One of our first trips in 2021 was to visit Weston and Mackenzie in Seattle. They had moved to Washington in 2020 but the pandemic had prevented us from visiting them until June 2021. We spent an action packed week checking out the city and exploring a few other areas close by.
Seattle is situated on an isthmus between Puget Sound (an inlet of the Pacific Ocean) and Lake Washington. It is the northernmost major city in the United States, located about 100 miles south of the Canadian border.
With a population of 737,015 in 2020, Seattle is the 18th most populous city in the U.S. It is consistently ranked among the 10 best places to live in the United States by U.S. News, and for good reason. It is surrounded by water, mountains, evergreen forests, and thousands of acres of parkland. Seattle is a city of neighborhoods and we were lucky enough to visit many of them during our stay.
Seattle's Street Art and Neon Signs
While other west coast cities such as Los Angeles are famed for their street art scene, Seattle doesn’t enjoy quite the same reputation but its street art is certainly impressive! Walk around any neighbor and you'll pass amazing street art ranging from building murals to electrical box artworks and everyday graffiti on any surface. Included below are a few examples of what we observed walking around West Seattle one afternoon.
A budding Bansky-like artist?
In addition to street art, this city has a fascination with neon signs. Seattle is home to thousands of neon signs, from mass-produced "OPEN" signs to one-of-a-kind signs that catch your eye as you walk or drive by.
Although they were extremely popular starting in the 1930s, neon signs fell into decline by the 1970s. However, in Seattle neon never went completely dark.
Now neon signs are back and they are popping up in every corner of the city. Neon brings a nostalgic feel to budding new business. Many feel neon signage add warmth to their storefront that more traditional sign don't. It's just another way that Seattle stands out from the crowd of west coast cities.
Here is a look at a few of the neighborhood gems that we experienced during our first trip to Seattle.
Weston and Mackenzie live in a great area of West Seattle and we were able to find an Airbnb that was only a 10-15 minute walk from their home. During our nightly walks to and back from their home, we discovered a few things about West Seattle.
1. Everyone loves their garden. It was the rare exception to walk past homes that didn’t have some sort of flower garden.
2. This is a city of hills and stairs. Here is the Thistle Street staircase. Actually it's only a tiny portion of the staircase. We had to go up and down these 367 steps when we went for morning runs in Lincoln Park.
3. Some of the best sunsets are viewed from the hilltops of West Seattle.
We were fortunate that our Airbnb was also only a short walk from Lincoln Park located on the shore of Puget Sound. Lincoln is one of Seattle’s largest parks; attractions include a paved walkway along the beach, forest trails, tennis courts, baseball fields, picnic tables, and a heated salt-water swimming pool. Its landscape is diverse, with rocky beaches, grassy meadows, and forests. The look of the park changes dramatically depending on weather.
It was a place place to run in the mornings.
After a full day of exploring the city, we relaxed grilling, playing cornhole, and chilling in the back yard.
During one of our last days in Seattle, we walked to Alki Beach and spent the day relaxing and reading on the beach. Alki's sandy beach provides spectacular views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains. Although it was a sunny warm day, the beach wasn’t crowded by East Coast standards.
We did briefly test out the water, but with water temperatures hovering around 59°F it was too cold to enjoy. Only a few hardy souls played in the water. Most people were like these two skim boarders limiting all skin contact with the icy Puget Sound waters.
One of our first stops was at the Kubota Garden, the 20-acre Japanese garden in the Rainier Beach neighborhood.
Fireweed is a tall showy wildflower. Its name stems from its ability to colonize areas burned by fire rapidly. It was one of the first plants to appear after the eruption of Mt. St. Helens in 1980.
A public park since 1987, it was established in 1927 by Fujitaro Kubota, a Japanese emigrant. During World War II, Kubota Garden was abandoned for four years as Kubota and his family were interned at Camp Minidoka in Idaho. After the war, he and his sons, Tak and Tom Kubota, rebuilt his gardening business.
A beautiful pale yellow iris.
Weston and Dave enjoying Kubota despite the 90° temperatures.
These spotted knapweed plants can grow 2-4 feet tall.
This photo is without a doubt one of the best 'macro' pictures I have taken. I can't believe the dragonfly was patient enough to wait for the shutter click.
A beautiful yellow flowering St. John's wort plant.
