Staycation in Seattle
May 15, 2021 11:27 AM   Subscribe

Except we don't actually live there. Looking or advice on where to stay like a local and also suggestions on what to prioritize doing.

Though Seattle is not the same as Portland, I'm trying to recreate the feel of a Portland trip a few years ago where we stayed in a simple suburban house in southeast Portland about 20-30 minutes from downtown. Every day we would drive to downtown or out the other direction to hike. We would grab lunch while out and then pick up food from farmer's markets or the grocery store to cook at home for a late dinner like we would at home. It was so relaxing and nice as compared to eating out every night or staying in a hotel room. We took two longer day trips to Mt St Helen's and to Cannon Beach.

1. Could I recreate this in Seattle, a much larger city with more traffic? Where would we stay? Bellevue or other suburb for a nicer house (not as expensive as a downtown hotel though we'd need a car)?

2. What would the longer day trips be with up to 2 hour drives (4 hours round trip)? Mount Rainier National Park? Olympic National Park? Bainbridge? I'm thinking there would be 2 or 3 of these.

3. For trips to downtown, we do two or three morning until afternoon days to try to see the main parts of town? Other areas at the top of the list to visit other than downtown?

We are a family of 4 with two older teens, interested in local food, local history, art, unique museums, farmer's markets, outdoors, walking around interesting parts of town, grocery stores, easy hikes, scenery. Not interested in bars, many formal meals, sports, indoors.

Must sees probably:
Chihuly, Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle Central Library
Pike, Pioneer Square Underground(?)
Ferry to somewhere

Probably not: Space Needle, Museum of Flight, Zoo, Aquarium, MoPop(?)

(Of course we're only planning this trip if is it safe and vaccinated.)

Thanks for your thoughts.
posted by RoadScholar to Travel & Transportation around Seattle, WA (22 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Where would we stay? Bellevue or other suburb for a nicer house (not as expensive as a downtown hotel though we'd need a car)?
I'd say avoid staying in Bellevue/across the lake if you want to experience Seattle, that cross-town trip adds up quickly.
posted by CrystalDave at 11:33 AM on May 15, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: It sounds like you'll have a car? In that case, staying in Bellevue might not be so bad, but you'd probably have a better time if you found an airbnb in Queen Anne, Wallingford, Eastlake, North Capitol Hill, Montlake or Greenlake. Bellevue is peaceful and very pretty but also pretty dull these days. There's quite a lot to do in these areas though they are quiet and residential. I'd definitely suggest strolls around the Pike/Pine corridor in addition to your other plans (which sound great). I might also stroll Ballard (the Ballard Farmer's Market is fantastic), Fremont, and The Central District.

For day hikes/day trips, my favorites are:

Barclay Lake
Lake 22
Heather Lake

Some other fun day trips could be:
A ferry ride to Bainbridge or Vashon
A whale watching tour, if they're doin' 'em

Edited to add: I forgot, another really fun neighborhood in the Seattle area is Georgetown, kind of a cool page here with places to visit there and in SoDo.
posted by pazazygeek at 11:50 AM on May 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: The Madison Valley or Capitol Hill districts have some housing very much like what you'd find in Portland. There's some mix of apartments, but lots of Craftsman-style ("Portlandia"-esque) houses you see down south.

If you look at Capitol Hill, try to look from 15th and eastwards, as the streets closer to the city become higher-density apartment housing. Also try to look near John or Madison streets, which get you close to the bus arteries.

If you rent a house in these districts, you can easily hop on a main bus line to get to downtown Seattle and see the items on your list.

Traffic is getting terrible again, now that summer is here and people are getting their shots. Driving and parking downtown will use up valuable vacation time. Consider staying in or around Seattle and using public transit to get around quickly.

Outside of the city, plan on Mt Rainier taking closer to three hours to drive to the observation center. If you are travelling to Bainbridge Island and the Olympic National Park, I'd advise adding 1-2 hours each direction to wait for the ferry, esp. during summer months. This year's lavender festival in Sequim is cancelled, which means you won't have to deal with sitting in traffic on Rt. 101, between Seattle and Port Angeles. Driving from Seattle to the Olympic observation center north of Port Angeles will take about 3 1/2-4 hours, depending on ferry traffic.

