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In the corner of the country, the Emerald City glitters like a beacon in the rain. Perhaps best known for coffee-swigging, grunge-grooving hipsters, this city can be an enigma to travelers. However, it offers unparalleled outdoor and cultural adventures, and fantastic vistas of Olympic and Cascade mountains and the Pacific Ocean. For today’s Destination of the Week, TPG Contributor Kate Gammon takes us to her native Seattle.
WHAT TO DO
Seattle is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. Home to the Space Needle, Boeing’s aircraft assembly plants, Microsoft, Amazon.com, Costco, Nintendo of America and Starbucks, the city has industry as well as recreational opportunities. It is situated on a narrow isthmus between Puget Sound (part of the Pacific Ocean) and Lake Washington, about 100 miles south of the border with Canada, but farther north than Toronto.
The city has around 4 million inhabitants, making it the 15th largest metropolitan area in the country. It grew because of the availability of lumber, as well as the gold rush in Alaska, but now has a thriving technology and biotech sector. Sure, the weather is somewhat dismal in the winter – but from July-September, Seattle has some of the most lovely summer days anywhere. Overall, the city receives less annual rainfall than New York City, but more days of rain since the precipitation comes in the form of endless drizzle.
In downtown, the Pike Place Market is Seattle’s largest tourist area, and it’s the oldest continuously operating farmers’ market in the United States. It is home to the famous fish market, the original Starbucks Coffee shop, and a large indoor and outdoor market with many local products. The Market is built on the edge of a steep hill, and consists of several lower levels located below the main level. Each features a variety of unique shops: antique dealers, comic book and collectible shops, and small family-owned restaurants. The upper street level contains fishmongers, fresh produce stands and craft stalls. Local farmers and craftspeople sell year-round in the arcades from tables they rent from the Market on a daily basis, in accordance with the Market’s mission and founding goal: allowing consumers to “Meet the Producer.”
Many other attractions in downtown are within walking distance of Pike Place Market, making it an ideal spot to commence any sightseeing trip of the city.
Downstairs is the original Starbucks coffee shop. Ever wondered where the name Starbucks came from? Originally the company was to be called Pequod, after a whaling ship from Moby Dick, but this name was rejected by some of the company’s co-founders. The company was instead named after the coffee-loving chief mate on the Pequod, Starbuck.
A short monorail ride away from downtown is Seattle’s most iconic landmark. While expensive to ride to the top at $19 for adults and $12 for children, the Space Needle is a must for visitors on a nice day. Built in 1962, the Space Needle served as the symbol of that year’s World’s Fair. It has since become the symbol of Seattle, and one of the most recognizable structures in the world.
The Space Needle is 605 feet high at its highest point and 138 feet wide at its widest point and weighs 9,550 tons. When it was completed it was the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River. Built to last, it can withstand winds of up to 200 miles per hour and earthquakes of up to 9.1 magnitude. The tower also has 25 lightning rods on its roof to prevent lightning damage.
At 520 feet, the observation deck is a great place to get a view of the city of Seattle as well as the surrounding mountains and ocean. A restaurant that rotates once per hour is also a nice stop. The elevators that reach the top of the needle travel at 10 miles per hour, reaching the observation deck in just 41 seconds.
Seattle is home to a number of top-notch museums. Downtown is home to the renowned Seattle Art Museum, which displays a good overview and assortment of art from around the world. In the Central District is the Seattle Asian Art Museum, an offshoot of the Seattle Art Museum which focuses on Chinese & Japanese Art, but includes works from as far away as India.
The Pacific Science Center is an interactive science museum, and nearby at the Seattle Center is the Experience Music Project, a museum dedicated to the history and exploration of popular music, science fiction and pop culture of Seattle. The Frank Gehry-designed museum building is located on the campus of the Seattle Center, adjacent to the Space Needle and the Seattle Center Monorail, which runs through the building. The EMP Museum was founded by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen and opened its doors in 2000.
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (known to locals as the Ballard Locks) are a unique way to see salmon and experience a bit of the complexity of living in proximity to so many bodies of water. The locks let water in and out to maintain the water level of the fresh water Lake Washington and Lake Union. They also prevent the mixing of sea water from Puget Sound with the fresh water of the lakes, and they move boats from the water level of the lakes to the water level of Puget Sound, and vice versa. In the visitor center, you can check out the fish ladders and if you’re lucky you’ll see huge Pacific Northwest salmon coming and going.
Pacific salmon are hatch in lakes, rivers, and streams—or, nowadays fish hatcheries—the migrate to sea, and only at the end of their life return to fresh water to spawn. When the Corps of Engineers first built the locks and dam, they changed the natural drainage route of Lake Washington. The locks and dam blocked all salmon runs out of the Cedar River watershed. To correct this problem, the Corps built a fish ladder as the locks were constructed to allow salmon to pass around the locks and dam.
