The Emerald City of Seattle

During our one-month tour of western Washington, we paused for a week in the “Emerald City” of Seattle. Amid an evergreen backdrop, we unearthed a treasure chest of travel gems in Seattle’s popular tourist sites, chain of leafy parks, dynamic waterways, and celebrated coffee houses.

University of Washington Campus on Game Day (Mt. Rainier in background)

From our rental apartment in the Wallingford neighborhood, it was a short walk to the “U-District” and the University of Washington campus. Here, Seattle’s legendary coffee culture was born out of cold and rainy weather, all-night student cram sessions, and the bohemian counterculture movement of the late 1960s.

Coffee Stop at Espresso Vivace (origin of latte art in the USA)

We found Seattle’s coffee houses to be friendly and comfortable places to read, chat, type on a computer, and drink coffee. During our long daily walks, these coffee stops also served as a welcome place to sit down, rest our tired feet, and re-energize with a mood-altering dose of caffeine.

Gas Works Park on Lake Union (only remnant of coal gasification remaining in USA)

All week, we tested the limits of our aching feet. According to demographer and city expert Bert Sperling, Seattle is the 4th most walkable city in the USA. A major factor contributing to Seattle’s outstanding walkability is its chain of verdant parks, strung like bright green gemstones on a citywide necklace.

Threading the Needle, Volunteer Park (Isamu Noguchi’s “Black Sun”)

In the early 20th century, to design and construct a greenbelt of parks throughout Seattle, the city commissioned the Olmsted landscape architecture firm. Renowned for designing Central Park in New York, the Olmsted family worked in Seattle for nearly four decades to create a linked system of natural parks, playgrounds, and pedestrian arteries.

Montlake Cut and Draw Bridge (canal connecting Lake Union and Lake Washington)

Our city walks also followed Seattle’s system of interconnected waterways and numerous draw bridge crossings. The saltwater Puget Sound, on which Seattle was founded, is now joined with inland freshwater lakes, Lake Union and Lake Washington, by the Lake Washington Ship Canal.

Three Vessels in the Large Lock, Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

In 1917, to allow ship traffic to navigate these waterways, the United States Corp of Engineers constructed the Chittenden Locks. At this fascinating site, we spent hours watching boats of all sizes raised up or let down 20 feet to compensate for the lower elevation of the Puget Sound.

Washington State Ferry, Puget Sound, Seattle

For a chance to ply the Puget Sound and escape the city for a few hours, we took a scenic ferry trip from Seattle to Bainbridge Island. With 21 vessels, carrying up to 2,500 passengers and 200 vehicles, Washington State Ferries is the largest ferry operator in the USA.

Neon’s Finest Hour, Pike Place Market

Back in the city, a tour of Seattle would not have been complete without a visit to the popular Pike Place Market. Famous for its salmon throwing fishmongers, this continually operating farmer’s market is Seattle’s largest tourist attraction and home to the original Starbucks coffee shop.

Bagels and Lox at the Chittenden Locks (Esther’s birthday brunch)

After one more coffee stop, we celebrated Esther’s birthday with a picnic brunch of bagels and lox at the locks. From there, we continued on to the acclaimed Chihuly Garden and Glass museum in the shadow of the iconic Space Needle. In the creative and colorful glass exhibits, we uncovered one final travel gem in the “Emerald City” of Seattle.

Esther’s Birthday Selfie, Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum

Feature Photo: Seattle skyline at dusk from Washington State Ferry

19 thoughts on “The Emerald City of Seattle

  1. Happy Birthday to Esther!! Seattle looks very interesting, I have a Brazilian friend who lives there. I have had this city on my travel wish list ever since the film “Sleepless in Seattle” and now even more so. Thank you for such a lovely post.

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    • Esther says “thank you, Gilda!” It is wonderful to hear from you while you are on the Camino de Santiago. We are really enjoying your pictures on IG and look forward to reading more on your blog after you complete your pilgrimage. I know you would love Seattle, and hope you have a chance to visit your friend some day. We tried to find the “Sleepless in Seattle” houseboat. Unfortunately, it is in a gated harbor, and can only be viewed from a boat. Nevertheless, it remains one of the best romantic comedies of all time. Continued health, high spirits, and happy feet to you and Brian on the trail.

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  2. I’m glad that Esther was able to celebrate her birthday in such a beautiful setting. Seattle is such a magical city. Smart to get an apartment that gives you the ability to walk most places… the traffic can be challenging. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Pike Place Market with almost no people… how did you do that?

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    • Thanks, Janis. Our week in Seattle did coincide with its best season for warm days and blue skies. Since we are resisting congested public transportation in these pandemic days, a location in a walkable neighborhood was important to us. During the day, Pike Place Market was mobbed and not that fun to visit. Instead of hiring a team of security guards to control the crowds, I photographed the deserted market after-hours and just got lucky.

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    • My pleasure, Ann. Even though I only use my prettiest pictures, my blog photos do not begin to do justice to the beauty of Seattle. When you make your trip here, the Crittenden Locks are open to the public, free to visit, and also include a botanical garden and interesting fish ladder with underwater windows. Esther grew up in a sailing family and loves boats and locks. As a landlubber myself, I was still fascinated with the operation and kept entertained for hours.

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      • When we went on our Rhone river cruise several years ago, we passed through many locks. It was scary at first (the wall was about one inch from our window!) but once I got used to it, it really was fascinated. I will check out the Crittenden Locks for sure when we visit Seattle. Thank you!

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    • Esther says, “thank you for the birthday wishes!” The morning of her birthday promised to be a lovely day for a picnic, so she requested that we have her favorite breakfast at her favorite place in Seattle. Thus, this birthday will be remembered for bagels and lox at the locks.

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    • Don’t feel bad guys. We are shamefully ignorant of your great country. Like the USA, the UK is such an interesting, beautiful, and diverse destination that it probably deserves to be saved for last.

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  3. Bagels and lox at the locks! Love that one. Happy Birthday, Esther! I visited Seattle twice on business, and took some really nice walks. But sadly never really DID Seattle as one should. The ferry to Bainbridge Island I’ve read about, and that’s certainly a bucket list item. I did get to Pike’s, but I had no idea that’s where the first Starbucks was located. I must have missed the plaque! 🙂 – Marty

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    • Hey Marty, I’m happy to hear that you too have done some walking in the Emerald City. Since we could only spare a week in Seattle, instead of our month-long preference, we didn’t really DO it either. Bainbridge Island is nice, but the best part of that trip was the view of the Seattle skyline from the ferry. Because Pike’s was overcrowded, and we couldn’t adequately social-distance, we didn’t spend much time there. I didn’t see the original Starbucks plaque either, but the long line for coffee was hard to miss. – Joe

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    • Hi Christi, I hope you get the chance to see Seattle for yourself some day. It is certainly one of our loveliest cities. Even though it is great to be traveling again, it is also quite different than before the pandemic. We found that several places were closed, and that close encounters with strangers remain worrisome. On another note, I wanted to let you know that Esther and I have moved to Tucson, Arizona. So far, we love living in your home state!

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