Home / The 30 Things List / 06. Touch a Penguin / Playing Tourist in Seattle

Our visit to Seattle in March was probably one of the luckiest vacations we’ve had. What do I mean by lucky?

Katie & Tim in Seattle

I was not lucky as far a photos went – I looked terrible most of the time. But that’s okay!

  1. The weather was beautiful – sunny and high 60s almost the whole time! Our Seattle friends told us it was a total fluke.
  2. Speaking of friends, we got to see two sets of wonderful people.
  3. The cherry blossoms were in bloom, which is odd for March. It made the city extra gorgeous!
  4. We did almost no planning and the trip ended up being fantastic anyway.
  5. I managed to talk a Woodland Park Zoo employee into letting me touch a penguin.

Katie Touches A Penguin

YES, THAT’S RIGHT! I get to cross Thing #6 off my list! I’m pretty sure it was against the rules and I probably could have gotten my fingers nipped but I did it. And let me tell you – wet penguins pretty much just feel like fish. But I loved it anyway. The penguin I touched was named Carmine and now we’re best friends.

Seattle is a great tourist town, especially if you’ve got friends living there who will let you crash in their spare room. There’s a lot to do, it’s fairly easy to use public transit, and there are plenty of recognizable landmarks to Instagram. It’s actually one of those places where I think it’s better to be a tourist than a resident. We didn’t have to deal with the really annoying parts of Seattle, like the traffic or the cost of living (or even the rain!), and it didn’t bother us that everything was so expensive because we’d planned to splurge anyway. The city was beautiful, we had great tour guides, and we had fun doing all the stereotypical Seattle stuff.

We bought a Seattle CityPass and it definitely saved us money. It also gave us extra motivation to go to few places we would have otherwise skipped. I would highly recommend getting one if you plan to hit all the major attractions! We visited:

Gasworks ParkView From Gasworks Park

Very cool park that was super busy when we were there. People were tossing frisbees, playing football, flying kites, walking dogs – I’ve never seen that many people in Phoenix park in my life. The view of downtown Seattle was excellent and the people watching was even better.

Kerry ParkView From Kerry Park

We never would have found this supposedly famous photography spot if it hadn’t been for our lovely tour guide, Chad. This is up a hill somewhere but it offers an amazing view of the Space Needle and Mt. Rainer. It hardly a park – more of a strip of sidewalk with a statue – and it was packed with other tourists. We still got some great pictures!

Discovery Park

Tim and Stephanie try not to get lost in the massive Discovery Park.

Tim and Stephanie try not to get lost in the massive Discovery Park.

The friends we stayed with for the first part of our trip live right next to Discovery Park so we got to wander around it a bit. We didn’t even see 1/10th of it, but it was a very enjoyable walk. Coming from a place with no trees, I’m awed by any forest area at all. My only criticism is that the maps from the visitor center are terrible. If you plan to go, get an offline map and plan better than we did (bring water, for example) so you can maximize your time in the park.

Ballard LocksBallard Locks

Close to Discovery Park, this is another touristy gem we would have missed if not for Stephanie and Chad. When I heard about it, I thought, “It’s a gate for boats, who cares?” Well, it turned out to be pretty cool. There’s (another) park and a botanical garden (which was free, though kinda lame), a salmon ladder, and you can see boats go in and out of the locks. It’s also next to the Ballard district, which is a hip shopping area that’s great for strolling. We ate at an excellent Puerto Rican restaurant called La Isla – if you go, get the house special mojito, it’s fantastic.

Woodland Park Zoo

This was my favorite monkey because he so clearly had an attitude problem.

This was my favorite monkey because he so clearly had an attitude problem.

