United States: Seattle sparkles

By Manuel Valdes

The seaboard city has lots of open spaces too, writes Manuel Valdes

Seattle Space needle and cityscape at night. Photo / Getty Images
Seattle Space needle and cityscape at night. Photo / Getty Images

It's not something that people in Seattle like to broadcast too much, but the Emerald City gets plenty of sunshine. Last year, there were 48 straight days of no rain to go along with the long summer days, presenting a perfect setting to explore the numerous free parks, bike trails, markets, beaches and lakes the city offers. Here is a small collection:

Pike Place Market

There are few landmarks that invoke Seattle as much as the glowing red letters of the Pike Place Market. Sure, it's a tourist trap, but it recalls a time when nearby farmers sold their produce to the hungry city masses. Peruse the bounty of flowers, chocolates, fish, fruit and much more in the multi-level market built on a steep hill in downtown Seattle. Stop by the Gum Wall to leave your own chewy legacy. Take in the fishmongers throwing salmon around.

But don't confine it to this one market. Seattle boasts a healthy arsenal of neighbourhood outdoor markets.

One example: The market in Fremont sells everything from consignment clothes from the 1980s (perfect for your hipster friends) to whole furniture sets, old maps, old records, old games and more on Sundays right next to a ship canal, fremontmarket.com. It's free and fun to visit whether or not you decide to buy.

The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks

Known locally as the Ballard Locks, this water gateway constructed and run by the US Army Corps of Engineers, separates the salty Puget Sound from Lake Union and Lake Washington using a system of water elevators. Recreational, tourist, working and research vessels make their way through the locks every day, lowering and elevating before crowds of onlookers.

It's an engineering gem that opened in 1917, a miniature Panama Canal in the middle of the city, but the locks offer more than that.

There are fish ladders that salmon use for their annual spawning migration. Sockeye, king and coho salmon as well as steelhead can be seen making their way, on outdoor and indoor (and underwater) views of the ladder.

The locks also feature botanical gardens, rolling greens that make for nice picnic spots, and free one-hour tours of the facility between March and November. For more information: usa.gov

Discovery Park

At 216ha, Discovery Park is the largest park in Seattle and it features some of the most stunning views within city limits. On top of seaside bluffs, visitors can overlook the Puget Sound, islands and the Olympic Mountains to the west. Look south and Mount Rainier and the city skyline rise above the horizon. The park, which used to be a military fort, features hiking and jogging trails through hectares of forest.

Down below, a sandy beach adorned with a lighthouse snakes around the park. Lucky visitors encounter baby seals sleeping on the beach, sealions swimming just offshore or bald eagles perched on trees. There are also wide, open grassy areas on top of the bluffs.

Oh, and one time a cougar made the park its home for a week or so, much to the dismay of local pets. Away from the slice of nature, there is also the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Centre, which hosts art by Native American artists. For more information: seattle.gov

The Seattle Central LibraryIt's a bit of a quiet tour to take in the 333,723sqm Seattle Central Library. After all, even though it's known for its modernist architecture, it's still a well-used library. Explore the nine levels open to the public to admire the bright neon escalators, lipstick-red hallways, and the slanted steel and glass roof that looks like an oversized chain-link fence. Despite budget woes and issues with the homeless, the US$165 million ($207 million) building remains a modern architectural achievement, full of ambition, for Seattle. For more information: spl.org

The Olympic Sculpture Park

Think of it as an outdoors' museum. The Olympic Sculpture Park, an extension of the Seattle Art Museum, provides visitors with the opportunity to relax on its green grass or stroll through its collection of artwork. There's the Eagle, with its red-painted steel pointy curves, benches that are giant eyes, an oversized typewriter eraser, a stainless steel tree, and 4.5m-high steel curved forms called Wake.

The park also features a walkway along the waterfront. Connected to the Sculpture park is Myrtle Edwards Park, a Port of Seattle waterfront property with a fishing dock that spits out over the water, and bike and walking trails.

Seattle Checklist

GETTING THERE: Air New Zealand flies to Los Angeles and connects from there with partner airlines to Seattle.

ONLINE: seattle.gov


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