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Short visit sightseeing: One day in Seattle

Posted by on Sep 23, 2014 in Travel | 4 comments

There’s a lot to see and do in Seattle. But if you don’t have much time, it’s actually a great place for a short trip too. Many of the main attractions are close together, so it’s easy to see the sights (and then move on if you want to see more local spots).


On a recent, all-too-short trip to Seattle, I set out to see some of the city’s highlights in one day.

Originally, we had planned to spend most of the day downtown. I won’t bore you with the details, but things came up, plans shifted, schedules changed, and that didn’t happen. But it was still a fabulous day in Seattle.

Tip one: Have a plan…and be ready for it to change.

If you want to see as much as you can in a short amount of time, you don’t want to leave it totally to chance. Having a plan as a starting point will also help when things inevitably change.

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Morning: Fremont

Coffee is a great way to start a day in Seattle. Okay, coffee is a great way to start the day anywhere. Seattle does have an exceptional range of options, though, including dozens of independent shops and locally-based chains.

I met a friend at Milstead & Co., which shares outdoor seating with History House of Greater Seattle, a museum of Seattle’s neighborhoods and sculpture garden. It’s located in the Fremont neighborhood, which is known for its Sunday market, public art (including the eponymous Troll), and supposed position at the center of the universe.

Tip two: Think geographically. Group sightseeing by neighborhood. Remember to allow for transit time and traffic.


Midday: International District

Midday, we headed downtown. I needed to stop by the Visit Seattle office to pick up my press kit and CityPasses. That placed us conveniently near the International District (a.k.a. Seattle’s Chinatown) at lunch time.

The International District has tons of great food options. My brother and sister-in-law wanted to introduce me to dim sum, so we went to their favorite place, Jade Garden. As far as I can tell, the better the dim sum, the worse the parking. It works out, though. What goes down is that cart after cart filled with steaming hot, hard-to-turn-down dumplings and assorted goodies wheels up to your table, you try lots of delicious things that you may or may not be able to identify, pay the bill, and waddle out. At this point, you probably realize a longer walk to your parking spot is a good idea.

You can grab some boba tea before heading to your next stop. While you’re in the neighborhood, look for dragons climbing telephone poles, the Chinatown Gate, and a giant chessboard in Hing Hay Park.

Tip three: Make food and beverages part of your experience of a place, rather than an afterthought.


Afternoon: Seattle Center

Seattle Center is home to a number of attractions, fountains, gardens — and free wifi!


Space Needle

The iconic Space Needle is obviously a super popular destination. Fortunately, whoever’s in charge there is pretty efficient. There are separate lines for people purchasing tickets, with general admission, with a scheduled a time to go up, and for CityPass holders.

The CityPass really does save a lot of time, so, even if your trip is too short to see all the sights, it may be worth it for the quicker access.

Even the elevator ride is maximized, with the operator spouting facts about the Space Needle on the ride up. I was concerned it might be a bit nerve wracking to watch out the windows as we ascended, but it wasn’t. It takes about 45 seconds to get to the top, and it feels a bit like you’re just slowly floating up there.



You step out of the elevator into a room that wraps around the building. There is a huge interactive display that a crowd of people could check out at once (the “Skypad”), souvenirs for sale, and a restaurant with wine specials. I’m thinking the next time I’ll plan to just go up, find a table next to the window, and sip on merlot. We even noticed a few outlets in case you drain your phone taking photos.



Outside is the observation deck with viewing telescopes and a few benches. You can walk around the whole building and see for miles – Puget Sound, the downtown skyscrapers, the roofs of museums, a swimming pool or two, and far off residential neighborhoods. There was a nice breeze at the top. Despite the fact that it was a busy day, it wasn’t hard to find spots next to the rail to look off in the distance, and it actually felt peaceful up there.

At the bottom of the Space Needle is a large gift shop inside and the Chihuly Garden outside.



Pacific Science Center

We, unfortunately, ran out of time for the espionage exhibit at Pacific Science Center, but we did have a look around. There were animatronic dinosaurs and models of the solar system and even small animals in aquariums (including axolotls, the salamander-like object of the narrator’s obsession in Julio Cortázar’s short story. I’d wanted to see one since reading it in a Spanish lit class.) We visited the Tropical Butterfly House and smiled that this large butterfly had attached itself to one man’s pant leg and was apparently never leaving. My two-year-old niece and 10-month-old nephew enjoyed playing in the water at the stream table. Everyone with the museum was super nice and helpful.

Also near Seattle Center/Waterfront

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Evening: West Seattle

We walked through the lovely Seacrest Park at sunset and took in the view of downtown and with a minature Space Needle across the water. For a longer walk, Alki Beach is nearby.

We went to the fusion restaurant Marination Ma Kai, which got its start as a food truck and now boasts several locations around Seattle. The day we were there it was packed with uniformed high school band kids for some reason. There must have been an event or competition that day. Anyway, they provided some free entertainment while we waited in line.

