Seattle Off The Beaten Path Tips by glabah Top 5 Page for this destination
Seattle Off The Beaten Path: 289 reviews and 596 photos
Discovery Park historic housing, Olympic Mountains
Seattle has a few parks that are fairly good sized, and Discovery Park is one of them. This park is large enough to contain a number of different activities and attractions. I have written a few separate tips about this park which I have put in my Magnolia pages as that is the name of the community where the park is actually located (several miles to the northwest of downtown Seattle). If you are viewing this tip in the Seattle Travel Guide, you will not be able to see the hyperlinks built into the text, so you will have to view it through my Seattle travel page if you want to see the links to the various other tips that help describe this park.
The park used to be Fort Lawton, and parts of the military base in the park are still active so you will want to stay away from those areas.
Probably the biggest attraction in the park is the Loop Trail, which is mostly gravel and passes through dense forests of the park as well as along the edge of the south bluffs, providing some good views of the surrounding area, Puget Sound, and in the distance on a clear day it is possible to see the Olympic Mountains.
Branches from this trail lead to North Beach and South Beach that provide additional viewpoints of the surrounding area. PLEASE NOTE that due to the damage done to the beach environment that the city of Seattle now prohibits dogs from beaches in City of Seattle parks. The only exception to this is the off-leash dog park beach at Magnusun Park, on Lake Washington.
Connected to the Loop Trail by either the North Beach Trail or the South Beach Trail is the West Point Light, which is the lighthouse at the base of the hill. It has been replaced by a simple light tower, and there have been some plans to make the light house part of the light publicly open on an occasional basis for tours. However, budget shortages curtailed these plans for a few years.
Other branches of the loop trail provide a link to lesser visited areas of the park. These include:
+ The Fort Lawton Cemetery mostly dates from the active military era of the park, especially during World War II.
+ The Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center was formed at the insistence of local protesters, who were attempting to get better social services for First Nations groups living in the Seattle area. The center also includes a small art gallery and a few cultural resources such as a Native Plant Garden with plants important for use in the First Nations culture, and two small trail systems that I have divided into the Pond Trails and the Wolf Tree Nature Trail, which are very short trails but add to the areas of the park that may be enjoyed by visitors.
The number of ecosystems in the small area of the park mean that the area attracts some wildlife. In 2009 that included a cougar (it was caught and relocated) but usually the wildlife seen by people is limited to birds of various types. In the summer months listen for Anna's and rufous hummingbirds. In the winter months a number of different birds winter on the water along the beaches.
Some of the roads inside the park are limted access, for the remaining military residents or others, other roads are limited access but pedestrian traffic and bicycles are allowed, and others are public roads. Carefully follow the signs posted at each location to make sure you don't go into places where you should not go.
The best place to get started in the park is probably the main visitor's center, located near the main entrance to the park, at 36th Avenue West and West Government Way. This center is open and staffed during certain hours. The largest parking lots are located at Emerson Street and 43rd Avenue, and at the end of Illinois Avenue (follow signs to Daybreak Star until you reach a large open parking area near a bus stop).
How to Get There:
Go north to the Magnolia district of Seattle, and continue north and get on W. Government Way. Head west (up the hill) until you enter the park. From many major roads, follow signs to Daybreak Star.
An additional park entrance is located at W Emerson Street and 43rd Avenue West.
Bus routes 24 and 33 serve the area, but 33 is the best bus route to take. It is the most direct route from downtown Seattle and goes into the park itself. However, it should be noted there are no bus stops right at the Discovery Park Visitor's Center.
Getting Around In the Park:
All of the trail intersections are very well marked inside the park, and it is best to use them for navigating inside the park. You can purchase simple maps of the park for $1 at the visitor's center, but they are fairly basic maps.
I have written quite a bit about Discovery Park, but to avoid creating dozens of tips about it in the Seattle section and cluttering things up, please take a look at my Magnolia Bluff (the community where the park is actually located) and see the rest of the tips I have written about this park there.
Downtown Bellingham has Surviving Older Buildings
Too far away from Seattle to really be considered part of the same urban area, and yet close enough that people make the trip between the two regularly anyway, Bellingham is the heart of a much smaller urban area. Here, it is the largest urban center in a series of communities that serve as the gateway to North Cascades National Park.
