A classic getaway: My first trip to Seattle for a long-awaited friend reunion
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I’ve always wanted to explore the Emerald City, so when I found myself in need of an escape following a breakup, I jumped at the chance to visit.
While the coffee culture, abundance of attractions and distance from home were appealing, it was my desire to visit my best friend Caroline — or Carol, as I’ll call her in this story to avoid confusion — for the first time since 2018 that drew me to Seattle.
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Carol and I met our freshman year of college and quickly bonded over our mutual love of Chicago. People assumed we were related, and as an only child, Carol became the sister I always wanted.
After college, we spent years apart and only reunited for a brief period back in Chicago. I moved back to the East Coast in 2017 and Carol moved to Seattle shortly before the pandemic, so we’ve eagerly waited for the day when we could meet in person again.
When I mapped out my first visit to the Pacific Northwest, I invited Carol to join. Despite the sideways rain we encountered at the start of our trip, we had a blast exploring the area. Below are our favorite attractions and activities from our visit.
Pike Place Market/Starbucks
Even though I only eat gluten- and dairy-free items due to dietary restrictions, my favorite way to get to know a city is through its food. When it comes to Pike Place Market, most travelers typically think of Pike Place Fish Market, which is famous for its fishmongers dressed in orange overalls who are willing and ready to throw fish upon request.
But I was surprised to find a variety of foods beyond the fish market area, including sit-down seafood restaurants, produce stalls, little grocery stores and stands selling items like soap, candles and flowers.
There was quite a bit outside the market, too. One of our favorites was Cinnamon Works Bakery, which has several baked items I could eat on its menu, plus a selection of regular items. We tried the chocolate chip cookie, blueberry muffin and cinnamon swirl muffin, all of which were delicious vegan and gluten-free options.
Just down a set of stairs was another market must-see: the Gum Wall. Located in Post Alley under the market, this brick wall is covered in chewing gum. This piece of “art” perfectly sums up Seattle — a bit grungy, definitely quirky.
But the star of the show for me was the original Starbucks at 1912 Pike Place, which has operated out of the same 1,000-square-foot space since 1971. I first started consuming Starbucks regularly in 2006 when a store opened by my parents’ house. Although my coffee shop preferences have widened since then, I still feel great pleasure in consuming coffee out of the original green-and-white Starbucks cup, which is why I deviated from my usual iced coffee and instead ordered a hot oat latte for the sake of this story.
As you might expect, the line at this Starbucks was long, so do factor in a decent chunk of time when planning your visit. Also note that it’s across from the market, so you can easily keep tabs on the Starbucks line while at the market and vice versa if the timing doesn’t work out exactly as planned.
Despite the brief departure from my iced beverage consumption, I drank plenty of iced lattes across Seattle’s nearly 1,800 coffee shops, including at Cherry Street Coffee House in Pioneer Square and at local Brazilian espresso and bakery chain Kitanda. The latter has multiple locations across the Seattle area, but we went to the one in Redmond as it was en route to our hike of the day. If you stop at Kitanda, be sure to order an acai bowl, preferably one with Brazil nuts. The one I had was the freshest I’ve tried to date.
The Space Needle
Next up was perhaps the most iconic tourist attraction in Seattle: the Space Needle. While I expected it to be similar to my first ride to the top of the Gateway Arch in St. Louis, where my cousin had a panic attack in the cramped elevator holding cell, I was equally pleased and disappointed that the ride to the top of the Space Needle was nothing like that of the Arch.
In fact, it was most similar to riding to the top of the Eiffel Tower, where about 10 of us fit comfortably in a window-filled elevator.
Although the Space Needle has the potential for epic views, the weather plays a large role in determining visibility once you reach the top. While it’s hard to plan around Seattle’s overcast skies (it averages 149 rainy days yearly) try to schedule your Space Needle visit on a clear day to enjoy the best views.
Chihuly Garden and Glass
After the Space Needle, check out Chihuly Garden and Glass at its base. You can get a discounted ticket to see both attractions for $57. I knew I had to go to appease my mother, who has repeatedly talked about the artist, Dale Chihuly, since seeing his “Glass in the Garden” exhibit at the Missouri Botanical Gardens in 2006.