I touched a penguin here, so it’s a winner in my book. Though I’m a big fan of anything animal related, so I probably would have enjoyed the zoo regardless. It’s not the biggest or most modern zoo, but it’s well laid out and has some interesting animals and exhibits. You can get a bit closer to the animals than some other zoos I’ve been to – for example, the bear viewing window was so close to where they were sleeping that I finally realized BEARS ARE SO SCARY! They have knives on their fingers, it’s terrifying. Because Woodland Park is on the small side, it was easy to see the whole zoo in just a few hours. Despite the cold and the sheer volume of toddlers, we had a very enjoyable afternoon. And, oh yeah, I GOT TO FEED PENGUINS YOU GUYS. (Sorry for all the yelling.)Feeding Penguins

Just in case you ALSO have the incredibly odd life goal of touching a penguin: Woodland Park Zoo’s Humbold penguins are on display year-round but they only offer the penguin feeding experience from September – May. Be sure to check their daily calendar before you go!  It costs $5 and you get three or four little fish to hold over a railing where the penguins will take them from you. The penguin handler will call penguins over (by name!), tell you a little bit about them, and answer your questions. (Some of my questions included, “Can you hug them?” & “What if I picked one up?” and I found out that while they wouldn’t like either of those things, they will back up to your legs and sit on your feet so you can scratch their bellies. At that point I died from cute.) The lady working that exhibit when I went was less than enthusiastic about her job – she seemed baffled as to why I, an adult, would pay $10 (yes, I did it twice) to feed penguins that she described as dirty, smelly, and bratty. But this worked out to my advantage since she was inclined to, uh, relax the safety rules. I asked if I could touch one and she said, “Well it might nip you but I don’t care, go ahead.” Thanks, disinterested penguin lady! My strategy was to hold the fish in one hand and pet with the other and I was safe! If you go with the intent to pet one of these little guys, make sure the handler you talk to is actually cool with it or be prepared to run right after.

Pike Place MarketPike Place Market

I didn’t know a ton about the market before we went outside of flowers and flying fish. The market definitely has both of those things, so I wasn’t disappointed, but I wish I’d known two other things: 1) The market is actually a collection of buildings laid out across multiple levels, so if you can’t find the thing you’re looking for, cross the street. 2) The market is kind of like a giant yard sale. There are storefronts that are just filled with junk. Never saw that in a travel magazine!

Fish at Pike Place

This is what I thought the market would be like!

It was worth going to the market for the experience and for the food. On our first trip, we went to the Pike Brewing Company which had good atmosphere plus decent food and beer. The second time, we visited the famous Pike Place Chowder Co. (solid but overhyped – definitely not the best chowder in the country but still a good meal) and Rachel’s Ginger Beer, which is a restaurant that only serves artisan ginger beer. It was good, expensive, and completely up its own ass, which we decided was a perfect metaphor for the Seattle food scene. So what was the best thing we ate at the market? Both times we made a stop at Daily Dozen Donut Co. which is a little stand across from an Italian grocery store. You’ll recognize it because they have a donut making machine right on their counter! Get them fresh and cover them in cinnamon sugar – they’re incredible. We ate two bags and I still wish we’d had more. Perfect for strolling and snacking!

Seattle AquariumAt Seattle Aquarium

I loved the Seattle Aquarium! It was probably one of the highlights of the trip for me. It’s not huge, there isn’t a ton to see, but it’s focus on local wildlife is great. It’s built out on a pier and they have touch tanks that are designed to be filled by ocean water! You can see the water pour in with the tide. That was pretty cool. The Seattle Aquarium is also home to that famous octopus whose attempted escape went viral, a fact that seemed to delight a lot of the visitors. He’s like a local celebrity! I also learned that there are birds that both fly and swim like penguins. Is that something I should have known as an adult? Well, I didn’t.


Uhhh, you okay, dude?

Uhhh, you okay, dude?


My favorite part, though, was the sea otters. The sea otter is my spirit animal – they’re silly water ferrets that like to hold hands, c’mon. The otters spent a whole lot of time cleaning themselves and it was hilarious to watch, well worth the cost of admission. The aquarium is walking distance from Pike Place Market so there’s no excuse for missing it!

Space NeedleSpace Needle

The Space Needle, Chihuly Museum, and EMP Museum are all located on the same block (called Seattle Center), along with a little food court, so we did them all in one day. We started with the Space Needle because we’d heard the lines could get really bad later in the day. We went on a drizzly weekday morning and didn’t have to wait at all. The view was pretty good – it was a little windy but we managed to get a few good pictures. Seattle is a pretty town, especially when it’s clear enough to see the mountains. Much like the Eiffel Tower, it was cool just to be somewhere so iconic.