The city itself has so far been able to retain a number of its historic buildings, and so the downtown has a much more interesting appearance than just another place with a bunch of cookie-cutter structures that look just like those built everywhere else in the last 20 years.
One of the reasons the community has a nice personality is that it is the home of Western Washington University, and university towns always seem to have a bit of their own unique flavor. This is also the end point for the Alaska Marine Highway - the ferry system that connects Alaska to the lower 48 states. There is a small amount of industry here, though it was not so long ago a much more active part of the community. There continues to be some activity around the old port complex, but some of this industrial activity has shifted to areas outside the city.
There is a fairly good sized sculpture park and art gallery in Bellingham, as well as several large parks and other outdoor amenities. This includes the very popular Whatcom Falls Park (see photo 3) which may not have a huge spectacular waterfall but is attractive nonetheless. A walkway exists along part of the old waterfront, and the downtown area has a number of independent stores and restaurants.
Seattle is connected to Bellingham by two Amtrak trains per day, plus a third Amtrak connecting bus. There is also BoltBus, and if you really want to do the Seattle to Bellingham trip cheap during the weekdays a series of transit buses (SoundTransit from Seattle to Everett, Skagit Transit from Everett to Mount Vernon, and Whatcom Transit from Mount Vernon to Bellingham. It is also possible to drive Interstate 5. Amtrak yields the better scenery though, as it travels along Puget Sound for part of the way, and in other places avoids going through the not very attractive suburban sprawl along the highway.
As Bellingham really isn't part of Seattle (it is much too far away) I have put the little information I have gathered about Bellingham into my Bellingham page at
Portland Skyline with Steam Locomotive and Train
It is not extremely unusual for people in Seattle to visit Portland for the day, and while going by air gives the most time (but is expensive) and driving gives the most flexibility, going by train is not necessarily a bad option either. Under the current timetable, the first train leaves Seattle at 7:30 am, and the last train coming north to Portland leaves at 6:15 pm. The southbound train arrives around 11:00 am (sometimes it has actually been early, but delays can happen too - this is a very crowded section of track sometimes) so you wind up with at least 6 hours to play around with in Portland if everything goes well, plus you don't have to drive, and you don't have to deal with traffic on Interstate 5. As a plus, the train takes a more scenic route along Puget Sound than is available by driving. BoltBus is cheaper, but it is less comfortable than taking the train, and you don't get the view of Puget Sound that you get from the train.
Sadly, unless you are really lucky and a special trip of some sort is planned as a special excursion, you won't ride behind the steam locomotive shown in the photo above. However, that is the Portland skyline behind it.
If you do take the train down to Portland, and you are able to get reasonably close to the front of the line when they give the seat assignments, see if you can get something on the "Water Side" of the train (the west side of the train). This has somewhat better scenery than the other side as seen in photos 2, 4 and 5. I will warn you that weekends are pretty crowded due to people taking a weekend trip to the other city, so Tuesdays and Thursdays are the cheapest and least crowded days usually.
See my Amtrak Cascades tip and its Overflow Tip for more information than you can possibly want about traveling by train between the two cities. My tip about Portland Union Station includes some information about the public transit options near the station.
As to what to do here once you arrive that depends a lot on the season, the day, and your interests.
Perhaps our most famous attraction is actually a store: Powells Books has several stores scattered through the Portland area, but the big one is in northwest Portland, and only about 10 blocks from Union Station. It is several floors tall and takes an entire city block, and has only the most popular of books from the Powell's collection - the warehouse further north has all the other goodies, but it isn't publicly accessible.
For further exploration within walking distance of the station, the area to the south and west of the station is now called the Pearl District, and there are several dozen art galleries, special stores, and restaurants scattered through this area.
For those with outdoors interests we have Forest Park (though it will not satisfy those with a more adventurous spirit, nor will it provide great viewponts), which is Portland's largest city park and is reasonably maintained as natural forest, though some parts of it suffer from invasive species. You can take bus route 15 to one end, and get bus route 17 back from the outer ends. Combined with Washington Park and a few others, a park corridor through the West Hills is created and the Wildwood Trail runs some 35 miles from one end of this park complex to the other, starting at the Portland zoo.
