View of downtown Seattle, with Mt. Rainier in the back, from Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill at night as photographed by my friend and fellow Yelp Elite, Sy-Yu Chen, in March 2017
Seattle was the last leg of my 2014 end of summer West Coast swing. A few of my friends currently reside in Seattle, including one of my closest childhood friends. As a result, it was an opportunity to catch up with old friends and visit a beautiful city I have yet to visit. Seattle is a serene, surreal haven tucked away in Pacific Northwest corner of the country. There is a misconception that it rains too much. While it may rain more frequently than other places, it is very rare that there is a torrential downpour. Of course, I encountered one of those one off downpours as I was driving back up to Seattle after a short trip to Portland. Nevertheless, a significant more amount of rain falls in New York City on average each year than Seattle even though it occurs more frequently in Seattle. Since it rains more often, there is a lot of moisture in Seattle so everything is green. Moreover, there is plenty of great food in Seattle. In particular, its seafood is second to none. You will definitely want to explore the famous Pike Place Market. The city itself is small and most places are within a 15 minute drive.
In my opinion, you need 2-3 days to explore the city. Nevertheless, I recommend spending at least a few more days to enjoy the natural wonders in the state of Washington. The Pacific Northwest is great for hiking. Washington has three national parks: Olympic, North Cascades, and Mount Rainier. I initially wanted to visit Olympic National Park. However, it is a long drive since you need to drive around Puget Sound to reach it. It is good as a long weekend trip and I did not have that time to spare. Similarly, the North Cascades are right at the Canadian border and best enjoyed with a couple of days. Accordingly, I decided to only visit Mount Rainier National Park since it can be done and enjoyed in a day. On a clear day, you can see the majestic mountain from the city of Seattle. Mount St. Helens is another popular destination in Washington. However, it is at the south side of the state and actually closer to Portland. In addition, some of the best places to hike are lesser known. I received great recommendations from my friends of those hidden gems. For the National Parks, admission can be paid as you enter. However, other places require you to purchase a pass ahead of time and display it on your dashboard. Before going to hike anywhere, make sure to review the fees for each location at http://www.wta.org/.
Seattle is one of the safest places in the country. One of the reasons is that it has traded a little bit of freedom for security. It is a little bit of a police state. My friend told me a couple of stories about it. As we know, Seahawks fans are extremely passionate and their team won the past Super Bowl. Nevertheless, the people in Seattle still made sure to observe all the pedestrian traffic rules and obey all crosswalk signs even in the midst of the celebration immediately following the Super Bowl win [for fear of tickets]. It is one of those situations where outside observers simply say “Only in Seattle”. My friend also noted it is also a place where 5 mph speeding tickets are not uncommon. Another one of my friend’s uncle is a Seattle police officer. He mentioned that the Washington police are notorious for targeting out of state drivers and do not even respect the badge of other officers. In reality, most places will probably be more like Seattle in the future anyway since municipalities need to make up budget deficits. If you are on vacation anywhere, remember that you are not in a rush anyway so just take your time with everything.
Seattle is an awesome city I really enjoyed and recommend. Below is my guide for the city.
Pike Place Market
If there is one spot you must visit in Seattle, it is Pike Place Market in the downtown area. Seattle is known for its incredible seafood. Pike Place is an epicenter of seafood with its famous fish market. If you hang around the market, you will get treated to a show of the “fishmongers” throwing large salmon back and forth to each other. Besides seafood, there are plenty of great places to eat and drink at the market. Street parking is impossible downtown. As a result, I highly recommend just paying $15 for all day parking in a lot. From my perspective, it is nothing since $15 may only get you an hour at a parking garage in a high priced city like New York.
Rachel’s Ginger Beer (1530 Post Alley)
I am allergic to something in soda. However, ginger ale somehow does not affect me. Fortunately, it is one of my favorite soft drinks anyway. Rachel’s Ginger Beer has the best ginger ale I have tasted. I tried the pink guava flavor (bottom picture on the left) and it is phenomenal. It is exactly what I needed on a warm September day to explore Seattle. On the other hand, it is $4 which is a little more than I would like to spend on ginger ale even if it is the best. Nevertheless, it is definitely worth it to try once.
Mee Sum Pastry (1526 Pike Place)
Due to my heritage, I have eaten a lot of roast pork buns during my life. I like them but they are not on the top of my list of favorite Chinese dishes. None of the buns I have eaten in my life have blown me away… until I tried Mee Sum Pastry (bottom picture second to the left). The shop is small and you order at a window. Without a doubt, the Roast Pork Hom Bao is the best roast pork bun I have ever tried. I was fortunate enough to get the buns right out of the oven. The bread is perfect. It is big and very soft. The pork is tender and full of flavor. My friends recommended Mee Sum Pastry for the red bean pastry. Unfortunately, it did not have any at the time. I tried the Lo Paw Bang (“wife cake”) instead, which is a pastry with winter melon and almond paste. It is good and met my expectations based on all the other I have eaten. Regardless, the Roast Pork Hom Bao is the must try here.
