Avenue S.), Belltown Corridor (off 2nd Ave.) and a bit farther out venture around Georgetown and White Center (+others).
Food – A broad category but get some seafood (oysters, salmon or geoduck – pronounced ‘gooey-duck´- are very local), Asian food…maybe Vietnamese or Filipino, try a bakery or cookie or cake shop (we love sweets) and a Seattle dog. Farmer´s Market´s are fun on weekends generally and many great food trucks can be found all week long. Try Ivar´s, Taylor Seafood, Ray´s Boathouse, Beecher´s Cheese, Dick´s Drive-In, Jade Garden, Saigon Vietnamese Deli, Vietnam House or Oriental Mart.
Architecture – Seattle Public Library (4th and Spring), Amazon HQ Balls – aka Spheres or Bezos Balls (6th and Lenora), Museum of Pop (Seattle Center is a Frank Gehry design – smashed guitar) and Seattle Center area in general, corner of Westlake and Mercer building is a favorite of mine, former Macy´s building (4th and Pine corner), Rainier Tower (aka Pencil Building) at 1301 5th Ave. and WaMu Tower at 1201 3rd Ave and obviously don´t miss Pioneer Square neighborhood. More.
Shopping – Nordstrom´s Department store was created as a shoe store here in Seattle before expanding to include every clothing item or make up you need (Flagship store a block East of Westlake Center) and more. REI is an outdoor sports retailer created by rock climbers in Seattle and now sells all outdoor equipment and apparel needed. You can even rock climb at the Flagship store in South Lake Union area. Outdoor Research (OR) and Oieselle (waz elle) is from here too, OR specializes in mountain apparel and some accessories (SODO area has Flagship) while Oieselle is sports apparel focused only on females (UVillage has Flagship). Besides these you might check Pike Place area to Belltown off 1st and 2nd Ave. for some stores, Capitol Hill´s Broadway area or far flung Ballard´s with some chic store options otherwise head to UVillage for an outdoor shopping experience or Southcenter Mall for almost any store.
Music – Rock, Grunge and Indie (and then some) has a history here. Check for local shows at the Showbox, Tractor Tavern, Crocodile, Neumos or Moore Theater (+others) your favorite band might be playing or an awesome yet to be discovered one. See Nirvana relics of Kurt Cobain´s house and bench (Viretta Park – 151 Lake Washington Blvd E) or visit Aberdeen where he was born. Easy Street Records in West Seattle offers Pearl Jam vibes or Coryell Apartments (Capitol Hill). You can even stay in a Pearl Jam Suite at the Edgewater Hotel! Another Jimi Hendrix stop is his memorial in Greenwood Cemetery in Renton. Lastly, mark your calendars for Sasquatch Music Festival (May), Capitol Hill Block Party (July) and Bumpershoot (Sept) each very worthy open air festivals (many others too). Obviously…the MPop Museum I mentioned earlier.
Nature – add Discovery Park in Magnolia, the Arboretum (add Interlaken to Volunteer if you would like more) or Carkeek Park (North Seattle). The rest is best by renting a car and heading out to Issaquah, North Bend or Snoqualmie Pass (tad over 1 hour from Seattle downtown). Popular treks out there are Mt. Si or Mailbox Peak (7.9 miles and difficult), Rattlesnake Ledge (5.1 miles moderate), Twin Falls (3.6 miles moderate) and Tiger Mountain in general has so many at all levels, most popular at Tiger is likely Poo Poo Point trail (7.2 miles moderate). The National Parks obviously too if you have time (Mt. Rainier, Olympics, North Cascades). You can also visit Snoqualmie Falls which is no hike and a powerful and great waterfall to visit. More hikes check this blog.
Running – Lake Union Loop (10km), Discovery Park (trail, infinite), Olympic Sculpture Park (4 miles 1 way from Pier 70 waterfront), Greenlake Loop (5km around + more), along Lake Washington Blvd toward Steward Park (or at the park, infinite), Waterfront to Alki (or just Alki +more there) and obviously the Burke-Gilman as well! *Many of options above in nature and below in bikes also work.* Seattle Marathon is in November, Beat the Bridge 8km (May), Rock and Roll Seattle 1/2 (May), Sound to Narrows 12km (June in Tacoma), Torchlight 5km (July), any Turkey Trot (Nov) lol. The most well known (famous) run is actually in Spokane (Eastern Washington – Idaho border) in May (12km called Lilac Bloomsday Run).
Cycling – Burke-Gilman, Across I-90 or 520 bridges out to Redmond or Lake Sammamish, Seattle Waterfront to Alki Point, Interurban Trail (North or South) and then the complete Lake Washington Loop is quite popular (sections of it also nice) or an off shoot around Mercer Island (hilly) is sweet. Another fun one is Vashon Island but it requires getting to West Seattle and a Ferry ride (bike path from South end of waterfront takes you that way). Cycle races include the Chilly Hilly (Feb) on Bainbridge Island, expect any weather and hills, Seattle to Portland (July 200+ miles), Tour de Whidbey (Aug) and Passport2Pain on Vashon Island (Sept) plus more.
Water Activities – Sailing at the Center for Wooden Boats in S. Lake Union where you can rent, learn or hire (Duck Dodge races on Friday´s are especially fun) – Kayaking and SUP can be done at Agua Verde Cafe (food/drinks are also nice here) for Lake Union paddling (try to make it to Gas Works Park for spectacular views of Seattle) or at Alki (by Marination Station) – Canoes can be rented at UW (Montlake Cut) and it´s nice to head over to the Arboretum and get lost. Finally try the hot tub boat rentals on Lake Union (2 hrs for $350), I´ve not done this but sure sounds amazing!
Spring – Cherry Blossoms, tulips, daffodils and plenty of other flowers to find all over the region. At 1.5 hours away is Mt. Vernon and where to go see the tulip farms (fun to visit or cycle). Also great time for visiting waterfalls.
Summer – Do everything but especially do something on the water, like kayaking or at least a ferry ride. Go out for a ton of beautiful hiking views and wildflowers. Fourth of July Fireworks, or bonfires at Alki and even the Seafair Parade (Aug). There are a lot of options in Summer since sunrise is at 5:00 am and sunset past 9:00 pm.
Fall – Cycle a local bike trail, hike and look for Larches (yellow deciduous pine tree), walk around the Arboretum, pumpkin patches (options here) or corn maze or visit Walla Walla for wineries (WA State is 2nd biggest producer of wine in US).
Winter – Ski/snowboard Crystal, Stevens, Snoqualmie (closest to Seattle) or Mt. Baker, rent snowshoes or cross country skis at REI (national outdoor retailer from Seattle with many locations and rentals) and head to a trail or sno-park (can also sled here easily). Rent a cabin and chill by the fire with drink of choice.
Airport: If you have a layover and just want out for a bit. Walk out to International Blvd. Cross Street and head South (aka Right). You can go chill at Angle Lake Park (1 mile) or try 13 Coins literally across the street for a better meal (open real late 11 pm or midnight). Another good option would be jump on the Link Light Rail one stop South to Angle Lake Station (S. 200th St – just South of Angle Lake Park) and go downhill to Des Moines Creek Park (btw, no relation to family) and walk a bit over 2 miles to the marina (or as far as you can in time you have). If you have enough time to kill for this last one you might consider going into Seattle…35 minutes once light rail leaves…or uber. FYI parks usually close at sunset.
Any other itinerary, just write me and I´ll gladly help.
2 thoughts on “What To See – Seattle Tour Guide (WA)”
Thanks for sharing Tarae, good read. Packed with good visit tips and great photos of local highlights.
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