Ideas for enjoying the real life of Seattle (that often cost little or nothing).

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Getting around Seattle by Bus

Seattle's current snow day got me thinking about the bus. This town has a great bus system. Metro covers all of the greater Seattle area, including Bellevue, Kirkland, and other eastside cities. It also links up well with transit for other areas of the Puget Sound. Fares are reasonable and the buses are pretty reliable. Dogs are allowed on buses, but you must pay a fare for them (unless Spot is a service dog). Often the driver will not enforce the fare rule, but the big rule is that Fido keeps her four on the floor.

Metro has several online tools to help their customers build itineraries for the rides and catch their buses.

The Trip Planner is a great tool that allows you to plug in variables such as start and end addresses, date, time, maximum distance you are willing to walk, and other details and it will provide you with an agenda for each leg of your trip.

The Tracker allows you to plug in a bus line number and see, in real time, where that bus is on its route.

Of course there are timetables on the site.

There is also a tool for finding carpool and vanshare partners. This is not only for commuting, but for finding a ride to regional, public events as well.

For travelers with disabilities, there are many accessibility services. In the summertime there is even a water taxi that links downtown to West Seattle.

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Wednesday, November 22, 2006

For the Literati

Seattle is a town of readers. Bookstores run rampant, as do all kinds of book events, from book fairs, to reading groups, to author readings, to literary lecture series. And because they are so well attended, great folks grace Seattle's literati scene. Often times these events are either free, or very inexpensive. Here are a few good sources

The Seattle Public Library has an ongoing schedule of events. Many are free. Here is my pick of the week:

Isabel Allende

Thursday, November 30 , 7:30 PM
From the SPL website: "Isabel Allende returns to Seattle to read from her new novel, Ines of My Soul. Allende is the celebrated author of such international bestsellers as The House of the Spirits, Eva Luna, and Paula. Her works were featured in the Library’s 2004 series, Seattle Reads Isabel Allende. Presented with Elliott Bay Book Company."

Free, no tickets required. Visit or call 206/386-4636 for more information.

Other ongoing sources for literary events include:

University of Washington Bookstore

Elliott Bay Book Company

Seattle Arts and Lectures

The Richard Hugo House


Third Place Books



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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Nature in the Midst of the City

Parks in Seattle were planned for early on. The Olmsted brothers conceived of a "string of pearls", a cruising boulevard studded with parks. This plan was largely accomplished and Seattle now has long-established parks throughout the city. Given the prevalence of water and hills, stunning views and water access are common.

The Arboretum is a large city park that lies just southeast of the University in the Madison Valley neighborhood. It has a great trail that cuts across two islands facing the university campus.

Kerry Park on Queen Anne hill has one of THE best views of the city (skip the Space Needle).

Seward Park is a lovely park on Lake Washington that encompasses an entire peninsula into the lake. There is a beautiful walk around it's perimeter as well as an old growth forest trail in the interior.

Volunteer Park, on Capitol hill sports not only a fabulous city view (particularly from the water tower), but also the Asian Art Museum and a conservatory.

Lincoln Park is in West Seattle and has a great walk along the waterfront of Puget Sound.

Discovery Park, in the Magnolia neighborhood, is also a large park and has some amazing views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains.

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Friday, November 17, 2006

Art museums and galleries- at least looking can be free

Here's a starter overview of art museums and galleries worth visiting:


The Frye Art Museum, on Capitol Hill, is my favorite museum in the city (the building itself is beautiful), always something intriguing and often it stretches me far. The Frye is always free, by its charter.

The Henry Art Museum on the University of Washington campus in the U District is the best venue for modern art. They too always have provocative shows. The Henry is free on Thursdays.

The Seattle Art Museum has three venues. Well... actually right now it only has one, as the main, downtown museum is being remodeled (thank god), and the new sculpture garden is not yet open. None-the-less, the Asian Art Museum branch is open and is a fabulous building in Volunteer Park on Capitol Hill (worth a visit just for the view). Admission to the Seattle Asian Art Museum is free on the first Thursday and first Saturday of each month. The Sculpture Park branch will open in late January and will always be free. The main museum will reopen in May.


