Seiro Soba at Miyabi 45th, Green Lake

Today promised to be such a nice day that I convinced my wife to take a drive out to Wallingford, get a bite to eat at Miyabi 45th and go for a walk around Green Lake.

Our first order of business was finding a parking spot around Miyabi. Much of Seattle near major commercial areas has strict parking ordinances that understandably favor residents. Get caught parking “illegially” and you get an expensive ticket, which we did when we had a wonderful omakase dinner last October. It was raining pretty hard, so we parked just around the corner and hightailed it to the restaurant, not noticing the parking hour restrictions posted on a nearby telephone pole, which turned out to prohibit street parking after 5pm. It wasn’t until a couple weeks later that we received a notice by mail for failing to pay the fine. What happened, I figured out when thinking about it, was the ticket under the windshield wiper dissolved in the steady rain and became unrecognizable lumps of paper. OK, cry me a river.

I so enjoyed the chyashyu seiro soba the last time I lunched here with my daughter. I recommended that my wife get it, while I ordered curry seiro ($12), with a side order of katsu (fried pork, $2). The dipping broth came promisingly dark, filled with bite-sized pieces of cauliflower, carrot and green bell pepper. So as not to taste thin on the dipped noodles, the broth has to be concentrated. Sipping it alone will seem too assertive and salty. This was a satisfying broth with excellent Japanese curry flavor, deep and not harsh. After finishing the noodles, pork and vegetables, there is enough headroom in the bowl to pour in hot water that the pasta was cooked in, served in a teapot-like pouring vessel. It’s when the broth gets diluted thus that it becomes more drinkable, straight from the bowl. Unfortunately, the pork slices were tough and hard to bite through, the only drawback in an otherwise very fine soba (☆☆☆). As good as it was, it doesn’t quite measure up to the superb chyashyu seiro, which I reviewed previously. My wife loved hers.

Curry seiro soba

Curry seiro soba

Chyashyu seiro soba

Chyashyu seiro soba

I was intrigued by the foie gras “tofu,” which I noticed on the menu the last time. Looking like a slice of freshly made tofu (cheesecake even), topped with a dollop of wasabi and honey roasted grape, it instead is a mousse-like cake of foie gras essence, floating in a pool of umami-rich dashi. It’s as if goose liver fat was whipped and combined with custard and truffle oil. How this bit of kitchen wizardry was performed, I’ll never know, but it was outstanding (☆☆☆☆), light yet rich, and at $9, an infrequent indulgence for sure.

Foie gras

Foie gras “tofu”

Miyabi 45th’s zaru soba caught the attention of food critic Mimi Sheraton in her popular book, 1000 Foods to Eat Before You Die.

Miyabi 45th
2208 N 45th St
Seattle, WA 98103

Green Lake

The path around Green Lake is used by walkers (with and without dogs), bikers, skateboarders, skaters, scooters and others on any number of wheeled contraptions. It took us about an hour to make the complete circuit, with a brief ice cream sandwich break in between. At almost 3 miles, it arguably is the best urban pathway in the city of Seattle, certainly the most heavily used. Among the numerous mature trees within the park, quite a few of them are coastal redwoods. At this time in spring, yellow irises were in full bloom.

Sammamish River Trail Garden

There is a small water conservation demonstration garden along the Sammamish River Trail, right below the NE 85th overpass in downtown Redmond, that showcases plants that draw insects attractive to salmon and birds. The garden design simulates a riparian environment by its system of mounded beds, large rocks and gravel pathways. It also provides photographic opportunities throughout much of the year.

mugwort and geranium

Western mugwort (artemisia ludoviciana) and geranium ‘Ann Folkard’

geranium 'ann folkard'

Geranium ‘Ann Folkard’


Red horse chestnut

Red horsechestnut (aesculus x carnea)

Catmint (nepeta faasseni)

Lily 'Stella d'Oro' (hemerocallis fulva 'stella d'oro')

Lily ‘Stella d’Oro’ (hemerocallis fulva ‘stella d’oro’)

Dwarf mock orange (philadelphus 'snow dwarf')

Dwarf mock orange (philadelphus ‘snow dwarf’)

A Day in Capitol Hill (Seattle)

As if driven by some unseen force, my wife and I felt compelled again not to let a rainless day in Seattle go by without our doing something outdoors. After a deluge of a month in September, October has been extremely dry. In the last week, it has been foggy, lingering well into the afternoon, occasionally with the sun breaking through late in the day. The nights have been getting chilly as fall weather encroaches, but the combination of partially sunny days and cold nights have joined forces to produce one of the best displays of local fall color we have seen in a while.

We hopped onto the bus into the fog-enshrouded morning and headed across the bridge once again. Our destination today was the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Seattle. But, first, we had to get down to the serious business of breakfast, namely, breakfast at Serious Biscuit, one of Tom Douglas’ restaurants, in the South Lake Union (SLU) district.

After breakfast, we walked east on Harrison and north along Eastlake, then Lakeview Blvd. Lakeview is like a giant curved overpass over Interstate 5 to get from SLU to North Capitol Hill. Starting near the REI flagship store, the overpass soon enough gives a dramatic view of Lake Union to the west (but not today because of the fog) and, further up, the juxtaposition of I-5, its express lane and the long southbound offramp to Mercer Street. Noisy as it was, peering over the guardrail, I couldn’t help but be amazed by the three-dimensional flow of traffic. Past all this, Lakeview becomes a residential street with the underside of the freeway to the west.

