Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published May 31, 2014 at 7:03 PM | Page modified June 1, 2014 at 4:05 PM

  • Share:
             
  • Comments (0)
  • Print

Seeing Seattle: Five favorite, five even better sights

A newcomer takes an opinionated look at some top attractions and tells you where else to go.


Seattle Times Assistant Features Editor

Map of the attractions

Editor’s note

About the photos

Staff photographer Bettina Hansen chose to use tilt-shift lenses for this story to give a novel, different feel to the sights for which Seattle is known.

The photos were made with a variety of tilt-shift lenses for a selective focus effect. The movement of the lenses slightly distorts perspective and can yield a very shallow depth-of-field. They are commonly used in architectural photography to straighten lens distortion in tall buildings, but when used “improperly,” they can make subjects appear miniature and toylike.

From the photographer

In defense of the Ducks

See more photos and read about photographer Bettina Hansen's experience capturing the attractions.

More on Picture This →

Reader Comments
Hide / Show comments
My favorite place to take out-of-towners is the Ballard locks, during salmon season. MORE
You're still a newbie, obviously. The Market is the Soul of Seattle, you just have to know when to go to avoid the... MORE
The ferry ride to Bainbridge is better and cheaper than either of the on-the-water options mentioned. MORE

advertising

There’s no question Seattle is a many-splendored place to visit. The majestic mountains, bodies of water in almost every direction, and a rich civic history and sights. But why are all the out-of-towners waiting in line to do the same things?

After moving to Seattle a little more than a year ago, I set out to experience the city’s top tourist attractions — a tour of tours, if you will. I’ve put together a list of five of the most popular, along with five alternatives that I like much more.

The tourist standard:

1. PIKE PLACE MARKET

If you enjoy seeing majestic ocean creatures hurled through the air by carnival barkers, this is your spot. Yes, the famous fish flingers are a crowd-pleaser at the seafood stall. But I wonder about the person who first thought, “I know, this would be much more enjoyable if we threw this salmon.”

Add what sometimes seems like a convention of the world’s slowest walkers and gawkers, mix in a panoply of loosely Pacific Northwest-themed tchotchkes, and you’ve got Seattle’s most popular destination, the historic and undeniably photogenic Pike Place Market.

Sure, the Rachel’s Ginger Beer, Beecher’s cheese curds and Oriental Mart chicken adobo are delicious, but you’ll have to wade through about 3,000 people to reach them. By the way, the Starbucks coffee shop at the Market (at 1912 Pike Place) isn’t really the first store in the world-dominating chain (the very first was nearby and then moved here), so spare yourself the long wait for bad coffee. pikeplacemarket.org or 206-682-7453

But try this:

BALLARD FARMERS MARKET

There are few better ways to spend a sunny Sunday than browsing the seasonal food stalls at the street market in this old-time neighborhood. Stretching for a block past more than a dozen tasty restaurants, the market makes it easy to go from farm-to-table, so to speak. If it’s raining, duck into one of the nautically themed drink dens nearby for a toddy. ballardfarmersmarket.wordpress.com

The tourist standard:

2. SPACE NEEDLE

Where to start? The often formidable line to ascend this iconic Seattle spire? The next line inside that they don’t tell you about until you have cleared the first line? The fact that at $19, it’s probably the most expensive elevator ride on the West Coast? Or the fact that you can buy your way out of that second line for an additional $15, which gets you VIP status.

Do you feel very important? Well, you won’t once you get up to the top of the Space Needle and it smells like a concession stand in the sky. At least the ride up was thrilling. spaceneedle.com or 206-905-2100.

But try this:

SKY VIEW OBSERVATORY AT COLUMBIA CENTER

The French writer Guy de Maupassant, who detested the Eiffel Tower, said he liked to eat dinner in the tower’s restaurant since it was the only place in Paris he didn’t have to see it. The reverse of this logic is that if you are in the Space Needle, you don’t get to see it.