Seattle has an amazing number of parks. At the UW Waterfront Activities center, you can rent a canoe to explore the UW arboretum — 230 acres of urban greenery with collections of oaks, conifers, camellias, Japanese maples and hollies. At the Woodland Park Zoo, animals roam in natural habitats. Gasworks Park in Wallingford is built on the former site of the city gas facility, and a few hulking tanks and pipes are preserved, giving it a slightly eerie feel. The hill at the center has a sundial on top, and offers a spectacular view of downtown across Union Bay, as well as gusts of wind great for kite-flying. The site may still have dirt contaminated with chemicals from the gas days.
Destination of the Week pieces are not meant to be comprehensive guides to destinations since we don’t have the time or funds to visit all these places in person and report back to you. Nor are they endorsements of all the hotels we mention. They are simply roundups of top destinations that we have specifically pinpointed for the opportunity they present to use your miles and points to get to and stay there. As always, we welcome your comments to help enrich the content here, provide opinions and first-hand experiences of these destinations.
Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (SEA) is located in the city’s southern suburbs. Domestically it’s a major hub for Pacific Northwest and West Coast destinations, and internationally handles frequent trans-Pacific routes, as well as direct flights to major European airports and to Abu Dubai. The airport is about a 25 minute drive from downtown Seattle when there isn’t heavy traffic, much longer during rush hour. A new train makes the journey from downtown in about 37 minutes for $2.75. WiFi is free at the airport and it’s easy to navigate.
The airport is the nation’s sixteenth-busiest, and the top airlines in terms of flights are: Alaska Airlines, Horizon Air, Delta, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines. The airport is a major hub for international destinations, including Tokyo, Seoul, Beijing, Taipei, as well as direct flights to Europe.
WHERE TO STAY
The Hilton Seattle boasts views of Puget Sound and is located in an ideal location to explore downtown. A lobby fireplace and comfy chairs pair nicely with free Wifi and cocktails or espresso. 237 rooms are furnished in warm earth tones and include amenities such as comfortable chairs with an ottoman, mini-refrigerator and 32-inch LCD TVs. The Top of the Hilton restaurant on the 29th floor has scenic views and a casual atmosphere – or if you’d rather, there is a lobby lounge with a large-screen TV and a variety of microbrews on tap. Rates in March start at $169. A category 7 HHonors property, 50,000 points are required for one free night.
There are also other Hilton properties in Seattle: the Homewood Suites by Hilton Seattle Downtown, the Doubletree by Hilton Seattle Airport, the Arctic Club Seattle, Homewood Suites by Hilton Seattle Convention Center, the Hampton Inn and Suites Downtown Seattle, and the Hilton Bellevue.
*Points figures are quoted in Hilton pre-change category requirements. These are available before March 28, 2013.
The Grand Hyatt Seattle is steps from Pike’s Place Market, Seattle Waterfront and the Space Needle. 425 rooms have views of downtown Seattle, Puget Sound and Lake Union and each has an oversize soaking tub in addition to a shower. The 3,800 square-foot health club features a sauna, steam room, whirlpool, massage and spa services on request, strength training and cardiovascular equipment. The four restaurants and cafes on the property include a conveyor-belt sushi restaurant – just grab the dishes when they pass your table and slurp down the fresh fish. Rates in March start at $264. 15,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points are required for a one-night stay at this Category 4 property.
The Hyatt at Olive 8 is one of the newer options in Seattle, and was the first hotel here to be LEED certified. The hotel blends eco-friendliness with Seattle luxury, boasting an array of innovative energy and water-saving features. 346 guestrooms have views of the Olympic mountains, flatscreen TVs – and the ability to organize in-room private yoga instruction. The Elaia spa features 12 treatment suites and a selection of pampering services including a 65-foot non-chlorinated lap pool (it uses a unique saltwater purification system), whirlpool and organic skin-care products. Yoga and Pilates classes are available daily at the spa. In addition the onsite restaurant, Urbane, uses local, seasonal and sustainable ingredients to create Northwest cuisine with flair. Rates in March start at $159. 12,000 Hyatt Gold Passport points are required for a one-night stay.
Seattle Marriott Waterfront: This is another downtown hotel with views. Guestrooms with balconies offer striking vistas of Mt. Rainier, Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. 345 guestrooms are steps from the Pike Place Market, and there’s a heated half indoor-half outdoor pool near the fitness club. In March, rates start at $189. A Marriott Rewards Category 7 hotel, 35,000 points are needed for a free one-night stay.
