Traveling with four children ages 10 and under isn’t easy, but it’s something my wife and I attempt to do every year. 

Over the years we’ve seen the autumn leaves in New Hampshire, climbed the 354 steps of the Statue of Liberty in springtime, and experienced the magic and wonder of Disneyland over the holidays. At each place we’ve made happy memories, but it wasn’t until our recent visit to the Emerald City this summer that we learned the true meaning of hospitality. 

I knew we were in for something different when, as I waited to check into our room at the Seattle Marriott Waterfront hotel, I saw a man who I later learned was the hotel’s general manager, Amrit Sandhu, warmly chatting with the guests in the lobby. He introduced himself and made our family feel welcome and provided many recommendations of things we could do while visiting. 

Minutes after checking into our spacious room that overlooked the harbor, we ventured out to see what the city had to offer. 

We made our way to the world-famous Pike Place Market, but foolishly brought our stroller with us, not knowing of the many flights of stairs we’d have to climb to reach the vendors above. Twice, locals offered to help my wife and I carry the stroller; another sweetly helped my 5-year-old daughter who’d started to lag behind. 

Once we arrived, the Market was everything we’d heard it was and more. Bouquets of fresh-picked flowers lined the walkway as we stepped into the bustling scene of color where fish were tossed by vendors for customers standing by.

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We sampled Rainier cherries, watched the artisans at Beecher’s curdle milk into mouthwatering cheeses and filled our bellies with blackened salmon sandwiches at Market Grill. A seating area was full, but people quickly stood to offer chairs to our tired children.  

Soon after, we purchased tickets for a giant waterfront Ferris wheel, and in no time found ourselves looming high above the water as ferries below carried passengers to and from neighboring Bainbridge Island. The noises of the Puget Sound filled the air: ship horns blowing, gulls cawing, music playing. 

A Washington state ferry passes The  Great Wheel as it prepares to dock on Seattle’s central waterfront. (Ted S. Warren / The Associated Press, File)

There was something electric about the moment. In the midst of a pandemic that had kept us home for much of the last 16 months, the anxieties and stresses I had bottled up seemed to melt away. I suddenly felt the newfound freedom and protection of being fully vaccinated against a virus that had limited so much of what we’d been able to previously see and do. 

Over the ensuing days, that freedom invited never-ending opportunities:

We ran through grassy meadows at Discovery Park, made sand castles on a beach at Lake Washington, climbed to Myrtle Falls at Mount Rainier National Park, and rose high above the city in the Space Needle. We watched as a barge slowly entered Salmon Bay through the Ballard Locks, kayaked across Lake Union and rode a surrey bike along Alki Beach.

On the lake, we encountered adorable sisters aboard a floating lemonade stand. They sold us delicious ice pops and sweetly engaged our children. At the locks, a dock worker showed us where to stand to get the best view of the slowly rising water. And at Mount Rainier, a line of hikers patiently waited and shouted encouragingly as my 5-year-old cautiously and nervously walked across a one-person-at-a-time wire footbridge to the Grove of the Patriarchs. 

Everywhere we went, everything we ate, every discovery we made, we found ourselves surrounded by perfect strangers, treating our little family of out-of-towners with perfect respect and kindness. 

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Before our trip, a friend advised me about Seattle’s growing homelessness crisis and told me to exercise caution; we found ourselves pleasantly surprised on that front as well. At multiple points during our vacation we observed homeless encampments, but we didn’t find them off-putting as others have reported.

It provided an opportunity to discuss homelessness with our children and to help develop their empathy. At one point near Seattle Center, an elderly transient man walked by and gave us all a big, warm smile. “You have a beautiful family,” he told me. His striking sincerity touched my wife and me.

Not once were we treated in any way that didn’t make us feel welcome; and the customer service we encountered was outstanding: a bartender at our hotel saw my hands were full of food and offered to carry my many cups of ice water for me; when my son dropped his Greek yogurt at Ellenos, an employee quickly offered a replacement; and when our 5-year-old couldn’t find my wife in the gift shop at a visitors center, an employee knelt beside her and let her pick out a free souvenir. The only place we encountered less-than-desirable service was at the aptly named Biscuit Bitch at the Market; but their buttery melt-in-your-mouth breakfast sandwiches more than made up for it. 

As we boarded the plane to fly home five days after we’d arrived, I felt a lump in my throat as I looked out the window at the sparking city. 

Emotion overcame me for just a moment as I realized how wonderfully happy the previous days had been; I said a little prayer of gratitude for the memories we’d made, the people we’d met and the love we were shown along the way.