In July, my fiance (Ethan) and I had planned a trip out West to attend my oldest daughter’s wedding (Stephani). The original plan had us spending two days in Whistler, Canada, first (Ethan used to manage a beer & wine store in Texas, so he was interested in some wineries in the Whistler area). That plan got scrapped when we did some research and discovered Vancouver, Canada – it looks amazing and was an hour and a half closer! Plus, travel time was tight (we were getting in to Sea/Tac at 2pm and Stephani wanted to meet us for dinner that night.) So the new plan was two days in Vancouver followed by three days in Seattle (Puyallup, actually).
Then disaster struck – ok, maybe not “disaster”, but our vacation money was given to a vet instead of to the country of Canada for x-rays and hip surgery for my 3 year old pit bull who developed hip dysplasia. She’s doing great, but we needed a new, cheap plan ASAP!
“Let’s just stay in Seattle?” Sure, why not?
A little more research and I found the EMP Museum – a museum dedicated to Music & Science & Pop Culture (the name stands for Experience Music Project Museum). They had exhibits on music, obviously, but also Fantasy, Horror, Sci-Fi… it was perfect for us! A text was sent to the fiance saying I must see this place. My hook? They had an actual Game of Thrones throne you could sit in!!!
On the EMP Museum’s website, there’s a link to something called Seattle City Pass – we checked it out. It is tickets to 6 Seattle attractions at a discounted price. To make sure it was a good value, we looked at the attractions individually to see what we would do, assuming we just paid for each thing we did:
EMP Museum: TOTALLY INTERESTED per person prices: $20.00
Seattle Aquarium: TOTALLY INTERESTED $21.95
Pacific Science Center: SEMI INTERESTED $20.00
Argosy Harbor Tour: TOTALLY INTERESTED $23.50
Space Needle (2 visits in 24 hours): TOTALLY INTERESTED $31.50
Museum of Flight: SEMI INTERESTED $18.00
Seattle Zoo: NOT INTERESTED $18.75
So, even if we just did the 4 things that TOTALLY INTERESTED US, the cost would be $98.00 a person. The total for all 6 attractions is $135.00. The cost of the City Pass was $74.00. That’s 45% off admissions! That’s a lot of touring for $74.00! But pretty affordable!
We flew out to Sea/Tac from Milwaukee late Thursday morning. An added wrinkle to our lives lately has been me getting diagnosed with an allergy to wheat. Not a life threatening allergy, just a “you are allergic and it wouldn’t hurt you to avoid it” warning from the doctor. So Ethan and I have been gluten-free as much as possible since the end of June (yes, Ethan is doing it too – isn’t he sweet?) This isn’t hard to do at home and even in most restaurants these days (especially since my allergy is minor and a little wheat won’t kill me), but to do this at an airport??? Much harder.
Our flight was at 11:40am (Central) and landing in Seattle 4 hours and 15 minutes later at 1:55pm (Pacific). We needed lunch for the plane. I suggested packing a lunch – nuts, granola bars, hummus, seed crackers, apples, trail mix, and sliced cheese (we DO Live in Wisconsin, you know).
I was very proud of myself packing a healthy, filling lunch until the stewardess announced someone on board had a MAJOR peanut allergy. Not only would they not be passing out peanuts, but if you brought anything on board with peanuts in it, do NOT open it! We check labels and so much for the trail mix and granola bars. Next trip, I will keep that possibility in mind when packing food.
Through some texts with Steph, we figure out dinner will be in the Puyallup area (about 40 minutes south of Seattle) at about 7:00pm, at the earliest. So, when we land about 2:00pm and get our rental car (all rental cars are gotten to by a shuttle to the rental car building) and Ethan tells me to set my GPS to the Space Needle – we have plenty of time to start our touring! Our hotel was a Howard Johnson in Tacoma (about 40 minutes south of Seattle, but 15 minutes west of Puyallup) but we can check in later before dinner.
We find the Space Needle with minimal fuss, but find Seattle traffic to be… interesting? I swear the lanes are narrower, the roads are made with pebble-like stones in them (which cause the ride to be louder than we were used to), and Seattle drivers are… well, we’re both originally from Chicago, and Seattle drivers actually make Chicago toll roads look like serene Sunday drives 7 days a week. I make a mental note to ask Stephani about this at dinner.
The Space Needle is built in the Downtown Seattle area, sandwiched between the Pacific Science Center and the EMP Museum. Ethan is looking for parking and going on about how we can knock out all 3 attractions before dinner! Yeah, we’ll see about that…
We circle the Needle looking for parking and find some on street parking where you pay at a parking box and get a sticker to place in your window for the meter maids (in lieu of actual meters) (are they still called meter maids?) We have these in Chicago, but I’ve never used them.
We walk the couple of blocks back to the Space Needle and find the correct line to buy our City Pass booklets. With the City Pass, there’s 3 options for purchase: if you know far enough in advance, you can order them online and have them mailed to you; you can also order them online and print out a voucher to redeem at a ticket booth once you are at one of the attractions; or you can buy it at the first attraction you go to. That made the most sense to me, seeing as we decided to do this less than 2 weeks before our trip!
We get in the regular ticket line and within 10 minutes, we’re at the window buying 2 City Pass booklets. You keep the booklets whole, the ticket takers at each attraction tear them out for you. Good news is, once you have your booklet, you bypass all ticket lines and head straight for the attraction entrances – like a Fast Pass! Of course, we hit most of the attractions at off times and there were no lines to actual bypass!
