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Top 10 Things to Do In Seattle | Seattle Underground and More

Updated on October 13, 2014
Seattle Space Needle from inside Chihuly Garden and Glass
Seattle Space Needle from inside Chihuly Garden and Glass

In the far Northwestern corner of America sits a city that is known for many things -rain, coffee, grunge music, and one of the most famous farmers markets in America. Seattle, Washington is a city with a style and atmosphere all it's own.

While residents experience more rainy days than almost any city in the lower 48, you could swear they don't even notice most of the time. It is just a way of life and a factor that doesn't detract from the experience of living in the great Pacific Northwest.

First Starbucks Store
First Starbucks Store

Known for more than a few indulgences, the king of coffee retailers made it's humble start here and proceeded to conquer the world market. Starbucks Coffee Company pulls in annual gross sales of over $15 billion dollars a year and can claim over 23,000 locations.

In the 1990's the American music scene was taken over by a music genre called grunge, aptly nicknamed 'The Seattle Sound'. Bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam and Alice In Chains dominated popular radio and led to the extinction of other popular formats such as hair metal.

Pop Culture has incorporated the city into film and television with no less than seventy productions being set in the town. Movies include WarGames, Fifty Shades of Grey, Say Anything, and of course, Sleepless in Seattle. Television series include Frasier, Weeds, Grey's Anatomy, and Twin Peaks.

For commerce, the city boasts one of the largest and most recognizable companies in the world. Microsoft was founded in the greater Seattle area in 1975 and has since expanded to become a Fortune 500 company. It's campus is the size of a city in itself. Boeing also takes residence here and provides a large employment base to the citizens of Seattle.

For a vacation destination it is an excellent choice for someone who has the time and wants to enjoy a variety of experiences. Visitors will not have to search for things to occupy their time. To this effect I offer the following as a non-exclusive list of the best things to do in Seattle.

Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market

Pike Place Market

For over 100 years residents and tourists alike have come to Pike Place Market to purchase fresh seafood, fruits, vegetables, and a multitude of other goods. Over 10 million people a year visit this institution of everything Seattle each year, making it one of the most well known farmers markets in America.

The lower level of the market holds charms of it's own. Stroll down one of the ramps and old staircases to discover the "Down Under". This floor consists of many small shops housing crafts and other specialty goods. The atmosphere is unique with old wood floors and columns that previously held farmer stalls in the early 1900's. Art murals will compete for your attention beside the many small shops holding one of a kind gifts.

Coffee Lover? It just so happens that the FIRST Starbucks is located right across the street. While it now seems there is a Starbucks on every corner, this location is the only one that also holds status as a tourist attraction. Rarely will you not find a line out the door of people wanting to be able to say they had a coffee at the original locale.

Market Theater Gum Wall
Market Theater Gum Wall

Market Theater Gum Wall

Gum Wall? Yes, you read the title correctly. There is an offbeat attraction in Seattle that consists of tens of thousands of pieces of chewed gum placed in perpetuity down a brick alleyway.

Located just a stones throw from the Pike Place market, you will still need to have an idea where it is to locate it. Look for Post Alley just below the main farmers market. Once there, there will be no doubt you found your destination. The walls from ground level to above your head will be absolutely plastered with chewed gum of all colors.

Recent reports have shown city workers scraping and pressure washing the disgusting germ ridden masses away. However, this includes only those lumps which reside outside of the allotted space. Since the wall is such a popular attraction, it had expanded over 40 feet past where the city would allow. Apparently the attraction is recognized as something that is to be kept, but it is acknowledged that we don't need any more of it.

Seattle Space Needle
Seattle Space Needle

The Seattle Space Needle

There is no more iconic symbol of the American Northwest than that of the Space Needle. Constructed for the Worlds Fair in 1962, the landmark was built to withstand the worst that Mother Nature could throw at her. Earthquake? It would take one over 9.1 on the Richter Scale to bring her down. For reference, there have only been three earthquakes in the 20th and 21st centuries that have measured over that. Winds? It can withstand a velocity of over 200 miles per hour. Electrical Storm? There are twenty-five lightning rods equipped to handle the voltage.

