This post is part of my Travel with Me series in which I post trip reviews and recommendations for trips that I have taken in the past. My hope is that other people will find inspiration and useful tips to help plan their own trips. To read more about the purpose of this series, read the beginning of my first post here.
When & Where:
In May 2013, Daniel and I spent a four day “layover” exploring the beautiful city of Seattle on our way to visit friends in Alaska. We spent our time doing the tourist highlights, eating great food, and soaking in the unique environment. It’s not just anywhere that you find a big, bustling city next to a beautiful body of water and tucked in between mountains.
Where We Stayed:
Just a note – we mostly stay at Hilton hotels because I have a Hilton Gold HHonors membership from work travel.
For my hotel rating system, I’ll use a ranking from 1 to 5 (1 – absolutely terrible, 2 – mediocre, 3 – good, 4 – great, 5 – fantastic).
3 out of 5
When searching for our hotel, the most important feature was distance from Pike Place Market and from public transportation. This hotel was walking distance to these places, but not a short walk. It probably took 20 minutes to walk from the Homewood Suites to Pike Place Market and the surrounding shops and restaurants on the water.
When we checked into the hotel, the person at the desk immediately gave us a nice map of the city with great restaurant and attraction recommendations. Customer service throughout our stay was top notch.
The room was nice. It was a suite with a small kitchen and living area. The bed was very comfortable, and there was plenty of space in the room.
Our main complaint at this hotel was that the breakfast was not good. Well, the hot breakfast might have been good, but it was so crowded both mornings we tried it that the hot breakfast items were almost always out or extremely picked over. It was also a struggle for us to find a place to sit to eat our breakfast – one day we circled the breakfast room for nearly 15 minutes. We both managed to grab a yogurt, a banana, and some dry bagels for breakfast both mornings. The other mornings we decided to eat breakfast out.
Overall, the location of this hotel was convenient and the rooms were decent, so I would stay there again and would recommend it to someone not seeking a high-end luxury hotel.
Where We Ate:
For restaurants, I will offer a Thumbs Up! for the restaurants I highly recommend, a Meh... for restaurants that aren’t bad but that you shouldn’t go out of your way for, or a Thumbs Down rating for the restaurants that you should avoid. Keep in mind that we usually eat at restaurants highly recommended on sites such as Trip Advisor, so it won’t be very common for me to give a Thumbs Down rating.
Unfortunately, for several places I don’t remember what we ordered or the prices of the order. These are the details I’ll remember to write down on future trips, but I probably won’t have them when I’m reviewing past trips.
This was the first place we ate in Seattle. We were just exploring around our hotel when we spotted this burger joint. The woman who took our order was kind of grouchy, but other than that, we enjoyed the restaurant. We each had a burger, I had a bottled root beer, and Daniel had a milkshake. (Note from Daniel: the buns were particularly good – thick and perfectly toasted.) I recommend this restaurant if you are looking for a quick, casual, and local place to grab a bite.
Our first day in Seattle was our anniversary, so we booked a reservation at the Space Needle restaurant for a nice dinner with a view. This place fills up fast! We booked a reservation two weeks ahead of time, and we were barely able to get a good time.
We really enjoyed the experience. The seafood was good, and the dessert was fantastic. But the best part – and the real reason to visit this restaurant – was the view. The dining area slowly turns so that you can see Seattle from all angles. Because of our reservation time, we were able to see the views in the daylight, at sunset, and at night.
Many people say this place is over-rated and over-priced. While it is pricey, we thought that the combination of good food and the view actually made it a decent value – especially since the admission fee to just see the view without visiting the restaurant is $11 per person (which you get free when you eat at the restaurant). The food by itself would not have been worth what we paid, but since we got the view too, we thought it was a fair price.
Blackbird Bakery – Bainbridge Island
During our visit to Bainbridge Island, we stopped at the Blackbird Bakery for a quick lunch. The bakery is a very homey, local place with soups and pastries. You walk up to the counter to place your order, so it is pretty casual. We really enjoyed the food that we ordered, but we were a little disappointed in the limited menu selection. This a great place to stop for a snack but not for a full meal.
Once again, we found this place while walking around near our hotel. It’s just a couple doors down from Lil’ Woody’s. We had a long wait, but we were able to sit down at a table by the bar while waiting. The garlic bread was disappointing, but the pasta was delicious. It wasn’t too expensive. We were seated by the window, so we enjoyed people-watching while eating pasta and drinking Italian sodas.