Tip four: Savor the moment. Whether you’re ascending a tower or simply watching ripples across the water, do your best to enjoy the view.

Alternate plans:

  • Pike Place Market is near Seattle Center, and you could start there instead of Fremont. Go early for fresh produce and fish or later for retailers, bars, and buskers.
  • Some people with a tight schedule skip the top of the Space Needle for more time in museums or seeing other sights.
  • If you’re not interested in the big attractions, you could also spend less of your day downtown and more at local hangouts.
  • Check out Visit Seattle’s one-day itinerary and day trip list for other alternatives.


Bringing a Bit of Seattle to You

If you can’t head to Seattle just yet (or if you want to keep your trip fresh in your mind), here are a few ideas to make the Emerald City feel a little closer:

A big thank you to Visit Seattle for providing information and CityPasses and to Ian Smith and Christine Smith of Four Windows, who acted as my city guides and assisted with this series of Seattle posts! Congrats on the launch of Four Windows Books!

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Fremont public art

Posted by on Sep 20, 2014 in Travel | 0 comments

Gotta love public art! Here are 3 fascinating pieces in the Fremont neighborhood of Seattle!

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1. Underneath the Aurora Bridge is the Fremont Troll. Made of reinforced concrete, wire, and a VW bug, it’s large enough for several people to climb on at once. The troll has inspired several annual events and is often decorated with chalk art.


2. The Interurban Sculpture depicts several people waiting at a bus stop, along with a dog with a human face (said to be the likeness of either a particularly beloved or hated public figure, depending on who you talk to). It is regularly decorated, dressed up, and/or yarn bombed. Community members are welcome — encouraged, actually — to adorn the statue as they choose for a week, as long as they are not displaying commercial messages.


3. So this conversation actually happened:

“Do you want to see the statue of Lenin?”

Lennon? Like John Lennon?”

“No. Like Marx and Lenin.”


Yep. Imagine all the people who could be depicted in statue form in a Seattle neighborhood, and I bet you wouldn’t have guessed the Russian communist leader either. The statue was originally installed in Slovakia, toppled during the 1989 revolution, and currently stands on a street corner in Fremont. I don’t think the community is trying to promote his ideals. As I understand it, it’s about great craft extending beyond ideology. All they are saying is “give art a chance.”


Fremont prides itself on its quirkiness. And with a giant Volkswagen-eating troll under a bridge, a statue that residents dress, and one of a Russian revolutionary, I don’t think it’s in danger of losing that distinction.

With a little research help from my friends Ian Smith and Christine Smith of Four Windows.

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San Francisco Sneak Peek

Posted by on Sep 16, 2014 in Craft, Travel | 0 comments

I’m typing this at SFO waiting to board a plane back to Phoenix.
I was one of six Brit + Co contributors chosen to go out to San Francisco and cover their Re:Make conference. Of course, I did a little San Francisco exploring while I was out there, as well. It was a great trip and an inspiring conference, and I’m excited to tell you more about it!
But while I get that all together (I wish I could do nothing but write for a week straight!), here are some photos to tide you over.
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More to come!
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Ballet Under the Stars and the beauty of free culture

Posted by on Sep 10, 2014 in Craft, Travel | 0 comments

When people talk about free events, they tend to miss what really makes them great. The fact that no money is required for entry is nice. But what’s even better is the laidback feel, ability to be spontaneous, and sense of community that is more likely when there’s no price of admission.


Sure, I like dressing up and watching a performance in a reserved symphony hall seat once in awhile. But I also like taking in a ballet while sitting cross-legged with a cooler full of my favorite snacks and beverages at my side.

Free usually means not having to bother with tickets. You can decide to go or not go at the last minute if you need/want to. Free can bring typically inside events (Shakespeare) outside (…in the park). You can enjoy good weather AND enjoy the arts, instead of it being an either/or scenario.



Ballet Under the Stars

I love Ballet Arizona’s annual event, Ballet Under the Stars. I try to make it to the performance at Tempe Center for the Arts every September. By then, the evenings have usually cooled off, and it’s lovely to be out next to the lake, under the sky, instead of stuck inside hugging the air conditioning vents (which is basically what you do all summer in Phoenix.) You can spread a blanket out on the grass or bring folding chairs.

You see lots of people with kids, little girls wearing tutus and dancing along. But it’s not just for people with kids. You also see seniors and ASU students, and everyone in between. There’s always a huge turnout, and it seems to grow every year.

The program is usually a mix of the traditional ballet that most of us associate with the art form and more contemporary pieces, showcasing excerpts from upcoming performances. There is also a performance from kids in the community who have participated in the company’s Class Act program.




Last year, I took the neighborhood shuttle over with a picnic and a blanket. I got there about 6:30, got a decent spot (6:00 would probably get you a super spot!), and watched the dancers warm up. Phillip took the light rail after work and found me just before the performance began.

