The perils of traveling with other people can really start to add up. You blink and you end up spending two hours at a museum staring at questionable art or paying $15 for a crappy BLT somewhere you didn’t even want to eat. And then there’s the scheduling gymnastics it takes to coordinate a weekend that works for everyone. All of this is to explain that I’ve taken to pounding new pavement alone the last few years.
In 2018 I went to Salt Lake City. Which was… fine. It would be very hard to live in Utah and not be receptive to the idea of sister wives. Still, the architecture was a delight and the food was surprisingly good. Even if I did get handed a few marriage propaganda pamphlets along the way.
In 2019, I set my sights a bit higher. In a literal map sense, and in a “this is at the top of my to-go destinations” sense.
I visited the Emerald City on my own. There’s no place like home, but Seattle is a close second.
If you’re interested in a weekend alone in the PNW (or, more specifically, places to visit in Seattle), read on for some inspiration. And if you’re from the area, feel free to leave me a comment explaining why none of the public transit ever seemed to have a spot near where I wanted to go (just kidding, please don’t).
I stayed at the Edgewater using a deal I found on HotelTonight. The app booked me in a city-facing room by default, but I upgraded to a balcony on the water room once I got there. I was feeling the rush of being in a new city and I had flown for free using airline miles.
I landed mid-afternoon and got settled in, then began my Seattle trip with a hike up a nearby hill (no one told me Seattle had so many steep inclines) to get to a Caribbean restaurant I’d stalked on Yelp the day before. Guys. The Jerk Shack in Belltown is the real deal. The Cuban spiced salmon was inspirational. Of all the places to go in Seattle for my first meal — I did good.
I stopped on the way back to the hotel for some Washington state wine and, because I was on my own damn schedule, sat sipping it with the sun on my toes for about 30 minutes.
In a blur of spices and fermented grapes, I decided to go for a walk before I retired for the night. I made it all the way to Pike Place Market — there are so many stairs to get there. So many stairs. One downside to traveling alone is having to figure out selfies or trust strangers to hold your phone. But after about 10 takes you can manage a decent photo of yourself in front of a wall of gum. If you believe in yourself.
My first full day in Seattle. Woke up when I felt like it and had coffee on my balcony till I was ready to take a shower. Might have watched an episode of Friends while I waited for my hair to dry.
Here is where I confess that I did not have the shoes for this vacation. Back in Salt Lake City, my old Tommy Hilfiger white fashion tennies had done me right. Nary a blister or bruise appeared. I should have packed my Nikes this time (but more on that later).
On this day I trekked the 15 minutes from the Edgewater up to the Space Needle. There is a wonderful outdoor sculpture garden along the way, free to tour, that also has a series of chairs set up facing Puget Sound. You can watch the shipping boats come in from Japan or Vancouver (or any point of origin your imagination can conjure).
I’m not one for heights, so my review of the Space Needle is thus: It’s great to look at from the ground! So tall! Much height! Very pointy! But when you’re alone, reader, you don’t have to get talked into spending $40+ for an experience you will surely hate. So I didn’t see the inside of the Space Needle elevator and I never shall.
Next stop: Chihuly Garden and Glass. There’s not too much to say except it was really pretty and I sat in the Glasshouse for longer than most people would. It was warm and bright and I loved seeing everyone, all different types of people, craning their necks back to take in the blood orange, canary yellow, and bright red glass flowers dangling from the ceiling.
And, of course, I took them up on a few complimentary professional photos. If you plan your stops right, you don’t need a travel buddy to get a shot of you in front of some twisted glass.
Just next door is the MoPop (Museum of Pop Culture). There is, as to be expected, a lot of Kurt Cobain to be found within its hallowed halls. But also a surprisingly touching Prince exhibit, some Jimmy Hendrix paraphernalia, and a real Gizmo from Gremlins. I took my time where I wanted to, and exited just in time to find some food.
Did you know that when you travel alone you can go grab a $4 pizza slice special and be in and out of the place within 15 minutes? It was grand.
The rest of my afternoon was spent lazily shopping up and down 1st Street. I talked to one shop owner who fills her store with PNW designers for about 15 minutes — something I would never do if I was traveling with a friend. Or, at least, not for so long. I discovered vintage shops and a giant Patagonia and everything in between.