After dinner at the Italian restaurant, we walked across the street to this interesting looking coffee house. We walked into what looked like a library! The coffee shop has built-in bookshelves filled with books. It was such a neat atmosphere to sit with a mug of coffee and visit. The coffee and pastry were both tasty as well.
Bacco Cafe – Pike Place Area
For breakfast on Day 3, we found a local breakfast spot that serves all kinds of fresh juice along with great omelette options. I wish I had taken a picture of the food so I could remember what we got, but I do remember that it was fresh and tasty! It was a small place, so arrive early if you don’t want to wait.
Portage Bay Cafe – University District
While exploring the University District, we put our name on the list for brunch at Portage Bay Cafe. Someone had recommended this to us on Facebook, and I’m so glad that we listened! This place is a farm-to-table restaurant where everything you can think of is natural and organic. The menus even said that they were printed with organic ink (whatever that means…). The brunch menu was phenomenal. Just look at the picture of my pancakes below! They had a pancakes toppings bar with all kinds of fruit, peanut butter, fresh whipped cream, and more. Daniel had a breakfast burrito and loved it as well. (Note from Daniel: the portion sizes where surprisingly enormous for a place that prides itself on sustainability. I’m guessing they feed the leftovers to the chickens out back.)
El Diablo Coffee Co. – Queen Anne
While looking around the Queen Anne area of Seattle, we stopped at this little gem on the recommendation of a good friend (thanks, Kaitlin!). I would consider this to be one of the best coffee places I’ve visited. As you can see in the picture below, it is a Cuban place, so in addition to coffee, they serve Cuban appetizers and pastries. I had a latte, Daniel had a Cuban coffee, and we shared a delicious empanada! We would have had more if we weren’t waiting our turn for a table at the next restaurant below…. The only weird thing about this place is that it was pretty empty, and we didn’t like that it closes really early in the day. We had to plan to go there before dinner because it would have been closed afterward.
How to Cook a Wolf – Queen Anne
This place…. I cannot recommend it enough! Once again, Kaitlin recommended it based on good reviews she had heard, so we went. It is a very small restaurant, but the chef came out to personally greet us and tell us about the menu. This restaurant was similar to a tapas place – there aren’t really any full entrees, so you are meant to order several things to share with the table. We ended up splurging because we could not turn down the drink, appetizer, large plate, or dessert options we were given. Everything was fresh and unique. If you are ever in the Queen Anne area of Seattle looking for a nicer restaurant, please eat here!
We had brunch reservations at Salty’s for our last day in Seattle. Another friend had recommended doing a nice dinner here, but to make it fit our schedule, we opted for their brunch buffet instead. We were actually kind of disappointed. For such a nice restaurant on the water, and for the price we paid, we didn’t expect the type of set up they have for brunch. There were SO many options (many very, very good), that it made it hard to figure out what would be good to try or what the restaurant was even known for. Whenever we got up to serve ourselves at the buffet, it was crowded and over-whelming. We did try crab legs for the first time which was a fun experience….
One nice perk was that we got to take a water taxi over to the restaurant. That was really nice. Also, the views outside were very beautiful.
If we ever go back to Seattle, I’d love to try dinner at Salty’s since multiple people raved about it. Next time!
The Crumpet Shop – Pike’s Place Area
Yum! This was fun place to stop for a snack. They offer both sweet and savory types of crumpet. We trip one of each!
As you can tell, we tried a lot of coffee while in Seattle. That’s not unusual for us even in normal, everyday life, but we had to try several options in a city so well-known for its coffee drinkers and coffee shops. Tully’s Coffee is a place we had never heard of before planning our trip here, so we wanted to try it. It was fine – the coffee was good and so was the customer service, but it’s a pretty wide-spread chain and it definitely felt like a chain when we were sitting inside. I don’t have much against the place, but if I’m going to drink coffee from a chain, I’d rather have Starbucks or Caribou Coffee.
What We Did:
I use the same rating system for activities that I used for restaurants. Thumbs Up! means I highly recommend that you take time during your trip to do the activity/ explore the area. Meh… for activities/areas that aren’t bad but that I wouldn’t recommend going out of your way to do/explore, and Thumbs Down for activities/areas that I believe you shouldn’t bother doing/going to at all during your trip. Keep in mind that many of the things that we do on our trips are based off of good reviews from friends or on TripAdvisor so Thumbs Down ratings will be rare and Meh… ratings won’t occur very often either.
The downtown Seattle REI location is (or at least used to be) the chain’s flagship store, so we decided to walk out there from the hotel. It didn’t seem that far from the hotel, but it wasn’t a very pleasant walk – we had to cross some busy streets and a highway. The store is worth visiting, though! There is a bike trail in the back surrounded by a creek and a waterfall. It was neat to stop and watch some of the bikers – you definitely feel like you are in Seattle when surrounded by tons of active people enjoying the outdoors.