There is a slew of great art galleries in Seattle. Although they have traditionally centered in Pioneer Square (and there is still a density of galleries there), other neighborhoods are growing their own “gallery alleys”, including Belltown, Ballard, and Georgetown. Here are links to some of my favorites:

The Davidson Galleries
Foster White
The Seders
Friesen Gallery
Greg Kucera

There is an art walk the first Thursday of every month in the Pioneer Square neighborhood from 6—8pm. Galleries open new shows that evening, often with snacks and wine. Occidental Plaza is always filled that evening with new/young/unrepresented artists selling their wares.

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Thursday, November 16, 2006

A Very Seattle Christmas

Like most towns, Seattle has some holiday traditions that are unique and/or flavored heavily by its culture. A few of my low-cost (most are free) favorites are listed below. Visiting the Emerald City during the season of lights? Check a few of these out!

The Figgy Pudding Caroling Contest is a fabulous happening on the streets of downtown Seattle. A fundraiser for the Pike Place Market Senior Center, caroling groups pay a fee to claim a street corner and sing their hearts out. Funny or sublime, mild or raucous, talented or no, they compete for prizes based on your votes. This year it happens on December 1st.

Visiting Pike Place Market all dressed up in lights and trees. The lighting ceremony is on November 25th.

The Christmas Ships are an everchanging flotilla of private and commercial boats that dress up in lights and parade through the waters around Seattle after dark. Led by one of the Argosy ships that each night has a choir on board, they make a few stops in different areas (usually lake- or sound-side parks) for a brief concert. I recommend one of the locations that has a bonfire or other special lighting, such as Madrona Park or Seward Park (get schedule info on the link).

The Caroling Kayakers. These guys are hardy! Another fabulous fundraiser, the carolers pay for the privelege of paddling around Lake Union with Santa in decorated kayaks to carol at houseboats and other shoreline spots.

Greenlake "Pathway of Lights" is a lovely luminaria event at one of the most popular city parks.

The Jinglebell Run. Yet another fabulous, brave-the-cold-and-rain fundraisers (we are a city of do-gooders!), thousands of runners tie bells to their shoes, many dress in costume, and prance a 5k route through downtown, including a tunnel (imagine the acoustics!)

The Volunteer Park Conservatory on Capitol Hill is a great place to shake of the winter chills. This year, on a few choice afternoons (December 10, 17 and 24, 1pm - 2pm) there will be a free harp recital.

Saturday, December 2 , 1:00 PM
Each year, Town Hall sponsors a free holiday concert. This year it celebrates those people who live and work by the sea and will be held on December 2nd.

A few other more generic but noteworthy activities:

Westlake Center - tree & carousel & minorah The tree lighting celebration is November 24th.

The Holiday Parade, also on November 24th.

Winterfest at Seattle Center on lower Queen Anne Hill (where the Space Needle is)

Candy Cane Lane in the Ravenna neighborhood starting December 9th.

Happy Wasseling!

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Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Some Initial Thoughts on Cheap Eats

Seattle is a foodie town. There are some aMAZing restaurants here. Popularity of bioregional and organic ingredients (of which Cascadia has a wide variety being ocean-side, temperate, and rich in splendid farmland) and strong pan-Asian influences create a foundation for creative, flavorful and varied cuisine.

Fine dining in Seattle can be very expensive, however, with entrees ranging from $18-$35. However, if you can forgo ambiance (and sometimes waitstaff) you can find some very tasty meals for $6-15. Here are a few ideas for affordable dining downtown and in the International District

Food courts have a bad wrap, and usually it's deserved. However, in Seattle they are often a treasure-trove of affordable ethnic dining. This would include the third-floor of Westlake Center which is smack-dab in the middle of the shopping district. You can find Asian noodle dishes, Indian, Greek , sushi, & Mexican, (as well as a McDonald's, which amazingly has the longest line). Prices are mostly around $5-$7.

In the International District, the Uwajimaya Food Court is another gem. A wide range of country-specific Asian and Pacific Island eateries, from Thai to Hawaiian to Korean and more!

If you like spicy middle eastern food/Indian-type food, Cafe Zum Zum will be your Mecca. Fabulous Pakistani lunches for about $7. In the same little outdoor food court, upstairs, there is a Thai place that makes really good Thai sandwiches for about $4.

Tamarind Tree is a particular hidden favorite of mine. Tucked away in the back of an International District strip mall, your search will be gratified by luscious Vietnamese food, priced from $7 for a dinner entree. Parking is horrible, so walk, bus, or carpool if you can.

