Category Archives: Seattle

Seattle : What to do, Read and watch

Chihuly glass in Seattle

As U.S. cities go, Seattle surely tops the list of “places with the most diverse activities in the smallest geographic area.” My book,  Off The Beaten Page Travel: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs and Girls on Getaways features a chapter on Seattle with an essay, reading list and an itinerary. It’s a great tool to start planning your Seattle adventure. And see my previous posts about the Seattle area “All is Not Grey” and “Bainbridge Island/Snow Falling on Cedars”  before planning your trip.

I hadn’t returned to the Emerald City since researching the book, but I just spent a week in the Seattle area and sampled a batch of Seattle activities and adventures. Here are some of my favorite ideas for Seattle travel, or to enjoy as a reader or movie-goer.

Author Maria Semple’s Seattle
First, I heartily recommend author Maria Semple as your Seattle traveling companion. I can’t imagine a more fun person to travel with –via her books set in Seattle. The movie made from her bestseller, Where’d You Go Bernadette?, comes out this month starring Cate Blanchett. From the trailer, it looks like it offers some awesome shots of Seattle (with plenty of humor about the abundant blackberries vines).

On my way home from Seattle, I read her most recent book Today Will Be Different. If you liked Bernadette, you’ll enjoy Today Will Be Different. Both feature women struggling with motherhood, middle age, and “finding themselves.” They’re both hilarious, rather improbable and take readers on a fun tour of Seattle landmarks and neighborhoods.

Chihuly Garden and Glass

Chihuly glass inside….
Chihuly art outside where the gardens are as gorgeous as the glass.

Seattle salutes famed Pacific Northwest glass artist Dale Chihuly with a stunning gallery and garden (and restaurant!), Chihuly Garden and Glass at Seattle Center, right under the iconic Space Needle. If you love art, gardens, or simply eye-popping color, this is the place for you.

Olympic Sculpture Park

Alexander Calder’s “The Eagle” in Olympic Sculpture Park in Seattle, Washington
View of the Seattle waterfront from the Olympic Sculpture Park

Just a short walk down the hill from Seattle Center, you’ll find the Seattle Art Museum’s Olympic Sculpture Park. Covered in monumental artworks, this award-winning nine-acre park on the waterfront is Seattle’s largest downtown green space. Sit amidst giant works such as Alexander Calder’s “The Eagle” (see above) with a view of Seattle Center and the Space Needle in back of you and the waterfront and Olympic mountains in front. It doesn’t get much better.

Capitol Hill

Local author section at Elliott Bay Book Company

Seattle’s most hip and edgy neighborhood? For most people, the answer is Capitol Hill. Here, you’ll find one of my favorite bookstores, Elliott Bay Book Company, where I happily spent an hour admiring the store and gathering books from their list of staff picks and book club ideas.

For ice cream, don’t miss Seattle classic, Molly Moon Ice Cream –Honey Lavender! Salted Carmel! Melted Chocolate! Along with a cone, I bought their cookbook to make my own Molly Moon at home.

Also in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, you’ll find the uber-cool Starbucks Roastery and tasting room. There’s hardly a place in the entire world that doesn’t have a Starbucks outpost. But, in Seattle coffee lovers can make a pilgrimage to the first Starbucks, at Pike Place Market. Caffeine fiends will also enjoy a visit to the Roastery, a Disneyland for coffee lovers. Grab some java (and pizza, pastry, and much more) and watch them roast the beans. It’s one of just a few such Starbucks in the world; others are in New York City, Milan and Shanghai.

Reserve ahead for dinner at a neighborhood favorite, the award-winning Sitka and Spruce at the Melrose Market. Peer in the old auto shop’s windows and and see, as Seattle magazine said, “a brick wood-burning oven anchors the open kitchen—nothing sits between diners perched at the long, wooden communal table and the band of bearded chefs busily working nearby.” Super-creative food from the Northwest.

Farther up the hill, we found another side of Capitol Hill–a leafy neighborhood of huge historic homes, quite different the the commercial end of the Hill. We visited Volunteer Park with its lovely conservatory and great views from top of the old brick water tower.

Lake Union for Kayaking

Take advantage of a beautiful day in Seattle by kayaking on Lake Union.

