When it was built, the Space Needle was certainly the dominant feature of the Seattle skyline. However, over the past 40 years, many newer and very tall buildings have been built in Seattle. Today, the Columbia Center offers Skyview, which claims to be the "tallest public viewing area West of the Mississippi" (obviously views from natural hills are not included in this!). In July of 2013 a newly remodeled version of the Skyview was unveiled to the public, and I have not had a chance to visit since this opened.
The tallest structure in Seattle today, and at one time the tallest structure west of the Mississippi River, the Columbia Center located on the southern end of downtown, but still right in the core of Seattle. When it was first completed, it was called the "Columbia Center" and that is the name that is still used on a number of maps. It went through a period where it was known as the "Seafirst Center" when Seafirst Bank owned it, and there was some effort to refer to it as the Bank of America Tower when that bank took over Seafirst. Bank Of America Tower created the nickname "BOAT". Giving up in defeat, Bank of America determined they would go back to the original Columbia Center name, which is what many in Seattle never stopped calling it.
"Skyview" refers to the observation deck on the 73rd floor of the building. It costs $12.50 to get in these days (in 2009 it was only $5). There is also a "Sky Lobby" which is actually a Starbucks coffee house located on the 40th floor. Don't get confused with where the signs are telling you to go! The view from the "Sky Lobby" is quite terrible due to surrounding buildings.
In the center of the building are a set of elevators that go to the 40th floor. If you take those up to the 40th floor, you need to follow the signs to elevators that continue on to the 73rd floor. There is no set of public elevators that serve all floors. I've been told that the instructions for getting to the Skyview have been significantly improved since my 2009 visit.
When I visited in 2009, it was possilble to see east, south, and west from here, and to a limited extent the northwest, but there was no full 360 degree view as offices on the north side of the floor blocked that part of the building. However, it was possible to see Mount Rainer, the Olympic Peninsula and Olypmic Mountians, and much of downtown Seattle as well as parts of the Cascades. Today, the web site for the Skyview claims that there is a full 360 degree view and other people have said that it is possible to see the Space Needle from here - which you could not when I visited due to the offices taking up the north side of this floor.
This is a much less expensive view point than the top of the Space Needle - even with the price over double the 2009 prices, and provides views that are not possible in the Space Needle today due to the size of the buildings downtown. Watch the hours! The Skyview doesn't open until 10 in the morning, but it does now stay open until 8 at night so it is possible to see sunsets from here except during the peak summer season.
There is also some mention of a snack bar here, which did not exist when I visited in 2009.
In the main lobby of the building, be sure to take a look at the two odd modern art sculptures that are located there, if you have an interest in art.
I have put a few more photos from the Columbia Center Skyview into a Seattle Travelogue so that you can see what you missed, should you visit on a cloudy or hazy or smoggy day.
Central Seattle is a good place to walk.
Some nice buildings, short distances from hotels, though the so called "highlights" are not that high, it's a nice place to spend an afternoon.
And not much more...
In 2012 this became one of the newest attractions to grace the Seattle waterfront. It is located at the Miner's Landing building, which includes a number of other tourist attractions and tourist traps.
The wheel was installed with great speed, and there was no evidence of it on my January 2012 visit to Seattle, but there it was in all its glory in August.
What you are able to see from the wheel depend a lot on where you are in its rotation. The ride is 20 minutes, and unlike some larger Ferris Wheel structures does not turn at an extremely slow speed to allow continuous boarding and deboarding. Instead, it is more of a traditional wheel that is stopped every once in a while in a different location.
At the peak of the wheel rotation, the Space Needle is not visible due to a new structure that has been built between the wheel and the needle. Oddly enough, the wheel is very visible from the Space Needle. It is possible to see the Space Needle when the gondola reaches the point where it is over the water.
The ride is certainly no roller coaster, but the feeling of floating so high over the waterfront can be a little disconcerting.
One gondola is a VIP gondola, where tickets are $50 each. This gondola has special leather seats, a glass bottom, and those who dare purchase tickets for it will be escorted to the front of the line.
If you are in an extremely small group or traveling alone, you may be asked to share a gondola with someone else.
Standard tickets are $13, or $14.89 including the various taxes (see admission ticket sign in photo 4 for a breakdown). They close at midnight on Friday and Saturday, or 11 at night all other nights. Each gondola has its own air conditioning and heating system, plus an emergency button that may be pressed for those who desire to leave immediately to be brought down and let out. The tickets are a barcode card that may be reloaded and used multiple times.
To get the tickets, it is necessary to purchase the tickets at the ticket booth on the north side of the pier (see photo 5) and then wait in the line that leads to the actual wheel. As six gondolas may be boarded and deboarded at the same time the line moves reasonably fast. The waiting area is covered by a large glass roofed structure, which may be cold if the wind is blowing hard but at least there is some protection from the rain.
