The last time I was in Seattle, I raced through the city in the 2 hours I had to explore it, managing to cram in the first Starbucks, the Space Needle, a drink at a speakeasy and a stroll through downtown during my sprint through the city.
This time around though, I had a whopping 6 whole hours at my disposal... and they were just as packed! We managed to fit in Bill Speidel's Underground Tour, Gum Wall, the Public Market and the Great Wheel on an easy Saturday with beautiful weather.
An important part of our Seattle outing that day was the company: Ryan's friends Patrick and Marjorie live in Redmond and we were taking advantage of our Seattle day as a way to both spend some quality time with them and explore the city. And as a "thank you" for letting us stay with them during our stop, I bought tickets for the four of us to the Underground Tour, a 75-minute walking tour that shows you a hidden side to Seattle.
Fun fact: Seattle was actually rebuilt on top of itself after the Great Fire of 1889, leaving the original streets, sidewalks and storefront entrances more or less intact beneath the streets of today. When I found out this was a thing, my mind was blown.
After buying our tickets online the night before, we headed to the office in Pioneer Place Park for our start time, grabbed a couple of beers at Doc Maynard's Public House (the bar connected to the tour offices), and headed down to a large room where they started the tour with a 15-minute presentation.
There, the tour guides discussed the Great Fire and the reason behind the rebuild and then split up the crowd into smaller groups to begin the walking tour.
We walked out of the offices and down city sidewalks until our tour guide led us down into what looked like a subway entrance into the underground.
Today, the underground is "tour ready," meaning that there are emergency lights and exit signs and roped off areas, and historical pictures hung up along the route. But none of this took away from the giddy feeling that I used to get when I was a kid whenever I was on an adventure or thought I was discovering a secret.
Those backlit squares from above!
Once underground, our guide paused to explain some of Seattle's fascinating history. She did this about three or four times in the underground, pausing our walk each time. Then, to my surprise, we were had reached the end of that underground area and we were heading back up to the street.
As it turns out, we would do this two more times: the underground sprawl is pretty massive, so the tour takes you to multiple underground sections via aboveground streets. So don't worry when you head back up after 15 minutes... the tour isn't over yet!
Probably the most fascinating detail about Seattle is how much of it was made possible by taxing the city's large prostitute population. Because the Underground Tour is family-friendly, our guide didn't go into this in too much detail, but she did highly recommend the adults-only Underworld Tour which I may just have to check out the next time I spend a few hours in town!
The next stop for us? The world famous Gum Wall.
If you heard that the Gum Wall was no longer a thing because the city powerwashed all the gum off in 2015, fear not: the Gum Wall is alive and well and just as disgusting as ever. Sure, it may be missing its 20 years' worth of gum, but I can share firsthand that the year-old gum that currently covers the wall is just as gross.
After walking through Post Alley, we made our way into the Pike Place Public Market to see the sights and also to start looking for a place to eat lunch. The market was incredibly busy, as I suppose is to be expected on a beautiful Saturday morning, and we didn't luck out with finding a restaurant with a reasonable wait. But we did manage to witness the famous fish-throwing at the Pike Place Fish Market and explore the pretty Urban Garden!
Not having any luck inside the busiest area of the Market, we ventured onto the street to try a highly Yelped restaurant a few blocks away: Steelhead Diner.
Ultimately, there was a wait there as well, but don't worry: there was a yarn shop in the building where I managed to kill some time (and bought about $60 worth of yarn!).
While Ryan tasted their gumbo, I used the opportunity to eat my first vegetables in what felt like years and ordered a salad. Our lunch was delicious, if not a tad overpriced, and it was great getting to spend some more time with Patrick and Marjorie before finally parting ways for the afternoon.
But before we left, we had one more tourist activity to complete: a ride on the Great Wheel.
The Great Wheel is a great way to get some nice photos of the cityscape, especially on a day as clear as this one. But be warned: on the weekends you may spend about 20 minutes to a half hour in line and because it's so busy, you might not get your own gondola as you probably would on a weekday.
In the end, sharing worked out pretty well for our gondola crew as it resulted in each group having someone who could take their pictures on the ride!
Once we finished our ride and made an obligatory Starbucks stop (when in Seattle...), we hit the 5 Freeway to begin our drive back down the middle of the West Coast states.
Next up? Portland to see our friends Bonney and Lou. We drove straight to their adorable Portland home and had beers on the porch, played with their son Hal and got to talk and drink into the night, which was super nice.
Because the main event for us in Portland was seeing them, we didn't really explore the city much. But I did make sure to get in one important stop: breakfast at the original Voodoo Donuts.
Ryan was still asleep when we rolled out and I drove quietly through Portland's city streets to get to Voodoo around 6am.
Naively, I didn't really think that there were would be anyone else there and I was... right! When I got into the cash-only donut shop, there were only two people ahead of me. But by the time I left? The line was out the door, proving that there is no time that Voodoo isn't busy!
Though I was severely underwhelmed by what little I saw of Portland, I know that's not a fair assessment because I saw very... very little. And since I hear the best part about Portland is its reputation as a foodie haven, I will have to reserve my final verdict until I eat my way through the City of Roses.
With our Voodoo donuts in tow for later, I continued my quiet early morning drive down the 5 towards our last adventure: Crater Lake.