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Photo courtesy Harry Kollatz Jr.
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Photo courtesy Harry Kollatz Jr.
I visited Seattle, a city of ocean and mountains, and nearby Tacoma, in preparation for the Virginia Museum of Fine Art's Dale Chihuly exhibition. Few cities in the United States are as associated with a living artist. Back in the '70s, a short-lived Western-themed TV show's title song, "In Seattle," praised the "bluest skies you'll ever see." When I reminded Seattleites about this, they could only chortle. Pack an umbrella, but, should gray clouds part, you'll grab a glimpse of an exquisite sky and looming Mount Rainier.
Seattle, like Richmond, is a city of neighborhoods (for descriptions, see onlyinseattle.org ). Cosmopolitan Capitol Hill might remind you of a multistory version of Carytown or parts of Brooklyn, busy with alluring shops and enticing restaurants. For adventure, you might try the two-screen art house at the independent cinematic resource center, the Northwest Film Forum (206-267-5380 or nwfilmforum.org ) or, for live shows, The Annex, (206-728-0933 or annextheatre.org ) with a lively repertoire including the 14-year-old monthly late night "Spin The Bottle" variety show.
Chihuly's glass making studios are in the burgeoning and revitalized South Lake Union, where seaplanes land, houseboats ride at the docks and Tesla Motors (206-682-2625 or teslamotors.com ) maintains its showroom for electric cars. A little outfit called Amazon is headquartered there, and its 11-building campus, between Mercer and John streets, bolstered this corner of town. Before hopping on the car, get joe to go from Urban City Coffee (206-464-7296 or urbancitycoffee.com ), offering satisfying noshes and even drive-through service of its house specialty.
You can take a ride into the future from 1962, on the Seattle Monorail ( seattlemonorail.com ), for a $2.25 glide from the Space Needle to Westlake Center, three blocks from the Pike Place Market ( pikeplacemarket.org ). The bustling, iconic commercial hub — where fish fly — opened in 1907. Enter at First Avenue and Pike Street. If you're devoted to Starbucks, the first location, opened in 1971, remains at its Pike Place address (1912 Pike St.) Prepare to wait in line. Though I wasn't able to do it, whale watching is possible, and there are a slew of excursion packages available.
We weren't sleepless in Seattle due to the centrally located Marriott Courtyard Seattle Lake Union Hotel (206-213-0100, or marriott.com ) from which I could walk (with a little traffic negotiation) to the Space Needle. The Courtyard is situated directly on postcard-perfect Lake Union. There's Wi-Fi, the comfortable, nautical-feeling LaMontagne lounge where Frasier and Niles could convene, an indoor pool and gym, and a breakfast buffet to get you started. I didn't get tossed salad, but scrambled eggs are available.
Take the South Lake Union streetcar ( seattlestreetcar.org ), an electric-powered downtown circulator, providing for $2.50 a stress-free navigation of the center city, running at 15-minute intervals. The Tacoma Art Museum, (1701 Pacific Ave., 253-272-4258 or tacomaartmuseum.org ), 41 minutes south of Seattle by I-5, presents a great collection of Chihuly's work, with European painting and sculpture and Northwest art. Admission is $10. While there, see the Chihuly Bridge of Glass, a breathtaking, pedestrian-only 500-foot span, linking Pacific Avenue and the Museum of Glass. With the spectacular view, it's otherworldly.
The Chateau Ste. Michelle winery (425-415-3633 or ste-michelle.com ) is 15 miles northeast of Seattle, and the pleasant drive rewards visitors with views of Mount Rainier. Washington state's founding winery grew out of the estate of lumber magnate Frederick Stimson (now owned by Richmond-based Altria). The winery produces both white and red varieties. Tastings and tours are offered. During the summer, there's a great outdoor concert series — I enjoyed Steve Martin leading the Steep Canyon Rangers and Emmylou Harris. Previous performers include John Legend, Diana Krall and the Beach Boys, and net proceeds from the series go to national charities.
Two important aspects of Seattle are next-door neighbors. The 605-foot high Space Needle, (206 -905-2100 or spaceneedle.com ) arose in 1962 to usher in the future as envisioned by the World's Fair, an event that helped transform Seattle from a waterfront fishing town into a world-class city. Regular admission is $19. Delicious dining is available there, too, for lunch, dinner or brunch, at the Sky City Restaurant (800-937-9582 or spaceneedle.com/restaurant) . Online reservations are accepted for parties of four or less.
Next door is the exquisite Chihuly Garden and Glass (407-956-3527 chihulygardenandglass.com ). Tickets to both attractions are available through the Space Needle's website for $33. The stunning exhibitions that trace Chihuly's creative development culminate in the gardens, where his work and nature seem of a part, and the incredible Glass House, which features a winding, organic 100-foot- long sculpture that frames the Space Needle. If possible, see it lit up at night. And if you work up an appetite while touring, there's the marvelous and moderately priced Collections Café (206-753-4935 or chihulygardenandglass.com/collections-café ) that showcases one of Chihuly's other passions: that of assembling aggregations, from antique radios to accordions. Go, gawk and save room for dessert.
Washington by the Glass
The VMFA, to complement its ongoing Chihuly exhibit, will offer a Jan. 25 exhibition tour that will culminate in a tasting of Washington state wines. The $60 ticket includes seeing the Chihuly works. Robin Nicholson, deputy director for art and education, leads the tour and the tasting with light fare will be led by the Country Vintner's Harry Tatian. For tickets, call 340-1405 or visit vmfa.state.va.us .