The windows are heavily tinted, and therefore night photographs are somewhat difficult through this very dark glass. However, the lighting inside the gondolas is also kept very dim so that it is possible to see the lights of the city and even some of the surrounding countryside on the other side of Puget Sound at night. It is just difficult to photograph through the dark glass.
The web site states that the Great Wheel is accessible to handicapped, but I did not see in person how this is done.
On a clear day, or even semi-clear (with a few scattered clouds to add color and interest to the sky especially!) sunset is a very good time to take a trip in the wheel. See my additional photos of and from the Seattle Great Wheel for more.
Also, the pier on which the Great Wheel sits has great views of the sunset even without getting on the wheel. The bottom three of my Great Set of Views of the sun setting behind the Olympic Mountains were taken from the area in which people wait in line for getting on the wheel.
I don't know whether the monorail should go under "things to do" or "tourist traps."
But I enjoy watching it go by as I'm walking around downtown towards Seattle Center on 5th Avenue where I took this pic one night, and to me the monorail is to Seattle what cable cars are to San Francisco.
Here's some history on it & pictures if you're interested:
Seattle Monorail History
Anyway, you can ride the monorail from the Space Needle / Gehry's EMP (Experience Music Project) up to 11pm weekends (9pm mon-thurs) downtown to Westlake Center Station, at 5th Avenue and Pine Street. Adults $2.25 - kids $1.00. Seeing as how you're likely going to be hanging out by the Space Needle and EMP it's worth it to ride it once.
Here's the Monorail website
Departing from the south side of Lake Union, near Lake Union Park, Kenmore Air operates charter, tourist, and scheduled air service from a small airport. Lake Union serves as its only runway.
Regularly scheduled flights out of the Lake Union airport include Friday Harbor in the San Juan Islands, Victoria BC, Deer Harbor, the West Sound airport, and Lopez Island.
Tourist Packages include full packages to any of these destinations, including overnight stay, whale watching trips, and a number of other activities.
"Flightseeing" trips are out and back in a day trip. This includes a 20 minute $91 tour around Seattle, and a $199 two hour tour to the San Juan Islands - but the trip is so fast that you are not able to leave the aircraft upon arrival at any of the stops in the San Juan Islands.
I recently visited Seattle and it is a great city to walk. If you are looking for Seattle things to do definitley check out Seattle By Foot walking tours. Seattle By Foot tours offers four unique walking tours of Seattle. You can select from the Seattle Coffee Crawl, Scenic Emerald City tour, Funky Fremont and Seattle Pub Crawl. If you are looking for things to do outside of downtown Seattle, the Funky Fremont tour heads to the fun neighborhood of Fremont. http://seattlebyfoot.com/
Downtown Seattle is beautiful to walk especially on a nice afternoon.
Dotted amongst the various buildings are occasional sculptures and works of art.
Old and new blend seamlessly creating an interesting vibe to the city.
Make sure and stop at one of the many cafe's along the way or pubs for a rest and a drink.
Seattle is known for coffee - But we don't drink coffee
Seattle has some steep hills. So when we came to Seattle to go on a cruise I asked the hotel whether we could see some of Seattle on the flat as it were, since I was sure Bob wouldn't want to push me up hill. They assured me that the area around the hotel and down to the top part of Pike Place Market was pretty flat. And that proved to be true.
Along the way we saw Coffee shops, and Shoe stores, and even the Hard Rock. It was a nice morning jaunt.
other than rain, seattle is very famous for its variety of coffee shops... having drank coffee in over half a dozen countries, i'm not about to tell you that seattle makes the best coffee.. That being said, coffee in the Pacific Northwest is different from other parts of the world and even from other parts of the country... you can't be a coffee drinker and not have heard of Starbucks which was founded in Seattle, but that is FAR from the best coffee in Seattle... i would actually rate it my least favorite of the local roasters.. For some reason, Starbucks is proud of the fact that they burn their beans while roasting and being a true coffee drinking purist (i drink black turkish style espresso even at home), i find that this method of roasting makes the coffee extremely harsh and bitter and all you can taste is burnt beans instead of the subtle flavor nuances that a true coffee freak looks for in a good coffee.. i believe that the reason Starbucks got so popular was that it was the first major coffee chain and that they specialize in making MIXED coffee drinks such as the uber-famous Frappucino and the everyday Mocha... i find such drinks to be an abomination of coffee.. if you really want to experience GREAT PACIFIC NORTHWEST COFFEE, look up some of the local, privately operated coffee roasters like Whidbey Island Coffee, Fuel, Espresso Vivace Roasteria, Zoka Coffee Roaster and Tea Co., and Victrola Coffee.... also you can visit the Tully's Flagship shop in downtown seattle or take a tour of the main roasting plant in south Seattle which is visible from miles away and from the freeway...
