The Idea: Adventure Around Seattle
A few months back, my wife asked where we should go on our next adventure. We had a credit from Southwest Airlines (SWA) that was about to expire, plus our 5th wedding anniversary was swiftly approaching and we wanted to celebrate the milestone in our own way…going somewhere together.
To decide where our next adventure would be, we made maps of the US by coloring in the states we had already been too and then overlapped the maps to see where we should go. You can do that yourself, here: https://www.gasfoodnolodging.com/visitedstates
My wife used to work for one of the airlines, and I had seen much of the US, so there were only a few places neither of us had visited. Even though I had been to Washington before, in my youth, my wife had never been, so we decided to plan a trip to the Pacific Northwest.
It’s been nearly 30 years since I last time I visited The Evergreen State. It was the Great American Summer Road Tip of 1987. My parents drove me and my two brothers from San Diego, CA to Vancouver, BC – and back – over the course of two weeks.
We stopped at tourist traps and natural wonders in between visiting family and friends. I got to see Mount St. Helens just a few years after the eruption. We had a few eruptions of our own when we set off Fourth of July fireworks (Not something we could do in the desert-ish climate of Southern California) at our great uncles place in Redmond, WA.
I took my first trip to the top of the Space Needle in 1987 and I have been wanting to go back and do it again ever since. I have many great memories from that vacation. However, after almost 30 years, my memory isn’t what it used to be and I am always interested in making new ones.
The Plan: Getting from Sea-Tac to the Space Needle
We started with a noon flight out of ABIA. We were lucky enough to get a direct flight and a great hotel room just a few blocks from the Seattle Center, where the Space Needle resides. The only questions remaining was, how do we get from Sea-Tac to the hotel? Options included, but were not limited too:
- Rental Car ($$$)
- Lyft/Uber/Taxi ($$)
- Public Transportation ($)
- Hitchhiking (💀)
I did a little research before leaving and read that there was a city-owned monorail that takes travelers from the Seattle Center (The monorail station is at the base of the Space Needle) into downtown and back again. The monorail has been a Seattle icon since the 1962 World’s Fair and still carries roughly 2 million passengers a year.
The monorail has become an important fixture in Seattle for locals, who use the trains during major festivals and sporting events. As well as tourists, looking for a unique alternative to traditional public transportation. Visit the Seattle Center Monorail’s site for more details: http://www.seattlemonorail.com/about/
To get to the downtown monorail station, we chose the Sound Transit’s Link light rail which travels between UW and Sea-Tac Airport. Link trains run between 6-15 minutes depending on the time of day so waiting is minimal.
The downtown stop was going to be dropping us off right near the downtown monorail station at the Westlake Center Mall. Wanting a better perspective on what to expect, I went searching on Twitter. A friendly local responded and answered my few short questions about getting from Sea-Tac to the Space Needle, helping to secure my confidence that we wouldn’t need to rent a car that first day in town or use a taxi, Uber or Lyft.
Flying The Friendly Skies: A note about SWA
I’ve flown many airlines and I have to say, I have never been more satisfied than when I am on a SWA flight. The crew is always present, helpful and available. The pilot handles the equipment with care. My expectations are always met and sometimes exceeded.
I’m not ashamed to admit that when I started flying in my early twenty’s I was a very nervous passenger. Now, in my forty’s, I still get the occasional uneasiness from flying, but it’s becoming less noticeable and I thank the folks at SWA for that.
Our flight to Seattle was uneventful; smooth and even shorter than expected. The flight home four days later was equally as nice, but that’s a story for another blog…
Riding The Wave: Sound Transit’s Link light rail
Once we retrieved our bags from the carousel it took little time to find the signs to the Sound Transit’s Link light rail station. Out one door and down a very long smooth sidewalk we reached the platform at the edge of the airport property. I would estimate that it was roughly a half-mile walk.
Ticket stations were plentiful and easy to navigate. The fare was very reasonable, only $3 each for the 60-minute ride to downtown.
Passing about eleven stops along the way, we were treated to the diversity of Southern Seattle, such as the sports complex, as well as many of the suburban and urban residential areas along the track.
The ride was mostly smooth, with a few sharp turns. The first turn caused our luggage to topple so I spent the bulk of the ride standing with my back to our bags to prevent them from tumbling again.
