The Emerald City: A Virginia Writer Goes West, Part I

Picture this – You’re cramped in an airplane window seat, with your feet curled up in the corner so that your husband, who’s had T-rex arms the whole trip to be polite to the passenger beside him, can be a little more comfortable.  You’ve been in your seat for five hours.  You’re exhausted.  You woke up at 4:30 in the morning to catch this flight, and you ate what can only be described as the worst breakfast in the history of food at the airport.  Your stomach kind of hurts.  You’re thirsty.  The button at the top of your jeans has been digging into your stomach for the last hour.  And then, the plane makes a turn, and from the tiny, dirty window, you see Mount Rainier, almost gleaming in the sunshine, and the Space Needle, and the water, and the Seattle skyline.  You forget everything else, because you know you’ve made it.  You’re finally here, and it’s time to explore.

I’ve always wanted to go to Seattle.  As a little girl living in the sometimes isolating (but always comforting) Virginia Appalachians, the thought of going west was like the great exciting unknown.  As an adult, the thought of a laid-back city on the water where people love art and walking and value time for hobbies almost sounded like a fantasy world.  For the last seven years, I’ve lived in the chaotic, busy, you-are-your-job-title jungle that is Northern Virginia.  I did move west to get away from all that – to Loudoun County – but I still wanted to go farther.  That exciting unknown still beckoned.  There’s a little pioneer spirit in all of us.

After waiting years to see Seattle, it lived up to every expectation I ever had.  I can’t say enough about the friendly people, the well-maintained, litter-free, tree-lined sidewalks, the culture of walking and being outside, the food, the attractions, the history and the quirks and the coffee, and really just everything.  I’ve struggled with this post, because there’s so much I want to say.  So, in true Katie fashion, I decided to make a list.  Here are my ten favorite Seattle experiences.*

*Long post ahead…you’ve been warned!  But keep reading, and then plan your own trip to Seattle!

10.) Zeeks Pizza – We liked this place so much, we ate here twice.  We’ve got some pretty solid pizza choices in NOVA, but Zeeks had some of the most interesting, creative pizzas I’ve ever seen.  They’ve got a wide selection of meat and vegetarian pizzas, they’re flexible with toppings, and they’ve got plenty of beer and cider on tap.  Also, the breadsticks are basically the best breadsticks I’ve ever had.  We tried the Dragon on our first visit (Italian sausage, fresh jalapeños, pepperoni, fresh garlic, and fresh oregano), and had the Cherry Bomb for lunch on our last day in the city (Italian sausage, sweet-hot roasted red peppers, parmesan cheese, and fresh basil).  We like spicy food, obviously.  At any rate, Zeeks was awesome, and no other pizza will compare for at least the next year.  We ate at the Zeeks on Denny Way, near the Space Needle and the EMP Museum, but I did a quick map check, and it looks like they have a few locations around the city.  Here’s the link to their website, for anyone interested in checking it out:  Zeeks Pizza

9.) The Gum Wall – I didn’t know this was a thing.  Seriously, it’s kind of gross.  But also kind of funny.  People just show up in this alley and stick their gum to the walls, and it’s almost like a big, smelly public work of art.  You can’t look away.  It’s located on Post Alley, not far from Pike Place Market.  Some of the interesting things people have created with their chewed gum:  an American flag, an Israeli flag, several hearts with initials inside, names and nicknames, short religious and political statements, and some really interesting stretched-chewed-gum sculptures.  Seattle scraped the wall clean in 2015.  Clearly, that didn’t last.

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8.) Olympic Sculpture Park – We kind of stumbled across this place walking back from the Space Needle on our first day in the city, and didn’t realize what we’d found until I happened across a plaque with information on the site.  It’s right on the water, and a perfect place to relax and enjoy art and a view.  And, the best part is, it’s free and open to the public 365 days a year.  The site was previously an industrial park and had become a brownfield until the Seattle Art Museum proposed turning it into a green space, and it’s been a sculpture park since 2007.  I love stumbling across cool stuff when I travel, and this was like a little gift from the universe when I needed a place to sit and unwind for a little while.  Here’s the website, for anyone who’d like more information on the park, the sculptures, or the Seattle Art Museum:  Seattle Art Museum – Olympic Sculpture Park

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7.) Capitol Hill – We have one of these in DC, too, but it’s not nearly as fun (though I guess that depends on who you ask).  A few months before our trip, an old friend from high school got in touch with me, and let me know he was planning to move to Seattle – no job, no friends there…he just felt like it was time to throw off the bowlines, as it were, and do something exciting.  Pretty cool, right?  Anyway, of course I wanted to see him.  So what if it took twelve years and a trip across the country for us to reconnect after high school, even though we worked in the same town for about a year?  Life happens.  We got together around lunchtime and decided to amble around Capitol Hill.  Lots of neat stuff to see here.  There’s a Jimi Hendrix statue, dance step diagrams on the sidewalks, the best coffee I’ve ever had (Espresso Vivace, and even Emeril Lagasse thinks so, and here’s their website: Espresso Vivace).  There’s even a haunted soda machine!  Though, it didn’t really work for us.  My favorite thing to do when I travel is walk around the streets, try to blend in, and see how the locals actually live, and wandering around Capitol Hill, with an old friend at that, was the perfect way to spend an afternoon.

