Oahu & Kauai

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Introduction top

Volcanoes and whales, glaciers and islands and a hip, happening urban center. This Pacific Rim City wows with its youthful energy and natural beauty.

Next up, Seattle on Smart Travels.


Seattle top

Flanked by snow covered mountains and encircled by great expanses of blue water, Seattle mixes urban living with the great Pacific Northwest wilderness. At once unassuming and boldly innovative, Seattle is a paradox of wooden boats and high technology, of caffeine crazed entrepreneurs and Gortex clad hikers who love their microbrews. The mild misty climate keeps the Emerald city perpetually green and almost always abloom. Seattle is the best of both worlds—a vibrant city with laid back charm and natural beauty.

Rainfall in Seattle is about 36 inches annually, compared with 40 inches in New York. The difference is New York gets it over with in several storms while Seattle drags it out in misty cloudy days. The clouds can get some people down, but in summer when the sun shines, Seattle sparkles like no place on earth.

Water, water and more water. Flanked by Puget Sound on one side and Lake Washington on the other, Seattle is intersected by a thin waterway connecting the Lake to the Sound.

We’ll soak in Seattle’s downtown and lively waterfront, as well as some of the vibrant neighborhoods. Then nature beckons and we head south to magnificent Mount Rainier. Finally, by seaplane we take off to the San Juan Islands.


The Go Seattle Card gives you unlimited free admission to over 30 attractions and tours for one low price.

Quiet little Seattle has spawned some giants—Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon all began here as small, alternative companies. Both the grunge music scene, and the dot com boom sprang out of these streets. In the 1990’s thousands of young people poured into the city lured by the promise of high tech wealth.

In fact, since the days of the first settlers who founded a city on the swampy land beneath a high wooded bluff, Seattle has known booms and busts, entrepreneurs and dreamers.


Pioneer Square top

The oldest section of Seattle, Pioneer Square, with its 19th century brick buildings, grew by leaps and bounds after gold was discovered in Alaska in 1897. Thousands of gold prospectors passed through Seattle. Most of them lost everything in the adventure, but Seattle boomed. In ten years, from 1890 to 1900, Seattle’s population doubled as outfitters, brothels and taverns sprang up to feed off the gold rush.


Old Seattle still exists beneath the streets of Pioneer Square. For a tour of Underground Seattle, visit www.undergroundtour.com.

And...for another interesting look at Seattle & its history, check out the video Seattle & the Gold Rush Trail hosted by Tom Bodett.


Pike Place Market top

Pike Place Market and the waterfront is the heart of downtown Seattle. Here farmers and vendors peddle their fresh produce, cheese fish and wares as they have for a hundred years.

Visitors can stand mesmerized by the fish guy’s exuberant performance or walk the lively stalls selling fruit, vegetables, hand crafted foods and souvenirs. Despite the numbers of tourists, this is a real working market and a great place to snack your way through.


Starbucks top

Nearby streets house restaurants, shops and street musicians. It was here that a young group of entrepreneurs, inspired by the café scene in Europe, opened a modest gourmet coffee shop—Starbucks. All they really wanted was to stop driving all the way to Vancouver, Canada for a good cup of coffee but they ignited a craze that has taken over the country and spread overseas.

Seattelites speak an ENTIRELY different language in coffeeland. And they’re fast. I’ve been practicing, so here goes. Hmmm. Yes, I’ll have a dry doppio soy macchiata venti please.


To figure out which of the coffees best suits your taste, use the Coffee Taste Matcher at starbucks.com.


Seattle Waterfront top

A steep descent downhill leads to the Seattle waterfront, part working port, part tourist destination, part ferry terminal. The best part of a stroll here is the ever-changing panoply of boats sailing across placid Puget Sound.


Interested in more stolls along downtown Seattlestreets? Check out this article outlining some of Seattle’s popular walking tours.