I’m pleased to report that my mother was right. This exhibition is definitely worth seeing. While it’s mostly indoors, there are some outdoor areas to explore, so make sure you bring an umbrella.
The original Nordstrom
Another recommendation from my mother was a visit to the original Nordstrom on Pine Street in downtown Seattle. As someone who grew up in St. Louis, few things were more exciting than the arrival of the first of two Nordstroms in 2002. Since the store is a family favorite, I knew I had to work it into our itinerary.
While this store offered an above-average selection of beanies and puffer coats, the best-kept secret about Nordstrom — in my honest opinion — is the salads at Café Nordstrom. I have dreams about the mixed berry and chicken salad my aunt first introduced me to one Christmas at the Nordstrom in Scottsdale. That salad has remained a favorite for many years, though I now have another to add to the roster courtesy of Seattle: the Alderwood wild salmon and Asian pear salad. It features a mix of lettuce, radish, edamame, miso-glazed tofu and salmon, all topped with a ginger sesame dressing.
Whatever you do, do not skip the fried Brussels sprouts. They alone warrant a trip to Nordstrom.
The Fairmont Olympic Hotel
For accommodations, we opted to stay for free at my friend’s place. However, we knew we wanted to check out one property in particular: the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. The property remains a classic downtown Seattle hotel where guests and locals go to see and be seen, as evidenced by the large crowds gathered at the Olympic Bar before 5 p.m., so we decided to stop by for drinks and a bite to eat.
Although the bar and lobby area underwent a $25 million renovation in 2020, it beautifully combines elements of its past while feeling fresh and modern. Original terrazzo and marble flooring sit beneath chandeliers straight from Italy, and the ornate woodwork carried throughout the space offers a nice contrast to the contemporary artwork, board games and books accenting the space.
The only downside? The bar’s location in an upscale hotel means the drinks and food are expensive. Two appetizers cost us $40, and cocktails run anywhere from $12 to $30 per glass.
Ferry to Bainbridge Island
If you have time, you’ll also want to take the downtown ferry to Bainbridge Island for a few hours, a day or even a weekend trip. While we only spent an afternoon there, we had ample time to peruse Bainbridge’s various shops, restaurants and downtown area. We especially loved eating at Café Hitchcock on Winslow Way, which serves breakfast all day.
The one-way trip to Bainbridge Island took approximately 35 minutes and cost $9. All return trips to Seattle are free, so there is no toll for the trip back. Washington State Ferries is temporarily operating reduced sailing schedules on most routes, but service from Seattle to Bainbridge typically runs hourly.
Another must-do, if you have access to a car, is to drive roughly 40 minutes southeast of downtown to Snoqualmie Falls in Snoqualmie, Washington. Although we couldn’t actually see the falls due to — you guessed it— more rain, I am told the 268-foot-tall waterfall, which was first discovered by Native Americans in the early 1850s, exists.
I particularly enjoyed the connection to the heritage of the site: Snoqualmie is the English translation of a Salish word for moon, a name that the Snoqualmie Tribe gave the area because of its spiritual connection to several legends.
There’s also a 1.5-mile trail to the base of the falls that’s suitable for all ages and activity levels.
Another hike to consider is Mount Si in North Bend, which sits about 45 minutes southeast of Seattle. While we did not quite make it to the top of the 3,900-foot peak, 8-mile hike, we thoroughly enjoyed the view and photo opportunity, despite turning around halfway through.
Be sure to check out the overlook near the start of the trail that pays homage to former female state representative Frances North, who pioneered legislation to preserve Mount Si.
Seattle offers walkability, outdoor activities galore and a variety of interesting neighborhoods, from grungier ones like Capitol Hill to bougie South Lake Union to classic Queen Anne. Its hills rival San Francisco, and its easy access to nature makes it an excellent place for a girl’s trip outdoors.
Even though my visit was just for a few days, I was quickly able to leave behind the remnants of an old relationship and find a more gratifying form of love in Seattle.
As I enter my 30s single, I continue to realize the value of my female friends, regardless of our relationship statuses. Female friends are among life’s greatest blessings, and I am so lucky to have mine to laugh, cry and explore new cities with.
Featured photo by Caroline Tanner/The Points Guy
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