Located in the Seattle Center, the tower allows visitors to travel by elevator to the observation deck that is located 520 feet up. From the top there are breathtaking views of the Seattle Skyline, Puget Sound, Mount Rainier, and the Olympic and Cascade Mountains. A nighttime visit is no less striking as you witness the lights of the city as they reflect over the water.

For those craving a bite to eat while at the attraction, the Space Needle houses the SkyCity Restaurant which is located at 500 feet. Visitors can enjoy a 360 degree view of the skyline as they dine on dishes prepared by a top class chef.


Seattle Underground
Seattle Underground

The Seattle Underground

For those who love history (this author included), the Seattle Underground Tour is a fascinating trip into the past. The story of these underground tunnels and passageways that date back to the 19th century traces it's roots to the Great Seattle Fire of 1889.

After 31 blocks of the town were destroyed and scheduled to be rebuilt, city leaders decided to put together a blueprint on how to help prevent multiple problems that had plagued the town in the past. First off, all new buildings were to be built out of brick or stone instead of the wood which had gone down so easily in the Great Fire. Second, since the city was prone to flooding because of it's location on filled-in tidelands, the streets were to be built up two stories higher than they currently were. This would also solve the plumbing problem that resulted in toilets backing up during high tide and filling the streets with human waste.

Initially, people would walk on the submerged sidewalks and climb up ladders to cross the streets. In time, the footpaths were also rebuilt at the same level which caused these old walkways to be underground. Once this happened, businesses moved to the "new" first floor and kept the lower, now submerged floors, for storage or other activities.

The Underground slowly became a haven for seedy activity including prostitution and drugs. In 1907 the area was condemned and shut down due to fear of the Bubonic Plague. It was felt that the rats that took up residence in this subterranean world were carriers of the disease and needed to be quarantined. Left to deteriorate, the underground was slowly forgotten as time passed.

While much of the area was not preserved or is not accessible, a small portion was brought back to life and made into a tourist destination. Visitors can travel through some of the areas and get a feeling for what it may have been like years ago.


Chihuly Garden and Glass
Chihuly Garden and Glass

Chihuly Garden and Glass

Located in the Seattle Center, Chiluly Garden and Glass is an exhibit consisting of blown glass figures created by Dale Chihuly, a man renowned for the craft. The museum was built in 2012 and includes and exhibition hall, an outside garden, and a glasshouse.

While some may question if this is a worthwhile attraction (as I initially did), it has a unique way of keeping your attention and the artwork really is worth seeing. It is amazing the shapes and colors the artist can transform glass into. Especially striking is how his creations fit in when they are placed side by side with living plants and flora.

Note that this is not the only attraction in the Seattle Center. There is also a Childrens Museum, a science center, and performing art locations. A large commons area provides many different dining choices to suit any appetite- most fast food.

Also worthy of mentioning is that of the Monorail which runs from downtown to the Center. Originally constructed in 1962 for the World's Fair, this method of transportation glides riders along an elevated track at a speed of 45 miles per hour. Think of it as a higher class subway. If spending a day at the Seattle Center give it a try.

Seattle Chinatown
Seattle Chinatown

Chinatown International District

While it doesn't hold a candle to it's relative in San Francisco, the version located in Seattle holds charms of it's own. Not only is the area inhabited by Chinese immigrants, it also plays host to other ethnic groups including Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Hmong and Thai. The district claims the distinction of being the oldest neighborhood in Seattle.

For anyone who wants authentic Asian fare, this is the place to go. Foodies will enjoy the different restaurants that carry both traditional dishes and a hybrid of meshed cultural favorites.

The Wing Luke Museum which is affiliated with the Smithsonian is located here for those wishing to learn more about the Asian American experience. The Lunar New Year Festival is held every January or February and pulls thousands of participants interested in parade floats and traditional dancing.

Seattle, Washington

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Washington State Ferries

Due to the geology of Puget Sound, there are many islands and land masses that are not connected to the mainland. To solve this problem Washington State operates a wide fleet of passenger ferries to carry both people and cars between these population centers.