Read on …

Breathtaking views from Queen Anne Hill (Seattle)

We didn’t need an excuse to go out on a beautiful day that popped up today between rainstorms in Seattle. It was a last-minute decision after breakfast. The destination was Queen Anne where we intended to go only two days ago in conjunction with Seattle Center, but decided to forgo after spending a long enough time at the Science Center.

While Queen Anne is a residential neighborhood, its high elevation affords fantastic views of the mountains, sound, lake, islands and skyline. Because of this, Queen Anne is a desirable place to live. Many older, restored homes share space with mature trees, a good number of parks and the legendary, 120 public stairways that traverse Queen Anne’s many steep hillsides. Another feature of Queen Anne Hill are the three television transmission towers that are aligned east-west.

We found a parking spot along W Highland Dr, then made a grand loop on foot. Almost immediately, we came upon Kerry Park that has the most dramatic viewpoint. The Seattle skyline highlighted by the Space Needle is clearly visible. Elliott Bay and West Seattle are likewise in view and further afield, Mount Rainier (on clear days, like today). In a slightly different direction, you can see the Magnolia Bridge, Smith Cove with its Elliott Bay Marina and cruise ship terminal, and the Olympic mountain range.

"Changing Form," Doris Chase, sculpture at Kerry Park

“Changing Form,” Doris Chase, sculpture at Kerry Park

kerry park view

View from Kerry Park (click to enlarge)

The street along 8th Ave W was bolstered on the left with retaining walls topped with a concrete balustrade and decorative light posts. Several stairways connecting 8th Ave to streets below were the first we saw today. At Galer St, another stairway connected 8th and 9th. In fact, Galer Street has a fair share of them along its entire length from Kinnear Park to Lake Union.

Decorate light post on balustrade

Decorative light post on balustrade (Olympic mountain range on the horizon)

Stairway at Galer and 8th

Stairway at Galer and 8th

Our walk up to 5th Ave wound through the neighborhood with its Queen Anne style homes, many of them with spectacular views. A good number of the trees look as old as the neighborhood itself. En route, two baseball games were being played at West Queen Anne Playfield.

Taylor and 5th Ave are the largest streets that define the eastern edge of Queen Anne. We stopped to admire a P-patch at Trolley Hill Park along Taylor that also has a nice picnic area. Along 5th Ave is Bhy Kracke Park, so named because it’s homonymic to a favorite expression of the 19th century (“by cracky”), which I’d heard in a movie when I was a kid. It was a favorite expression of Werner Kracke who owned the land before it became a park. At first, it just looks like a small park with a pergola and play equipment for kids, but toward the back, there is a narrow opening for a trail that switchbacks along the steep hillside. At the top, there is a very good view, partially obscured by trees, of Lake Union, Capitol Hill and the Cascade mountains to the east.

Dahlias in Trolley Hill Park P-patch

Dahlias in Trolley Hill Park P-patch

Space Needle from Bhy Kracke viewpoint

Space Needle from Bhy Kracke viewpoint

After the two-hour walk, we were ready for lunch. The area around the intersection of Queen Anne Ave and Boston St has many restaurants. Unfortunately, Mezcaleria Oaxaca is closed on Sundays, so we walked around until we came across La Luna where we had a nice meal before heading home.

Fall colors

Fall colors on Queen Anne Ave

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Walking Seattle’s International District

This week’s excursion was to the International District in Seattle, a residential and commercial area of Asian Americans which is roughly bounded by 5th Avenue to the west, Yesler to the north, 8th Avenue to the east and Dearborn to the south. And, like many other Seattle neighborhoods, my wife and I had never taken the time to explore the area on foot. Prior to WWII, the Asian minorities about whom the most has been written were the Chinese, Japanese and Filipinos. While the demographics today are different, the ID, as it’s called for short, is still seen as an Asian enclave in Seattle. It is also called Chinatown, which refers to a smaller section of the ID where most of the Chinese businesses operate.

Weather-wise, today was predicted not to be as nice as the previous few (actually, many) weeks before: overcast with chance of rain in the morning, partially clearing in the afternoon. My wife and I decided to give it a go and hoped for the best. As it turned out, it didn’t rain at all, but it was blustery and cloudy for most of the day. Once again, it was a simple matter of hopping onto an express bus all the way from Bellevue to the ID. 

Panama Hotel

We started off the day with breakfast at the Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee shop, which above ground has no pass-through to the hotel’s rooms, though originally the cafe area served as the lobby. To get to the hotel units, you have to enter the stairwell from a separate street entrance and climb to the second level of the building. Although we weren’t hotel guests, the manager allowed us to look around. The Panama Hotel (605½ S Main St) served as a residence for mostly Japanese residents and businesses until 1950. When it was built in 1910 by a Japanese American architect, the lower floors housed businesses while people lived in the upper floors of the five-story building. There was even a sento (bathhouse) in the basement. Though the bathhouse is still intact, it is no longer used. The hotel was part of a large, thriving Japantown. When Pearl Harbor happened, Americans of Japanese ancestry along the West Coast, including residents of the hotel, were ordered to leave their homes, businesses and belongings and put in concentration (euphemistically called “relocation”) camps. The belongings of many families evacuated from the hotel have been kept in the basement by the current owner for future claim by descendants. A portion of these items can be seen through a plexiglas viewing window in the café floor. The hotel is now a National Historic Landmark and has resumed renting out rooms, which have been completely renovated.

