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Health Journalism 2009
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What to do in Seattle

Sights and sounds of the Emerald City

By Sally James

If you’re coming to Health Journalism 2009, you’ll be visiting a city of water in the windy, unpredictable month of April. But it’s still gorgeous. Saltwater Puget Sound glistens to the west and freshwater Lake Washington to the east. Mountain ranges lie beyond both. Be prepared for water falling from the sky: often drizzle, seldom downpours. Carry layers of clothes even on sunny days because the wind whips around the skyscrapers.

Three destinations stand out, all convenient to our meeting hotel, the Grand Hyatt: the Space Needle, Pike Place Market, and a ride on a state ferry. You’ll need comfortable walking shoes for all these destinations and a sense of discovery. The average temperature for April is 50 degrees.

From the Hyatt, the Space Needle is a brisk walk of just over a mile or a $5 cab ride. Or take the Seattle Center Monorail that departs from the Westlake Center Mall, at Fifth and Pine Street. The trip costs $2 each way for adults and takes just two minutes.The Needle and the Monorail are among the remains of the 1962 World’s Fair at the site known as Seattle Center. You’ll get a retro-futuristic George Jetson vibe from the old sci-fi cartoon show at the Space Needle. A bit trite, maybe touristy, but you will never forget what you see from the top of the 605-foot tower. It costs $16 for adults to ride the elevator up to the observation deck. You can buy tickets online.

Pike Place Market is a bustling gritty working market that intrigues your nose with mingling odors of lavender, crab, ripe pears and fresh bread. Within are restaurants where you can sit down for a bowl of chowder or sandwich, but you can also eat your way through by snacking on a fresh cheese you buy, topped with a special honey, or by sharing handmade jerky or pickled herring with a friend. Give yourself at least an hour to saunter slowly among the vendors, letting expert salespeople hand you free samples. You’ll hear dozens of languages and see plenty of tourists from overseas.

Boats carry commuters and tourists back and forth all day on the Washington State Ferries. Get yourself the few blocks south and west of the hotel to Colman Dock on the waterfront, where several different ferries cross Puget Sound. You don’t need a reservation or even to plan ahead, because ferries run often. Buy yourself a picnic (maybe at Pike Market) of fancy snacks and sit at an indoor table to see the waterscape, perhaps a harbor seal or even the fin of an orca whale, while you ride. It is an hour each way to Bremerton and just 30 minutes each way to Bainbridge. Some people drive cars onto the ferries, but as a walk-on passenger, you can ignore their lines and just walk up the ticket agent inside the comfy terminal.

Getting around Seattle

Seattle offers many public transit services. Metro Transit is the major local bus line in the Seattle area. All Metro bus travel within the downtown core is free.

Seattle streets that run north-south are labeled "Avenues" and east-west running roads are labeled "Streets." Most of the streets that tend to wind and curve, or run diagonally to the gridded streets, are labeled "Boulevard", "Road", "Place" and so on.

Seattle.gov offers a guide for travelers that covers public transporation and has tips about getting around. King County offers an online trip planner. Input your location and destination, when you want to make the trip, how far you're willing to walk and other information. It will give you itineraries with directions, information about what buses to take, their schedules and the fare.

The Seattle Center Monorail runs between downtown and the Seattle Center, home to the Space Needle, Experience Music Project and other attractions. It takes just two minutes to travel the 1 mile and it departs every 10 minutes. It runs 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday through Thursday, and 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday. The downtown station is at the Westlake Center Mall at Fifth and Pine Street. Round-trip fares are $4.

The Seattle Streetcar serves downtown, Denny Triangle and South Lake Union neighborhoods. There are 11 stops along the 2.6 mile loop. Fare is $1.50 and a route map (PDF) is online.

Besides these sights, check out a few niche destinations. Sports fans can catch a baseball game at the newish Safeco Field, a cheap cab ride from the Hyatt hotel. The Mariners host Los Angeles and then Detroit during the conference week.

Beer and coffee are two gourmet obsessions for Seattle. One brewpub with two locations is the Elysian Brewing Company. Their pub at 1221 Pine Street is a little less than a mile east of the hotel in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, and they also have one closer to Safeco Field.  Brews on tap recently included Hubris Imperial IPA and Dragonstooth Stout.

For coffee, the land that begat Starbucks has been drilling down to ever deeper levels of detail ever since. For the locals, coffee means finding your own special shade-grown fair-traded and well-made cup. One of the pickiest roasters in the Northwest, recently featured in Sunset magazine, is Stumptown Coffee, with a shop at 616 E. Pine Street. Another café even closer to the hotel is at 801 Pine Street, Caffe Ladro. And, of course, there is a Starbucks attached to the conference hotel.

Other destinations

  • Industrial tour of Boeing’s jet plant in Everett (about 45 minutes north of Seattle) I’ve done this at least four times and never been bored.
  • Experience Music Project, at the same Seattle Center campus as the Space Needle, where you find out a lot about the electric guitar, Jimi Hendrix, and other rock and roll history. Buy a two-fer ticket to see the Science Fiction Museum at the same time next door.
  • See what Microsoft wants to show you about the future at their visitor’s center in Redmond (about 25 minutes east of Seattle).
  • Walk on the wild side of modern architecture inside the Seattle Public Library’s main building. Designed by Rem Koolhaas, it is just a few blocks from the Hyatt.

One-day trips near Seattle

Mount Rainier – The 14,410 foot-mountain is about 99 miles from town (to the main lodge at Paradise). April is a difficult month to predict. The official tour operators don't start running until May. Snow determines what roads are open.

Victoria, British Columbia – Gardens, shopping and beautiful scenery. You can get there by car and ferry.

Olympic National Park – Breathtaking scenery. You can drive a rental car (via ferry) to Hurricane Ridge (PDF) in about three and a half hours. Views from Hurricane Ridge are spectacular, of course no one can promise you sun in April. Hurricane Ridge is part of the Olympic National Park.

More links

Sally James is a freelance medical and science writer in Seattle. She is the vice president of the nonprofit Northwest Science Writers Association, as well as a member of AHCJ.


Off-the-beaten-path picks

AHCJ member and former Seattle resident Thomas Cullen shared some recommendations for things to do while at the conference:

Kerry Park: This is the place from which almost all Seattle postcards are shot. It sits on the slope of Queen Anne hill behind the Seattle Center (home of the Space Needle) and gives an incredible view any time, day or night.

Belltown Pizza: The best pizza in town in my opinion. It's right downtown near the Space Needle and in walking distance of Pike Place. Nice atmosphere: relaxing, not too rowdy, great red lighting (sounds weird but it works in an appropriate way)

Gasworks Park: Stunning park on the north end of Lake Union. I spent many a day reading there. Provides excellent views of another side of the skyline looming over the lake.

Pagliacci Pizza: A chain in town that's worth the time. There are several locations and tons of pizza variety. No locations downtown, but I'd recommend a delivery or a short bus ride to get some.

The Paramount Theater: The best venue for the arts I've ever been to. Not far from the hotel at all.

Seaplane Rides: A tad pricey, and they require a day's notice for a ride. But they are so, so worth it.

Alaskan Way Boardwalk: This is the road that runs right along the Sound. Tons of general attractions (aquariums, etc.) and restaurants. Quick walk to or from Pike Place as well.