I hope you've got a good pair of walking shoes and a lot of stamina (a double latte helps), because Seattle is a walking town. The city's two biggest attractions -- the waterfront and Pike Place Market -- are the sorts of places where you'll spend hours on your feet. When your feet are beat, you can relax on a tour boat and enjoy the views of the city from the Puget Sound, or you can take a 2-minute rest on the monorail, which links downtown with Seattle Center, home of the Space Needle. If your energy drops, don't worry; there's always an espresso cafe nearby.
And that monorail ride takes you right through the middle of Paul Allen's EMP/SFM (Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum), the Frank Gehry-designed rock-music and science-fiction museum that is also located in Seattle Center. Allen, who made his millions as one of the cofounders of Microsoft, has spent years changing the face of Seattle. He renovated Union Station and developed the area adjacent to Qwest Field, built for the Seattle Seahawks football team and owned by . . . you guessed it: Paul Allen. The stadium is adjacent to the Seattle Mariners' Safeco Field, which is one of the few ballparks in the country with a retractable roof. Allen has also now turned the South Lake Union neighborhood just north of downtown into a new urban village filled with high-rise condominiums, on-line retailer Amazon's headquarters, its own streetcar line, and loads of good restaurants. This redevelopment project has been the biggest thing to hit Seattle since the Space Needle first pierced the city's cloudy skies a half century ago.
Despite Seattle's many downtown diversions, the city's natural surroundings are still its primary attraction. You can easily cover all of Seattle's museums and major sights in 2 or 3 days. Once you've seen what's to see indoors, you can begin exploring the city's outdoor life.
If you plan to spend your time in downtown Seattle, a car is a liability. However, when it comes time to explore beyond downtown, say, to the University District, Fremont, or Ballard, a car can be handy (although there are good bus connections to these neighborhoods). If you want to head farther afield -- to Mount Rainier or the Olympic Peninsula -- then a car is a must.
Saving Money on Sightseeing -- If you're a see-it-all, do-it-all kind of person, you'll want to buy a CityPASS (tel. 888/330-5008 or 208/787-4300; www.citypass.com), which gets you into the Space Needle, Pacific Science Center, Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum (EMP/SFM), Seattle Aquarium, and either the Museum of Flight or Woodland Park Zoo, and lets you take a boat tour of the harbor with Argosy Cruises, at a savings of 50% if you visit all five attractions and do the harbor tour. The pass, good for 9 days from the date of first use, costs $59 for adults and $39 for children 4 to 12. Purchase your CityPASS at any of the participating attractions.
The Go Seattle Card (tel. 866/628-9029; www.smartdestinations.com) is another interesting option for travelers who are able to plan out a daily tour route in advance. It takes careful planning to get your money's worth, but it can be done. The way it works is that you pay $50 ($33 for children 3-12) for a card that will get you into as many participating attractions as you can visit in 1 day. There are discounts for the 2-, 3-, 5-, and 7-day cards; your best bet would probably be the 3-day card.
Fish Gotta Swim
It's no secret that salmon in the Puget Sound region have dwindled to dangerously low numbers. But it's still possible to witness the annual return of spawning salmon in various spots around the Sound.
In the autumn, on the waterfront, you can see returning salmon at the Seattle Aquarium, which has its own fish ladder. But the best place to see salmon is at the Hiram M. Chittenden (Ballard) Locks, 3015 NW 54th St. (tel. 206/783-7059). Between June and September (July-Aug are the peak months), you can view salmon through underwater observation windows as they leap up the locks' fish ladder. These locks, which are used primarily by small boats, connect Lake Union and Lake Washington with the waters of Puget Sound, and depending on the tides and lake levels, there is a difference of 6 to 26 feet on either side of the locks.
East of Seattle, in downtown Issaquah, salmon can be seen year-round at the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery, 125 W. Sunset Way (tel. 425/391-9094 or 425/392-1118; www.issaquahfish.org). However, it is in the fall that adult salmon can be seen returning to the hatchery. Every year on the first weekend in October, the city of Issaquah holds the Issaquah Salmon Days Festival to celebrate the return of the natives.
Best Natural Wonders
* Alki Beach: The closest Seattle comes to a L.A.-style “hang-out” beach, Alki Beach in West Seattle is where the first white settlers set up camp—and packed it up after one wet, miserable winter to move across the bay. Today’s Seattleites don’t let the weather keep them away from this stretch of rocky, sandy beach with its photo-op views of the Seattle skyline, the ever-popular Salty’s on Alki Beach restaurant, and the paved walkway that lets you enjoy it all. You can reach Alki Beach by water taxi from Pier 55. .
* Elliott Bay: If you’re in Seattle, you’re going to see Elliott Bay no matter what, because it forms the scenic backdrop to the entire downtown and west side of the city. Part of Puget Sound, a huge island-studded inlet of the Pacific Ocean, Elliott Bay provides a waterway from Seattle to the ocean and is one of the busiest ports in the U.S. You’ll see ferries, sailboats, fishing trawlers, cruise ships, excursion boats, and pleasure craft of all kinds plying its waters. Taking a ferry over the Bainbridge Island is one of the easiest ways to get out on the bay yourself. .
* Lake Washington: The main part of central Seattle is wedged between saltwater Elliott Bay to the west and freshwater Lake Washington to the east. The two are connected by the Lake Washington Ship Canal and the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, a series of historic locks that provide a passing parade of boat traffic. Lake Washington is a major recreational area for Seattle, and its shoreline is dotted with lovely old parks and beaches. For details on the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, .
* Mount Rainier National Park: With its glaciers and easily accessible alpine meadows, Mount Rainier is Washington’s favorite mountain. Sunrise and Paradise are the two best vantage points for viewing the massive bulk of Mount Rainier, and in these two areas of the park, you’ll also find some of the best hiking trails.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.