OVERVIEW OF SEATTLE

[Seattle region]
Click for larger image
Go Northwest and the City of Seattle Tourism site have great overviews of Seattle, the "Emerald City". Here's an armchair picture tour of the city shows Seattle at its best (in summer), and here's another.

Summer in the Puget Sound region is glorious - dry, highs around 75F (27 C), lows about 55F (12 C), with long days. Summer rain is rare. Most houses and many stores have no air conditioning. You'll find the residents out on their neighborhood streets, parks, and boats enjoying the weather. Mosquitos (and almost all bugs) are few. Blackberries rule the city in summer.

Leaving the airport: Downtown is 20 miles north of the SeaTac Airport. Take a cab ($30-$45), a hotel limo bus ($11; every 30 mins), or the Metro express city bus (route 194 northbound -- not 174! (every 30 mins, exact change, fares expected to rise before summer). There is also a shuttle service (1-800-487-7433) to selected hotels in the "U-District" for $30 or less. Contact your hotel for schedule and reservation information. Within the airport, directions to bus, taxi, and shuttle pickup points are clearly posted; for an airport web map click here. Here's a list of airlines that serve SeaTac airport.

Where to go: See the next section. Downtown Seattle is very popular, which is a blessing and a curse. Pike Place Market, many musea, lots of stores, great restaurants, daytime fun on foot, and an active night life make the downtown area attractive.

Alternately, you can stay less expensively in the University District, or U District about 3 miles north of downtown a few blocks west of I-5. There are many hotels, and they're usually cheaper and much less crowded except when large conferences meet on campus. Another hotel district lies east and south of the Seattle Center, though these hotels may be crowded and expensive in the summer, especially on weekends.

DOWNTOWN ATTRACTIONS


Photo: http://www.rainbowrampage.com/images/seattle1.jpg

Hotels: Click for a Fodor's list of hotels. Here's a http://www.cheaprooms.com/good guide to inexpensive hotels; sort by price and click on the map feature. The Ramada Seattle Downtown (2200 5th Ave.), the Belltown Inn (2301 3rd Ave.), and the King's Inn (2106 5th Ave.) are often a good values (best to check)! Prices drop with distance, but this has to be weighed against the hassle of getting into the city. Parking can be an issue.

Sites: The downtown area is extremely lively and relatively safe region, especially during the day. An essential tool for city tourists is this commercial detailed tourist site map which has locations, descriptions, and links to all major sites of interest. A paper version is available at information kiosks at the airport and elsewhere. The City of Seattle has these useful tips for visitors.

Tidbits
  • Seattle's public "Metro" busses within the downtown zone are absolutely free from 6 A.M. to 7 P.M.!
  • There are over 150 coffee bars within downtown, many of them in bookstores. (They are good places to find public rest rooms.)
  • The views and attendant costs of real estate are highest in the Downtown -- University -- Queen Anne area and adjacent hills, much like San Francisco and Vancouver B.C.
  • Crime is low for U.S. cities; nonetheless, the relatively pedestiran-free areas beyond to the south and north ends of the commercial region should be avoided after 9 P.M. Don't make eye contact with the panhandlers. See this article.
  • The international headquarters of Starbucks, Nordstroms, Costco, and Amazon are downtown or nearby. Starbucks' first cafe is in the Pike Place Market. Boeing and Microsoft are largely in the 'burbs. The tour of the Boeing assembly plant near Mukulteo and Everett is quite impressive (25 miles north on I-5 to exit 189/route 526, then 2 miles west).

THE UNIVERSITY DISTRICT

     

Hotels in the University District are often less expensive and offer much more convenient parking than those downtown. The U District has many inexpensive and moderate restaurants. Access to highways and freeways is easy, and there are many city busses to downtown (71,72,73) and elsewhere around town. Another advantage is that most of the tourists from the massive cruise ships are elsewhere.

The University of Washington one of the loveliest campuses in the U.S. Here's a virtual picture tour. More campus walk information is given here; of special note are the Burke Museum, the campus tree tour, the medicinal herb garden, the waterfronts and marshes that define the south and east borders of the campus, and the Washington Park Arboretum, all of which are a pleasure in spring and summer. You can rent bikes and explore the Ship Canal along the Burke-Gilmann bike trail (next section). Another very popular place to visit is the vast faculty/student-owned cooperative bookstore, the U Bookstore on University Ave. near NE 45th St.

FUN PLACES ALONG THE SHIP CANAL AND BEYOND

Strung out west to east near the Lake Washington Ship Canal that bisects Seattle are
  • Shilshole Baywhere the yachts dock and the ducks yak.
  • Ballard Bait & Tackle. Best crab caesar salad in town, great canal views, hard to find!
  • Hiram M. Chittenden ("Ballard") Locks and fish ladder
  • Archie McPhee's store of goofy stuff for the mentally juvenile
  • Zany, festive Fremont and the infamous troll under the bridge
  • Woodland Park Zoo
  • University of Washington
  • Washington Park Arboretum

  • dest.travelocity.com/website/destinations/photos/035_204.jpg
    These and other interesting places are connected by the 20-mile Burke-Gilman Bike Trail, which is part of Seattle-King County's park system. You can walk or rent a bike if the weather is nice (closest rentals: Recycled Cycles and Ti Cycles). Seattle's Golden Gardens Park and the Puget Sound lie at the west end. Wineries are found near the east end. Alternatively, you might want to take a bus tour of these and other sites. Here's a finding chart of Seattle's many city parks, gardens, and trails. Burke-Gilman Bike Trail from Seattle to the Wineries

    SEATTLE CENTER AND THE SPACE NEEDLE

    The Seatttle Center is located on the grounds of the famous 1962 World's Fair north of downtown. The Center is a 20-square-block Seattle City park with a wide variety of attractions for children and adults alike. Downtown is a 25-minute walk or 10-mimute ride on the famous Monorail from the Seattle Center's Center House. This is another area with some good bargains on rooms, but nearby hotels can be crowded in the summer so reserve early. You'll find many decent restaurants and interesting places to go within an easy walk.