Seattle Public Library – Central Library Location
This was one of my favorite stops of the trip. Daniel and I love bookstores and libraries, so we like to check out unique public libraries or local bookstores when we travel. I had heard that the Seattle Public Library was worth the stop, so we were excited to see it. I’m very glad that we did. This is the most unique library I have ever seen! Just take a look….
The library was huge! I hope to be able to go back one day and sit and enjoy a book in the terrific lighting, but during this trip, we just walked around and explored the building.
We weren’t planning to do this, but we had a little extra time before our dinner reservation, so we decided give the giant ferris wheel a try. The wheel is by the water, so we were able to see the water sparkling in the sunshine as well as the city. Now, I was a little nervous throughout the ride – especially whenever the wheel started turning faster – but overall it was a fun, relaxing way to look at the city and take a break from all the walking around.
Pioneer Square is a historic section of the city that now has a variety of shops and nightlife options. We went to take a look around, but we were not very impressed. The whole area seemed a little “worn-out”, and we did not run into any shops that interested us. To be fair, we did not spend much time at all in this part of the city, so maybe with a little more research, we would have liked it better. Also, we visited during the day which is likely not the best time to experience this area.
As everyone knows, Pike’s Place is a must see in Seattle! There is so much to see, with the vendors selling anything from fresh bread and fish to jewelry and handmade beauty products. I really enjoyed seeing the mix of tourists and locals and being able to try samples from a few of the stands. My favorite vendor was Pike Place Fish Market where they throw fish at each other and allow guests to toss the fish as well. It’s a lot more entertaining than it sounds….
Visiting the original Starbucks was a mandatory stop for me. We waited in (a very long) line for coffee. Even though the coffee was just normal Starbucks coffee, it was too cool to see the original site and pick up a Pike’s Place mug (this is the only location where those mugs are sold). It was also fun to see the other Starbucks enthusiasts waiting in line with us.
One activity we really wanted to do was take a ferry to one of the many islands surrounding Seattle. We picked Bainbridge because two people had recommended it to us. We bought our ferry tickets and then boarded along with many other people and a bunch of cars! I’m not sure why, but I found it very amusing that people actually commute on a daily basis by driving their car onto the ferry to go to work in Seattle and then back home to Bainbridge Island.
On the island, there were lots of cute shops to browse. My favorite was the used and new bookstore (of course!), but the cute knitting store came in at a close second! Bainbridge was also where we ate at the Blackbird Bakery, mentioned above. This was definitely worth the trip over; I highly recommend visiting at least one of the islands if you visit Seattle.
We really wanted to visit as many different parts of Seattle as we could, so on our third day, we decided to go check out the University District. They happened to be having a big festival up and down the main road surrounding the campus, so there was even more to see and do than usual. In addition to looking at the booths in the festival, we stopped at a few unique shops such as the record/video-game/electronics store shown in the picture below. We were definitely surrounded by an interesting crowd (mix of UW students and locals), but that made it more fun!
While walking around the University District, we spent about an hour touring the campus of the University of Washington. The campus was beautiful! The trees and grass were bright and green, and many of the buildings had gorgeous, intricate architecture.
Upper Queen Anne was my favorite area of Seattle. It is mostly filled with cute homes, but there are plenty of local restaurants and stores as well. We really enjoyed taking our time walking around the area while waiting for our reservation for dinner. I really wish I had taken pictures of our walk, but unfortunately, I didn’t because those were my pre-blogging days. :)
For one last great view of the city, we took the public bus to Kerry Park. We were only slightly disappointed that the “park” was actually just a small trip of grass, but our disappointment faded quickly when we saw our view….
Tips & Tricks…
- Book your reservation at the restaurant in the Space Needle a few weeks in advance. Also, be sure you know what time sunset is during the time of year you visit so that you can book your reservation an hour or so before that time. Watching the transition from day to sunset to night was unforgettable.
- When visiting the Pike Place Market, be sure to explore the areas below street level and the side streets. You will miss out on some neat stands and shops if you don’t veer off the main path a bit.
This concludes my second full Travel with Me segment. I hope that it helps make planning a trip to Seattle a little easier for someone or that it encourages a few of you to explore this city in the United States. Please let me know in the comments section below if you have any suggestions for future Travel with Me posts or if there is anything in this post that you particularly enjoyed. Also, feel free to comment with any questions. Thank you for reading and happy trip planning!