Cheap and chipper via the Clipper: A student’s guide to Seattle

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Illustration by Nora Wu

Illustration by Nora Wu

A couple of weeks into the school year, I already felt restless. By November, my desire to get out and explore was overwhelming. While three days off does not give students enough time to travel anywhere exotic, a couple of friends and I decided to take advantage of this year’s reading break and head across the border to Seattle to see how far we could stretch our Canadian dollars.

The two most expensive parts of the trip by far were the Victoria Clipper and our accommodations. With that said, it is extremely easy to keep your meals below $15USD, and many of Seattle’s best attractions are free.

We stayed at HotelHotel hostel in Fremont — the hipster capital of Seattle and self-declared “Center of the Universe.” While not particularly fancy, this hostel was comfortable, offering an included continental breakfast and free walking tours of Fremont and its many public art pieces on Sunday mornings.

It is also ideally located. Fremont is 15–20 minutes away from downtown Seattle by bus, though there are numerous bike rentals around the city if the velocipede life is more your speed. Pronto Bike Share allows visitors to take advantage of the city’s many bike lanes by renting bikes for $8USD for 24 hours or $16 for three days. The bright green kiosks are abundant on Seattle streets, and a helmet rental is only $2. You can bring your own bike to Seattle on the Clipper, though you face a $20 handling fee each way and bike space on the vessel is limited.

If after a three-hour ferry ride, you (like us) find yourself in Seattle with no particular plans, consider the following suggestions as to how you can fill a couple of days.

Best (Free) Things to Do:

  • Pike Place Market — a Seattle icon for a reason,
  • Seattle Public Library — an 11-story glass and steel haven for bookworms,
  • Bill and Melinda Gates Foun-dation — a peek into the work of two inspiring philanthropists,
  • Window shopping in Fremont and downtown Seattle, or,
  • Playing boardgames with your drunk hostel comrades.

Best Places to Eat:

We ended up returning to Fremont for a lot of our meals, and we were absolutely spoiled for choice. Within three blocks of the hostel, we found dozens of delicious (and reasonably priced) restaurants. Our favourites included:

  • Jai Thai — best mussaman curry I have ever had, hands down,
  • Cafe Turko — a lovely, family-run place offering a variety of incredible hummus flavours (we recommend the beet or yam options),
  • Lucky’s Pho — probably our cheapest meal; think enormous banh mi for $6USD or obscene amounts of pho for under $10,
  • Bluebird Ice Cream Bar — Michelin-star worthy milkshakes (and vegan options are also available), and,
  • Pie — the name says it all. We recommend the pumpkin chai spice cream or the cranberry raspberry apple — or all of them.

Within Pike Place, we recommend either:

  • The Mac N Cheese from Beecher’s Handmade Cheese shop or,
  • Any/all of the chowders from the Pike Place Chowder Co.

Best Way to Spend $10:

Fremont is home to Theo’s Chocolate — an organic, fair trade Willy Wonka’s. $10 will buy you a ticket for the factory tour, which easily pays for itself in free samples. Not to mention that the factory is warm and smells like chocolate, so it’s a great place to hide from the inevitable Seattle rain.

If you’re only in Seattle for a day or two, you can’t miss Pike Place Market. The market is easy to navigate by yourself, and plays host to dozens of vendors selling fresh produce, fish, and baked goods — as well as handicrafts. There are also numerous tour companies that will happily show you around. Savor Seattle run tours every day of the week, and provide a behind-the-scenes peek of seven beloved vendors (and doles out a lot of samples). However, the infamous Gum Wall has recently been dismantled. More than a tonne of gum was recently removed from the walls of Post Alley, though Market officials expect visitors and locals to immediately begin rebuilding the sticky monument.

If you’re feeling extravagant, we also visited the Chihuly Glass and Garden Exhibit, and the Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum — both of which we would highly recommend. Entrance to these attractions is closer to $30CAD, so if you have to choose, I would suggest the EMP, especially if you’re a pop culture fan.

We chose not to visit the Space Needle — the underwhelming American cousin of the CN Tower — despite its popularity as a tourist attraction. Instead, we ventured to Gas Works Park for stunning views of the Seattle skyline (including the Space Needle). If you do feel so inclined to see Seattle from 184 metres in the air, consider buying a combined Space Needle and Chihuly Exhibit pass, which will give you access to both attractions for the price of one.

Overall, Seattle is a lovely, vibrant (if not damp) city. If you’re able to visit for more than a couple of days, hiking and similar outdoors activities in the surrounding areas come highly recommended by HotelHotel staff. Just be sure to pack a raincoat, and remember that the legal drinking age in America is 21 — we ended up drinking a lot more milkshakes than mimosas.

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