Guest blogger Gena Schwam was born and raised in New York City and grew up in the major museums there. She went on to have a career as a museum professional and earned a Master of Arts in Museum Studies from the University of Washington in Seattle. She has had a decade-long career working as a museum Registrar, Curator and Director. She also spent two years working for the American Museum of Natural History, where she traveled the world installing the museum's traveling exhibitions.
Seattle? A summer vacation destination? You might be asking yourself why I'd recommend Seattle as a top vacation getaway this summer. After all, the Emerald City is best known for its dreary skies and rainy days. As someone who lived in Seattle for four years, I can tell you, however, that the summers there are some of the best and beautiful I've experienced anywhere in the U.S. (and I have lived all over). With clear, sunny days for most of July and August and temperatures hovering in the mid-70's-low 80's, the city's infamous climate certainly redeems itself during the summer months. There is plenty to do year-round in this beautiful city, and aside from the always hip music and arts scene in the Pacific Northwest, there are also some wonderful hidden gems and natural features that just beg for a visit. Below are some of my very favorites, in no particular order:
- The Waterfront – The Seattle waterfront in general has undergone quite a revitalization in the 7 years since I left the city. On a recent visit back west, I noticed that my same favorite haunts are still there, but the Olympic Sculpture Park is now thriving with an adjacent visitor center. Foot traffic has increased to this area as a result, and especially in the warmer, sunnier months, it is a safe, fun spot to spend a few hours. The cool breeze from the Puget Sound adds to the visual drama of the scenery before you: looking out across the water, Bainbridge Island gleams in the distance (with a brand new art museum scheduled to open sometime later this year). Other islands await, as you will find if you walk down to the ferry terminal. Vashon, Bainbridge and others are only a short trip away. You can also choose to take a lovely harbor cruise (Argosy Cruises) and learn all about the history of the city and some of the key buildings along the skyline. For a wonderful, filling lunch, I highly recommend The Salmon Cooker, located at: 1301 Alaskan Way. Trust me when I say you won't be able to get enough of their alderwood smoked salmon, and the New England clam chowder is better than many I've had in New England!
- Museums – Seattle has a wonderful array of cultural resources and activities to choose from. Should you wish to get out of the bright, glaring sun (it does happen in Seattle!), you would do well to visit any of the museums in the area. Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is closest to the downtown central corridor, and also operates the Olympic Sculpture Park on the waterfront. A very diverse collection of modern and classical art featuring native Northwest Coast and Pacific Island art is presented in a big, beautiful building with newly-renovated galleries. In the University District, take a look through the Henry Art Gallery, part of the University of Washington and offering some of Seattle's most cutting-edge contemporary art exhibitions. Also on the UW campus is the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, where you can learn about ancient and modern fauna, flora and see Northwest Coast Indian art and artifacts. Also not to be missed: the Bellevue Arts Museum (BAM), which is an easy drive or bus ride across Lake Washington to the bustling east side suburb of Bellevue. BAM hosts rotating modern and contemporary exhibitions of craft arts (fiber, glass and mixed media). Other museums not to be missed: MOHAI (Museum of History and Industry) and the Seattle Asian Art Museum (also owned by SAM).
- Pike Place Market – Seattle is home to some of the best food anywhere in the country. Known for its outstanding fresh seafood (salmon and king crab take top billing), the city also provides cuisine to match any palette. At Pike Place Market, you will find food vendors of every shape and size. Directly across the street from the market are street-side bakeries and cafes, including a fabulous cheese shop: Beecher's Handmade Cheese Beecher's Handmade Cheese. The very first Starbucks Coffee shop is a few doors down, and a wonderful bakery is on the same street: Cinnamon Works is located at 1536 Pike Place and sells a variety of cookies and scones with gluten-free and vegan options. My personal favorites are the Health Nut Cookie and the Pumpkin Cookie. Both are wonderful for dunking into a large cup of coffee. On a beautiful sunny, summer day, you will find yourself smiling as you stroll the cobblestone streets outside the market, gaze at colorful bunches of flowers inside, and emerge outside back onto the waterfront in front of a large totem pole. This market is one of the most iconic public markets in the entire country, and with good reason. It stands out as a place where one can spend hours feasting on both visual and culinary treats.
- Mount Rainier National Park – Seattle is a city situated in a highly active tectonic area, meaning that the region is prone to earthquakes and volcanic activity. Mount Rainier is an active volcano which belongs to the Cascade Range. The Cascade Range extends down into northern California and in Washington State, most famously hosts Mount St. Helens, which erupted violently in 1980. Mount Rainier has not had any significant activity for quite some time, and exists today as part of a national park. The visual splendor of this area is indescribable – go there and see it for yourself. Rent a car and drive about 2.5 hours south to the main entrance of the park and park at the Paradise Visitor Center. Hike the moderate Wonderland Trail as far as you like, and you will find that this truly is paradise on earth. Shorter, easier trails also branch out from the visitor center and lead to stunning glacial views. Rolling meadows teeming with wildflowers offer a soft green carpet that frames a tall snow-capped peak and there are several vistas which offer views of other Cascade volcanoes spread out across the horizon: Mt. Adams, Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Hood. There is truly nowhere else in the lower 48 states that compares to Mt. Rainier and if you go to Seattle, it's definitely worth a day trip to be transported into what feels like a set from the movie Gone With the Wind.
- Olympic Peninsula – A 3 hour drive west of Seattle will take you to another breathtaking national park along the gorgeous, rocky Olympic Peninsula. There are actually two locations for Olympic National Park: Hurricane Ridge outside of Port Angeles, and the Hoh Rainforest out on the coast near the town of Forks. Both can be seen in a day if necessary, but are really best over a weekend, as it takes a bit of time to drive to each one. Hurricane Ridge is spectacularly beautiful, with glacial views and an informative information lodge. But the Hoh Rainforest really stands out, as it is the best example of a temperate rainforest in the US. While the climate is generally damp year-round, clear days can be found in the summer. Bring a raincoat even if it's sunny and gorgeous when you leave Seattle as the weather is unpredictable. But even with the rain, the drive is well-worth it. Hike the Hall of Mosses trail through the large, moss-draped trees. The rainforest is otherworldly and ethereal, and you may feel as if a dinosaur could come crashing through the trees at any moment.
From the town of Forks, drive to a trailhead for Second Beach and Third Beach. The Third Beach trail is a flat, 45-minute walk through the woods that opens up onto a gorgeous tree-trunk-strewn beach with amazing views of rock formations jutting out of the ocean. Walk carefully along the beach, keeping in mind that the tides rise quickly and dramatically in this part of the country. Keep an eye out for sea lions and just absorb the natural wonder of this spectacular place. It will stay with you long after you've gone home.
Want to be a guest blogger for SmarterTravel? Read up on our Guest Blogger Policy, and then send your story pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line "Guest blog submission." If we like your idea, we'll ask you to write the post!