A house finch pinches a cherry blossom in its beak at the Washington Park Arboretum. The Washington Park Arboretum borders Lake Washington and is home to finches, ducks, turtles and other wildlife. (Claire Zhao)
A house finch pinches a cherry blossom in its beak at the Washington Park Arboretum. The Washington Park Arboretum borders Lake Washington and is home to finches, ducks, turtles and other wildlife.

Claire Zhao

Out of the nest: 3 days in Seattle

My spring break trip to the “Emerald City”

May 31, 2023

It’s my first time in Seattle, Washington –– the bustling city of coffee, greenery, planes, cherry blossoms, Pike Place, the Space Needle and tempestuous weather. All it took was a simple itinerary template on Google Sheets, hours of looking through travel websites, a lot of necessary sacrifices for the time that we had, and a growing sense of anticipation to see and experience what my meticulous planning would really amount to. After a slightly turbulent afternoon flight that was just under two hours long, we arrived at the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. A few shuttle rides and a car rental later, we stumbled into the Archer Hotel Redmond and braced ourselves for the hectic but nevertheless exciting week that was about to begin.

Day 1: April 3

Chihuly Garden and Glass

The Northwest Room in the Chihuly Garden and Glass contains some of Chihuly’s earliest experimental works from his “Baskets,” “Cylinders” and “Soft Cylinders” series. Chihuly, a native of the Pacific Northwest, was influenced by Native American culture in creating these sculptures and collecting these Navajo textiles. (Claire Zhao)

After a quick breakfast at Subway, we drove to the Chihuly Garden and Glass, an open studio showcase of American glass artist Dale Chihuly’s works. As soon as we stepped foot into the first exhibit, I was blown away by the mesmerizing and almost ethereal beauty of the flowy glass sculptures. 

Dramatic indoor lighting drew our eyes towards their luminescent, alien shapes, with colors ranging from bright vermilion reds to dark cetacean blues; from pearly, icy whites to seafoam, emerald greens. 

It was raining when we enjoyed the outdoor gardens of the museum, adding another layer of cozy ambiance that enhanced the scene. Overall, this was an extremely memorable experience that was nothing short of extraordinary. 

Space Needle

A downscaled, three-dimensional model of the Space Needle stands in an introductory exhibit. (Claire Zhao)

This iconic, decade-old observation tower is walking distance from the Chihuly Garden and Glass, with a futuristic shape resembling a mix between the Eiffel Tower and a rocket. 

As someone who’s afraid of heights, I thought I would pass up this opportunity, but it did not disappoint. The elevator took only 82 seconds to go up, and the ride felt even shorter thanks to our guide, who mentioned that a venue near the attraction was home to the fictional Grace Hospital from Grey’s Anatomy. 

Once we were at the top of the Space Needle, we stepped out onto the 360-degree observation deck for stunning views and photos of the entire city below us. 

We then descended to the second level, where we found ourselves captivated by a slowly-revolving, vertigo-inducing glass floor. 

To top it off, in the souvenir shop at ground level, a scaled miniature Lego Space Needle model towers over everyone below. 

Whether you’re a tourist like me or just want to see what it’s like up there, the Space Needle offers a perfect opportunity to stand 500 feet above the cityline and enjoy yourself.


Toulouse Petit Kitchen and Lounge

A short drive from the Space Needle brought us to this Cajun-Creole restaurant for lunch. The dimly lit, snug interior was lined with rows of warm candles and hanging lanterns, making me feel like I was in a fairy cottage. 

We ordered a Dungeness crab over fried green tomatoes with a tarragon-chive ravigote, which was more zesty than I was expecting but definitely did its job as an appetizer for the rest of the meal. 

From the lunchtime pasta section, I also ordered a Dungeness crab, artichokes and yellow corn with ricotta gnocchi, tarragon and Crescenza cheese. 

Despite the abundance of Dungeness crab in this meal, we ended up pulling through because of how delicious each of the dishes turned out to be. That Dungeness crab pasta was especially hearty and flavorful, so I’d definitely come here again if I had the chance.

Museum of Flight

Many planes hang from the main ceiling, and warplanes are also parked at the bottom of the main exhibition. (Claire Zhao)

With our stomachs stuffed full of crab and gnocchi, we made our way to the Museum of Flight. I’m no aviation enthusiast, nor did I know what I was expecting, but this museum definitely left me awe-struck with just how expansive and numerous their exhibits were. 

From Boeing 747s and spacecrafts to the Wright Flyer and a variety of war aircrafts, each exhibit had a detailed explanation for the models available. We climbed into two of the planes’ cockpits, and there were even flight simulators with 360-degree barrel rolls available to try out. 

Unfortunately we were short on time, but if we did have the opportunity to walk around the entire venue, I’m sure we would have spent hours upon hours there, marveling at the mysterious mechanisms of flight all around us.


