Seattle – USA
With family and friends back in Sydney, Nick and I decided to head to Seattle for a few days. Arriving by bus from Vancouver on Christmas Eve, we were not too sure on how our four days in Seattle would pan out, with our trip coinciding with the festivities and all.
We wondered whether the city’s downtown shops, restaurants and bars would even be open. Apart from Christmas Day they were, so thankfully what unfolded was a fantastically fun four days jam-packed with exploration and a whole lot of eating!
While the colours and sounds of the holiday season most certainly filled our time in Seattle, an endless supply of great dining options and things to do ensured we got much more than just a few festive days away.
Aside from enjoying the twinkling lights and holiday displays on show in the city’s downtown area Nick and I also admired stunning views overlooking the city, from the towering heights of the city’s iconic Space Needle and Queen Anne Hill at Kerry Park.
We also ate our way around Pike Place Market which overflows with fresh produce and specialty foods, wandered around the EMP (Experience Music Project Museum) which dedicates itself to contemporary popular culture, visited the Boeing factory which is not only the world’s largest building by volume but also where they build 747, 777 and 787 aeroplanes (a production line that is truly incredible to observe), and strolled the city’s streets both day and night.
Although more hilly than we expected, Seattle is an extremely walkable city. So much so that Nick and I found ourselves pacing all over the city, from one side of town all the way to the other and back again. In doing so we discovered some incredibly cool and distinct neighbourhoods like First Hill, Capitol Hill, Belltown, Queen Anne, and Pioneer Square.
We also made it our mission to check out as many of the city’s dining hotspots as possible, which meant eating our way around the city, experiencing first hand Seattle’s vibrant cafe culture and dynamic restaurant and bar scene.
Both Nick and I were absolutely bowled over by the quality and affordability of Seattle’s genuinely delicious food scene. Every meal we ate, whether it was dished up at a food truck or served at a more upscale restaurant was top notch, as were the amazingly fluffy Top Pot Doughnuts!
In many ways Seattle’s food scene reminded me of NYC’s, in regards to the diverse selection of food on offer and the vast number of independently run eateries and drinking establishments, however, on a much smaller scale of course.
Nick and I savoured every bite at Italian bistros, Spanish tapas bars, Korean noodle houses, local bakeries, cosy cafes, candle lit wine bars, and all American burger joints. Not surprisingly, with such an overwhelming amount of great food on offer I will be posting a Seattle food guide next.
Stepping away from Seattle’s culinary delights, and moving onto the city’s scenic highlights, let me just say there’s a reason why Seattle is often referred to as the Emerald City. Surrounded by lush, green forest and comprising of more than 6000 acres of parkland within the city limits, Seattle is a positively green city.
In addition to its greenery, Seattle is also surrounded by water. Sadly, the expansive Elliot Bay waterfront that lines Seattle’s downtown is mostly off limits thanks to a massive double decked highway that spans its entire length. A project to demolish the 62 year old structure and build a 3.2km tunnel under downtown Seattle is currently underway and is scheduled for completion at the end of 2016. The tunnel’s construction not only aims to solve the viaduct’s traffic limitations but also allow better uses for the waterfront real estate, including parks, housing and retail development.
Despite limited walking access along Elliot Bay’s shoreline, there are still many opportunities to enjoy the waterway. A cruise along Elliot Bay on a Seattle ferry is a great way to experience the harbour in all its glory. Unfortunately, Nick and I didn’t get the chance to take a ferry on this trip but hope to on a return visit.
Needless to say, Nick and I had a brilliant time in Seattle, owing largely to the city’s outstanding food scene, coffee culture, stunning panoramic views, eclectic neighbourhoods, and compact size.
Visitors to the city who are only in town for a few days (like we were) can really cover a lot of ground and work through a heavily dotted to do list marked with outdoor attractions and places to eat, drink, and shop with ease.
Hodad’s – San Diego
If you ever find yourself in San Diego and craving a big, juicy burger be sure to visit the city’s most famous burger joint – Hodad’s. If you do three things are for certain:
Hodad’s comes highly recommended from a number of sources as the best burger in San Diego. While Hodad’s certainly lives up to its expectation as the ‘best burger’ in the city, it is definitely not for the faint-hearted. And by that I mean Hodad’s burgers are insanely huge!