The Crowne Plaza Seattle is a newly-renovated 34-floor tower hotel near the convention center in the heart of downtown. With nearly 415 spacious rooms and 29 suites, the hotel also has a 24-hour business center and a fitness center. The location is great for sports fans, as the hotel is only a mile from Qwest and Safeco Fields. Shoppers enjoy that Nordstrom’s flagship store, Westlake Center and Pacific Place shopping malls are nearby. In March, rates start at $178. If you are using Priority Club points, 35,000 points are needed for a free one-night stay.
W Seattle: This urban retreat has 415 luxury guest rooms and 9 suites with views in downtown Seattle. All the rooms come with W’s special Bliss sinkside six-pack, signature pillowtop mattress, midnight bites in the Munchie Box, and gorgeous views from the plush banquette. The W is a pet-friendly hotel (there is a $25 extra charge per night and a $100 cleaning fee) that will offer your pooch a bed, walking services and turndown service for the little fellow. The W’s restaurant, Trace, offers products from the region’s top farms along with a selection of innovative sushi prepared daily at its 10-seat sushi bar. In March, rates start at $260. If you are using Starwood points, 12,000 points are needed for a one-night stay at this Category 5 property.
Westin Seattle: The Westin is located in the heart of the downtown area, with 891 guest rooms and suites feature panoramic views of the Puget Sound, Space Needle, and Cascade Mountains. The hotel has recently completed a $35 million renovation, so rooms are newly spruced up – Westin’s signature beds and baths are new. The hotel also features a 24-hour fitness studio with indoor pool and whirlpool. In March, rates start at $200. If you are using Starwood points, 10,000 points are needed for a one-night stay at this Category 4 property.
Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts
Fine Hotels & Resorts is a loyalty program for Amex Platinum cardholders who receive special benefits at participating hotels such as early check-in and late check-out, complimentary breakfast, room upgrades, and other perks.
Hotel 1000: The 120-room Hotel 1000 opened in 2006 to accolades. The developers used the standards of residential construction – touches like triple-pane windows – instead of those of commercial properties. The property is located in the heart of downtown, close to Pike Place Market as well as the nightlife hub of Pioneer Square. Rooms are plush with luxe bedding, and the bath includes a glass surround shower and a free-standing two-person “fill from the ceiling” pedestal tub. Several packages are available via Amex and perks can include a room upgrade, early checkin and late checkout – all dependent on the package booked directly through Amex Fine Hotels & Resorts. Rates in March start at $259.
Four Seasons Seattle: Sleek, modern interiors crafted of wood and stone bring the Northwest inside, while local artwork showcases the city’s creativity. 147 rooms and 10 suites adorn the 21-story tower. The hotel’s features include a 24-hour Fitness Centre featuring a whirlpool and a eucalyptus steam room, an infinity-edge heated pool, a rooftop terrace with cocktails and unparalleled views of Elliott Bay, and an outdoor fireplace. At the bottom of the pool, multidimensional lighting recreates the night sky. With Amex, perks can include a room upgrade, early check in, late checkout, complimentary continental breakfast for two and a $100 dining credit. Rates in March start at $315.
Visa Signature Hotels
When cardholders use a Visa Signature credit card to book a room through the Visa Signature Hotels program, they are eligible to receive extra perks such as discounted room rates, room upgrades, free breakfast, early check-in and late check-out, dining and spa credits and more. Visa Signature cards include the Chase Sapphire Preferred, Chase Sapphire, British Airways Visa, the Hyatt card, the Marriott Rewards Premier and Marriott Rewards cards, the Southwest Plus card, Bank of America’s Alaska Airlines and Hawaiian Airlines cards, Capital One Venture, Citi Hilton HHonors and Citi Hilton HHonors Reserve, US Bank FlexPerks, Citi AAdvantage Visa Signature, and many more, so chances are you’re carrying at least one of them in your wallet.
Fairmont Olympic: This classic hotel has been a landmark in the Northwest since opening in 1924. Located in the heart of downtown Seattle, Washington’s most preeminent hotel is just footsteps from the area’s finest shops, restaurants and entertainment attractions. Featuring Italian renaissance architecture and lavish amenities, the historic 450-room hotel combines traditional warmth with 21st century convenience and personalized service. With Visa Signature hotel benefits, you’ll get the best available rate guarantee, an automatic room upgrade upon arrival, when available, free in-room Internet, complimentary continental breakfast, 3PM check-out, when available, VIP guest status and a $25 food or beverage voucher to use at any of the dining facilities – which includes the world class Georgian Room restaurant. Rates in March start at $349.