You might also look at taking a passenger ferry from Anacortes to San Juan Island. From there you can rent scooters to get around. Very beautiful vantage points from the NW side of San Juan, and a great brewpub just outside the main drag in Friday Harbor.

If you have your passports with you, there is a passenger ferry that runs a day trip from Seattle to Victoria, BC, and back. Victoria has its charms, including some fun bookstores and quirky furniture shops.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 11:53 AM on May 15, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Yeah, I'd look in Queen Anne, Ravenna, Wallingford and maybe Ballard; Queen Anne in particular is incredibly quiet and suburbs-like. These also have the advantage that you don't need a car to get around town, which is good because traffic here is mind-bendingly awful. (I mean, I guess if you're used to LA it isn't that bad, but it's pretty bad.) The bus connections are good, although you're pretty far from Link Light Rail in all those places.

Definitely take the ferry to Bainbridge Island! It's extremely beautiful, and Bainbridge is just the cutest little town. Wander about and get ice cream at Mora and pastries at Blackbird. Eagle Harbor Book is also fabulous for a long browse. (Aw man. I need to take a day in Bainbridge soon.)

Go to Seattle Center! The Space Needle is genuinely pretty awesome, and it's a great little spot to wander around. You can take the monorail downtown from there, and for 90 seconds both live in the future and get the song from the Simpsons stuck in your head for the rest of the day. (They don't play it or anything, it's just impossible to ride a monorail without singing it.)

If you're into cycling, I recommend renting bikes (either formally or doing the bike share thing) and going on the Burke-Gilman trail. It's a bit crowded at times, but it's a really wonderful tour through lots of different scenery. It's a lot of peoples' commutes (thus the crowds), so you'll get a good feel for Living in Seattle.

Find out when various farmer's markets are, and go to them. It's not just produce and fruit (although there's tons of that) -- my local market had a woman selling yarn for awhile, and there's usually food trucks and stuff. (Mine is Queen Anne, and it's lots of fun, although there are a TON of kids so sometimes I find it a little overwhelming. But it's definitely a thing Seattle people do!)

I really don't like downtown these days, it's kind of a depressing wasteland, but Pioneer Square is always really interesting to walk through, and it's very pretty.
posted by kalimac at 11:59 AM on May 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Also, I'd avoid staying in West Seattle, as the bridge between it and downtown was recently closed for repairs, which may complicate your travel plans considerably.
posted by They sucked his brains out! at 12:00 PM on May 15, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Oh! Just to add -- all of these things are possible to do car-free, I know because I do not have a car. I really recommend relying on literally any other form of moving from point A to point B, if only so you don't have to search for parking.

(With the acknowledgement that I'm able-bodied and in at least somewhat reasonable shape, and some of these will involve walking up hills of various steepness, so ymmv.)
posted by kalimac at 12:02 PM on May 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I’ve done this very happily in Queen Anne! Ballard is a bit wrong-side-of-town doe this but also very nice to hang out in.
posted by assenav at 1:16 PM on May 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: You might also see if you can get an AirBNB in south Seattle--Mount Baker, Columbia City, Hillman City, Seward Park.

Seward Park itself is magnificent, and Lake Washington Boulevard along the water is beautiful. If you take the suggestion about biking, the city (does? used to) block car traffic on LWB on Sundays so bikers, skaters, pedestrians can enjoy.

Other attractions on the south end of town:

Kubota Gardens in Renton--far, far nicer than the Japanese Garden in the Arboretum, and admission is free. Gorgeous garden with some important history....

Columbia City business district for great restaurants. The original Tutta Bella pizzeria is there, with terrific Neopolitan style pizzas. Also the Columbia City Bakery is one of, if not the, best bakery in the city.

Museum of Flight at Boeing Field. I lived in Seattle for 20 years and somehow only visited this in the months before moving away and really kicked myself for missing out--it's amazing. (Editing to say I reread your post and this isn't of interest. If you get an unacceptably rainy day, perhaps reconsider!)
posted by Sublimity at 2:00 PM on May 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Seattlite here:

American Hostel is open, has COVID precautions, and has rooms for 4 people. It's right in the International District/Chinatown, which puts you in a lot of different public transportation options. However, parking is limited in the area. If you rent a car, however, you can return it by the airport, and take the Light Rail to the hostel; the stop is a block away from the hostel. The ID could also use all the financial help it could get; it's suffered both from COVID, and anti-Asian bias.

