Monday, July 29, 2013

2013 Pacific Northwest Vacation: Seattle and Vancouver

A view of Seattle's city skyline, with Mount Rainier in the distance.  (Photo taken from Kerry Park - keep reading below to find out more)

A year ago, Chanda and I got married and flew out the very next day to our honeymoon in Fiji.  We spent 9 days there, and vowed to do more traveling after our wonderful experience.  It has become a goal of ours to visit some place far and away at least once a year, so we planned a trip to Seattle a few months in advance, and planned to spend our one year anniversary on the road.  Once we decided that Seattle was going to be our destination, we booked our flights with points that I earned on my credit card with all the money we spent on our wedding.   It also helps that my cousin Kathy is currently living in Seattle, working as a travel nurse.  When we took our trip to New York, she was an essential part of our experience as well, showing two New York neophytes around town.  I guess you can say that our next destination will be wherever she goes next!  All joking aside, Kathy came up with the most comprehensive tour of Seattle, planning our days efficiently so that we could see as many things as possible, and of course, gave us a place to stay, which we are always appreciative of. 

Right from the get-go, we had our itinerary in hand and set forth conquering the Pacific Northwest!
George Washington's silhouette adorns many of the street signs in Seattle.  After all, the state is named after our nation's first president.

Initially, I thought about making this a “Visitor’s Guide” of things to do and see in Seattle, but I would like to continue the tradition of documenting our travel experience, and is really meant to highlight my thoughts and experiences of the trip.   With that, let’s begin.  Day 1 started with an early flight at 7:20 A.M. from Los Angeles to Seattle’s SEA-TAC airport (short for Seattle-Tacoma).  We arrived in Seattle at 9:55 A.M, were picked up by my cousin Kathy, and immediately began visiting places.

Jimi Hendrix’s Grave:

Our first stop was Renton, which is pretty close to the airport.  Our destination was Greenwood Memorial Park cemetery, where we visited the grave of Jimi Hendrix.  One of the greatest guitarists of all time (if not the greatest), this guy is one of the reasons I own a Fender Strat.  Many people already know this, but for those of you who don’t, Jimi was left-handed, and instead of playing a left-handed guitar, he played a regular guitar, with the strings in reverse order, which is just bad ass.

Hat n’ Boots:
These boots weren't made for walking.
Up next was “Hat n’ Boots” in Oxford Park in the Georgetown neighborhood of Seattle.  The park itself is pretty small, and I actually felt like I was wandering in somebody’s backyard.  I think that somebody’s backyard was part of the park, just a few yards away from the boots.  Apparently the hat and boots were originally part of a western-themed gas station, and have been restored and moved to their current Oxford Park location.  With that said, it is something to be seen because of its size, but we were in and out within about 5 minutes.  Took lots of photos of ourselves on and around these things, and after visiting a few more landmarks around town, I was beginning to realize that this set of vacation photos would include a lot of Chanda looking small next to large things.  The only thing that could have made this better was Puss n’ Boots in Hat n’ Boots.

Seattle Public Library:

From there, we headed straight into downtown Seattle, found a place to park, and checked out the public library.  Aside from UCSD’s Geisel Library (where I spent countless hours studying in college), this has to be one of the most unique libraries I have ever seen.  Architecturally speaking, it is quite something else, and it’s got a few cool quirks like a room that is completely red (the red room, as many know it).  It’s also one of the largest public libraries I have ever been to (can you tell I am not yet well traveled?), and I could definitely see myself spending an entire day here. . . taking pictures, reading, doing whatever.  Actually, I hardly read for pleasure, so it would be more of the picture-taking.  Is it bad that one of the first things I imagined here was how awesome certain angles would look for an engagement session at this library?   It is definitely a place that is worth checking out.  We didn’t even get a chance to see every floor (there are 11 floors), but if you’re visiting Seattle, don’t underestimate the library, my friends!