I really like Mount Tabor Park as well, and bus route 15 going towards Gateway (the other direction from Forest Park) gets you pretty close to it (as does 14, 4 and 71). This park has one of the better views of the Portland skyline, and on a clear day it is possible to see Mount Hood from there.
If you visit on a Saturday or Sunday, there is also the Portland Saturday Market that is fairly close to Union Station, but don't expect the extensive array of vendors that populate Pike Place Market in Seattle. It is a different atmosphere as those that have booths at Saturday Market only do it on Saturdays and Sundays, and therefore really isn't a full time job like staffing a booth or store at Pike Place Market.
Waterfront Park is just that: a park that extends south from the Steel Bridge along the Portland waterfront. The Eastbank Esplanade creates a downtown trail loop, but Interstate 5 creates a horrific amount of traffic noise along the east side segment. To get to this from Union Station it is only a matter of crossing the pedestrian bridge above Union Station and going as far east as possible where you will find a paved trail along the river. Then head south, and you will come to Waterfront Park.
Washington Park has enough to keep people busy for a day. This park includes the Portland Zoo, The Portland Rose Garden, the Vietnam Memorial, and the Japanese Garden. Several of the famous viewpoints that have the Portland skyline with Mount Hood in the background are in Washington Park. Bus route 63 goes to the eastern part of the park (Japanese Gardens and Rose Gardens) and the MAX Zoo / Washington Park station serves the western part of the park.
If rather than do a day drip here you decide to spend the night here, one of the more useful places is probably a hostel on SE Hawthorne. SE Hawthorne used to be, until a few years ago, the hippie district of Portland. It is starting to get upscale today, and so some of the more eccentric places have moved or gone out of business as it is too expensive there now. However, a few others remain, and it is enough to make SE Hawthorne a much more interesting place to stay than anywhere near downtown.
If you are stuck and don't know what else to do, one place to go is Pioneer Courthouse Square, which sometimes serves as an event location but most of the time really doesn't have much in the way of excitement. It has a tourist office in the lower level that is open on weekdays.
Obviously as an entire city it is impossible to describe everything in one tip, so I suggest taking a look at the Portland Travel Guide here on VirtualTourist to find out more. Naturally, as I live here, I have written quite a lot myself, so of course I will put in a plug here for My Portland Page.
Mount Saint Helens over Silver Lake, 28 Nov 2011
From time to time, posted in the Seattle Travel Forum, there are questions about visiting Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument. Usually, these are people who would like to do this trip as a day trip from Seattle. Obviously, following the 1980 eruption Mount Saint Helens became a tourist attraction for the region, but today it is not quite as much of a magnet as it used to be.
Before we get into that, however, I would like to point out that Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument has its own set of travel documentation here on VirtualTourist. So, please take a look at the Mount Saint Helens National Volcanic Monument Section:
Now, it is possible to visit Mount Saint Helens as a day trip from Seattle. However, it will be a fairly long day, and so it is my suggestion that if you are going to try this that you look at spending the night at Castle Rock, Chehalis, or one of the other communities quite far south of Seattle that is on the way to the mountain. It is a two hour drive, under the absolute best of circumstances, to get from Seattle to Castle Rock, and the best parts of the National Volcanic Monument are another hour up the hill from there. The hour drive up to the Johnson Ridge Observatory and return, this is already six hours (three hours each way) of driving alone. There are three good sized museums and visitors centers along highway 504, and if you spend a little bit of time at each of those, plus take photos at the various viewpoints along highway 504, plus explore the area a little bit, this has now become a 12 hour or so trip.
Furthermore, this leaves out seeing entire sections of the National Volcanic Monument, as there are many sections you can not access from highway 504. Highway 504 is the most popular route for tourists to visit as that gets you to several of the main viewpoints.
It all depends on what it is that you want to do, but if it were me I would not try to do all this in only a day.
I would also like to make an important point about weather and time of year: Highway 504 travels to Johnson Ridge Observatory, but this highway becomes snowed in in the winter due to its going to high elevation. Therefore, during the season where there is snow covering the road (and the specific days that this happens depends on the weather that year) you will not be able to go as far upward as Johnson Ridge Observatory.