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese (1600 Pike Place)
I ordered a cup of mac and cheese (bottom picture second to the right). At first, I was not too impressed and stopped eating after a few bites. However, I started eating again after I gave it enough time to solidify. Once the cheese hardened, it was amazing. I could not stop eating it and devoured it. You may get stuck behind a long line for Beecher’s. While it is worth the wait, I just walked around to explore the market then returned when the line dissipated. Subsequently, I found out that Beecher’s has a location in New York. Moreover, it has a restaurant in the basement called “The Cellar”. The mac and cheese at the New York location is better and the best I have eaten. Nevertheless, the location in Seattle is a worthy branch that serves excellent mac and cheese too.
Starbucks (1912 Pike Place)
It is the first Starbucks… well sort of (bottom picture on the right). The actual first Starbucks shop is gone. When it was closed, they moved the shop to Pike Place. As a result, the current location is the first Starbucks after it moved to Pike’s Place. It has been transformed into a tourist shop and tourist magnet. I walked past it and peered inside. I had no interest in going inside since there is always a crowd. Nevertheless, it is nice to see the origins of an iconic company from Seattle.
The Space Needle is the most iconic landmark in Seattle. It is the legacy of the 1962 World Fair. From a distance, it looks amazing. Ironically, it becomes less impressive as you draw closer since the rust and age of the structure become apparent. The observation deck is $21 which is a rip off. I knew it before I went up. However, I traveled a long way to Seattle so I decided to pay just to experience it. I took a quick stroll around the observation deck for 5 minutes and took the elevator back down. The views at the top of the Space Needle are very good. For example, you can see downtown, the sports stadiums (e.g. Safeco Field, CenturyLink Field, etc.), and Puget Sound (pictures left to right). However, there are better views of the city (ones that include the Space Needle) that are free within the city. As a result, enjoying the Space Needle from afar in the city is sufficient. On the other hand, it is in an interesting area that is worth walking around. Nearby the Space Needle are Key Arena (former home of the former Seattle Supersonics), an IMAX theater in a science center, Bill and Melinda Gates foundation, etc. The area is a 20-25 minute walk northwest of Pike Place if you pay for all day parking downtown and do not want to move your car.
Kerry Park (211 West Highland Drive)
Kerry Park has my favorite view of Seattle. It is on top of Queen Anne Hill so you get an elevated view of the skyline of the city with the Space Needle front and center (as seen in the cover photo). When I visited the park, there was a wedding party taking pictures. It is an amazing background for a photo and there is no admission fee since it is a public park. Kerry Park is approximately a 20 minute walk north of the Space Needle so 40 minutes northwest of Pike Place.
If you are looking for a place to run or bike; Green Lake, located in north central Seattle, is the place to be. It is a pretty lake with jogging/ bike trails that loop around the lake for 3 miles. There are also plenty of other recreational activities to do (e.g. swimming, basketball, etc.).It is a happening place for exercisers so you will see a lot of Seattle residents there. My friends live close to the lake so it was convenient for me to walk over to it. I went during sunset and it was beautiful.
Duke’s Chowder House (2516 Alki Avenue)
Seattle is known for its incredible seafood. I highly recommend Duke’s since it is a casual dining restaurant with affordable prices where you can try some great seafood. I started with a clam chowder and Dungeness crab cake (first two pictures). They are the best clam chowder and crab cake respectively I have ever tried. Moreover, I do not like crab meat. However, Dungeness crab is something else. It is tender and full of taste. I could not stop eating and started devouring it quickly after having one bite. Seattle is keen on wild salmon rather than farmed salmon. In fact, it exudes a distinct disdain for farmed salmon. I liken the sentiment to how New Yorkers elevate their pizza above all others from other regions. Naturally, Duke’s features wild salmon. It tastes like a completely different fish and is amazing. While it does not cause me to forsake farmed salmon since I perceive them to be different fish and I really enjoy the smoothness of a well cooked, farmed salmon; wild salmon is a must try in Seattle. Duke’s has multiple locations in the city. I highly recommend the spot at Alki Park in West Seattle. The park is beautiful. You will also see the gorgeous Olympic mountains in the background on a clear day. It is a sight to behold at sunset.