FareStart, a non-profit that provides gourmet food service training to the homeless, has two cafes that serve fabulous lunches priced from $6-$11.

Here are some links to additional recommendations from local food critics (you may see some overlap):

Northwest Source
City Search
Seattle PI

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Monday, November 13, 2006

Lodging Ideas for a Tight Budget

There are a lot of really nice hotels in Seattle. And really nice equals really expensive. There are many moderately priced hotels as well. Sometimes that is even too expensive, plus a moderate price most often equals a moderate experience. There are options to the hotel/motel/fluffy, victorian B&B scenes that also offer a more personalized experience in the city.

If you have never heard of Craigslist. Know it now. In Craigslist's own words, it is a, "local community classifieds and forums - a place to find jobs, housing, goods & services, social activities, a girlfriend or boyfriend, advice, community information, and just about anything else -- all for free, and in a relatively non-commercial environment."

Craigslist is a huge phenomenon in Seattle. Folks swear by it for buying, selling, finding jobs, apartments, band members, community groups, etc. I had one friend tell me that she she's had such good luck with Craigslist, sometimes thinks that if she typed in "truth" or "God," She'd find it there.

Anyway, there is a section under the Seattle site for sublets and temporary housing. Particularly if you are planning to stay for more than a few days, this is a good page to browse. There are even "by the night" postings at times. There is also a "housing wanted" page and a "house swap" page.

Which brings me to another tip: Housing Exchange programs. If you own a home or rent a place you can loan out, there are programs to match travelers who are willing to let others stay in their home in exchange for the same in a city they'd like to travel to. A couple organizations recommended to me are: Intervac, and Home Exchange. Members can make decisions around whether they allow children, smokers, etc. and whether they will allow use of other amenities, such as the car. Read the sites for rules and the full process.

An even more intimate option is Couch Surfing. Where people offer a free place to stay for a traveler for the sake of meeting new people from around the world. Of course this also means you are willing to make the same offer to your hosts, or others, at some earlier or later date.

Finally, last but not least, Seattle does have a hostel that has great rates and is smack-dab downtown. It is right under the Pike Place Market, which is a classic Seattle landmark and is just blocks from other sights.

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Sunday, November 12, 2006

Welcome to Seattle Song

Seattle thrives on the arts and cuisine, on outdoor recreation and intriguing thoughts, on community service and progressive politics. It is both sleek and crunchy-granola. It is a beautiful city with views of mountains and water in every direction. Nature pushes in close. I love where I live. Seattle and its surroundings are an amazing place to visit and to live.

The inevitable result, then, is that Seattle is also an expensive city. That is, if you don't know where to look. This blog will be covering life in the Emerald City, particularly for the newcomer or visitor, and with an eye to making it happen on a budget.

But before I start making suggestions, lets get you oriented. Seattle, Washington is in the Pacific Northwest, or Cascadia, region of the United States. It sits on the edge of Puget Sound, a large, salt-water inlet of the Pacific Ocean. To its West, on the Olympic Peninsula, are the Olympic Mountains. To its East are Lake Washington and the Cascade Mountains. Seattle is called "the City of Seven Hills", although there are actually more than that. Although this makes driving a drag during our 3 days per year of snow, it gives virtually everyone at least a sliver of a beautiful view from their neighborhood. The city also encompasses other lakes, including Lake Union and Green Lake.

If you want to stay central to the downtown area, neighborhoods to consider include: Belltown, Pioneer Square, Queen Anne Hill, First Hill, South Lake Union, the International District and Capital Hill. From these neighborhoods, you can walk to downtown. Other central neighborhoods that are an easy bus ride to downtown include: Wallingford, Fremont, Madison Park, Madrona, East Lake, Leschi, Mount Baker, the University District, the Central District and Beacon Hill. Other areas, such as Green Lake, Phinney Ridge, Ballard, Georgetown, West Seattle, and Magnolia are great areas, but are further from the downtown core. Here is a neighborhood map and a link to neighborhood association sites to help. Unlike many other American cities, where the urban neighborhoods are pretty much the same, each neighborhood in Seattle has it's own, distinct personality. Do some research, including Googling, to find which area appeals to you most! Later on, I will delve more indepth on these cool neighborhoods individually, with sightseeing, shopping, and eating ideas.

Tomorrow's blog: Where to stay on the cheap.

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