A photo posted by Joey McGirr (@joeymcgirr) on
Random Acts of Kindness: Seattle Center Monorail
Downtown, presented some interesting challenges with luggage in tow, but they were quickly remedied. A transit station policeman standing close to where we disembarked the Link train offered us quick directions to the monorail platform.
Upon reaching the cash only toll booth for the monorail, I was approached by a woman asking if she could purchase our tickets. It turns out that the company she works for had put her and several coworkers on a scavenger hunt and they needed to video, “A random act of kindness.” Not remembering ever receiving any random acts of kindness before (although I’m certain I have – need to document those in the future) we consented.
Considering the total was only $4.50 for the both of us to ride, I can’t say it was a huge sacrifice (only 42.9% of the cost for us to travel from the airport to the hotel), but we were grateful to say the least. That is, after all, the cost of one drink at Starbucks, and when in Seattle…
The Monorail was so cool! If you have not done that yet, I highly recommend it. If possible, sit in the very front with an almost unobstructed view of the whole trip.
From Westlake Center mall, down 5th Street, through the EMP Museum, under the Space Needle and right into the heart of the Seattle Center. The Alweg car was very spacious and at the time of day (between 3-4PM PT) it was not crowded, so we were able to sit with our luggage and take up all the room we wanted.
Exiting the monorail, I turned back to get a glimpse of this antiquated, yet in it’s own way futuristic, looking vehicle. It was a good looking, affordable and efficient form of transportation. Sadly, most cities never make the investment in such a cool mode of mobility, though I can’t recommend it enough.
I hope it lasts a very long time. I would like to ride on that again someday and remember the sunny day in May 2016 when my wife and I used it to reach our hotel.
Stopped Clicking Around: The Homewood Suites Seattle Downtown
Speaking of the hotel, now that we had almost reached our destination, we had to figure out where to go. Using the map app on our phones we gained perspective on where we were and where we had to be.
In Seattle, your destination may only be a few blocks away, but it may be up a steep hill. We were in luck this afternoon; Our destination, the Homewood Suites Seattle Downtown was a short eight block walk to the west – ALL DOWN HILL.
However, the walk was full of potholed streets, something I read about before venturing out here, and was the most difficult section to travel with luggage (Hello, Uber for luggage anyone?). Since we knew the way, we put our heads down and traveled the remaining steps, less than half a mile (about the same distance we walked from the baggage carousel to the Link light rail station), to the hotel. The fatigue of traveling since early that morning was beginning to weigh on us, and thankfully our trip was near an end (and a bed).
I’ll have to write the hotel a nice TripAdvisor review tomorrow. They were wonderful. I’ll post a link here when it’s up.
Well, that’s our trip TO Seattle, but that’s not the end…
What’s to come? Some of the sights we saw in the Pacific Northwest include:
- Chihuly Garden and Glass
- Pikes Place Market
- Dinner atop the Space Needle
- Seattle’s Underground Tour
- Kerry Park
- Future of Flight Museum
- Boeing Plant Tour
- Deception Pass
What I learned about getting to Seattle?
- Rely on friends who live there or who have visited before
- Ask strangers on social media for advice
- Seattle has wonderful people who will surprise and delight you, if you let them
- Pack an external phone charger, because taking pictures and using the map app will really drain your battery fast
What I would do again?
- I wouldn’t hesitate to use the public transportation, especially the monorail
- Purchase lunch for the flight in the airport terminal and eat it on the plane, especially if the flight is more than two hours
- Sit in the front on the monorail
- Download city apps
What I would do different?
- Skip the drink at the terminal when ordering lunch, the plane has drink service and you can get more than just a cup if you ask nicely
- Find a way to Uber my luggage (No, seriously! This has merit!)
- Research and familiarize myself to local city/transportation apps before getting to my destination
- Have a local tour guide meet us at the airport to expedite and educate us on route
What I would recommend?
- Research what you can, with the time you have, before you visit
- Make a few friends via social media before visiting
- Use your calendar to plan your trip, try to keep it to only two sights per day
- If you see someone in uniform, ask for directions – even if you know the way – trust me, they may know an easier way to go
- If you’re flying SWA, always get your boarding pass 24 hour earlier so you can get a good seat
Yes, the total cost for transportation to the hotel was just $6. It would have been only $10.50 if we had paid for the Monorail tickets. That’s pretty good, when you consider a taxi/Uber/Lyft ride would have been north of $30 to get from the airport to the hotel, and rental cars were double that if you picked yours up at the airport. Sure, it may have only taken half the time, but where’s the adventure in that?