I was ready to retire to my balcony with a glass of wine and crank up my fireplace before the sun set. With no one around to cajole me into taking a cab somewhere to see live music, I was free to live my truth. Which, as it turns out, is taking a 20 minute shower and laying around in a plush bath robe while watching Real Housewives reruns. But I already knew that.
I’d already made one trip to the famous market on my first night in Seattle, but I also set aside a few more hours for this on my second and last full day. Because I could. And because I had resolved to do only what I could using my own two feet and public transit. Again, this was maybe probably definitely a mistake. Alas.
I was armed with a list of stores I wanted to see in the market, but the streets are windy and multi-level and the stores are sometimes underground (or, rather, built into the side of a hill) when you don’t expect them to be. Nonetheless, I was able to find a lovely store created by and featuring work exclusively of Native American and Native Alaskan artists. You can shop it here.
At some point I dove into a big, family-friendly seafood restaurant under the Great Seattle Wheel. It looked like a tourist trap and I probably would have been talked out of it if I’d had company. But I didn’t and so I ate the best bowl of clam chowder and homemade sourdough bread while I watched seagulls out the window and the place began to fill for the lunch hour.
What I thought would be my final destination on this day was Pioneer Square. Which I loved. I shopped, I watched a person evade police by climbing above a man-made waterfall, and I relaxed in a giant courtyard that had public ping-pong tables and one of those huge chess boards where each piece is as tall as a toddler.
As it turns out, I had more walking to do. My feet would chastise me later, but I was still young and naive and sans blisters. It was a different time (around 4pm). I made my way to the Westgate Shopping Center, where I spent way too much money on taffy and gourmet Sprees and tried to figure out a way to take public transit back to the hotel. Spoiler: None of the trams or trains stopped particularly close.
After an excruciatingly frustrating walk through construction and one stop for a pulled pork sandwich later, I was back on my serene balcony watching for sea lions by 6:30 or so. And ready for a hot shower. After that, it was all PJs and Forensic Files. Bliss.
I stayed close to home on my final morning in the city. Partly due to fatigue and mostly because I am chronically anxious about missing flights and I didn’t want to stray too far. I visited the Seattle Aquarium (just early enough to avoid the rush of school field trips) and grabbed a breakfast to go at a nearby cafe. After soaking up a final few hours in the lobby of my hotel, overlooking The Sound, I was back at the airport and airborne en route to San Diego.
The Places I Went
1. I needed better shoes. When I got home I realized I had blisters under my toenails, a think I didn’t know could happen. I found out the hard way when I was clipping my nails and things got gross. In the future I’ll ditch my cute white Tommy Hilfigers (still great for short walks or one-day events) and stick with my Nikes or similar.
2. I should have researched public transit a bit better. I had looked into tram and train routes, but I didn’t familiarize myself as much as I should have. Better still, I could have asked the front desk about the best way to get back to the hotel on a train in a pinch. In my defense, I did try to take a free waterfront shuttle one morning but he passed me by after I waited at the stop for almost 15 minutes. A Seattle train guide would have been helpful.
3. Scouting restaurants in advance is a great idea. I’m so grateful I found the Caribbean place online before I arrived in Seattle. I probably would have settled for room service or ended up at a nearby tourist trap when I landed otherwise, because I didn’t have my bearings yet. If nothing else, plan your first meal so you don’t panic and go with something familiar.
4. Sometimes upgrading your room is worth it. In the past I would have poo-pooed the idea, because my hotel room is “only where I sleep.” But I can honestly say the waterfront balcony made my entire experience much better than it would have been in a Holiday Inn near the Space Needle. I had a place to retreat with a class of wine or cup of coffee, and it made the room feel much bigger and more luxurious. Plus, there was a gas fireplace. Come on.
5. Don’t forget about your miles. I almost paid for my plane ticket to Seattle because I didn’t remember I’d been credited with about 40,000 miles when I got my Southwest credit card. My ticket cost $11, and I only had to use about 11,500 miles round trip.
So, dear readers, what is your favorite city to travel to (bonus points if you’ve gone solo)? And what are you must-see places in Seattle?