The one visitor's center that is sure to be open in almost all weather is the State of Washington Silver Lake Museum and Visitor's Center at Seaquest State Park. You can see the mountain from there and the information about the eruption is second to none. However, as it is close to Interstate 5 it doesn't get very close to the mountain.
See my Seaquest State Park Travel Page
and my tip about the Volcanic Museum at this state park:
So, before you make plans, check to make sure that the places you want to get to will be open during the time of year that you will come, as winter closes a lot of things in the mountains.
Below is the official web site of the National Volcanic Monument:
West Point Lighthouse sunset, Olympic Mtns in back
The farthest west spit of land near the Lake Washington Ship Canal is known as West Point, and naturally as a land mark to ships making their approach, and to prevent anyone from running aground in the fog, a lighthouse was installed here in 1881.
It so happens, the lighthouse is located on an old military base which was largely turned over to the City of Seattle for use as Discovery Park, with a number of attractions located inside. The West Point Lighthouse is now one of those. Today, the lighthouse has been declared surplus to the needs of the US Coast Guard, and the city of Seattle is working on a plan to take over the lighthouse, restore it, and preserve it.
Notice carefully photo 5: the light that is on the lighthouse is actually a modern beacon, and has been installed on the roof of the lighthouse in a separate, modern tower. To get the photos that I have of the red light in the tower, it was necessary to take the photo at just the right angle to make it appear as though the light was coming from inside the old tower.
The easiest way to get here is to enter from the 43rd Avenue West and West Emerson Street. Keep following the walking paths west and downhill. Eventually you will come to the edge of the water, and you will need to follow the trail that runs along the beach. There are a number of trails in the park, so the number of ways to get here are too large to explain any of them in detail.
While the view of the Olympic Mountains is wonderful from here, looking back towards downtown Seattle does not give any impression there is a major urban area there. There are some lights from the Alki Peninsula, but otherwise the city is mostly hidden from view by the bulge of land on which the Magnolia neighborhood sits. See photo 5 for a look back towards Seattle.
This tip is part of a larger set of tips about Discovery Park in Seattle's Magnolia area. See my Basics of Discovery Park tip in the Seattle travel page.
A number of web sites feature this lighthouse. The ones listed below are only those that seemed to have the most interesting set of photographs, or official documentation about the lighthouse, or were otherwise interesting about what is going on here.
City of Seattle Parks description of its effort to take over the lighthouse, and produce a plan for preservation and restoration
Light House Friends page about the West Point Lighthouse
Rudy & Alice's Lighthouse Page about the West Point Lighthouse
Entrance to Seattle Interactive Media Museum
The Seattle Center has a number of facilities in it. Some of these are world famous (The Space Needle for example, or the much newer Experience Music Project & Science Fiction Museum) while others are maybe not as well known but still attractions in their own right (the various theatres and performance venues on the north side) while others are world class places at what they do, but just not that well known (the Pacific Science Center and the Chihuly Garden and Glass).
Other facilities in the Seattle Center are essentially completely unknown, and require that one really know the facility in order to find them.
The "Seattle Interactive Media Museum (essentially a video game museum) is one of these institutions located on the grounds of the Seattle Center that is almost impossible to find unless you are actually looking for it.
This is a very new museum, having had a home at this location for less than a year. Things are still getting settled in, and therefore when you visit things may be very different than when I visited on December 1, 2012. It may also be that this museum will alter its presence over time so that it becomes a bit better known.
When I visited on that day, in the evening, there were several video game systems set up and running, allowing the visitors to play those games. None of the operating systems were newer than approximately 1990. See photo 2.
The museum currently operates on a shoestring budget, and there is no entrance fee. There is a donations box near the entrance for those who wish to make a donation.
How to Get Here:
Towards the center of the Seattle Center there is a fairly large building that contains the various on-site restaurants. This is the only surviving building on the site from before the World's Fair: the 1920s Armory Building. This is where the Seattle Center food court is located. You will find a pizza establishment and a Starbucks (who else?) on the south side of this building, facing the Chihuly building. To the west of these to restaurants look for the opening in the wall that marks the entrance to the Seattle Interactive Media Museum (see photo 1). The entrance faces the Starbucks, but the new institution is in the southwest corner of the south side of the building, close to the south side entrance in the middle of the building.
