48 HOURS IN SEATTLE (GUIDE TO SEATTLE WITH KIDS)
Back in the summer of last year we embarked on what possibly was our greatest adventure yet- a road trip around parts of the Pacific Northwest in the US. We started off in Vancouver, headed down to Seattle, then Portland, then Lake Tahoe, before finishing off in San Francisco for a few hours before flying back to London. We were away 17 nights in total and it was without a doubt one of the best experiences of my life so far.
I’m finally getting round to writing up an itinerary and travel guide for each destination, then once I have finished that I will put together a planning and tips post too. After spending a few days in Vancouver, British Columbia (check out my Vancouver travel guide blog post), we crossed the border into the US and headed to Seattle, Washington for a brief 48 hours in this fantastic city….
In all honesty while Seattle is always somewhere I had seen on films and TV shows, I hadn’t had a huge desire to visit it, in the respects that it wasn’t on my top 10 American cities list or anything like that. However it was between Vancouver and Portland, the next must have stop on our destination.
Seattle has lots of things that we were intrigued to see. First of all it’s the home of Amazon and of course is a very large tech city, and we were interested to soak up that vibe with all these creative and intelligent people around. We were also keen to get a feel for the city itself, it is largely surrounded by mountains, water and green spaces, and it looked from all accounts a lovely city to visit. We also wanted to see the iconic Space Needle- after growing up watching films such as Sleepless in Seattle. Then we had always wanted to see the legendary Pike Place Market, and coffee mad Jon wanted to see the first ever Starbucks. So there were a fair few things we wanted to pack into our already pretty short stay.
THE JOURNEY – CROSSING U.S CUSTOMS
The journey from Vancouver to Seattle should take around 2 hours 40 minutes, but driving wise we decided to do something a little different. First up we looked into the AMTRAK train service and we decided that while this probably would have been the best option in order to relax, it was a bit of a strange timetable. There was either a really early train service (and you need to be at the train at least an hour or so earlier in order to pass through border control), or one that went in the evening, meaning you’d still be on the train quite late at night, which we didn’t feel comfortable about with three children.
We read up a lot about hire car’s before we went and it was working out quite expensive to hire a car to then take into the US from Canada and do a road trip. Rather than hire a car in Vancouver and use it there and travel into the US we hired a car for 2 days in Vancouver from a city centre car rental place to explore outside of Vancouver, and then we hired another car from Vancouver airport to Seattle airport just for 24 hours to get us into the US. The reason for this is that it was so much cheaper to hire a car just for 24 hours from airport to airport. It did involve a lot more organisation and made us waste a bit more time (as it meant my husband had to get the train from city centre Seattle to the airport after he dropped all of us and our luggage off) and vice versa, but it meant that it saved us a lot more money.
Crossing border control was actually fine, the children found it a bit of an adventure, but we did have to stop the car and have a random spot check on the vehicle for about an hour and a half. After a quick stop at our first ever Taco Bell en route, we made it to Seattle late afternoon.
WHERE WE STAYED
As we were only in Seattle for two days we wanted to be right in the centre. We didn’t have a car while we were there (our car hire planning is confusing but after we returned the Vancouver car to the airport, we then picked up another car that we would then have for the remainder 10 days of our trip!). After a bit of research we decided to book the Hotel Max. Conveniently located at the corner of SW 7th Avenue and Stewart Street, Hotel Max is within walking distance of Pike Place Market, the nearby shopping districts, the Space Needle (although we got the monorail) and many of the city’s other cultural attractions.
The hotel had friendly staff, a stylish lobby, with games to play on comfy sofas and free beer every evening. Our room was really small, but stylish, if not a tiny bit tired around the edges (but you have to think about how old the building would be!). We felt safe there and wouldn’t hesitate to stay there again, it was a really great location and a great price as well.
