I know, I know, you can’t possibly expect to experience the best of a major city like Seattle in just one day, but that’s what I attempted. I was killing time between assignments and decided to revisit a city I’d only been to briefly and never as a tourist. I love the Pacific Northwest and couldn’t wait for my first real adventure in Seattle as a tourist, trying my hardest to make the most out of 24-hours. In large part, I think I succeeded and while I plan on writing a more comprehensive look at some of the discrete aspects of the trip, today I want to share those highlights that were the most memorable during my attempt to experience the best of Seattle in a day.
Yes, I stayed in Bellevue
As it turns out, June/July is the extreme high season in Seattle, which makes sense. The weather is beautiful and it’s when all of the cruises to/from Alaska take place. For me it meant that finding a decent place to stay was nearly impossible, so I looked further afield to the tony bedroom community of Bellevue. As it turns out, staying in Bellevue added a lot to my overall experience and I essentially was able to visit two cities for the price of one, so to speak. I also stayed at the brand new and incredibly well appointed Hilton Garden Inn, which impressed me in every way. I’m going to write a separate post about the hotel and my Bellevue experience, but I can’t recommend both enough.
I know, what’s a professional travel blogger doing using a CityPASS card? Well, I actually use them quite frequently and especially when I’m short on time. If you do the math, they almost always save money and, in the case of Seattle, included absolutely everything I wanted to do. Also included was a free harbor cruise, which was a highlight of my day and which I would never have done without the CityPASS.
As is the case for most first time visitors to Seattle, the bulk of my time was spent in and around the Seattle Center part of town. This is where you’ll find some of the city’s most iconic sights, starting with the Space Needle. Finishing a massive remodel literally days before I arrived, the Space Needle is of course the de facto symbol of the city. Built for the 1962 World’s Fair, at the time it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi and even today still attracts millions of visitors. Since I had a full day, I was there when it opened which meant no lines as I took the elevator up to the observation deck at 520 feet. It was the ideal first introduction to the city and gave me the perspective needed to enjoy the rest of the day. Plus it was just a lot of fun, so there’s that.
Next door to the Space Needle is the Instagram-famous Chihuly Garden and Glass. Opened just in 2012, this is the showcase facility for Washington native and world famous glass artist, Dale Chihuly. Inside is a dazzling array of some of his best pieces, including the incredible Garden and Glasshouse that’s like entering a Wonderland for modern art. It’s a fun space and one that I can’t recommend enough.
What I was looking forward to perhaps the most though is also thankfully located in the same spot, the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP). Started by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen in 2000, the massive space is dedicated to a variety of pop culture subjects but especially music, science fiction and even video games. The building itself is as much a draw as the engaging exhibits, designed by Frank Gehry it’s definitely a building you won’t soon forget. I was very tight on time so I literally raced through MoPOP, but I hope to return and really do the museum the justice it deserves.
I had a long list of not-as-famous-but-still-fun spots around Seattle I wanted to visit and, believe it or not, I managed to see them all. And no, I didn’t rest much that day. Of course Pike Place Market is world famous and yes, I was there to see them toss around some fish, but I was mostly curious to visit the Gum Wall. This strange alley next to the Market has taken on a social media life of its own, thanks to the many thousands of pounds of used gum stuck to the walls. Yes, it’s mostly disgusting, but a colorful sight to see for sure.
The Space Needle wasn’t the only observatory I visited, I also stopped by the city’s first skyscraper, the Smith Tower. In 1914, Smith Tower became the first skyscraper in Seattle and the tallest building west of the Mississippi River. For more than one hundred years, it has remained a cultural icon of the city, offering breathtaking panoramic views and spectacular architectural beauty. Traveling up to the top in the retro elevators was a lot of fun and I really enjoyed the alternative view of the city, showcasing more of the waterfront and downtown core.
Finally, I can’t talk about Seattle without mentioning its coffee culture. Sure, Starbucks got its start here, but there’s a lot more than just the standard bearer around town. Seemingly every corner is home to a quirky and offbeat coffee shop, each one bustling with an improbable number of people all out for their caffeine fix. I stopped at more than one for the fuel I needed to get me through the day.
As I mentioned, had I not used the CityPASS I would never have taken the Argosy Cruises Harbor Tour, but I’m so glad I did. I took the standard 1-hour cruise, but the company offers a variety of different options, most of which leave from the historic Pier 55 along the waterfront. Seattle is very much about the water, and to see the glittering skyline from the deck of a boat is I think critical for any visitor to the city. Plus, just like the other experiences, it was also a lot of fun. It’s how I ended my long but fun day in the city and I honestly couldn’t have planned it better.
While I don’t necessarily recommend trying to see and do everything in Seattle in just a day, if you’re tight on time like I was you should know that it is indeed possible. More than anything else, it reaffirmed my own personal love of the city and the fact that I need to return soon in order to learn even more about the Emerald City.