Bitterwallet Shoestring Travel Guide: Scrimping in Seattle (Part 1: An Introduction)
Famously known as the birthplace of Starbucks and the home of the fictional Seattle Grace Hospital in TV drama "Grey's Anatomy", Seattle is known as the biggest city in the Pacific Northwest. You may just be flying through some day, or plan to hit up this fabulous city from the UK for the best deal possible. Question is, where are the best places to stay, things to avoid, the cheapest ways to get around, and the best places to visit / eat at? That's what this series aims to delve into.
If you've never been to the "Emerald City," here are a few starters to help you out:
1. Cheap Airfares. Seattle Tacoma, also known as Sea-Tac Airport, is a central hub for certain airlines such as Alaska (affiliated with American Airlines). Therefore, have a look at connections from major US hubs such as Los Angeles, Cincinnati or Atlanta. You can have it done automatically via sites like ebookers or Farecast. A round trip ticket from LON to Seattle with Delta Airways starts around £350. Remember to read our How to survive a 12+ hour flight, with the stopover adding 1-2 hours making the entire trip over 15+ hours, you may want to be ready to avoid deep vein thrombosis. We recently managed to bag a multi-stop economy ticket through Las Vegas, Seattle and Los Angeles from London for £434 inclusive of tax and fees per person. How? Read about it here. Not as mindblowing as the long expired Expedia AU/Orbitz fiasco (which is a good reason to keep us on your RSS/bookmark radar), but still pretty good IMHO.
2. Cheap Accommodation. It's not easy to find cheap but good accomodation in Seattle. During the trip, we stayed in a hotel outside the city (which I do not recommend despite being Tripadvisor's #1 recommendation), and an expensive downtown hotel, and a great downtown apartment reduced from $175 to under $100 a night that I wished was available for a longer period of time. The Ace Hotel and The Mediterranean Inn were also high up on our list, both situated very close to the Space Needle and downtown. Unfortunately, they both suffered from a lack of private bathrooms at the standard cost of £65 a day. Those with urophobia should avoid. Also, beware of booking discount rates through Expedia or Hotels.com. The special rates are for rooms without A/C, nor the kind of views you see in their photos. On the upside, all rooms have double beds, cable TV, and free wireless internet. For those that want a European theme and planning to share a room, try the Inn at Queen Anne. Rooms cost about £69 per day for twin sharing. We will share further details and our own personal review of where we stayed in part 2 of this guide.
3. Bring an umbrella (and a coat). We made the mistake of bringing neither. We froze our butts off. But seeing we're now in February, temperatures may start going above -10 degrees Celsius. The months of June to September promise a warm and sunny climate. Should we go again, we will probably stick to the summer months. An umbrella will always come in handy. Even if it's to ward off the homeless that congregate through the city centre. Then again, they don't really bother you, so just carry it for the drizzle.
4. Take Public Transportation. There is a free shuttle service through the centre of Seattle. I highly recommend taking it. Taxis are not cheap but tend to provide pretty poor service (a group of us once had to put in the address into the driver's GPS because (1) he didn't know how to get to a popular destination (2) he didn't know how to use his own GPS). But once you leave the downtown area, you're looking at ~£1.20 (peak hours, Monday-Friday from 6-9 am and 3-6 pm) and £1 during non-peak hours to get around by bus. Wikitravel.com suggests not ask the bus drivers for spare change. Apparently they get annoyed easily.
5. Get a Visitor Pass. If you plan on being in Seattle for a few days, get a £3.80 Visitor Pass or a £2.40 All-day weekend pass. A tourist pass to the best sights is also a great way to save an additional £30-£40 if you plan to do alot of sight-seeing. We will cover this in part 3 of this series. Alternatively you can rent a car for around £25 (taxes inclusive) according to Hotwire.com. Be careful of your parking hours. Fines start at a hefty £24 for going overboard with the 2-hour limit.
6. The best things in life are free. And in Seattle, there's plenty of cool free stuff to do. Part 3 and 4 of the series will go more into this, but if you're off to Seattle soon, make sure you check out:
Pike Place Market. For heavy duty HUKDers, you will love this market. This open-air mall mecca signifies the bountiful northwest. Located at Pike PI, it's worth a trek to even just to window shop.
The Volunteer Park Conservatory. Experience the hot desert or the green rain forest in this park, which is located at 15th Avenue. We walked past this place but didn't go in, due to time constraints. If anything, it's a pretty cool building to check out.
Ballard Locks. Love the marine life? You've love Ballard Locks. It's a city park teeming with aquatic features, located at NW 54th Street. Please don't feed the sharks.
The Frye Art Museum. Located at Terry Avenue, this museum is home to a number of presentational portrait and landscape art. If you're into that kind of thing.
Olympic Sculpture Park. Enjoy the industrial lifestyle at this nine-acre park situated along Western Avenue. You probably won't walk the whole nine yards but it's a pretty relaxing walk on a nice sunny day.
6. Cheap and Chic. The real 'touristy' recreational activities are a bit expensive (like a £20 elevator ride in the Space Needle). But there are budget-busters if you look around, including signing up for tour packages with the Seattle City Pass and Go Seattle range from £30-£38 (more in the next part of this guide).
Watch theatrics at Crest Cinema Center located at Fifth NE. The admission fee costs a measly £2 and you get to watch any Hollywood blockbuster, independent film, or foreign movie. If you got two left feet, you can also try salsa and swing dance lessons for £3.50 per session (£4.90 on Saturdays and Sundays) at the Century Ballroom & Cafe, located at E Pine Street.
In Part 2 of Scrimping in Seattle, we will reveal details of our accomodations along with our reviews. In Part 3, I will tell you how to cover the top 5 city attractions at a bargain savings (or for as little as £11 a day with UNLIMITED access to over 40 Seattle attractions including the Space Needle, which by itself costs more than £11 a ride). If there's any other aspect you want to know about, please add to the comments, and feel free to share your own tips/advice/suggestions below.