Last updated 20 September 2022
Seattle is a city pulsing with an energetic vibe. And that’s not because it’s the headquarters for two of the largest corporations in the world: Amazon and Microsoft. Nestled in between two imposing mountain ranges – the Olympics and the Cascade – bringing the rainfall Seattle is renowned for, Seattle is blessed with good looks as well as a creative beating heart.
The backstory about how I ended up in Seattle
I won a return flight to the USA at my first ever IMM in Sydney, in February 2018. The story about how that happened is at the end of this post. It was a case of serendipity and sheer luck. Much gratitude to VisittheUSA and Delta Airlines for the opportunity and Visit Seattle in helping me select Seattle as my USA destination.
I timed the trip for early December for many reasons, one of them to coincide with meeting my friend’s daughter on her way home to Aus after studying at an East Coast Uni. And I also wanted to fit in a side trip to Vancouver (Canada) to see a friend – so close to Seattle, why not?!
As a first-time visitor to Seattle, here are my top five reasons to visit the largest city in Washington State.
Five reasons to visit Seattle
Easy to get around the city
I stayed downtown in the five-star Fairmont Olympic Hotel on University street, a convenient location to take a stroll around the city the afternoon I arrived (the best way to shake off jetlag after a long flight from Brisbane.) The wide city streets are laid out in an orderly grid pattern, with cross streets named by number, making it easy to work out where you need to be. University Street spills down to a waterfront with stunning views of the distant imposing Olympic and Cascade mountain ranges.
The Space Needle
Rain is a common denominator in Seattle. Anyone who’s watched the popular Seattle-based TV show Frasier knows an umbrella was Frasier’s constant companion (as well as his brother Niles!) It’s meant to rain nine months of the year in Seattle but thankfully the rain stayed away during our visit. On our second day in Seattle, we took advantage of the fine weather and headed to the cultural sector via the inner-city train (two stops, takes only five minutes and yes you can easily walk it as we found out on the way back!) I used my City Pass (for $89 USD you can access up to five popular attractions) to enter the Space Needle
Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the famous Jetsons-Esque landmark received a major refurbishment ($100 million spend that was completed in August 2018.) The observation deck is 184 metres above the city and on clear days like the one we were experiencing, has incredible 360-degree views of Mount Ranier, across Puget Sound to the Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges. The revolving glass floor on the level underneath the Observation Deck gives a unique perspective on the city below and according to project architect Alan Maskin, is the first of its kind in the world!
I recommend doing the virtual reality bungee jump on the ground level if only to watch other people’s reactions while you wait for your turn.
Visit the Museums
The Chihuly’s Garden and Glass Exhibition
In the shadow of the Space Needle, this building housing The Chihuly’s Garden and Glass exhibition is a collection of galleries. There’s an outdoor garden filled with eye-popping glass installations created by Pacific Northwest glass artist, Dale Chihuly. Maybe the rest of the art world knows the work by Chihuly, I, on the other hand, have been living in an ignorant bubble (not a glass one lol!) Chihuly’s glass sculptures are mesmerizing. He uses vibrant, vivid colours that pop wherever they’re displayed. It’s no wonder he’s received awards and doctorates for his works.
Moving from one gallery to the next, each exhibit is an unexpected dazzling surprise. I fell in love with his work and I’ll be on the lookout for future Dale Chihuly exhibits.
The Museum of Modern Pop (MoPop) houses an eclectic collection of personal memorabilia – science fiction and rock ‘n’ roll – originally owned by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft who passed away in 2018 in his hometown of Seattle. Other galleries are devoted to the talents of Seattle’s local musicians Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, and Pearl Jam.
The “Experience Music” section of MoPop has interactive exhibits. Visitors can strum electric guitars, bash out a few beats on a drum kit or experiment with creating their own loops. There are even sound booths where you can have your own private ‘jamming’ session. Closing the door behind you so no one can hear is a good option, especially if you’re anything like me without any musical ability whatsoever!
Seattle-based sound sculptor Trimpin’s creation If VI was IX (a reference to six guitars working together to create one chord) is located on level two. This impressive sculpture is a tower of over 500 various musical instruments (mostly guitars) snaking its way to the ceiling. Imagine a tornado hovering over a guitar factory, sucking the contents upwards into a vortex which is then forever frozen in time. Very cool, as is the video that explains its design and showcases various musical arrangements.
The horror film history gallery with its eclectic collection of memorabilia from many well-known films like The Shining and The Terminator is an interesting distraction away from the musical exhibits.