Also, Victoria Clipper has suspended operations temporarily, as non-essential border traffic is prohibited between the USA and Canada. But, when it is going, it is a fantastic trip.

I nth the ferry rides over to Bremerton and Bainbridge Islands. Bainbridge especially is accessible if you don't have a car; you can walk on as a passenger easily, and the sights and sounds of Bainbridge are within easy walking distance from the ferry pier.
posted by spinifex23 at 4:51 PM on May 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Mt. Rainier (Paradise) can be visited as a day trip from Seattle, but it's a 2.5-3 hour drive depending on traffic. The place to go in Olympic National Park is Hurricane Ridge, but I'd budget at least 3.5 hours each way for that, and be mindful of the ferry schedules.

Tacoma is a good day trip. It has the Washington State History museum, an art museum, and a glass museum, all right next to each other. For bonus points, drive through Federal Way on the way back, and get dinner at one of several fantastic Korean restaurants.

Whidbey Island makes a good day trip, too - you can take a ferry to the south end, drive the length of the island, and drive back over the bridge to Anacortes. If you time it right, you can catch sunset from Mt. Erie.

For hiking, I usually recommend Cascade Pass, but the Washington Trails Association says its road is closed. Nonetheless, highway 2 through the North Cascades is stunning.

There's a recent thread on the green about renting boats in Seattle. On a nice summer day, rent a canoe at the UW Waterfront Activities Center and go paddling around the coastline of the arboretum.

Avoid staying in Ballard, Magnolia, Queen Anne, Madison Valley. They're perfectly nice, but you want to be close to either I-5 or I-90, or you're going to spend your vacation stuck in traffic on surface streets (assuming you're planning on driving). Capitol Hill is the best connected residential neighborhood in the city, especially if you're near the light rail station.

I would skip the central library unless you're really into architecture. (No Museum of Flight?! It is the best museum. And the teens would probably dig MoPop)
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:26 PM on May 15, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: You can do a lot of stuff in a 2 hour drive. Mt. Rainier and Olympic National Park are out range (but totally worth doing with a longer drive).

The ferry to Bremerton or Bainbridge Island is great. Consider the Bloedel Reserve on's nothing short of beautiful and reasonably priced.

Seconding Kubota Gardens in Renton.

If you do go south, the Pacific Rim Bonsai Collection and Rhododendron Species Garden are right off the freeway in Federal Way. Point Defiance in Tacoma is great (and the Point Defiance Zoo is a fine zoo, with an aquarium and a different emphasis than Woodland Park in Seattle). Driving or walking along Ruston way near the Point is a popular destination, with a long stretch of park land along Commencement Bay. You can make a daylong loop by sandwiching a drive up (or down) Vashon Island, take a ferry either from Seattle or Tacoma, taking the freeway in the other direction.

Taking I-90 over Snoqualmie Pass is a reasonable trip, turning around at Cle Elum or even Ellensburg to head back

Unless you hate airplanes, I'd reconsider the Museum of Flight. A lot of people who profess not to like aircraft end up having a lot of fun at aviation museums.
posted by lhauser at 6:25 PM on May 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is fantastic. Plans are taking shape. I will update. So many great ideas, I wish we had weeks.

(I'm not opposed to the Museum of Flight; we've just been to so many in DC, Dayton (OH), and even the war museum in London (flight museums seem to be so heavy on the war planes)! But! I will present it as an option!)
posted by RoadScholar at 8:17 PM on May 15, 2021

Best answer: I would definitely plan on staying near a bus line and taking transit to and from downtown, to avoid the hassle of driving and parking there. A car would still be useful for many destinations outside downtown, though.

Be warned that Seattle is hillier than Portland, so even walks around town can feel like hikes. (Fortunately, it sounds like you enjoy hiking!) Also, it’s hard to predict whether or when or it will happen, but the wildfire smoke gotten been really bad in recent years, usually around late August or early September, so you might want to time your trip to avoid that.
posted by mbrubeck at 8:54 PM on May 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Museum of Flight has some moments others don't. It isn't the most plane dense place, but the M21 is damn cool as planes go (closely, or not closely, related to the SR71 Blackbird), and they have a lot of cool commercial craft to climb aboard, including a former Airforce 1 and a Concorde. Not sure how COVID May affect that. It's not a place I'd foreground limited time plans for. But if the weather is bad on a day you planned to be outside kits good to have in your pocket. It also pairs well with Kubota Garden and Columbia City.