Panama Hotel entrance

Panama Hotel entrance

Second floor hallway, Panama Hotel

Second floor hallway, Panama Hotel

Historic photos on café shop wall

Historic photos on café shop wall

Danny Woo Community Gardens

Across the street, we noticed a forested setting rising steeply on the hillside. A torii gate serves as the official entrance to the Danny Woo Community Gardens though we entered it along the west side over a series of cascading stairways. This was the largest P-patch we had ever seen, spread out over 1.5 acres and picturesquely designed over terraces and sloped areas, where community gardeners had planted all manner of flowers, herbs and vegetables, many of them Asian. There was even a chicken coop where owners can harvest eggs.

Danny Woo Gardens

Danny Woo Community Gardens

Kobe Terrace Park

The gardens butt up against the Kobe Terrace Park to the northeast. A 200-year-old stone lantern gifted by Kobe, Seattle’s sister city in Japan, anchors a park that contains many mature cherry trees. The lantern was presented to Seattle on the occasion of the nation’s bicentennial. This is not a quiet respite because I-5 borders the east edge of the park.

Stone lantern gifted by Kobe, Japan (Kobe Terrace Park)

Stone lantern gifted by Kobe, Japan (Kobe Terrace Park)

Nippon Kan Theatre

We exited the park at S Washington St where we immediately came upon the old Nippon Kan Theatre (628 S Washington St), built in 1909 and center for the Japanese performing arts, cinema, martial arts and community activities back in the day. Like many other buildings in Japantown, it was boarded up when the war came. It is no longer a theater, but now houses a legal services firm. Still, the building is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The name of the theater appears on two sides of the building. The Wing Luke Museum displays the original stage curtain (see below).

Nippon Kan Theatre

Nippon Kan Theatre

Union Station

Though not seen as part of the historic International District, Union Station (4th Ave S and S Jackson St) has been in existence side-by-side throughout its history. It was constructed in 1911 by Union Pacific to compete with King Street Station that served Great Northern and Northern Pacific and now serves as the headquarters of Sound Transit, a transportation consortium funded by three adjacent Washington counties. Laying idle for many years after the railroad industry’s decline, Union Station became the focus for restoration efforts and re-opened in 1999. Walking into the central room, I was impressed by the massive vaulted ceiling, tiled floor, pilasters and tiled wainscoting that lined the walls and support posts. The sand-colored interior accentuates the soaring space, heightened by natural illumination through a large semi-circular window on the south wall and skylights along the top of the ceiling. Though we’ve seen the transit tunnel in the past, we went down for another look. Several stairways accessible through entry points between Union Station and 5th Avenue lead down to the tunnel platforms.

Union Station

Union Station

Tile floor, Union Station

Tile floor, Union Station

Stairway to tunnel platform

Stairway to tunnel platform, Union Station

Chinatown Gate

We continued south on 5th Avenue, then west on S King St. The first of a planned pair of Chinatown gates straddles King St. It was constructed with private, business and city government donations but has been the center of some controversy. The Chinese community considers it a source of pride and tribute to the old Chinatown while other Asian groups insist that the area has always been a Pan-Asian community. There is some doubt that the second gate of the pair will ever be raised because of this divisive issue. The gate is 45ft tall, painted in red (for luck), and lined with tiles imported from China.

Chinatown gate, International District

Chinatown gate, International District

Hing Hay Park

Further east along King St, at the corner of Maynard Avenue, is Hing Hay Park (423 Maynard Ave S), dedicated in 1975 and venue for a variety of community events. It isn’t unusual to see tai chi classes in session or a lion dance being performed during Chinese New Year. The public space is dominated by a pavilion donated by Taipei (in Taiwan).

Hink Hay Park pavilion

Hing Hay Park pavilion

International District Walking Tour

We’ve rarely regretted taking an organized tour, even of places with which we are familiar. So, we took one (“Touch of Chinatown”) sponsored by The Wing Luke Museum. The tour began in the Tateuchi Story Theatre where Don, our wonderful and knowledgeable guide, set the historical stage for the tour to follow. He pointed out the 15x30ft scrim that hung from the stage, the long-lost curtain from the Nippon Kan Theatre that only had a brief life (1909-1915) as a fire barrier between the backstage and customers. The scrim was unashamedly an advertisement medium of a grid of 48 squares (6 down, 8 across) on which a merchant could pay for advertising space. If the merchant was in arrears, his advertisement was rubbed out. In position #3 is a plug for Maneki, a restaurant that amazingly still operates today and considered the best Japanese restaurant in the ID.

Old Nippon Kan Theatre curtain, Wing Luke Museum

Old Nippon Kan Theatre curtain, Wing Luke Museum

In the lobby of the museum, Don reviewed the life story of Wing Luke, a remarkable saga of a boy of 5 years who immigrated to the U. S. with his parents from Canton, China, and eventually became the Assistant Attorney General of Washington state (1957-1962) and Seattle city councilman (1957-death), despite confronting racial discrimination throughout his life. He was a staunch defender of civil rights.

The first stop on the tour was the retail shop of Tsue Chong Company, manufacturers of a range of Asian noodle products that are sold widely. But, it is more popular for its fortune cookies so ubiquitous at Chinese restaurants. Also available are its fortune cookie seconds, affectionately known as “unfortune” cookies, which can be purchased in large bags here. The Unfortunes have become so popular, in fact, that the company now makes them deliberately in this way to sell. The noodle factory is behind the shop and takes up almost an entire city block.