Paseo Carribean Restaurant (4225 Fremont Avenue North)
Before my drive up to Seattle from Portland, I had a heavy meal. When I arrived at Seattle, one of my friends wanted to get dinner and bring me to Paseo to grab a sandwich to go. Even after a long drive, I did not feel hungry. Nevertheless, I am never against trying more good food. I did not know what I was getting myself into by agreeing to go to Paseo. We both ordered the Caribbean Roast Pork sandwich, which is the most popular item on the menu. The sandwich is incredible. With my most conservative estimates, it is at least within my list of top 3 sandwiches I have eaten. It is arguably the best. The sandwich features pork shoulder. In my opinion, it is the most delicious part of the pig. The chunks of meat are large, full of flavor, tender, and perfectly marinated. It really melts in your mouth. The bread and caramelized onions are also amazing. The portions are very generous. You definitely want to be very hungry before eating a Paseo sandwich or split it with someone else. Since I was not that hungry to begin with, I was struggling to continue after eating half of the sandwich. Consequently, I made a critical decision to stop eating the bread and focus solely on the pork. Nevertheless, I regret wasting the delicious bread. The Caribbean Roast Pork sandwich is not the most photogenic picture. It is a bit sloppy. I give it a 6 at best for looks but a 10 for personality. Of course, I aim to eat a sandwich and not date it. I would definitely recommend making a strong effort to try Paseo. Definitely try the seafood in Seattle first. Paseo is a must try afterwards.
Pie (3515 Fremont Avenue North)
As the name implies, this restaurant serves pie. I ordered the mushroom with other vegetables, mac and cheese with ham, and almond cream. They are all very good and very filling. I am notorious for my ability to eat a lot of food. Even after a few hours of hiking, the mushroom and mac and cheese pies filled me up and I had to wait a little while before I ate the almond cream for dessert. While Pie is not a must try, it is definitely worth a try and I recommend it.
Billy Beach Sushi & Bar (5463 Leary Avenue Northwest)
If you are looking to eat sushi in Seattle, Billy Beach is a solid choice. I went there hungry so I ended up ordering a lot. Naturally, I chose some rolls (2 pictures on the right). I usually go with a Philadelphia Roll when I eat sushi. I added a tuna avocado. I also ordered one of the specialty rolls, Ballard Crunch, which includes salmon, avocado, and tempura. All the rolls are good but not Earth shattering. On the other hand, the poke (first two pictures: second of the two pictures shows the sashimi after I ate off the top layer) is incredible. It was the first time I have ever tried the dish. It is a sashimi salad dish. It is also a Hawaiian, appetizer dish. The fish is fresh and full of flavor. The other ingredients (e.g. cucumbers) complemented the fish brilliantly. I could not stop eating it. If I return to Billy Beach, I would definitely order two of the poke.
L&L Hawaiian Barbecue (18613 International Boulevard, SeaTac, WA 98188)
If you are hungry after arriving at the airport, I highly recommend stopping at the nearby L&L Hawaiian Barbecue to grab a quick bite. It has a hole in the wall feel. The food is relatively cheap too. The Hawaiian Barbecue Chicken is awesome. It is full of flavor and very tender. The menu also features a Ramen Burger. I had yet to try one so I decided to take the opportunity to do so. I did not like it at all. However, I do not blame my opinion on the quality of the cooking. The taste of Ramen as a bun does not agree with my taste buds. The burger was cooked well. L&L is also a part of mall complex. As such, there is a parking garage for customers. I had a difficult time spotting it while driving so I recommend parking first and walking to find it.
Mount Rainier National Park
The magnificent and majestic Mount Rainier can be seen from the distance in Seattle. However, it appears closer than it actually is at approximately 2 ½ hour drive south of Seattle. You can definitely spend a whole day wandering in the park. My friends recommended entering the park on the north entrance near the Sunrise section and driving south towards the hiking trails within the Paradise region near the mountain. However, I was more interested in hiking. Moreover, the driving from the north part to the south part of the park would have taken a few extra hours. As a result, I drove directly to the Henry M. Jackson Visitor Center in Paradise. I recommend hiking the Skyline Loop. In my opinion, the most beautiful aspect of the hike is the green, lush meadows at the beginning contrasting with the snow on the mountain (middle pictures). As you ascend up the mountain, there are great lookout points to see the gorgeous valleys that were carved by glaciers (top left and top right pictures). There are also streams that run down the mountain and past near the loop. Near the end of the loop, there is a very pretty waterfall (picture on the bottom right). I also advise taking the High Skyline Loop (bottom left picture) once you can connect to it from the Skyline Loop. In addition to a better view of the park, it is a much better path to walk on compared to the alternative section of the Skyline Loop that is covered in snow. This hike is approximately 5.5 miles and took me about 2 ½ hours to complete. It is moderate difficulty. You will feel it is a good exercise but you will not be totally exhausted. The entrance fee (unless you have an annual pass) is $15. It is well worth it. Even if the proposal to increase the fee to $25 goes through, it is still worth it. Be advised that the mountain has its own weather. Definitely bring a jacket. I was hot at the beginning and took it off but needed it once the elevation increased as I walked closer to the mountain. Mount Rainier National Park is one of the best highlights of my trip.
