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Family Travel Tips for Seattle

Emerald City, Here We Come!

– by Amy Graff


But first, who's Amy? A writer for Best Western's Travel Blog – You Must Be Trippin' – Amy is, well, better let her tell it:

"I'm a girl on the go. I travel for fun. For work. With my kids. With my husband. With my girlfriends. For me, traveling is not about luxury. It's about getting out there and experiencing new things. Best Western signed me up because, like me, they want to get people talking about travel. So let's talk! Tell me your travel tales, teach me your tips, and, when the airline loses your luggage, feel free to throw a temper tantrum. Believe me, I understand."


Our family welcomed a new baby two months ago. For obvious reasons we spent our summer at home changing diapers. This is unlike our family. We're usually on the go in July and August.

And so we decided that as soon as Julia hit the two-month mark (the time when most experts agree babies are ready to travel), we'd leave town.

Since our two older kids are in school a long weekend is our only option.

Where to go that's close to San Francisco? Seattle!

It's an easy two-hour flight from S.F. to this dazzling city that gets its best weather in the fall. You can't beat a clear, balmy day in Seattle, with the sparkling waters of Puget Sound, the grassy parks and meandering walkways, and the Cascades and Olympic mountains, covered in a light sprinkling of powdered sugar, circling the cityscape. What's more, Seattle has all the makings of a family vacation with a zoo, an aquarium, a science museum, and a 605-foot-tall space-age tower rising above it all.

"We have to go up the Space Needle," my 9-year-old son said when I told him about the trip. "We might see space ships from up there."

I didn't have the heart to tell him that we probably wouldn't see any flying saucers but I did say that I hope we get some sunny days for optimal viewing.

 

Save money by purchasing a CityPASS.

Seattle is loaded with family attractions, from the Experience Music Project where you can check out George Lucas's original sketches of Darth Vader to the Seattle Aquarium where a 64-pound octopus gets fed twice daily at noon and 4 p.m. And then there's the sleek and slender Space Needle topped with a saucer that looks like it's meant for space voyages to Mars.

All of these places charge admission and if you want to do it all, you'll need to spend some money. But you can drastically cut back on the expense with a CityPASS. By purchasing admission to several attractions you get nearly 50 percent off the price. You also get to skip ticket lines.

The Seattle CityPASS includes admission to the Space Needle (two visits), Seattle Aquarium, Argosy Cruises, Pacific Science Center, EMP Museum, and either the Woodland Park Zoo or the Museum of Flight. An adult pass costs $74, saving you $60; a kid pass is $49, saving you $40. You have nine days to visit the attractions.

 

Take public transportation from the airport into town.

We landed at Sea-Tac airport at 4:30 p.m. Our next stop was the Best Western PLUS Executive Inn in downtown Seattle.

But how to get there? If we rented a car or took a taxi we knew we'd hit the roads smack in the middle of rush hour. Seattle supposedly has some of the worst traffic in the United States.

We decided to take the Link light rail – a great decision. The clean, modern train whisked us downtown in 45 minutes and cost only $8 for our family of five (obviously the newborn was free).

Even on a Friday night we all got seats, and we were sitting among a group of 90-year-old vets who flew planes in World War II. A rapper from Los Angeles found the men remarkable. When he spotted their World War II jackets, he called out, "No way! You guys were in World War II. That's like way cool." And then he proceeded to rap off the top of his head. We were all howling with laughter and clapping.

The Link ends at the Westlake Station and then it's a short walk to the Monorail ($6.50 for our family of five). This elevated, aerodynamic train zips for one mile from downtown to Seattle Center and when we stepped on I thought we might see the Jetsons on board. Huge windows that rise from the ground to the ceiling offer big views of the skyline and the Space Needle. My sons eyes were the size of flying-saucers on this ride that he called "so awesome."

The Monorail dropped us at the foot of the Space Needle and then it less than a five minute walk to the Best Western PLUS Executive Inn – although we took our time to get some photographs of Seattle's most iconic structure.

Door to door, from the airport to our hotel, it took us about one hour and 15 minutes and we spent only $14.50.

 

Visit the Space Needle at the right time.

We arrived in Seattle on Friday night and after dinner we decided to visit the top of the Space Needle. With our CityPASSes in hand, we walked right into an elevator and in 41 seconds we shot to the top of the city's world-famous icon, originally built for the 1962 World's Fair.

Even on an overcast night, the view was breathtaking and resembled something out of a Batman movie, with twinkling skyscrapers giving the fog a yellow glow.

