A friend had once disclosed to me that the beauty of the Pacific Northwest was never boasted about by the locals. “It’s cold in the winter,” he would grumble, “and it rains a lot;” a phrase meant to scare most sun seekers and Southern Californians. But I had watched the Twilight Movies where glittery vampires glided across lush, green landscape, through tall trees. Surely they filmed the trilogy when the rain had stopped.
My friend was also a man who was a little too happy to stay home during the height of the pandemic when everyone else was mentally falling apart. Once I actually saw where he lived - remote on Camano island, proudly backed by rolling hills and overlooking the Puget Sound, I couldn’t blame him or any of the locals for trying to keep the Pacific Northwest a secret.
The beauty of Washington is often overlooked when it comes to tourism. Most people prefer its neighboring states of Oregon, a more attractive road trip for Californians, or the majesty of Alaska - a bucket worthy state for adventurers. Half of Washington State is covered in forest, with multiple national parks, snow capped volcanic mountains and approximately 170 islands in the Salish Sea between Washington and Vancouver. It is home to the only rainforest in all of the United States as well as the city of Seattle - known for its original Starbucks, the iconic Space Needle, the Fremont Troll and so much more!
After doing a lot of research and getting my friend to spill the beans, “yah, I love it here,” he finally said, I packed my small but mighty family of three - my spunky 10 year old, surly teenager and me, and we set off to Washington.
I took five days off, planned two of them in Seattle and three in the Olympic National Forest. The flight from LAX to SeaTac was approximately two hours and I always fly locally with Delta, making sure I hit up the Delta Sky Lounge before each flight.
I know this is supposed to be a review about Washington, so I’ll be quick. If ever you’re traveling, look into an airport lounge when considering traveling alone with littles. It’s worth the decadence! Most lounges have a great selection of free food, a calm area of tables and booths with their own charging stations, and free wine and beer! You can’t beat cleaner, less crowded, more private bathrooms - some even with showers. Since I have the American Express Delta Reserve card it includes access to the Delta Sky Lounges, along with a myriad of travel perks. I’m not going to lie, the rate is a little high, but with the amount of traveling I do it pays for itself and I actually look forward to going to the airport.
From Airport to City
If you’re flying into SeaTac you aren’t too far from the city. Our favorite mode of transportation is the Light Rail. It’s a nice walk from the airport to the station, next to the airport parking structure. The Light Rail runs every 8-10 minutes most days and costs $2-$3.50 per adult depending on where you stop and all youth 18 and under ride free. If your destination is Seattle, it’s a good 30-45 minutes to get anywhere in the city, with interesting landscape to pass through including the Lumen field, the ocean and it even goes underground.
If the Light Rail is not your jam, understandable with luggage and toddlers in tow, a Lyft or even a Taxi costs anywhere between $30 - $50 one way depending on your destination. It’s not as cheap as the Light Rail and be mindful of the traffic. Seattle traffic gets as bad as any major city and the Light Rail cuts right through.
Westlake Station was just a few blocks from our first hotel, Hotel Max. I chose Hotel Max for the price, proximity and the name (my youngest son’s name is Maxwell). I wanted us to be within walking distance to Pike Place at a reasonable rate.
Hotel Max is nice and fairly inexpensive, at least $50-100 cheaper than the hotels closer to the water. It’s a cool, uniquely decorated boutique with various collections of art and photography in the lobby and on its floors. It’s got a punk rock/music feel to it, and adults are greeted with a glass of beer upon check in.
We got two nice sized double beds in a standard room on the 3rd floor. Our view faced some tall buildings, the room itself was pretty small but clean and the Wifi was excellent. My one complaint was the size of the bathroom. A fluffier person might be uncomfortable on the toilet with such a small space and it didn’t help that the view outside faced an apartment building. If I can see the locals getting ready for work, they can see all of my business too.
You remember my friend that finally spilled his beans about Washington? Well, he had driven down from Camano Island and met us at the lobby a few hours after we checked in, for dinner in the city. We had originally wanted to go to Cinque Terre (I actually went there on another trip to Washington) but it was reservations only. Lucky for us, across the way was a restaurant called Barolo Ristorante and in spite of what appeared to be a full restaurant, they had a table for us right away.