Joule’s beef tartare with Asian pear, pine nut, hijiki and aji Amarillo aioli. The dish was slightly sweet and reminiscent of raw tuna.
(Claire Zhao)

It was my birthday that day, so we finally drove to Joule after resting in the hotel for another hour. The atmosphere of this Korean-fusion steakhouse was toasty and lively, with fairy lights hanging on strings right outside of the window. 

We ordered beef tartare, bone marrow, toothpick pork belly, geoduck black rice and grassfed ribeye.

For my beverage, I ordered Oh Mai, Oh My!, a non-alcoholic blend of pineapple, orange, lime and falernum. This sweet, lemonade-like drink paired particularly well with the tender and juicy grassfed ribeye. 

For dessert, we ordered a rhubarb lychee spooncake. It was good enough on its own, but our server gave us a free blueberry ice cream with a candle for my birthday. Both desserts were the perfect balance of pleasantly sweet and lightly buttered.

Day 2: April 4

AKB Hotel Bar

We started the next day with a late breakfast at our hotel’s very own bar, AKB. There were many different options to choose from, but I settled with a bagel and lox, comprising a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel with red onions and capers. With this, I felt ready to take on the day’s adventures.

Amazon Spheres

The Amazon Spheres sit snugly between several buildings in Seattle. (Claire Zhao)

We made our way down to the Amazon Spheres, which would be our first instance of bizarre architecture in Seattle today. Their geometric yet faithfully spherical glass designs were packed with lush greenery inside, almost reminiscent of extraterrestrial biodomes.

To our disappointment, a police officer was dutifully noting down the license plate of a car parked in front of us, presumably to fine its owner later. Unfortunately, we couldn’t access the interiors of the buildings either, so we climbed back into our car and resorted to taking photos instead. Despite this unexpected deviation from our original plan, the Spheres were really a sight to behold, like three peculiar gems hidden in the middle of the busy cityscape.

Seattle Central Library

And now for our second bizarre architectural structure of today –– the Seattle Central Library, only a short drive from the Amazon Spheres.

With 11 stories towering at 185 feet and boasting a capacity for 1.5 million books, I think it’s safe to say I’ve never seen a library like this before. After parking, we took an elevator up to floor 10, the highest floor, to reach the atrium observatory. 

We spent some more time walking around floor 10, which offered multiple quiet study and reading spaces. Then, we used the stairs to descend the floors slowly so we could take in more of the marvelous labyrinthine bookshelves all around us.

Even though we didn’t end up using the library for its intended purpose, its pristine and silent environment offered a perfect respite from the ins and outs of daily enterprise.


Seattle Aquarium

A seagull flies in between a crane and the Seattle Great Wheel, which can easily be seen from the Seattle Aquarium. Seagulls and other seabirds are abundant near Elliot Bay. (Claire Zhao)

Another very brief drive brought us to the Seattle Aquarium at Pier 59. Although perhaps not as expansive as our Monterey Bay Aquarium, its exhibits were just as diverse, ranging from salmon, cuttlefish and sea stars to marine mammals and different types of seabirds. 

The inside was a bit too chaotic and crowded for my liking, but I particularly enjoyed the outdoor amphitheater-esque space for watching harbor seals as they bobbed up and down and twirled around in their tank.

The Seattle Great Wheel, an iconic ferris wheel, also looms right outside the aquarium. We made sure to snap some pictures of it, even if we couldn’t muster up the courage to ride it ourselves.

The Salmon Cooker

Walking distance from the Seattle Aquarium is the Salmon Cooker, a seafood diner near Miners Landing. Wooden models of fish and a fishing boat hang from the ceiling, creating an at-sea feel that is truly unmatched. The food itself was average and the portion was almost too much for us to finish, but the restaurant did offer a good view of the Seattle Great Wheel and of the bay right behind it. 

Washington Park Arboretum

A house finch pinches a cherry blossom in its beak at the Washington Park Arboretum. (Claire Zhao)

Our last destination of the day was the Washington Park Arboretum, a public park on the shores of Lake Washington. Spanning 230 acres, this park is sure to captivate with all of its beautifully lush scenery and wildlife. We strolled on one of its trails for an hour, basking in the vast greenery and soft shadows of the pink cherry blossom trees that lined the sides of the entire pathway. 

Besides enjoying the park’s lovely landscape, I found myself taking deeper breaths than usual as I soaked in my surroundings and started to tune into the sounds of nature. Different birds chirped overhead, welcoming us with every step we took. I definitely would’ve spent more time here if I could, but our visit was cut short to meet up with a friend for dinner.

Day 3: April 5

Honest Biscuits

On our last day in Seattle, we wanted a more nourishing brunch, so we drove to Honest Biscuits. This snug and humble biscuit and sandwich shop lodged in Pike Place Market lives up to its name, with all kinds of Southern-style biscuits to choose from.

They ran out of their popular Pike Place biscuits. As an alternative, we shared the Bear biscuit, made with bacon, fried chicken and egg, among other tasty ingredients. 

