Not all of our trips are exotic or international. There’s an overwhelming number of travel destinations in the US, many of which our foreign neighbors experience more than we US citizens do. Good for them!
We recently returned from a visit to Seattle and Tacoma as part of trip to the Northwest that included the Olympic Peninsula and the San Juan Islands. Seattle is a very popular and walkable city with many contrasts from the crusty Pioneer Square to the Space Needle to the Pike Place Market, to mention only a very few options.
Our base for three nights was the Doubletree Arctic Club, which is very well located near Pioneer square and within walking distance of both Pike Place and the Olympic Park. It’s not a cheap hotel but it’s upscale, with a bit of fascinating history. The building was originally a men’s club (the Arctic Club) and the trappings of that era permeate the lobby and adjacent bar area, including portraits of the very white, male members of the time. The rooms were quite comfortable.
We sampled some of the normal touristic endeavors: walking around the Pioneer Square area, exploring the waterfront, poking around Pike Place market, and ascending the Space Needle. Currently the downtown area is undergoing major road construction, covering both the waterfront overpasses and the city streets. Since we were walking, the Seattle traffic jams that have become infamous and made worse by the construction had little impact on our city time, but the road construction did provide navigation challenges.
Pioneer Square Park, the triangular wedge bounded by First Avenue, James Street and Yesler Way, was depressingly populated by homeless and street people, many of who seemed whacked out. The area south of Yesler and along and west of First avenue was a historic charm. We especially enjoyed a noon-time concert (part of a series of lunch time events around town) in Occidental Park.
Our real focus for this visit was the new Chihuly Garden and Glass exhibit that opened next to the Space Needle in 2012. We bought a combo Space Needle-Chihuly Garden ticket, and since our timed visit to the top of the Space Needle was scheduled for a few hours later we began with Chihuly. The ticket included a second Chihuly visit after 6 pm on the same day. This exhibit (in terms of the categories used by the Michelin Guide) is worth a journey.
The exhibit is both an indoor museum and an outdoor garden, with a covered atrium (and excellent cafe) between them The grandness of the displays cannot be described adequately in words. Indoors the various rooms contain large brightly-lit installations covering a wide swath of Chihuly’s imagination and history.
The pieces are wildly organic, and outer-worldly…something you might envision in a science fiction novel or encounter in a Star Wars bar on Tatooine. Several of the rooms are set up and lighted to enhance reflections from the glass floors beneath the sculptures. Other rooms contain some of Chihuly’s classics…flowers, bowls, and sea creatures.
The outdoor garden is a masterpiece of glass sculptures that integrate with and enhance the natural plants that fill the space. His famous reflecting glass spheres are everywhere, and the ones which show a reflection of the Space Needle are probably the most photographed pieces in the exhibit. We spent a lot of time with them in both our midday and evening visits.
Next to the Chihuly Garden and the Space Needle is the Experience Music Project Museum, housed in the ultra modernistic Frank O. Gehry Building. We didn’t have time to explore the museum, but the building is a like something from a dream fantasy, and worth seeing. It’s metallic surfaces change colors with the angle of the sun, and sported a cubistic reflection of the Space Needle.
We did spend some time at the Seattle art Museum on First Avenue, and it was worth a visit. We spent a couple of hours exploring its many galleries before the guards shooed us out at closing time.
Food: a mixed bag. We had very good dinners at Etta’s, near Pike Place, and at RN74, downtown. However, lunch was a challenge for us. It seemed like FRIED was the watchword: fish and chips, fried fish sandwich, fried calamari…all with fries…was the norm. We did manage to convince the chef at Ivar’s Acres of Clams to do a grilled fish sandwich, which was not on the menu, but with fries, of course.
The Chihuly Garden makes a visit to Seattle worthwhile and one should not miss the Seattle Art Museum. If we were to return, we’d make a point of visiting the Experience Music Project Museum and the Olympic Sculpture Garden, but they are secondary to the real highlight for us: the Chihuly Garden.
From Seattle we headed to Tacoma for a one-night stay on the way to the Olympic Peninsula. Our target was the Glass Museum and the Chihuly Bridge of Glass.
Our lodging was the Holiday Inn Express – Tacoma Downtown, located next to the University of Washington – Tacoma campus and within walking distance to the Glass Museum. The location is quite convenient, not only for the museum, but as a place to venture out to other Tacoma sights, and it was a friendly, quite comfortable hotel.
The museum was somewhat of a disappointment, primarily because a major gallery was closed. There was live glass blowing in the theater and the works of various glass artists were on display. The best part was the Chihuly’s Bridge of Glass on the way to the museum.
Restaurants and cafes in the immediate hotel area were ho-hum, catering primarily to the tastes of the UW students. Better choices were available in downtown Tacoma, just a few minutes away by car. However, we chose to venture further afield and drove to the Harbor Lights restaurant on the waterfront, outside of Tacoma proper. It was a delight for dinner, with fresh, down to earth seafood, and excellent drinks.
Overall, Tacoma is an OK stop on the way to other destinations.