Dale and I lived in Seattle for 15 years. We moved there in 1988, just one year into our relationship. It’s the place where we made the transition from merely living together to considering ourselves married, even before that was legally possible.
If you’ve never been to Seattle, you owe it to yourself to visit this city. It boasts not only a beautiful natural setting but one of the U.S.’s most progressive cities and well-developed gay scene.
Yes, Seattle gets a lot of rain. When I first heard of the novel 50 Shades of Grey, I didn’t realize it was BDSM-lite strokebook for hetero women – I thought it must be a book about Seattle! From November through April, the sun never shows its face to residents of “the Emerald City.” Luckily for cruise travelers, most of July, and virtually all of August and September are stunning. (Although, as Seattle locals know, summer doesn’t really begin there until July 5th!)
If you have just a few hours to spend in Seattle, here are our suggestions for a full day visit that will give you a sense of this city’s unique culture:
Start your day off with a hearty breakfast at Chinook’s On Salmon Bay at Fisherman’s Terminal. We suggest you throw calorie-counting to the winds and indulge in their terrific scones with tangy orange marmalade butter. (You can work it off in your ship’s gym during a sea day!) Up to 600 fishing vessels are moored Fisherman’s Terminal which makes a stunning backdrop. This wonderful light-filled space serves great breakfasts on Saturdays from 8:00 – 11:00 and Sundays from 8:00-1:00. You may want to come back in the evening for terrific fresh fish.
2. Late Morning
After you have been satisfied with a good Northwest breakfast, visit the Hiram Chittenden Locks in the neighborhood of Ballard, better known to the locals as the ”Ballard Locks.” This beautiful park with a rose garden surrounds the lock-and-dam mechanism which raises and lowers boats 20-22 feet from fresh water Lake Union to salt water Elliott Bay. You can watch the locks lift and lower the leisure boats and commercial craft which depend on them.
And how about that fish ladder? During the right time of year (mid-June through October – best viewing through September) you can observe salmon and other migratory fish swimming up the fish ladder at the locks on their way to spawning grounds in fresh water. The fish swim upstream using a series of stepwise pools, enabling them to bypass the dam used for the locks. Some of these fish have a life cycle that includes swimming to Japan and back in order to feed before returning to the stream where they were hatched in order to reproduce.
Seattle is a city of neighborhoods, so don’t miss one of the most colorful and quirky: Fremont on the north end of Lake Union, just east of the Ballard Locks. This self-described “center of the universe” has gentrified over the last several years, but still retains its fun, weird, eclectic vibe.
If you’re lucky enough to be in Seattle for the summer solstice, don’t miss the Fremont Solstice Parade. Where else can you see a parade that kicks off with hundreds of naked bikers clad only in body paint and helmets? Only in Seattle!
Landmarks around Fremont include an under-the-bridge sculpture of a troll crushing a VW Beetle. This enormous piece of concrete street-art appeared in 1990 and has been weirdly holding court ever since.
If you prefer art with a political flavor, check out the enormous 16-foot statue of Vladimir Lenin. It was rescued from the wrecking ball in Slovakia and brought to Fremont in 1989. Nearby is an odd 60’s style life-sized rocket. We used to love putting a quarter in the box in order to see “rocket exhaust” escape from the tail! As with any Seattle neighborhood, you can be assured that on every corner there will be a coffee shop or espresso cart, usually both!
Walk a few blocks north to Archie McPhee. Where else can you buy plastic vomit, a pickle that screams when you bite into it, tiny plastic ants and as the sign says: “You’ve begged, you’ve pleaded…here they are…plastic cows!”
By now it’s lunchtime. Hop on a city bus or take Uber or Lyft to the Pike Place Market. Although extremely touristy, this area remains a must-see. Seattleites rallied together in the 1960s to rescue Pike Place from demolition, ensuring its continuation as a working fish, produce, and flower market. We loved to bike there from our home in the Magnolia neighborhood. Then we’d reward ourselves for all that arduous pedaling by eating our way through the Market. We especially enjoy the BBQ Pork Roll from Mee Sum Pastry followed by anything from Piroshky-Prioshky….wonderful pastries with a wide variety of fillings. Yes, that’s a lot of carbs, but get off our backs, we biked there!
Next, head down the hill to the south a few blocks to historic Pioneer Square. This is where the first white settlers came ashore. Hailing from the landlocked midwest, they had no idea that in 12 hours the tides would submerge their claims. As a result of those confused land claims, parts of this area portray an almost medieval appearance with crooked streets and uneven blocks.
5. Late Afternoon
Pioneer Square also holds a significant place in LGBT history. Gay social life centered around this area in the 1920s and 30s. One of the best-known gay bars of that era was The Casino, the only place on the west coast catering openly to gays.
Pioneer Square abounds with shops, watering holes, galleries and beautiful architecture from the late 1800’s. If you’re in the mood for some history, take the Seattle Underground Tour. Tour guides relate tales (often luridly embellished) of the early settlers in Seattle as they guide you beneath the streets. You’ll learn a few slightly risqué historical tidbits, like the one about hundreds of prostitutes who flocked to the neighborhood calling themselves “seamstresses” to evade anti-prostitution laws.
If you’re cruising to Alaska and one of your port cities is Skagway, then don’t miss Seattle’s Klondike Gold Rush National Park. Certainly the tiniest “park” in the country, this small building will give you a good background on the gold rush and the heartbreaking stories of the treacherous Chilkoot Trail outside Skagway.
6. Early Evening
You’re hungry again, right? Never fear, the “gayborhood” is not far away. However, take it from these two men of a certain age. It may not be far away, but the Capitol Hill neighborhood is uphill all the way. If you choose to walk to build up your Northwest hiker legs, take either Pike or Pine streets. Or as the locals would say, one of the ‘P’ streets. The ‘P’ streets are full of unique shops which give Seattle it’s flavor including the original woman-owned sex toy store Babeland on Pike Street. Don’t worry guys you’ll find something there just for you, too!
Evening into Night
A Sunset photo at Kerry Park is almost obligatory. Virtually any photo you’ve seen of the space needle with Mt. Rainier in the background was taken from this vantage point. If you can’t find it, ask the locals for “Highland Park” which is often what it is called. (Insider Tip: Don’t say we told you, but feel free to skip the Space Needle, especially the restaurant. Although the view is especially beautiful at dusk, it always seemed overpriced to us. Kerry Park offers an equally spectacular view for free.)
Nightlife? Well, you’re asking the wrong guys, since we’ve been away from Seattle for so long. That cute young bartender at The Cuff Complex is probably now retired and living in Palm Springs. The go-go boys at Brass Connection are likely married to each other and busy with their two kids! When in doubt, ask the locals, you can be sure that no matter what scene you are into, there is a bar stool in Seattle with your name on it!