One of the fastest growing cities in the nation, Seattle Washington is one of the greatest examples of American tenacity anywhere in the country. Originally a small logging operation, Seattle began it’s journey to a metropolis of almost four million during the Alaskan gold rush, during which it served as the gateway to the north, and it’s status as a logging hub gave way to major ship building and transportation enterprises as well. Today, Seattle is known for being home to some of the nation’s best start-ups, and biggest corporations. Starbucks, Boeing, Amazon, even Nirvana got their start here in Seattle, and the city still bears the fruits of their labors, as the mother of America’s biggest and brightest. This however, is only a small fraction of what makes Seattle great. It’s unique atmosphere and culture has cultivated the growth of a city like no other, and one that has us coming back time and time again to see what else it has to offer.
If you followed us last year, you’ll know this isn’t the first time we’ve visited the city. The first time we came, the biggest features of the post were the SAM and Chihuly gardens, both amazing places in their own right, and certainly worth checking out the post for. It can be found in the original “West Coast Adventure” tab, somewhere around day seventeen. However this year we decided to focus on the city itself, as well as it’s most iconic structure, the Space Needle. Roaming the city streets, you’ll see things that make no sense whatsoever, the kind of things that make you fall in love with a city, as they are totally and completely inexplicable, and utterly out of place for any big urban area such as this. The city still wears it’s gold rush garments with pride, old industrial era buildings with massive block lettering, advertising a shipping company or shoe manufacturer that’s been dead for over seventy years. Old brick warehouses stand almost unchanged over the years, sandwiched between the towering glass offices of the new world, refusing to be cast aside, instead being turned into the ultimate in retro apartments, cafe’s, and commercial zones.
As you continue your journey through the streets, you’ll find parks hidden around corners and inbetween city blocks. Paved in everything from purple glass to bluestone, they never lack for water features or old growth trees, whose very age brings a sort of sentiment to the areas, protecting them from being turned into just another block on the crowded streets. Foosball and ping pong tables sit out in the middle of the parks, constantly occupied by millennials with seemingly nothing but time and a drive to enjoy the outdoors, even when crammed into what seems to be a never-ending sea of glass and steel. A crowd of homeless men gather around a game of life sized chess, competing with some ethnic grad students as laughter rings out from both sides. A one man band plays for no other reason than to simply play, bobbing his head to the tune of his own music as he sits under an old oak, the paint on the benches around him worn down to the steel beneath from over use. The smell of coffee coming from every corner occasionally mixes with the collective aroma of dozens of food trucks, gearing up for the lunch rush as they busily ready their mobile kitchens to accommodate the hundreds of locals too preoccupied with enjoying life in the city to bother with eating indoors. Instead of seeing tags and graffiti covering the alleys and abandoned buildings, murals and works of art adorn the walls, an expression of the passion harbored within this mystical metro wonderland.
The city goes on like that for miles, until you reach the water. The Pacific Ocean, where Seattle rests like some strange gigantic oddity which was washed ashore only to grow even larger, claiming the beach as it’s new home. Not sandy like the Pacific in Southern California, not rocky like the shore in the North and Oregon, Seattle’s coast is one of inlets and rivers. Flowing to and from the Ocean as they stretch out like tendrils towards the city, their attempts at penetrating the wall of development only to be thwarted as their banks are locked down by docks and cranes, shipping yards and rails, becoming more a part of the city than anything else. The great arteries of this beast in the Pacific Northwest, they carry millions of tons of goods and cargo up and down the coast, as well as take hundreds and thousands of tourists and commuters up to the Yukon on gigantic ferries and cruise ships.
