A little over a week ago, I returned home from my trip to the West Coast—the first big U.S. trip of my adult life. This trip actually ticked many “firsts” off my list: first road trip, first time renting a car, first visit to the Pacific Northwest (and subsequently first visits to Washington and Oregon), and first solo trip. As I’ve mentioned previously, it was both a dream and a bit of a nightmare, but I promised myself I would do my best to enjoy each moment of the new adventure.
I left New York early on a dark, rainy morning—my third 6am flight in just a week—with two carry on bags. Okay, one regular carry on bag and a rather large “personal item.” (I’ve been apprehensive to check any luggage since my suitcase was lost after a delayed flight out of South Korea and a too-short layover in China.) To my surprise, I boarded a nearly empty plane that Friday morning. I’m talking like twenty, maybe twenty-five people, including the flight crew. It was glorious. I got to stretch out in my row and actually get some halfway decent sleep during the flight. I looked out my window as we landed in Washington and was shocked at how much the landscape below me reminded me of Ireland. It was overwhelming gray, of course, because it nearly always rains in Seattle. But it was also lusciously green and calmingly blue. Immediately, this little city 2,800 miles from my life back East felt like home.
I wanted to jump straight into exploring the Emerald City, but I stopped by my Airbnb first so I could drop off my things and freshen up. (My first Uber! My first Airbnb!) From there, I ventured downtown. Here is a disclaimer: I suck at public transportation. I sat in my Airbnb for half an hour checking the bus stop, the schedule, the fares… And I still got on a bus heading in the wrong direction. *Insert face palm here* Anyway, after my mix up, I found the right bus and went straight to Pike Place.
It was late morning by then, but the market was still bustling with tourists and locals alike. My friend Aubrey is originally from Seattle and had plenty of tips for places I should check out, both at the market and elsewhere. I took a quick detour to Starbuck’s and then wandered around aimlessly, soaking up the atmosphere and browsing the many shops, produce stands, and craft stalls. I ducked into Post Alley to check out the Gum Wall—a landmark that is as equally aesthetically pleasing as it is absolutely disgusting. I continued wandering. I snacked on donuts at Daily Dozen Donuts and honeycrisp apple chips at the stand next door. I admired the fresh flowers, homemade gifts, and samples galore. There was even a moment of warm, golden sunshine!
I walked along the Bell Street Bridge, built to allow pedestrian access between the hillside and the waterfront, and made my way to the Olympic Sculpture Park, one of the only green spaces in Downtown Seattle. The clouds had rolled in by then, and there was a chill by the water, but the air felt so fresh and clean. My feet were already exhausted, but I kept walking. There are so many hidden treasures to find when you allow yourself to get lost among the city streets. I backtracked through Pike Place Market and ate the creamiest mac and cheese (à la Beecher’s Handmade Cheese) while I overlooked Elliott Bay. It was a perfect afternoon.
I visited the Seattle Art Museum—which offered gorgeous collections of art from African renaissances, the Age of Enlightenment, and life along the Northwest Coast—and later returned to my room in a sweet little Scandinavian home in the hills of Queen Anne.
I’d been apprehensive to travel alone for quite some time. Although I’ve come out of my shell quite a bit since I was younger, I can still be shy, especially when I’m alone. There were a hundred times that first day that I doubted myself and thought it was a mistake that I had taken this trip alone. Then I spotted the why not grow? street art from across the street and was immediately comforted by the sign. I put one foot in front of the other, and before I knew it, I had made it through my first day. Yeah, it kind of sucked to travel alone, to not to have anyone to talk to or get lost with. And yet it was still so, so good.
The next day, I woke up early and explored some of Queen Anne before breakfast. The walk was entirely uphill (I did not realize Seattle was such a hilly city before I visited. Oops!), but soon I found my way to the house used for the exterior shots of Meredith Grey’s home (AKA the Intern House) on Grey’s Anatomy. (She was too busy working at the hospital to hang out.) Just down the street, Kerry Park offers an incredible view the city, or so I’m told… It was foggy and gray and endlessly cloudy that morning, so I saw little more than the very top of the Space Needle. I cut my losses and headed to the Queen Bee Café a couple of blocks away. I enjoyed a peanut butter, banana, and honey crumpet and sipped on a delicious cold brew.
I caught the bus downtown (the right one this time!) and made my way to Colman Dock to hop on a ferry. The visibility was still horrible and the view of the city skyline still almost nonexistent. Still, I didn’t care. There was a light rain and the wind picked up as we glided across the Puget Sound, but the smile on my face wouldn’t budge. I was endlessly excited to be on the water, on that ferry boat. I even caught a glimpse of a seal bobbing in the water for a split second! I don’t know whether it was the quiet or the smell of fresh air or something else entirely. That ferry ride felt like magic though.
Bainbridge Island is roughly the same size of Manhattan but boasts a population of only 23,000. I wandered around the city’s streets and residential neighborhoods for a while, popping in and out of quaint shops, and then I checked out the Bainbridge Island Historical Museum. The island’s history—everything from steamboat production and local orca migrations to wartime contributions and the discrimination against Japanese-Americans—fit neatly into an old schoolhouse sat on a quiet street. I found a tiny restaurant for lunch (warm quinoa and roasted root vegetables over a bed of greens, plus a local pumpkin cider) and then meandered back for a mid-afternoon ferry (which I missed by three minutes and had to wait nearly an hour for the next one). The fog had lifted by then and the Seattle skyline sprawled in front of me. It was still gray, but I expected nothing less. Actually, I felt kind of lucky that I was able to see the city in its natural state.
Rain eventually rolled in just as I stumbled upon the Seattle Central Library. The stunning eleven-story glass and steel facade stood prominently along Fourth Avenue, even under overcast skies. I browsed each of the floors, including the four-story Book Spiral and the Red Hall, and their thousands of books. Eventually, I left to wander the city’s streets for a bit longer, but by nightfall, I was ready to retire to my Airbnb. Twenty-thousand (hilly) steps will do that to you!
The following morning, after I’d packed up my things, I walked to Macrina Bakery and Café for a quick breakfast. My short weekend in Seattle was coming to a close, but I wanted to squeeze in one last meal (and coffee) before I left. The Squash Harvest and Orange Chocolate Chip breakfast breads were spongy and delicious. The coffee was rich and cold. I puppy-watched from my table in the corner. It was quiet, but cozy and comfortable—like most of my time in Seattle.
Although I was sad to leave the city so soon, I was ready for my next stop: a straight shot down the I-5 and onward to Portland!