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A classic getaway: My first trip to Seattle for a long-awaited friend reunion

Dec. 27, 2021
10 min read
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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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(Photo by Caroline Tanner/The Points Guy)

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.

Related: 5 reasons why Seattle should be your fall vacation destination

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.

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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.

Related: Seattle is testing a new system that lets travelers make a reservation at the TSA checkpoint

Coffee shops

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.

Related: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is setting new standards for public art

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.

Related: Seattle-Tacoma International Airport 101: A guide to the lounges at SEA

Snoqualmie Falls

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.

Mount Si

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.

Related: Pretty but pricey: Seattle’s newest luxury Hilton the Hotel 1000 – LXR Hotels and Resorts

Bottom line

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 image by (Photo by Caroline Tanner/The Points Guy)
Editorial disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are the author’s alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, airline or hotel chain, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities.

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TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
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2 - 10X points
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Intro offer

75,000 bonus miles
Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

Annual Fee

$395

Recommended Credit

740-850
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Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

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Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
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  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023
Best card for premium perks while traveling
TPG Editor‘s Rating
Card Rating is based on the opinion of TPG‘s editors and is not influenced by the card issuer.
4 / 5
Go to review

Rewards Rate

10XEarn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel
5X5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel.
2X2 Miles per dollar on every purchase, every day
  • Intro Offer
    Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel

    75,000 bonus miles
  • Annual Fee

    $395
  • Recommended Credit
    Credit ranges are a variation of FICO© Score 8, one of many types of credit scores lenders may use when considering your credit card application.

    740-850
    Excellent

Why We Chose It

The Capital One Venture X card is one of the best all-round travel credit cards ever launched. Not only is it offering a tremendous welcome bonus, but cardholders can earn tons of miles on everyday spending and receive a 10,000-mile anniversary bonus to boot. Its annual fee is $395, but cardholders can count on up to $300 in statement credits toward travel booked through Capital One Travel each year and other valuable benefits like access to Priority Pass lounges and Capital One’s own growing family of airport lounges.

Pros

  • Excellent welcome offer worth 75,000 miles after you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first three months.
  • Up to $300 in annual travel statement credits toward bookings make through Capital One Travel.
  • 10,000 bonus miles (worth $100 toward travel) each account anniversary.

Cons

  • The $395 annual fee might be expensive for some, but this card’s benefits provide much more value than that.
  • If you don’t travel frequently, this might not be the best card for you.
  • Earn 75,000 bonus miles when you spend $4,000 on purchases in the first 3 months from account opening, equal to $750 in travel
  • Receive up to $300 back annually as statement credits for bookings through Capital One Travel, where you'll get Capital One's best prices on thousands of options
  • Get 10,000 bonus miles (equal to $100 towards travel) every year, starting on your first anniversary
  • Earn unlimited 10X miles on hotels and rental cars booked through Capital One Travel and 5X miles on flights booked through Capital One Travel
  • Earn unlimited 2X miles on all other purchases
  • Unlimited complimentary access for you and two guests to 1,400+ lounges, including Capital One Lounges and our Partner Lounge Network
  • Receive up to a $100 credit for Global Entry or TSA PreCheck®
  • Use your Venture X miles to easily cover travel expenses, including flights, hotels, rental cars and more—you can even transfer your miles to your choice of 15+ travel loyalty programs
  • Named editors' choice for "Best New Credit Card of 2021" by The Points Guy
  • Earn 10 miles per dollar when you book on Turo, the world's largest car sharing marketplace, through May 16, 2023