Smartphones, e-readers and more can help you find your way around Seattle's top attractions.
Technology and mobile apps are changing how we play tourist, and even how we look at our own hometown. Now you can get a self-guided walking tour of Pike Place Market on a smartphone. Or listen to commentary on the exhibitions at Seattle Art Museum. Both for free.
These days, more tourists, and just regular Joes from Seattle, use apps and podcasts and other digital technology to replace those clunky guidebooks and printouts of maps and background material. And they’re forgoing the tour bus.
Next time you elbow through the massive tourist jam at Pike Place Market on a summer weekend, peek over the shoulders of those staring long and hard at their smartphones. You’ll find folks who’ve downloaded podcasts and apps to get the history behind the fish throwing, or the locations of popular vendors.
In the last 18 months, there’s been a flood of podcasts and, lately, destination apps about Seattle’s landmarks and neighborhoods. GPSmyCity.com and Lonely Planet, for instance, have apps for self-guided walking tours around Seattle.
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Bellevue-based Yodio Tours features about two dozen podcasts, from a walking tour of Seattle’s waterfront (from Pier 55 to 70) to a “Deadliest Catch” theme walk. All are free downloads.
In January, Amazon.com released a walking tour of Seattle for foodies, as seen through the eyes and stomach of chef Tom Douglas. You can get “Chef’s Walks: Seattle” (by Douglas and writer Shelley Lance) on the Kindle, though with a Kindle reading app, you can take the guide along on an iPod, iPhone, BlackBerry, Windows Phone or Android-based device.
Here’s a look at three self-guided, tech-based walking tours that can serve not just your visiting aunt but also give a Seattleite a fresh perspective on an old haunt.
Yodio Tours offers three walking tours of Pike Place Market. The most informative, entertaining and easy to follow is the “Grand Tour.” The audio tour, with pictures of vendors and storefronts, weaves history, food and pop culture with quirky tidbits. This free podcast is sponsored by Argosy Cruises, hence a tortuous path that starts and ends at Pier 55, where the boat tours depart.
The audio takes you under the viaduct and up the Harbor Steps (there’s an outdated reference to the closed Lusty Lady peep-show theater) before taking you to the main entrance, under the Public Market Center sign.
The ongoing Market renovation shouldn’t hinder followers too much. It’s obvious where you need to detour.
The tour breezes through the arts-and-craft vendors and devotes more time to Beecher’s Cheese, Le Panier bakery and other food stops.
Unlike many tour apps, this podcast dispels the popular misconception that the Starbucks at Pike Place is the original. (The long-defunct first store was a block north on Western Avenue, near the present location of Etta’s restaurant.)
The guided tour takes you on the cobblestones through Post Alley and up to Virginia Inn, to supposedly the city’s first mortuary, then called Butterworth & Sons, at 1921 First Ave. That seems an excuse to play up the theme that the Market is haunted.
The guided tour was written and narrated by local actor Laurel Ryan. Her conversational tone and breezy script are an ideal mix: some history, but not too much to bore the kids, woven with jokes and irrelevant facts: The Heaven’s Gate cult used to try to recruit new members across from Le Panier.
Tour the town with Tom
Tom Douglas’ food tours cover everything from his favorite eating neighborhood to his love for the iced Americano at Caffé Fiore.
How much you like Douglas’ walking tours might depend on how much you like Douglas. These tours are targeted more at locals than tourists. They don’t cover in detail how to get from one cafe to another. They assume you have some knowledge of the neighborhoods, though maps are included.
For instance, in the section on Pike Place Market: “This walk starts south of the market and proceeds north through the market and onto First Avenue. Have fun!”
The walks are broken down into five areas: Ballard, Pike Place Market, International District, Capitol Hill and, as one section, the waterfront and Bainbridge Island, each highlighted with Douglas’ favorite cafes, coffee shops and boutiques, with address, phone number and website listed. Some recipes are included.
There are also “stretch walks” to burn off those calories.
The walking tours cover hip, new places such as Staple & Fancy Mercantile restaurant, in Ballard, and the Melrose Market, on Capitol Hill, though are not recent enough to include Douglas’ three new eating joints in South Lake Union.
Douglas’s favorite ‘hood is the Chinatown International District, where he loves the crab at Sea Garden Seafood Restaurant and the crispy duck at King’s BBQ House.
In other neighborhoods, he thinks Bavarian Meats, at the Market, has “the best bacon in America.” And he buys menu papers from de Medici Ming Fine Paper for special occasions.
Douglas’ food tour reads almost like a list, the kind of tips you might get if you stopped him on the street to ask for suggestions.
Arty phone tour and podcast
You’ll likely see more visitors using their iPhones and iPods at the Seattle Art Museum than at any other tourist site. Last year, hundreds of visitors downloaded a podcast tour of the popular Picasso exhibit.
Recently, SAM added a cellphone audio tour of the new exhibition “Nick Cave: Meet Me at the Center of the Earth” (continuing through June 5). Visitors can call 206-866-3222, then punch in the number below the sculpture to get commentary and background. (For an introduction, call the number and punch in the number 1.)
Now that the weather has warmed up, SAM’s Olympic Sculpture Park will be a big draw. Yodio Tours offers a self-guided walking tour of the sculpture park.
This audio tour, not associated with the museum, is snappy and fast-moving, covering the major artworks in the 9-acre park. It’s intended more for the mainstream than art connoisseurs. The narrator mispronounces the names of artists Richard Serra and Roy McMakin, and the audio lacks in-depth commentary.
But the podcast covers the basics: names of artists and their sculptures, and some background. It also includes information on wheelchair-accessible paths and mentions spots for picnics and best views of Puget Sound and Mount Rainier.
Tan Vinh: 206-515-5656 or firstname.lastname@example.org