After an amazing time biking around Portland, we took the couple hour train ride up to Seattle, Washington. In addition to the rainy weather, hilly topography, and being the birthplace of the green mermaid peddling Vanilla Frappuccinos to the masses, Seattle also boasts a bustling bike community. Seattle is surprisingly bike friendly in comparison to most American metropolises. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SEADOT) is working towards creating more ‘urban trails’ to help accommodate and accelerate the growing number of bicyclists that are getting to and fro using the city’s bike infrastructure. Seattle currently boasts 45 miles of shared paths, 120 miles of on-street bike lanes, and 120 miles of signed bike routes. Statistics show that upwards of 8,000 residents commute by bike everyday in Seattle, and that over one third engage in recreational biking. While helmets are mandatory in the Emerald City, you’ll see few people actually obeying the law. Just like in Portland, the main train station is centrally located in the heart of the city, allowing us to effortlessly disembark our train, hop on our bikes, and begin exploring the city within minutes.
Just a short bike ride through the heart of downtown is the unique neighborhood of Belltown, and our first stop, the Ace Hotel. The original location of this hip yet inexpensive hotel chain opened in 1999 in what was originally a Salvation Army halfway home. According to Calderwood, one of the owners, the style and furnishing of each ACE property is designed to reflect that location, with an eye towards re-imagining properties that are “challenged” to appeal to the creative class. The Seattle branch was outfitted in what I could only describe as eclectic minimalism, with clear inspiration from its Pacific Northwest surroundings. The Ace hotel was a major component in the revitalization-and as some would call gentrification- of the Belltown neighborhood. Several large, mixed-use high rises have risen from the formally low-rent, semi-industrial neighborhood that was built on artificially flattened land. Trendy restaurants, boutiques, galleries, and nightclubs in the area attract a large following on many nights.
The area is very easy to navigate without a car, and Belltown was even called a “walkable neighborhood with everything you need” and the “best place to retire in the Seattle metro area” by CNN. Our time in Belltown definitely lived up to these claims; we took the less than half mile stroll from our hotel to the Space Needle. Like the shameless tourists we are, we happily went up to the top, where much to our surprise we had a great lunch of goat cheese flatbread pizza (so good we ordered a second round) and fancy cocktails with a perfect view in the spinning SkyCity restaurant. Originally built for the 1962 World’s Fair, the Needle has become one of the most beloved, and definitely most photographed, destination in Seattle.
We left the needle in a tourist haze and decided to walk off our buzz along Lake Union. It took an hour to reach our destination (about 3.2 miles) but the view was enough to keep us energized and engaged. We walked over abandoned railroad tracks that hung over the waters edge. They were converted into a sidewalk for the boat houses along the Westside of the lake. Gas Works park was worth the trek though, with views of the whole city and the needle. The old factory structure was a peek into the past, a more industrial seattle now pushed aside for public space. The park is now a 19 acre public park on the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant, located on the north shore of Lake Union at the south end of the Wallingford neighborhood. Gas Works park contains remnants of the sole remaining coal gasification plant in the US, which operated from 1906 to 1956 before being purchased by the City of Seattle and opened as a park to the public in 1975.
Located almost directly behind the park was the most interesting restaurant we have ever experienced. END, or Elemental Next Door, is the side project of Elemental. Despite their negligible signage or lack of advertising, we managed to stumble upon this gem on the way to the bus stop. They change their menu every week and try to provide interesting, thoughtful food for people to try without preconceived notions. After a day of walking, seeing, and feasting, we were ready to hop on a bus and get back to the ACE for a solid night’s rest.
The following day we decided to take a day trip to see the rest of the greater Seattle area. The Puget Sound consists of many small islands that are linked up by a very efficient ferry system centered from downtown Seattle. These ferries are geared toward the many commuters who live on the islands, but work in downtown. It is great to note that ample accommodations are made for bicyclists. After checking out our island options, we decided to venture to Bainbridge Island, which is one of the larger and more attractive islands to visit. Before heading out though, we stopped by Salumi, the delicatessen owned by the father of famed chef Mario Batali, for some its infamous hand-crafted cured meats and cheeses. The ferry ride was only a half hour, and it afforded us wonderful views of the Seattle skyline. Once afoot in Bainbridge, we rode our bikes down the idyllic country roads that weaved through lush greenery and peak-a-boo views of the Sound. We found a good stopping place and tasted the selections of meat and cheese we picked up earlier. It was hard leaving the peaceful surroundings to take the ferry back into town.
While Seattle has a lot of great bike infrastructure and a visible bike presence, it was hard to compare to what we had just seen in Portland. The two cities’ neighborly rivalry should hopefully keep each to push the limits of their biking plans. After a handful of days in Seattle, we were ready to continue on our Journey up the Pacific Northwest and see what Vancouver, British Columbia has to offer.