Neil Sowerby enjoys wine, cherry pie and Wild Ginger in Washington State
THAT end of the road feeling never felt better. On paper it’s 800 miles direct from San Francisco to Seattle, from Fisherman’s Wharf to Pike Place Market, swapping the tourist hub of the Hippy City for its counterpart in the Birthplace of Grunge.
The Market Theater Gum Wall started with employees sticking their used bazooka on the side of the building; when it was finally scraped clean three years ago they cleared 200 pounds of the stuff.
The actual mileage of our two week road trip had more than doubled as we detoured in search of giant redwoods and wild coast roads, craft breweries and biodynamic wineries, while the beardy Sirens of Portland lured us into a state of ‘let’s hang loose here a little longer’.
Bend and Yakima gave us a taste for Oregon and Washington State’s small town pleasures. So it was a joy to take in two contrasting stop-offs– Snoqualmie Falls and Woodinville Wine Country – before the challenge of navigating Seattle’s hectic freeways to our journey’s end.
Heading west towards the Pacific after the desert climate of Yakima, we hit BIG rain in the suitably named Cascades range. The mountain murk was so dense we couldn’t even get a view of 14,411ft Mount Rainier, the USA’s fifth highest and one of the world’s great standalone peaks (we glimpsed it later from the equally iconic Space Needle in Seattle).
After slaloming down forested switchbacks it was a relief to reach Snoqualmie, one of Washington’s big visitor draws. The famous waterfall there, swollen by those rains, was in full spate as the clouds cleared enough for a proper view from the terrace path of the Salish Lodge, where we were booked in for lunch at its Attic restaurant.
But first we couldn’t resist investigating this luxury inn’s Twin Peaks souvenir shop. Yep, Salish stood in as the Great Northern Hotel in David Lynch’s surreal TV series and echoing some Lynchlike plot twist, one of the stars of the original and the recent follow-up series, Harry Dean Stanton, had died the previous day.
It was a mark of respect to a great actor that, after oysters, clams and stone hearth fired pizza, we had to order a Twin Peaks homage dessert of Cherry Pie and Damn Good Coffee.
The unique wine lovers’ haven that is Woodinville is inside Seattle’s metropolitan area, under 30 minutes drive from Downtown. It encompasses 118 wineries and tasting rooms, 14 microbreweries, distilleries and cideries and 30 eating places. It’s the largest concentration of wineries in the world, most of the grapes shipped in from eastern Washington’s vineyards. If sourcing the best sampling spot seems daunting the Woodville Wine Country team will help you plan an individual itinerary.
The best place to start, as we did, is pioneer and commercially dominant winery Chateau Ste Michelle, whose first Cabernet Sauvignon 50 years launched today’s Washington wine industry, now worth around $5 billion.
Hence the state of the art re-fit of the St Michelle tasting facility inside their French-style mansion set in 105 wooded acres.
A more modest sampling destination is the Avennia Tasting Room three miles north in Woodinville Snohomish Road. Avennia is inspired by the Roman name for Avignon and there was an Old World elegance and backbone about the wines we tasted, in particular (and aptly) a 2015 Southern Rhone grape blend called Justine that offered all the ‘garrigue’ aromatic herbiness of that region.
Our day’s Washington wine education came to a satisfying conclusion over dinner in the Barking Frog, a casual but accomplished restaurant inside a hotel close to Ch Ste Michelle. From a terrific wine list local magazine publisher Kim Benner Schoch and her husband Damian introduced us to eye-opening examples of Riesling and (with my venison loin with parsnip, wild mushrooms, salsify chips, lollipop kale and huckleberry gastrique) a Syrah. Not a wine I’d associated with the Pacific North West.
After the quiet charm of Woodinville Seattle was big city writ large with so much to see, so little time before our flight home. A calming influence on our frantic sight-seeing urges was our Italianate boutique billet up on Madison, the Sorrento Hotel, which dates back to 1907.
We loved our slightly eccentric room with its gloriously comfortable bed and marble bathroom, while the happy hour comp wine tasting in the wood panelled public rooms detained us happily as the rain swept in again outside. Seattle, like Manchester, does have a reputation.
We were lucky the deluge cleared the next couple of days. Our city tour had to start at Pike Place, a different, quirkier tourist destination from Fisherman’s Wharf, our road trip starting point.
Established in 1907 (a busy year), this is home to America’s longest continuous farmer’s market, surviving demolition threats in the early 70s to become a unique destination. The actual market with fresh produce stalls straddles several blocks overlooking the busy sea lanes of Elliott Bay. Indeed it is the fish from those waters that grabs your attention most, spectacular on the fish stall slabs or on the plate in several on-site cafes.
Buskers, bars, banter, the first Starbucks with fans prepared to queue round the block for their skinny lattes and souvenirs, a cheese dairy, an anarchist bookstore, the Left Bank Books Collective, that’s a throwback to the city’s radical past – there’s so much to keep you amused.
Just round the corner there’s a gross celebration of gum chewing. The Market Theater Gum Wall started with employees sticking their used bazooka on the side of the building; when it was finally scraped clean three years ago they cleared 200 pounds of the stuff. Within hours of its removal folk were back sticking up their chewing wads to revive this ‘installation’.
If all this sounds kind of grungey, well, Seattle was the epicentre of that raucous rock subculture. Amazingly, next year sees the 25th anniversary of Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain’s suicide in the house he shared with Courtney Love. That’s now in private hands, yet devotees still make the pilgrimage up to 171 Lake Washington Blvd E in the Denny-Blaine suburb..