Seattlites are an outdoorsy bunch and there are plenty of opportunities for visitors to join them for outside action, especially on the water. We rented kayaks at Agua Verde Paddle Club, not far from the University of Washington. It’s a great way to see Seattle’s famous houseboats (ala the movie “Sleepless in Seattle”), fishing and pleasure boats, parks and the Seattle skyline from the water.

Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market in Seattle

Sure, it’s touristy, but for flowers, food and flying fish, Pike Place Market is fun, no matter how many times you’ve been there. In summer, go early before it gets too crowded to walk through.

Stunning flowers abound at Pike Place Market.
So ugly! This fish also spouts water on unsuspecting customers.

We dined near the market at the Pink Door, in the historic Post Alley. Sitting outside offers a great view of the waterfront, inside an elcletic batch of entertainment (trapeze artists to hot club jazz) and you’ll find great Italian-influenced food anywhere you sit.

Where We Stayed

Downtown: The Hyatt Olive 8. The Olive 8 is eco friendly and just plain friendly. We received one of the most cordial greetings there I’ve ever had at a hotel. It makes a great location to explore downtown, with a short walk to Pike Place Market, great shopping neighborhoods, and it’s close to the Monorail that goes to Seattle Center—anything to avoid driving and parking in Seattle! It’s easy and inexpensive to take the Light Rail from the airport to downtown’s Westlake stop and walk a couple of block to the hotel.

Capitol Hill: Gaslight Inn. Housed in and old mansion, this B&B offers a great contrast to big downtown hotels. Super friendly owner Stephen Bennett makes a yummy breakfast and is happy to offer directions to Capitol Hill hot spots. Too hot? There’s a cool pool in back.

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Bainbridge Island, The Island That Inspired Snow Falling on Cedars

From Seattle’s busy waterfront along Alaskan Way, it’s only a forty-minute ferry ride across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island but it’s a voyage to another world and a slower time.

The island was the inspiration for David Guterson’s bestseller, Snow UnknownFalling on Cedars, called San Piedro Island in the book. Guterson makes his home on the island and used to teach school here. We hop off the boat in Winslow, a cozy seaside town located on Eagle Harbor. It’s a great place to explore on foot. For those who want to go further afield, bikes are available to rent between June 1st and the end of September right by the ferry terminal at Bike Barn rentals.

Winslow began as a timber and shipbuilding center and was, for a time, larger than Seattle. Today it’s a bedroom community for Seattle and the picturesque harbor, the trees, the greenery, and the misty hills give it just the right rich ambiance for romance and drama, like that in Snow Falling on Cedars, but it certainly isn’t “downtrodden and mildewed,” like Amity Harbor in in the book.

Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge Island, Washington
Eagle Harbor, Bainbridge Island, Washington

We wandered the charming shops on Winslow Way including Eagle Harbor Book Co. (where they’re happy to tell you about local authors), The Traveler and Bainbridge Arts and Crafts.  We ate a tasty lunch at Cafe Nola.

Yet, fans of Snow Falling on Cedars or anyone who wants to understand the history of the island will find the most satisfaction in exploring the island’s history so head to The Bainbridge Island Historical Museum.  Housed in a red 1908 schoolhouse, the museum tells the story of the island’s history, particularly the Japanese internment as it really played out on the island, the true story at the heart of Guterson’s book. BI-MUSEUM-Tjossem-1024x685After the bombing of Pearl Harbor, Japanese Americans became the focus of suspicion, even though many were second-generation citizens. They were rounded up and sent into exile in military-style camps such as Heart Mountain  in Wyoming and Manzanar  in California.

It’s a half-hour bike ride or a ten-minute cab ride to the Bainbridge Island Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, around the bay from the ferry landing. This is the site from which Japanese Americans were removed from their homes and sent to Seattle and then to internment camps on March 30, 1942.

For more on Seattle, see my previous post, All Is Not Grey in Seattle.

Read more: Seattle and Bainbridge Island are featured destinations in Off The Beaten Page: The Best Trips for Lit Lovers, Book Clubs,and Girls on Getaways.