In 1981, the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board declared the core 4.5 acres of the park to be a historical landmark. In 1987, the City bought the garden from the Kubota family, and it is now maintained by the Department of Parks and Recreation as well as volunteers from the Kubota Garden Foundation.
Seward Park shares its name with the peninsula that juts into Lake Washington. Under normal conditions we would have enjoyed the beach of Seward Park but we visited when record-breaking temperatures had soared past 100 degrees. The entire Pacific Northwest was trapped beneath a blistering "heat dome“ with high temperatures over the weekend (Seattle 108°F & Portland 115°F) causing power cables to melt and roads to buckle.
Seward Park resides on the Bailey Peninsula. The city of Seattle bought the peninsula in 1911 and began developing the area as a park shortly thereafter. Today, Seward boasts 300 acres of beautiful forest land, home to eagles’ nests, old growth forest, a 2.4 mile bike and walking path, miles of hiking trails, shoreline, beaches and more – all surrounded by the waters of Lake Washington.
Under normal weather conditions, there are amazing views of Mt Rainier from the park, but today the mountain was barely visible. Heat haze and increased smog caused by the heat dome that was stuck over the Pacific Northwest obstructed the view. Looking at this photo I can only imagine how imposing this massive mountain rising 14,411 feet above the city appears on a clear day.
Lake Washington is the second largest natural lake in Washington and a mecca for boaters and kayakers.
While old-growth trees (more than 250 years old) can be found in a few parks around Seattle, only Seward Park boasts a 120-acre forest full of them. This so-called Magnificent Forest, which takes up the northern two-thirds of Seward Park, is a great in-city hiking destination. What an amazing sign to see in the middle of the 18th most populous city in the U.S.
As you wander on the well-marked trail, all around you are towering softwoods, mostly Douglas firs, Western hemlock, Pacific madrona and Alaskan cedar.
Moss grows on almost every surface that lies close to the forest floor.
Very little light penetrates the canopy.
What an experience wandering through an ancient forest in the middle of this city.
Not much housing sits between the Boeing facility, two freeways, and the industrial district but Georgetown is so damn fun. The art walks, punk shows, eclectic food, and slew of breweries might make it the finest distillation of the city’s indie spirit. But the most famous Georgetown landmark is definitely Hat 'n' Boots in Oxbow Park. Touted as the largest cowboy hat and boots in America, these pieces of massive rancher apparel made their debut in the 1950s in the Georgetown neighborhood as part of a western-themed gas station called Hat ‘n’ Boots. The 44-foot-wide hat was designed to hold the gas station’s office while the 22-foot-tall boots served as the restrooms.
When the gas station closed in the late 1980s, the steel and plaster structures designed by local commercial artist Lewis Nasmyth fell into disrepair. However, the community rallied to save them. The iconic attraction was moved to Georgetown’s Oxbow Park in 2003. The boots were restored in 2005; the hat finally completed in 2010.
Today, Pike Place Market is recognized as one of the nation's premier farmers market. It is home to nearly 220 year-round commercial businesses, 210 crafters, 100 farmers, and 250 street performers, and is an integral part of local sustainable agriculture efforts. The market attracts some 10 million visitors each year. Some come for the ethnic and specialty goods that are exclusive to the market while others for daily groceries.
Were it not for a revolt over the price of onions, the centerpiece of Seattle's Pike Place Market neighborhood might not exist today. Between 1906 and 1907, as the cost of onions increased tenfold, outraged citizens became fed up with price-gouging middlemen and demanded change. A city councilman proposed a public street market where residents could buy directly from farmers. On a dreary, damp August morning 100 years ago, thousands of eager shoppers quickly overwhelmed the eight farmers who set up their wagons on the corner of First Avenue and Pike Street.
By 1917 much of the Market we know today was constructed - the Economy Market, Corner Market, Sanitary Market, and the lower levels of the Main Market. The Market continued to grow and thrive during the 1920s and the Depression of the 1930s. By the 1960s there were fewer than 100 farmers selling at the Market and the number of customers was at an all-time low.
The greatest threat to the market came in 1963 when an association of downtown businesses proposed replacing it with parking garages and high-rise office buildings. The group was unsuccessful and Pike Place Market continues to be a must-see for any Seattle visit.
