When you hear that Seattle is one of the cloudiest cities be forewarned, this is no joke. The city bears 226 cloudy days per year and we experienced six of them firsthand. The clouds that hover over the city are so low you can almost touch them. Skyscrapers get lost in the fog and everything suddenly feels like a beautiful blur. Although the sun sometimes peeks through the clouds, it is never fully exposed. We haven't basked in sunshine for almost a week.
Personally, I could not live in a city with such few sunny days. Years ago when NYC had one of its grayest winters I suffered from SAD and have since loaded up on vitamin D throughout the years to avoid that horrible mental and physical clash from ever happening again. I just need sunshine. Without it I become unproductive and my mind becomes as foggy as the skies that cause its debilitating cloudiness. However, clearly, there are many who are most efficient in gray environments as some of the largest companies have sprouted in this rainy city (think Amazon, Microsoft, Starbucks, Costco. Boeing, etc...) and the locals here are as active and friendly as can be.
As we visit each city and I ask myself whether I could live there, driving ease is always a criterion in my mind. Living in New York City for twenty-two years has kept me off the wheel for way too long. Since I don't drive, I am not the most confident driver when I actually do muster up the courage to hit the pedal. Seattle is a city that would keep me in a passenger seat indefinitely. The roads here are so difficult to navigate. Two-way streets can barely fit one car. Parking is impossible. There are these bizarre turnabouts mid- lanes that clog up the already tiny roads. Even my husband who has piloted us through our entire road trip expressed how much he hates driving here. Seattle driving makes driving in New York City look like a breeze.
Yet somehow, despite the monochromatic skyline and difficult driving situation Seattle won our hearts. The charming neighborhoods, friendly locals, a stunning skyline, surrounding bodies of water, mild winters, diverse population, and a strong commitment to composting make this city desirable, vibrant, and lively. In some ways, especially architecturally, it reminds us of New York City with the added bonuses of mountainous horizons, hilly roads, less traffic, fewer crowds, and no income tax. Honestly, even at its grayest, it's a spectacular city. If it weren't for the weather we would absolutely consider a move here. I never expected to love it so much.
Walking around downtown made us all a bit homesick as this Seattle neighborhood is reminiscent of many streets back home in New York City. The juxtaposition of new buildings, like The Columbia Center, with those built in the early 1900s, reminded us of many of our favorite streets back home, especially the ones in Tribeca. Our daughter, who throughout our entire road trip has pleaded that we move to the many places she has fallen in love with along the way, expressed for the first time that she misses home. Specifically its smell, the feel of her bed, the way the light seeps through her window in the early mornings... Downtown Seattle really took her back home. Actually, we all had a similar experience while exploring the city, even me who probably misses home the least. The streets of downtown are colorful, inviting, and full of culinary and architectural surprises. We made repeated visits to this area because there is just so much to see, explore, and taste here.
Pike's Market Place
This downtown marketplace also gave us a taste of what we left behind in NYC. A touch of Chelsea Market and a touch of South Street Seaport come through in this lovely waterfront Seattle market. Filled with history, Pike's open-aired market has been around since 1907 and offers everything from fresh seafood and baked goods to arranged flower bouquets and limited edition books. There are many levels to this space weaving visitors through multiple floors, alleyways, and street levels. In contrast to Chelsea Market, which is loaded with visitors at any time of day, there weren't many people shopping the stalls on the Tuesday afternoon we stopped by. In fact, several of the vendors had their gates down. Even in the uncomfortable silence that we walked through, it is easy to imagine the hustle and bustle that takes place here under normal circumstances. Those vendors that were set up were eager to showcase and sell their products. Once again, my heart breaks by how much large cities have suffered during the pandemic with all the government-imposed restrictions whereas smaller cities throughout the US that have not imposed similar restrictions have thriving businesses that can continue making an income to support their livelihoods. After traveling through so many states, I stand by my beliefs that there should be laws requiring people to wear masks, with hefty fines given to those who refuse, and that businesses should be allowed to function as close as possible to their normal capacity throughout the country.
Whether or not you are a Starbucks fan, a visit to their original store while visiting downtown is hard to pass. We curiously checked out the Pike Street location which has been opened since the 1970s. Admittedly, I drink a lot of their Pike Place roast, and knowing that this roast is named after the street of their first location makes the java sipping so much more fun! Their staff was extremely friendly and informative making the visit even more enjoyable. This is the first, and only, Starbucks that I have been to that had no line or cluster of people waiting for their coffee fix.
