SEATTLE - I was assigned to cover Alaska Airlines' first flight from Colorado Springs to Seattle, so writing a travel story while I was there was a no-brainer - especially after the boss told me The Gazette was paying my way.
I had slightly more than 24 hours to spend in this scenic city on the banks of Puget Sound so I decided to pack as much into that time as I could. My goal was to spend less than $500 and see as many of the city's major attractions as time would allow.
I spent $226 to book the flight on the airline's website and $118 for a room at the Mediterranean Inn in the upscale Queen Anne area. I bought a CityPass for $75 that included admission to six attractions - the Space Needle, EMP (Experience Music Project) Museum, Pacific Science Center, Seattle Aquarium, a harbor cruise and a choice of either the Museum of Flight or the Woodland Park Zoo. I decided on the flight museum over the zoo since Seattle has a rich aviation history with Boeing Co.
Since I had about 24 hours to see all six attractions, plus the Pike Place Market, I had to plan my visit carefully. For most visitors, I would recommend planning this trip over three days instead of two to give you more time to enjoy each attraction. But since I was returning Sunday night, I needed the focus and planning of "24's" Jack Bauer to reach my goal. So, in the style of the hit television show, here is how I met that goal.
- 10 a.m.: I spent the first few hours getting to my hotel on the Link light rail system, the city's famous monorail route, and on foot and settling into my room, spending $5 on fares.
- 1 p.m.: Taking a bus.
After checking into my hotel, I was ready to visit my first attraction. After consulting with the hotel staff, I decided to visit the Museum of Flight first, since it was farthest from my hotel. After discovering a taxi ride would cost $35, I decided to take the city bus instead at a cost of $2.25 round trip. One note here: Both the monorail and bus system accept only cash payments. The bus trip takes about 40 minutes each way.
- 2 p.m.: Taking flight.
Once I arrived at the museum, I was glad I made that choice. I have always loved aviation and have covered the industry in the Springs since 2001. I was immediately wowed by the space shuttle trainer in the museum's lobby and spent at least 30 minutes climbing into the cargo bay and looking at the Soyuz capsule and other related displays. Note: You can spend another $30 for a 30-minute tour that includes access to the trainer's cockpit or $6-$8 for time in flight simulators. The museum also includes exhibits on World War I and II aircraft used by American, British, French, German and Japanese forces; the original red barn factory where Boeing began manufacturing aircraft; and a variety of other aircraft, including the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane and a car-plane that could travel both on roads and in the air. The museum also has outdoor displays of a supersonic Concorde aircraft and Air Force One, but they were closed due to high winds. I would have been happy to spend the rest of the day there, but knew I couldn't and still meet my goal, so I left after two hours.
- 4:45 p.m.: Science and more.
I squeezed in a visit to the Pacific Science Center for 75 minutes before its 6 p.m. closing and that proved to be enough time to see all of the exhibits, which largely included explanations of how motors and gyroscopes work as well as exhibits about nutrition, wellness, insects and reptiles. This museum would be a great place to take children and included a large room filled with live butterflies (similar to Westminster's Butterfly Pavilion). The center also had interesting temporary exhibits, including a photograph exhibit on modernist cuisine and a multi-media show on perceptions of race. A free IMAX movie (and there were several) was included with my CityPass admission, but I didn't have time to use it.
- 6:15 p.m.: Good views, tough temperatures.
I walked across the Seattle Center to the Space Needle, a 605-foot tower built for the 1962 World's Fair that was once Seattle's tallest. The Columbia Tower took that honor at 331.5 feet taller. The elevator ride to the top takes 82 seconds and gives visitors a spectacular view of Puget Sound, downtown Seattle, the Queen Anne area and mountain ranges to the east and west. Since I was there after dark, I could see lights in every direction. One downside of stepping onto the observation deck: The temperature dropped into the 40s that night and a steady, stiff wind made it feel like 20 degrees. To avoid the cold, you can remain inside the revolving restaurant, which serves food and beverages. I spent $7 on a Seattle craft beer there. Tip: Allow the professional photographer near the elevator to snap your picture, which is included in your ticket price. The photo can be sent to your email address. A CityPass entitles you to a second trip up the needle within 24 hours.