The experience was particularly special because my father was at the World's Fair. "See that football field down below," my father said. "For the World's Fair that was a lake and they had a water ski show."We circled our way around the viewing deck, only a few other lone tourists among us, as my dad pointed out attractions from the fair. We could see the Pacific Science Museum below and he remembered an exhibit featuring appliances of the future: a microwave, refrigerator...

We all fell in love with the Space Needle that night and on Saturday afternoon my 9-year-old son announced that he wanted to visit the top again at sunset. We all liked the idea. Since the fog had cleared, we figured the view would be even more spectacular and we'd get a look at the surrounding mountains.

We arrived at the Space Needle at 7 p.m. as the sun was sinking toward Puget Sound, but this time we didn't walk right up to the elevator. Instead we waited in a line that snaked around the base for an hour.

When we arrived at the top, the sky was nearly dark except for a swath of pink washed across it, the last remainder of a sunset we missed. The viewing deck was packed and we had to fight for a spot to take in Seattle's twinkling lights. No matter, my kids were thrilled to be at the top of the Space Needle once again and we took these gorgeous photos.

What I learned:

  • If you don't want to wait in a long line for the Space Needle go in the early morning between 9 and 10 a.m. or late at night, after 9 p.m.
  • If you want to catch the sunset from the Space Needle, get in line at least an hour and a half before the sun sets and prepare to wait in line.

 

Go quackers on a Duck tour.

The best – and most – entertaining way to see Seattle is on a Ride the Ducks Tour, which you can pick up in Seattle Center just a block from the Best Western PLUS Executive Inn.

On these wild and raucous tours, a group of tourists load into a World War II amphibious landing craft that whirls around the city past the top sights and then drops into Puget Sound, offering breathtaking views of the Seattle cityscape.

Along the way a flamboyant and high-energy tour guide – who either drank eight cups of Starbucks before coming into work or is a close relative of Richard Simmons – shares facts about the city, plays funky music and cracks jokes that are laugh-out-loud funny. The tourists are all invited to enjoy the fun by blowing on yellow duck-bill-shaped noise makers.

I'm pretty sure our captain, who called himself Flip, drank 10, not the required eight, cups of Starbucks. He had more energy than anyone I've ever encountered. He was dancing, hooting, hollering and rattling off jokes throughout the entire tour: "That's Pioneer Square! I don't know why they call it a square when it's really shaped like a triangle. Must have been budget cuts."

We rolled past the Space Needle, the aquarium and bustling waterfront, through the hip Fremont District and under the Aurora Bridge where we got a look at the Ballard Troll before diving into Puget Sound where we motored past the Sleepless In Seattle houseboat. As Flip told a few jokes about Meg Ryan ("She drove over that bridge the wrong way), he turned on the movie's theme song, An Affair to Remember. In fact, Flip played music throughout the adventure, all of it cleverly chosen. When the Duck dove into the Sound, we listened to the theme song from the TV show Gilligan's Island.

The highlight of the tour: Flip invited guests to come to the front of the ship and sit in the "captain's seat." We decided that our 2-month-old baby had to visit the bow. Flip was so overwhelmed by her cuteness that he couldn't even think of a funny crack to make.

At the end of the tour, we got a special photo with Captain Flip.

 

Go out for pizza.

A tale of two pizzas: Dining out at Tutta Bella and Serious Pie

My husband's cousin lives in Seattle with her kids and she recommended two pizza places for dinner: Tutta Bella and Serious Pie. We tried both and liked them both but for entirely different reasons. Here's the lowdown.

Tutta Bella
Tutta Bella dishes up fresh, plentiful salads and chewy, charred thin-crust pizzas. You can start with a plate of brushetta and order a nice glass of pinot grigio. This is a place that will please adults palate but it's also kid friendly. Children can order the margherita pizza (cheese and a little basil) and choose a flavor from the gelato bar. There's also a spacious outdoor patio where families can sneak away and not be overly concerned about bothering fellow diners. We felt entirely comfortable and welcome dining here with our baby and two older kids. We could easily walk to the Westlake location from our hotel, the Best Western PLUS Executive Inn.

Serious Pie

With 10 restaurants, his own radio show and farm, Tom Douglas is Seattle's James Beard Award-winning celebrity chef. I wouldn't push a stroller through the door of most of his places such as Dahlia Lounge and Lola. But your well-behaved kids and sleeping babies will be warmly welcomed at his downtown gourmet pizzeria where pies come topped with unusual ingredients such as kale, potatoes and homemade fennel sausage. My kids especially liked the root beer floats and I enjoyed the best slice of coconut cream pie I've ever tasted. But be prepared to wait. We couldn't even get in on Friday night and we waited two hours (went to the top of the Space Needle and down) on Saturday. Was it worth it? My daughter would tell you, definitely yes, for the rootbeer float.