Hammering Man:
After leaving the library, we began walking to Pike Market, where we passed the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and encountered a large piece of art known as the “Hammering Man” directly in front of the building.  This is a series of pieces positioned all over the world, celebrating the working man.  It moves in a “hammering” motion, and Chanda naturally got in there and posed for a few photos, mimicking the hammering motion to my delight.  Small Chanda, large object.  Check.

Gum Wall:

After walking a few more blocks, we ended up at Pike’s Market, which is well known for having a fish market where seafood vendors throw fish to each other, and of course, the infamous gum wall.  I have seen many photos of the gum wall, but I never realized it was at this market, let alone in some random alley downstairs.  It is as awesome as it is random and slightly gross.  You can definitely smell bubble gum all throughout the alley, which is actually kind of cool.  Better that than the usual smell of urine in your typical American alley.   Apparently it is a popular spot with local wedding photographers, and is one of the top 5 “germiest” tourist attractions.  Chanda made a split-second contribution to the wall (her gum didn’t stick, and ended up on the ground).   I’m not sure how this all started, but it is something worth seeing (and smelling) due to the sheer ridiculousness of it.

Pike’s Market:

Pike’s Market is a farmer’s market, where you can get fresh food and grab a nice lunch.  We ended up stopping for lunch here, and I had the fish and chips, Chanda had clam chowder in a sourdough bread bowl, and Kathy had a few tacos from a Mexican place in the market.  Possibly the most popular attraction here aside from the gum wall, is Pike Place Fish Co.  This is the famous stand where they toss fish around when people buy them.  Occasionally, they’ll toss around a beat up fish (designated for tossing around), and it is pretty cool to see.  I would say it happens about every 10-15 minutes.  You’ll have an idea when it’s about to happen when they start going into this little chant that they do.  One woman purchased 3 fish, so those were tossed from the guy on the outside, to the guy next to the scale behind the counter.   It’s just a short walk up the stairs from the gum wall, so if no fish are being tossed around, you can take a trip to the gum wall in the meantime (I would suggest eating lunch before visiting the wall).

A fish mid-toss at Pike Place Fish Co.

The sign behind this monkfish says he's alive.  Go ahead, walk up to it and touch it.  See what happens.

A walk down Post Alley at Pike's Market will take you to some quaint little shops

I have no idea what is going on here.
The first Starbucks store:
A short walk a few blocks will lead you to the original Starbucks store.  It sports the original brown signage (as opposed to today’s green), and a topless mermaid.  The 3 original founders came up with the name because they were all fans of the book “Moby Dick.”  Originally supposed to be named “Pequod,” the name didn’t sound very appetizing, so they went with the name of the other chief mate on the ship, “Starbuck.”  That explains why their logo is a mermaid.  There is a constant line out the door for this location – mostly people looking to get a glance inside the store, and others waiting to order a coffee.   It may be helpful to note that once you get inside the building, there is a separate line for people waiting to order, and people looking to get a photo/merchandise/spectate and look around.  We skipped the line and opted to keep walking.  We did not get our first coffee in Seattle until our 3rd day.

As you head away from the Starbucks, on the opposite end, there is a lawn where people just kind of hang out.  It feels very much like a beach environment, where people just kind of nap, read, and sit around on the grass.  Throughout the city (Washington and Vancouver area too), you’ll see a ton of totem poles around town.  Seattle used to be populated by Native American tribes, and even the city of Seattle was named after the Duwamish chief Seathle. 

Also, no idea what's going on here.  Notice the totem pole behind them.

Space Needle:
The EMP Museum in the foreground.  Los Angeles residents might recognize the look of this building - The Walt Disney Concert Hall was designed by the same guy:  Architect Frank Gehry

More walking ensued, and we made our way to the famous Space Needle.  If you’re going to get around in Seattle, it would be advisable to find a place to park, and walk.  This is especially true in downtown Vancouver as well.  There are hardly any places to park, so we found an all-day lot and walked everywhere.  Downtown Seattle is very hilly, and my first impression of it was “New York meets San Francisco.”  Be prepared to climb a lot of hills.