This beautiful, modern Italian restaurant had glass chandeliers, wax dripping candelabras, communal tables and comfortable booths. You felt upscale but cozy, and they certainly let us Californians in wearing slippers and shorts.
Though the menu did not have choices for children, my youngest didn’t complain and chose one of the best spaghetti carbonara I’ve ever tasted - rich with pork belly. I had the lobster risotto, which did not disappoint, and my oldest helped himself to an incredible charcuterie spread as an appetizer and a wagyu beef top sirloin for a main course - not minding mom’s budget one bit. Since we were on vacation, I opted for a half bottle of Shaffer that I split with my friend and his girlfriend. After all, my hotel was within walking distance.
We were too stuffed for dessert and walked it off in Downtown instead, checking out the myriad of shops, restaurants, hotels and apartments before we hugged our friends good bye and called it a night.
We hit up Pike Place Market around mid-morning, approximately 5 short blocks from our hotel. I wanted to go to the original Starbucks, but there was already a long line. We detoured to The Gum Wall, and after a few pictures there, we went to check out Rachel the Piggybank. She is an actual bronze piggy bank named after a pig that won first place in the 1985 Island Fair. From what I hear, she raises at least $10,000 every year which helps to raise funds for low-income housing.
Right behind Rachel was Pike Place Fish, known for its awesome seafood and fish throwing. My kids spent a good thirty minutes watching the employees toss fish from the front of the stands, to behind the counter. If you buy, they fly! And how fun it is to see!
It wouldn’t be a proper trip to Seattle if we didn’t get to visit the Space Needle. There’s a monorail that runs through the city and goes straight to the Space Needle. It cost $3.50 per adult and $1.50 per child, and is a fun way to get there. I would not advise parking because like any city, parking is scarce and expensive. We made that mistake the second time we went there and were lucky to pay $20 to park across the street. I’ve seen signs upwards of $50!
The Space Needle is a grand, sleek building that reminds me of the cartoon Jetsons in some ways. Although there are plenty of apps to buy and reserve tickets, there are also kiosks in front of the building that allows you to purchase the day of. No matter what the time, the line to the Space Needle can be a little daunting but it moves fairly quickly. The line is mainly to wait for the elevators that speed you right up to the top.
When we went, it was clear enough to see Seattle, Mount Rainier and beyond the ocean. It’s an awesome floor to ceiling, revolving glass floor experience indoors. You can lean into daring views on the sky risers outdoors, also glass, open on the top to take in the brisk ocean air. Even though it was fairly crowded, you can get plenty of selfies with beautiful angles and a panoramic view in the background.
If you’re hungry there is an overpriced cafe and wine bar that serves basic food and drinks because they can. No one is judging though, even I got suckered into having a glass of wine. It’s not often that we get to have a glass of wine atop one of the most iconic structures in North America!
Around the Space Needle are large grassy areas, a play structure for kids and street vendors selling ice cream, popcorn and snacks. The kids let off some steam in the play structure while I observed the Space Needle from the outside, taking a few choice selfies while I waited.
In immediate proximity is the Museum of Pop Culture and the Chihuly Glass Gardens. Though we did not visit the Chihuly Gardens, we did spend a few hours at the Museum of Pop Culture - a favorite of my then 12 year old, who is now a music loving 14 year old. He spent a lot more time walking through the exhibits than we did and bought a few tee shirts and posters to take home.
After a long day of sightseeing, we got hungry and ate the Dough Zone off of Pine Street. My kids ordered a tray of soup dumplings (Xiao Long Bay) for themselves and did not hesitate to have some of my dumplings when I offered it. I also ordered the dan dan noodles and a round of soda for us all. The bill was so incredibly cheap compared to last night’s Italian cuisine that we considered ordering some more noodles and dumplings to go. But we got sleepy waiting for the check, ordered a Lyft driver to take us two blocks back to our hotel, and called it a night. Tomorrow was going to be a big day anyway, with three days in the Olympic National forest in a rental car and via the Ferry!
Stay tuned for part 2 on our 3 days in the Olympic National Forrest.