Unfortune cookies, Tsue Chong Company

Unfortune cookies, Tsue Chong Company

Dry noodles, Tsue Chong Company

Dry noodles, Tsue Chong Company

In front of Eng Suey Sun Plaza on S Weller St are statues of two lions flanking the entry stairway. Such statues were historically found in front of the homes of the Chinese elite, though this is no longer the case. Don explained their symbolism. The male lion, on the right (as you’re facing a building) with his right paw on an embroidered ball, protects the building, while the female lion rests her left paw on a lion cub, representing nurture.

Our next stop was Canton Alley, unique because of storefronts that used to face into an alley. The Kong Yick buildings that line the east and west sides also had single room occupancy (SRO) units on the upper levels to rent to Chinese, Japanese and Filipino laborers. The east building houses Wing Luke Museum. In the 1950s, these storefronts were converted to apartments and remained occupied until 2005. The museum eventually purchased both buildings and restored apartment #6 to its former condition and is now an historic exhibit, which in general is accessible on organized tours. The storefronts are now painted in Cinque Terre-like pastel colors.

Storefront along Canton Alley

Storefronts along Canton Alley

Living quarters behind stores

Apartment #6

No tour of the ID would be complete without a stop at one of the many Chinese bakeries. Don took us directly into Mon Hei, the oldest bakery. My enthusiastic review of its cocktail bun is here.

Cocktail buns at Mon Hei Chinese Bakery

Cocktail buns at Mon Hei Chinese Bakery

We stopped briefly at the northern end of Maynard Alley. Perhaps to avoid its gruesome details, the Wah Mee Massacre was not mentioned, though one of the tour members asked about it. The only place Don mentioned was an aquarium shop that is accessible from the alley.

Tai Tung (655 S King), the ID’s oldest Chinese restaurant (since 1935), doesn’t get the attention that others in the area get but, as Don pointed out, it’s been serving generations of families. It’s become an institution of sorts, including long-time waiters.

Don took us to the Panama Hotel where we had already visited by ourselves.

The tour was a very good one with lots of history and anecdotes about the ID. One glaring omission was the Filipino connection. This may have to do with the fact that the everyday lives of laborers, which Filipinos primarily were in the ID, including labor organizer Carlos Bulosan, got short shrift at the expense of historic buildings and institutions that were prominent throughout the ID’s history. Also generally not well known is that the influx of African Americans to the ID during the war years led to Jackson Street becoming Seattle’s center of jazz, swing and R&B.

Wing Luke Museum

After lunch, we returned to the museum to look at the exhibits. The Wing Luke Museum is the only one in the country that is devoted to all Asian and Pacific Island Americans. Inside are snippets of their histories, photos, art, personal stories and oral histories, and artifacts. Photography of the exhibits is not permitted.

"Letter Cloud," letters written by immigrants to their families

“Letter Cloud,” letters written by immigrants to their families

"Sweet Hello," chandelier of wind chimes, ornaments and masks

“Sweet Hello,” chandelier of wind chimes, ornaments and masks

Is There More to Tacoma than Aroma?

Tacoma don’t get no respect. At least, not from its big sibling to the north. Even if it’s the third most populous city in Washington, and only a half hour away by car, Tacoma has been playing second fiddle to Seattle for, what, forever? This situation is not helped by Tacoma’s public relations problem—the sulfur-like, pungent odor that sometimes permeates the air from paper mills to the east, sarcastically known as the Tacoma Aroma. For me personally, I have never stopped in Tacoma, not even to sightsee. Truthfully, the only thing I notice about it when driving past along I-5 is the Tacoma Dome, a runt compared to Seattle’s colossal, now long-gone Kingdome, replaced by CenturyLink Field, even if the Tacoma Dome is far more attractive than the Kingdome ever was.

My wife and I decided to change our perception of this city of 320,000 by making it a destination among our recent flurry of staycation activities. Not only that, we decided to take Amtrak there, again leaving the driving to public transportation entities, including a bus from Bellevue to King Street Station.

We planned our arrival to the train station so we’d have enough time for dim sum at Jade Garden in the International District, one of the very few places open for breakfast at an early hour.

King Street Station is so much nicer than it used to be, entirely restored from years of neglect and ill-advised “modernization” efforts. The ugly acoustical drop ceiling has been removed and the interior restored to its original appearance, even when many architectural elements have long since been removed and lost. The clocktower, a replica of the one in St Mark’s Square in Venice, has also been structurally reinforced.

King Street Station

King Street Station

King Street Station ticketing and waiting area

King Street Station ticketing and waiting area

The Amtrak Coast Starlight train bound for Los Angeles was a pleasant surprise. While it has luxurious first-class and sleeper cars, the double-decker coach cars feature large, comfortable seats whose legroom puts airline pitches to utter shame. Not only that, there is a foot rest and a folded section of the seat that can be flipped up to provide support for your lower legs. With the back rest fully extended, it is possible to enjoy much better reclining comfort than any airline’s. The Starlight also has a lounge car that has floor-to-ceiling windows for admiring the passing scenery, attended by National Park Service guides to elaborate on points-of-interest. Not once did we feel short-changed in comfort. We enjoyed the experience so much that we were truly disappointed to deboard at the Tacoma Station after only a 45-minute ride.