Just outside of our parking structure.  Lots of overhead lines powering the public buses. 
The Space needle features an elevator that takes 41 seconds to get you up to the top.  Once you’re up there, you are free to roam around the observation deck.  They also have a concession stand up there, where you can order food and drinks.  I later discovered that this is where Bruce Lee invited Linda Lee to dinner on their first date.  Perhaps there was a full blown restaurant up there at the time, but I don’t think it’s there anymore.  Regardless, it is a nice spot to get a good view of the city.  Definitely a must-see for the first time Seattle visitor.

Spectators look out from the observation deck of the Seattle Space Needle.

A view of the city buildings from atop the Space Needle.  Notice Century Link field to the right of the buildings, and the imposing silhouette of Mount Rainier's snow caps directly above the stadium off in the distance.  

Uh, touchdown?  This is a tribute to the Fail Mary pass caught by Golden Tate, who threw out the first pitch at a baseball game we attended later on in the week.

Is this just a coincidence that the trashcan shadows look like the Space Needle?

Field trips to the Space Needle?  Yes please! Lucky Seattle kids.

Umi Sushi:
Finally at the end of our adventurous day, we settled in for Sushi at Umi Sushi.  Word on the street is it was voted the best sushi restaurant in downtown Seattle by the local travel nurses =).   A few days before leaving for Seattle, I photographed Seattle Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner during a workout, and asked him for suggestions on places to go and eat.  He mentioned a sushi restaurant near Pike and 2nd that had the best sushi.  I hope that this was it.  If it isn’t, well the sushi was still very good.  Be sure to try their prawns – totally worth it.  This spot was one of the best meals we had during our trip.

Fremont Troll:

On our second day, we paid a visit to the Fremont Troll.  The troll is an art piece underneath a bridge in the city of Fremont.  It’s kind of random, but it draws a steady flow of visitors.  It holds a VW Beetle in its left hand, and is just downright huge.  We climbed around it and grabbed a few pictures.  If you’re at the troll, don’t forget to turn around and get a few photos underneath the bridge.  It is a pretty cool sight, and beyond in the distance, you get a great view of the water as well.
That's a full sized Volkswagen Beetle in its grasp.

Trolls receive tolls for crossing the bridge, right?  I'm mining for his gold.  

Why hello, Mr. Troll!

This scene is a microcosm for the entire parking scene in Seattle.  This is fairly common.  People park in whatever direction they want.  Apparently parking is so scarce that they wouldn't dare risk losing a spot by turning around and parking in the right direction.  No tickets issued for this either.  

Argosy Cruise:

Once we left the troll, we moved on to the Argosy cruise, which departs in the city of Kirkland.  This cruise took us for a tour around Lake Washington.  Along the shoreline, they’ll point out a few of Seattle’s billionaire homes, including that of Bill Gates.  You’ll also get a chance to see some of Seattle’s floating bridges.

Floating bridge
Luckily for us, that day, Kirkland was hosting their “Kirkland Uncorked” event, and we got a chance to check out some street vendors, and sample some food.  There was also an alpaca petting area, and we got to feed them some carrots.   I believe this is the first time I have seen an alpaca, and I actually thought they’d be bigger. . .like at least camel-sized.  Pretty random, yes, but I got a photo of Chanda with something not so big.

To end our day, we went to Golden Gardens Park to get a glimpse of our first Seattle sunset on the beach.  Coming from California, I was totally not used to seeing Seattle “beaches,” which for the most part in the higher end residential places, are patches of grass along the shoreline.  Golden Gardens Park actually had a larger lot of sand along the water, and a grassy park area lined with benches where we sat and waited for the sun to set over Puget Sound. 

A woman walks down the path with a picnic basket.  This image was shot with my cell phone in the grass.