Chihuly MuseumChihuly Museum

I’ve mentioned before how much I love the glass work of Dale Chihuly, even though I acknowledge that he’s kind of a dick. In fact, I should probably change that to say: I love the glass work that comes from Chihuly’s workshop. Because really, he doesn’t create any of the pieces himself, and he acts more as a businessman than an artist these days. Chihuly is controversial in the art world and so was  his museum – many Seattle residents didn’t want him to build it in City Center. I don’t live there so I won’t comment on his use of the space. I will just say that I thought the museum was beautifully designed and featured some of his work in an absolutely optimal space. The inside of the museum is dark with black, reflective surfaces, so the colored glass dominates your vision. That design also makes it easy to take pictures that look like they came out of a brochure:

Chihuly Boats

The outside was less impressive. I feel like those pieces worked better in the sunny desert environment of the Desert Botanical Garden than they did in the overcast, uninteresting Chihuly garden.

The reflection of the space needle was a neat touch, though.

The reflection of the space needle was a neat touch, though.

But I still enjoyed seeing some new things I hadn’t seen before. It was worth the trip for me as a fan of glass art, that’s for sure.

EMP MuseumLabyrinth Display at EMP

My best advice for the EMP museum is to skip it. It was laaaaaaaaaaaaame. We went because I’d read that they had a Science Fiction Hall of Fame – Tim is a huge SF fan (and writer) so I thought he’d really enjoy that. We found out only after getting in that they’d closed that exhibit (even though it’s still listed on their website), along with a few others. Taking it’s place was a Star Wars costumes exhibit that we actually paid extra to get in to. It was mostly from the new movies and I’m not a Star Wars fan anyway, but I guess it was nice to be so close to something that once touched Ewan McGregor’s body? We enjoyed approximately one exhibit, Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic. It was a collection of costumes and props from various fantasy movies, presented in an interesting, imaginative space. They had an equivalent exhibit for horror fans called Can’t Look Away, but a bunch of artifacts were off display and it just wasn’t very interesting. The music exhibits were meh and the indie video game exhibit was way disappointing – almost half the games were broken. I wouldn’t go back unless it was free or something.

Ferry Ride

Can you tell he was cold?

Can you tell he was cold?

We should have done this the first day because it’s a great overview of all the Seattle sights. We did it on the last day and it was kind of a snoozefest. Also super not ideal in the cold/rain.

Capitol HillSahar & Her Sweetie

No, not a government building. Capitol Hill is the hippest neighborhood in Seattle. My friend Sahar lives close by and she was kind enough to show us around. Though we didn’t see very much of the neighborhood, it did seem like a very cool place. Plus the food we had there was great – ramen at Samurai Noodle and ice cream from the highly recommended Molly Moon’s.  The ramen was so good that I’m still craving it. The ice cream was great because it was ice cream (possibly my favorite food?), though I’m not entirely sure I understand the buzz around the place. The salted caramel I had was excellent but the coffee flavor was gritty because it had coffee grounds in it, bleh.

Umi Sushi

Best sushi I’ve ever had. Really.

Speaking of food, we ate EVERYTHING. We had sushi three times. THREE! The first time was at a revolving sushi restaurant called Blue C – decent and not too expensive. The second time was at Fugi, a fancier place with even better sushi. The third time was at Umi Sake House and it was SO AMAZING OMG. If you like sushi and you’re in Seattle, you have to go there. The ambiance was great and it’s probably some of the best sushi I’ve ever had. It was spendy, but not more so than anything else we ate while we were there. The other culinary discovery of note was the Dark & Stormy cocktail. Ginger beer, which is practically non-existent in AZ, seemed like it was everywhere. The cocktail combined artisan ginger beer with rum and I, a strictly girlie cocktail kinda gal, LOVED it.

Oh, I should also mention – we switched from crashing with friends to a hotel partway through our trip (so as not to be a total burden) and the hotel we stayed at was a total winner. Belltown Inn was located between City Center and Pike Place Market, which was way convenient, and they put free water, sodas, and popcorn in our room. Oh, and it was affordable! I would highly recommend it.

Us on the Space Needle

We hardly planned anything, we made no attempt to live like locals (who probably wouldn’t be caught dead at city center), and we dropped a ton of cash, but it was still a near-perfect week. Should out to Stephanie & Chad and Sahar & Richard for being such wonderful hosts. Seeing them was really the best part about our wonderful trip.