Lake Twenty Two [(#702) Mountain Loop Highway within the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest]
Some of the best of places to hike in the state of Washington are the lesser known locations. Lake Twenty Two is definitely a phenomenal hike that tourists probably do not know about. When I first heard the name, I thought to myself “Is this like Area 51? Are there experiments or is something hidden there?” In fact, Lake Twenty Two is a preserve designated for research. On the other hand, there are no secrets that would spark the interests of conspiracy theorists the way Area 51 does. I love this location because there is a lake nestled at the top of mountains (bottom two pictures). It provides an excellent payoff for the hike. As you climb, you can turn to see amazing, green views of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest (top right picture). The hike is 2.7 miles one way. It is a good exercise but not overly strenuous. The paths are also very well maintained. In addition, the beginning of the hike has wooden roads that are very easy to walk on. The only obstacle on the hike is a giant tree that fell on the path. Although you need to be careful when you go over it, it is not overly dangerous. If you reach the lake around noon, you will be greeted with an overwhelming glare of the sun as you walk through the entrance to the lake. If you have seen the Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, the glare is what the orcs must have felt at Helms Deep when Gandalf leads the Rohirrim down the hill and uses his staff to blind the orcs with the bright sun. It took me about 2 ½ hours to make the round trip hike and enjoy the lake.
My GPS also did not have a direct address to the trailhead. As a result, make sure to research and have the directions to get to the parking lot. In these situations, I usually go to Google Maps to find something close to the destination then remember the final turns of the trip. The parking lot is not overly difficult to find as it is right off of Mountain Loop Highway and clearly marked. You will also need the appropriate annual or daily pass to display on your dashboard in order to park. Lake Twenty Two is approximately two hours northeast of Seattle.
Oyster Dome is another very good, lesser known hike. The payoff is excellent with a clearing at the top that allows you to relax and enjoy a beautiful view of north Puget Sound (pictures above). The hike is not overly strenuous. However, there are definitely a few, very steep inclines that made me huff and puff. It is a very good exercise. The paths are also well maintained. I slightly rolled my ankle but it was due to a wrong step rather than an issue with the road. I would have avoided it completely if I were wearing hiking shoes rather than running shoes. The trailhead is on the milepost 10 marker on Chuckanut Drive, which is off of exit 231 on I-5. It takes a little over an hour to drive north to the beginning of the trailhead from Seattle. You will park right on the side of the road. In addition, you will need the related annual or daily pass to park. When we arrived at the beginning of the trailhead, we saw a sign in a car that read “Oyster Dome or Bust” from a bachelorette party. My friends and I had the same mission statement. There was no bust.
Coffee is a word that is synonymous with Seattle. However, there are a lot of coffee shops in Seattle that are pretenders and living off the reputation of Seattle. Starbucks is exhibit A of a coffee shop, originating from Seattle, which sells overpriced and mediocre coffee. Of course, it has built a global empire off of brand recognition rather than substance. Unfortunately, I fell victim of assuming the coffee in Seattle must be awesome everywhere in the city and foolishly relied on Yelp ratings to select a couple of coffee shops to try. The first shop I tried was Drip City Coffee Co. Although it is 5 star rated, the coffee is terrible. The milk is slopped on the top of the coffee. It is something I expect from Starbucks instead of a 5 star rated coffee shop. I only drank half of my drink before I had to throw it out. I tried another coffee shop that I did not like before I gave up on finding good coffee in Seattle. I should have consulted my coffee guru before I explored Seattle. He is a coffee connoisseur and has never let me down when it comes to recommendations. Although I did not have time to try the recommendations that he subsequently sent me, I am confident the following places are excellent if you want to try coffee in Seattle: Espresso Vivace, Victrola, Milstead, and Seattle Coffee Works.
Seattle International Airport
The airport is south of Seattle in Seatac. With traffic, it is approximately 40 minutes from Seattle. It is a solid, small airport. I took a Red Eye flight back home and I was able to get through security quickly. While the food is obviously not as good as it is in the city, it is still very good. I ate at Ivar’s Fish Bar and the clam chowder in a bread bowl is solid. Like a lot of airports, I needed to take a shuttle to my rental car location but the ride is very quick. You can also take the Link Light Rail from the airport to downtown Seattle. The end point is by Pike’s Place.