And, In Defense of Our Neighbors: The Walt and Milly Woodward Story, about how the publishers of Bainbridge Island’s community newspaper fought the internment of their Japanese neighbors.

All is Not Grey in Seattle: Best Books Set in Seattle by Local Writers

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Seattle isn’t always grey. When the clouds thin you just can’t beat the city’s combination of ocean and mountains.

Seattle is famous for its grey skies and currently, for another Unknown-4
grey, Fifty Shades of Grey, that is. Crowds of Shades fans are driving by the Escala condominiums in Seattle, the home of the fictional Christian Grey, among other sites in the books and movie. And, tour operators now offer travel packages that incorporate  Fifty Shades sites, hopefully with a little more romance and a little less S and M.

One writer called the trilogy “Fifty Shades of Bad Writing,” but darn, I wish I wrote those books; that woman has struck it rich.  The movie has received equally stinky reviews, but it will probably do well financially, too.

A little mommy porn can be fun if you’re into, um, pain and bondage, but I’m here to tell you that whether it’s weather or reading, Seattle isn’t just about Grey. If you’re looking for books with a little more literary merit to inform and inspire a trip to the Emerald City, the folks at one of my favorite bookstores, Elliott Bay Books in Seattle have a reading list for you. Here’s a list they sent with some great and pretty recent fiction and nonfiction books set in Seattle, by local authors.

A Sudden Light by Garth Stein (fiction). He also wrote the Art of Racing Unknown-1in the Rain

Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple (fiction)

The Lone Ranger & Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by Sherman Alexie (fiction) See my other post about Sherman Alexie and banned books.

Blueprints of the Afterlife by Ryan Boudinot (fiction)

Love, Water, Memory by Jennie Shortridge (fiction)

Ceremony for the Choking Ghost by Karen Finneyfrock (poetry)

The Good Rain by Timothy Egan (nonfiction)Unknown-5

Nisei Daughter by Monica Sone (nonfiction)

Pacific Northwest: Land of Light and Water by Art Wolfe (nonfiction – pictorial)

Mary Randlett Portraits by Frances McCue and Mary Randlett (nonfiction – pictorial)

Stay tuned for an upcoming post on Bainbridge Island.

Dreary Weather and Creativity

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Today’s weather make me feel like this.

I just returned from walking my dog, Duffy, and he’s a big wet ball of mud. It’s about 40 degrees and rainy outside, the worst possible weather for Minnesotans.  Most of us relish the cold and snow and spend a lot of time outside enjoying it while also feeling slightly superior to those who live the easy life in warmer climates.  Wimps.

When it’s really cold here, its also sunny, a very cheerful combination. We run out with show shoes or skis or simply gaze out on the sparkling snowbanks, hot cocoa in hand. By contrast today is capital D Dreary.  No amount of cocoa will make me feel better unless it’s some of “Mr. Smith’s special hot chocolate” that my spouse used to take along on kids camp outs. Add to the drippy weather the fact that we’re so far north it gets dark really early in winter, so by about 4:30 it will be dark and dreary… sounds like Edgar Allen Poe.

On the upside, I’ve always felt that people who are too happy have nothing to write about. Would  Poe have penned The Raven if he were feeling anything but morose?  Could Jon Krakauer have written Into Thin Air if his Mt. Everest trek hadn’t been a disaster?  One of my favorite writers, Tim Egan, concurs.  In a recent New York Times column, “The Longest Nights,” he says the bleak winter is prime time for writers and other creative people. “At the calendar’s gloaming,” he says, “while the landscape is inert, and all is dark, sluggish, bleak and cold, writers and cooks and artists and tinkerers of all sorts are at their most productive.”

He lives in Seattle and his article ponders the relationship between Seattle’s uber rainy weather and the number of writers in that city.  He says, “I’ve come to the conclusion that creativity needs a season of despair. Where would William Butler Yeats be if he nested in Tuscany? Could Charles Dickens ever have written a word from South Beach? And the sun of Hollywood did much to bleach the talents out of that troubled native of Minnesota, F. Scott Fitzgerald.”

So I welcome the bleak mid-winter.  What else is there to do but towel off the dog, roll up my sleeves, and write… and perhaps sip a steaming cup of “special” hot cocoa?