For the main course of our picnic, Wildflower Bread Company’s Roasted Sweet Potato sandwich gave me idea for a veggie grilled cheese with sliced leftover sweet potatoes, onions, bell peppers and gouda cheese between two slices of bread toasted on the outside. I wrapped each sandwich in foil to keep them (mostly) warm until Phillip got there. They were just a little messy and some of the melted cheese wanted to stick to the foil, but it worked pretty well overall.

We munched, took in the performance, laid back, and looked at the stars. And that’s a wonderful way to experience the ballet.


What to know about Ballet Under the Stars:

  • There are performances all over the Phoenix area, September 18-27 at 7pm.
  • Admission is free, but you can make a donation to support Ballet Arizona online or at an event.
  • No photography is permitted during the event. (Post photos were taken before it.)
  • Bring something to sit on (blanket, lawn chair, etc.).
  • You don’t have to be silent, just don’t be annoying. Expect there to be general kid noise and people-coming-and-going noise. Whisper a comment to your friend if you want – just don’t talk over the whole performance.

Transportation/Parking for the Tempe Center for the Arts Performance

  • DO NOT plan to park at Tempe Center for the Arts unless your car has a disability plate or decal! Because Ballet Under the Stars is such a huge event, that night the entire lot is used for ADA parking. There’s always a long line of cars waiting to get in the lot and most of them are turned away. It causes a big traffic snarl.
  • Park at the U.S. Airways Garage at 111 W. Rio Salado Parkway (enter off of Ash Avenue). It’s free after 6 p.m., and it’s about a 1/2 mile walk.
  • Or don’t park at all. TAC is about 3/4 mile from the Mill Avenue/Third Street light rail stop. 
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Seattle like a local

Posted by on Sep 3, 2014 in Travel | 0 comments

Jennifer asked via Instagram where she could go in Seattle to get away from the tourist areas and get a more local feel.


Finding Local Flavor Wherever You Travel

One key to doing this anywhere is simply finding the touristy part(s) of town and then removing yourself from there. If you’re still seeing postcard stands on the streets, cutesy building facades, and/or things to pose next to for photos, keep going.

Once you start to see grocery stores, permanent residences, and/or less picturesque streets, you’ve probably crossed over to the local zone.


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Seattle’s Local Flavor

In Seattle, a lot of the top attractions are grouped together, which makes it easy to see the sights – and then to escape them. Get out of downtown and away from the University District (which locals call the “U District”), and you’re likely to find yourself where locals live, work, run errands, relax, and drink coffee. (Coffee gets its own category because we’re talking about Seattle here.)

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The timing of Jennifer’s question was great, since my Seattle experts happened to be in town. So we brainstormed and came up with a few suggestions of where to go for Seattle’s local flavor:

  • The photo that prompted the question was from Pike Place Market, which I recently wrote about as being a place you’ll find both tourists and locals. There are tons of places to eat, drink, shop, and explore.
  • I’ve also mentioned the Fremont Sunday Market, which is a great local thing to do if you happen to be in town on a Sunday.
  • Starbucks is not Seattle’s only homegrown coffee shop, so you may want to branch out and try something that isn’t available in your hometown. There are tons of locally-based alternatives. I enjoyed drinking Medicis (orange mochas) from Caffe Ladro, a 14-location, Washington-only chain. 
  • Full Tilt has all-natural ice cream, local art, and pinball. Yep. Pinball.
  • Hang out at Golden Gardens Park.
  • During the summer (and even this week), there are outdoor movies and concerts.

Finally, I’ll mention again my friend Luz’s post on things to do in Seattle, since she includes a lot of great ideas beyond the typical touristy fare.

How do you like to go local when you travel?

Thanks to Ian Smith and Christine Smith for help on this post!

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Wandering Pike Place Market

Posted by on Aug 27, 2014 in Travel | 0 comments

There’s nothing wrong with seeing the highlights of a place, the well-known “must-see” spots. But it’s always great when you can go beyond that, get off the beaten path, take the side streets.


Pike Place Market isn’t just a tourist attraction. Locals also frequent the farmers’ market, shops, cafes, and bars. It’s brimming with quirky Seattle flavor. The Market rewards those who are willing to explore, to keep their eyes open.



Of course, it’s fun to watch the guys throwing fish, and then stroll down the main arcade checking out the fruit and flowers. But you don’t have to stop there. Try chocolate pasta. Peruse the busker bulletin board.

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If you don’t want to wait in line at the original Starbucks, you can try a new kind of crumpet.


Go down a level or two and you’ll find a magic shop, a record store, a place that sells squirrel underwear.


Around the corner from the famous Gum Wall, there’s an alley covered with posters, stickers, and street art. (I’m always on the lookout for art in unexpected places – including alleys.)

A paste-up of a man wearing a business suit and a space helmet caught my eye. He’s the Clastronaut and is inspired by the feeling of never being at home.

That makes sense to me. We’re all travelers.


So you might as well wander around, get lost, and see what’s around the corner.

Pike Place Market is one fantastic place to do that.



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