Seattle’s Capitol Hill with Teens, part one

We’ve traveled to plenty of far-away places with our kids, but there’s still much we haven’t seen in our own backyards. We’ve resolved to remedy this in 2015 and we started on a glorious 64-degree sunny day in late January.

Sunny and 64 in January? In Seattle? No, this was not normal. It’s hardly normal now that the calendar has turned to March.

Normal is escaping the winter rains and spending time at The Summit at Snoqualmie, our local ski slopes, just an hour west of the city. But winter seems to have skipped us this year. Snoqualmie never fully opened and closed completely last month due to lack of snow. Our season passes have so far gone unused.

Instead we woke up to a scene straight out of spring. When that happens around here – when the clouds clear and the sun comes out – Seattleites and her suburbanites (that’s us) go a little crazy. We break out lawn mowers and blowers (yes, even in winter), trailhead parking lots overflow in the Cascades, dogs get overdue walks, and people wander around dazed and squinting.

Not ready to face the noise and sight of gas-powered lawn equipment and too depressed to go to hiking in mountains that should be filled with snow, we grabbed our sunglasses and headed across the bridge into a more urban spring scene. We weren’t disappointed. City restaurants had thrown open their doors and windows. Sidewalk tables were filled with diners without coats, some wearing short sleeves.

We decided our itinerary before we left home. We wanted to check out a Japanese pop art exhibit at Seattle’s Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park, visit the new Starbucks Roastery and end the day at one our reliable favorites, the Elliot Bay Book Company. We had a five-hour block of time, but since all of our planned locations were on Capitol Hill we figured it was doable, and it was. We ended up getting even more than we bargained for.

First stop: Seattle’s Asian Art Museum and Volunteer Park, 1400 East Prospect Street

Seattle’s Asian Art Museum is housed in a beautiful 1933 art-deco style building in the middle of Volunteer Park, an 1880s-era urban park that was recognized as a Seattle Landmark in 2011. Having lived near Seattle for nearly 20 years, I don’t know how this place has escaped my radar for so long.

The Black Sun by Isamu Noguchi. Source:
The Black Sun by Isamu Noguchi. Source:

We scored free (yes, free!) parking in front of the museum and were immediately drawn not to the museum, but to the spectacular view across the road. We were delighted to discover, as no doubt countless other park visitors have, the perfect family picture – or teen selfie – spot through the eye of the “Black Sun” sculpture. Designed by Japanese American artist Isamu Noguchi, and affectionately called “the donut” by locals, the open middle provides the perfect frame to an iconic Seattle view of the Space Needle, Elliot Bay and the Olympic mountains.

The view from the top of the old water tower in Volunteer Park.

Have a look at the old city reservoir below before going to explore the old brick water tower to your right. Built in 1906, the tower’s top floor tells the story of the park and early Seattle in a series of well-done panels. The 107-step climb up is well worth it for the history lesson, but even more so for the 360-degree view through the towers iron-scrolled, open-air windows. We could see the 520 bridge we just drove across, Lake Washington and the Cascade mountains. We could just make out the outline of Mount Rainier and of course, we got another look at the Space Needle with the bay in the background.

We finally made our way into the Seattle Asian Art Museum and spent most of our time there in the visiting exhibit, “Live On,” by Japanese artist “Mr.” The collection, which is the artist’s first solo exhibit in the U.S., features pieces spanning the last 15 years, including larger-than-life anime paintings that capture the youthful energy and fantastical elements of mostly young, female characters.

Artist "Mr.'s" Live On exhibit at the Seattle Asian Art Museum runs through April 5.
Artist “Mr.’s” Live On exhibit at the Seattle Asian Art Museum runs through April 5.

The centerpiece of the exhibit was a room piled full of everyday objects. From a distance it resembled the haphazardness of a landfill, but upon closer look was a deliberately placed collection with everything from skis, televisions and clothing, to mattresses, toys and holiday lights. The heaps of stuff were designed to mimic the “debris” of everyday life after the devastating Japanese tsunami in March 2011. There was so much stuffed into the room, your eyes didn’t know where to look. I overheard a mother warning her young son not to touch. “It’s tricky not to touch things,” he told her. “Especially when there’s so many interesting things.”

But the museum, and this exhibit in particular, really is kid- and teen-friendly. It also allows picture taking in most places. Another selfie anyone?