I will be doing a detailed blog post once I have finished all the destination blog posts (similar to this Florida Road Trip Itinerary and Budget), outlining sample costs and budget for our trip, but we try to be as savvy as we can with our hotel bookings. We try to book them as far as we can in advance. If you use a site like booking.com then you can cancel free of charge usually up until a couple of days before you arrive, so if you keep an eye on the rates you can rebook if they go cheaper or rebook somewhere else, which is something we tend to do a lot on trips like this.
The Hotel Max was a pretty mid range hotel- we booked far in advance and we had the requirements of needing a central hotel as we didn’t have access to a car while we were in Seattle.
We paid $638.07 (£501.47) for 2 nights in Seattle staying at the Hotel Max. These rates can obviously fluctuate considerably depending on what time of year you travel and when you book.
In terms of spending money we try and budget for around £50 to £150 a day. Obviously this varies as some days we might be doing activities that cost more. As a family we enjoy being outdoors so we try and do as much ‘free’ activities as we can. Food wise, we tend to eat out once a day, as food can soon mount up your costs. Therefore we will eat snacky meals we have got from supermarkets etc, and only really eat out for one of our meals a day- it doesn’t matter which one. Like I mentioned I will talk more about budgets in my final post.
THINGS TO DO
Although we were only in Seattle for a short time, we managed to pack a lot in. Here are some of the main things we enjoyed doing…
We decided to go up the Space Needle early one morning and we are so glad we made the effort to get up early to do it. We were there when it opened and were one of the first ones there. We actually got the monorail from a stop near our hotel (this should almost be another thing to do in its own right as the kids loved it!), it is themed like something out of The Jetsons.
The Space Needle opened on April 21, 1962, and continues to symbolise the innovative and forward-thinking spirit of Seattle. Located at Seattle Center, the Space Needle stands at 605 feet tall and is one of the most photographed structures in the world. It’s almost breathtaking to look at in the skyline. In late summer 2018, the first part of a new renovation was unveiled, which includes floor-to-ceiling glass viewing experiences including an upper level outdoor observation deck with open-air glass walls and glass benches. It also has the world’s first, and only, rotating glass floor giving you a unique view of the city below.
It really was breathtaking up there and because we went so early it almost felt like we had the place to ourselves. It was a beautiful way to spend the morning.
PIKE PLACE MARKET
No trip to Seattle is complete without a trip to the iconic Pike Place Market. It opened on August 17, 1907, and is one of the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ markets in the United States. It is open 363 days a year. It is a popular spot for both tourists and locals alike, full of plenty of fresh produce stalls selling fruit and veg, plus a number of fish markets, butchers, flower shops, bakeries, cheese counters and a wide range of restaurants.
However the main attraction of the market for tourists is the flying fish. You may have heard of the market’s famous flying fish before, but you have to see it to believe it. We stood and watched the fish being thrown at Pike Place Fish Market, located at the main entrance of the covered market area. It was weirdly mesmerising and we stood there for a good fifteen minutes watching the banter and antics between the fishmongers.
Of course the market gets exceptionally busy, so my best tip would be to go early in the morning. One of the best things about having young children is that they are early risers- it meant we got there as they were setting up for the day. We also did go back as well when it was busy just to soak in the atmosphere.
We stopped off at a couple of the fresh fruit and veg counters and got some fruit to nibble on while we were walking around. The vendors were so chatty to the kids, it is quite an experience.
We’ve all been to markets before, but there is something really unique and special about Pike Place Market. Make sure you go down to the lower levels, where you can explore three floors of small owner-operated shops that specialise in jewellery, books and magic to name but a few.
Also if you are hungry head downstairs to the lower levels and go to Alibi Room. Tucked down an alley way, it doesn’t look special (it’s next to the bubblegum wall), but the pizza’s were delicious and it was packed when we went.
Also before you go, head to the first ever Starbucks just opposite the market which opened in 1971. I didn’t take many photos as it was so busy.
