There are as many ways to explore a city as there are visitors to it. Every time we roll into a new town, we’re confronted with a blank slate of sightseeing possibilities. Art museums are always high on the list, while natural history museums almost never are. Walking tours sometimes make the cut, while state capitols always do. Famous landmarks are contenders and so is the offbeat.
Factors other than personal preference come into play, too, like time, mood, and money. Full-time travel means we have to keep a closer eye on our wallet than we used to do on week-long trips, which can quickly whittle down a list of options (sorry, Space Needle).
Each itinerary is a unique blueprint of how we spent our time in a particular place. Here is some of what we saw in Seattle, a city that charmed us with its blend of sophistication and quirkiness.
To Market, to Market
The atmosphere at one of Seattle’s most famous locales, Pike Place Market, was as vibrant and colorful as we expected it to be, from sweeter-than-candy oranges piled high to the slinging of wares at the famed Fish Market.
He Doesn’t Bite
If the number of times we were asked, “Did you see the troll?” is any indication, Seattleites are proud of an undeniably unique resident: the Fremont Troll. After taking a few incorrect turns and peering beneath the wrong bridge, the homely, oversized creature we sought loomed in front of us. Cast in stone, the massive monster wears a fearsome expression and clutches a Volkswagen Beetle in its clawed hand. The sculpture was created in 1990, after the public voted its design the winning entry in a competition sponsored by the Fremont Arts Council. Aside from its scary appearance, visitors don’t need to be afraid to touch this piece of art. Interacting with the Fremont Troll is encouraged.
After snooping under bridges we headed below ground, roaming subterranean passageways beneath Pioneer Square on the entertaining Underground Tour. These dark, creepy, cobweb-laden corridors were thoroughfares and first-floor storefronts in the nineteenth century, until flooding led to the streets being elevated. Eerie vestiges like a velvet sofa abandoned in an alcove remain from the hotels and other establishments that once flourished in these spaces. Most intriguing was having a different perspective on the squares of tinted glass embedded in the present-day sidewalks. From below, you can see they’re actually part of a skylight.
Art of Recycling
Rather than remove the remnants of a coal gasification plant on a stretch of land bordering Lake Union, the industrial structures were incorporated into the design of Gas Works Park. Some stand as ruins, while others have been transformed into a picnic shelter and a children’s play area. It might be “easily the strangest park in Seattle, and may rank among the strangest in the world,” as a local newspaper declared, but it’s certainly intriguing.
A sizable hole in the wall was a good indication that the Frye Art Museum had been revamped since our last visit. Our first time there we were introduced to the portrait paintings of Nicolai Fechin, a Russian artist who became a sensation after immigrating to New York in 1923.
On the return trip, we found an almost entirely different museum, the space tailored to optimally display pieces by Buster Simpson, a local artist and environmental activist. “Buster Simpson//Surveyor” is on view through October 13. Oh, and did we mention the Frye is free?
“Cathedral of Books”
If not for the rows of study tables instead of pews, the University of Washington’s Suzzallo Library reading room might be mistaken for a Gothic-style European church. Beneath the 65-foot gilded ceilings, hanging at opposite ends of the cavernous room, are hand-painted globes bearing the names of Marco Polo, de Balboa, and other explorers whose thirst for knowledge and adventure took them to the seas and beyond.
A Hill with a View
A small slice of urban greenery, Kerry Park is popular for its hilltop location and panoramic view of the Seattle skyline. While we didn’t get to the top of the city’s celebrated Space Needle, we had no shortage of sightings of the icon, constructed for the 1962 World’s Fair and once the tallest building west of the Mississippi River.