Coast Starliner interior

Coast Starliner coach seats have plenty of legroom

Retractable roof sections of Safeco Field (as seen from train)

Retractable roof sections of Safeco Field (as seen from train)

Amtrak no longer uses Union Station in Tacoma, the beautiful building taken over by the U. S. District Court, but stops at a smaller, more utilitarian station more removed from the new downtown core. Our first destination was the Glass Museum, about a mile on foot from Amtrak. Along the way, we walked past the monumental Tacoma Dome Station that serves Tacoma Link light rail, Sounder train and a number of Pierce County buses. Along Puyallup Avenue, a nicely restored Texaco garage building has been converted to an art gallery.

Gallery 301

Gallery 301

To bypass the train yard and industrial section, the newly constructed D Street overpass connects areas on both sides of the Thea Foss Waterway to the Dome district, with pedestrian lanes in both directions. It took us a while to recognize this in order to get to the museum, having at one point gone down a dead-end street. Once on the overpass, which we mistook for a freeway onramp, we noticed built into the concrete walls separating foot and vehicle traffic shapes that represent the tugboats that used to ply the many waterways here and beyond. The approach to the museum along Dock Street provides a panoramic view of the striking East 21st Street cable-stayed suspension bridge, part of SR 509 that spans the Foss Waterway. Also visible from the elevated walkway is the vast Tacoma rail yard.

One of many representational tugboats on the 'D' Street overpass

One of many representational tugboats on the ‘D’ Street overpass

21st Street bridge

21st Street bridge

As we approached the Museum of Glass, an enormous architectural cone that appears tilted on its side came into view, part of the striking design. The galleries themselves are housed in an adjacent building. The famed Canadian architect Arthur Erickson designed the complex. As the name suggests, the museum is a tribute to glass arts, a movement in Washington that was promoted by Tacoma native Dale Chihuly, who in fact also had a significant hand in the museum’s plan. There is an impressive system of stairways that encircle and lead away from the cone, letting you get different views of it. The structure has spiraling rows of parallel and crossing, diamond-shaped sections of glass, a pattern reminiscent of a pineapple.

Museum of Glass

Museum of Glass

Martin Blank's Fluent Steps are displayed in the museum's reflecting pool

Martin Blank’s Fluent Steps are displayed in the museum’s reflecting pool

Inside the museum, the studio glass of Australian artists was featured in the current exhibit, “LINKS: Australian Glass and the Pacific Northwest.” While the Australians also excel at blown glass, their work with fused glass, textures and opaque surfaces was awe-inspiring to me, many cold-worked pieces whose intricate details and subtlety of color are so different from the brightly colored, blown glass so popular locally. We could have spent our entire time in Tacoma in this museum alone.

The Bridge of Glass connects the Museum of Glass to the downtown core. It was designed by Dale Chihuly and architect Arthur Andersson, spans 500ft across I-705 and has several eye-catching displays along its length. Two 40-ft crystal towers look like suspended chunks of blue glacial ice. The south-facing Venetian Wall showcases 109 of Chihuly’s pieces, back-lit by the sun through frosted panes. The Seaform Pavilion makes you feel as if you’re going through an ocean tunnel with colorful sea creatures floating overhead. To the south, the bridge has an expansive view of the Tacoma Dome, 21st Street bridge, I-705, Foss Waterway and railroad tracks. It’s an impressive vista of modern man’s engineering and industrial accomplishments and a modern pathway connecting parts of the new, urban Tacoma. To the north is Union Station that is on the National Register of Historic Places and now a U. S. District Courthouse. Unfortunately, we didn’t have time to visit and admire its interior.

Venetian Wall

Venetian Wall

Union Station, now a U. S. District courthouse

Union Station, now a U. S. District courthouse

Crystal Towers

Crystal Towers

Seaform Pavilion

Seaform Pavilion

At the western end of the bridge facing Pacific Avenue is the Washington State History Museum, owned and operated by the Washington State Historical Society. Though built 1995, the building’s architecture echoes the arches of Union Station just to the north.

Washington State History Museum

Washington State History Museum

Inside there are thoughtfully designed areas that cover both the natural and human history of Washington. The current special exhibit was one devoted to D. B. Cooper, the airplane hijacker who extorted $200,000 from Northwest Orient Airlines, jumped out of flight 305 by parachute, was never caught and subsequently became part of modern folklore. The exhibit was attended by quite a few people, many of whom were obvious experts in this incident, judging by their conversations. Cooper’s escapade prompted the FAA to issue stricter regulations to prevent future such hijackings, regulations that could be seen as the precursor to procedures employed by TSA today. We had a late meal at Harmon Brewery across the street. Also opposite the History Museum on Pacific Avenue was a nicely designed stairway into the heart of the University of Washington Tacoma campus.

Dan Cooper, aka D. B. Cooper

Dan Cooper, aka D. B. Cooper

On our walk back to Tacoma Station, we detected the Tacoma Aroma for the first time. Our return trip to Seattle was on the Amtrak Cascades, a less modern and decidedly less comfortable train than the Coast Starlight this morning. It also stopped at Tukwila Station and was briefly delayed by crossing train traffic that resulted in a longer 75-minute trip.

Our day ended when we got back home as the sun was setting. For certain, our appreciation of the new Tacoma has grown measurably.