Indeed, it is the colossal size of their burgers that makes Hodad’s such a popular and beloved institution in San Diego. The crazy portion size doesn’t just stop with the burgers; heaping baskets of fries and onion rings can be ordered on the side, as can a tub of ice cream, which is cleverly disguised as a thick shake.
Apart from being enormous, Hodad’s burgers also taste great — phenomenal in fact! Piled with lettuce, tomato, onion, pickles, mayonnaise, mustard and ketchup every bite is an explosion of flavour. As if that wasn’t enough diners also have the option to add extra toppings like bacon and cheese into the already whopping mix.
Even though Hodad’s burgers come wrapped in paper, with so much filling eating them can be somewhat messy; think sauce dribbling down your hands. But that’s all part of the Hodad’s experience.
As is the struggle to finish your meal. If you’re not up for the challenge of devouring the restaurant’s signature and standard sized burger and fries, it’s best to order a mini burger, which is still a sizable meal on its own and to share a basket of fries. Whatever you order, I guarantee that you’re going to be left feeling truly stuffed.
Open for lunch and dinner at two locations in the city (Ocean Beach along Newport Ave and off Broadway at 10th Ave in Downtown San Diego), it’s not unusual to see a line up for a table at Hodad’s decidedly casual eateries. So depending on what time you drop by you may have to wait a little while for a table to become free. But don’t let that deter you from enjoying one truly unforgettable meal!
Hodad’s is a San Diego institution, serving some of the tastiest burgers in town. As such, a meal at Hodad’s should not be missed especially if you love burgers like I do! If you don’t get your burger fix here I’m not sure you ever will.
Central Park – Manhattan
Summer is in full swing here in Vancouver, and as the city’s parks continue to be dotted with people sun baking, picnicking or playing some sort of game or another I can’t help but reflect on the summer days I spent in NYC and more specifically in Manhattan’s Central Park.
I have fond memories of exploring the park with thousands of others at the weekend, as well as enjoying a quiet moment to myself after having found a shady nook to rest on an incredibly hot and humid New York summer’s day. With so many memories floating back I thought I would take this opportunity to write this week about Manhattan’s beloved and celebrated Central Park.
With beautiful lakes, lawns, gardens, fountains and playgrounds Central Park is the epitome of ‘the urban park’ and thanks to its proximity to the city it is a popular destination and gathering place for city residents and tourists alike.
A whole day could be easily spent walking aimlessly around Central Park’s grounds, no matter what the season. Indeed, every season brings with it a uniqueness that should not be missed: cherry blossoms in the spring, a mass of green in the summer, snow covered trails in the winter, and magnificent burnt orange and red leaves in the autumn.
Apart from the glorious seasonal changes the park boasts many great attractions of its own. They include: the reservoir (the largest of Central Park’s five lakes), Belvedere Castle (19th century stone castle), The Mall (walkway), Bethesda Fountain (the architectural centre of the park), The Ramble (wooded area), Strawberry Fields (a peaceful garden created by Yoko Ono in memory of John Lennon), the Central Park Zoo and the Central Park Carousel.
With so much to see, the best way to explore Central Park is on foot or by bike (which can be hired by the hour). There are a range of nature trails, pathways and cycle tracks throughout the park, which not only ensure excellent scenery but make for an enjoyable, leisurely stroll and or ride.
Another way to take in the lush view of Central Park’s landscape is by simply sitting beneath the branches of a shady tree, peacefully lounging and enjoying the park’s green surroundings. Speaking of lounging there are plenty of areas to rest within the park. Some 9000 benches line the park’s walkways, while expansive lawns and meadows provide the perfect place to stretch out and bask in the sun’s glory.
If hunger strikes, there are plenty of eating options dotted throughout the park. Most notably, The Loeb Boat House (featured in countless films), which offers diners a choice between an express café and more formal dining at the lakeside restaurant.
At the weekend the park gets extremely busy with foot traffic, horse drawn carriages and pedicab drivers. Therefore, be sure to walk further into the park where the crowd of people quickly disperses.
Kelley & Ping – Manhattan
Despite the fact that Nick and I are busy settling into our new life in Vancouver, I can’t help but reflect on how fantastic our time New York was. Eighteen incredible months filled with yellow cab rides, walks around Central Park, dinners in SoHo, brunches in the East Village, roof tops drinks in Williamsburg and a whole lot more!
