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Travel & Excursions

Backyard Tourist

TOURISM: Neighborhoods offer real insider peek at city

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When the sun comes out in Seattle, long-lost friends and relatives come out of the woodwork. They want to escape the heat and humidity of their own cities in exchange for the lush temperate Northwest climes, and they want you to play tour guide.

That's all good -- the first couple of times. But when Aunt Jane and Uncle Joe call and it's the 11th time someone has asked you for a guided tour to the top of the Space Needle, it's time to find a solution that will keep you from screaming and foster family peace and love.

The Puget Sound Business Journal asked local tour operators to share their favorite places that are off their tour companies' beaten paths -- the places they take their own visiting friends and family members. These are places where being a tourist in your own backyard is fun.

Even the professionals need a break from Emerald City attractions once in a while. After hours of leading tourists around, Seattle tour guides prefer to show their own visitors different spots -- areas that make the Puget Sound region special to them.

For seasoned natives, the hole-in-the-wall restaurants, and mom and pop shops are what keep the area interesting to roam time and again.

When owner Terry Seidler of See Seattle Walking Tours & Events wants to take his family and friends somewhere fresh, one of his first stops is The Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee House, located on Main Street in Seattle's International District

"The atmosphere (draws from) a combination of Japanese and Italian influences," Seidler said. "There are all kinds of historical artifacts in the building."

Owner Jan Johnson turned the historical rooming house, which housed hundreds of Japanese immigrant families until 1950, into a museum preserving their artifacts, a hotel, and a tea shop that serves Asian and Indian teas, panini sandwiches and Lavazza espresso.

"It's quite unique," Seidler said. "There's just not anything else like it."

Also in the International District lies another gem.

People from all over visit the Seattle Aquarium, but Seidler prefers the less frequented Liem's Aquarium and Bird Shop on Maynard Alley South in the International District, also known as Chinatown.

"(Liem's) is in the truest sense a hole in the wall," Seidler said. "It's a fun place full of aquariums with all kinds of exotic fish."

Filled with thousands of rare creatures, Liem's allows visitors and locals to experience tropical paradise during even the rainiest days, Seidler said. "It's an amazing place -- one of my all-time favorites."

When friends and family of Beeline Tours President Michael Rogers come to town, he makes sure to show them the city through a local point of view.

"We had family in recently and we went to Columbia City market" in Rainier Valley, said Rogers. "Depending on how much time we have, we also like to take the Amtrak to Vancouver."

In lieu of Starbucks and the Space Needle, Rogers prefers to take his visitors outdoors in the rare Seattle summer sunshine.

"We usually go for a walk around Seward Park," said Rogers. "We make (our visitors) do the two-hour walk around -- that's something they usually don't forget."

Seidler also likes to get outside to enjoy the great Northwest.

"I like to go to the Government Locks in Ballard," Seidler said. "You can watch the boat traffic go in and out, they have a salmon ladder there -- it's just a favorite spot for me to go."

Historical Photos of Seattle's Japantown in Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee House

Antique photos of Seattle's Japantown are displayed in The Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee House, which is located at 607 S. Main St.

Terry at Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee 

Terry Seidler, Owner of See Seattle Walking Tours & Events, takes friends and family to see The Panama Hotel Tea & Coffee House in Seattle's International District.

He also suggests riding a ferry on Puget Sound to take in the view.

"I like to take a Washington state ferry ride to go back and forth and look at Mount Rainier," Seidler said. "It's nice to just look at the mountains when you go by and stop in Bremerton to spend some time looking at the naval museum."

For more adventurous outdoors people, Seidler suggests taking the hiking trail up Mount Si, near North Bend in the Snoqualmie River Valley east of Seattle.

"It's fairly steep so it's a nice hiking trail," Seidler said. "When you get to the top you can see everywhere -- an unobstructed view in a 360-degree panorama."

When it comes to dinner, Rogers opts for small local restaurants.

"In the summertime we like to go to the Pink Door in Post Alley in Pike Place Market for dinner," said Rogers. "You get a sunset dinner with a view of the Sound."

