Situated between two major mountain ranges on the banks of Puget Sound, Seattle exists in a virtual wonderland for outdoor recreation. Amidst all of this nature, though, Seattle is also a smart and sophisticated place, known for technology and airplanes as much as for salmon and Sasquatch. Activities and attractions here match that dichotomy, providing equal doses of extreme and more mellow, indoor sports.
The city’s commitment and connection to its marine surroundings are on view at the Seattle Aquarium. As an alternative, though, visitors can choose to get out on the water, either by sea kayak rental or by riding the Washington State Ferry system. There are multitudes of scenic waterfront and woodland parks at which to enjoy the region’s natural beauty, and the piece de resistance is Mt. Rainier National Park, where visitors can get up close to the namesake peak, hike, camp or picnic.
In Ballard, The Chittenham Locks, where ships travel from the Puget Sound to Lake Washington and Lake Union, exemplifies Seattle’s dependence on its waterways and educates the public about salmon conservation. On the cerebral side, Seattle museums offer enlightenment on aviation, history and industry, art and science. And here, even music and sci-fi get time in the spotlight, thanks to the 140,000-square-foot Frank O. Gehry-designed Experience Music Project and Science Fiction Hall of Fame at Seattle Center.
Woodland Park Zoo
Encompassing some 65 wild acres in the midst of urban Seattle, this world-class zoo houses more than 1,000 animals from 290 species and draws over a million visitors annually. Lush, forest-like habitats replicate the wild, so exhibits closely resemble natural habitats. The Bug World exhinit is a favorite for children, with live creepy crawly specimens that include walking sticks, beetles, and ants. Other popular exhibits include the elephant forest, African savanna, snow leopards, and jaguars. In rain-prone Seattle, the zoo's multiple indoor exhibits and viewing areas keep the zoo experience from being deluged. are also available should the weather be uncooperative. Picnics are popular with the zoo crowd, but cafes and food kiosks cater to visitors, as well. (206-548-2500)
Northwest Trek Wildlife Park
Founded in the late 1970s by a retired Tacoma pediatrician and his wife, who donated the 715 acres for the park, this regional gem is home to more than 200 species of indigenous wildlife. In residence are snowy owls, river otters, bald eagles, lynxes, gray wolves, cougars, grizzly and black bears, and bobcats. On a good day, all of these creatures and more can be spotted during the 50-minute tram ride that meanders through the park. For the more adventurous, five miles of trails that wind through this pristine wilderness. The Cheney Discovery Center provides interpretive nature education for kids, and the Fir Bough Cafe is the perfect place to fuel up for more exploring and learning. (360-832-6117, 360-832-7152)
Washington State Ferries
With the largest ferry fleet in the United States, the Washington State Ferry system operates 22 boats. Lining up to drive a vehicle onto the deck of the vessel is just the beginning of a truly Northwest experience. Onboard, get out of the car and enjoy educational and interpretive signage around the ship. Grab a latte or hot chocolate to warm your hands, and step out into the brisk salt air on the open passenger deck to take in the passing bay, mountain and island views. Just two possible itineraries for a day trip to explore Puget Sound from the main Seattle terminal include the Seattle-Bainbridge Island Edmonds run or the route for Fauntleroy-Vashon Island-Edmonds. The fleet's biggest boats travel between Seattle and Bainbridge; the island offers a combination of rural charm and sophisticated amenities. Fares vary seasonally by route. (206-464-6400, 1-800-843-3779)
Otters are the highlight on any visit to Seattle Aquarium. The friendly looking, furry critters are just so cute--no matter what they're doing--that it's hard to tear yourself away from their spacious habitat. This is especially true at feeding time, when these whiskered characters really ham it up for fresh fish. The otters are worth the price of admission, but there is plenty more to see. The main highlight is the underwater dome that submerges visitors beneath the waves of an encapsulated Puget Sound, putting them face to face with a host of indigenous Pacific Northwest marine life, including the giant octopi that live in its murky depths. No aquarium would be complete without an educational component, and here that includes a marine touch tank for children and a information on the life cycle of salmon. (206-386-4300)
Museum of History and Industry
The Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI) is the largest private heritage organization in Washington state, devoted to teaching and preserving the diverse history of Seattle, the Puget Sound region and the country. Its new venue recently opened in South Lake Union. If you count historic photos and artifacts as art, MOHAI's permanent exhibit "Essential Seattle" is a must-see on any Emerald City arts tour – from both a photographic and historical perspective. A fun and informative way to learn about Seattle, the display documents the city's history from the day Captain George Vancouver's ship first sailed into Elliott Bay in 1792 to the present, taking visitors through key events that shaped the modern city, with a focus on the fascinating and diverse people and characters that helped shape this unique region. (206-324-1126)