I will certainly miss the perks of living in NYC: the pace, the people and above all the copious amounts of great food. Since I’m sitting here thinking about NYC’s food scene, I thought perhaps I would write about one of my all time favourite SoHo restaurants, Kelley and Ping.
Located in the cast iron district of SoHo, Kelley and Ping serves up some seriously tasty and satisfying Asian noodle dishes, curries, soups and salads. The meals are so good that when we lived in New York, I was constantly coming up with excuses to be around Greene Street come lunch time so I could grab a bowl.
My favourite dish is the Pad-see-ew. Fresh, thick rice noodles with chunks of chicken, a mix of green vegetables and dark soy sauce. Simple but oh so good.
At lunch, meals are ordered casually canteen style, so prices are a little lower than in the evening when the restaurant shifts into table service mode. Regardless of the time of day though, the menu is reliably good and influenced by the bold and spicy flavours of classic Asian cuisine.
Friendly staff, well priced meals, a surprisingly spacious layout and the option to sit in or take out makes Kelley and Ping the perfect spot to stop for a quick bite to eat, when you find yourself walking around SoHo (most likely shopping up a storm).
Statue of Liberty & Ellis Island – NYC
Like other New York City attractions a trip over to Liberty Island to see Lady Liberty (as she is affectionately known), had been on my list of things to do for some time. That was until Nick arranged two tickets for us to visit the island late last year.
Now these weren’t just any old tickets, they were Crown Tickets, which meant they granted us not only entry to the grounds of Liberty Island and Ellis Island but also access right up into the crown of the Statue of Liberty.
Although I had seen people reach the crown in films, I never thought it possible for the public to go right to the top. But it is, you should and I am so glad we did! It was such a memorable and unique NYC experience.
Created in 1875 by the French sculptor Frederic Bartholdi The Statue of Liberty was a gift from the people of France
to the people of the United States on the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence July 4, 1886.
We had to book our tickets three months in advance, which sounds absurd but completely understandable now that I’ve been. A relatively new access system, restricts the number of people who are allowed to do the climb to the top of the crown each day.
Furthermore, the ground staff space out the amount of people in 5-10 minute intervals. The upside of this is that the staircase is never crowded and climbers don’t get in the way of each other, which was once a problem we were told.
Such spacing meant that once Nick and I had reached the observation platform in the crown, we practically had the area to ourselves. Well, apart from two park rangers who while keeping a watchful eye on things were more than happy to chat, point out landmarks and tell us some interesting Statue of Liberty trivia.
It was a good 5 minutes or so before the next lot of people reached the top, which gave Nick and I the chance to get our breath back from the fairly steep ascent within the statue’s impressive steel framework. It also allowed us to lap up the views of the Hudson River and city skyline, which although slightly restricted were still pretty damn spectacular and definitely worth the climb.
And what a climb it was! Visiting the crown requires walking up 393 steps (the equivalent of climbing 27 stories!!) in each direction. Not only that, they’re also relatively steep and in a narrow, spiral formation. So if you’re not one for heights or confined spaces you may prefer to purchase a Pedestal or Grounds Only Pass instead.
Even if you don’t climb to the highest viewpoint, the views of New York Harbour, Lower Manhattan and Lady Liberty herself from the lower deck are excellent too.
You’ll need a monument pass in order to visit the Liberty Island Museum, which is a must if you’re interested in learning about the statue’s history. The exhibition details how this celebrated national monument, recognised as a symbol of freedom and democracy by millions around the world was conceived, constructed and restored.
In addition to Liberty Island, all purchased tickets give access to the grounds of nearby Ellis Island and entry into the Ellis Island Immigration Museum, which is well worth a visit.
The museum offers a well presented, walk through exhibition highlighting the process of immigration for those who arrived by sea. A range of images, excerpts and recordings share the stories of some 12 million immigrants who passed through the now quiet halls between the years of 1892 and 1954.
For those visiting New York, I can’t recommend the ferry ride over to Liberty Island and Ellis Island highly enough. The views out on the water of Manhattan and the Statue of Liberty are worth the ride alone. Similarly if you have any desire to climb to the top of the Statue of Liberty’s crown … do it! You won’t be disappointed.
Tickets include a ferry boat service to both Liberty Island and Ellis Island. If you’re departing from Battery Park in Lower Manhattan you must pass through airport style security (bag check, body scanner), before you board.