The city’s waterfront district is perhaps it’s most lively and culturally rich area, home to the famous Pike Place Market, an odd twist on an outdoor mall combined with a sort of coastal farmers market. Pike Place stretches across the hills just before the water, housing countless fish markets, hand crafted goods, local eateries, and an endless variety of shops and stalls selling anything you might ever care to purchase. In addition to being one of the best places to eat and shop in the city, it’s also home to a heavy cultural concentration, where much like the parks found deep within downtown, you can fully expect to see people from all walks of life simply making the most of it in any way they know how. Performing, practicing, even just sitting on a bench and reading until the sun goes down. The rest of the surrounding waterfront is a mix of high end restaurants and flashy apartments, combined with rapidly growing infrastructure and planned expansion. You’ll never be far from construction in the city, something new is always being built, though oddly enough nothing old is ever being torn down. More land simply seems to appear at the ready, waiting to be claimed by some brave young developer who has a vision of a vertical grocery store or a crazy new office building that looks more like a work of art than somewhere people might trade stocks.
No matter where you are in town, you can find things to do and see, if a building looks interesting, there’s a very solid chance that it in fact, is. Take the central public library for instance, a ten story pile of glass, twisted at every odd angle you can imagine, doubling back in on itself to create a crazy and intriguing mesh of reflective glass and steel beams. Upon entering, you’ll notice it’s not like any library you’ve ever been in. Not only is it absolutely huge, but there are stages and theaters filling the bottom floors. All the walls and ceilings are glass, and in some places you can see clear up from the bottom to the top, right out to the skyscrapers above. Neon green escalators will take you up the first three floors, passing modern art exhibits buried in the walls on each side. After you reach the sixth floor, via stairs or escalator, you will come to what is known as “The Spiral”, a five story loop of books that spans the rest of the building. The floor inclines ever so slightly along the complete length of the floor, not quite enough to notice, but enough so that by the time you reach the end of the room, you’ve actually gone up another floor. Turning the corner to pass beneath bridges of glass which lead out to observation and reading platforms which line the exterior walls, you’ll continue rising in this fashion in a great gradual corkscrew until you’ve made it to the top of the building. Every floor along the spiral is filled to the brim with books, shelves upon shelves of them, a whole forest’s worth, shoved neatly inside this bizarre feat of architectural engineering and glass.
Moving out of downtown, there is of course one destination you absolutely must see if you are to see anything in Seattle at all. The iconic and instantly recognizable, Space Needle. Some six hundred feet tall, this ultra modern tower was built in 1962 for the World’s Fair, hosted in the Seattle Center. An exposition of America’s shiny new space age technologies, the Space Needle was meant to be the crown jewel, the pinnacle of our achievements, and yet the least of what we could do. “Look at us, even our tower looks like it’s from outer space.” And so it was, with an enormous flaming beacon set atop it, the Space Needle heralded the modern age with it’s unique design and impressive architectural statistics. Put up in just over a year, it now sees millions of visitors, and it’s three glass paneled elevators carry almost twenty thousand visitors a day to the top of this incredible feat of engineering. There’s even a restaurant located just below the observation deck, which not only spins at a rate of one revolution per forty seven minutes, but is in fact powered by a single one horse power engine about the size of a CD. Designed to withstand winds of over two hundred miles an hour, earthquakes measuring up to nine point one on the Richter scale, and weighing almost ten thousand tons, the Space Needle is easily one of the coolest things to do anywhere in Seattle. The journey to the top will cost you about $25, and take only forty five seconds, but the views from the top will last you a lifetime. The floor around the deck is inlaid with the cardinal directions, and the glass panes lining the exterior cut out after about a vertical foot, affording you an open topped experience as you gaze out over the bays, the city, or even towards the mountains which cradle the city in this little corner of the Northwest.
It’s worthwhile to mention that a large percentage of Seattle’s best attractions can be found within a single square mile, in fact a single square block, centered on the Space Needle itself. Chihuly Gardens is one of these, but seeing as we experienced that last year (you should too it’s absolutely amazing), we decided to check out the other major attraction in the immediate area. The EMP museum. Note that if you have a lot of time, it’s worth buying a singular day pass which will get you into all of these attractions with just one ticket, and will be much cheaper than buying individual tickets at each stop. These can be purchased around the base of the Space Needle, along with single tickets for pretty much everything else.