The heavenly scent of freshly baked French bread and pastries stopped us in our tracks and lured us into this charming little shop, also located on Pike Place. Although we wanted to taste everything in sight, we carefully selected an éclair, a couple of macarons, and a pain au chocolat. Let's just say... tres magnifique!
How is it possible that along with their Pike Place location Beecher's also has a location in New York's Flatiron district that I didn't know about in the twenty-two years of living there? I cannot believe I had to travel across the country to find the best mac & cheese we have ever eaten when I have had it in my backyard all along. As soon as we peeked through the storefront's glass-walled kitchen exposing the crafting of their award-winning cheeses we were sold. This place is cheese heaven and their mac & cheese will ruin any other experience you will have again of eating this comfort food anywhere else.
A well-loved chocolatier in Seattle, Fran's lives up to its reputation. Located in The Four Seasons Hotel, the design of the store is naturally beautifully simplistic. I tried to capture its modern and luxurious layout with no luck. It's best to just stop in when in the downtown area of Seattle and see it firsthand. Distracted by the design of the space, I almost forget we were there to taste some treats. Our confections were out of this world. One piece was enough to please our palates for the rest of our stroll through the streets of Seattle.
Yet another Seattle favorite can be found downtown which clearly is an epic hub for both deliciously sweet and savory foods. Cupcake Royale creates new, seasonal flavors along with their celebrated staples that are baked year-round. We had a hard time choosing from their alluring flavors ultimately settling on a hot cocoa cupcake made with chocolate cake swirled with chocolate marshmallow frosting and of course topped with mini marshmallows and chocolate chips. These were so incredibly delicious the kids fought over the last crumbs!
Leave it to Seattle to have an entire alley filled with thousands of chewed pieces of gum as a downtown landmark. We couldn't help but linger in this disgustingly attractive work of art. This place is just so weird it cannot be missed.
Seattle Great Wheel
Pike Place will lead you to the waterfront where you can get lost gazing at Mount Rainer and Elliott Bay. There you will also find the Seattle Aquarium and the Seattle Great Wheel. Although the wheel is closed during the pandemic, there are wonderful viewing points of it on Pier 66.
Olympic Sculpture Park
As if downtown Seattle isn't already exploding with activities, sights, and places to explore, it also offers nine acres along a waterfront park filled with over twenty whimsical sculptures, a fountain, views of the Space Needle, and stunning snow-capped mountains in the backdrop. The park was filled with folks strolling its paths and people walking their dogs. It's a lovely, tucked-in, getaway in the heart of the city.
The SODO Track is now the largest mural corridor in the world. Over two miles of streets that are closed off to traffic are adorned by thirty-two murals created by sixty artists. Because 5th Avenue is not open to traffic and parking was impossible to find in the immediate area it was difficult for us to view most of the murals. They are spread throughout the stretch so if you are visiting, take an Uber and plan to take a leisurely stroll on 5th Avenue between Royal Brougham Way and Spokane Street. Personally, I loved the pop of color that the murals added to the stark skies. Although the artwork in SODO is equally beautiful, Wynwood Walls in Miami does a much better job of making the art-viewing accessible and inviting to admirers. Not only was parking difficult, but there also aren't sidewalks in most parts and there were several tented homeless communities along the path. I would have loved to spend an hour or two admiring these beautiful works of art but the city has unfortunately made it too difficult.
Wallingford is a well-kept, laid-back neighborhood with turn-of-the-century homes, a couple of parks, and the Woodland Park Zoo. There are a few popular shops and restaurants on N 45th Street but sadly they were mostly barren. I had an incredible, creamy latte at Caffe Vita served by friendly baristas. Gas Works Park, once the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company, has now been converted into a city park with beautiful skyline views, rolling hills, and lots of trails for joggers and strollers. Our home's close proximity to this park got me moving again after months of refraining from any extensive exercise routine. With the park nearby, along with the gentle nudge of my husband, I began to work out again and even included a light jog in my regiment. It was hard to pull through but I had to choose between the park across the street or the couch and pantry filled with snacks that the rainy weather made more enticing than ever. The park was a lifesaver. There are many restaurants in the neighborhood. We dined at Pablo y Pablo and were seriously blown away by our meals and cocktails at this Mexican restaurant. On top of the incredible food, the service was excellent too. The people in Seattle are so friendly and just seem like pretty happy people overall.
One of my most memorable events while in Wallingford is a visit to Molly Moon's ice-cream. When I read about their ever so popular salted caramel ice-cream I never imagined it would be so fantastic. It literally felt like I was popping a fresh caramel into my mouth with each bite. The ice-cream was so ridiculously creamy and fresh that I often paused to remind myself that I am actually eating ice-cream and not a perfectly crafted piece of homemade caramel candy.