By and By: Alki and West Seattle

In a place like the Pacific Northwest, good weather poses certain problems. If you’re the type who enjoys the outdoors, a sunny day might force you to consider postponing chores or indoor activities, even running errands, in favor of doing something outside. The Seattle area continued to have the longest streak of warm weather in recorded history. After a weekend of heavy rains and thunderstorms, things got back to “normal” with clear days and temperatures ranging from the high-70s to 80s. In fact, it would turn out today that Seattle reached a record-breaking temperature of 90+o F for this date. With time running short before typical weather patterns return, as early as this weekend, my wife and I decided to go on another field trip, this time to West Seattle.

On a Segway outing in West Seattle with friends last month, we discovered that a water taxi operated by King County makes frequent runs between Pier 50 on the waterfront and Seacrest Park, a mere 10 minutes on the water. To make the excursion entirely on public transportation (except for the drive to the park & ride), we also took a bus to downtown Seattle, a drop off point (4th Avenue & Cherry) only a few blocks from Pier 50. On arrival at the boat terminal, we were surprised by the number of commuters making use of it. There is enough capacity for 172 passengers. The 77-foot catamaran set out to sea and made its quick journey westward. The view of the Seattle skyline from the cabin and especially from the outside decks was spectacular.

Water taxi at Pier 50

Water taxi at Pier 50

Seattle skyline from water taxi

Seattle skyline from water taxi

As soon as we docked at Seacrest, we were ready for breakfast at Marination Ma Kai.

After breakfast, we headed north along the Alki Trail. Washington state’s motto, “Alki” is a Chinook word meaning “by and by,” which I always found so non-descript. “Hope for the future,” another translation, sounds more affirmative though perhaps not as accurate. There were already paddle board rowers out in the water. Enormous freighters with their unbelievable loads of containerized cargo were plying the waters.


Among the sea of high-rise condominium buildings that line Harbor and Alki Avenues, I have to give “thumbs-up” to cottages holding out against development. Two adjacent buildings that caught our eye were festooned with pots, hanging baskets and planter boxes filled with flowers and other plants, looking more like enthusiastic garden projects than homes. A plaque on both structures indicated they were wildlife habitats certified by the National Wildlife Federation. As we were admiring them, one of the residents was returning home and informed us that caring for the plants is a shared responsibility among the tenants/owners and that in fact all sorts of wildlife do visit, including many birds and river otters.

At one time, Seattle had a seaside amusement park (Luna Park) that included a carousel, roller coaster and public sea-water swimming pool, then called a natatorium. Looking around, I couldn’t imagine where the complex was situated. The Luna Park Natatorium was built at the turn of the twentieth century but was destroyed by fire in 1931. All that remains is a grassy area, a seawalled square, which gives no hint of its previous use, except for interpretive plaques along the Alki Trail. An old anchor that divers dredged up offshore in 1958 is mounted along the trail. The original bathhouse is now used for private functions.

All that remains of the Luna Park Natatorium

All that remains of the Luna Park Natatorium

Alki Bathhouse is now used for private functions

Alki Bathhouse is now used for private functions

Luna Park Cafe and Natatorium (from Wikipedia)

Also along the seawall are stairways that lead directly into the water, looking like easy ways for swimmers to jump in. These are probably canoe or kayak launches.

canoe launch

Alki Beach is very popular with the locals in the summer. The beach is also the site of the Denny party landing in 1851, the first white settlers in the area, commemorated by a stone obelisk. There is very little about the Duwamish tribe who lived here long before. The most notable of them was Chief Sealth (Seath) after whom Seattle was named. Odd as it may seem, short palm trees grow along a short stretch. Our guide on the Segway tour last month also pointed out several more in the residential area.



We were pleasantly surprised by several double-row surreys being pedaled by mothers with their children. A shop along Alki Avenue rents them as well as other pedaled vehicles.


Another landmark along Alki Beach is the Statue of Liberty, a small replica of the monument in New York Harbor. This is not the first attempt to draw some link to the great eastern city. This peninsula was called Alki New York at one time and Luna Park was named after the one on Coney Island.

statue of liberty

Just north of Alki Point, public access along the beach gives way to private property. While walking behind the beachfront homes along Alki Avenue, you can’t help but come across a house decorated in front with cobalt blue glass bottles, reminiscent of jetsam that washes ashore. A closer look reveals additional artistic details.

blue bottle house

blue bottles

Eventually, we reached Alki Point. There, we could get a glimpse of the lighthouse above the neighborhood roofline, but we couldn’t get any closer, only to discover later that afternoon public tours are available June-August on weekends.

Rounding the point, the foot path becomes The Avenue of the Stars. No, it’s not a tribute to celebrities but a guide to 27 constellations in the sky viewable at certain times of the year. The outline of each constellation is laid in the concrete walkway, annotated with the best season to view it against the backdrop of the 10pm sky. At the southern end of the walk where Beach Drive intersects 63rd Ave SW is the Charles Richey Sr. Viewpoint, where a tiled mural illustrates the various kinds of intertidal sea life in the local waters and, about 25 feet away, a concrete-rock-copper “tide pool” embedded in the street commemorating Constellation Park & Marine Reserve.

avenue of the stars

tidepool art

From here we traveled north on 63rd to Admiral Way and then to Schmitz Preserve Park. Schmitz is rare among Seattle parks for retaining old growth forests from the time it was donated to the city by Ferdinand Schmitz in 1908. Even back then, Schmitz was concerned about rapidly disappearing forests. We entered the park from Admiral and 55th using a steep stairway on the west end of the overpass that crosses the ravine. The underside and retaining walls are all covered in graffiti, which made me cringe. The trail system was not marked at all, so we had to rely on the sun’s shadow to work our way south. The noises of the city rapidly disappeared in this densely forested preserve. Eventually, after climbing up a steep narrow footpath crossed by fallen trees, we emerged from the park on 56th Ave., north of Charleston St, not knowing if we had traversed the entire length or not. It turned out we hadn’t.

schmitz preserve park

By now, the warm and moderately humid weather was beginning to wear us down, but we managed to get to California Ave and then have lunch at Elliott Bay Brewery and Pub.