The EMP Museum is insane. Even from the outside you can tell it’s something special. Six sections of vibrantly plated metal comprise the structure, ranging from pearlescent purple to brilliant gold, and with some rather more interesting combinations inbetween. It’s like someone ripped apart the Guggenheim and then papier mached it back together using multi colored metal as a bonding agent. Big art is strewn across the grounds all around the museum, humongous black lightning bolts, a set of gargantuan red pipes twisted together into something utterly confusing, what appears to be a massive wheel with blue fibers exploding out of the top, the museum is absolutely nuts even before you step inside. Once you do however, you will discover one of the greatest collection’s of movie props ever assembled, as well as an array of other modern exhibits, ranging from an interactive tour of Nirvana’s history, to a whole floor devoted to wearable art.
An enourmous Imax sized screen dominates the center of the first floor, constantly playing an array of music videos for all to enjoy at their leisure. As we walked past, about seventy or so people had gathered around in the hall to watch Micheal Jackson’s “Thriller” play ten times larger than life on the screen in front of us, zombies the size of a small house popping and locking effortlessly as the music blasted out of the subs hidden behind the walls. Pass that, and you’ll find a room that looks like somebody ate a bunch of tetris blocks before becoming violently ill all over the interior. In fact, its another interactive exhibit, dedicated to the history of indie gaming. Dozens sat around, tension in the air as they struggled to beat high scores, laughter ringing out as a group watched their friend play a game which involved something about a duck and a slippery shower. A strange cross between a gaming arena and a 3D documentary, we could have spent hours pwning the various locals, but decided against it as there was plenty more left to see.
As you walk towards the second floor you’ll notice the cop car from the movie Bladerunner dangling from the ceiling, lights and all. An exhibit dedicated to Star Trek houses the original uniforms from the cast of almost every series, communicators, phasers, borg cubes, an actual Jefferies Tube through which you can climb, the list goes on. Travel further down and you’ll find the resting place of the props from movies like Terminator, Ghost Busters, 2001 A Space Odyssey, and dozens of other sci-fi gems. The next room requires you to lift a gigantic wooden door, behind which you’ll find a realm of fantasy. The costumes from the original Wizard of Oz, weapons from Lord of the Rings and The Princess Bride, a first edition copy of “The Hobbit”, even a seemingly empty case touting the invisibility cloak from Harry Potter. The final room of props is centered on the horror genre, housing such icons as the axe from The Shining, the camcorder from Blair Witch Project, the alien from Alien, a Facehugger, and countless more items, all the stuff of televised nightmares.
Make it to the second floor, and you’ll encounter a massive collection of the strangest clothes you’ve ever seen. Dresses carved from wood or made from old car parts, bras made of melted handcuffs and taxidermied birds, hats of some unidentifiable material that roughly resembles lobster. It’s beyond nonsensical, but we couldn’t stop looking. The wearable art simply continued to get stranger and stranger, until we pulled ourselves away and entered a green screen exhibit where groups of visitors can put on some sweet digs and take the places of their favorite bands up on stage, complete with fully functional instruments so that you can struggle along and make a complete fool of yourself while everyone outside watches. However for those less inclined to show their musical ineptitude, such as ourselves, there were soundproofed booths, each housing a different instrument. Here you could go and even learn to play the hooks from your favorite songs, be it on keyboard, guitar, mixing station, even a set of turntables.
As per the usual, I could talk about Seattle until the sun goes down, which ironically, I am currently doing. It’s one of the most unique cities on Earth, and home to some of the most unique attractions that follow. You can find endless things to do in the city, be it visiting the many museums, perusing the shops on the waterfront, exploring the downtown areas, or even just riding the tram back and forth because monorails are awesome. Even then, when you get finished having your fun in the city proper, you’re surrounded by amazing wildlife and scenery. Mt. Rainier, Olympic National, Mt. St. Helens, the list goes on indefinitely, though those are perhaps the three most notable. It’s the kind of city you never want to leave, and when you finally do, it’s the kind of city that makes you want to pack up and move, just to avoid that very thing from ever happening again. Beautiful parks? Check. Vibrant night life? Check. Amazing museums? Check. Crazy downtown architecture? Check. Unique cultural atmosphere? Check. Will we be back soon? Check.