Down an unassuming alleyway near Pike Place Market is a hidden work of art dubbed the Wall of Gum. Started in the 1990s when local patrons in line for an improv show at Post Alley’s Market Theater stuck their used gum on the wall, the Gum Wall has grown piece by piece to cover an enormous expanse of brick wall and continues to expand down the alleyway. For 3 days beginning November 10th, 2015, the Pike Place Market Preservation and Development Authority pressure-washed, scraped, and cleaned the wall for the first time in 20 years… but beginning the very next weekend, locals and tourists collectively started to recreate the wall at the same location as before.
The Original Starbucks (actually the second location of the original Starbucks, to which it moved in 1977) is located in the market. This is a pilgrimage for Starbucks fan the world over, who wait in lines hundreds of people long just to order their favorite drink.
Lower Queen Anne
Located in the Lower Queen Anne neighborhood is the unmistakable Space Needle. It was built for the 1962 World's Fair, which drew over 2.3 million visitors and continues to draw huge crowds. The Space Needle was once the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River, standing at 605 ft. It was built to withstand winds of up to 200 mph and earthquakes of up to 9.0 magnitude, as strong as the 1700 Cascadia earthquake. Being totally transparent, we did not visit the Needle. First it's not the type of attraction that we typically enjoy during our travels and secondly, the views from the observation deck would be 'less than impressive' due to the haze hanging over the entire region.
Our real reason for visiting the neighborhood was to see the Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit. This long-term exhibition, which opened in 2012, is a monument to glass as art and features a large portion of Chihuly's work.
Born in 1941 in Tacoma, Washington, Dale Chihuly was introduced to glass while studying interior design at the University of Washington. After graduating in 1965, Chihuly enrolled in the first glass program in the country, at the University of Wisconsin. He continued his studies at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). As the most famous glass artist alive today, Dale Chihuly has reinvented glassblowing through his asymmetrical, freeform pieces and innovative techniques. Chihuly relies on heavy experimentation to create his artwork and uses gravity and centrifugal force to create flowing and natural shapes with glass.
The first major piece on display in the exhibit was a huge blue glass towering sculpture in the middle of the Seaform room. The 20-foot tall sea life tower embodies the colors of the sea and contains hidden treasures such as starfish and seashells.
Dales Chihuly hasn’t blown glass since 1979. Shortly after he lost his eyesight, Chihuly was involved in a body surfing accident that left him physically unable to hold a glassblowing pipe. Since then, he has relied on a team of talented glassblowers to carry out his artistic vision.
The Persian Ceiling is an overhead flat panel of glass that contains an assortment of backlit pieces that resemble a swarm of jellyfish, but with more variety in color, hue, pattern, and shape. The light above shines through the glass leaving rainbow reflections along the walls.
The Float Boat is an explosion of color contained within the space of a boat positioned on a mirror floor.
The Glass Forest gallery showcases the ingenuity of glassblowing. The delicate shapes and glowing colors of the sculptures in contrast with the black space will leave you in in awe of his talents.
Interested in buying a new light for the house. While known for a variety of different works, Chihuly is most famous for his large installations. His chandeliers and freestanding pieces are composed of hundreds of individual glass elements fused together. A Chihuly chandelier can be yours from prices ranging from $7,000 to a few hundred thousand dollars.
Not all Chihuly pieces of art require an entire room to display. Here are a few small pieces that highlight the incredible beauty of glass art.
The Glasshouse, the centerpiece of the museum, is a glass and steel structure containing a 100-foot long sculpture that looks like a large version of something you'd see in the ocean's coral reefs. The epic sculpture is comprised of individual elements of red, orange, yellow, and amber, and is one of Chihuly's largest suspended works.
The exhibits extend to an lush outdoor garden that serves as the backdrop for glass sculptures made up of impossible shapes and unbelievably brilliant colors.
Kerry Park is a small public park located on a hill in this beautiful neighborhood. The park overlooks Downtown Seattle and the iconic view of the city skyline, Space Needle, and Mount Rainier (usually) in the background is unmatched.
Fremont is sometimes referred to as "The People's Republic of Fremont" or "The Artists' Republic of Fremont," and was at one time a center of counterculture. The neighborhood features various signs giving advice such as "set your watch back five minutes", "set your watch forward five minutes", and "throw your watch away." However, it has become somewhat gentrified since the 1990s and is now home to many of the biggest high tech companies.
It remains home to a controversial statue of Vladimir Lenin salvaged from Slovakia by an art lover from Washington state who was teaching in the area at the time. After the 1989 fall of the Communist government, he brought the statue to Fremont with money raised through a mortgage on his house.
