It was barely 8 a.m. and the line to Starbucks already looked more like the entrance to a Disney ride than a java shop. It was, after all, the original Starbucks, the Mecca of coffee, the place where it all began—and all the tourists wanted to say they’d “been there” and buy the $13 coffee mug to prove it.
Half an hour later, coffee in hand, the patrons moved slowly to the next line at Piroshky Piroshky to have one of their famous smoked salmon pâté pies or cream cheese vatrushkas. I skipped both lines and grabbed some Dungeness crab at Pike Place across the street instead.
Pike Place Market is the place to be on a Seattle morning. Piano players wheel their instruments in on dollies, street performers twist balloons, and guys wearing rubber boots lob fresh seafood across the crowds. The whole fish-throwing thing started off as a joke and became popular enough that the owners turned it into a mini-show, thereby saving their market from near-bankruptcy. Someone buys a fish, the fishmongers chant the order back and forth like a couple of dueling piano guys, and then they heft the fish through the air and across the shop where it’s wrapped up and paid for. It’s so much more fun to buy seafood when everyone seems this happy about it.
Besides all the huge colorful fish, there are aisles of crab legs and heaps of ice-packed Dungeness crab—two things that don't get any better than here in Seattle. The fruit and vegetable stands explode with stacks of the freshest produce and mini-mountains of the best cherries you’ve ever tasted. Flower shops line the walkway as if to counteract the fish smell, tempting you to buy them even though you’re probably not traveling with a vase. It’s the next best thing to shopping in Europe. Who wants to go a mall and listen to elevator music when you could instead have all this contagious energy for your shopping experience? If that’s somehow not exciting enough, you can always take a picture with the giant bronze pig mascot statue in the market.
If you’re facing the main fish market from the street, you might notice some unassuming stairs that lead to the street below. Before the 90’s the area was called Post Alley. Now, it’s become the infamous Gum Wall. The alley is decorated from head to toe with zillions of wads of gum, some forming gooey initials, words, sculptures, and even rainbow-colored stalactites. It’s doubtful that the Gum Wall will become a UNESCO site in the near future, but it goes to show the effect that hundreds of people donating a wad of “ABC” gum (already been chewed) to the wall on a daily basis can do in the course of less than two decades. It might be one of the world’s germiest attractions, but it makes for great photos, Facebook check-ins, or a place to display your own gummy creations. Just don’t lean up against the wall for that selfie.
If you’re into visiting cemeteries, there are two very famous grave sites to visit in the city. Bruce Lee is buried next to his son Brandon in Lake View Cemetery, and you’d think that 44 years after his death he might have been forgotten. Still, there remains a constant stream of fans who make the pilgrimage to visit the man who popularized Kung Fu for American audiences.
Half an hour away, in nearby Renton, is Greenwood Memorial Park, the final resting place of Jimi Hendrix. Jimi’s grave is impossible to miss. It’s more like something you’d see on top of a Hard Rock Café than a memorial. There’s a guitar in the center of the marble gazebo with etchings of Jimi in different poses, while lipstick kisses from female fans cover many of his stone likenesses. Perhaps they thought the lyrics were “Excuse me while I kiss this guy” instead of “...the sky.” It is one of the most interesting graves I’ve ever visited and well worth a stop. If you’d like to get close up and personal with the Seattle music scene that’s more about Nirvana than the Experience, Stalking Seattle has great intimate tours created for even the most die-hard grunge fans.
On the way back, make your way to Fremont to see a real-life bridge troll. The famous sculpture was created as an innovative way to shoo away the drug dealers and trash dumpers that had been cluttering up the bridge. Now, crowds flock to the underpass to take their photos with the 18-foot-tall giant or stick their finger in his hubcap eye. There are several other fun sculptures scattered throughout Fremont as well as some cool bars and shops.
The Space Needle is the city’s most iconic building and has its share of elevator riders who ante up $20 each to visit the top, though there are also several interesting museums right at the base. The Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit may sound like a “pane in the glass”, but it shows how one man’s dream can change the way we work with glass. An artist who is famous for his giant glass installations around the world, Dale Chihuly showcases some of his finest work here. It’s “Murano on steroids” and if you love glass creations, you won’t be disappointed with Chihuly’s twisted colorful art. Equally interesting are the outside gardens where Chihuly’s organic looking creations are merged with real plants to create an augmented-reality experience that seems almost like a beautiful cartoon than real life.
Nearby is the striking building housing the Museum of Pop Culture, created by Microsoft’s co-founder Paul Allen as a showcase for science fiction, music, video games, horror and fantasy exhibits. The building is as amazing from the outside as it is inside, with twisted mirrored walls that look as fantastic as anything you could imagine. Across the street there are duck tours. I’ve never seen the point of a duck tour to be honest, but the buses fill up endlessly.
The Central Waterfront is a wonderful place to watch the sunset, catch a happy hour and explore the seafood restaurants. I had heard a lot about Ivar’s clam chowder so I sidled up to the bar and ordered the trio: three different styles of clam chowder with a tasty Seattle beer. I didn’t have time to try all the clam chowder restaurants in Seattle, but I can say that Ivar’s had the best clam chowder I’ve ever had.
You can also pop into Ye Olde Curiosity Shop which is full of all kinds of interesting things you may never use, but will probably have to buy anyway. Is it touristy? Of course, but it’s fun. Within walking distance is the Hard Rock Café which seems like just another HRC until you make your way to up a couple flights of stairs to its awesome rooftop bar/lounge. And f you’re looking for some great music, you can visit Highway 99 Blues Bar. It’s a fun, old-school bar located in the basement of historical building and is a great place to listen to classic rock and blues.
Seattle brought us Microsoft, Cinnabon, Starbucks and Amazon, and let’s face it—we can’t really do without any of those companies. But it’s also full of adventures, great food and museums, as well as making a great jumping-off point from which to visit nearby Vancouver, Victoria or Olympic National Park. Of course, you'll need more than one day for that.