Outside the Seattle Asian Art Museum at Volunteer Park in Seattle.
Outside the Seattle Asian Art Museum at Volunteer Park in Seattle.

Museum details: Mr’s Live On exhibit runs through April 5. Admission is $9 for adults, $5 for teens, and ages 12 and under are free. The museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday and weekends. 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Thursdays. The first Thursday of every month is free admission.

Saving for our next visit to Volunteer Park: Volunteer Park Conservatory, an impressive Victorian glass structure built in 1912, and home to a world-class botanical collection.

Second stop: Starbucks Roastery, 1124 Pike St.

In December, Starbucks opened the crown jewel of their Seattle-based coffee chain in the Old Pike Building on Capitol Hill. CEO and founder Howard Schulz calls the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room the “Willy Wonka” of coffee shops. That’s a fitting description. With copper casks, pneumatic tubes carrying coffee beans and even a window in the bathroom overlooking the roasting floor, this place is a coffee lover’s golden ticket. The building is stunning, if not a bit overwhelming to the senses because there’s so much to look at, and so many people looking at it.

The 15,000-square feet location is where the chain roasts their “reserve” beans. There are three coffee bars – one for beans, one to watch and order special coffee preparations, and another where you can learn from master baristas.

Order your usual drink here with made-to-order reserve beans. Or go coffee purist – choose your bean and then choose your preparation, which includes a pour over, a siphon, a French press or an eight-hour-steeping over water flown in from the mouth of the Pyrenees.(I’m kidding, of course, on this last one – uh, maybe.)

The roaster is also home to a coffee library, a study area, an extensive merchandise shop and a new Tom Douglas-owned Serious Pie pizza place, bigger than the smaller one downtown. We had a wood-fired pizza first, and then finished our visit with coffee from one of the bars, along with a seriously delicious peanut butter cookie that tasted like an amped-up Girl Scout Tag-Along cookie. I’d go again, just for the cookie. It was that good.

Felliott bay booksourth stop: Elliot Bay Book Company, 1521 Tenth Avenue

We left our car parked on Pike (free on Sundays) and walked about eight blocks east to one of our favorite family stops, the Elliot Bay Book Company. We love the feel of this place: wood floors, high wood-beamed ceilings, good natural light from tall multi-paned windows facing the street, cedar shelving with plenty of space devoted to reading recommendations from the well-read staff, comfy couches, tables and chairs – and 150,000 titles. The hardest part about coming here is whittling down the arm-load of books my teens usually find, into a more budget-friendly handful.

Combine the bookstore with a visit to the café in the back and you could easily spend an afternoon here. We have. The café serves up kid-friendly crepes (savory and sweet) and has a pile of board games on a corner shelf.

Everyday Music on Capitol Hill.
Everyday Music on Capitol Hill.

Fifth (impromptu) stop: Everyday Music record store, 1520 10th Ave.

My oldest daughter recently spent her own money to buy a record player. Seriously, albums are hip again. I’m not so sure about the word “hip.”

There’s no place better we’ve found in Seattle to buy records than at Everyday Music, across the street from Elliot Bay Book Company. They stock almost as much music as Elliot does books, 100,000 titles according to their website. While it’s a novelty to teens, for us older folks it’s a trip down memory lane. Genesis, Springsteen, U2, Talking Heads and Michael Jackson on vinyl? Yes please. I’ll buy those again. Or maybe once was enough…

Sixth (impromptu) and last stop: Century Ballroom, 915 E Pine St.

Century Ballroom, Seattle
Century Ballroom, Seattle

My husband and I took another trip down memory lane at the Century Ballroom, across the street from Everyday Music and a few doors down from Elliott Bay. We hadn’t planned to visit, but on the sunny day we were visiting, the windows were open and the irresistible sounds of a big band were wafting down onto the street. Before we became parents, we used to take swing dance lessons here so we drug the kids in for a look and found ballroom filled with couples waltzing to live music. The person working the door invited us in to watch. My daughters, who are dancers themselves (although not waltzers) enjoyed the scene. And their friend, who is a musician, liked watching the band. We vowed to come back and take lesson again.

Heading home: Driving back across the bridge toward home, homework and chores, we felt refreshed and renewed. We all agreed our spirits were lifted in the much the same way they are when we see and experience new things when we’re traveling. We just didn’t have to go so far to get it – or to get a fun day out with our teens.

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