- 10 a.m. : Pop culture haven.
I walked over to the EMP Museum, which features music and pop culture inside a stunning building designed by legendary architect Frank O. Gehry to evoke the rock 'n' roll experience. I spent about 75 minutes soaking in exhibits on the Seattle grunge band Nirvana, rock legend Jimi Hendrix, fantasy characters like those from "Lord of the Rings" and "The Wizard of Oz" as well as science- fiction and horror movies. I marveled at a two-story sculpture made from more than 500 guitars and other musical instruments and a huge screen that features musical performances and sci-fi clips. The museum also includes areas where visitors can try out keyboards, guitars and drum sets, perform before a virtual audience and vote for your favorite tunes.
- 11:30 a.m.: Taking a boat.
I got back on the monorail to the Westlake Center and walked nine blocks through downtown Seattle to the Argosy Cruises pier for my one-hour harbor cruise. I had enough time to check my bags at the nearby Seattle Aquarium, which was my next stop. The tour gave me plenty of opportunities to get great photos of downtown Seattle, the Space Needle and the waterfront area. Our guide, Gentry Peppin, was well-prepared and did a terrific job of covering the history of the Seattle area, pointing out landmarks and wildlife and sharing Seattle trivia.
- 1:15 p.m.: Local fish.
I returned to the Seattle Aquarium, arriving minutes before a diver fed hundreds of fish visible through its Underwater Dome. A half-hour later, I watched as aquarium staff fed crabs to sea otters. Between demonstrations, I strolled through exhibits on birds, fish and marine mammals native to Puget Sound and the Pacific Coral Reef. I also saw the aquarium's giant octopus, a tide pool, a wave pool and a pool where visitors can touch a variety of sea dwellers. You can't miss the "Window on Washington Waters," a 120,000-gallon tank filled with more than 800 fish and other marine life that features three daily shows with divers using special masks equipped with microphones to speak with the audience.
- 2:30 p.m.: Never fresher.
I had just enough time left to stop by the Pike Place Market, a collection of more than 200 food vendors, restaurants and shops spanning more than four blocks and three levels. Here you can find some of the freshest seafood you will ever get and less than a block away from Puget Sound. Local architect Terry Van Sant told me to try the Market Grill, and when I did, it lived up to his billing. I paid $16.50 for broiled Coho salmon and garlic bread served over brown rice and salad. I haven't had fish that fresh since visiting family in Savannah, Ga., a few years ago.
- 3:30 p.m.: The one and only.
I stopped at the first Starbucks coffee shop (across from Pike Place Market) right before heading back on foot to the Westlake Center and catching the Link train to Sea-Tac. I was back in the terminal at 4:10 p.m., or about two hours before my flight departed.
I stayed under budget by 61 cents, even after paying $12 to park at the Colorado Springs Airport for two days.
Contact Wayne Heilman: 636-0234 Twitter @wayneheilman
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Other spots worth visiting:
• Seattle Great Wheel: 200-foot Ferris wheel on Puget Sound.
• Chihuly Garden and Glass: Glass sculptures from Seattle-area artist whose work adorns the lobby of the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
• Museum of History & Industry: Collects and preserves the diverse history of Seattle, the Puget Sound region and beyond.
• Washington Park Arboretum: A 230-acre green getaway located just east of downtown
Other Seattle attractions
• Seattle Great Wheel: 200-foot Ferris wheel on Puget Sound.
• Chihuly Garden and Glass: Glass sculptures from Seattle-area artist whose work is exhibited throughout the Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center.
• Museum of History & Industry: Collects and preserves the diverse history of Seattle, the Puget Sound region and beyond, highlighting innovation and education.
• Seattle Art Museum: Includes the Seattle Art Museum in downtown Seattle, the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park, and the Olympic Sculpture Park on the Seattle waterfront. The three museums preserve and exhibit objects from across time and cultures, exploring connections between past and present.
• Washington Park Arboretum: A 230-acre green getaway located just east of downtown, featuring the nation’s largest collection of sorbus and maple trees, and the second largest collection of hollies.
Source: Visit Seattle