Pike Place Market

Outside Pike Place Market. (Claire Zhao)

After brunch, we found ourselves immersed in the vibrant, multicolored stalls of Pike Place Market, selling a wide variety of goods from handcrafted jewelry and clothing to jars of honey and natural soaps. Several street performers filled our ears with upbeat piano and guitar, and we even saw Rachel the Piggy Bank, the official mascot of Pike Place Market. 

Our first stop was the Pike Place Fish Market; its loud, energetic shouting drew our attention. One of the oldest running seafood markets in the U.S., its vendors are known as “the guys who throw the fish.” Fish-throwing is one of their daily traditions, which actually started as a prank before it became a regular part of their routine due to popular demand. 

Another slope underneath Pike Place Market led us to the fascinating Gum Wall –– an artistic, assorted (and gross) display of people’s used gum. We didn’t have any gum to stick on the wall ourselves, but nothing couldn’t be solved with a few photos.

Original Starbucks

Inside the original Starbucks. (Claire Zhao)

The original 1912 Starbucks store, emblazoned with its first-ever brown siren logo, lies a walking distance across from Pike Place Market. When we went at around noon, the line had gotten considerably long, but we were able to get in after about 20 minutes of waiting. One barista stood outside to regulate line traffic, while another escorted us into the rustic interior.

Along with a caramel frappuccino and a latte, we made sure to pick up some exclusive Pike Place Starbucks merchandise.

While we were waiting for our order, another barista gave us a small cup of Starbucks’s new Oleato latte, free of charge. Complete with the unique ingredient of extra virgin olive oil, it tasted richer and more savory than regular coffee, and it surprisingly grew a little on me after the first few sips. 

My caramel frappuccino, on the other hand, was quite ordinary. Still, this was a wholly worthwhile experience; it’s almost as if I can now call myself even more of a coffee-lover.

Seattle Art Museum

A huge wooden sculpture called “Middle Fork” by artist John Grade hangs in the museum lobby. The installment is 40 feet long and added to the museum’s atmosphere while we bought tickets and checked our bags in. (Claire Zhao)

After we walked out of the Pike Place Market’s vicinity, a long vertical sign reading “Seattle Art Museum” caught our attention, along with three shiny letters: “SAM.” 

Upon walking inside, we saw a huge wooden sculpture hanging right above our heads and spanning the entire museum lobby, where we bought tickets and checked our bags in. 

We took an elevator to the third floor, with “Reverberations: Contemporary Art and Modern Classics” featuring modern and contemporary art; “American Art: The Stories We Carry” featuring Native, Asian American, African American and Latinx art; as well as an East Asian exhibit featuring Chinese, Japanese and Korean art.

On the fourth floor, we examined ancient Mediterranean and Islamic, European and African art, along with a textile exhibit titled “Ikat: A World of Compelling Cloth,” which is only available from March 9 to May 29. 

All of these gorgeous exhibitions left us enthralled; my only regret was not being able to stay here longer and look at each display in more detail.

University of Washington

UW’s 90-year-old iconic cherry blossom trees welcome swarms of people into the quad. (Claire Zhao)

As they all say, what’s a vacation without a college visit? We didn’t book a formal tour on the university’s website, so we took our sweet time strolling around its vast 634-acre campus, and most notably, seeing its iconic, age-old Yosano cherry blossom trees in full bloom. 

At the very heart of UW, the quad teemed with a sea of tourists and students alike, all vying for a chance to pose with these picturesque trees.

The trees’ soft pink blossoms made for an especially lovely backdrop against the antique limestone buildings, and I wouldn’t mind visiting again just for these scenic treasures.

Kizuki Ramen and Izakaya

For our final dinner here, we walked to Kizuki Ramen and Izakaya, a ramen restaurant near our hotel in the Redmond Town Center

We ordered spinach “goma-ae,” chicken wings, “tonkotsu shoyu ramen,” and a passion fruit iced tea. The spinach goma-ae had a subtly nutty texture and flavor with hints of sesame seeds, sugar, and soy sauce. The chicken wings brought a distinctive blend of sweet and sour with the slight bitterness of green onions adding extra flair. The tonkotsu shoyu ramen also didn’t disappoint, albeit it was a little too salty for my taste. The passion fruit iced tea, on the other hand, helped balance that out a bit, with its soft but much-needed tartness and sweetness. 

With that, we went back to our hotel to prepare for our flight back to San Jose the next afternoon.

Overall Ratings

Weather: 8/10

Better than expected. It rained and hailed at first (aligning with my expectations), but afterwards, it was mostly sunny or cloudy. 

Variety of attractions: 8/10 

We went to just about every place that we wanted to see, but I would have loved to go to the Museum of Pop Culture, Starbucks Reserve Roastery, Chinatown and more.

Variety of restaurants: 7/10

Next time, I hope to research more local places to eat at, including not only restaurants but also bakeries and cafes.

Time allocated to each attraction: 6/10

We were in a time crunch, so I wish we could have spent more time in some places for a more well-rounded experience.

Otherwise, this was a great trip to one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country, so I’ll be sure to “sea” it again in the future!

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