The piers house novelty and souvenir shops as well as seafood restaurants. A famed Seattle character, Ivar Haglund opened a fish bar on the waterfront in 1938 next to the aquarium. A folk singer who hung with the likes of Pete Seeger, Ivar had a knack for public relations and a love of clams. Ivar’s is known for fish and chips but the restaurant also serves up a surprising array of fine seafood dishes. With a plate of fish and a stunning view of Puget Sound, you’ll be as happy as a clam.


The Seattle waterfront stretches out a pretty long way. Sure, you can walk it. But if you want to put your feet up and still get from here to there, visit Metro Online for the latest on the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar Line.


Alaska Cruises top

Seattle has long been a jumping off spot for Alaska. In its early years, Seattle joked that Alaska was it’s very own province. Today, luxury cruise ships take passengers to Alaska and beyond. I hopped aboard the Holland America’s MS Oosterdam for a look at the luxurious quarters. Each year, 700,000 cruise goers pass through Seattle.


To find more on the cruises departing from Seattle, check out Expedia.com/ Alaska Cruises.


Ferry Ride top

If a full fledged cruise is not is the stars, a ferry trip across the sound stands in nicely. A short, scenic ride is the ferry that leaves right next to Ivars for rural Bainbridge Island.


You’ll find the current schedule for this ferry route here.

The views of the city are spectacular. The Seattle Space Needle, a remnant of the 1962 world’s fair, pierces the sky. The Emerald city’s modest collection of skyscrapers lines the shore. Gazing out toward the islands, it’s easy to imagine the rugged, evergreen coast that the early pioneers discovered; the place where Native Americans peacefully paddled their canoes. Majestic Mt Rainier looms over the Sound and as you approach Bainbridge, the scenery grows wooded, more isolated.

Foot passengers walk ten minutes to the sleepy island center, Winslow. Locals love to hop over here for breakfast or lunch. If you come for dinner in the summer you might enjoy a sunset cruise on the way back.


A nice compromise for traveling to Winslow is to walk-on the ferry in Seattle and rent a bike in Winslow. For advice on how to do this, visit seattletravel.com.


Seattle Art Museum top

Seattle residents are on the whole educated, open minded and lovers of the arts. Per capita book purchases are among the highest in the country and the city is loaded with public art, theatres, performance halls and cinemas.

The 48 foot Hammering Man pounds away outside the Seattle Art Museum, honoring the working man. The museum holds rotating special exhibits as well as a collection of Native American tribal art.

Native Americans lived a peaceful plentiful life in the Pacific Northwest and thus had time to develop their culture and art. Totem poles told stories and celebrated ancestors. The masks on display were worn during festival dances that could last the entire night.


Seattle Public Library top

Just up the street from the Art Museum is another museum of sorts, a living museum: Seattle’s new Public Library designed by Dutch architect, Rem Koolhaas.

So unique, so, well, cool, the library is attracting tourists by the thousands. The library exemplifies the principle of form following function. Koolhaas designed a gradually sloping book spiral that winds down four floors and allows the library to easily expand its collection. Steel grids support glass between a series of floating platforms that jut out over the street. The result is a light filled glass and steel wonder with tantalizing views to the water.


You’ll find more information about the library and its tours at SPL.org.


Museum of Flight top

Seattle’s biggest boom after the Gold Rush began in 1916, when a young man named William Boeing opened an aircraft company. By the 1960’s, one person in every ten in the city worked at Boeing.

South of downtown Seattle, near Boeing field, the Museum of Flight pays tribute to the man and his company that became the major employer in Seattle for decades. Here you visit the Red Barn, the birthplace of the Boeing Company.

Forty one historic airplanes fill the museum’s Great Gallery. Visitors can man the controls of a Blackbird reconnaissance plane. Or you can take an action packed ride in a flight simulator and try not to crash!

Outside on the tarmac, you can tour the Concorde or Air Force One, the flying oval office that carried presidents Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, and Nixon.

When it’s time for a change of pace, Seattle’s neighborhoods add color and flavor to the city.