Kurt Cobain’s Home:

On our third day, we stopped for donuts at Top Pot, and then headed to the home where Kurt Cobain lived and died.  I remember reading the Kurt Cobain journals a while back, and it gives you some insight about the kind of guy he was.  Seattle is considered the birth of grunge music, spearheaded by bands such as Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden.  Quite humbling to be at the scene of Cobain’s death.  To the left of the property sits a small park with a bench, unofficially dubbed “Kurt’s Park.”  It serves as a small makeshift memorial to Cobain, and visitors can sit and reflect, and write their well-wishes on the bench (and some not-so-well-wishes directed toward Courtney Love). 

A little trap door on the side of the property walls just beneath some shrubbery.  Very "Secret Garden-ish"

Bruce Lee’s Grave:

Our very next stop was the graves of Bruce and Brandon Lee at Lake View cemetery.  The day we visited was the 40th anniversary of Bruce’s death.  From now on, I’ll always remember that Bruce Lee died one day before our wedding anniversary.  As most Asian boys/men, I grew up idolizing this man, and I'm not ashamed to say that I have a mancrush on Bruce Lee.  When I was a kid, I was given a photograph by my Tae Kwon Do master of Bruce with my master's master.  I have held on to that photo since, and it is one of my prized possessions.  We expected a large crowd for the 40th anniversary of the death.  People from all over the country came to pay their respects, and when we arrived, there was already a throng of people wandering around leaving flowers and taking photos.  We happened upon Taky Kimura, who became Bruce Lee’s first assistant instructor, and is one of the two remaining people officially certified by Bruce to teach Jeet Kune Do (the other is Dan Inosanto, who runs a martial arts academy in Marina Del Rey, California (one city down from where we live), and the third was James Lee, who is deceased.  Taky was best man at Bruce and Linda’s wedding, and is unofficial caretaker of the graves.  He graciously posed for photos with people, and personally thanked us for coming out to pay our respects that day.  Taky Kimura is the nicest man you will ever meet.  It is no wonder he was Bruce’s best friend.  Quite an honorable and loyal man.  I think Chanda now has a mini-crush on Taky.  I don't blame her one bit.

With Taky Kimura

This man who introduced himself as "Spider" took our photo with Taky.  Check out his belt buckle!

A student of Jeet Kune Do prays over the gravestones with incense

Chittenden Locks (Ballard Locks):
After leaving Lake View cemetery, we headed over to the Chittenden Locks.   Before this, I had never heard of a lock (not that kind of lock) before, but the lock is a barrier between Lakes Washington and Union (fresh water), and Puget Sound  (salt water).  The locks prevent salt water intrusion, which can affect the ecosystem and contaminate drinking water.  The water level of both bodies of water are also on different levels, so when ships and boats make their way across the lakes into the sound, and vice versa, the locks raise or lower the water level, allowing them to cross.  There is also a salmon crossing at this point (fish ladder), and you can get a glimpse of salmon fighting their way up the stream to spawn. 

Boats wait in the lock as the water level drops to allow them to cross from body of water to the next.

Salmon are some tough fish.  This is why I don't like eating them.  Too buff.  Give me soft fish like catfish, sole, or cod.  

Underground Tour / Pioneer Square:
If you're into history, the underground tour is a must.  The tour starts at Pioneer Square.
The Smith Tower in 1917, and in 2013.  Notice the building in front is currently two stories underground.
The totem pole at Pioneer Square in 1899, and 2013.
The first 15 minute introduction is a history of the founding of the city, and focuses a lot of the plumbing system of the original city.  Once the great Seattle fire destroyed the city, they were able to get a fresh start by rebuilding the city and re-doing the crappy plumbing system they originally employed.  The modern-day city is built two stories above the original city streets, and the tour takes you under ground to see some of the original landmarks.  Before the fire, all the buildings were made of wood, and during the rebuild, they constructed the buildings from brick.  While walking around downtown in the Pioneer Square area, you might find little glass squares in the sidewalk, which look like skylights in the ground.  Well, those skylights were originally skylights for buildings in Seattle’s original grounds, and when you make your way underground, you can actually look up through the skylight, and see shadows of people walking the sidewalk above you.

