There's a lot going on nowadays down by Elliott Bay, so this weekend the family and I took advantage of an unexpected sunny afternoon to check out some of the more overlooked gems to be found on the piers and walkways of the Seattle Waterfront. Follow this itinerary as a circular walk starting and ending at the Olympic Sculpture Park, or incorporate some of these cool places in your own exploration of this fascinating neighborhood.
The Olympic Sculpture Park can't really be classed as overlooked, but it does hide some secrets of its own. The Paccar Pavilion, open on weekends only in winter offers cheap parking, rotating exhibits and a fabulous café in the summer months, while the tranquil and kid-friendly Pocket Beach offers gorgeous sunset views. Volunteers run artist Mark Dion's Neukom Vivarium, so sneak in whenever it's open to view this 150-year-old living sculpture and testament to decay - a nurse log that changes with the seasons and is hosting and developing a new habitat over time. The Sculpture Park's newest addition is the monumental Echo - Jaume Plensa's 46-foot tall sculpture of the elongated head of a girl, gazing out towards the Olympics - and worth seeing if you haven't been to the park for some time.
As you leave the Sculpture Park check out the amazing views from Pier 70. The terrace at Aqua by El Gaucho made our list of Top Ten Restaurant Outside Spaces and it is still worth walking out to enjoy the view in winter. Head further along Alaskan Way and past the Victoria Clipper Terminal and the Edgewater Hotel until you reach the Bell Street Pier Rooftop Deck for phenomenal views out over downtown Seattle. This spacious deck has plenty of seating and is easily accessible via an elevator but not many people seem to know about it. It's closed when cruise ships are docked at the pier, so this is a great time of year to pay a visit.
Anyone who is interested in engineering and construction should walk past the Aquarium and visit the Elliot Bay Seawall Project. Not only is the old sea wall being replaced to minimize seismic risk, but new friendlier fish habitats - including light-penetrating walkways - are being built which will encourage young salmon to swim closer to the sea wall and away from deep water predators. The 'snowmen' - blobs of ice which have formed around the pipes which are freezing the ground water to stop it seeping into the construction area are especially intriguing. While you're here check out Ivars flagship location which took advantage of the construction work to launch its own $20 million remodel.
If you don't have kids with you make a point of going for a tasting at Copperworks Distilling which serves some of the best gins in Seattle under the viaduct at Alaskan and University.
If you don't commute into downtown from Bainbridge Island, it's unlikely that you've been up on the Marion Street Bridge which boasts its very own Top Pot location. Climb up on the bridge, which is being replaced as part of the Waterfront Project, stop for donuts and then head down to Western Avenue and turn back north.
You can approach Pike Place Market along Post Alley, between Western and First and visit the newly cleaned gum wall. Super cute Ghost Alley Espresso will help you drown your gumwall sorrows with a cup of joe.
Turn left just before Ghost Alley and you'll find restrooms and the top of the Pike Street Hill Climb. Take the stairs down and you'll be accompanied by cute cast aluminium figures holding lights - public art at its finest.
Along Western and outside the market proper, are three amazing foodie locations, worth taking in on their own or in conjunction with a visit to the Market. The Spanish Table offers an amazing selection of Spanish foodstuffs, wines and cookware while the Paris Grocery offers the same but with a French flair. Further along the street, World Spice Merchants sells an incredible array of spices, spice blends, herbs and teas for chefs and home cooks.
Continue along Western Ave until you reach Victor Steinbrueck Park for another view out over the water and then return along Elliott Ave to the Bell Street Bridge for one last look at the view before returning to your car.
If you want to miss out the Sculpture Park and instead focus your exploration closer to the downtown core, check out http://www.downtownseattle.com/downtown-parking/ to discover where the city has negotiated cheap parking for as low as $3 an hour. Now that's a waterfront secret well worth knowing about.
For more information about the regeneration of Seattle's Waterfront check out the Friends of Seattle Waterfront website or visit their showroom at 1400 Western Avenue.