If you happen to see a nearly 70 year old trolley bus wandering through downtown Seattle or one of the other areas near Seattle (or sometimes even quite far from Seattle) it is most likely the Metro Employees Historic Vehicle Association. This group started with King County Metro employees, but today is a non-profit educational and museum group that restores and operates historic transit equipment. Membership is now open to anyone with an interest in helping preserve this part of Seattle's transit hsitory.
There are usually several trips a year in historic transit equipment, including one "fall foliage trip" that runs from Seattle deep into rural King County, and usually one Christmas Lights trip. There are several in the spring and summer months as well.
See the organization's web site, below, for more information about the preserved fleet of equipment and the tours that they operate.
The trips are very economically priced, and operated by volunteers. With anything done with "vintage" equipment, some things don't necessarily work the way they should. Therefore, don't expect everything to go as planned on these trips.
Also, these are transit vehicles, and do not have rest rooms on board. Plan accordingly before boarding.
To be honest, I wasn’t too crazy about the Seattle skyline. Several skyscrapers were built in the 1970s and 1980s, and let’s face it, those were not the best years for architecture (for example, see Rainier Tower completed in 1977 on photo 3!). Another construction boom occurred in Seattle in the early 2000s, which resulted in an even more eclectic architectural ensemble. Seattle’s post-modern Central Library, completed in 2004, was clearly not built with the objective of blending in! The architects responsible for the project wanted to create a hip space that could accommodate both the paper and digital worlds (the library's collection includes over 1 million volumes and there are 400 computers available for visitors) and where everyone would feel comfortable – as opposed to more traditional libraries, which were deemed to stuffy by some. The 11-story steel and glass structure does offer the advantage of letting the outside in, something you appreciate even more as you make your way to the reading room located on the 10th floor. However, this is not the kind of library I find particularly conducive to research and study, and I think I’d have a hard time finding inspiration there. It still makes for an interesting visit though, and it definitely is a good place to stop by if you're looking for free Internet access.
When Seattle's Olympic Hotel opened in 1924, it became the city's most luxurious hotel, even described as the finest hotel west of Chicago. Built in the Italian Renaissance style on the site of the first University of Washington campus, the hotel was built at a cost of $4 million, while close to another million dollars was spent on furnishings. Italian workmen were even brought to Seattle to make sure the Palladinian high-arched windows and terrazzo floors would reflect all the luxury of an Italian palazzo. For a long time, the rich and famous would book the Olympic Hotel for wedding ceremonies, debutante balls and birthday parties. However, the hotel eventually lost some of its former glory as more modern hotels were built in downtown Seattle. In the early 1980s, the Olympic Hotel was bought by the Four Seasons group and major restoration work took place at a cost of over $60 million. The Olympic Hotel once again became the city's premier hotel, becoming the only hotel in the state of Washington to receive a AAA Five-Diamond rating.
While not everyone can afford to stay at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel, it's still worth going inside to walk around the hotel's magnificient lobby. For those who'd like to get a taste of luxury without breaking the bank, it's possible to stop by the lobby's bar (The Terrace) for happy hour (3:30 to 6:00 pm) or to have afternoon tea at The Georgian (12:00 to 2:30 pm daily, $35 per person).
Downtown Seattle has a lot to offer. It has many interesting buildings, especially in the old town and Pioneer Sq areas, many restaurants, shops, Pike Plane Market, etc. Overall, it is very lively and active, although there is the rather empty financial/business area that is very much like a smaller version of San Francisco's Financial District and, like the latter, it is devoted mostly to offices, financial institutions, etc., with few people, especially after 5 pm.
Seattle's Monorail is a very short line. Its terminal points (Seattle Center and Westlake Center Mall) are its only two stops. Round-trip adult fare is $4.
The Monorail takes you to the Experience Music Project and the Space Needle which are among the numerous attractions found in Seattle Center.
The Monorail is more than 40 years old. It was built for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair.
It was out of service for some time because of a fire. It is now back in business. For schedule and fare information, please click on the link below to go to the monorail's web site.
It's enjoyable to stroll around Downtown Seattle because of the public sculptures, old buildings and fountains. Look at old buildings and you'd see several interesting marine gargoyles. I think I even saw walrus gargoyles!
Chill effect of the water made it a little harder for me to take snapshots of these gargoyles.
Come and play hide and seek with me in the curtain fountain downtown! Let's see who gets wet first. :-)