Thursday, July 7, 2011

Seattle: Limitless Urban Adventure

Living in rural America, my husband Dan and I always get a kick out of using the public transportation when we visit major metro areas. And although we usually chase adventure via dirt bike or downhill skis, mapping out the light-rail system to get to the airport, scrambling aboard the monorail or asking street people about a bus connection can get the adrenalin flowing for us country kids. In Seattle, ferry boats can be thrown into the public transportation equation.

The heart of Seattle – Pike Place Market – beats with a happy, metro vibe that infects visitors as well as the locals. Long stalls stocked with brilliant and fragrant floral bouquets entice hoteliers and restaurateurs looking for fresh table garnishment while the fish market brings in chefs and shoppers searching for the special catch of the day. Bargain hunters stalk tiny eclectic shops for pipes, antique jewelry or crystal geodes and string musicians fill the stairwells with precious sound.

If you’re not claustrophobic, head down to the market on a Saturday morning. You could spend all morning there. We enjoyed egg sandwiches on newly-baked ciabatta with market-fresh tomato and lettuce at Sound View Café (go under the Market’s clock and then straight down the hallway.) You won’t need a window seat to get a view of the blue waters below or the backdrop of snow-capped Olympic Mountains. Conversely, you could get a cup o’Joe at the nearby Starbucks – the very first Starbucks – where Japanese tourists clamor for photos near its front door. Hey, so did I!

You’ll either love the energy of fishmongers throwing whole salmon and local farmers slicing off juicy hunks of peach for you to try right off their knives, or you won’t. “I don’t know why your mother wants to come down here every Saturday,” bemoaned one local father to the toddler he pushed in a stroller. Mother loves it; daddy’s got a different opinion. Never-the-less, Dan agreed with me that Pike Place Market makes for impressive people watching and remarkable photo ops.

Just down the hill from the market is Argosy Cruises which leave from Pier 55 for a one-hour narrated harbor tour. (Adult fare, $22.75.) The fun cruise aboard the ship-shape Spirit of Seattle was a great way to acclimatize to the city in a short amount of time. We learned about the Seattle Space Needle and the development of the spectacular downtown skyline. We also discovered that the Lion’s Club was holding their national conference in town over the Fourth of July weekend. No wonder hotels were booked and we had difficulty finding an affordable room.

Because room accommodations were a bit pricy, it was a good thing that we had procured the Seattle CityPASS. The CityPASS allowed us to experience six major attractions at a much reduced rate. We spent a full day at the Museum of Flight that rivals any air and space museum in the country. I was able to walk through a Concorde supersonic airliner (the closest I will get to my life’s dream of flying to France in half the time of a regular passenger jet.) And we heard the history of World War II through sound recordings of actual bombers and videos that showed the stories of the young men and women aviators as we walked among the full-sized aircraft. (Adult admission without CityPass $18. I promise you, you will not be able to see the whole museum in one day.)

You can meet the world at the Space Needle. We met visitors from Spain, India and the UK who were all having a “jolly good time.” The views of harbor ferries, lake regattas and Mt. Rainier were so enjoyable that we went back a second time to buy a Coke, watch the sunset and then view it all again under city lights. Beer, wine and coffee are also available on the observation deck. (Adult day and night pass without CityPass, $24.)

At the foot of the Space Needle, head on into the PacificScience Center where the IMAX theater shows all day long. I loved the ugly bug zoo and enjoyed chasing butterflies with my camera in the 4,000-square-foot Tropical Butterfly House. (Adult admission with IMAX sans CityPass, $18.) We sailed through the Frank O. Gehry-designed Experience Music Project | Science Fiction Museum when we boarded the monorail. Avatar: The Exhibition was showing ($18 without CityPass for adults.)

On our final Seattle day before boarding the light rail for the airport ($2.25 per person,) we returned to Pike Place Market for a few last photos and then walked down the stairway to the bay front where we experienced the Seattle Aquarium. The cheery sea otters are not to be missed by those of any age. Wonderful docents and interactive exhibits make this a must-see! (Adults without CityPass, $19.00.)

So, if you’ve done your arithmetic, you can see that Seattle CityPASS got us into $119.75 worth of top attractions. And the price? A drum roll, please. Only $59 for adults and they offer a child (ages 4-12) pass for only $39. The pass is valid for up to 9 days from the first day that you use the pass, and we were able to skip most ticket lines. Go to for more information. CityPASSes are also available for Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Hollywood, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Southern California and Toronto.
Stacey Wittig, "Vagabonding Lulu," is a freelance travel writer based in Flagstaff, Arizona. Like this article? Get a message sent to your email when a new article is posted. Click onto "Subscribe to" in the upper right hand column.
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