Our Housing Accommodations
The house we rented was located in Wallingford, a seven-minute drive to downtown. The home, named Wallingford House with Lake Union Views on Airbnb, is truly beautiful, well-appointed, immaculate, and in a great location. The hosts were lovely to deal with. Since the weather was often against us exploring the area we were able to fully utilize the house by cooking many meals in the gourmet kitchen, watching movies by the fireplace and I even participated in a zoom cooking class while here. The house does a wonderful job separating its trash and even has a composting bin. This was our first time participating in composting and I found it easy, fun, and fulfilling. I hope to find a way to continue this practice in our daily lives as it is a very convenient way to help our beautiful earth! I highly recommend booking this home when in the area.
TIP: This house was listed as $1,000 more than another home we almost booked. I really loved the décor and spaciousness of this five-bedroom home and decided to reach out to the hosts to negotiate a price equal to the home we were originally planning on booking. They agreed. You can, and should, negotiate with your hosts. Also, over the months I have noticed that prices go down, especially on Airbnb, if you can hold off on booking until closer to your desired dates. Finally, oftentimes hosts will list the names of their management companies in their bio. You can then search for them online and book directly through their company websites saving hundreds of dollars that Airbnb and Vrbo charge on service fees.
Pioneer Park is full of history and known as the heart of Old Seattle. One of the popular landmarks here is The Waterfall Garden Park, the birthplace of the United Parcel Service (UPS). I don't know about you but UPS has been a savior for us during the pandemic. Paying homage to its birthplace was inevitable during our time spent in Seattle. There is a lovely courtyard with a waterfall open to the public. Thank you, UPS for getting us everything we need wherever we have been to make it through this pandemic!
Queen Anne is a beautiful neighborhood just seven minutes away from the Seattle Center area. The neighborhood proudly harbors Kerry Park which offers one of the most spectacular vantage points of the Seattle skyline. The homes along the park are striking and spacious making city living a cinch for those who can afford these pricey properties. There are also many cute shops and well-known restaurants in the area. This neighborhood is a fun destination and should not be missed while in the area.
This colorful and quirky neighborhood wins for the most interesting and fun to roam. Fremont has claimed its neighborhood as the Center of the Universe with a signpost to prove it. Nowhere else will you find Cold War-era rocket ships, Lenin statues, trolls, and a myriad of shops all within walking distance of each other. Just head on over to the neighborhood and walk around. You will be swept away by the fantastical sights along the streets as soon as your feet hit the sidewalks.
As if Freemont wasn't sweet enough, Theo Chocolate Factory has proudly made this neighborhood its home. Pre-Covid, chocolate lovers were able to sign up for tours of the premises to experience the behind-the-scenes of chocolate making and even be treated to some samples of the yummy creations made onsite. Luckily, the festively decorated shop is open during the pandemic welcoming only six guests at a time to enter their world full of enticing aromas of freshly made chocolate. They even have a lovely outdoor patio for those who choose to sit while savoring their treats. Of course, we couldn't help but load up on their chocolate products. We grabbed their hot chocolate (which is made out of real chocolate pieces- no powder here!), their famous big daddy chocolates which you can only purchase on-site, and several of their other delicious confections that are too many to count. We will have Theo chocolates to enjoy for days. This shop is truly irresistible.
A Seattle neighborhood full of landmarks, parks, and museums to explore, Seattle Center will give you a taste of the city's cultural scene. This area is home to the iconic Space Needle as well as the Museum of Pop Culture (aka MoPOP), the International Fountain (closed during our visit), world-renowned Chihuly Garden of Glass, Pacific Science Center, and The Seattle Children's Museum. You can easily spend an entire day in this immaculately maintained part of the city.
Seattle is an incredible city and a humble one too. There are infinite places and activities to experience here whether it's via the sites that are offered in its city life or when exploring the nearby bounties that nature brings, which unfortunately we did not have time to get to. While the city offers just as much as other larger cities do, like New York City, the pace here seems so much slower. Of course, this vibe can be influenced by the current pandemic. Perhaps during "normal life", the lifestyle here is equally cutthroat and stressful. Yet, something tells me it isn't. There is a way about Seattle that keeps things flowing at a healthy and balanced pace. People here walk slower and talk slower than they do in Manhattan. There is no need for locals to claim that it is "the best city in the world" because there is a sense of confidence that comes from knowing this deep inside and they smartly rather keep this information all to themselves. I am grateful to have spent some time getting to know this underestimated spot on our map. I encourage my readers to go see for themselves why this is now my second favorite large city in the USA. Hey, NYC is still home...