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 -- A CityPass (www.citypass.com) is one of the best deals in town. You can visit five popular Seattle destinations for half the cost of regular admission (if you take them all in). Better yet, you don’t have to wait in line—this is especially helpful at the Space Needle. The passes, valid for 9 consecutive days, will get you into the Space Needle (where general admission is $26 for adults), Seattle Aquarium (general admission $22 for adults), Pacific Science Center or Chihuly Garden and Glass, Museum of Pop Culture or Woodland Park Zoo, and an Argosy Cruises harbor tour of Elliott Bay. A CityPass costs $79 for adults and $59 for kids ages 4 to 12. You can buy them at any of the included attractions, or order them from the website.
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.
The New Nordic Heritage Museum
For years, the Nordic History Museum was housed in an old school and its displays were, well, pretty static. But in May 2018 this museum, the only one in the country that celebrates the history, art and traditions of the five Nordic countries (Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, and Sweden) whose immigrants settled in Seattle and the Pacific Northwest, will be moving to brand-new home at 2655 NW Market St. ([tel] 206/789-5707; www.nordicmuseum.org; $8 adults, $7 seniors/students, $6 children; Tues–Sat 10am–4pm, Sun noon–4pm). Alas, the museum wasn’t open in time for us to review it for this guide. But, from all reports, it looks like it will be a more dynamic enterprise. You can easily combine a visit to the museum with a visit to the Hiram A. Chittenden Locks
An Update on the Burke Museum
For decades, the Burke Museum, the Washington State Museum of Natural History and Culture, was housed in a cramped, 1960s-era building on the UW campus at 15th Avenue and 45th Street NE. Among its newest treasures is the largest and most intact fossilized T-Rex skull ever discovered. In 2018 the old Burke closed so that the collections can be moved to a brand-new museum, adjacent to the old one, with state-of-the-art galleries and open labs that will allow visitors to watch researchers at work and ask them questions. The opening date for the new Burke was not available at press time, but is scheduled for 2019. Check out the website www.burkemuseum.org for updates because this is one new museum you and your kids will definitely not want to miss.