Pike Place Market
Sights, smells, and sounds make Pike Place a head-spinning whirlwind for first-time visitors. Fishmongers near the main entrance entice buyers with loud hawking and dexterous salmon throwing antics, the briny smell of fresh seafood filling the air. Countering that are the rows of vibrantly colorful flower stalls, which emit their pleasing perfumed aromas to passersby. Farm-fresh produce is mounded high along the aisles, and local artisans display their art and wares unique to the Northwest. Restaurants, a brewery, and specialty shops for everything from antiques to movie ephemera fill the multi-level maze. To help visitors find their way, the Market Foundation offers fun and informational tours Wednesdays through Saturdays, starting at the Market Heritage Center at 1531 Western Avenue. Once you have your bearings, pick out a favorite spot and enjoy some of the best people-watching around in this eclectic and progressive environment. (206-682-7453, 206-774-5249)
West of Ballard, visitors find one of Seattle's best-kept secrets: Golden Gardens beach. Located on Puget Sound, this popular public park offers extraordinary views of the water and nearby Olympic Mountains. The park includes wetlands, beaches, hiking trails, as well as picnic and playground areas. The park is bisected by the BNSF Scenic Subdivision railway line. Golden Gardens offers wanders along a rugged coastline, hikes through forest trails, sunbathing on sandy beaches, fishing from a pier and a boat launch. In summer months, sandy volleyball courts fill with active folks, while the waters fill with swimmers, kite-surfers, kayakers, sailors and other nautically-inclined guests. The park is also home to an off-leash area for dogs in the upper northern portion of the park. (206-684-4075)
Mount Rainier National Park
This slumbering volcano is the most heavily glaciated mountain in the United States outside of Alaska. At 14,417 feet, it is the fifth tallest peak in the continental U.S. Because of its northern locale, glaciers and extreme weather, Washington State's prime peak is used by many mountaineering groups to train for ascents of the world's most challenging climbs. In warmer months, flocks of climbers challenge the summit's less strenuous routes, and throughout the year a variety of activities are available to extreme athletes and vacationing families alike. Hundreds of miles of hiking trails wind through dense forest past placid lakes and frothing waterfalls. The scenic Wonderland Trail encircles the entire park. There are also plenty of short, spectacular day trips for hiking in summer of snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter. Lodging is available at the historic inn at Paradise, where the visitor center offers meals and interpretive natural history. (360-569-2211, 877-270-7155)
Since its opening in July 1999, Safeco Field has served as home to the Seattle Mariners (of Major League Baseball's American League West Division). Praised by fans, Major League players and the media as one of the best ballparks for its beautiful urban setting and excellent sight lines, the popular downtown venue has drawn kudos in other departments, too: over the years, Safeco Field has earned a reputation for serving great food and beer. But this season, stadium vendors have really stepped up their game. Centerplate, the Seattle Mariners' concessions partner, has joined forces with Safeco Field's Consulting Chef Ethan Stowell – one of the city's most lauded culinary talents – to introduce a variety of new tasty ballpark items, all based on fresh and local ingredients. ((206) 346-4001)
5th Avenue Theatre
The 5th Avenue Theatre is known as one of the nation's leading musical theater companies, especially for its production and development of new works. Since 2002, the Seattle-based company has produced 17 new musicals. (To date, nine--including hit Disney's Aladdin-- have moved on to Broadway premieres, earning a combined 15 Tony Awards, including two for Best Musical--Hairspray and Memphis. The 5th Avenue Theatre also known makes waves for its lauded productions of musicals from the contemporary canon and the Golden Age of Broadway. While the shows are sensational, the venue itself justifies a visit, too, thanks to a unique, Chinese-inspired design. (The exquisite theater opened in 1926 as a venue for vaudeville and film.) ((206) 625-1900)
About Corinne Whiting
Corinne hails from the other Washington, where she caught the travel bug early on. Corinne studied abroad in Strasbourg, France (undergrad) and in Edinburgh, Scotland (graduate school). She's backpacked around Australia, taught English in Argentina and explored (so far!) countries from Cambodia and Egypt to Turkey and China.
Corinne served as associate editor at Where magazine for five years; as a freelancer, she now writes for publications like National Geographic Traveler and Amtrak's OnTrak. Here in the lovely Northwest, she's attempting to debunk the rain myths, up her coffee and live music quotient and find her Zen near/on the water.
Read more about Corinne Whiting here.
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