Make your shopping trip an unforgettable getaway
Given the fact that Seattle may be lucky to get a week of snow each year, this Northwest city might not be an obvious choice for a Winter Wonderland to experience the joys of Christmas. But what it lacks in snow, it makes up for in festive spirit and Northwest residents discovered long ago that a trip to the city for Christmas shopping can be rewarding indeed.
From Seattle Center to Westlake Center to the Pike Place Market, the usual visitor attractions become just a little more special on a chilly winter's day. Throngs of excited, bundled-up families and couples sample the seasonal offerings at Westlake such as Qwest carousel rides, or the kettle corn and elephant ears nearby. Vendors make balloon animals for the kids while loud Christmas music blares in the background making sure no one misses out on Seattle's holiday spirit.
Make it an overnight trip and it's even better. First, you'll be sure to see the numerous Christmas lights along downtown streets including the famous star on Macy's, the Space Needle lights and many other special seasonal touches. And, by staying overnight, you can turn a shopping trip into a true getaway.
Our base of operations was a Seattle landmark, the Edgewater Hotel. If you're old enough, you'll remember that the Edgewater was made famous in the mid-60's when the Beatles stayed in one of the waterfront rooms and caught fish out their window. In fact, it became the obvious choice for many famous rock groups that came into town during that period to play for one of Pat O'Day's spectacular rock concerts.
Today the Edgewater has a classic elegance that combines the best location in Seattle with an updated interior design that evokes the Northwest's rich Native American heritage. The first thing we saw when entering our waterfront room was a Washington State Ferry — just out the window and across the waters of Elliott Bay. Our view made us feel like we were traveling on a cruise ship with nothing but water between us and the ferry. This, of course, is the major attraction of the aptly-named Edgewater — a location literally out on the water with incredible views of Puget Sound and nearby islands.
Our room featured many Northwest accents such as a log headboard on our comfortable king-size bed, bark trim and a wood panel above the corner fireplace, Native American designs on the carpets with knotty pine baseboards, and Indian characters and designs on the wood-frame entertainment center. In the bathroom, a large claw-style bathtub looked awfully inviting, while the modern colors and fixtures made the room look like something you would see in a magazine on interior design. The floors were amber quartz slate, while the room also included a glass-enclosed European spa shower.
With a room at the Edgewater — which features a constant parade of boats just outside your window -- there is the temptation to just stay there and enjoy the endless sights and sounds. But we came to Seattle to check out the city's Christmas activities so first stop was the Pike Place Market, a few blocks and easy walking distance from the Edgewater.
The market is one of Seattle's most recognizable symbols — right up there with the Space Needle. That probably has something to do with the way TV sports announcers always make a point of showing footage of the market while broadcasting Seattle Seahawks or Washington Huskies sports telecasts. Typically the shot is one of the fish handlers throwing King salmon — thus we were pleased that, upon our arrival, the fish were indeed flying. Just like the 50 or so other visitors standing around watching, we had seen for ourselves the famous Pike Place Market fish throw.
Those fish handlers in their sweat suits, hoodies and aprons aren't the only reason to stop by the market at Christmas time. The market goes all out in its decorations and, in fact, has Christmas trees available — not that we wanted to cart one back to the Edgewater. Take a walk just north of the first fish market and you enter a beehive of activity where it seems like just about anything you want is for sale — fresh fruits and produce, honey, herbs, dried flower bouquets, jams and jellies, nuts, fruits, chocolates, tee-shirts, purses, you name it. There actually are several fish markets in the same building, as well as restaurants where you can dine on fresh fish before you even leave the market.
Just across the street from the market, in front of the Starbucks, a musical group called Slimpickens was warming up the crowds with lively 1930's style music played in a four-piece configuration: guitar, stand-up bass, violin and washboard. Dressed in 30's garb, the group also seemed to be getting a Depression-era response to their music: lots of smiles and toe-tapping, but not many coins dropping into their prominently placed cup.
Along about here we encountered Piroshky, Piroshky, a tiny take-out restaurant serving up fresh Russian piroshkies for just under $5. These were just baked and, if you're wondering, the piroshky is a little like a flakey turnover filled with meat, cheese or other fillings. They're delicious and, for us, provided a quick and inexpensive lunch.
Some friends of ours went instead to Von's Grand City Café, just a few blocks from the market on Pine Street where the meal was fine but they reported back that this was the first time they had encountered canned champagne. They ordered a split of champagne and the can that was delivered to their table had a straw attached — which our friends said reminded them of the fruit drink boxes they get for their kids. Of course that's what visiting the "Big City" is all about — experiencing new things.
A few blocks from the market is Westlake Center, a modern, multi-story shopping center with upscale stores and — because of its location near Macy's and Nordstrom -- the epicenter of retail activity downtown. It's here that, for just $2 each way, you can hop on board the Monorail — originally built for the 1962 Seattle World's Fair — and zip over to Seattle Center where their Winterfest celebration has continual holiday entertainment and one of the coolest model railroads and miniature Christmas towns your kids will ever see.
Soon it was time to head back to the Edgewater, where we watched the fog roll in and marveled at how the few sailboats that were out on this wintery day were able to dodge the Washington State ferries. Thank goodness for foghorns and radar, we would guess. We took a short, brisk walk over to the Spaghetti Factory for an inexpensive but tasty dinner.
The night was restful and, when the sun came up the next day, the skies were blue and the views from our room were like a picture postcard. No need to lose that view while having breakfast -- downstairs at the Edgewater we stopped in for a hearty meal with the best views in town at the hotel's award-winning Six Seven restaurant. We were pleasantly surprised at the reasonable prices, given the restaurant's prime location and upscale reputation.
More downtown exploration was on tap for our second day, with no shortage of merchandise available at unusually good prices. Soon it was time to go home, but it wasn't like a trip home from the mall in which you're exhausted and swear never to go shopping with the multitudes again. Yes, we'd accomplished our Christmas shopping all right -- but we also felt invigorated by an unforgettable holiday trip to Seattle's Winter Wonderland.
For more information on Seattle, go to www.visitseattle.org or phone 206-461-5840. For more information on the Edgewater Hotel, please visit www.edgewaterhotel.com or phone 1-800-624-0670.
Photos, from top: Christmas train at Seattle Center; Pike Place Market at night; Edgewater Hotel is literally on the water; Kids and parents enjoy the Qwest Carousel at Westlake Center
Photos by Cary and Sandi Ordway