Travel Tips Seattle

Welcome to Travel Tips: Seattle!, an insider's look at the Emerald City. My name is Carl Johnson, and I will be your guide, sharing some of the sights and scenes I've discovered in my 20+ years living in the Pacific Northwest.

Check Out Our Travel Tips

Travel Seattle

Tips Seattle

The Gum Wall

Is that gum in your mouth getting a little old and flavorless? Don't have a garbage can handy? No problem! Just stick it to the nearest wall!

Well, you might want to wait until the nearest wall is The Gum Wall in Post Alley by Pike Place Market. A collaborative effort by thousands of gum chewers over the years, the gum wall started in the 1990's soon after Unexpected Productions started their improv shows in the Market Theater.

Well, you might want to wait until the nearest wall is The Gum Wall in Post Alley by Pike Place Market. A collaborative effort by thousands of gum chewers over the years, the gum wall started in the 1990's soon after Unexpected Productions started their improv shows in the Market Theater.

The story goes that it started with some show-goer sticking a coin to the wall with gum. The wall became a magnet for mass coin-sticking, only to be relieved of the coins by some financially challenged soul who for some strange reason didn't see fit to take the gum as well.

And so The Gum Wall was born.

It's a little off the beaten Market track, so if you aren't looking for it, you might miss it. Start at Rachel, the big brass pig under the market clock, go down the steps to the alley below, go under the big Market Theater sign, and the wall is on your left across from the Market Theater entrance.

Alternatively, you can close your eyes and see if you can guess by smell alone when you've reached The Gum Wall (I've got a pretty deficient sniffer, and even I could have found it). Best to have someone lead you there though - you probably don't want to feel your way along with your hands.

Trust me on this one.


The Gum Wall
Kayaking in Seattle

Traveling to Seattle

Kayaking in Seattle

As much as anything, Seattle is defined by its water, so a great way to experience the city is with a boat's eye view.

Assuming you haven't schlepped a yacht with you in your luggage, one of your best bets for getting out on the water is renting a kayak and venturing out on one of Seattle's many lakes. You'll find kayak rental opportunities on Lake Union, Lake Washington, Portage Bay, Elliottt Bay, and Lake Sammamish.

One of the closest to downtown Seattle (and where I rent a kayak if I want to go out and paddle) is Northwest Outdoor Center on Lake Union. It's owned by two brothers John and Herbie Meyer. You can rent single, double, and even triple kayaks there by the hour.

The shores of Lake Union (see the second aerial view of Seattle on this blog's main page) offer up plenty of interesting visuals while out for a leisurely paddle. Not least of which is the sweeping view of the Seattle skyline.

On the south side of the lake you'll find the Center for Wooden Boats and numerous waterfront restaurants. Seaplanes taxi to and from the Kenmore Air terminal here. You'll see them taking off and landing throughout the day, but seaplane traffic gets especially frequent first thing in the morning and late afternoon. I'm always watchful of them while I'm out there, but I've never had any remotely close calls. Plus, it's fun to get a close-up perspective on them in their natural element.

To the north lies Gasworks Park, where in the summertime you can people-watch sunbathers and picnickers while they people-watch you back. On both east and west sides of the lake you'll find beautiful houseboats, the least expensive of which probably costs around $500,000 (though you can head well upwards of a million if you feel like splurging).

In the early 1900's, the Lake Washington Ship Canal was dug, linking Lake Union to the Puget Sound and Lake Washington. From the north end of Lake Union, you can veer to the west along that canal, under the Fremont Bridge, as far as the Ballard Locks (or the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, as they are officially known). Or you can head the opposite direction all the way to Lake Washington by way of the Montlake Cut if you have the time and the energy.

Besides NWOC, other places to rent kayaks in Seattle include:

Lake Washington

Cascade Canoe & Kayak Centers

Seattle Raft & Kayak

Portage Bay

Agua Verde Cafe & Paddle Club

Elliott Bay

Alki Kayak Tours

How to go to Seattle

Seattle's Great Blue Herons

One of the great things about a vacation in Seattle is the ability to mix a nature experience into the urban vibrations of the city. One of my favorite characters in the Seattle nature scene the Great Blue Heron (the Official City Bird of Seattle, no less).

I never get tired of seeing the Great Blue Herons that Seattle has in abundance. When I see them, I inevitably point and say, "Look, a heron!" For some reason, the beauty and excitement of these birds just never gets old. I always marvel at their grace, their patience, and their lightning speed when it's time to take action.

If you want to see herons, there are a number of places you could go. My favorite (primarily because it's close to home) is the Ballard Locks. There is a colony nearby in the neighborhood of Magnolia, and you will typically see one or more standing at the water's or balancing on a wire stretching over the water below the dam.

The Seattle Audubon Society web site has a great resource if you want to know more about herons in Seattle. There you'll find miscellaneous facts (for example, "The Great Blue Heron can swallow a fish many times wider than its narrow neck"), information on where to find them, and links to research and information about the Great Blue Heron.

Seattle's Great Blue Heron
Shop At Archie McPhee
Seattle Travel Tips

Shop at Archie McPhee

C'mon, 'fess up! You know you've been wanting to stock up on Bacon Strips Bandages. Or maybe it's a Sushi Air Freshener you have a hankerin' for, or a Carl Jung action figure, or just a good old fashioned rubber chicken.