Bakery Nouveau was on our checklist of must-go places, located in the so-called West Seattle Junction, defined mainly by the intersction of Alaska and California Avenues. Business was brisk here, obviously a local mecca. We purchased a few things and (later) concluded that their pastries were too sweet.

The free shuttle got us back to Seacrest Park where we had time to have a shave ice from Marination Ma Kai before the water taxi returned us to Pier 50. At 4:15pm when we deboarded, there were two long lines of people on either side of the loading pier waiting to go to West Seattle.

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Other urban walks

De Libertas Quirkas: Seattle’s Fremont District

The mock Latin phrase De Libertas Quirkas, unofficial motto of Fremont and proudly encouraged on the side of The Rocket, roughly translates into “Free to be Strange.” No other place in Seattle can make that boast when Fremont has a statue of Lenin, a troll under the bridge, the Solstice Parade led by nude, painted bike riders and a sign that proclaims Fremont as the Center of the Universe. This is the People’s Republic (or People’s Soviet) of Fremont, as some would have it. To continue what we started last week with Pike Place Market, my wife and I decided to explore another of Seattle’s neighborhoods. We’d driven through Fremont many times, even stopped to eat at a restaurant or two, but never spent a half day just walking around and appreciating all the examples of its quirkiness. And there are many.

It has finally started to rain in earnest around here, but the forecast for today was partially sunny skies (high of 76o) with a 10% chance of precipitation. Fair enough for us to venture out without bumbershoots. As it turned out, the sun didn’t break through until the afternoon.

To avoid the frustration of finding parking spaces in Fremont which is largely RPZ-zoned or limited to two hours, we simply parked our car on the other side of the Fremont Bridge. This gave us the perfect opportunity to walk across the bridge, arguably the neighborhood’s most distinctive feature.

Painted in blue and orange, but now fading, and spanning the Lake Washington Ship Canal, the bridge is a double-leaf draw bridge (bascule) that operates frequently throughout the day to allow passage of high-clearance boats that are on their way to or returning from Puget Sound. It is the most opened bridge in the country, as many as 35 times a day. As if to emphasize this point, we were immediately stopped in our tracks, warning bells pealing, when we were ready to walk across. When the bridge drew down a few minutes later, an amazing number of bicyclists crossed the pedestrian and bike lane in both directions. At the northern end, we noticed high up on the two towers neon sculptures of Rapunzel on the west side and Kipling’s Elephant Child on the east (how the elephant got its trunk), which are best observed when lit up at night. Fremont Bridge is now on the National Register of Historic Places.

Fremont Bridge's southern leaf drawn up

Fremont Bridge’s southern leaf drawn up

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In and Around Seattle’s Pike Place Market

Our weather around here has been unprecedented. You could honestly say that since June, there has been very little rainfall in the Pacific Northwest. This past July has been the driest on record, matched only five other times since measurements have been taken (1896, 1922, 1930, 1958 and 1960). Some may be quick to proclaim that our outstanding weather this summer is a sign of global warming, but that prognostication will have to wait.

So, it was a no-brainer that we should get off our duffs and spend the day just being outside. We chose to enjoy the day in and around Pike Place Market, tourist destination extraordinaire and source of local pride. It was easy to hop on the bus from the Eastside and leave the driving to Sound Transit.

We arrived at the Market a little after 8am, when the stall vendors were still setting up and before the crush of summer tourists. In a few short hours, the cruise ships that dock to the north of the Market will unload thousands of passengers. At this hour, we were ready for breakfast.

Breakfast at Lowell’s

Lowell’s has been in business since 1957. Like The Athenian next door, its location overlooking Elliott Bay makes it a prime restaurant for locals and tourists alike. From almost any seat on the upper floors, you can get a commanding view of the bay, ferry boats plying back and forth between the waterfront and Bainbridge Island or Bremerton on the peninsula, West Seattle, Safeco Field (where the Mariners play), Qwest Field (Seahawks), container terminals operated by the Port of Seattle, Olympic mountains and now the Great Wheel. During peak hours, it’s almost impossible to get seating, but our arrival early in the morning guaranteed that we had the place almost to ourselves for a leisurely, relaxing breakfast. We shared a Lowell’s specialty, slow-braised corned beef hash. It was a solid version (☆☆½) consisting of diced corned beef that hinted of cloves and other warm spices and potato chunks that were too soft. The eggs were poached perfectly, hash browns cooked well. The coffee was good and self-refillable from pump pots.

The view from the third floor did not disappoint.

