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The GFCF Seattle Experience Part I: The Sights

Posted Aug 17 2009 10:47pm
The Space Needle - Seattle Center

Recently, I took my two middle children - Nicholas and Olivia - on a whirlwind 2 1/2 day trip to Seattle. This would be their first time in Seattle, or really any city that large. It's about an 8-hour drive on I-90, with stops, from Missoula to Seattle, through the rugged terrain of Western Montana and Northern Idaho, into the rolling hills and farmland of Western and Central Washington, then over the Columbia River Gorge and Snoqualmie Pass and into Seattle. We had some really long days, but in the end got to see a lot of Seattle's main attractions, take in a Mariners game, and enjoy a great GFCF meal. What I hope post here is a summary of our overall experiences, then follow this up with another post about our GFCF experiences. I hope this helps if you choose to plan a trip to Seattle.

The Columbia River Gorge, near George, Washington

I'm no travel expert, but I Did Stay at a Holiday Inn Express

The first challenge in arranging this trip was figuring out where to stay. I had figured to try and stay downtown since that's where most of the attractions are, and hopefully we could get to most by walking or using public transportation, since Seattle isn't exactly known as a driver-friendly city (the last time I was there, I spent a week trying to drive around and got lost every day). My kids? All they cared about is whether the hotel had a pool.

The problem is...there aren't too many hotels in downtown Seattle that have a pool!

The last time I was in Seattle, my wife and I had stayed at the Quality Inn near the Seattle Center, which has a pool, and is the cheapest place to stay in that area. It is also the perfect example of the old axiom "You get what you pay for" - I wouldn't recommend it.

This time, we stayed at the Holiday Inn Express, right across the street from the Quality Inn. I don't think I have ever had a bad stay at a Holiday Inn Express, and this one was no different. The rooms were clean and comfortable, and the pool was warm and inviting. This set up our typical daily itinerary - up and in the pool for a morning swim, shower and eat breakfast, then off to our day's activities, back to the hotel for a night swim, then pass out.

It was about $150 per night to stay there, so not cheap, but within the mid range of most hotels in this area. They also, like most downtown hotels, charged a parking fee ($10), which was cheap compared to other hotels. For that, you got to park in a secured underground parking garage under the hotel.

There was also a bit of a convenience factor to the Holiday Inn Express as well. It was about a half mile walk to the Seattle Center, and was right on Denny Way, a major thoroughfare heading out north of town towards the zoo and a restaurant where we ate.

The City Pass

There's lots of cool stuff to see in Seattle. And one of the great ways to score good prices to the major attractions is to use the City Pass. City Pass is something that is available in many major cities that allows you access to major attractions for a pretty good price. For our Seattle trip, it was an absolute steal. For the three of us, we paid $130 total and got passes for:

the Space Needle (two trips up and down)
the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum (or you can get the Museum of Flight)
the Pacific Science Center (including an IMAX film)
the Woodland Park Zoo
the Seattle Aquarium
a 1-hour harbor cruise.

This was a special rate they are offering through the middle of September (which you can use through next March) but even at the regular prices you will still save money. The trick is that you have nine days from when you go to your first attraction to use all the passes.

Here's a brief synopsis of the different attractions we saw:

The Experience Music Project/Sci Fi Museum

The Experience Music Project Guitar Sculpture - Seattle Center

This was our first stop after arriving in Seattle. The Experience Music Project basically pays tribute to the history of music from the '50s to present, including permanent exhibits devoted to the history of the guitar and the Seattle music scene. The best part for kids is the interactive center, where you can actually play around with some instruments and sound boards. It's also the most crowded part of the museum. They also have an atrium with perfect acoustics where they play rock videos on a series of HD tvs.

The Sci Fi museum is a must if you are into the genre. Exhibits pay tribute to everything from Star Trek to Star Wars to Planet of the Apes to Blade Runner to The Chronicles of Riddick and the Matrix. There is also a cool exhibit where Robbie the Robot and the robot from Lost in Space get into this argument about who is better. My favorite part was the travelling exhibit paying tribute to the Muppets and Jim Henson. The kids got to play puppeteer with members of Dr. Teeth's band, and they had a lot of the original puppets of Kermit, Rowlf the dog, and Bert and Ernie, to name a few.

The kids making Muppet Music at the Sci Fi Museum - Seattle Center

These are both located at the Seattle Center, so it was an easy walk from the hotel to get there.

The Woodland Park Zoo

Olivia feeding the birds - Wodland Park Zoo

We started Saturday at the Woodland Park Zoo, and it was one of the highlights of the trip. We drove over there, and it ended up being cheaper for us to park there for the day ($5) than it was to take public transportation. Get there early, though - the lots were pretty full when we left in the early afternoon!

The exhibits are fantastic. Most of the animals have enclosures that simulate their natural habitat and give them plenty of room to live. And there is a really large diversity of animals in the zoo as well. One neat exhibit area that I had never seen before was a night time exhibit where they simulate nighttime so you can see nocturnal animals active. The highlight, though, were the gorillas, especially the cute little 21-month old female. It was fascinating to hear the volunteer talk about their habits.

