A Weekend in Seattle, Washington - My Family Travels

Come to Seattle, a perfect hotspot of fun for teens, and the whole family!

Teenagers are very busy people. Hours of homework, community service requirements and extra-curricular activities fill our son’s weekdays and evenings, and hanging out with friends just about takes care of most of the free weekend time he may have. We want him to study hard and we’re really pleased when his guitar playing improves or he wins his case on the debating team. And, we are very aware how important his friendships are to him and for him. The fact is that this busy pace doesn’t leave much room for family time.
Planning activities together is challenging, taking everyone’s taste and moods into consideration, but we have found that traveling together gives us a chance to re-connect and enjoy each other. Recently, we had the opportunity to spend a weekend together in Seattle, a great city full of the energy that teens enjoy.

Seattle Favorites

Although this town is known for its wet climate, we were very fortunate to have perfect weather with clear blue skies and a cool breeze. We arrived midday and after getting settled, headed to the landmark Pike’s Place Market (206/682-7453) for lunch. This National Historic District, located right at the edge of the waterfront, has become more than a farmer’s market. It’s a charming and exciting shopping and browsing public center where you can choose from among 100 farmers and fishmongers’ selections or crafts created by 200 local artists. Restaurants and cafes, some with seating overlooking Puget Sound, feature local favorites and international specialties. Or, stop at the fresh crepe stand or The Crumpet Shop (our favorite) for a tasty treat.

Lastly, in case there aren’t enough at home, you can head to the original Starbucks which is located here. Look for the 14 painted musical notes scattered around on the sidewalks. These are the spots where street performers entertain on a rotating basis with music, puppetry, etc. In addition, don’t forget to check the schedule for live jazz, Dixieland and opera performances. Pike Place Market is also a great place to buy souvenirs, inexpensive jewelry and the inevitable T-shirts to bring home.

Next, we headed to the Seattle Center (206/684-7200), a 74-acre cultural center built on the site of the 1962 World’s Fair. This is the home of many of the city’s best-known landmarks and attractions and a good place to get oriented. Board a glass-encased elevator for the 43-second journey to the top of the Space Needle (206/684-7200). It will bring you 520 feet above ground presenting you with a fabulous 360-degree panorama of downtown, Puget Sound, Lake Union and Mt. Rainier. It’s a great place to observe all the boat and seaplane activity and figure out the lay of the land.

We also enjoyed other low-key activities that your teen may or may not think are corny. A short (90 second) but exciting trip on the Seattle Monorail links the Seattle Center to the downtown shopping area. Terminals are located across from the Space Needle and on the 3rd Floor of Westlake Center, a large downtown shopping complex, and it runs every 15 minutes in each direction.

Another option is to Ride the Ducks of Seattle (206/441-DUCK). You will have a unique tour by land and sea in an authentic World War II amphibious landing craft. Board your heated “duck” for a 90-minute narrated tour of the city’s highlights before splashing into Lake Union for a seaside view of this city surrounded by water. You’ll also get a great view of Seattle’s famous houseboats.

Not surprisingly, Washington’s number one tourist attraction is the Washington State Ferry System (206/464-6400) with 13 routes throughout Puget Sound and the nearby San Juan Islands. Ferries take passengers with or without automobiles to such locations as Bainbridge Island (30 minutes), Bremerton (1 hr.) and Kitsap Peninsula while they enjoy great skyline views of Seattle, the Olympic Mountains and Mount Rainier.

The Music Underground

Plan to spend an entire day at EMP (325 5th Avenue North at Seattle Center, (206/367-5483 ). The Experience Music Project which premiered in June, 2000, is an exciting, interactive museum exploring the roots of American popular music. Inspired by his passion for Jimi Hendrix, Paul Allen (of Microsoft fame) funded and created this celebration of musical innovation. Designed by the renowned architect Frank Gehry, the unusual building mirrors the spirit of rock’n’roll.

The museum uses technology and hands-on exhibits to describe the influences of jazz and blues and to tell the stories of local heroes, the Jimi Hendrix Experience, the punk movement and the hip-hop explosion. Highlights include an extensive display of artifacts including musical instruments, handwritten lyrics, clothing and memorabilia, and the Sound Lab where visitors can experiment with instruments and interact with recorded music.