The view from above.  New school decorative sidewalk glass.
The view from below.  Old school skylight glass.

Beware the rat.  I'm not sure if this is referring to a snitch, or the rats underground.

Miner's Landing at Pier 57:

You'll recognize Miner's Landing by the giant ferris wheel out by the water in downtown Seattle.  The location of the Great Wheel was where the the famous "Ton of Gold" was unloaded, and began the Alaska gold rush (also known as the Klondike Gold Rush, or the Yukon Gold Rush).  During the Gold Rush, word started traveling of the impressive haul these miners were coming home with.  As the steamship Portland arrived with its 68 miners, a crowd formed at the location that is now Pier 57, and the spectators were not disappointed.  The miners had so much gold with them, that they hired spectators to help them unload it.  As impressive as the one ton figure was, it was incorrect.  In actuality, two tons of gold were unloaded that day back in 1897.

The Miner's Landing area has a ton of restaurants, and an indoor arcade with a merry-go-round inside.  You'll find a lot of places selling seafood (great place to get some shrimp or fish), and a dining area upstairs.  The Alaskan Sourdough Bakery is a historic restaurant that still serves people today.  Back during the Alaskan gold rush, sourdough bread was popular with miners due to its durability and relative ease of obtaining yeast.  Sourdough bread was also vital to the California Gold Rush.  Well now this just makes me want to look up the history of every other kind of bread out there.

I found this 25 lb gummy bear at a candy store in Miner's Landing.  The girl behind the counter wouldn't pick it up because it was too heavy.  Not quite a 1-ton haul, but it might as well be for gummy bear standards.

Kerry Park:

Kerry Park is a spot high above Seattle that provides arguably one of best views of the city skyline (the very first image of this entry is taken from Kerry Park).  We made our way up there shortly after sunset, and got a glimpse of the moon above the Space Needle, as well as a great view of Mount Rainier.  When I first saw Mount Rainier for the first time while atop the Space Needle, I was quite shocked at the giant imposing mountain range in the distance of the city.  Being from California, I am used to seeing mountains, but this thing is just absolutely enormous.  It literally dwarfs everything below it, and it is quite amazing to see such a large mountain along the cityscape.  Kerry Park provides a wonderful view of both the skyline and Rainier, and you’ll have to find your way into a good spot for a photograph among all the people trying to do the same thing.  There are quite a few people up there with tripods trying to get the money shot, so make sure you get there early.  I’ve seen many prints for sale that were made from this location.

Alki Beach:
Alki Beach is the original landing point of the original founders of Seattle (the Denny Party).  This provides a closer view of the cityscape from across the water.  This is a nice little spot where people can rent kayaks and go out on the water.  Just like everywhere else in the city, the parking situation sucks.  Instead, we made our way up the hill and ended up at a park, which had plenty of open parking, and a better view than down below at the water.  If you’re looking for maybe the second-best view of the Seattle skyline, this would be it.

Crystal Mountain:
Mount Rainier from the top of Crystal Mountain
Crystal Mountain is a ski area with perhaps the best spot to get a view of Mount Rainier.  There is a gondola ride that takes you to the top of the mountain.  Once you arrive at the top you’re immediately greeted with a majestic view of Mount Rainier, and can even have lunch with a great view.  There is a cliff along the edge, lined with chairs, where you can sit and admire the scenery.  It literally is along the edge, so if you have small children, be careful not to let them stray.

Living on the edge.

Stadium Area:  Safeco Field and Century Link Field

The baseball stadium (Safeco Field) and the football/soccer stadium (Century Link Field) are right next to each other.  For every city that we visit, we try to catch a sporting event, and in this case, we watched the Cleveland Indians take on the Seattle Mariners.  I booked seats directly from the cityscape, and we got a great view of Century Link Field among the buildings in the background.  Perfect way to end our day with a late afternoon baseball game.


