A Week in Seattle and Surrounding National Parks

Our drive into Seattle was one of our longest days on the road.  The trip from Glacier National park to our Airbnb was 530 miles and took us all day.  We were tired and just wanted a quick meal so we went to a Subway to split a veggie sub.  The doors were locked but the place was clearly still open so I gave a firm couple of knocks and waited a few minutes.  After a while a greasy man unapologetically opened the door while pointing to the open sign, which apparently was not lit up.  As we entered he said, “I heard you knocking and was squeezing very hard”.  Sylvie and I looked at each other and without a word knew the other’s thoughts.  Let’s get the fuck out of here!  We found another Subway 5 minutes away, but our Chagrin the price was even higher.  Can you believe we paid $8.50 for a sub with only veggies on it?  No meat, not cheese, no tofu, just the normal fixings.  At least we weren’t overly concerned about getting E. Coli! 

2 Days in Seattle

Although we typically shy away from large tourist attractions our first day in Seattle actually took us through the top 3 attractions in Seattle—Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, and the Ballard Locks.  During our next day we walked around Pike and Pine street in the Capitol Hill Neighborhood, International District, and 5th Avenue.

Pike Place Market:

After shopping around for reasonably priced parking we settled on a garage charging $18 for 10 hours.  We made sure to get to the market early because we had read it can get packed.  We walked the multitude of layers of the market as various vendors set up for the day.  We were a bit disappointed by the market itself.  There were only a handful of produce vendors and their food was grossly overpriced.  I couldn’t help but compare it to Reading Terminal, an enormous market I visited often in Philadelphia.  I found that Pike Place Market came up short in almost every comparison.  It had far fewer food venders and the ones they did have were less unique.  It’s clear that Pike Place Market exists solely for tourists and a local would never be caught dead in that place.  Who in their right mind would pay $9.99 for a single dragon fruit?  No thank you!

The Space Needle:

We spent the day walking through several popular neighborhoods.  The Space Needle was in our path so we took a glance.  We took a few seconds craning our heads and then moved onwards.  I guess that’s another box we can check off on some arbitrary list? 

Fremont and Ballard Locks:

We walked various hilly streets in Queen Ann admiring the various houses.  I was shocked to see boarded up and condemned buildings immediately next to multi-million dollar modern homes.  After a few miles we crossed over the Fremont Bridge, where Google had a local campus, and walked into the Fremont neighborhood.  Fremont is a small hip area that consisted of a few streets filled with brew houses, ethnic food, and cafes.  We walked onwards for another couple miles until we reached the Ballard Locks.

Ballard Locks:  “Officially known as the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, the Ballard Locks is one of Seattle’s most popular tourist attractions, especially during the sunny months. The grounds also feature a fish ladder and the Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Garden — one of the most beautiful park settings in Seattle”. Read more about the locks here!

In a shared Uber we took back in the direction of our car we talked with another passenger and she provided us with some advice for the city along with call out to a vegan ice-cream parlor called Frankie & Jo’s.  We checked it out prior to walking back to our car and tasted the Golden Milk and the Chocolate Date flavors.  Frankie and Jo’s was generous and let us taste many of their flavors.  They tasted pretty good considering they use coconut milk, but I prefer ice-cream made with real milk. Frankie and Jo’s is located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

We hightailed it back to our car with 1 minute to spare before our $18 parking charge increased to $25.  For our first day in Seattle we walked over 30k steps and logged more than 10 miles.  We were left mostly unimpressed by the central downtown areas and decided to concentrate our next day in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

Space Needle in Seattle, Washington

Overlooking Puget Sound in Seattle, Washington

Capitol Hill – Pike/Pine Streets

We started our second day in this university left-leaning neighborhood.  Gay pride flags, tattoo parlors, hip cafes, and even a Trader Joe’s make Capitol Hill a fun liberal area to pass some time.  We ventured into a large bookstore called Elliot Bay, but I thought it smelled like dirty cat litter so I didn’t stay too long.  Sylvie thinks it was just the smell of books.  Wooden electricity/phone poles were decorated 8 feet tall in flyers and pamphlets—most were monotone and slightly gothic in feeling.  I’ve noticed that many people here in Seattle wear very muted colors.  Black is definitely the most popular, but grey doesn’t fall too far behind.  Grudge is alive and well here in Seattle.  Although everyone we met was very kind I found that most people in the streets seemed very serious.  This is in stark contrast to our recent experience walking through the small towns in Wyoming and Montana.  It may just be that we haven’t been in a large city for a while but even Denver felt more ‘bubbly’ that here.

