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Thursday, November 30, 2023
Nov. 30, 2023

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Seattle’s tourist attractions worth a visit

Exploring five locations offers a taste of city’s charm

4 Photos
Joydie Ellis, visiting Seattle's Pike Place Market, wanted to have a souvenir photograph at the Pure Food Fish Market's stand and co-owner Isaac Behar suggested adding a king salmon to the image.
Joydie Ellis, visiting Seattle's Pike Place Market, wanted to have a souvenir photograph at the Pure Food Fish Market's stand and co-owner Isaac Behar suggested adding a king salmon to the image. (Alan Berner/The Seattle Times) Photo Gallery

SEATTLE — Tens of thousands baseball fans flooded into Seattle for the Major League Baseball All-Star Game and surrounding festivities from July 7-11.

If we had the chance, we might have told each of those visitors: “Welcome! We’re new here, too. Seattle Times producer Sarah-Mae McCullough just moved to the city, and summer intern Aviva Bechky hasn’t lived in the area since elementary school. And we’re hoping you were able to check out the city’s five best-known tourist attractions, as we just did.”

Here are our verdicts on whether they’re worth shelling out the extra cash.

Space Needle

400 Broad St., Seattle. Current hours: 8:30 a.m.-11 p.m. spaceneedle.com

Aviva: We began our visit to the Space Needle with a stop in the gift store, where I encountered perhaps the highlight of the trip: a Space Needle-shaped Squishable plushie, an adorable if overpriced souvenir ($29.99 for the small, $59.99 for the large).

Sarah-Mae: After prying Aviva away from the plushies, we paid $40 apiece and joined a 45-minute-long line. As we slowly approached the elevator, we were entertained by a series of placards and interactive displays documenting the history of the Space Needle, including some inspiring quotes.

Aviva: I can’t fathom how anyone would come up with the descriptor of a “rank weed” or “Martian’s design for a wheat sheaf,” as two people — a historian and a journalist — apparently called it when it was built.

Once we got through the line and cramped elevator, we enjoyed the clear highlight of the experience: walking around the rim of the Space Needle. We sat on clear benches tilted against angled translucent walls, designed to make you feel like you could fall backward into thin air — though as one kid told us disapprovingly, it’s “not really” that scary.

Sarah-Mae: I don’t know — it kind of was scary! Several tourists took photos standing on the benches with their arms outstretched like they were flying. With a narrow base beneath us, wide open skies and a little wind, I could understand how they felt that way.

The views were magnificent, but we struggled to regard them with the appropriate amount of awe with so many tourists packed in. We shuffled one loop around the first floor, trying (very unsuccessfully) not to photobomb anyone before heading down to the second, indoor floor, where you can buy criminally expensive drinks and appetizers.

Aviva: The lower floor used to host a restaurant on a slowly revolving glass floor, but the restaurant has since been removed, so now it’s just a rotating floor. Perfectly enjoyable if a little dizzying, but not worth a trip in and of itself.

Sarah-Mae: All in all, the Space Needle is no “rank weed,” but I’d prefer a cheaper and less crowded viewpoint.

Chihuly Garden and Glass

305 Harrison St., Seattle. Current hours: 8:30 a.m.-9 p.m. chihulygardenandglass.com

Sarah-Mae: Seattle is famous for studio glass — and much of that fame is thanks to Dale Chihuly, who still lives and creates art here. Located right by the Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass focuses on his unique glasswork.

Aviva: I was surprised to see a short line to get in. But once I reached the first exhibit, I understood the excitement. Spiky white urchins made of long glass spires hung from the ceiling in an astonishing wintry display.

The exhibits only became more colorful from there, with undulating rainbow glass reeds and bulbs seemingly sprouting from the ground and ceilings. I think my mouth hung open the entire time.

Sarah-Mae: Besides listening to Aviva say, “Wow, that’s so cool” on loop, my favorite part was the garden. The vibrant glass sculptures somehow blend seamlessly into the Pacific Northwest shrubbery, making it feel like you’re walking through a surreal forest that blends the delights of nature with a little extra magic.

Aviva: Couldn’t agree more! But keep in mind that this significant part of the museum is outdoors, so dress for the weather. You might want to pass on this attraction on rainy days if you didn’t pack a coat or — shudder — an umbrella.

Sarah-Mae: Also remember that unlike at Pike Place, you are definitely not allowed to touch the art, with the exception of a small tactile exhibit. Though glass artists put on a small live display in the garden, the museum doesn’t feel worth the price for kids.

Aviva: But for adults — well, I wouldn’t ordinarily spend $37 on a museum, but Chihuly felt like something fantastical. I’d make seeing glass art a priority while you’re in the area.

Sarah-Mae: I wasn’t as won over. Chihuly is a very specific-to-Seattle opportunity to dive into an individual artist and art form that creatives won’t want to miss. But a general audience might consider going elsewhere.

Pike Place Market

85 Pike St., Seattle. Hours vary by vendor. pikeplacemarket.org

Sarah-Mae: I showed up to Pike Place Market ready to meander aimlessly — but Aviva knew exactly where they wanted to go first.

