SEATTLE DAY 3: Washington State Ferries, Bainbridge Island, Shopping and the Olympic Sculpture Park
Boats are everywhere in Seattle. Seattle-ites live on houseboats (Remember "Sleepless in Seattle?"), commute on ferry boats and water ski on Lake Washington in summer as well as the middle of winter. Plan a water outing today — and don't let the rain stop you. Stroll down to the waterfront via the Harbor Steps, on University Street across from the Seattle Art Museum. To fuel your trip, you may want to stop in for salted caramels or dark smoky truffles at Fran's, the downtown store of Seattle's premier chocolatier, which lies just across the street from the Museum.
At the busy waterfront, there are numerous options for boat excursions, from short hops to longer cruises. Washington State Ferries leave from Pier 52, taking both walk-on passengers and cars with drivers to numerous destinations around Puget Sound. Take the half-hour trip to Bainbridge Island, disembark, and then stroll around its historic downtown, perhaps dropping into Café Nola for lunch or pick up a double cone with two of Mora Ice Cream's scrumptious flavors.
From Pier 55, Argosy Cruises offers a number of water tours, from short circuits around Puget Sound to longer trips through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, a scenic journey between the saltwater Sound and freshwater Lake Union and Lake Washington. You may also hop on the water taxi at Pier 50 for an awesome 12-minute ride across Elliott Bay to West Seattle. Once you arrive, it's a short walk to the cafés along Alki Beach. Pretend you're a local and enjoy the sunset at Cactus while sipping a Margarita on the sidewalk patio.
You may also watch the waterfront action from window seats at several restaurants, including Ivar's Salmon House and Anthony's Bell Street Diner and Fish Bar, which offers a casual lunch menu with seafood favorites from chowders to sandwiches. If you walk north, past the cruise ships dock, head to Paddy Coyne's, a classic Irish pub with a wonderful selection of local brews, tasty pub fare and an outdoor patio with views of the Sound.
Wind up your visit with some retail therapy in Seattle's ever-expanding shopping district bordered by Pacific Place at Sixth Avenue and Pine Street, and Westlake Center at 400 Pine Street. Both malls offer a range of retail options, from the very upscale Barney's to Macy's, plus Nordstrom Rack anchoring the lower level at Westlake. For serious shoppers, a visit to Nordstrom's flagship store — complete with its own cocktail bar — is a Seattle highlight since the retail company was founded here as a shoe store in 1901.
Outdoor enthusiasts won't want to miss the REI (Recreational Equipment, Inc.) flagship store at 222 Yale Avenue North. Inside and outside the innovative retail structure, you can test your skills at rock climbing, test drive a bike on a dirt trail circling the front of the innovative building, and engage in other hands-on gear inspections.
If shopping is not on your agenda, stroll through the Olympic Sculpture Park, one of Seattle's newer cultural treasures that borders Elliott Bay at the end of Alaskan Way. A 2,500-foot-long path zigzags through the nine-acre park (open daily from sunrise to sunset) allowing you to tour monolithic sculptures by seminal American artists such as Richard Serra and Claes Oldenburg. The Sculpture Park also adjoins a lovely pocket beach and Myrtle Edwards Park with a walk and bike path stretching north along the waterfront. (This is also where the world's largest Hempfest is held each summer.) From the Sculpture Park, it's a 10-minute, slightly uphill walk along Broad Street to Seattle Center, where you can catch the Monorail and return to your downtown hotel.
To wind down, make it a special night to explore some of Seattle's fine restaurants featuring farm-to-table cuisine. For a casual laid-back meal, check out Local 360, with its rustic urban atmosphere and menu created using ingredients sourced from within 360 miles of the city. Or for a more upscale meal, make reservations at (and grab a cab to) Canlis, Seattle's poshest upscale restaurant with gorgeous views overlooking Lake Union to the Cascade Range. Another option is Tilth, a lovely restaurant located in a vintage 1920s house where the menu features the seasonal cooking of award-winning chef Maria Hinds.
By Naomi Tomkey
*Photos courtesy of Tim Thompson at the Seattle Convenion & Visitors Bureau