We checked into the Moda Hotel which is in the heart of Downtown Vancover.  The parking situation in downtown Vancouver is just as bad as in Seattle.  There was no place to park the car even to check into the hotel.  There is parking off-site about a half a block up from the hotel, but there is no way to access that lot until you check in and receive a key-card.
The evening sunlight shines through the window of our room in the Moda Hotel in Vancouver, British Columbia.
Here's our car's GPS showing us all the parking structures in the surrounding area.  It seems in the Pacific Northwest, "Park and Walk" is something to get used to.
A view of the buildings at sunset from a park near our hotel in Downtown Vancouver, B.C.

Capilano Suspension Bridge:

Once we crossed the border from Washington into Vancover, I noticed a large decrease in mountain ranges and trees.  On the to-do list was the Capilano Suspension Bridge.  After walking to Canada Place, we took a bus over to the bridge.

A view of the water from Canada Place
Capilano Suspension Bridge is a large bridge crossing the Capilano river, which draws a ton of toursists.  If you have kids, there are a lot of auxiliary suspension bridges that they can run around on.  It reminded me a lot the stuff you see waiting in line for the Indiana Jones adventure ride at Disneyland. 

Stanley Park:

Stanley Park is a large park area that is home to the Vancover mounted police.  You can see the horse stables where they keep the horses.  It is like the Vancouver version of New York’s Central Park, but it is substantially bigger.  I believe the seawall perimeter is 5 miles long, so we decided to take a horse-drawn carriage tour.  After walking around Vancouver the day before, I think giving our legs a rest was a good idea.  Stanley park is named for Lord Stanley of Preston, who was appointed by Queen Victoria as Governor General of Canada in 1888.  He is the namesake of the NHL’s Stanley Cup (you sometimes hear the Cup being referred to as Lord Stanley’s Cup).  I would recommend renting a bike or rollerblades, and exploring the seawall here.  They have a lane for pedestrians, and a separate lane for bikes and blades.  Our horse-drawn tour did not take us around the entire perimeter, and there is a lot to take in.  My favorite part was the water park there – perfect thing to take your kids to.  It even has its very own “child dryer” where they can walk through “carwash style” and come out dry on the other end.  Definitely a good place to spend a full day.

A horse from the Vancouver mounted police's stable.  This guy is huge.

One of our horse-drawn carriage tour steeds.  This one is Pepper.  He's paired up with his buddy, Jack.  

Our tour guide Kate, brushes Pepper before leading our tour through Stanley Park in Vancouver, B.C.

Yet more totem poles in Vancouver.

Olympic Cauldron:

The 2010 Winter Games were held in Vancouver.  Next to the Vancouver Convention Center lies the Olympic cauldron.  It is sandwiched between Cactus Club CafĂ© and the Convention Center.  I have to admit that I was underwhelmed when I first saw it.  I thought it would be much bigger, but I guess everything kind of looks bigger when you see it in pictures and on TV.  It’s pretty small and uneventful.  I took a few photos of it and even Chanda was like “this thing looks so much better in the photo than it does in real life.”  I guess the same can be said about a lot of the things we all photograph.  Anyway, I have seen a lot of photos of the cauldron with the water in the background, but I wanted to capture it with the cityscape in the background.  After all, a body of water looks like a body of water, but buildings have a distinct look unique to each city.  So I turned around and shot it from the other side, which I really was quite pleased with.

So that’s that.  I hope that you enjoyed looking through the photos of our trip the the Pacific Northwest.  If you’ve stumbled across this blog while researching for your own vacation, I hope it provides you some insight about things that you’d like to see, and some that you think you might skip.  It’s definitely a loaded laundry list of things to see, but thanks to a well-planned itinerary, we got to see a lot of things.  If you have something or place to add, be sure to let me know, and if I’m ever back in Seattle, I’ll be sure to check it out.  Thanks for looking!


And here's a bonus photo of Chanda looking small next to this ridiculously large mail box!

She's 5'2" and this mailbox beats her by an inch.
And last but not least, a big THANK YOU to my cousin Kathy for showing us around town, and making our trip absolutely epic!

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