Whatever it is, no trip to Seattle is complete without a trip to Archie McPhee in Ballard. Just don't go expecting to find the perfect tasteful highlight for that elegant living room or to complement that expensive new suit. It's all kitschie, tacky, and delightfully fun. Leave your refined sense of humor at the door and unleash your inner pirate...or meat lover...or devil duckie aficionado (I have a devil duckie wash cloth - it's my favorite).

Where else can you go to find pink flamingos for your lawn, nun finger puppets, a parasite pals lunchkit, and nihilist chewing gum ("we don't believe in flavor"), all under one roof?! It's a mecca of bad taste. How could you ever forgive yourself if you missed it?

And if you can't convince yourself that a trip to Archie McPhee is in order just to shop for that giant ear to hang on your wall, you're in luck. Because if you decide on a more respectable tourist destination like the Ballard Locks, you'll be driving right past Archie McPhee on the way there.

Just zip in, pick up a deluxe nose and mustache disguise, top it off with an inconspicuous plastic viking helmet, and shop in blissful anonymity.

Your secret is safe with me.

Seattle Travel Tips

Seeing salmon at the Ballard Locks fish ladder

No doubt you've heard of the famous fish mongers at Pike Place Market who'll send salmon flying through the air with the greatest of ease. But if you want to see them up close and personal before they end up on ice, I recommend heading off to the fish ladder at the Ballard Locks.

The Ballard Locks connect the waters of the Puget Sound with the Lake Washington Ship Canal (and ultimately Lake Union and Lake Washington). The 21-step fish ladder was created to allow a variety of salmon to swim upstream to spawn.

A subterranean room is lined on one side with large windows looking into a section of the fish ladder. When the salmon are running, it's like looking into a big (if a bit murky) aquarium with fish swimming against fast moving water. At other times of year the fish ladder is empty except for the occasional smolts (baby salmon) getting buffeted about by the current.

A push-button oration will give you a lesson in salmonology (OK, so that's not really a word), and you can check out a display following the growth process from salmon egg to smolt.

Here's what you'll find in the fish ladder, and when you'll find it:

Sockeye: June/July
Chinook & Coho: September/October
Steelhead: Late fall & winter

If you just can't get enough of the Pacific Northwest's favorite fish, here are some other places where you can more salmon in action (though these are all above water viewing). And if you happen to be in this neck of the woods in early October, you can head over to Issaquah (about 20 miles east) for the Issaquah Salmon Days Festival.

Seeing salmon at the Ballard Locks fish ladder
Seattle Webcams
Webcams

If you're anything like me, part of the fun of travel is salivating for months in advance over your intended destination. Here's a little something to set your salivary glands in motion (or not, depending on today's weather)...

Seattle Space Needle Cam

Seattle Cam

Wildlife Cams

Washington Park Arboretum

Feeling the need for a little peace and tranquility in your Seattle vacation? If so, you're in luck, because Seattle has peace and tranquility coming out its...

...well, let's just say that Seattle has a bucketload of places for you to get your zen groove on. Take the Washington Park Arboretum, for example. 230 acres of land in the middle of the city, jam packed with a botanist's dream of more than 5,000 kinds of trees and plants.

If you're the type that gets excited when you read, "Noteworthy are North America's largest collection of Sorbus and Maple, the second largest collection of species Hollies and significant collections of oaks, conifers and camellias," then you're going to love this place!

If not, you're going to love this place too, just maybe not for quite the same reasons.

You can drive through the Arboretum, but don't short change yourself. Park in one of the many parking areas along the road and start exploring the walking paths that criss-cross through the woods. It's hard to believe you're in the middle of the city.

The north end of the Arboretum butts up on a small inlet from Lake Washington, and in the summer you will often see people moseying across the water in canoes rented from the University of Washington Waterfront Activities Center. And ducks, of course. Lots of ducks.

You can find directions and a trail map on the Arboretum web site.

Washington Park Arboretum
The Waterfall Park
The Waterfall Park

Walk into the Waterfall Park in the heart of old Seattle, right around the corner from Pioneer Square, and it's almost like taking a quick vacation from your vacation.

Seattle has no shortage of beautiful settings to sit and soak up the scenery, but the Waterfall Park at 2nd and Main has to be one of my favorites. Maybe it's all the negative ions flying around from the 22-foot waterfall. Or maybe it's just the fact that the white noise masks the drone of the street traffic outside. Whatever it is, this undercelebrated spot always has the same effect on me...relaxation and calm.

While you're here, you can plop down at one of the cafe-style tables and eat a picnic lunch, enjoy a cup of coffee, or just catch up on your travel journal for the day.

And if by some odd quirk of fate you happen to be a business history buff (hey, could happen), it also has the distinction of being the site of the original United Parcel Service office (though at the time UPS was called American Messenger Service).

The water has been splashing down the wall of huge rough-hewn rocks here since 1977, when it was built by the Annie E. Casey foundation, a philanthropic foundation started by one of the founders of UPS, Jim Casey.