There are a lot of things to do in Seattle. So how can I do it all in a day? I asked myself, after booking my flight and hotel. It simply wasn’t possible. I could live there for a year and still miss all kinds of amazing restaurants and interesting attractions. There’s no way to see a city like Seattle in a day. But that’s all I had, so I was going to give it my best shot. Here’s what I did and how you can make it happen, too:
I headed straight for the Seattle Art Museum after landing. It was a quick walk from the train that brought me into downtown Seattle from the airport. It also offered a free spot for me to check my backpack so I wouldn’t have to carry it around the rest of the morning as I explored the area. I could just leave it there at the complimentary coat check while I toured the museum, and then slip out for more sightseeing. More on that in a minute, but first the museum.
The Seattle Art Museum held no special interest for me when I was planning my trip. After all, it’s not like it’s the Louvre or the Met in New York City. But I overheard some people talking about how great it was while I was on Maui, so I thought I ought to give it a shot. I like art museums, so why not? Even the worst of them seem to have something good to see. But the SAM most certainly wasn’t at the bottom of the barrel.
Jasper Johns (above), Mark Rothko, Andy Warhol, they were all there in the halls of the SAM. I was immediately impressed. I didn’t expect anything more than some cheap knockoffs by local artists. But this was some serious high quality, big name art. And what was amazing was not just by these three fellows. There were a bunch of other incredibly interesting pieces on display, like the coat made out of dog tags by Do-Ho Suh:
It’s impossible for Some/One not to catch your eye when you walk into the room. The sculpture dominates the whole area. It is really quite beautiful and intriguing. The nearby placard says it is made of 40,000 dog tags stamped with invented words in a nonsensical arrangement. And, as an observer can imagine, it is a statement about body count and the relationship between the individual and the group collective, or so the sign told me. I didn’t really argue or try to look for a deeper meaning. I was more or less content to stand there and say, “Wow. That’s really neat.” My stomach was yelling at me for ignoring it for far too long, so I couldn’t muster up anything beyond that at the moment.
Seattle’s famous Pike Place Market is a short walk from the SAM. And being that it’s a market, there are more than a few dining options on hand. Whether you want to sit and eat at a restaurant, or grab something on the go, you’re certainly not going to leave hungry. But it’s not all about food, either. Well, at least not what you’re going to eat right then and there.
Never before had I seen a crowd wait to take pictures of customers ordering their food in a market. But here, at the World Famous Pike Place Fish Market, people stand with cameras ready to get that one souvenir photo of the staff tossing a fish from the display stand to the counter to be wrapped for take home or shipping. And I won’t lie. I was one of those tourists. I wanted to get my flying fish shot, too, but no one was ordering. So the guys started tossing fish just so people could get their photos and move on out of the way; we were clogging up the walkways in front of the other shops.
I had been told on my flight that I should eat at a place across the alley from the market’s famous Gum Wall. Sadly it was closed, so I stood agape at all of the people who jammed their gum on top of other people’s gum with their bare finger. I understood the novelty of it, but declined the opportunity for fear of cooties – no one was using antibacterial lotion, after all. Hopefully they remembered to wash before they had lunch, otherwise they’d be enjoying the tastes of a thousand other people’s gum that has come from who knows where.
I grabbed something quick to eat at the market, headed back for my bag at the art museum, and took the bus north toward the Space Needle and my hotel. A mistake I made while buying a train ticket in the morning paid off now, too. What was it? Well, since I wasn’t really familiar with where I was going – this was my first trip to Seattle, after all – I only purchased a ticket at the airport to take me into downtown. As it turns out, that was the right thing to do since the downtown bus zone is free to riders during the day. At least when I was there on a weekend. So I essentially got a half-priced ticket by only paying for the train portion and then getting the bus for free to my hotel, which was just outside of the free zone.
I checked in, dropped off my bag, and took a moment to get cleaned up before making the short walk to the Space Needle. Like most Seattle tourists, it was at the top of my list of things to do and see in town. I had heard of it as a little boy, and somehow it has since held a fascination for me. So I think it’s fair to say I was incredibly disappointed when I arrived to find a massive line. And that was just to buy tickets. I impatiently stood there waiting for 20 minutes, long enough that by the time I got to the window I was happy to pay nearly double for my ticket so I could avoid the 75 minute entrance line and skip right to the front.