 

20 fun things to do with kids in Seattle

Traveling to Seattle with kids? Here are 20 fun things to do.

1) Catch the octopus feeding at the Seattle Aquarium. The aquarium’s most famous resident is undoubtedly Olive Oil the Octopus. She’s curled up in a big ball most of the time but she spreads her tentacles and swims around twice a day during special feedings at noon and 4 p.m.

2) Go “quackers” on a Ride the Ducks tour. The best – and most – entertaining way to see Seattle is on one of these wild and raucous tours. A group of tourists load into a World War II amphibious landing craft that whirls around the city past the top sights and then drops into Puget Sound, offering breathtaking views of the Seattle cityscape. All along the way a high-energy tour guide, who must have consumed eight cups of Starbucks before coming into work, plays funky music and cracks jokes.

3) Enter a dreamy world of color at the Chihuly Garden and Glass. Massive brightly colored blown-glass sculptures fill this museum showcasing designs by famed artist Dale Chihuly. It’s a magical world that you thought only existed in a Dr. Seuss book.

4) Go out for pizza at Tutta Bella. This pizza restaurant dishes up fresh, plentiful salads and chewy, charred thin-crust pizzas.  Adults can start with a plate of bruschetta and order a nice glass of pinot grigio. Children will enjoy the margherita pizza (cheese and a little basil) and can choose a flavor from the gelato bar. The spacious outdoor patio is perfect for families.

5) Ride the Monorail. It’s like a Disneyland ride! This elevated train whisks passengers between downtown and Seattle. Huge windows that rise from the ground to the ceiling offer big views of the skyline and the Space Needle.

6) See tons of airplanes at the Museum of Flight. Brightly colored airplanes hang like giant toys from the ceiling of this museum at Boeing Field. Outside you can walk in the footsteps of Presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson and Nixon and tour an Air Force One plane. Don’t miss the Concorde, the world’s fastest jetliner, on display.

7) Bite into a burger at Uneedaburger. These aren’t everyday hamburgers. The Sonora comes with roasted chili relish, jack cheese and cilantro. The Monsieur is topped with Black Forest ham, Gruyère cheese and Dijon-mayo. The cremini mushroom is served with porcini and black truffle salt, shallots and Gruyère. Gourmet? Yes! Delicious? You bet. And of course, this Fremont District burger shack can dish up a plain burger for the kiddos.

8) Get eye-to-eye with Jimi Hendrix at the Experience Music Project (EMP). If anything, you need to stand outside this shimmering, undulating building designed by Frank Gehry and admire the unusual architecture—that was inspired by one of Jimi Hendrix’s smashed guitars. It’s also worth stepping inside to learn more about Hendrix, who was a Seattle local, and other famous rock stars. A science fiction museum attached to the EMP houses a huge collection of props, costumes and models from sci-fi films and TV shows.

9) Go on an Underground Tour. Seattle is actually made up of two cities. Huh? There’s the modern-day above-ground city that’s built on top of the early city that’s now underground. This tour takes you into that subterranean world dating back to the 1800s and established during the Klondike Gold Rush.

10) Shop for souvenirs at Ye Olde Curiosity Shop. This waterfront shop is the spot to pick up a kitschy souvenir: Think Space Needle key chains, hand-carved miniature totem poles and “I love Seattle” T-shirts. It’s also a “museum” featuring weird and freaky treasures such as shrunken heads, a stuffed four-legged chicken and a display of fleas wearing dresses. Creepy and touristy? Yes, but your kids will love it.

11) Talk with the animals at the Woodland Park Zoo. This zoological garden is home to over 1,100 animals from tiny insects to the largest land mammal on the planet, the African elephant. In the tropical rainforest toucans show off their pretty feathers and big beaks, in the arctic area penguins march across faux snow, and in the African savannah you might even hear a lion roar.

12) Get your ya-yas out at Green Lake. A 2.8 mile walking path circles this pretty lake teeming with birds. Stop at the playground along the way.

13) Enjoy a scoop from Molly Moon’s Homemade Ice Cream. Melted chocolate, honey lavender, salted caramel—choosing a flavor at this favorite shop is next to impossible, so why not get two scoops? The cream comes from a Washington dairy and most of the other ingredients are locally sourced. Five Seattle locations.

14) Scale the climbing wall at the REI Flagship Store. Outdoor retailer REI is based in Seattle and their flagship store features a massive climbing wall called the Pinnacle. Make a reservation for a 15-minute climb or take a class.