THE GUM WALL
As mentioned above, Seattle is home to a rather strange (and disgusting) art installation. There is a wall that is literally filled with thousands upon thousands of pieces of gum and it truly has to be seen to be believed.
The tradition began around 1993 when patrons of a nearby theatre stuck gum to the wall and placed coins in the gum blobs. Theatre workers scraped the gum away twice, but eventually gave up after market officials deemed the gum wall a tourist attraction around 1999.
Our kids were just excited that we let them have some bubblegum, but there are some interesting facts about the gum wall. Firstly the gum is on a wall of over 50 feet- that is a lot of gum. There are gum sculptures, people sticking gum up so high you wonder how it got up there, and also people sticking notes and business cards to the gum. There is also the most horrible sickly sweet smell, and a few wasps around. It has only been cleared off once, in November of 2015, and it took nearly 130 hours of work.
So gross! But definitely worth a visit.
WANDER AROUND SEATTLE- INC THE AMAZON SPHERES
I think the best way of exploring a new place is just walking around. Seattle is actually a really accessible city to wander about and feels very safe in the main city centre. Not far from our hotel were the Amazon Spheres which are definitely worth a watch.
The Amazon Spheres are three spherical conservatories that comprise part of the Amazon headquarters campus.The spheres are reserved mainly for Amazon employees, but are open to the public through weekly headquarters tours and an exhibit on the ground floor.They are home to over 40,000 plants from other 50 different countries. The Spheres are definitely worth a visit (even just to the outside) as they are a sight to behold.
There is also a dog park right across from the Spheres that our children loved to watch. Apparently Amazon recently announced that more than 7,000 dogs are registered to come to work at its Seattle headquarters, hence the need for dog parks dotted around the city.
While you are there head to the Amazon Go shop which is just opposite. It is a crazy concept – you just walk in, shop and go, without needing to queue to pay. The checkout-free shopping experience means it automatically detects when products are taken from or returned to the shelves and keeps track of them in a virtual cart. When you’re done shopping, you can just leave the shop, and later Amazon will send you a receipt and charge your card. It was random but good fun to try (we only bought a pack of biscuits just to give it a go!)
KERRY PARK VIEWPOINT
We decided to walk up to the Kerry Park Viewpoint (obviously you could drive but we didn’t have a car at that point) as we had heard that it had beautiful views of Seattle. It was a bit of a walk from our hotel (but a great way of exploring more of Seattle) up a steep hill, but when you get to the top it is more than worth it.
We spent a good couple of hours up there watching the Seattle skyline turning from day to night. It was busy, but such a nice atmosphere, with everyone else doing the same thing. I definitely recommend it for incredible views of the city.
OTHER RANDOM SEATTLE RECOMMENDATIONS-
To finish on a random note I wanted to recommend a couple of other things we did that perhaps don’t need a full section of their own. First up, we are a family who loves donuts! If we get word that there is a good donut shop on our travels, you better bet we will be there testing them out.
Top Pot Donuts was recommended in a few of the guide books and magazines I read about Seattle. On our first evening when Jon dropped the car back to the airport (he took Wren for a sleep in the car!), the girls and I headed to try them out. We weren’t disappointed, the location we visited was gorgeous (they have a few around the Seattle area), and the donuts themselves were delicious.
Finally as we were leaving Seattle to head on to our next destination, we made a brief stop off for a run around in Gasworks Park. Gas Works Park is a 19.1-acre public park on the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant, and contains remnants of the sole remaining coal gasification plant in the United States.
The slightly surreal park backdrop has been featured in a number of films, including the slightly iconic paintball scene in 10 Things I Hate About You (if you were a tween in the 90’s like I was!).
And that is it. A short but sweet stay in the brilliant city of Seattle. We felt like there was so much left to explore, but at the same time we feel like we really got a good insight into the city in the short time we had.
It was on to our next stop…. Portland, Oregan!
Here’s a video I made about our time in Seattle.