Seattle When the Sun ShinesOctober 6, 2010 No Comments
We actually did have some sunshine our first day in Seattle, sparkling blue skies and fresh air – it was just interspersed with bouts of rain and mirrored with often lake-like puddles. But our second day was completely dry, and we took advantage of the fine weather, spending most of the day outdoors.Our first stop was the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, off the beaten path in Ballard, and sometimes called the Ballard Locks. By any name, this historic site links boats bound between the ocean – the Puget Sound – and the fresh water of the Ship Canal that connects to Lake Union, Lake Washington, Salmon Bay, and Portage Bay. Built in 1911 to allow smooth transport of coal and lumber by boat, today they’re still working, but they’re also a well known pleasure attraction. Tourists and locals alike gather around the locks to watch a veritable parade of sail boats, schooners, tugs, barges, yachts and motor boats. With street performers providing a musical background, vendors selling ice cream and pretzels, you can spend a surprising amount of time watching all those varied boats enter into the locks, and wait while the water level is adjusted for their safe passage in either direction, to the lake or sound. Sometimes the crowd even cheers.
Another enjoyable past-time in the same location is the so-called fish ladder, built to let salmon to pass between fresh and salt water. You can see the fish through glass panels as they navigate through the ladder. It’s quite a journey as they adapt to different levels of salt in their water at each “rung.” Our kids spent a lot of time watching this pretty fascinating navigation.
After a morning at the locks, we headed back to ‘our’ neighborhood. Rather than spending much higher down-town Seattle prices, we opted to stay a fifteen minute drive away from the Pioneer Square area, in a neighborhood adjacent to the University of Washington. Our choice was the elegant Watertown, with a full compliment of large rooms with larger baths or suites that are perfect for a family. When we were there the Watertown even offered a family package of pizza and movies for relaxing after a full day of sightseeing. The rooms are stylishly appointed, modern, and many have beautiful sky line views of the Space Needle and downtown. The complimentary breakfast buffet was good too, with lots of fruit, local pastries, and scrambled eggs. The hotel also provided free van shuttle service to downtown, leaving you at several locations like the Space Needle or Pioneer Square if you don’t want to hassle with downtown parking. We used it twice; despite a short wait for return pick up it was efficient and reliable. Near the hotel is the student-focused Araya Vegetarian Place, a Thai restaurant with a really good and inexpensive lunch buffet Monday through Saturday. Another fun spot is the University Village shopping area, a good place for al fresco dining. Our kids especially enjoyed the Tokyo Treats ice cream deserts, but there are also plenty of casual restaurants, outdoor tables, and a nice mix of locally owned shops and galleries and some upscale national chain stores. A nice touch for family is a free story time, crafts and activities for kids. Called Playdays, the activities vary weekly and if you attend one you can get discounts or two for one coupons for shops and restaurants in the Village.
Also nearby was the University campus, with child-friendly green space and the fascinating world class Burke Museum. It contains collections of natural history and cultural heritage for the entire state of Washington, and features well done interactive exhibits and nicely displayed and organized artifacts. We learned about geology, Native American art, and the early settlers in this region. The totem poles and wooden boats on display were truly awesome, and the kids loved the color and large scale of these items.
As much as we enjoyed the collection, the sunshine was so alluring that we headed back to downtown Seattle to take a narrated cruise from the waterfront to Blake Island State Park. Although it’s just eight miles from Seattle’s water front, the island is accessible only by boat. Most people arrive by taking a cruise line, which is what we did.
Named for Captain George Blake, commander of an 1837 U.S. Coast Survey vessel, Blake Island State Park was also an ancestral campground of the Suquamish and Duwamish Indian Tribes. It may also be the birth-place of Chief Seattle. This heavily forested island has five miles of pretty beaches, and quiet wooded walking trails. You can take a long walk, or a short one, and many of the trails closest to the landing area are stroller friendly. We spotted deer and otters; birds and squirrels. You can camp here too; which isn’t for us, but the campgrounds we saw were private and attractive.
Going the tourist tour-boat route as we did takes about four hours round trip, including a fifty minute each way boat ride. The boat leaves from Pier 55 in the central water front area. We had no problem with sea sickness on the mostly calm crossing, but we did see others popping Dramamine. The Seattle sky line is impressive, the sea air bracing, the island’s tree filled approach lovely. Once on the island, visitors head to Tillicum village, a recreated Native American community. Our kids loved the clam shell walkways and the tribal dwellings. They also enjoyed the food. Steamed clams served on arrival are tasty and sweet; visitors then enter a long house where whole salmon are prepared over a fire in a traditional Northwest Native American style. Usually tourist events like this are not particularly delicious – we’ve been the route of poi and steamed rice in Hawaii – but here the Chinook salmon is fresh and good, flavorful from cooking over a fire. After the buffet style meal comes a performance of coastal tribe dances, which were also greatly entertaining and well done. The gift shop had the usual tourist items but also included some local art work of good quality. Watching the late afternoon sun shine sparkle on the water as we returned to the city was a perfect end to a beautiful Seattle day.