The Fremont Troll is an 18-foot-tall concrete sculpture of a troll crushing a Volkswagen Beetle in its left hand, created in 1990 and situated under the north end of the Aurora Bridge. The street running under the bridge and ending at the Troll was renamed Troll Avenue N. in 2005.
Is Fremont located in the center of the world?
Ballard’s once-industrial spirit is now mostly limited to the concrete floors of its multitude of breweries. We visited the neighborhood to relax in the middle of the heat wave at the Ice Box Arcade which is packed full of pinball machines and vintage video arcade games.
FYI, Dave beats me 99% of the time on Ms Pac-Man.
I vividly remember playing this traditional hockey game as a kid and owned a much smaller version that fit on the kitchen table.
Considered Seattle's second most popular tourist attraction, the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks located in Ballard draw more than 1,000,000 visitors annually. Operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the locks were formally opened on July 4, 1917, although the first ship passed on August 3, 1916. The locks allow vessels to pass from fresh water Lake Washington, into the salt water of Puget Sound and ultimately the Pacific Ocean.
The locks can elevate a 760-by-80-foot vessel 26 ft from the level of Puget Sound at a very low tide to the level of freshwater Salmon Bay, in 10–15 minutes.
The purposes of the locks are to maintain the water level of Lake Washington at 20-22 feet above the seawater next to it and to keep the salt water and fresh water on either side from mixing, all while allowing boats to pass through. Today, a large portion of the Alaskan Fishing Fleet moors in Seattle's fresh waters and use the Locks on their way to the Bering Sea for the deadliest catch.
However, it's smaller recreational boats that make Chittenden the busiest lock in the nation in terms of vessel traffic. Nearly 50,000 boats and over 1 million tons of cargo, fuel, building materials, and seafood products pass through the locks each year.
Since opening 100 years ago as a commercial navigation route, the Locks have evolved to become the busiest in the U.S.
Boating on Lake Union
After walking around for a few days we decided to spend a relaxing afternoon on Union Lake. We originally rented a small donut boat from the Electric Boat Company but got upgraded to a Standard Duffy boat. The upgrade justified the purchase on a captain's hat for Dave.
Lake Union is the 600-acre jewel-like “heart” of Seattle — located dead-center among a list of Seattle's major destinations and attractions. The views southwest to the city skyline are classic Seattle images.
Lake Union, in its current controlled state, serves as a central basin for the man-made waterway connecting Lake Washington to Puget Sound. The boat traffic on Union includes vessels of all sizes and shapes. Dave was more than a little anxious when these two huge tugboats began closing in on our little boat.
And if other boats weren't enough trouble, seaplanes landing and taking off added another layer of anxiety for our Captain.
Back in 2018, the city of Seattle installed a straight line of five buoys equipped with flashing warning lights that alert boaters, kayakers and other watercraft of seaplanes’ impending takeoffs and landings. The buoys made us feel slightly more comfortable once we realized how they worked. When they were blinking our job was to get the hell out of the way.
It‘s a de facto airstrip on the lake — but not in the traditional sense with a physical lane exclusive for planes. Boaters and other lake users are still be able to access the waters around the buoys but not at the wrong time.
The green tract of land, located top center in the photo above, is the Gas Works Park. This public park on the northern shore, sits on the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company coal gasification plant. The plant, which operated from 1906 to 1956, was one of only 1,400 such plants in the US. As the last standing coal gasification plant it qualifies as industrial archaeology.
Though gas production ceased in 1956, the buildings and manufacturing structures were still intact in 1962 when the city of Seattle began purchasing the abandoned gas works. Numerous pieces of the Gas Works stand as ruins while others have been reconditioned, painted, and integrated into the park design.
A web site affiliated with the Seattle Times newspaper states, "Gas Works Park is easily the strangest park in Seattle and may rank among the strangest in the world.”
On the final leg of the cruise, Weston and Mackenzie took control of the boat while the Captain comforted a sick passenger.
It was a fun packed week visiting Seattle and hiking to Cholchuck Lake in the Northern Cascades. Obviously, it will be the first of many trips to the Pacific Northwest to spend time with the kids and explore more of the gems this region has to offer. I’ll close the blog with a few more photos of the beautiful sunset we experienced.
I never fully appreciated the use of layers in landscape photography until I was taking pictures of the Puget Sound at sunset. The layers and shadows created really convey a sense of depth in these photos; I've got a lot more to learn but I got a great start in Seattle.