September 03, 2013

Seattle, Washington

The only problem with taking summer vacation at the end of the summer is that when you get back, summer is pretty much over. Last summer, while on vacation, I read Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail by Cheryl Strayed and I have been obsessed with the Pacific Northwest ever since. Actually, my enamour with the West Coast began on a trip to British Columbia when I was younger where I saw and experienced the beauty, peacefulness and rustic feel of the area. I saw Vancouver, Whistler, Vancouver Island and knew even then that there was a lot more to discover on that side of the continent.

My dream is to rent or buy an R.V and take a long trip across the United States and Canada. This time, I would not be trekking through more than a thousand miles of trails by myself and enduring the elements like the book. We did however, have a lot of ground to cover in one week and our chosen mode of transportation was a car. Our mission was to drive down from Seattle, Washington to San Francisco, California and see whatever we felt like in between. Of course, in true West Coast fashion, we rented a Prius to be environmentally friendly, which is about as friendly as you can get flying across the country and driving about 1,200 miles.

Space Needle

Our trip began in Seattle, Washington. If we had more time I would have liked to have seen Vancouver again, but the thought of renting a car and taking it across borders seemed like more a hassle than necessary. Seattle, also known as the "Emerald City" is a really cool, laid back city with lots of great food, coffee and surrounding natural beauty. It also the largest city in the Pacific Northwest and home to some successful businesses you may have heard of, such as Starbucks and Microsoft.

The first stop was Pike Place Market. I have seen this market on various cooking competition shows and the back and forth singing of the fish mongers and bustle of the crowds crammed into coffee bars and speciality shops is the place to be on any day of the week. The market was founded in 1907 and is now one of the oldest running markets in the United States.

As well as finding local food and specialities there are always those weird and wacky things you find that you wouldn't find anywhere else. Where else can you buy oyster shooters, ready-to-eat shrimp cocktails and trail mix with beef, cheese and jerky? The seafood, fresh produce and flowers were plentiful, as well as trinkets and Seattle souvenirs. We only scratched the surface of the nine-acre market and as usual I headed straight for the food.

Seattle is all about focusing on West Coast ingredients, such as fresh fish, foraged ingredients (like berries and mushrooms) and the best coffee around. There is also a lot of fusion in the food choices with the influence of Asian cultures. Any type of ethnic food is available somewhere in Seattle and the market is a great place to browse the source of most of those dishes. The historic building overlooks Elliot Bay, so you can snack on your specialities with a view of the water. 

We picked up some dried mangoes, kiwi, beet and apple chips at Simply the Best for some on-the-road snacks. There were way too many options for lunch at the market, so in true indecisive fashion I let the people decide and picked the place with the biggest line: Pike Place Chowder. I later learned that they will ship quarts of their chowder to your house. I tried the chowder of the day, which was Oyster and Clam with Chorizo. There were many types of chowder, including New England Style, Smoke Salmon, Manhattan Style, Seafood Bisque and even a Vegan Chowder. I feel like they might scoff at you if you try to order the vegan chowder because even if you are lactose intolerant like me, the regular chowder is still worth it. 

Don't worry about the cream and butter for a few seconds and just enjoy dipping sourdough bread into a bowl of seafood heaven. I also ordered the Dungeness crab roll on sourdough bread. It had the perfect amount of seafood, zest and tang along with the satisfying chew of the warm sourdough. 

Pike Place Chowder Restaurant

The first (or one of the first? I have heard conflicting reports) Starbucks is also located at Pike Place Market. As expected, there was a line a mile long of people wanting to try a coffee from the famous chain's first location. The barista actually takes your order while you are waiting in line as there are so many people crammed in the store trying to get a glimpse. 

Original Starbucks sign

Starbucks opened its first store in 1971 at the market and the store still retains its historic look. The drinks are the same as every other Starbucks although the menu is limited, as it's more of a tourist attraction than a relaxing stop for a coffee. You can buy original Starbucks souvenirs and reflect for a moment on how the quaint coffee shop became an empire with now more than 20,000 stores worldwide.

Our hip hotel, The University Inn, was right near, or actually in, the University of Washington. Any place that has free coffee, tea and cupcakes in the lobby every afternoon is four stars for me. The U (University) District is great for finding cheap ethnic eats and lots of small, cozy places to go for a bite or drink. We actually went to two out of the three places recommended in the Lonely Planet book for this area. On the first night we wandered down the street to Flowers Bar and Restaurant. 

On the second night we tried the waterfront gem on Portage Bay, Agua Verde. This cafe serving up fish tacos, enchiladas and quesadillas, is also a paddling club and rents kayaks. The cute exteriour also has an espresso window and tacos to go for those on the run in between classes. We sat on the deck and tried the lemon pepper cod and spicy catfish tacos with a side of pureed black beans and green rice. Admittedly not the best meal to eat right before a road trip, but you can't leave the West without having fish tacos along with a heap of fresh tortilla chips and homemade spicy salsa. 

After a bit more than a day in Seattle we began our road trip adventure down the West Coast. Of course there are other wonderful things to see in Washington; Mount Rainier and Mt St Helens are just two of the state's beautiful natural wonders that we saw. I am a city girl at heart, but I don't mind venturing off the road once in awhile to see the other things a place has to offer. Maybe if I had more courage I would delve deeper into the landscape and hike through the area's trails like Cheryl Strayed. 

Learn more about where to go and what to do in Washington with Lonely Planet Washington Oregon and the Pacific Northwest 5th Ed.

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