While meant to be functional in nature, this transportation system also works as an attraction in itself. While locals may use the system to get back and forth between work, tourists view it as a way to catch a view of the city from on the water. This alone make it one of the largest tourist attractions in the state.

As a day trip many indulge in an a visit to Bainbridge Island where the city offers visitors an assortment of shops and places to eat. The ride takes a little over a half hour and the picture opportunities are plentiful as you can see from the snapshot attached to this capsule.

Pioneer Square
Pioneer Square

Pioneer Square

Situated in the middle of what was the original Seattle downtown sits Pioneer Square. The original buildings which were constructed of wood long ago burned to the ground in the Great Fire of 1889. As a result facilities constructed of brick and stone were quickly populated and resulted in the late 19th century architecture you see Today.

This historic district holds a variety of attractions including the Klondike Gold Rush Historic Park, The Seattle Underground Tour, a Fallen Fire Fighter Memorial, and various art galleries, restaurants and shops. A visit during any time will find activity, with street performers frequently playing for tips.

For those interested in both kinds of spirits, take a walk a few blocks south and enter the Central Tavern. Originating in 1892, the tavern has served gold miners, sailors, and loggers over it's long and storied history. In addition to serving as a tavern, the location has served as a post office, a card tavern, and a brothel among other things.

Upon walking into the bar you will get the feeling that you are going back in time, with a large wooden bar looking down over you. Ask the bartenders and you will get more than a few tales of haunted activity.

Upon my visit I was shown a picture taken a few days earlier by a musician who was setting up on stage and kept getting touched on the back, only to find no one was there. The individual took a picture of what he thought was nothing only to have a ghostly image appear upon looking at the shot.

Added to this, bar inventory is held in the old Underground level and certain employees will not go down there due to paranormal experiences encountered in the past. The stories, whether true or not, are worth hearing as one soaks in the historic atmosphere. I definitely recommend a stop if you are in need of a spirited beverage.

Seattle Waterfront

Once the home of piers and docks that housed the maritime industry, the waterfront area has been transformed into an entertainment destination.. On any given day you will find people flocking to the area to look upon the Sound and enjoy the local restaurants and attractions.

'Ivars Acres of Clams' on the Pier 54 waterfront is a Seattle staple that demands a visit when in town. Opened in 1938 by Seattle icon Ivar Haglund, the restaurant has been serving up it's famous clam chowder and signature fish and chips to hungry patrons ever since.

Tracing it's roots back to an aquarium opened by the namesake, Ivar's has achieved pop culture status with ad campaigns imploring people to "Eat At Ivars!". A statue was even erected in honor of the owner with locals voting him "the person who best exemplified Seattle".

The Seattle Aquarium sits on the water offering visitors the change to see exhibits which feature wildlife from Puget Sound and surrounding areas. It is the ninth largest aquarium in the United States and plays guest to over a half million visitors each year.

The 'Seattle Great Wheel' rises above the boardwalk and offers a chance to ride a closed climate cabin Ferris Wheel above the waters. Up to six riders fit in each car. The views of the Sound during the daytime or nighttime hours are spectacular.


Professional Sports

The city offers quite a few professional sporting teams but there are two that stand out above the rest. Both play at the same stadium and rarely is there ever an unfilled seat. The twelfth man is alive and well at CenturyTel field in downtown Seattle.

The Seattle Seahawks took hold of their first ever NFL Championship in 2013, transforming a town known for having an NFL team, to a city rabidly obsessed with football. Every home game sees the local crowd hoist a flag in appreciation to the fans that make this one of the loudest sports stadiums in the world.

Another sport takes precedence among the citizens of the area, and that sport is soccer. The Seattle Sounders are lucky to have the largest fan base in all of MLS, with sellouts a regular occurrence. While many games are played in the rain the spectators take little notice of it and loudly support the home team.

For anyone who wishes to attend games for either of these teams, good luck. Tickets are only available on the secondary market, and usually for an inflated price. For those able to nab a seat bring your earplugs.

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