15) Get your kids excited about science at the Pacific Science Center. Find loads of hands-on exhibits giving kids fun lessons in physics, chemistry and biology at this museum originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair. Don’t miss the Tropical Butterfly House where a real butterfly just might land on your head. Also, check out a movie in the IMAX theater. Plan to spend several hours here.

16) Step back in time at the Klondike Gold Rush Museum. Exhibits, photos and news clippings bring alive the years of the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush, when Seattle was a pit stop for miners on their way to strike it rich in Canada’s Yukon.

17) Take in spectacular views from the top of the Space Needle. This iconic, sleek structure rising above the city looks like a model built for a sci-fi film. It’s really cool to look at but even more fun to shoot up to the top (takes 41 seconds in an elevator) and take in spectacular views. Plan to wait in line if you hope to catch the sunset.

18) Buy a CityPASS and get museum discounts. Seattle is loaded with family attractions, and if you want to do it all, you'll need to spend some money. But you can drastically cut back on the expense with a CityPASS. By purchasing admission to several attractions you get nearly 50 percent off the total price at the Space Needle (two visits), Seattle Aquarium, Argosy Cruises, Pacific Science Center, EMP Museum, and either the Woodland Park Zoo or the Museum of Flight. You have nine days to visit the attractions.

19) Have lunch at the Ballard Sunday Farmers’ Market. Farm-fresh produce comes to this year-round market by the truckload and it’s fun to walk around and sample the purple carrots, sweet melons and crispy apples. You can also grab lunch from one of the stalls dishing up fresh dishes such as tandoori masala, French crepes, falafels, tamales, even mini donuts.

20) Run around (and take in pretty views) at Jefferson Park. The sixth largest park in Seattle offers unparalleled views of the Olympic Mountains, the Cascades, Elliott Bay, Downtown and the Space Needle. Mom and dad gaze at the scenery while the kids enjoy the playground with an awesome climbing wall. Plus, lots of trails for bike riders.

Best Western Hotels Along the Way:

1

Best Western Plus Mountain View Auburn Inn

401 8th Street SW, Auburn WA 98001-5901
Phone: (253) 887-7600  |  Fax: (253) 887-0292  |  Hotel Details & Reservations »

2

Best Western Plus Bainbridge Island Suites

350 High School Road NE, Bainbridge Island WA 98110-1661
Phone: (206) 855-9666  |  Fax: (206) 855-9790  |  Hotel Details & Reservations »

3

Best Western Plus Edmonds Harbor Inn

130 W Dayton Street, Edmonds WA 98020-4130
Phone: (425) 771-5021  |  Fax: (425) 672-2880  |  Hotel Details & Reservations »

4

Best Western Cascadia Inn

2800 Pacific Avenue, Everett WA 98201-4528
Phone: (425) 258-4141  |  Fax: (425) 258-4755  |  Hotel Details & Reservations »

5

Best Western Plus Navigator Inn & Suites

10210 Evergreen Way, Everett WA 98204-3861
Phone: (425) 347-2555  |  Fax: (425) 347-2554  |  Hotel Details & Reservations »

6

Best Western Plus Seattle/Federal Way

32124 25th Avenue S, Federal Way WA 98003-6014
Phone: (253) 529-4000  |  Fax: (253) 529-3555  |  Hotel Details & Reservations »

7

Best Western Wesley Inn & Suites

6575 Kimball Drive, Gig Harbor WA 98335-1227
Phone: (253) 858-9690  |  Fax: (253) 858-9893  |  Hotel Details & Reservations »

8

Best Western Plus Plaza by the Green

24415 Russell Road, Kent WA 98032-1787
Phone: (253) 854-8767  |  Fax: (253) 850-7667  |  Hotel Details & Reservations »

9

Best Western Sky Valley Inn

19233 State Route 2, Monroe WA 98272-1513
Phone: (360) 794-3111  |  Fax: (360) 794-0179  |  Hotel Details & Reservations »

10

Best Western Executive Inn

200 Taylor Avenue N, Seattle WA 98109-5016
Phone: (206) 448-9444  |  Fax: (206) 374-2548  |  Hotel Details & Reservations »

11

Best Western Seattle Airport Hotel

20717 International Boulevard, Seattle WA 98198-5808
Phone: (206) 878-3300  |  Fax: (206) 824-9000  |  Hotel Details & Reservations »

12

Best Western Plus Pioneer Square Hotel

77 Yesler Way, Seattle WA 98104-2530
Phone: (206) 340-1234  |  Fax: (206) 467-0707  |  Hotel Details & Reservations »

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