The Needle’s restaurant, SkyCity, offers surprisingly good food (Rule 2: Never trust a restaurant with a view) and an exceptional wine list, featuring mostly local wines. It’s uninexpensive, but includes the cost ($20) of a ride to the observation deck. SkyCity is one of those restaurants that goes around in a circle, but takes an hour to make a complete revolution, so chew slowly.
Alternatively, spend only $7 to enjoy the views from the 42nd floor of the gorgeous Smith Tower, bearing in mind that you’ll be able to glimpse neither Lake Union nor Lake Washington. Or head, assuming it’s a weekday, with a mere fiver in hand for Bank of America Tower, the 73rd floor of which offers what many feel to be the best views in the Northwest. Enhance your pleasure by bearing in mind that the Tower is the 51st tallest building in the world, albeit nowhere to be seen on the American Institute of Architects’ list of favorite American buildings!
Seattle Food Tours offers enjoyable explorations of Pike Place Market — with its dizzying array of specialty food purveyors, produce from local farms, and restaurants — and the recently gentrified Belltown, which offers the Northwests’s most eclectic dining. The tours focus on FLOSS (fresh, local, organic, seasonal, and sustainable) foods and beverages, and you’ll get enough samples (of Pacific Northwest seafood, fresh roasted coffee, artisan hand-made cheese, microbrew beer, gourmet chocolate, and fine wine) not to head back to your hotel faint from hunger, though no actual sit-down meal is involved.
EverGreen Escapes offers half-, full- and multi-day excursions. On the full-day Olympic Peninsula Tour you get a gourmet lunch and snacks, and cloth napkins, and see much notable wildlife. Their driving tour of the city starts with a wee traipse in Pioneer Square, after which you board a luxurious Mercedes SUV and get shown around virtually every neighborhood in greater Seattle, except those in which the sight of a Mercedes SUV full of gawking tourists might inspire desperate, unemployed, volatile locals to mayhem.
Tours Northwest offers three-hour Seattle City, Boeing Assembly Plant, and Mt. Rainier tours. They pick you up right at your hotel, and Steve, one of their guides, may well be the most-praised tour guide in the Northwest, for virtues including his knowledge of the Latin names of some of the various local trees and shrubs.
Those who want something slightly spicier might prefer the Seattle Lust Tour, which focuses on all local things R-rated, from the political movements in the 1970s based on gender and sexuality, to the adult entertainment industry, to prostitution in Seattle during the 1970s.
Bon Vivant Wine Tours of Washington offer guided small group excursions to premium local wineries, vineyards, and tasting rooms. Bob, your friendly operator, has a palpable passion for wine and an agreeable personality, but the only actual tasting you’ll do is at St. Michelle.
From the first primitive glider designed by the Wright brothers to the stealthy, Mach 3-capable Blackbird, The Museum of Flight at Boeing Field has assembled a remarkable array of flying machines; an aviation obsessive — you know the type! — could actually spend several happy days here. Admission is included with a Seattle CityPass, which we mustn’t neglect to mention, as it can save you up to 50 percent at lots of local points of interest.
No visit to Seattle that doesn’t include at least a short voyage on one of the Washington State Ferries is worth mentioning. It’ll take only 30 minutes to get from the Coleman Dock, the main ferry terminal, over to Bainbridge Island. Don’t be surprised to see river otters, harbor seals, marine birds, or even whales!
The Japanese Tea Garden at the Washington Park Arboretum, whose 230 acres (and 4,000 species of trees, vines, shrubs and plants) visitors may explore by canoe or afoot, will surely delight those who are delighted by that sort of thing.
Speaking of Pike Place, the Pike Place Ghost Tour features lots of anecdotes dating from the time when Seattle might have been thought of as the northwesternmost outpost of the Wild West. Or skip the tour and just savor the shenanigans of the Place’s famously exhibitionistic fishmongers, who will, if you pay them handsomely, stop flinging your fish back and forth and instead package it in dry ice for you to take home to flyover country. Have a frappuccino in the original Starbucks and watch out for mimes.
If you love chocolate, you’ll love the tour of Theo Chocolate (for which make reservations a week in advance). Pretend to be eager to learn all about the growth and harvesting of cacao, the manufacturing process, and fair trade production, while actually waiting impatiently for samples of, for instance, Fig, Fennel & Almond Dark Chocolate.
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, adjacent to both a beautiful botanical garden and a fish ladder with underwater viewing windows, is a remarkable testament to the brilliance of the American engineer, as the Seattle Public Library is to the brilliance of the American architect. It won’t cost you a nickel to get into the Seattle Central Library, which in 2007 was voted one the American Institute of Architects’ favorite American buildings. Take the elevator to the 11th floor and then descend the spiral staircase for a top-notch experience of self-aggrandizement.
The multitalented John Mendelsohn is a writer, graphic artist, and singer/songwriter who lives near New York City. Check out his new song collection, Sorry We’re Open.