We head off to the City Pass line for the Space Needle and are standing next to the regular line of people. Not having realized the Fast Pass function yet, I was surprised that we were let in before the people who’d been standing there already! Once inside the building, the ticket taker tears out half our stub and tells us we have until 11:30pm tomorrow to use the other half (since you get 2 visits to the Space Needle in the City Pass).
We are sent into the next line – for a photo. They give you a receipt with a bar code on it because there are machines upstairs to scan your code, pick a background, and e-mail yourself your picture. After they take your picture, you get in another line for the elevator. The ride to the 520′ observation deck is 40 seconds, during which a guide gives you a concise 39 second spiel about the Space Needle.
Once upstairs, the Observation Deck provides a 360° view of Seattle and beyond that commands your attention. See the snow-capped Cascade Mountains to the east and the majestic Olympic mountain range to the west with breathtaking indoor and outdoor viewing. The day we were there, Sub Pop Records (think Nirvana) was celebrating their 25th Anniversary with concerts on the roof of the Space Needle (Mud Honey was playing. Please don’t ask me any questions about that… I like Rick Springfield.)
The views were incredible – it was a beautiful day. Within an hour, we were ready to head down, actually we were starving. I made a point to check out the food offered on the Observation Deck – there was a Starbucks (shocker) and an ice cream place. 20′ below the Observation Deck is SkyCity, the Space Needle’s revolving restaurant, but we were not budgeted for that expense!
Trying to stay Gluten-free as much as possible, we each have a “Find Me Gluten Free” app on our phone. This turned out to be a great tool for our meals! Ethan found a place nearby called “Local 360”, so we started walking over. It turned out to be a little further than it looked on the map. It was now just after 3pm and we were starving! Local 360 just happens to have Gluten Free items on their menu, but:
***we believe in real food, grown and harvested by the good folks in our community who take care of their land for future generations. We believe in whole, natural flavors. We believe in sustainability, not as an abstract concept, but as a conscious daily choice. We believe in hands; the hands of our local farmers, products made by hand, and the goodwill fostered by such hand-in-hand relationships.***
As cheese-guzzling, diet Coke swilling Wisconsin people, we went there anyway.
The atmosphere was awesome, the staff friendly and helpful… and their fries were gluten free!
JAIME: I haven’t had fries in months!
WAITER: I haven’t had fries in hours.
We ordered the fries,
an order of mussels (minus the bread),
and root beer glazed pork with beans.
The fries were amazing, the mussels good, the pork and beans not so good… and the diet soda was a brand called Local 360, you got a bottle for $3.
It tasted like root beer, not diet coke. Weird, but good. Meal was fine, a little pricey, and neither of us found anything worth going back for.
We start walking back towards the Space Needle and the car – how did I not know Seattle is all hills??? Going back was UP hill! I’m very good at making up excuses to stop for air –
“Oh, wait, my shoe’s untied!” You’re wearing flip flops.
“This looks like a nice bench with a nice view, let’s savor the view.” It’s a street corner with a view of the street.
“Let’s stop for a second, the guy ahead of us is smoking and it’s bothering me.” Yes, okay.
We get back to where we parked the car and realize we need to get moving – it’s close to 5pm and Steph is telling me we will be stuck in rush hour traffic. We decide to just head for Puyallup and dinner and check into our hotel later. When we had gotten into the car, I had texted Stephani. She said to let her know when we were 10 minutes from the restaurant. We get on the highway and she texts me asking if we were close yet. I told her we had just gotten on the highway! It took us 40 minutes in Downtown Seattle just to get to the highway! It’s crazy!!! Then another hour on the highway to get the 20 miles to Puyallup! MENTAL NOTE: No more leaving the city during rush hour!
We were meeting Steph and her fiance, David, at a Red Robin. I really try to avoid chain restaurants on vacation thinking “Why did I travel 2,000 miles to eat at some place down my street?” but the place I wanted to try (Friesenburgers in Tacoma) closed at 7pm. I found them on “Find Me Gluten Free” and they have an entire gluten-free (GF) menu of burgers and fries! We settled for Red Robin because they also have GF selections.
Even though I kept my eyes glued to the GPS and sent the text “TEN MINUTES!!! TEN MINTUES!!!” at exactly the 10 minute mark as instructed, we beat Steph & David to the restaurant. We waited outside when we saw 2 cars turn int the lot. In the first one was an elderly lady, driving slowly and looking for a parking spot. In the 2nd car, we saw my daughter gesturing wildly and screaming something at the woman in the car ahead of her. Once the woman had turned a corner of the lot, my daughter’s car shot forward and into a parking spot with a jerk. That answered the Seattle Driver question.
It was wonderful seeing them again, and this is the first time they have met Ethan. Red Robin was just Red Robin, with 2 exceptions: I got a salad and discovered I L-O-V-E honey mustard dressing and we filled our Red Robin Rewards card (buy 9, get the 10th free), so we got a free meal!
It’s late when we head to Tacoma and the Howard Johnson (finally). We’re greeted with “We’ve been waiting for you! A large group came in, so you’ve been upgraded to a suite, since we gave them all the regular rooms!” Awesome-sauce!!! (And, seeing as it was almost 1am Central time – my photo of the living room was horribly blurry!)