We spend the last two days of our budget road trip in Seattle–and we luck out because the weather is glorious. We meet up with friends and relatives but we also find time to get out and see some sights. The highlights:
You have to pay admission to step inside the Seattle Art Museum but it doesn’t cost a dime to stroll through the museum’s spectacular new sculpture garden where you’ll find works by famed artists such as Calder (pictured), Oldenburg, and Serra placed in dramatic locations throughout a nine-acre grassy park right on Puget Sound.
Kids can’t touch the sculptures but they can run around the path that zigzags through the park.
It’s hard to know how to describe the glittering steel and glass structure that houses Seattle’s largest collection of books. My daughter thought it looked like “a glob of ice cubs all stuck together.” My son compared it to a space station. I could think of only one word to describe it: “Awesome.”
The crown jewel of the city’s library system was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas and former Seattleite Joshua Ramus and built after the city passed a major bond measure. It’s a must-see on any Seattle trip, and visiting is free.
While the outside is spectacular, we are particularly awed by the inside.
We start our tour on the bottom floor in the children’s section where the kids flop down on the comfy leather chairs and read books.
And then we take the elevator to the fourth floor where we step into a sea of red. Everything, the walls, the floors, and the doors, is a shiny cherry color.
The third floor, aka the living room, is a place where patrons can sit, relax, read a book, grab a coffee.
In San Francisco, where I live, tourists and locals go to the Ferry Plaza Market and I love its abundance of organic, locally grown, sustainable food. I also love the beautifully restored building yet the indoor market stalls often seem spare and sterile and present food as if it were being displayed in a museum. I’m practically afraid to touch the perfectly ripe strawberries carefully stacked and arranged in patterns in little cartons.
Pike Place Market is the antidote to the Ferry Plaza–it’s messy, chaotic, loud, and smelly. Its stalls are disorganized and piled high with produce, and there are so many people that traffic jams develop in its skinny alleyways. Yes, it’s a tourist trap but it also has an authentic quality and is the sort of place you’d expect to find in a bustling European city. And while there are plenty of stalls hawking unpalatable food, there are many selling local Chinook and Rainier cherries and dishing up cuisine based on recipes of past generations.
We stand in line 20 minutes for freshly made hand-held Russian pies from Piroshky Piroshky. These buttery pastries stuffed with cheese, potato, cabbage, and mushrooms are well-worth the wait.
Street performers abound at the market and we take in a live act in front of the original Starbucks. If only all chain coffee shops had this much charm.
4) Smith Tower
You’ll pay $17 to ride in the elevator to the top of the Space Needle and take in spectacular views. You’ll pay less than half that–only $7.50–to visit the 35th floor of Smith Tower.
When this 502-foot building was erected in 1909 it was hailed as the tallest skyscraper outside New York City. Many structures such as the Space Needle and the Columbia Center have since surpassed it, but Smith Tower still offers one of the city’s best views with an observation deck that puts you right in the middle of the skyline.
Can you find the Space Needle in the above photo, taken from atop Smith Tower?
This isn’t your typical doughnut shop. Book shelves displaying encyclopedias stretch from the floor to the ceiling. There’s free wi-fi and 20-somethings wearing skinny jeans sit at tables working on their laptops while sipping lattes and eating, well, doughnuts.
The doughnuts are made from scratch in small batches, and there are over 40 different kinds. We opt for a chocolate maple bar slathered in a crackling fudgy frosting and my daughter talks us into a pink sprinkle. They’re warm, light, and absolutely delicious.
This complex of locks sits in the middle of Salmon Bay, part of Seattle’s Lake Washington Ship Canal, near the Ballard neighborhood. It’s a popular attraction with botanical gardens, locks that move boats from the water level of the lakes to the water level of Puget Sound, and a fisher ladder that offers a great opportunity to see salmon.
We break one of our trip rules–no eating at chains–and pick up a picnic at Whole Foods and bring it to the Locks. We sit on a grassy hill and watch the boats pass through the locks. By going after 6 p.m., we don’t have to pay for parking.
Seattle Weekly voted this place best burger 10 years in a row, and the bacon cheeseburgers we order are some of the tastiest we’ve eaten.
This hotel sits smack in the middle of everything. We walked to the Public Library, Pike Place Market, the Olympic Sculpture Garden. You’re also in the heart of the city’s most historic district with cobblestone streets and 100-year-old brick buildings. The hotel itself is housed in an old Victorian building that’s been beautifully restored.
Trip details: Days 8 and 9
Hours in car: 0
* Food: $200
* Entertainment: $20
* Hotel and parking: $200
* Miles: 1,050
* Hours in car: 18
* Expenses: $1,634
Hooray! We meet our budget of $200 a day and actually end up spending only about $170 a day. How did we do it? Well, we cheated a little and accepted some free meals from friends but we also did lots of things to cut costs such as splitting entrees, picnicking, using refillable water bottles, seeking out cheap and free activities, and driving a fuel efficient vehicle.