From sky-high views to an unusual cruise, the beautiful city of Seattle is well worth getting to know
Located on the west coast of America, a short drive away from Canada, Seattle is Washington State’s most beautiful city. The surrounding area is packed with fantastic sightseeing opportunities, and from the fabulous stereotypes of the Puyallup Fair to the grandeur of Hurricane Ridge to the entertainment of the Duck Tour, my cousin Kirsten and I never stopped smiling.
We stayed in the Inn At Harbor Steps in downtown Seattle. It's a friendly, comfortable place to stay, with a fabulous location within easy walking distance of highlights such as Pike Place Market, where stalls heave with fresh fish, vegetables, vibrant flowers and local craftwork. We spent a happy morning meandering through the mayhem, dodging enormous salmon being thrown by giggling tourists encouraged by the Pike Place fishmongers. Bizarrely, this fishy sight is one of the market’s most famous attractions, but we preferred to wander on to the lower level, where the shops are slightly seedier and less touristy, and a life-sized copper sculpture of a giant squid hangs over the stairwell.
A short walk along First Avenue, we found the original Starbucks. It’s surprisingly understated and easy to miss, with no lights or sparkle declaring its position as the starting place of a worldwide empire – there are more than 400 in the Seattle area alone. Created in 1971, the coffee shop is in a historic district where change is deterred, and retains its original look.
From here it’s an easy stroll to the harbour area, where there are plenty of hotels, restaurants, and boat trips to choose from. We ate at Anthony’s Bell Street Diner (2201 Alaskan Way), feasting on prawn tempura, crab and avocado salad and barbecued shrimps. Being mid-September, this was peach season in Washington State – a good reason to visit at that time of year, when enormous succulent golden and white peaches vie for menu space, transformed into cobblers, ice cream and tarts, and, most delightfully, something called a slump, baked until oozing and topped with a buttery biscuit. Anthony’s grand decor opens onto outdoor seating areas where you can enjoy views over Elliot Bay and soak up the relaxed atmosphere that seems to imbue the whole city.
Eager to see Seattle from a different perspective, we caught the Elliot Bay Water Taxi from Pier 55 to Seacrest Park, where Seattle began. The ferry costs only $3 one-way, and is the perfect way to witness the Seattle skyline, from the Safeco sports stadium to the iconic Space Needle.
The Space Needle was our next stop. To me, it is the ultimate attraction in Seattle, and if you only have one day, head here. The ‘air fare’ to the O Deck isn’t cheap at $15, but it’s worth every cent when you shoot 520 feet skywards to look out over the skyscrapers and lakes to the two huge mountains that cradle Seattle between them, Mount Baker on one side and Mount Rainier on the other.
In the car park across the road from the Space Needle, Duck Tours load up with tourists happy to experience Seattle’s sense of humour first hand. Former US army vessels, the amphibious vehicles have been transformed into comical tour buses. Our driver, Captain Woo-Ha, sported a different hat for every song that blasted from his stereo, and we had the option of sitting quietly and enjoying the views, or joining in, dancing in our seats and singing along. It’s a hilarious 90-minute experience, and as Woo-Ha whizzed us around downtown and into Lake Union, we even learnt a few things about the Emerald City.
The following day, revved up by the previous day’s activities, we decided to sample Americana at its best, and headed to the Puyallup Fair. Washington State’s biggest annual fair, the event is a chance to experience the richness of American culture, from barns filled with craftwork to an exhibit on Spam; displays of Mustang cars and motorbikes alongside enclosures of goats, sheep, horses, pigs and chickens; not to mention the opportunity to see a cow being milked, and watch a human cannonball fly through the air, all the while munching on ice cream, ribs, roasted sweetcorn, and elephant ears. It’s an extraordinary miscellany, and a great way to sample the country’s extremes.
The following day, seeking something a little more refined, we caught the Washington State Ferry to Port Townsend on the Olympic Peninsula. After the mayhem and crowds of the preceding days, it felt good to be somewhere with a gentler pace. One of the most magnificent viewpoints is Hurricane Ridge, a glorious spot 5,000 feet above sea level. As we hiked the narrow trails, marmosets and huge grasshoppers darted ahead of us. The air was clear, bright and, well, a little thinner than we’re used to. As we paused to gasp for breath we were overtaken by a group of elderly local women, striding for all their worth without any trouble at all.
On the way back to Seattle, we stayed out on the deck, despite freezing winds, watching the peninsula recede and taking photos of each other against the dramatic backdrop of mountains and water, until another tourist approached us. “Excuse me, I don’t mean to interrupt,” he said, “but you might want to glance over there.”
We looked to where he pointed and hugged each other with glee as the fin of an orca broke the water, followed by a whole pod of gleaming whales – a perfect high note to end our adventures on.