Neighborhoods top

From the vibrant International District with its mix of Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean people to the Scandinavian Ballard/Fremont area, Seattle neighborhoods are diverse, fun and quirky.


Interested in a walking tour of the district? Print out this PDF document. You'll need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view it.

The little neighborhood of Fremont is the self-proclaimed Center of the Universe, with its very own rocket, and a statue of Lenin rescued from a scrap pile in Russia. Here, cafés and restaurants mingle with specialty shops and pubs.


For some interesting history and photos of this unique neighborhood, visit www.historylink.org.

Adjacent Ballard is known for its long history of ship building and the Ballard Locks, which each day allow thousands of boats to pass to and from Lake Washington and the salt water of Puget Sound.


For more ideas on what to see in Ballard, check out www.inballard.com. If it’s history that interests you, however, go to www.historylink.org.

Adjacent to the locks, engineers designed a fish ladder to help salmon make their way back to the inland waters where they were born – you can watch their progress from an underwater viewing area.


Visit between June and Sept for the best salmon viewing.


Microbrews top

Just as gourmet coffee took off in Seattle, so too did the microbrew craze. Twenty five years ago, American beers were on the whole pale, flavorless concoctions. Then, in the early 80’s, Northwest brewers began producing European style beers and a new American beer was born.

Soon local brewers set up tables and offered food at their breweries. The brew pub became a Seattle tradition—there are many sprinkled throughout the city. Maritime Brewery, located in between Ballard and Fremont serves up 15 different beers on tap and couples the beer with a whole new breed of bar food.

One word of warning when traveling in this area—trolls have long plagued Ballard and Fremont, lurking under bridges and demolishing cars. Do stay clear of these one eyed monsters.


Hotel Andra top

This trip to Seattle, I’m staying in Belltown. It’s a great spot for restaurants and nightlife, just a few blocks north of downtown. The Hotel Andra is urban, trendy and perfectly situated for a night on the town.

Housed in a 1926 brick and terra cotta building, the interior of the Hotel Andra is a modern, minimalist surprise. Like Seattle itself, the hotel is a small, artistic, and stylish retreat.


Etta's Restaurant top

I can’t get enough seafood when in Seattle and I’m anxious to try one of the four restaurants owned by local chef and Northwest food guru, Tom Douglas. At his restaurant Etta’s, named for his daughter Loretta, Tom serves up simple, fresh, out of this world seafood.


Tom has several cookbooks available at tomdouglas.com. You can also catch him on the radio, 710 on your dial if you’re in and around Seattle. Find out more about his show here.


R.E.I. top

No other large US city can claim the vast number and diversity of hiking trails in such close proximity. From easy day hikes to serious mountain climbing, Seattle has it all. And to aid and abet those hikers, Seattle spawned yet another small alternative company that made it big: Recreation Equipment Inc or REI.

Even if you never put a toe in a hiking boot, a trip to REI is an experience. You can test out almost everything from bikes on the outdoor path or climbing gear on the rock climbing wall. Everything from skiing to water sports to mountaineering is possible in the Northwest and REI gets thousands of people ready to go each day.


Need some advice on choosing the right outdoor gear for you? Check out REI’s expert advice page.

I’m fully outfitted and ready to hit the trail.


Mt. Rainier top

Known simply as the Mountain to locals, Mount Rainier dominates the skyline on clear days. A few hours drive south from the city, the mountain can be visited year round for hiking, back country skiing and climbing.


For a comprehensive list of activities, go to www.nps.gov.

This is Paradise, and boy is it aptly named—a rolling meadow filled with flowers, set beneath the massive rock and ice of 14, 411 foot volcano, Mt. Rainier.

A young volcano, Mt Rainier’s fires are very much alive. Though dormant, Mt Rainier could erupt anytime as its cousin to the south, Mt St Helens, did in 1980. The colossal mountain is sheathed in 35 square miles of icy glaciers and snowfields. The Native Americans named it Tahoma, or Snowy Peak. On a summer day the mountain seems as benign as an ice cream sundae. But storms whip up quickly at this altitude. Almost every year Tahoma claims the lives of climbers.


