When I tell people I’m from the Seattle area their first reaction is inevitably, “Ah, Starbucks,” or, “Isn’t that where that really tall building is? The needle?” They are right – these things can be found in Seattle – so I nod my head in hesitant agreement. Even though the Space Needle is just 605 feet (184 meters) tall. But deep down I’m dying to tell them there’s more to Seattle than Microsoft; like the president’s favorite chocolates, burlesque dancers and a giant troll. These are my top 6 unusual Seattle sights to make your trip cliché-less.
1. A different side of Pike Place Market
While Pike Place Market is a great place to shop for souvenirs, dodge flying fish and try an array of foods, it’s the Post Alley Gum Wall that sticks to your memory. Literally a wall covered in chewed gum, the site is located under the market and next to the Market Theatre’s box office on what is called Lower Post Alley. In an attempt to pop the Gum Wall’s bubble, theatre workers scraped the space on two separate occasions. However, market officials finally recognized the wall as a tourist attraction around 1999 – you may have left your heart in San Francisco, but you can leave a little bit of your flavored DNA in Seattle. Getting to the Gum Wall is as easy as finding the information booth on the corner of First and Pike and following the Market Theatre signs.
The Post Alley Gum Wall also happens to be the starting point for the Market Ghost Tour. The tour itself isn’t much of a ghost hunt, but rather a walking tour of the darker, scarier side of Pike Place Market. Stops include the city’s first mortuary, part of a graveyard and baby ghost, Isaac’s, bassinet.
Pike Place Market is located on First Avenue and Pike Street; parking can be found on the West side of the market on Western Avenue. The market is easily accessible by bus or light rail.
2. The city’s sensual side
Burlesque shows are nothing new to Seattle; trendy Seattle restaurants regularly feature neo-burlesque and cabaret shows with dinner and for some it’s a throwback to their roots. The Triple Door, for example, got its start in vaudeville entertainment before becoming a movie house in the 1930s.
Nowadays, venues like the Can Can Kitchen and Cabaret, Club Noc Noc and The Pink Door all host variations on this classic form of entertainment. If tassel twirling gets you excited, perhaps you should sign up for a burlesque class of your own. The Academy of Burlesque – located on Pine Street near Seattle Central Community College – has regular classes and workshops to teach you this timeless trade.
3. Caramels worthy of the President
According to his personal secretary, President Obama fell in love with Fran’s Chocolates while on the campaign trail and keeps the White House stocked with them for visitors. Specifically, the Obamas prefer the salt caramels – his favorite being the milk-chocolate-coated, smoked salt version; and Michelle’s favorite being the dark chocolate, gray salt variety. A 20-piece box including ten of each flavor costs $28 – a great souvenir, if you can make them last.
Fran’s Chocolates has two Seattle retail locations: inside the Four Season’s Hotel at 1325 First Avenue downtown and at the North end of the University Village shopping center at 2626 Northeast University Village Street.
Take a chocolate tour of Seattle
4. Music and memorials
Seattle is known for music – it’s the birthplace of grunge after all – but for concerts amidst animals? The Woodland Park Zoo hosts Zoo Tunes, an outdoor, rain or shine, summer concert series in its 29th season. Tickets go on sale in April and concerts begin late June; past performers have included Taj Mahal, Jewel and the B-52s. Zoo concert parking will run you $5.25, but free parking can be found in lower Woodland Park. Bus route number 5 from downtown or Greenwood will drop you at the West entrance off of Phinney and North 55th.
Concert tickets do not include zoo admission, however, a zoo visit before the concert is worthwhile and Seattle music fans can enjoy the Jimi Hendrix Memorial Viewpoint located in the African Savannah enclosure.
If paying tribute to celebrities past rocks your world a trip to Viretta Park, next door to Kurt Cobain’s old house on Lake Washington Boulevard, has become an unofficial memorial site for Cobain fans, as no formal one exists in the area. Bruce Lee is also ‘in the building’ so to speak, his grave can be found at Lakeview Cemetery, directions are found on the cemetery’s website.
5. Freedom to be peculiar
Fremont’s unofficial motto: ‘De Libertas Quirkas,’ or The Freedom To Be Peculiar sums up the neighborhood’s pride in being a little different. Among the peculiarities is the Fremont Solstice Parade’s annual naked bike ride. The parade is held at noon on the Saturday before the Summer Solstice. Feeling brave? Rent a bicycle, buy some body paint and be liberated! (From your clothes anyway.)
After the parade, wander East toward the Aurora Bridge and the Fremont Troll – a giant, one-eyed creature clutching a Volkswagen Beetle – located under the bridge at North 36th Street and Troll Avenue North. The troll was built in 1990 in an effort to scare away badly behaving citizens and clean up the area that was becoming a dumping ground and a hot spot for drugs. The effort seems to have worked – photos and climbing are encouraged.
Bus routes 26 and 28 from downtown Seattle, or route 30 from the Seattle Center will take you into Fremont.
6. The strangest park in the world
‘Gas Works Park is easily the strangest park in Seattle, and may rank among the strangest in the world,’ according to Wikipedia. What makes this park so unusual is the incorporation of pieces of the gas plant that used to operate there, hence the name Gas Works. In the 1970s, part of the old plant was repurposed into a play barn, while other pieces were deserted and fenced off – acting as massive sculptures. Act like a local and bring a kite to fly on the man-made mound, or simply a blanket and watch the sailboats breeze by on Lake Union.
If you’re a sucker for photo opportunities a stop at Queen Anne Hill’s Kerry Park is unbeatable. A popular place for wedding and engagement photos, the cliff side park enjoys an unobstructed skyline view of the Space Needle, EMP and beyond.
Gas Works Park is located at 2101 North Northlake Way, bus route 26 will get you within walking distance; Kerry Park can be found at 211 West Highland Drive, bus routes 13 and 2 from downtown will get you there.
– Laura Ambrey