Seattle had quite a few game stores that sold board games and let people play while eating cheap pub food and brews.  Many bars and cafes had pinballs machines set up for customers to play for a small fee.  There were so many that it makes me think that Seattle’s history is somehow connected to pinball games.  Did I mention that Seattle has a pinball museum that consists of dozens of machines spanning a multitude of decades?  $15 for all you can play per person was just too steep for our budget-conscience pockets.

5th Ave & Chinatown-International District

We happened to stumble onto 5th Ave, which is a key shopping area in downtown Seattle.  We were almost trampled by commuters, a stampede only matched by those found in Manhattan.  We exited this area as quickly as we found it.

Before long we made our way to the Chinatown/International District, a Neighborhood hosting many of Seattle’s Asian communities.  We stopped into a large indoor Asian grocery called Uwajimaya and walked around for a little.  There were half a dozen food stands lining the entrance to the grocer.  Sylvie and I have been a bit spoiled when it comes to Asian markets—we’ve been to some of the largest ones in the world.  Considering Seattle’s closer proximity to Asia I had higher expectations for Chinatown—granted we didn’t spend too much time wandering around.  I was a bit shocked on how modern and Americanized many of the establishments were.  What I value a Chinatown is the authenticity of the food and overall atmosphere.  I imagine the Asian communities in Seattle have done well for themselves and it does show.  If you hoping for the grit-filled streets you would uncover in Manhattan’s Chinatown, then you’ve come to the wrong place.  We have been extremely spoiled living in Philadelphia with the enormous Chinese and Vietnamese communities so places take these comments with a grain of salt.

1 Day in Mount Rainier National Park

We enjoyed a great quick loop hike along the Skyline Trail Loop, which is located in the main south side hub park. This are is called Paradise and is the most impressive part of the park. The first part of the hike was paved but as we gained altitude the trail got a little rockier.  The hike was better than average and we enjoyed our time and our great views of Mount Rainier during autumn.

Give yourself a day to travel from the Seattle area to Olympic National Park if you plan to set up camp in the evening!

2 Days in Olympic National Park

We found a free campsite near a logging road west of Olympic National Park (about 2 hours west of Port Angeles). The campsite is located off of Swan Bay and is a primitive site with 1 fire pit. You may be able to set a couple tents on the site but probably only one vehicle. Here is the camping information.

We watched sunset at a small boat dock down the road and crossed paths with two other long-term travelers.  The young couple had been on the road for 3 months so far and still had another 2 months.  The guy had spent several months gutting and rebuilding the inside of a van for the trip.  He showed us everything he had done.  He added insulation to the new wood ceiling and floor along with a gas stove, refrigerator, and faucet with a 28-gallon reservoir.  Wooden cabinetry lined the van and a bed resided in the rear.  It was all powered by 3 solar panels affixed to the van’s roof.  Not too bad for a house that also gets 20 mpg.

The next day we drove a short distance to hike a 9-mile loop known as Ozette Triangle Trail (it’s also known at the Cape Alava Loop).  The first and last 3 miles were through a thick rainforest, while the middle portion of the hike took us right up to the Pacific Ocean.  The 3 miles along the coast was definitely the most beautiful scenery I’ve seen in the United States so far.  We managed to make it to the ocean during low tide so we got to witness a craggy and kelp-ridden shore.  Upon walking down to the water’s edge I could actually hear the billions of flies consuming the kelp.  It was like a scene from a Hitchcock movie.  We met up with two older hikers, Dick and Mike.  We enjoyed a leisurely stroll for several hours as we learned more about these 70-year-old outdoorsmen.  They talked about their childhood adventures on the very same beach and how it has become a bit more touristy over the years, however still remaining largely untouched.  They pointed out how lucky we were to see the coast at low tide and that during high tide navigating over the terrain was much more challenging.  Dick picked up various sea specimens and educated us.  We talked about his travels which were quite impressive.  He worked in a small Maasai village conducting oral surgeries for a month.  He talked about his upcoming travel plans to sail the Dalmatian Islands for 3 weeks.  Mike reminisced about his time working for the parks department during his college summers.  Do yourself a favor and hike the Ozette Triangle, it may be the pretties and most unique hike an American National Park has to offer.

After the hike we drove to Cape Flattery and hike a short while to watch sunset over the ocean. There were numerous picnic tables and designated areas to sit down and we enjoyed a warm meal for our sunset.

The next day we hiked up to Hurricane Ridge but were moderately disappointed.  The view was average and the hike was relatively boring.  Many sources state, “If you only have 1 day at Olympic National Park you need to hike to Hurricane Ridge”.  I disagree, if you only have 1 day go do the Cape Alava Loop (Ozette Triangle) Trail.