The Gum Wall at Pike Place Market
Pike Place Market is one of Seattle's most well known attractions. However, one part of the market that isn't well marked, unless you go down one level and out a door in the side, is a place called "The Gum Wall".
This is a brick wall towards the south side of Pike Place Market where generations of people have left their chewing gum tacked onto the wall of a building.
Today it is considered a work of art - if a fairly disgusting one.
The wall is very close to the box office for the Market Theatre, and this is where people waiting in line started putting their gum on the wall. By 1999 it had been decided that this was a tourist attraction of sorts.
How to Get Here: This is best trackled on foot. The address is essentially Post Alley. From 1st and Pike at one of the main entrances to the market, you will see a small road headed townhill to the west (see photo 5), parallel with Pike. Go down this slope to an alley that is under part of Pike Place Market. Curve to the left and onto the small street that is mostly pedestrian access only called Post Alley. Here the gum wall becomes obvious.
There are also several signs directing people to the wall from places inside Pike Place Market. See photo 2.
View of Downtown from Rizal Park
For tourists the most interesting feature of this park is that it offers a view of the Seattle skyline. The bad news is that this view does not offer any sort of look at the Space Needle these days, as the skyline of Seattle has grown to the point where downtown stands between the Space Needle and this park.
However, the good news is that on a clear day you can see parts of the Olympic Mountains, through the industrial southern part of Seattle sits in the foreground, along with the stadiums and a vat freeway and highway interchange.
The park also has a few artworks in it, as well as a picnic shelter, various benches and picnic tables, a small playground, and a small monument to Dr. José P. Rizal, who was executed for supposedly being involved with the Filipino insurrection of 1896 but had significant contributions to society and science.
The lower part of the park on the hill is a fairly large off-leash dog area, protected by spring-closed gates.
The park also is crossed by the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trail.
The main photo for this tip shows downtown and Elliott Bay and the stadiums as viewed from this park. However, no mountains are visible due to the typical winter weather view being offered that day.
%How to Get Here:
Easiest on Bus Route # 36, which is a fairly frequent trolley bus route. Going south out of downtown the closest it gets to the park is 14th, which is two blocks to the east of the park. Going north back to downtown it is right at the park. Driving requires going east on Jackson and then south on 12th through a bizarre intersection to continue on 12, then swing over to 14th.
International Children's Park
Located in a somewhat out of the way location for the International District, this small park features a playground and open space, themed around the Asian influences of the International District. The park doesn't have a huge amount of interest in it other than the Asian themed features.
There is a small shelter in the park and it is a popular lunch place for those getting takeout from the surrounding restaurants, if it is a reasonably good weather day.
How to Get Here:
Located at Lane and 7th Avenue South, it is only a matter of going somewhat south and east from Union Station. The nearest bus service is on Dearborn, which is bus route #42. However, a number of other buses are a few blocks north on Jackson Street.
Community Bulletin Board and Grand Pavilion
This small plaza is a popular place for lunch during dry, and especially warm, days. There are various events held here from time to time (see the events section of the city of Seattle parks pages), including street performers of various types during warm month lunches and some evenings.
The Grand Pavilion in the center of the park was designed and built in Taipei, Taiwan. It is part of a celebration of the International District (which is a merging of a large number of different Asian cultures).
You will also find a small map of nearby artwork and other features of the International District. This is located on a small stone post at the center of the south side of the park.
There is a community bulletin board for finding out about local events at the far southeast corner of the park (see photo 1).
There is a dragon mural (see photo 2) on the building just north of the park.
The coldest of winter months (January and December) have far less activity here than during the rest of the year, for the most part.
How to Get Here:
Like much of downtown Seattle parking is a bit of a challenge as it is densely populated. Parking is available at a pay parking structure south of Union Station. Fairly frequent bus routes 7, 14, 36 and 99 serve Jackson Street, just north of the park.
The park is located at S. King Street and Maynard Avenue South.
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