The PNW & Seattle, Washington
Well, it happened - I finally made it to the Pacific Northwest (and in the Winter of all times!) I feel like this one was a long time coming, and a destination I have wanted to make happen for years. And like most of my adventures, it just didn't feel like I had enough time to soak it all in.
Seattle, and my first taste of the Pacific Northwest, was conquered over just a long weekend - from Friday to Monday. This trips primary purpose was to serve as the destination of this years away MN Vikings (football) game tradition, but it was sooo much more than that for me.
Let's just dive right into things, shall we...
I did not entirely know what to expect, but I did know Seattle and the PNW can experience cold and and snow too. We packed boots and snow pants, hats, gloves - the whole works. I assumed it would rain or snow a lot and maybe even be a bit tundra like, and I was definitely wrong about all of that.
The air was warm you guys, not at all what I'm used to in the Midwest. It must be that Ocean influence, because it just honestly felt more welcoming there. The temps were also in the high 40's the whole time, from Dec. 7 - 11th. The first day we arrived it was SUNNY and beautiful out too! [OK, .. so one day it literally did rain all day, but it still didn't stop the adventures and walking around. A light sprinkle won't make me melt!]
Never in my life have I traveled anywhere where I had to bring a winter coat, as I've usually always been more of a beach dweller these months, but quite honestly it just really wasn't that bad at all. I think I could totally thrive there year round. :)
I like to think of the weather in this area as moody and delicate, and it compliments me well on a soul level.
In all my research of the best neighborhoods of Seattle to stay in, it came down to the two sides of the city - either Queen Anne area, or across the way in Capitol Hill. Each came with their own pros and cons, with Queen Anne being closer proximity to all the downtown fun, but offering no complimentary parking, and ultimately costing a bit more. Capitol Hill has free parking galore but is further removed from downtown and made up of a lot of college students. (And I'm too old for those shenanigans, ha!)
We opted for the full downtown experience to really immerse ourselves in that of which is Seattle, and with the mindset to hopefully be able to walk places while exploring in town. I'm very, very pleased with our location selection and would stay in that same neighborhood of Queen Anne again!
Downtown / Parking / Safety
Seattle had much of the same feel as the Midwest, it was odd - like totally different, and in my opinion way cooler city, but it just sort of 'felt' like the Midwest too. The city was big, but not too big, and was quite clean and safe. While you have to pay for parking, there are plenty of street meters, ramps and lots. I would say they are average priced in comparison to what I am used to in the Midwest.
I felt very safe throughout the city, and I felt comfortable walking around in the day or in the dark. There were continuously a lot of other people (and tourists) out and about too. Now there are some streets more heavily filled with the homeless population, but it seems far less in comparison to what downtown Minneapolis is like. One key difference here though is they are allowed to set up tents in literally any random place, so we did see quite a bit of that going on...
Food / Drinks / Shops
Pike Place Market
A very well known part of downtown Seattle is that in which makes up Pike Place Market. Of course I've heard of this before, but I really didn't understand the multitude of what it was until I got there. It's more than just a market where they toss fish at people and sing corny tunes - it's a whole multi level indoor Farmers Market full of food, shops, services and entertainment. There are also a ton of restaurants and food stands just across the street from the market too, so that when Markets close up shop at 5 pm each day you can still indulge in some Seattle goodness.
The market itself really was quite an experience, and we ended up traveling through there probably around 5 or more times. There is so much to see and take in, and so many different goodies to try! It's just a place that is so vibrant and full of life, especially during the Holiday season.
Inside the Market
Fresh fruit - everywhere! It's incredible to be able to walk through such a huge area with so much fresh produce calling your name! I got a few pieces of fruit to go for sure!
Donut holes - there is a stand on the east end that offers maple bacon donut holes, and you best bet yourself I had a couple of those delicious little fuckers.
Smoothies - right next to the donut hole place was a fresh smoothie stand where they make your drink right in front of you, literally only using fruit and vegetables and nothing else. I got a green veggie one and Adam got a carrot, ginger concoction.
Apple Cider - several delicious options of apple ciders at a few different stands, offering warm, sweet relief to walk around with.
Coffee - it IS Seattle afterall, so what would it be without coffee. There are tons of coffee stands all throughout the market and it's one of those things where any choice is a good choice! [Also the first Starbucks ever is across the street ...]
Slider sandwich - one particular stand in the middle of the market offered some small barbecue pork sliders, and it was DELICIOUS. The sauce was on point!
Seafood - it's literally everywhere - it's what the whole Market is about, and offers just about anything you could want. Huge slabs of halibut and salmon, scallops, and lobster tails and full crabs! The stands will also ship it to your house if you want to enjoy it when you get home.