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6.) The Space Needle – I posted previously about the Space Needle, because there was wine!  Here’s the link: This wine post brought to you by….  I won’t rehash the details about the wine, but I will say this: I am petrified of heights.  I have trouble with second story balconies.  I also hate elevators.  It’s just unnatural for human beings to ascend to great heights in metal boxes pulled by cables.  I still got to the top of the Space Needle, and it was worth it. For the amazing views of the city, for the chance to experience one of the country’s best-known landmarks, for the feeling of accomplishment when I got to the top and didn’t have a panic attack.  It probably helped that on the way to the elevators, there are panels with history and information about the Space Needle to read, because distraction is a good way to combat sheer terror.  It probably also helped that the Space Needle sits in a very nice park, and there was a busker playing some beautiful, soothing music on a kokoryū as we were walking in.  Bonus – You can buy a combo ticket for both the Space Needle and Chihuly Garden and Glass.  It’s a good deal.  Here’s the website, if you want to plan your visit:  The Space Needle.

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5.) Chihuly Garden and Glass – My first introduction to Dale Chihuly actually happened in Virginia Beach, at the Virginia Museum of Contemporary Art where they have a stunning Chihuly chandelier.  I was excited to see this museum because of that chandelier.  Chihuly is a genius.  A pioneer and innovator in glassmaking.  He finds inspiration from everything, from the specific (his mother’s garden, Native American baskets and weaving) to the everyday (nature, color, light).  This museum showcases an eclectic array of his work, and if you don’t feel something walking through it, I don’t know that you’re actually human.  If you’re not certain whether or not you are, in fact, human, and you want to find out for sure, or if you love art and want to know more, here’s the website so you can plan your visit: Chihuly Garden and Glass.   Here are some of the exhibits and features that caught Graham’s eye:

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4.) The EMP Museum – Nerd alert!  Yes, I admit it.  I am a nerd.  And this museum (Music + Sci-fi + Pop Culture) is awesome.  It celebrates the risk-takers, the innovators, and the ideas that shape contemporary pop art and culture.  On the day we visited, they had exhibits on Star Trek (so cool, lots to see, plan an hour or more just for this), Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Horror, Science Fiction, Fantasy, the history of the guitar, and that really wasn’t all.  I have so much respect for the people who run this museum and the people who put the exhibits together, and if I ever visit Seattle again, I’m allotting a full day to exploring this place.  Here’s to the inventors, the thinkers, the dreamers, and the weirdos that make this world interesting!  To learn more about the EMP Museum, check out their website: EMP Museum.

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3.) Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour – I also didn’t know this was a thing, until my old friend told me as we were chatting about what Graham and I should do with our evening.  This tour bills itself as “Seattle’s most unusual attraction, a humorous stroll through intriguing subterranean storefronts and sidewalks entombed when the city rebuilt on top of itself after the Great Fire of 1889.”  (Quoting from their website.  Here’s the link: Underground Tour.)  It’s a 75-minute tour, and our guide was fantastic.  Very basically, current downtown Seattle (Pioneer Square and such) is built on top of the burned out ruins of old downtown Seattle.  We got an interesting history lesson while we wound our way through the old city underneath the current sidewalks.

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2.) The San Juan Clipper – My mom gave us a book for Christmas this year called 1,000 Places to See Before You Die by Patricia Schultz.  Noted in that book are the San Juan Islands, so of course we made time for this day-long boat tour on the San Juan Clipper up through Deception Pass to Friday Harbor.  We left from Seattle, steps from our hotel, and made our way up the Puget Sound to San Juan Island.  The islands, by the way, are just as breathtaking as the book says.  The San Juan Clipper also has a snack bar and coffee, which was helpful, because we got up early in the morning to catch it.  Optional with the tour is some extra time on the boat for whale and marine wildlife watching, and Clipper Vacations is the only company leaving from downtown Seattle for whale watching tours.  I love the water, and it was nice to spend some time on a regular-sized boat enjoying the waves and the wildlife before boarding a cruise ship bound for Alaska.  Information and pricing available on their website: Clipper Vacations.

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1.) Pike Place Market – If you’ve stuck with me this long, I’m sure you knew this was coming.  My favorite place in Seattle, of course, was Pike Place Market.  It’s also in 1,000 Places to See Before You Die, but I’ve wanted to see it for years.  Amazing.  Just amazing.  There’s something for everyone – food, crafts, buskers, beverages, condiments, there’s a shop for everything you could think of.  We stopped at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese and verified that theirs is, indeed, the best mac and cheese in the world (we did this at 10:30 a.m., right after breakfast, and I’m not ashamed).  From the seating in the store, you can see them make the cheese, which is interesting.  We also tried lots of samples from Pappardelle’s Pasta, and purchased some, as well.   They were so friendly and helpful, and made it super easy to have our pasta shipped back home, so it wouldn’t get crushed in our luggage.  And of course, we stopped by the flagship Starbucks store, though we didn’t go in because the place looked like Arkham Asylum on a good day.  There is so much to see at the market, and luckily their website has a complete list of shops and a map: http://pikeplacemarket.org/.

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A few of Honorable Mentions:

Etta’s – We had a great meal here, right in Pike Place Market, and there was pie!  If you’d like to learn more: Etta’s Restaurant.

Anthony’s Bell Street Diner – We had a great meal here, too, and it’s right on the water.  Their website, if you’re inclined to check it out: Anthony’s Bell Street Diner.

The Pike Brewing Company – This place is on Post Alley.  We stumbled across it on our way to the Gum Wall and decided to stop in.  Great beer and a fun atmosphere!  Here’s the website, if you’re a beer-drinker: The Pike.

So, there you have it.  My favorite Seattle experiences.  This list was not easy to put together, because there’s a lot to see and a lot to do and I actually feel like a return trip would be completely justified.  But, there’s lots of world to see, and honestly, that’s kind of a great exciting unknown, too!

Maybe we’ll meet again, Seattle.  Until that day, you’ll be in my heart.

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**Stay tuned for The Last Frontier: A Virginia Writer Goes West, Part II.  Coming next week!**

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