Fans of an earlier rock good, Seattle-born Jimi Hendrix have more to go on – his grave up in Renton, a memorial at the Zoo and, opened last summer, the £2.2m Jimi Hendrix park, next to the Northwest African American Museum at 24th Avenue South and South Massachusetts Street. Every inch of the park is a testament to Hendrix’s work and legacy — the walkways form the outline of a guitar, and 12 “frets” in the instrument’s neck tell the timeline of his life. Exploring Seattle’s lively Capitol Hill gay district we, literally. stumbled upon an earlier Jimi tribute, the pavement statue on Broadway near the E Pine Street intersection.
At the Seattle Center’s Museum of Pop Culture you’ll find sacred Hendrix objects such as remnants of the guitar he set alight at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival and the white Fender Stratocaster he played at Woodstock two years later. Both housed in a building designed by Frank Gehry to resemble a smashed guitar.
That MoPOP was commissioned by Microsoft founder Paul Allen is symptomatic of the radical changes in Seattle since its last rock heyday. Sub Pop Records is still based here but most of the venues Hendrix and, later, Nirvana and Pearl Jam played are no longer around. The Belltown district north of Pike Place is all gussied up with smart bars and stores, though tenacious Grunge survivors (just) include The Crocodile venue, where all the Grunge acts and the likes of REM played, and Coney Island clown themed bar Shorty’s at 2222 2nd Avenue for pinball, arcade games and hot dogs.
New gods rule the city today – notably coffee and craft beer. The Pike Pub and Brewery attached to the Market Place is a fun hang-out, but our favourite central beer haunt is Elysian Brewing’s dark and characterful bar on 2nd Avenue. It does fine classic American food, but we’d recommend popping around the corner to Wild Ginger on 3rd Avenue for superlative Pacific Rim/South East Asian food and appropriately exotic cocktails.
Both places are a 10 minute walk to a waterfront dual attraction that’s great fun. The 175ft Seattle Great Wheel is an old-school scenic ferris whirl; the neighbouring Wings Over Washington ‘flying theater’ offers, for $17 a head, a state of the art virtual flight via across the whole of the state, swept by a ‘spirit eagle’. Stupendous fun.
So you’ve got a head for heights now? Get the monorail across to the aforementioned Seattle Center, site of the 1962 Century 21 Exposition, the iconic remnant of which is the Space Needle.
At 605ft high, it resembles a colossal whisk. Exterrnal elevators whisk you (sic) up to the flying saucerlike observation deck (tickets $22) with its 360 degree panorama of the cityscape and the Puget Sound north into Canada.
We combined the Needle with a visit to Chihuly Garden and Glass ($24 entry next door, a very special museum devoted to the work of Washington artist Dale Chihuly. Now 76, he has been a groundbreaker in avant garde glasswork. The exquisite works on display in the exhibition hall and the garden reflect his North-West influences – boats, Native American art and, most colourfully, the ocean and its flora and fauna.
Fittingly, our Seattle sight-seeing concluded in the district to the south of Pike Place where the city sprung up as a 19th century logging town. It was here the term ‘Skid Row’ was coined – as the path where timber workers skidded logs down to the port before its later associations with poverty and low-life.
Today’s august Pioneer Square carries few traces of its rowdy and debauched past. The Great Fire of 1889 and an earthquake in 2001 have on the surface erased much of the original townscape, yet dig deep and the history lives on. The key to all this archeology? Book a Bill Speidel's Underground Tour ($22). Leaving from the imposing Pioneer building, your guide takes your group below ground to the original street level, abandoned and built over as fire, flood tides and sewage horrors took their toll with citizens converting the old first floors into new ground floors.
We were lucky in having a terrific guide in Eric Olinsky who, with his chef’s hat on, also leads foodie walking tours. He enlivened the drier civil engineer-led material with tales of the Seattle’s premier bawdy house, where the town’s grandees conducted their business under the watchful eye of its madame, Lou Graham, who died of syphilis in 1903.
By then Seattle was already undergoing a sea change for the new century. Its penchant for reinvention is what makes it such a fascinating city to explore. And if you merely visit to hang out nostalgically in a grungey checked shirt and ripped jeans, well Nevermind.
CityPass Seattle is good for nine consecutive days, giving access to a variety of attractions including the Space Needle, Chiuly Gardens & Glass and the Seattle Aquarium. Book online or at any of the venues: adult £61.98, child 4-12 £46.29.
At the end of our West Coast road trip he flew back to from Seattle to Manchester via London Heathrow with British Airways. The good news for Mancunians wanting to travel to Seattle is that from May 2018 Thomas Cook Airlines are launching a twice-weekly (Thursday and Saturday) direct service on the company's Airbus A330-200. Prices are from £399.
Neil Sowerby’s car hire for his US West Coast road trip was booked through Affordable Car Hire.
To plan your American trip of a lifetime go to Visit USA.
Manchester Airport parking:
Neil Sowerby left his car parked through T3 Meet and Greet. Here are all the options:
VIP Valet – drop and collect your car right next to the terminal and get fast tracked through security. Your car is parked on site.
Meet and Greet – drop your car off with staff next to the terminal and collect on your return. Your car is parked on site.
Multi-storey car park at T1, 2 and 3 – ultra-convenient multi-storey car parking right next to the terminal. Park and walk under cover to reach the terminal.
Long stay car park at T1, 2 and 3 – ground surface car park offering free, regular 24 hour bus transfers direct to the terminal.
Shuttle Park – secure parking at great rates for cost-conscious travellers. Free, regular 24 hour bus transfers direct to the terminal.
JetParks – low-cost parking option run by Manchester Airport, fully manned 24/7, parking from £2.99 per day. Visit this link.