Fresh flower bouquets - I was seriously in LOVE with these, and they were so beautifully well put together and tasteful. It seemed like they were a great value too, I remember being in love with one that was a good size and only $10! If I was a local I'd be down there every week picking out a new beauty.
Gem Heaven - a great crystal shop in the lower level of the market. Pretty small, but offered a great selection of smaller gemstones to larger pieces - nice variety! I picked up a Pyrite chunk, a howlite pocket stone, and a few other pieces.
Outside the Market (& across the street)
Beecher's - supposedly Oprah ships this to her house because it's so good ... It was warm and gooey mac with penne noodles, and you could watch them make the cheese right there! Worth trying. Especially if you like cheese as much as I do.
Piroshky Piroshky - ok I had to give it a try, it just smelled so good ... like warm bread and garlic and cheeses. Ha. I got a garlic cheese pinwheel looking thing.. and I'm sure it was 10,000 calories but I definitely ate the entire thing.
Gyro Street vendor - ... Adam loved it! I am not a huge fan of gyros, but I did try a bite and the cucumber sauce was pretty great.
The first original Starbucks - it's right there across the street from Pike Place Market ... but there is also honestly a Starbucks on every street corner. We walked by this building several times but did not go in.
Seatown Seabar - naturally tried both the salmon burger AND the crab sandwich, and they were both fantastic! Right kiddie corner across the street from the northwest end of the market!
The Crab Pot - another Vikings fan told us about this place, so we had to check it out. Being avid seafood levels, but of different degrees and variations, this was a way to have it all. We got a boil with 2 kinds of crab, potatoes, corn, mussels and clams. Adam ate all the mussels and clams, because I just can't do those, and we split the rest. They bring it out in a pot and literally dump it right onto your table - it was an experience in itself!
Activities in Seattle
Buckley's - so one night I wanted to walk to a bar and have a few drinks, and just randomly selected one on the map that was nearby. I chose it because it said it was a sports bar so I figured it'd be a bit cheaper and offer more of a 'light' atmosphere that might support meeting some cool people. I absolutely LOVE meeting new people at bars while traveling, learning about them, hearing their story. Well it just so happens that I chose a Seattle VIKINGS bar and as soon as we walked in we were welcomed by a sea of purple! We met some other cool fans, and they told us to come back the next night - which we did and it was like 10x more packed than the night before. I'll forever remember the sound of everyone shouting SKOL chants and singing the Vikings song while partying downtown Seattle. In the back they also had a room dedicated fully to Vikings memorabilia.
Zocalo - while at Buckley's, we were told about a "vikings fan meet up" before the game at another bar downtown, just a few blocks from the stadium. We went, even though I was pretty skeptical of the guy who told us about it, and just like Buckleys the place ended up filling up from wall to wall because there were so many purple fans smashed in there. It was incredible! (And the creepy guy mostly left us alone.) Hey, they had really good bloodies and chips and guac too. :)
There are also plenty of museums, paths, shops, sports stadiums, etc. I'm sorry I can't offer more here, we didn't really check anything else other than CenturyLink Field. The museums and such just weren't my priority here. CenturyLink Field was absolutely incredible though and by far the loudest stadium I have ever been to, (and I've been to 6 now). It's quite a monsterous place!
The Seattle Great Wheel - a giant Ferris Wheel right on the Ocean, in front of Pike Place Market (down the hill). I'm not one to typically have any fear of heights or hesitation to explore them, but this Ferris Wheel absolutely challenged that. I don't know if it was because it was raining, or because we did this at night - but I was on the verge of a panic attack the entire 3 trips around. I may have had to really focus on my breathing.... BUT it was still a pretty cool experience offering an awesome site of the city all lit up. (The Ocean looked creepy AF though, it was so dark and mysterious!)
The Seattle Gum Wall - literally just that, a wall full of people's gum. Not going to lie, this didn't do anything for me and I really didn't even care to see it in the first place. We more so haphazardly came across it when we were looking for a Crystal shop, and there was a handful of people taking a ton of selfies with this oddity. To be quite honest it made me sort of want to gag to think about all that gum and people's spit and nastiness ... LOL, WTF though, seriously?
THE SPACE NEEDLE You've GOT to check that out - it is basically the staple of Seattle! It is located in the north-western part of the city, perched nicely to overlook it all. I had thought it would be a taller/larger structure than what it was, (it's about half the size of the Stratosphere in Las Vegas), but it did not disappoint. You first ride up this small elevator with windows for doors, averaging about 10 mph which was actually a little trippy, and enter at the very top observation deck. There are glass walls around the entire perimeter with glass benches that lean back and sort of make you feel like you are falling back into the city. There are plenty of great photo opportunities for all kinds of city / ocean / mountain views. There is also an inside lower level, with an outside perimeter that actually spins around in a circle and has a see-through glass floor. It's quite relaxing actually, with an inside bar and tables and chairs, and we sat and got a few drinks and just watched it spin through the cycle. The floor is glass as well (but not as scary as the glass benches) and offers a neat birds-eye-view of all that is below. I highly recommend this experience! For us, it was about a 20 minute walk from our Airbnb.