Isn't she cute?

We were there for over 4 hours, and could have spent the whole day there, except that we had to get over to...

The Pacific Science Center

Nicholas and Olivia climbing the walls at the Pacific Science Center

Now THIS place is a kid's dream. The Pacific Science Center is located at the Seattle Center, and is four buildings of total interaction. Even if this post wasn't so long, I wouldn't have enough space to write everything about his place! There's wall climbing, a motion simulator, and interactive Gemini capsule, a butterfly garden, a place to interact with sea creatures, robotics, a motion simulator, optical illusions... and we never made it to the animated dinosaurs!

Nicholas checkin out Seattle sea life at the Pacific Science Center

They also have IMAX and IMAX-3D theaters here. With our City Pass, we saw a film called Animalopolis, about animals doing silly things, like a lion singing opera in the middle of the Serengeti. The kids loved it.

We topped off the day by traveling to the top of the Space Needle. I think the views are fantastic of Elliott Bay and downtown, and even better when you can see Mt. Rainier (which we couldn't). The kids? Meh...

The view of downtown Seattle from the Space Needle Observation Deck

Definitely, Saturday was my best day in Seattle.

Unwinding after a long day with some bumper car action at the Seattle Center

The Seattle Aquarium

Sunday was Nicholas' special day. We were going to spend the afternoon at Safeco Field, watching the Mariners and his favorite baseball player, Ichiro. But that was just a part of this busy day...

The day began with a monorail ride from the Seattle Center to The Westlake Center, Seattle's downtown shopping mall. From there it was a 10 minute walk down to and through the Pike Street Market (didn't see any flying fish) and our first stop, the Seattle Aquarium.

Large tank at the entrance to the Seattle Aquarium

The Seattle Aquarium is located at the waterfront and features exhibits about the different sea creatures in the Pacific Northwest. It has a couple of large tanks where you can just sit and watch the fish go by, as well as a couple of really large, interactive touch tanks (it was neat watching the sea urchin curl it's tentacles around my finger when I touched it). It also has nice indoor/outdoor otter and seal exhibits. We probably didn't spend as much time there as we should have, but the kids (especially Nicholas) were anxious to move on!

The Harbor Cruise

After the Mariners game, it was time for the last outing of our weekend (and our City Pass), a 1-hour harbor cruise courtesy of Argosy Cruises. The tour is a loop around Elliott bay, with a guide talking about some of the history of Seattle and the different ports. Seattle is a huge shipping port for the Pacific, as well as for cruise ships to Alaska and the summer home for those now famous Alaskan crab fishing boats (the ones on Deadliest Catch dock a little farther up they bay then where we were). We heard some interesting tidbits about some of Seattle's downtown buildings, and even how some of the cranes used to load and unload shipping boats purported inspired the design of the Imperial walkers by George Lucas in The Empire Strikes Back. You can see for yourself in the photo below. And notice that smaller building on the left, the one with the dome? That's the Seneca building, aka the R2D2 building.

All in all, a relaxing way to end the day.

Safeco Field and the Mariners

Sandwiched between the aquarium and the harbor cruise was the one event Nicholas was especially looking forward to: his first Mariners game.

Safeco Field is a beautiful ballpark. Our seats were in right field, seven rows from the field, and less then 100 ft from Nicholas' beloved Ichiro. The sun broke through the clouds, and it became just a perfect afternoon to watch a baseball game. I think Nicholas, truth be told, seemed to be a little overwhelmed - he and Olivia had never been to a place where there were so many people at once. The best part was that, since Ichiro plays right field, all of the people from Japan who come over to watch him play all sit in right field. So we were surrounded by Japanese holding signs and cheering every time Ichiro came on the field. And Ichiro, for his part, would smile and tip his cap to them. It was a great experience.

Ichiro saluting his fans

For Nicholas and Olivia though, the best part was being able to get on the field after the game and run the bases. What a treat for them!

Final Thoughts

A few final thoughts on touring Seattle:

  • Seattle is hilly - not to the extent of San Francisco, but hilly nonetheless. We didn't really explore the public transportation options extensively, but Seattle does have a large bus system, and some of the routes are free in the downtown area. There is a good bit of distance between the Seattle Center and the main harbor area (where the aquarium and the boat cruise are located), and it's about a mile from the main harbor area to Safeco Field. We probably walked about three miles on Sunday, and it was pretty exhausting, especially for the kids.

  • If you include the swimming at the hotel and meals, we were pretty much on the go from 7 am until 10 pm every day. In retrospect, I would love to have had some extra days on the trip to spend more time at the Science Center and the zoo. We also missed out on other attractions like Pioneer Square and the Museum of Flight, not to mention the Arboretum (I had seen that on a previous trip and it is beautiful).

  • I mentioned at the beginning that Seattle can be a tricky place to get around in by car - on a previous trip, I was pulled over for going on to a road strictly for bus lanes. This time around, we took a GPS system with us, and it was invaluable. If you don't own one, go buy one. We've had ours for six months, and we love it.

Stay Tuned

Thanks for bearing with me through this long post. Please check back later this week for Part II - our GFCF experiences on this trip!

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