One Foot in Front of the Other

You couldn’t capture everything that makes the Pacific Northwest special in a month, let alone an afternoon. In Seattle, you’d need a week to scratch the surface.

But sometimes all you have is an afternoon. Or maybe your travel-fatigued family only has one more long walk in them and you need to make it count.

If you’re fresh off one of those big Alaska-bound cruise ships in Elliott Bay, looking to walk off your sea legs and get a feel for Seattle, this 90-minute loop from the waterfront to the Space Needle at Seattle Center, the Amazon Spheres, Pike Place Market and back features parks, dramatic views and many Seattle landmarks.

Seattle landmark loop

Round-trip distance: 4.2 miles

(Michala Garrison / The Seattle Times)

For the purpose of this story, we’ll start at Pier 66, home to Oceania Cruises and Norwegian Cruise Line.

Follow the waterfront northwest — veer to the port side, sailor — toward the Edgewater Hotel, which famously hosted the Beatles in 1964. Trace Elliott Bay on the paved path to Olympic Sculpture Park, where you’ll be welcomed by Louise Bourgeois’ “Father and Son,” showered in fountain water, and Jaume Plensa’s marvelous “Echo,” whose stoic countenance is worth a 360-degree view.

Keep the water, Bainbridge Island and the Olympic Mountains beyond to your left as Elliott Bay Trail leads to Myrtle Edwards Park and Pocket Beach. You can stick on the paved path or step down to the rocky beach, where you’ll find driftwood and maybe a dog or two braving that bracing Puget Sound water to fetch a Frisbee.

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The path splits around the meadow at Myrtle Edwards — as always, pay attention to walker/jogger/cyclist signs — and continues into Centennial Park, then Elliott Bay Park and The Beach at Expedia Group. They all offer stunning views of the water, mountains, Alki Point and more … but our route juts inland from Myrtle Edwards via the West Thomas Street Overpass.

The pedestrian overpass is just beyond the Seattle Post-Intelligencer globe. Walk up the walkway and over the train tracks, keeping the Space Needle as your compass. As you walk down the walkway on the other side of the tracks, look out for the new mural at Queen Anne Beerhall, which shows Bigfoot suiting up for the Sonics and wielding a trident to do battle with a Kraken. That’s where we’re headed.

Thomas Street leads uphill into Seattle Center, where you’ll find the still-under-construction Climate Pledge Arena and the International Fountain to your left. The fountain is a great place to dog/people-watch and rest your legs if need be. You can also join the kids surrounding the fountain’s spouts for a cool misting on a hot day; nobody will judge you. (They might.)

Make your way toward the Space Needle, where there will surely be throngs of tourists and the buskers, “Star Wars” characters and old-timey copper mime-statues that accompany them.

There’s no symbol of Seattle more recognizable than the Space Needle, seen here standing in Seattle Center looking southwest toward Alki Point. (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

You don’t have to spend a dime to have fun at Seattle Center — check out the Artists At Play Playground behind MoPOP, or Dan Corson’s giant “Sonic Bloom” flowers and Alexander Liberman’s set of big red cylinders, “Olympic Iliad.” My visiting sister said the latter “looks like penne”; I was pleased to find out the sculpture is also known as “Pasta Tube.”

With the Space Needle at your back, cross Broad Street at one of several intersections and get to Denny Way. Stick to the sidewalk on the right side of the road, as our route turns back toward downtown in a half-mile, at Denny Park.

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Dexter Avenue merges into Seventh Avenue and places us on the outskirts of Amazonia. A quarter-mile down the road are the company’s Spheres, those bulbous, see-through bad boys full of plants.

In a city full of Amazon Gos, Freshes and NITRO NORTHs, the Amazon Spheres might be the company’s most noticeable physical imprint. At Understory under the Spheres, you can see free, rotating artworks from resident artists. (Elaine Thompson / The Associated Press)

At Understory on the ground floor, there are rotating works from local artists, free to the public. (So are the bathrooms.) On a visit this month, my family found art from Shabazz Larkin: several oil-painted canvases with bits of cotton, flowers, branches and other organic ornaments resting at their bases, mirrors with phrases like “say a little prayer to the god in you,” plus notes detailing the artist’s creative process.

Carry on down Seventh toward Westlake Avenue, which terminates at Westlake Square and Stewart Street. At this point in the walk, the Hungry Relative will be on your last nerve with their repeated queries about lunchtime, and you can officially tell them you are close to Pike Place Market.

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Stewart climbs gradually to Second Avenue, offers a glimpse of Elliott Bay, then leads downhill to the Market. You’ll be plopped between Beecher’s and Le Panier, right in the thick of the Market’s craziness. (The OG Starbucks is a block down the cobblestones; mom will want a picture, but no, you should not wait in that line.)

Wander around a bit, or head left on Pike Place toward the iconic Public Market Center sign to find the Gum Wall if the prospect of wading through crowds at Pike Place has you anxious.

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As far as the Gum Wall, I really don’t know what to say. It is unfathomably gross, and worth a laugh, but nobody I’ve ever taken there has felt the urge to stick around, let alone get a picture. Also difficult to picture is the pre-COVID memory of a visitor actually licking that thing. I recommend taking a look then scurrying down Post Alley and back toward the water.

Union Street is your portal to the Seattle waterfront, where the Great Wheel keeps its spinning, neon eye fixed on Elliott Bay. Head toward the Seattle Aquarium and Pier 62 beyond, where you can catch a public Zumba class or an unobstructed sunset painting Puget Sound pink and orange.

Elliott Bay sprawls beyond the Great Wheel on Pier 57 at the Seattle waterfront.  (Ellen M. Banner / The Seattle Times)

Less than another quarter-mile’s walk down the waterfront and you’ll be back at your ship, tired and hopefully better acquainted with the Emerald City. Of course, there’s so much more to experience in Seattle and Washington state — on foot, ferry or otherwise — but that will have to wait for your next visit.

on the waterfront

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