Sculpture Park - Just outside the Space Needle, surrounding it on both sides, is a huge Sculpture Park. I believe for some of it it does require a separate admission ticket, but it's a pretty neat scene to check out from the observation deck or while you are just walking by.
Kerry Park - we did not end up making it here, but I believe it was pretty close to the Space Needle and is a park that offers extremely great views of the city and the Oceanfront.
Bellevue, WA - across the bridge to the East of Seattle is the town of Bellevue, Washington. We ended up driving around, and ate at a google rated hot brunch spot called Lot No. 3. BOMB choice, with amazing breakfast selections. I also got a tequila infused coffee! I would go back there just to eat at that place again. :)
Snoqualmie Falls - because we had some time to kill we also searched nearby waterfalls (I'm not sure why, that's just what I did), and we ended up driving out to Snoqualmie Falls, about 15 minutes from Bellevue. It was a bit drizzly out already, and as soon as we got to the Falls the temperature had dropped a few degrees and it got SUPER windy. There was a nice viewing/landing area, perched up above the Falls that we hung out at for as long as we could tolerate, but it was just so cold over here. On a nicer day it would be really cool to explore further - as it looked like there might be trails, etc. The waterfall was pretty awesome, about 260+ feet!
PNW - Wilderness
Also known as, the new love of my life. (And now one of many National Parks I'm head over heels obsessed with.) Dude, I am going to need to spend MONTHS here to fully dive into all that makes up this part of the PNW. <3
One day we ended up driving about 2-3 hours West of Seattle, and after much confusion on Google telling us to turn right into the Ocean, we started out this journey with a 40 minute car ferry ride! Once we crossed over the bay to the Peninsula that makes up Olympic National Park, the scenery started to drastically change over to snow covered mountain tops!
Only one entrance to the park appeared to be open this time of year, so we headed to Port Angeles to enter though Hurricane Ridge. The drive up was one of the most incredible wilderness experiences I have ever had, and I frequently was shouting "OMFG", and "OH MY GOD look at that", and "I'm in love" in the car ride up. It's too bad that the sun sets so early this time of year, because I really could have used a few more hours of daylight to explore. The road up is so steep, with no guardrails, laced with ice and snow, and dropped 10 degrees in temp, so we were pretty afraid to stay up there in the dark. To enter the park you are supposed to have snow tire chains with you, like it's a requirement but they don't actually check your car ... and we were in a rental car ... so we were sort of living on the edge, literally..
Hurricane Ridge was INCREDIBLE. You are literally at the top, the same height of the rest of the mountains, and they span all the way around you too. Everything is frosted with snow, and beautiful, and seems to blend together right into the clouds and the sky. You can partake in a wide range of winter activities up there, but you do have to plan accordingly and bring in your own gear. I really wanted to do snowshoeing, but apparently that isn't allowed to start until Dec. 15th, so we just missed the start! We walked about a mile down one of the ski paths (downhill, and then back up) stopping at all the overlook views. From one point you could even see the Ocean out past the edge of the mountains. It was just absolutely fucking breathtaking in every way! I am IN LOVE.
The Classic: Hon, & many other RAINFORESTS inside Olympic National Park. I NEED to check these out one day. Most were located on the coast side of the Park, and would have still been a few hours drive West. Unfortunately there was just not enough time or daylight to support that venture!
Puget Sound Express - in general, there are tons of opportunities for Whale Watching in the PNW, but from what I read - one of the best is Puget Sound Express, near Hurricane Ridge in Townsend, WA. I would have LOVED to check this out, as they basically guarantee you will see whales and are in path with the most whale migration routes in the area.
Mt. Rainier - a freaking active VOLCANO, which I don't think I realized before going out there! I reallllly had wanted to make it out to Mt. Rainier to explore and hike but there just wasn't time or supportive weather for doing both that and Olympic National Park. (So a decision was made!)
Vancouver - less than a 3 hour drive North you can hit Canada! I would have loved to go, but just didn't have enough time. (Are you noticing a theme?)
Portland - less than a 3 hour drive South and you can hit Portland Oregon! Again, I would have LOVED to go there too, but it will have to be saved for next time. There is also a train you can take for like $20 from downtown Seattle down to Portland.
I hope there are days when you fall in love with being alive.
So, Seattle was basically amazing. Washington was amazing. The PNW is amazing.
I will be back, you can bet on that. It's not a question of if, it's a question of when and for how long next time.
I seem to fall in love with most new places I travel to, but I swear to you some places really do feel more like home than others. This was definitely one of those times.