The Pike Place Market
Operating since 1907, the building adjacent to the waterfront is a multi-level maze of farmers’ markets, food, and craft stores. It’s hard to miss the neon sign announcing the market. Interesting fact, the sign and the clock fitted in 1927 was one of the first pieces of neon to be installed on America’s West Coast. Like a boomerang, I kept returning to these markets during my stay. The first afternoon for a look-see and a few taste tests including some mac ‘n cheese from Beecher’s Handmade cheese (Oprah’s favourite apparently.) A few days later I returned as part of a group on a two-hour foodie tour with the delightful Shelby from Savor Seattle
Try and catch the fishmongers’ infamous fish throwing on the corner at Pike Place Fish Co. just past the bronze statue of Rachel the pig (a piggy bank where you can make a deposit – fund raised goes to support low-income locals.) The fish throwing is a popular spectacle and the guys know how to draw a crowd.
Don’t miss the Daily Dozen Doughnut Company not far from the bronze pig. Make sure and say “Hi” to Julie, if she’s working. Daily Dozen Doughnuts has perfected the art of melt-in-your-mouth cinnamon doughnuts. (I’ll fess up, I went back three times and my mouth still waters thinking about their doughnuts.)
My chocoholic self was very happy at Chukar Cherries They sell delicious chocolate-covered cherries, all grown in the Pacific North West. My friends and family will receive packets of these sweet treats as Christmas gifts.
So many green spaces and parks
Why do you think Seattle earned the Nicknamed Emerald City in 1982?
For its many green spaces in an close to the city centre.
Discovery Park has walking trails (paved and unpaved) leading to a lighthouse on the western side. Close to downtown the 534 acres (two million square metres) green expanse is Seattle’s largest park with stunning views over the Puget Sound, Mount Ranier, and the Olympics.
By the waterfront is Olympic Sculpture Park Take a stroll alongside Elliott Bay’s eastern shoreline on the pedestrian pathway to Jaume Plensa’s ‘Echo’ sculpture, a 14-meter high waterfront feature that looks out over the Puget Sounds towards the Olympic Mountains. The tall white face sculpture is named after a nymph from Greek mythology and is best appreciated on the water (I could see it from the water on our Argosy Harbour Tour included in our city pass )
Washington Park Arboretum (entrance fee applies) on the shores of Lake Washington is a 230-acre (930,776 square metre) You’ll find a serene Japanese Garden and Botanic Gardens with wetland areas inside the park.
The smaller Kerry Park is located on the south side of Queen Hill. It offers a pleasant outlook over downtown Seattle.
Where I stayed in Seattle:
The Fairmont Olympic Hotel
For four nights I stayed at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel in the heart of downtown. This elegant luxury hotel is a five-minute stroll to the Pike Place Market (and those doughnuts!) The 450 rooms hotel received a $25 million refurbishment in 2016. The revamp manages to seamlessly blend modern interiors with old-world charm.
The Maxwell Pineapple Hotel
After Vancouver and Leavenworth I stayed at the Maxwell Pineapple before flying home. This colourful, fun, and funky hotel was a five-minute stroll to the Space Needle (seen from my window) and close to the city’s attractions. Read my full review on the Maxwell Pineapple Seattle. With quirky pineapple touches throughout the hotel, I felt at home as I’m from Queensland, the State with pineapples for a logo!
The bed was so comfortable I didn’t want to get out of it the following day. Or maybe that was because I was reluctant to leave Seattle?
What are your treasured memories of Seattle?
* Here’s the back story of how I ended up in Seattle:
In February 2018 I was in Sydney attending IMM. This was my first travel industry meet and I knew no one when I arrived. Looking like a stunned deer blinded by bright headlights at the breakfast hosted by Visit USA, the lovely Lyndey Milan said “Hi” and we ended up doing the photo thing as you walked in.
Sitting down for breakfast our host, entertainment guru Richard Reid (the same guy who was crowned King of the Jungle in Channel 10’s 2019 Celebrity Get Me Out of Here) reminded everyone to place their business card in the bowl for lucky door prizes. Lyndey and I had forgotten, so we quickly left the table to hand over our cards. Within five minutes of sitting down to breakfast, Richard announced the first prize to be drawn was a return economy airfare to the USA with Delta Airlines. He put his hand in the glass bowl filled with business cards and calls out my name!
Wow, what a way to start my first ever Industry meet.
At IMM I met people from Visit Seattle who sold me on Seattle as a destination. They said it was a fun city, full of creatives, green parks, a vibrant live music scene, and diverse culinary choices. It’s also conveniently close to many national parks, hiking being my new activity of choice after my Japan incident. And it was somewhere I hadn’t been to before.
Seattle ticked so many boxes.