Penny Truitt, assistant tour manager of Bill Speidel's Underground Tour, also shares her favorite eatery with every visitor.

"I love to take anybody from out of town to the Red Door Ale House" in the Fremont district, said Truitt. "They have killer clams -- their steamers are to die for."

Truitt has also made a small family tradition out of a Seattle attraction.

"Since the trilogies have come out -- Lord of the Rings, Star Wars -- we take my parents to the Cinerama for the midnight showings," Truitt said. "I love the Cinerama -- I think it's the best thing Paul Allen's done for our city." The theater owned by the Microsoft billionaire is located on Fourth Avenue just north of downtown Seattle.

If her visitors are especially adventurous, Truitt doesn't hesitate to go out on a limb.

"I do like to take people to the cemetery to go see Bruce Lee," Truitt said. "Bruce Lee is cool -- people are surprised that he was buried in Seattle." The martial-arts film star is buried at Lakeview Cemetery in Seattle's Capitol Hill neighborhood.

If tourist options around the Puget Sound Region still seem slim, remember sights that are overlooked.

Seidler suggested the artwork in the bus tunnel stations is worth a look, when the tunnel is open. The five stations together have one of the largest community-based public art programs in the Pacific Northwest, he said. There's no charge to ride the buses through the tunnel.

"They really have some great artwork," Seidler said. "Anyone who's interested in public art would enjoy the tunnel."

Truitt loves to takes her visitors to the Fremont area to walk around and enjoy the sights.

"I love all the little places in Fremont," Truitt said. "It's not really touristy yet."

Also in Fremont is the famous but sometimes overlooked Fremont troll, lurking underneath the Aurora Bridge. The legendary sculpture has provided visitors and locals with entertainment since 1990.

If all else fails, all agree that revisiting Pioneer Square or Pike Place Market to try a new restaurant is worthwhile. They also suggest taking a stroll in one of the many parks, the University of Wahington campus, or along Seattle's waterfront.


Tour guides share their favorite places

There are some sites that are quintessential Seattle and everyone wants to see them during a visit. Our tour guides shared these tips to make the inevitable a little more adventuresome and a lot more pleasurable.

Space Needle

Beeline Tours Ltd. President Michael Rogers suggests avoiding the $12 fee usually charged for the elevator ride to the observation deck by going to the bar or restaurant for free. You can sip a local beer and then head straight up to the observation deck for free. A beer costs about $5. You should make reservations prior to heading up the Space Needle.

Smith Tower in Pioneer Square

Terry Seidler, owner of See Seattle Walking Tours & Events, said there's a Chinese room at the top of Smith Tower where visitors can see a panoramic view of the city. Perhaps even more intriguing is the legend behind the Chinese Room. Originally furnished by the last empress of China as a gift to tower builder Lyman Smith, the Chinese Room features a wishing chair in the corner of the room. On the opening day of the Smith Tower in 1914, Smith's daughter made a wish in that chair that she would be married in one year. Exactly one year later, she celebrated her wedding reception in the very same room. Now, legend has it that any unmarried woman can sit in that chair and make a wish to marry - and it will come true.

Pike Place Market

Beeline's Rogers said there are walking tours of the market that a lot of people don't know about. The 'Market Heritage Tours' take place Wednesday through Sunday at 11:00 a.m. and at 2:00 p.m. Reservations are required 24 hours in advance and can be scheduled by calling (206) 774-5249 or emailing Tours begin at the Market Heritage Center at 1531 Western Ave. above the Public Market Parking Garage. Cost: $7 for adults and $5 for seniors (60+) and children (under 18). While there, don't forget about the flying fish at the Pike Place Fish Market and the "gum wall," which looks just like it sounds. It's hidden in an alley on the south side of the market.

International District/Chinatown

Grab some dim sum in Chinatown for a meal. Also, make sure to dress for the ever-changing Seattle weather because you'll be outside walking around.

Water Tours
Assistant Tour Manager Penny Truitt of Bill Speidel's Underground Tour suggests riding a state ferry if you don't want to do a cruise. You'll get the local flavor. She suggests wearing a hat and leaving your umbrella at home.


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