But you can see the Space Needle — and everything else for about 100 miles around — from the serene 73rd-floor aerie atop Seattle’s tallest structure (the Columbia Center office tower). And it’s about twice the height of the Space Needle’s observation deck. On a clear day, the view is stunning. skyviewobservatory.com or 206-386-5564.

The tourist standard:

3. RIDE THE DUCKS

If you have even the slightest bit of secondary social anxiety, this amphibious-truck tour is going to give you fits. The driver telling bad jokes and encouraging you to quack at people on the streets. The other riders singing along to pop songs of yesteryear. The spontaneous eruptions of cheering. The cringe quotient is off the charts.

Once the vehicle lumbers off the streets and into Lake Union for the watery part of the tour, and the hull starts to shudder, you’re going to be glad the life jackets are within arm’s reach. ridetheducksofseattle.com or 206-441-3825.

But try this:

ARGOSY CRUISES

Considerably more civilized than the Ducks (no singing and you can get a glass of wine aboard), this boat tour around Lake Union and onward to Lake Washington is a very pleasing way to pass a few hours. Plus you get to glimpse Bill Gates’ house and private beach. (Other boat tours cover the downtown waterfront and Ballard Locks.) argosycruises.com or 206-623-1445.

The tourist standard:

4. YE OLDE CURIOSITY SHOP

This shop, a conglomeration of oddities, is the centerpiece of a complex on the downtown waterfront that includes a carousel and Ivar’s Acres of Clams.

I’ve never much gone in for grotesqueries as tourist attractions, but judging by the popularity of the 19th-century mummy at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, I’m in the minority. There is, however, something a little troubling about a place that proudly declares its selection of “gifts, novelties, gaffs, jewelry, and Native American art and homemade fudge.” Nevertheless, the market has spoken: This joint has been open since 1889. http://ye-olde-curiosity-shop.myshopify.com/or 206-682-5844

But try this:

OLYMPIC SCULPTURE PARK

With pieces by Richard Serra, Alexander Calder and Ellsworth Kelly, among others, this outdoor sculpture park is hands-down the best place to stroll and have a picnic — not to mention the bonus view of the Olympic mountains. Sure, you can’t buy any “novelties” here, but what you see — both man-made and natural — is infinitely more enriching. One caveat, the experience is markedly better on a sunny day. seattleartmuseum.org/visit/OSP or 206-654-3100

The tourist standard:

5. SEATTLE UNDERGROUND TOUR

You’ve got to hand it to Bill Spiedel, the late civic activist and Seattle Times writer, who started the Underground Tour in 1965: Few have made such a going concern out of a junk-filled basement (the Curiosity Shop aside).

That said, it is quite a fascinating basement. The dank below-street halls in Pioneer Square were once Seattle storefronts and sidewalks (at ground level in the 19th century). Populated by turn-of-the-century artifacts, they have a spectral charm. The tour is worth doing, even if the guides generally have the air of unemployed actors. undergroundtour.com/ or 206-682-4646

But try this:

SEATTLE ARCHITECTURE FOUNDATION

The 2-hour “Greatest Hits” walking tour around downtown is a fascinating combination of historic buildings — such as the elegant Rainier Club and the former First Methodist Church — and more modern structures — including the Rem Koolhas-designed Seattle Central Public Library. 206-667-9184 or seattlearchitecture.org

Brian Thomas Gallagher: bgallagher@seattletimes.com



Want unlimited access to seattletimes.com? Subscribe now!

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

The Seattle Times Historical Archives

Browse our newspaper page archives from 1900-1984


Advertising
The Seattle Times

The door is closed, but it's not locked.

Take a minute to subscribe and continue to enjoy The Seattle Times for as little as 99 cents a week.

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription upgrade.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. For unlimited seattletimes.com access, please upgrade your digital subscription.

Call customer service at 1.800.542.0820 for assistance with your upgrade or questions about your subscriber status.

The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Activate Subscriber Account ►