When I was a teenager, I stopped in Seattle once on a very long road trip from Oakland to Alaska and back. I never felt the desire to return until recently. Since my first visit, Seattle has grown into a world class city. Not only does Seattle have breathtaking natural landscapes, but the city also offers a diverse and exciting food scene, wonderful public art, and iconic landmarks. All of these add up to an incredible sightseeing and geocaching opportunity. The city is large and spread out, made up of over a dozen neighborhoods. To hit the major highlights, I will focus on two of the more popular tourist areas, Downtown and Belltown.
Before hitting the streets, everyone should start off the day with an Aztec Mocha from downtown’s Fonté Café. The unique mix of coffee, chocolate, cayenne, cinnamon and black pepper delivers the perfect jolt to get you going. Afterwards, stop in at Fran’s Chocolates just a few doors down to pick up some of President Obama’s favorite smoked salt caramels for the road or as a souvenir for someone lucky back home.
By now, you should be ready to look for your first geocache. Head to the notorious Gum Wall for GC24H25 (Double Bubble Toil & Trouble). Tackling a brick wall covered with someone else’s chewed gum is not for the faint of heart. I will be the first to admit I never attempted this one because my friends always drag me away. It’s that gross. If given the opportunity, I would probably chicken out anyway, since I am a germ freak. GC30EQY (Octopus’s Garden of Watery Delights) is much more scenic, and definitely more sanitary, so take a stroll along the waterfront towards the ferris wheel and you will find it.
While in the area, hop on the Seattle Great Wheel which overlooks Elliot Bay. With amazing views of the city skyline and the lush green of West Seattle and Bainbridge Island across the water, it is the perfect place to watch the sunset. Beautifully lit at night, this is even more spectacular during its LED shows which only happen on special nights.
On the way out of Downtown, walk through the historic Pike Place Market which is one of the oldest continuously operated farmers’ markets in the country. The enormous crowd in the corner is watching the world famous fishmongers throwing whole fish to their customers. Spend some time exploring the aisles of local fruits, vegetables, and gorgeous floral bouquets. If you are up for fighting throngs of people, stop in at one of Seattle’s top tourist sites, the “original” Starbucks. I am not one for crowds so I prefer grabbing coffee and a savory croissant at nearby Le Panier or a piroshky from Piroshky Piroshky.
If you fancy donuts, try Dahlia’s Bakery just inside Belltown. These made to order, hot out of the fryer goodies are served with a seasonal fruit dip and a marscapone cheese sauce. En route, stop to find one of my favorite geocaches GC4C0B1 (Heart of Downtown). I liked this one because it was so much bigger than the micros I was used to finding in my urban home environment and I was excited that it was large enough to hold the travel bug that I hadn’t been able to drop anywhere.
Also in Belltown is a great brunch spot I discovered on one of the episodes in Anthony Bourdain’s Layover series. When I saw a Dutch Baby featured from Tilikum Place Café, I knew I had to have it. This puffy pancake is an American take on a soufflé. It definitely lived up to the hype and is worth ordering, especially since it is not commonly found.
From here, walk a few blocks over to the Seattle Center and take an elevator up 520 feet to the observation deck of the iconic Space Needle for a 360 degree view of the city. For a little dining adventure, which would include free admission to the observation deck, check out Sky City, a rotating restaurant located 500 feet up in the Space Needle. Be careful though, you may get a little motion sick from the spinning.
Not to be missed is the Chihuly Garden and Glass found at the base of the Space Needle. This exhibit is breathtaking, full of color and light, inside and out. In addition to Chihuly’s signature glass chandeliers and glass work, there are striking displays of intricately woven Native American baskets sitting side by side with the glass sculptures they inspired, as well as an interesting film about Chihuly’s background and current projects. A stunningly landscaped garden becomes an outdoor canvas for more stunning glasswork that blends wonderfully into the flora and fauna.
Just across the way is a beautiful totem pole erected in honor of John T. Williams, a First Nations totem carver. Here you will find GC3G2EH (John T. Williams Memorial Totem Pole). This one is a little difficult only because of the high muggle factor. A few blocks down the hill is a really cool puzzle cache GC1A2TN (Olympic Sculpture Park Walk) that takes you on a tour of the waterfront park by incorporating clues found at its various sculptures. This could take a couple of hours, but may be faster for those who are better with numbers and figuring out lats and longs. I confess I needed the help of my GEO (Geocaching Executive Officer) to locate the actual cache at ground zero because I have a mental block that prevents me from finding caches hidden amongst large rocks.
Now it’s time to grab dinner and a drink or two at either of these two local institutions. Taylor’s Oyster Bar sources its shellfish from its own farm which has been growing shellfish for over 100 years. This is some of the freshest shellfish you will ever have. Shiro’s has been a mainstay in Seattle serving sushi for over 20 years. This sushi restaurant has such a following that people start lining up outside an hour before it opens. (Full disclosure, Shiro’s has been sold and its namesake has moved on to new business ventures.)
I have gotten to know Seattle well over the last few years and almost came to call it home. It has truly amazed me with all it has to offer and is much more than grunge music and rainy days. The scrappy people, the innovative food, the port and the bay all remind me of home. I gave Seattle a second chance after discounting it for the last three decades. I hope you will give it a chance, too. You won’t be sorry.