For a historical timeline of the mountain, check out www.americanparknetwork.com.

In the winter months as much as 93 feet of snow can fall at Paradise. During early summer (which is usually mid-July at this altitude) a veritable riot of wildflowers fills the meadows—in particular red paintbrush and blue lupine. Deer roam the meadows at Paradise as well as the mountain groundhog, the marmot. Hiking opportunities abound here and elsewhere in the park. The Wonderland trail circles the mountain in 93 glorious but difficult miles. Easy day hikes begin from the parking lot at Paradise. If you keep on going straight up you arrive at Camp Muir, base camp for climbing the mountain.


The National Park Service keeps information on climbing Mt. Rainier at www.nps.gov/mora. You’ll also find additional stats and climbing notes at www.peakbagger.com.


San Juan Islands top

Mountains and sea, hiking and sailing. On a sunny weekend, Seattleites exchange their hiking boots for flip flops and head out to the islands. Ferries make the trip but there’s no better and quicker approach than by air.

From the air, Seattle sparkles. Kenmore Air not only flies to the islands, but also offers one hour tours that take in vast Puget Sound, the signature Seattle skyline and the little lakes, parks and neighborhoods.

Flying north now, we are headed to the San Juan Islands, a series of some 170 wooded isles set amid the calm waters of Puget Sound.

Millions of years ago these wooded stepping stones were the tops of mountains worn down and then submerged by glaciers. Today, they are a serene home to some 14,000 people, the largest and most populated being San Juan Island.

By car and ferry the trip takes can take several hours, but by air it’s less an hour. And a trip in a seaplane is a unique adventure.

In the summer, the San Juans bob with boats, quiet coves shimmer in the sun and pretty harbor towns dot the isles. Here you can rent bicycles, wander through lavender fields, or venture out into the calm waters in a kayak. Many of the beaches on the islands are private—resorts often offer beach access as do some state parks. (Click here for info on San Juan county parks)


Orca Whale Watching top

Three pods of Orcas, or killer whales, ranging in size from 17 to 50 whales, make their home around the islands. While there are no guarantees, whale watch trips, like Safari Tours regularly spot the pods. Binoculars are available for close up views. The whales feed on salmon runs, so you are most likely to spot them from May to September.


For a list of what to bring on a whale watching excursion, visit www.sanjuansafaris.com.


So Long... top

Mountains, water, and leaping whales on the doorstep of a vibrant city—who could ask for more?

The very first settlers here named the town New York Alki; alki being the Indian word for pretty soon. Well, Seattle never quite became the metropolis New York is, and that’s just fine. For all its great achievements, its airplanes, software and high tech boom, Seattle remains a small town. Peaceful, livable and set amid some of America’s wildest, most diverse terrain, Seattle is a little piece of paradise.

Well, the clouds have descended. The Mountain is shrouded in mist and the blue waters of Puget Sound have turned grey. The curtain has fallen but I’m headed home with enough sparkling memories to fill a whole winter. From the Emerald City, I’m Rudy Maxa. So long.


If history's your thing, you'll find an excellent online encyclopedia of Washington State History at www.historylink.org.


Interested in planning your vacation to Seattle?
Start your trip at



Old Seattle still exists beneath the streets of Pioneer Square. For a tour of Underground Seattle, visit www.undergroundtour.com.

To figure out which of the coffees best suits your taste, use the Coffee Taste Matcher at starbucks.com.

To find more on the cruises departing from Seattle, check out Expedia.com/ Alaska Cruises.

A nice compromise for traveling to Winslow is to walk-on the ferry in Seattle and rent a bike in Winslow. For advice on how to do this, visit seattletravel.com.

For a list of what to bring on a whale watching excursion, visit www.sanjuansafaris.com