For a few months now, I’ve been working at one of Seattle’s many tourist attractions, and let me tell you, visitors to Seattle spend a lot of time waiting in lines. Whether it’s to get into the Space Needle, for a photo op at Pike Place Market, or for coffee from the Flagship Starbucks, people angrily sacrifice half their itinerary for the chance to see a “Seattle must.” I hate to say it, but most of those “musts” really aren’t that necessary. To save you some time (and a few bucks, too), here are the 5 places to skip, and where to go instead.
The Flagship Starbucks
Every time I go to Pike Place Market, I marvel at how long people wait to get into a Starbucks that isn’t so different from the one three blocks away. The flagship is cramped, in a busy area, and has inflated prices for the same Seattle mugs and memorabilia they have in every other store, plus, it’s all the same drinks. Unless it’s a rainy weekday in the middle of winter, you won’t mind skipping the forty minute to an hour wait.
(Photo courtesy of my friend Victoria, because every time I go to Piroshy Piroshky, I’m too busy eating the food to take a picture.)
Just a block away is something so much more delicious. Piroshky Piroshky is home to some of the best pastries in Seattle (my personal favorite is the Smoked Salmon Piroshky). It’s cheap, tasty, and though the line looks long, you’re almost always in and out with your food in five minutes. Just make sure you come early while they still have plenty of pastries!
Okay, I’ll admit it: the Fremont Troll is pretty cool. But unless if you’re with someone who knows Seattle’s buses (or has a car), it’s hard to get to the troll without a large taxi fee. Though it’s awesome, it eats up a lot of time that could be spent elsewhere.
Instead…the Gum Wall
Just steps away from Pike Place’s famous fish market lies one of Seattle’s weirdest and quirkiest (read: grossest) traditions: the Gum Wall. And it’s exactly what it sounds like: a wall covered in gum. But chances are, you’ll be at Pike Place Market anyway, so you won’t be wasting any time getting your obligatory photo. Stop by one of the shops near Pike Place to buy some gum so you, too, can leave your mark on Seattle’s history.
Downtown Retail Shopping
I get it. Seattle is home to Nordstrom’s. You have to go there. It’s a must! But unless if you have tons of money to spend and time to waste, it’s not the best place to go. Most of the downtown shops are crowded, overpriced, and the staff are usually working hard to rush you out the door. And I’ve seen some pretty intense looks shared between two shoppers in Nordstrom rack who wanted the last dress in their size. You’ll thank me later for sparing you the drama.
Instead… the Flagship R.E.I.
I know, I just argued against Seattle’s flagship Starbucks, but trust me, R.E.I. is a totally different ball game. This is by far the largest sporting goods store I’ve ever been to (dwarfing the impressive NIKETOWN store downtown), and it has the best selection. If you want to test a bike for the hell of it, there’s a bike trail IN THE STORE. Trying on some hiking shoes? Go ahead and step on THE SMALL FAKE MOUNTAIN THEY BUILT IN THE SHOE SECTION to make sure they feel perfect on all terrain. Missing the outdoors? Don’t worry, there is LITERALLY A WATERFALL RIGHT OUTSIDE THE ENTRANCE. And no, not a small, gas-station waterfall, a THREE-STORY ONE. You can also climb the rock wall or spend hours checking out their massive selection of gear and clothing. Don’t forget to look at the R.E.I. local class schedule, because they lead weekly hiking, biking, and outdoorsy trips in the surrounding Seattle area for a small fee that basically means the real Pacific Northwest experience without all the crowd. You won’t be sad you passed up Sephora for this.
Rattlesnake Ledge Hiking Trail
Even I have fallen prey to this one. It’s a beautiful day, you’re only in Seattle for a limited amount of time, and you want to take an hour or two to hike up to something with a great view. Some concierge or receptionist tells you the Rattlesnake Ledge trail isn’t far away and is a fairly easy ascent, plus it has lovely scenery. These are lies (except or the scenery part). The trail is about an hour away (which means you better have a rental car ready) and requires an incredibly steep uphill climb. Angry locals who walk the trail daily will passive-aggressively shamble past you and the hundreds of other tourists who were just expecting a gradual uphill. By the time you get to the top, shaking, panting, and with a major need to pee, your perfect photo op is jarred by the touristy parents trying to keep their kids from jumping off the ledge to their death. And after all that, it’s still over an hour to get back down.
Instead… Discovery Park
Right outside downtown (read: just a short cab ride away) lies one of the most unexpected beauties of Seattle. Discovery Park, a solace in the big city, is home to about a dozen hiking trails ranging from beginner to intermediate-advanced ability. All of them have incredible views of the Puget Sound and its islands. Though it does attract some tourists, there’s so much to choose from that you will only see them at the lighthouse (you’ll hear about it when you get there, trust me). If you don’t mind other people, there are classic northwest beaches with driftwood for you to take a campy photo on for Facebook, but the giant open fields really make everything worthwhile.
Kayaking in West Seattle
Yes, I did this once. Yes, it was fun. No, I would not have gone if my school hadn’t given us a 90% reduction on the rental rate. You can do guided tours or go all on your own at most places, but a lot of them expect you to know what you’re doing (and the gear they give you is not nearly as straightforward as it looks). You’ll get great views of Seattle’s skyline, but you can literally just walk around West Seattle for that.
Instead…Canoe Lake Washington @ UW Waterfront Activities Center
I recently tried this, after many suggestions to do so by a friend who lives locally. For about $10 an hour (cheaper during the week), you and up to two others get a canoe, life jackets, paddles, and a reminder from an employee to not go up a private canal, and with that, you’re off. It’ll feel like your childhood summer camp (but prettier) as you canoe through the beautiful Lake Washington, soaring through lily pads like you’re in The Notebook, and sliding underneath one of Seattle’s many large highway bridges (520) with hundreds of cars just a foot above your head. Past the bridge lies the Seattle arboretum, where ducks and the like will swim next to your boat and gold eagles hang out quietly up in the trees. You can even bring a picnic with you and pull your boat ashore at one of the small islands to have a quiet lunch. Make sure you come ready to get a little bit wet (put your phone and money in a plastic bag) and to wait if it’s a weekend, but all of that makes it so worth it.