Aviva: As a kid, I loved Pike Place staples like Piroshky Piroshky, a bakery serving Eastern European turnovers, so I was thrilled to revisit it. We split a cream cheese vatrushka topped with marionberries.

Sarah-Mae: The gooey frosting melted in our mouths, making the $9 pastry more than worth it.

Then, on to shopping! Even without buying a thing, Pike Place made for a phenomenal experience. The half-indoor-half-outdoor space is full of unique handmade goods, from miniature clay flowers baked into tiny pots to stamped-leather notebooks and ceramic piggy banks with cork snouts.

Aviva: It’s a gift shopper’s paradise. And if you do shop, it’s really up to you how much you spend. We saw beautiful, locally-grown flower bouquets for as little as $15 and lovely trinkets starting at $10, as well as art ranging well into the hundreds.

Sarah-Mae: Best of all, it was interactive: Vendors actively encouraged us to touch many of the goods, offered food samples like nectarine slices and pieces of chocolate pasta and enthusiastically explained the stories behind their products. It’s fun to just wander.

Aviva: Later on, we grabbed lunch at the Athenian Seafood Restaurant and Bar, a seafood place with a great view of the water. Entrees hover around $30 and above, but we opted for starters — delicious mussels and chowder — for a bit less.

Sarah-Mae: The most famous attractions — the pig statue, fish mongers tossing around seafood, the Gum Wall — didn’t feel worth more than a few moments of our time. But that’s because Pike Place had so much else to grab our interest. You can enjoy a few hours here on truly any budget.

Aviva: Correction: Your budget should be at least $9 for a vatrushka!

Seattle Great Wheel

1301 Alaskan Way, Seattle. Current hours: 10 a.m.-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 10 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday. seattlegreatwheel.com

Aviva: After our Space Needle trip, I had low hopes for this attraction. But as we walked up after visiting Pike Place, the more reasonable $17 tickets changed my mind. Even though there were only two people in our party, we didn’t have to share our cabin with anyone else.

Sarah-Mae: The privacy of the booth lends itself to sweet moments with family and friends or a cute date night. Compared to the crowds and chaos of the Space Needle, the Wheel felt like a breather. You miss out on the bird’s eye view of the city, but you’re right over Puget Sound. Plus, the view of the skyline includes the Space Needle — which might be more fun to look at than being on the view deck.

Aviva: Honestly, the end of the 15-minute ride was my favorite part. Sitting in one spot for a few minutes as people below us got off the wheel gave us the chance to pause and watch the boats.

Sarah-Mae: I wouldn’t consider it absolutely essential to your Seattle trip, but if you’re already at Pike Place or the waterfront, the Great Wheel is a relaxing way to end the day.

Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour

614 First Ave., Seattle. Tours are currently available to purchase online starting every hour from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. undergroundtour.com

Sarah-Mae: Having gotten left behind at a water fountain during my last city tour, I was eager for a redo — and this one in Pioneer Square didn’t disappoint! Dressed in an eccentric purple outfit, our tour guide made learning about Seattle’s history of sewage issues feel like watching a sitcom.

Aviva: There might have been a few too many poop jokes for me. But the kids seemed entertained. Throughout the tour, the guide got the whole group (about 40 people) laughing with spiels that were half history lecture, half stand-up comedy.

Sarah-Mae: The tour took us through three different underground areas with bare concrete walls and rickety wooden beams, giving us an immersive history lesson going beyond what you’d likely learn in textbooks. Like many people mistakenly assumed, I always thought Seattle’s underground had been dug out — not correct at all!

Where we stood beneath Pioneer Square, I learned, was originally street level. But after the central business district burned down in 1889, the city decided to raise the ground level to avoid flooding issues that had been plaguing Seattle, creating the underground.

Aviva: Thankfully, Sarah-Mae didn’t get left behind this time!

Sarah-Mae: No water fountain stops for me! Because you can’t wander through most of the underground without taking a tour, you’re essentially paying for access as well as the expertise of your guide. Tickets felt reasonably priced: $19.09 for a 75-minute-long experience.

Aviva: If you’re looking for a straightforward history lesson, this probably isn’t for you. But if you want an entertaining, educational afternoon, go on a trip underground!

So, were they worth it?

Sarah-Mae: If you just have one free afternoon in Seattle, I’d tell you to go to Pike Place. There’s something for everyone, and it really feels like experiencing the city. If you have a little time to spare, stroll along the waterfront and ride the Great Wheel.

Aviva: The underground tour is a great option if you’re traveling with kids. But families and those on a budget should consider cheaper alternatives to the Space Needle (like the Sky View Observatory at Columbia Center, where tickets start at $28 for out-of-state guests).

Sarah-Mae: Same goes for Chihuly: If you have time, try driving an hour south to Tacoma’s Museum of Glass, which includes a Dale Chihuly exhibit.

Aviva: Honestly, though, I had a blast running around to these destinations. They may not all be cost-efficient, but they’re popular for good reason.

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