Additionally, all visitors are provided with a really cool Museum Exhibit Guide (MEG), a personal, portable, computerized tour guide which provides you with a customized visit and enriches your experience with access to more detailed information. Our son, who loves everything to do with technology and is studying electric guitar, was in heaven!

To get a view of the seamier side of Seattle’s history, take The Underground Tour (206/682-4646, 608 First Avenue) Did you know that Seattle was rebuilt atop its own ruins? Poor city planning and an unusual plumbing problem (which is described on the tour) created this subterranean city, devastated by the Great Fire of 1889. The 1½-hour guided tour takes you to the underground town, abandoned in 1907, to view streets and storefronts before Seattle was rebuilt on higher ground. Younger kids enjoy the “spookiness” while older kids enjoy the tongue-in-cheek humor of the guides.

The tour takes place in historic Pioneer Square, the city’s oldest neighborhood, whose restored red brick buildings are now home to Seattle’s art scene and live music performances. Numerous galleries, restaurants, book stores and coffee bars, once speakeasies and opium dens, make this area great for browsing.

Active Pursuits

If exercise is on your family’s list, why not do it while enjoying the sights? Alki Beach‘s paved path on a 2½-mile stretch along Puget Sound, with spectacular views of the Olympic Mountains, is perfect for inline skaters, bicyclists and runners. Bikes and skates are easily available for rent. You can also rent kayaks and canoes for guided or independent tours of Lake Union. Or, join others at Gas Works Park across Lake Union, a popular spot for great kite-flying, picnicking and relaxing.

Do your teens like to climb the walls? Do you they drive you to do it? REI’s flagship store (206/223-1944, 222 Yale Avenue North) not only sells all kinds of outdoor gear, but shoppers can actually try on harnesses and shoes and climb a 65-foot-tall mountain within the store! You can also test drive bikes on a dirt trail, climbing boots on a root-and-rock trail and wet weather gear in a rain-forest room. This is virtual reality shopping at its best!!

Sleeping in Seattle

Seattle boasts over 9,000 hotel rooms ranging from hostels to luxury accommodations. However, planning and booking early, especially during the sunnier months of May through September, is a must. The Seattle Conevention and Visitors Bureau (206/461-5840) offers a Lodging Guide with extensive listings.

We were extremely comfortable at the Westin Seattle (206/728-1000) which is conveniently located in the downtown shopping district, a short, pleasant walk to Pike Place Market. Our contemporary room, complete with high-tech business facilities, linen sheets, fluffy duvet and coffee maker was perfect. The peaceful indoor pool, Jacuzzi, spa and sun deck gave us a chance to relax together and the staff was always very pleasant and helpful. We also noted that we could no longer take advantage of the Westin Kids Club amenities, such as safety kits, bath toys and special arrangements at mealtime with complimentary beverages (12 years and younger.) Additionally, family gear including cribs, high chairs and even jogging strollers is available upon request at no additional cost.

Other families visiting Seattle have enjoyed their stay the Inn at the Market (206/443-3600) With the ambience of a French country inn, this 70-room luxury boutique hotel offers cozy guestrooms and suites, with some rooms facing Elliot Bay and Pike Place Market. The Inn’s private rooftop garden is a beautifully landscaped spot for enjoying the sites.

Two Best Western properties offer less expensive alternatives. Their Pioneer Square Hotel (206/340-1234) is a comfortable, 75-room restored Victorian-style hotel, perfectly appropriate in this turn-of-the-century neighborhood and the Best Western Loyal Inn (206/682-0200), located four blocks from the Seattle Center, offers a 24-hour hot tub and sauna and includes complimentary continental breakfast.

The Holiday Inn Express (206/441-7222) near the Seattle Center, also offers good value with free breakfast buffet, heated indoor pool and free parking.

It was a wonderful weekend. We enjoyed planning it, doing it and now we enjoy talking about it. Although we had a few rough moments, mostly trying to figure out how to fit it all in our limited time, it was a great success. And, if your teen aspires to be the next Bill Gates or Jimi Hendrix, we recommend that you consider Seattle as one of your “Top 10 Places” to visit.

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