For the extra money, I was also presented with a nifty little map that explained all of the sites. This was assuming I couldn’t figure them out on my own or just read a sign at the top – yes, the big body of water in front of you is Puget Sound, and there is the Olympic Mountain range, and over there, that big massive mountain is Mt. Rainier, and then you have downtown and the Cascade Mountains beyond that. Sure, there were a few other things that were nice to have pointed out to me – like the University of Washington – but I certainly didn’t need the map.
Regardless of my snark, I was happy I paid the extra money to get to the top more quickly. Had I not, I still would have been sitting in line by the time I was already making my way back down with the VIP ticket. And in my mind, spending a few extra dollars was worth the time I gained to see something else that afternoon. By the time I was done on the observation deck, if I bought a regular ticket, everything else would have been closing for the day.
I spent my extra time at the nearby EMP Museum. It sits in the shadow of the Space Needle, funky roof and all, as most everything else does in the area. The museum is the one North American stop for AC/DC: Australia’s Family Jewels – which runs through September, 2012 – a must see exhibit for a rocker like me. So there was no way I was going to miss out on a chance to see it.
The museum housed other exhibits – one on the movie Avatar, others on Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana, and another on horror movies – but I didn’t care. I was there simply to see the AC/DC memorabilia. And I loved it. All by itself it was worth the price of admission. And that’s a good thing, too, since I skipped the others, not having an interest for any of them, with the exception of making a quick stop in to pay homage to Hendrix. The others I sneered at Angus Young-style as I walked back on out, heading for my hotel. I was in a great mood, reved up on some good rock ‘n roll from AC/DC after jamming to their tunes while walking through the biographical exhibit…twice. It was so nice, I saw it twice! That and some of my favorite tunes were playing on a loop overhead.
There are so many nightlife options in Seattle it’s really kind of funny. But I’m not much for bars or clubs, so I needed to find something else to do while I was in town. I didn’t just want to sit in my hotel room, so what to do? A few days before departure, I settled on seeing a baseball game. But no! The Mariners were down in Oakland that weekend. So I would have to figure out something else to do other than going to a bar by myself. But what? Oh, wait, I thought, that’s right, Seattle has a soccer team. And coincidentally enough, they were playing my hometown Colorado Rapids that weekend in Seattle.
I have never thought of Seattle as a sports town. They lost the Sonics, after all, because of a lack of interest. So how good could a soccer match really be in what is really meant to be a football stadium? Wow. My assumption was way wrong. And I could tell that as I was walking to the field from the bus stop. Fans were in the bars and all over the streets, all singing and chanting various Seattle Sounders songs. And it got even crazier in the stadium.
North American sports are by and large spectator events. No one ever really seems to get out of their seats and cheer unless the team gives them a reason to. Instead they sit and eat their nachos, sip on their beer, and watch with mild indifference until something happens. I’m guilty of it myself. I was even looking forward to doing it during the match. But the Seattle Sounders fans are a completely different breed. They are literally crazy for their team. And I could tell that as we were ramping up to kickoff:
The game turned out to be a lopsided affair. Seattle dominated Colorado throughout the match. The end result made it appear more respectable than it really was, which was a slaughter. Colorado had no business being on the field with the Sounders that day. So, with no interest in suffering further embarrassment in trying to cheer for my team, I made for the door with about 15 minutes left in the match.
After waking up early to catch my flight in Denver, I was tired. It was approaching 11pm and needed to get some rest after 18 hours of traveling. The next day, which included my return trip to Colorado, would also be a long one, so I headed back to the hotel. The bus service was no longer free by this time of night, so I decided to splurge on a cab ride. In the end, from the south side of downtown by the two stadiums to the north by the Space Needle, it was the right call. It only cost $10, which was very much worth every penny since it saved me from walking any more – already having put on about eight miles on the day – and giving me the time to catch a few more winks. I had done it, though. I was able to go to sleep content that I had seen several of the highlights of Seattle. Had I seen it all? No way. There’s so much more in the area that I want to explore. But I made a good day of it and was happy with what I had done.