I'd absolutely make time for Rainier even if the distance is a slight stretch. That's so worth the trip if you have a car and the inclination.
posted by wotsac at 9:07 PM on May 15, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: For Rainier I propose the Sunrise side. It's a bit quicker drive in my experience despite Google Maps (who maybe don't fully feel those stoplights on Rt 7). And while Paradise is beautiful, Sunrise goes straight to the awe of utterly inhuman terrain. If you can do the hike past Shadow Lake and up Burroughs (check with rangers, until late summer there can be patches of shadowed snow that need Srs Boots or traction devices) you are in the heart of it. The Carbon Glacier traveling by your side, melting back under your lifestyle and the glacier trusts no goddamn crypto Ponzi death cult at least. The successor of the Cordilleran ice sheet will scour these lowlands of glacial till in glacial time, the glacier knows. And the prokaryote abides.

(Unless you fall into the Paradise wildflower window which is hard to pass up. And if you do go to Paradise, make at least a stop at the Spirits of Iron sculpture park right along the way. Haven't been for a while, hope the creator's doing well. And not QAnoned or anything, last time I saw him he was trying to save baby sparrows and I hate that this is a question that arises in my mind.)
posted by away for regrooving at 11:43 PM on May 15, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Olympic national park is lovely but better for an overnight. You drive onto a ferry to get there. There are hot springs along the way. And you can stay in the town Twilight was filmed in.

In and around Seattle small drive through coffee shops. Very Seattle!

Also every dim sum restaurant is good or great!
posted by jander03 at 6:47 AM on May 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just a minor quibble; kubota gardens is still in southeast seattle, not Renton. I would recommend Airbnb in gin Columbia city, which has a cute little commercial district, and a light rail station when you want to get downtown. Reasonable access to I-90 when you want to go east.
posted by WedgedPiano at 9:38 AM on May 16, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: A quick ride from downtown on the West Seattle water taxi will get you to Marination Ma Kai for delicious food and some the best views of the Seattle skyline.
posted by doift at 11:29 AM on May 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The Seattle Museum of Pop Culture (with the Experience Music Project) near or in Seattle Center, should be good for teens, even though inside.
posted by TimHare at 2:28 PM on May 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: One more thing: if you do buy groceries to cook at wherever you're staying, we found QFC to be a pretty good grocery store; and they seemed to be in a lot of areas
posted by TimHare at 2:49 PM on May 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Just to add on about the West Seattle thing--the water taxi day trip doift suggests is the best way to do it, because of our main bridge being out of commission for a long while. You may get people suggesting Alki Beach, because it's a fun beach strip with one of the only sandy beachfronts in the area, but it's technically farther southeast from the water taxi stop, so not particularly accessible without a car and no bus goes directly there anymore; you can get somewhere close, but it's not easy. Before I would have suggested it because there are some amazing viewpoints for photography of either the Seattle skyline or the islands, but right now, you should stick close to the water taxi stop for the views (and Marination Ma-Ki), and skip the rest of our little peninsula. (Although if you felt like a walk, Luna Park Cafe a bit south of the water taxi is a fun diner.)

Driving up into the foothills or on the passes is a wonderful day trip, especially if it's hot out. If you plan to take ferries anywhere beyond the central Seattle area islands, you might need reservations in summer especially; there are a couple small ferries where you may have to wait a lot for a space to open up on the boat without one. Waiting for ferries, btw, can be a really long part of your plans if you're doing it on weekends in summer.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 3:20 PM on May 16, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I reread your question, and you say you're interested in grocery stores?

In that case, may I recommend Uwajimaya? It's a huge, HUGE Asian grocery store with a food court, a deli, and a myriad of food and drink options. They recently remodeled, and it's even better designed now, with even more ready-to-eat food options.

They even have fresh sushi and sashimi, made in house.

It's 1 block from the hostel I recommended previously.
posted by spinifex23 at 10:06 AM on May 17, 2021 [4 favorites]

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