    Many of the city's most interesting, if not unusual, musea and attractions and events are here. We particularly recommend Experience Music Project & Science Fiction Museum, funded by Microsoft cofounder Paul Allen. The EMP is an eclectic tribute to 25 years of popular music that culminated with Jimi Hendrix. The controversial building is an eyepopping rendering of a smashed guitar designed by Frank Gehry (Bilbao MoMA). Also of interest are the Pacific Science Center (in the former U.S Pavillion of the 1962 fair), the Seattle Repertory Theater, the Intiman Theater, Seattle Opera, and the Space Needle.


    NATIONAL PARKS, PUGET SOUND, AND OTHER PLACES TO VISIT IN THE REGION

    A huge variety of other attractions lie within an easy drive of Seattle. Taking a few days to do one or two of them will make your visit much more memorable. Here's a short list of regional scenic parks:
    North Cascades National Park
    Mt. Rainier National Park
    Mt. St. Helens National Monument
    Olympic National Park
    Mt. Baker/Heather Meadows Visitor Center & Climbing
    Washington State Parks
    Mount Baker Wilderness
    Glacier Peak Wilderness
    Wild Sky Wilderness
    Other nearby wilderness areas
    Here's a short list of more populated places:
    San Juan Island: www.sanjuanisland.com
    Yakima region wineries: www.winesnw.com/yak.html
    Washington State Bed & Breakfast Guide: www.wbbg.com
    Vancouver B.C. tourism: www.tourismvancouver.com/visitors/
    Victoria B.C. tourism: victoriabc.com/

    Click for larger map.

    Purple regions are national parks. Green is wilderness.
    The wild Pacific coastline and nearby rain forests are special all year round.
    Oddly Mt St Helens (west of Mt Adams) isn't shown.

    Click to order a free and very useful
    tourist map of Washington State.


    CANADA, EH?

    The boundary between Canada and the U.W. wasn't settled until the Pig War ended on San Juan Island WA in 1872. Queues at Customs have pointed the way to the border ever since. Vancouver (150 miles north of Seattle) and Victoria (about 100 miles and a ferry ride) are well worth the effort. (Note: B.C. Ferries are your best bet. They take car reservations. WA State ferry service from Anacortes WA and Victoria BC may be discontinued soon. Check carefully.) STARTING JUNE 1 2009 YOU MUST HAVE A VALID PASSPORT TO ENTER THE U.S. FROM CANADA. DON'T LEAVE THE U.S. WITHOUT ONE! A driver's license, proof of voter registration or a copy of a birth certificate are not accepted.

    VICTORIA The garden-crazed town of Victoria B.C., home of Butchart Gardens and the spectacular Provincial Museum (now called the Royal BC Museum). It's easy to imagine that you are in England as you stroll the city's Inner Harbour. High tea at the Empress Hotel is a religious ritual at 4 P.M. -- and a major source of tourist income!

    • By car: Although the driving time is 2-3 hours, you must add to the time to catch a ferry: 100 minutes sailing time plus queues. Plan a 5-hour trip. If you're driving from the U.S. you should have proof of auto insurance, which most rental car companies will provide on short notice.
    • By ferry: From Seattle drive I-5 to Canadian customs and follow Rte 99 to the signs to the Tsawassen ferry terminal. For ferry information and schedules: www.bcferries.bc.ca.
    • By high-speed boat: A 2-hour ride from Seattle's downtown Pier 69 on the Victoria Clipper. Scenic in good summer weather; however, seas can be choppy in storms. $149 round trip in July, though cheaper advance-purchase round trip fares are available. Choose one-day round trip or various overnight packages. For schedules and fares see www.victoriaclipper.com.
    VANCOUVER Many say that Vancouver the nicest city in the Americas, more scenic than San Francisco, and more diverse too. Chinatown thrives, as do many other strong ethnic neighborhoods that remain culturally distinct and vigorous. The combination of mountains and bays that define the city's limits are spectacular.
    • By car: It's a simple 3-hour 150-mile drive up I-5, through Canadian customs, along BC Rte 99, into downtown Vancouver. Once you cross the Granville Bridge drive westbound along any of 4th, 10th, 16th, or 41st Avenues into Southwest Marine Drive and thence to UBC at the western tip of the peninsula. If you're driving from the U.S. you should have proof of auto insurance, which most rental car companies will provide on short notice.
    • By train: Take the Amtrak Cascades from King Street Station to downtown Vancouver by way of the Puget Sound coastline. Three express trains or locals daily. For train information and schedules: www.cwrr.com/Amtrak/wc_cascad.html.