Washington State

National Parks
Seattle Center and the Space Needle
© Mike Leco /

The Space Needle towers 605 feet above Seattle Center, a 74-acre park located one mile north of downtown Seattle.

Attractions in Seattle

Seattle Center

Seattle Center is located on a low hill a little north of downtown. The most prominent feature of this 74-acre park and entertainment center is the 605-feet tall Seattle Space Needle. For $16, you can ride the elevator to a spectacular view of the metropolitan area including Puget Sound, Lake Union, Lake Washington and the surrounding mountains. The elevator is free if you dine in one of the revolving restaurants at the top. I suggest you try breakfast on a nice clear day. The wait will be less and so will the cost.

Seattle Center is home to the Pacific Science Center, the Children's Museum, The Seattle Repertory Theater, The Seattle Opera, Intiman Theater, Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Seattle Children's Theater, Experience Music Project and Key Arena. It also contains an amusement park, a video arcade, plus many shops, restaurants and fast food establishments. There are plenty of diversions here.

Pike Place Market

Located in the heart of downtown on a bluff overlooking the waterfront, Pike Place Market is the oldest continually operating farmers market in the USA. It has fruit, vegetable and flower stalls plus seafood markets where giant flying salmon are tossed over the heads of spectators. It has specialty shops, restaurants, craft vendors and street entertainers. Pike Place Market attracts tourists as well as Seattle natives who come to shop, to dine or to be entertained.

The Waterfront

At the bottom of the hill just behind Pike Place Market is the Puget Sound Waterfront with its collection of restaurants, shops and tourist attractions. The Seattle Aquarium is located here along with the embarkation piers for the Washington State Ferries to Bainbridge Island. It is also the location of Argosy Tours offering cruises of the local waterways and Tillicum Village excursions, which include native American cultural dining experiences. Be sure to ride on one of the boats for a unique perspective of the Seattle area. The Argosy Tours around the harbor cost about $20 and are very interesting, but the ferry rides are a better bargain at only $7 per walk-on passenger.

Pioneer Square in Seattle Washington © Mike Leco /
A statue of Chief Sealth sits in Pioneer Square, an old-town district with historic buildings, bistros and trendy nightclubs.

Pioneer Square and the Chinatown/International District

Pioneer Square, located a few blocks south of the city center, is the heart of the old-town district. Its central square contains the renowned Seattle Totem Pole and the statue of chief Sealth, the city's namesake. Historic old buildings containing bistros, art galleries and trendy nightclubs surround it.

The Chinatown/International District is just up the hill from Pioneer Square. It has a large population of Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Southeast Asians, Koreans and Pacific Islanders. This unique Oriental neighborhood with its array of shops, restaurants and multi-cultural attractions is one of the most interesting in Seattle.

Lake Union

The northern edge of the downtown district is bordered by Lake Union with the self-proclaimed "republic" of Fremont located on its northern shore. This funky neighborhood with its offbeat shops, galleries and bistros sports its own rocket ship, statue of Lenin and giant troll under its bridge. The old village of Ballard next to it has the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks where you can watch ships navigating the locks and salmon jumping up the fish ladders.

The Eastside

Across Lake Washington to the East lie the communities of Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond. This is the home of Microsoft and many other high-tech businesses. These are upscale neighborhoods with many beautiful homes and apartments amidst modern shopping malls and office buildings.

Drive East

If you drive on route 90 east for 25 miles, you can visit the spectacular 268-feet high Snoqualmie Falls and Salish Lodge, once featured in that quirky television series Twin Peaks. Another 25 miles driving, brings you to Snoqualmie Pass with its winter ski resort. Both are within easy one-hour drives from downtown Seattle.

Across the pass on the eastern slopes of the Cascade Mountains lies the little old mining town of Roslyn. This is where the television series Northern Exposure was filmed. You can easily recognize the main street of fictitious "Cicely, Alaska" with its old totem pole near the hardware lumberyard. You can step into "The Brick" for a beer or have lunch in the Roslyn Cafe.

Columbia River south of Seattle Washington © Mike Leco /
The Columbia River is the largest river in the Pacific Northwest. From its headwaters in British Columbia, Canada, it flows from the northeast corner of the state to the Pacific Ocean on the Oregon-Washington border.

The Columbia River Gorge lies about 140 miles east of Seattle on Route 90. The scenery of this semi-arid desert on the Columbia River Plateau is a strange contrast from the moist green hills around Seattle. From an overlook along route 90, you can see the great chasm formed by the broad Columbia River as it etched its way down into the ancient lava of the plateau.

Try route 82 south from route 90 to Yakima for an interesting side trip. The Yakima River valley south to Richmond is a fertile agricultural belt renowned for its apple orchards and its wineries. Touring and tasting at some of the many wineries in this hot dry desert valley can provide a welcome relief from rainy Seattle weather.

Drive South

Interstate 5 south from Seattle takes you to Tacoma or Olympia and near two interesting National Parks: Mount Rainier National Park and Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument. You can drive to either park in three hours or less.

Hiking on Mt. Rainier near Seattle Washington © Michelle Leco /
Paradise Lodge, in Mt. Rainier National Park, is a hub for nature trails, from which visitors can marvel at the spectacular views of Mt. Rainier.

The 14, 410 feet high snowcapped peak of Mount Rainier that is visible along the Seattle horizon, is even more spectacular from close range. You can drive to visitor centers at the 5,000 feet elevation levels on the northern slope at Sunrise Ridge or on the southern slope at Paradise. There are many hiking trails and plenty of spectacular mountain scenery. Accommodations are available at the Paradise Lodge or in the village of Packwood 15 miles south of the park.

Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument, located 40 miles southwest of Mount Rainier has some radically different scenery. The 1980 cataclysmic eruption of this volcano left a vast area of devastation including forests of trees flattened by the blast, valleys filled with mudflows and plains of lava and debris. The National Park Service has chosen to preserve this tortured landscape in the conditions existing after the blast. It is a strange and exotic world.

Drive west or north

Any trip to the west requires a long detour south through Tacoma or a brief ferry ride across the Puget Sound. I recommend the ferry as it makes the trip much shorter, and provides a scenic diversion for a modest cost. Either way, you reach the Olympic Peninsula and Olympic National Park with its snowcapped mountains, its temperate rainforests and its unspoiled rugged beaches.

Ferry arriving at pier in San Juan Islands north of Seattle Washington © Mike Leco /
The San Juan Islands are a great escape for tourists and Seattle-area locals. Whale watching tours are popular attractions, as well as outdoor activities such as fishing and sea kayaking.

The Canadian border and Vancouver, British Columbia are 100 miles north of Seattle along Interstate 5. The seaport of Bellingham, Washington lies just south of the border. It is the southern terminus of the Alaskan inland ferry and also the point of embarkation for many Alaskan Cruise ships. The San Juan Islands are located immediately to the west of Bellingham and can be reached via ferry. They provide some magnificent opportunities to view whales, seals and sea otters at close range. Try sea kayaking in the San Juan Islands for a real nature experience.

Written by: Mike Leco
Top Photo Credit: © Mike Leco /
Photo Description: A Washington State ferry departs from Seattle's Pier 50.