Pike Place Main Market vendors and shops

It used to be that more farmers sold their produce at the Public Market. But now, as it has been for some years now, the eastern stalls along the Main Market are dominated by Hmong and other flower vendors. You could make a strong case for saying that they have revolutionized the floral business locally. With their plethora of flowers and knack for floral arrangements, the florists will sell you quite a beautiful bouquet for as little as $5. More money will get you harder-to-find specimens and fuller arrangements, rarely amounting to more than $20.

Summer fruits were in abundance today, including many berries. With fall fast approaching, the first mushrooms were making their appearance. And it would not be the Pike Place Market without its seafood stalls. The much-publicized Pike Place Fish Co. has such a dedication to quality, customer service and just plain having fun that The Boeing Company used a short documentary of its operation as an example to its employees of a commitment to excellence.

Top Pot and Voodoo have their fans, even Winchell’s or Dunkin Donuts for that matter, but locals and tourists flock to Daily Dozen Doughnuts, Seattle’s own that has been serving customers for as long as I’ve been coming to the Market. The thing is, they make miniature donuts. Fresh out of the frying oil, they are quickly tossed with powdered sugar or cinnamon or sprinkled or just plain. Are these the best ever? Maybe not, but they’re fun and their miniature size makes you feel less guilty.

No visit to the Market would be complete without a visit to one of the great ethnic markets of Seattle, De Laurenti, which sells Italian food items of all kinds.

The Sanitary Market

Most of the restaurants and bakeries are located in the Sanitary Market, east of the Main Market. To this day, the name invites questions, if not snickers. It is so-called because horse carts were not allowed inside when it was first built in 1910.

The first Starbucks store opened here in 1971. Genuflecting fans and curiosity seekers swarm the store, it seems all the time. Because of very limited space, there are no tables inside to sit down. All you can do is order a cuppa joe (or a latte, etc.) and drink up the atmosphere (and purchase limited Pike Place Starbucks souvenirs). The sign that hangs in front of the store still has illustrations of the original Starbucks logo mermaid that, as the chain became more successful and mainstream, prompted a less provocative redesign.

Straight from Portland, Le Panier has been making delicious French pastries, both sweet and savory, at this location for many years. This place is always packed with customers, even early in the morning, when you can grab a quick pastry and coffee. Their macarons are a personal favorite and their baguette sandwiches are very good.

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese began business at the Market in 2003 and has since opened a store in New York City. Their cheeses have won national recognition. I’ve yet to try the much-praised mac & cheese made with their Flagship and Just Jack cheeses. Minus the pasta, the same cheeses make up their praised grilled sandwich. At the shop, you can actually see cheese being made in a giant vat, in an enclosure walled off by glass.

The giant kitchen supply retailer, Sur La Table, got its start here at The Sanitary Market.

A relative newcomer to the Market is a deli that offers a wide variety of take-out foods. Michou has won several awards for their freshly prepared items that include sandwiches, salads, soups, pizzas and pastries.

Waterfront and Alaskan Way

We made our way down to the waterfront from Pike Place Market by taking the Hillstreet Climb, a broad stairway that connects Western Avenue (the back of the Market) to Alaskan Way, the street that parallels Elliott Bay. Along the climb are one of Seattle’s best Mexican restaurants (El Puerco Lloron) and one of the first gelaterias to open its doors in town (Procopio). The bottom of the stairway lies underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a raised section of Highway 99 that will soon be dismantled and the thoroughfare replaced by an underground tunnel, Seattle’s version of Boston’s Big Dig.

Our urban walk continued northward along Alaskan Way, past the gigantic (and undeveloped) Piers 62 and 63, past the port where cruise vessels dock, past Pier 70 from where The Victoria Clipper makes it daily sailings to and from Victoria, BC, to the Olympic Sculpture Park. All of the piers along this commercial stretch have public access to the edge of Elliott Bay. These provide nice views to the south of Seattle’s distinctive skyline.

SAM Olympic Sculpture Park

At the start of the Ellliott Bay Trail was an impressive concrete stairway framed on one side by an angular wall. They comprise a grand entrance to Olympic Sculpture Park, an urban stretch along the railroad tracks that provides space for a collection of modern sculpture, sponsored by the Seattle Arts Museum (SAM) and spread out over a quarter mile. One piece is a glass- and laminate-covered walkway suffused with pigments that cast subtle colors on the ground, depending on the sun’s angle. Inside the informational building was an impressive wall entirely covered by artwork, drawn with blue paint and silver paint pen, that depicts the power of water.

Sights along the Elliott Bay Trail

The Elliott Bay Trail is a 5-mile path that starts at Qwest Field in the south and ends at Smith Cove in Magnolia in the north. We didn’t connect to it until we came to the Olympic Sculpture Park. From there, it’s a fairly wide path for foot traffic, a parallel one for bikers and other wheelers right next to it. Along the way, you can get wonderful views of Elliott Bay and, on clear days, the Olympic peninsula and the mountains that dominate it. Many birds can be seen offshore.

Our endpoint for the day’s excursion was an immense structure along the Elliott Bay Trail that I often see when driving past, the Dreyfus Grain Elevator complex that loads corn, soybeans and wheat from Midwest and Northwest states onto outgoing marine vessels. Trains unload the grain which can be stored in gigantic silos or loaded directly onto the ships. It’s an impressive sight, an engineering marvel. From here, we turned around and headed back to the Market.

Lunch at Gourmet Dog Japon

Before boarding the bus back home, we had a quick lunch at Gourmet Dog Japon.