Visiting Seattle with a Kid

Back in September, I took my first trip to Seattle with a kid. Well, not just any random kid – my own, of course.

I’d last been to Seattle in around 2005-ish with my now-wife. We walked all over the place, found all the tasty food and searched for good beer. As walkable as Seattle is, it would still present some different challenges with a 4-year-old along for the ride (and walk!).

If you’re thinking about visiting Seattle with a kid or three, let me share a few recommendations.

travel to seattle
Getting there is part of the fun for us.

Where to Stay

Hotel prices in Seattle are kind of obnoxious. We also try hard to avoid huge hotel chains. We wanted to be somewhat near the Space Needle since many cool things radiate out from that area.

My wife found a reasonably-price-for-Seattle place called Hotel 5, which is almost as cool as one of my other favorite hotels. It couldn’t have been friendlier or more comfortable. The lobby had all sorts of games, ranging from chess to (free) old-school arcade games. They also have a decent free breakfast — nothing fancy, just oatmeal, hardboiled eggs, pastries and the like. They also have a small cafe there that sells various fancier breakfast items, coffee and bar food (later in the day).

It’s a good location that’s pretty close to public transit stops and the Pike Place Market. I can’t say enough about the comfortable rooms and the overall friendliness of the staff. It’s a perfect place to stay in Seattle with a kid.

How to Have Fun in Seattle with a Kid

I realize your mileage will vary on this point. But my 4-year-old is a seafood fiend. She even helps me cook it at home by sprinkling the seasoning. When she walks into Nelson’s Seafood at home, the people there know her by sight and say “are you here to see the fish with eyes?” (She’s partial to whole fish.)

So you can imagine her delight at the seafood markets at Pike Place Market. At one point, she was looking at a pretty gross-looking fish on ice, and then it moved! Turns out the pranksters there planted a fake fish and have it rigged up so they can make it move whenever someone comes in for a closer look.

seattle with a kid
One of the any awesome playgrounds in Seattle.

But there’s plenty of other cool kid stuff aside from looking at fish. There are some epic playgrounds — some that compare favorably with even those in New Zealand — scattered all across the city. The playground at Seattle Center is a grand scale of challenges that will keep kids of all ages occupied. Mine also made several friends during her visits. There’s also the Cascade Playground, which is a lot smaller. But it will definitely keep a preschooler happy, especially since it’s a hotspot for dog walkers.

We had mixed results at the Pop Culture Museum. My little person loved the interactive area where she could play guitars, keyboards and electronic drums. She was also completely nuts over the sci-fi movie exhibit, where she was able to name every cool display from Star Wars. And the other costumes and displays also blew her away. She wasn’t so into looking at old guitars.

seattle with a kid
I’ve had so much trouble finding the right drummer that I’m trying to grow one at home.

The Seattle Aquarium was a hit that kept the little person occupied for several hours. From jellyfish to seahorses to octopi to sea otters, she enjoyed herself. My advice would be to get there early like we did. It gets crowded, so having 30 minutes or so where it’s nearly empty makes it a better experience.

We also took a little side jaunt on the ferry out to Bainbridge Island, which I found to be a very posh Sedona-on-the-water sort of place. We put in plenty of miles walking, which included foraging around for wild blackberries. It looked like we missed most of the prime season, so I was left rooting around for what the birds lefts behind. But it was still fun.

Where to Eat

I’m going to be honest here: If Seattle food is as good as Portland food, we weren’t able to find it quite as easily. That said, we had some wonderful meals there.

La Teranga, another find of my wife’s, served Senegalese food. It was my first time having it. Literally everything I tasted blew me away. There are three tables in the place, but it’s worth the wait. We had Thibou Djeun (a fish dish) and lamb mafe, along with a drink made out of baobab tree fruit called bouye juice. It was much thicker than a juice, and also one of the more unique flavors I’ve experienced. I’m not even sure what comparison to draw.

food in seattle
Delicious Senegalese food!

We all also loved the Skal Beer Hall in the Ballard neighborhood. We’re all big fans of charcuterie, and the little person particularly loves havarti. Everyone went away happy. There’s also the cool atmosphere as a bonus.

Oh, yeah. The little person also enjoys donuts. I made it a point to find her a few local donuts to try. We, of course, tried the local Hot Pot chain. Their plain glazed scored highly with the little person. But Tempesta, a tiny coffeehouse, makes a far better donut. Their coffee is also tasty, but the skew more toward fun coffee creations with a bit of sweetness.

A Little Bit of Fun for the Parents

Two of the things we always like about cities in the Pacific Northwest are beer and coffee.

Let’s start with coffee. This is clearly the city that built Starbucks, but you’re missing out if you don’t hit the local places. I could write a whole post just about coffee and beer, so I’m going to name some top spots for you to put on your list. To give you an idea of what it takes to get on the list, here’s my test: I order a real espresso drink, usually a cortado or a cappuccino. No whipped creme, no sprinkles, no pumpkin spice.

seattle with a kid
Having a donut with Lufthansa Lu.

That said, I recommend you check out Ghost Note, Monorail Espresso and Street Bean. Each has something that’s a standout about it. Ghost Note has a relaxing atmosphere and a barista who takes coffee very seriously while also being friendly about it. Monorail is tiny enough to walk past, but they use the space they have to also be very friendly while making serious espresso drinks. Street Bean stands out to me for its mission to help “street involved” young people in Seattle. All of these will serve a top-quality espresso. I also like Ghost Alley, even though I opted for a seasonal cold brew recipe there.

There be Beer Here

Then there’s beer. A quick note on visiting Seattle with a kid – or anywhere in Washington: Apparently, an archaic law on the books results in some places not allowing minors into the premises. Still others install some sort of a weird wooden bar as a barrier, and minors aren’t allowed beyond it. It’s truly strange. But just know where a brewery stands on this before making a long journey out to it before being turned away.

We are primarily about stouts and IPAs (preference to West Coast and hazy styles). We eschew blondes, most lagers, reds and other more mellow stuff. There is really one big winner from all the breweries we tried, and that’s Stoup. They had literally everything right: great beer, a food truck, a friendly atmosphere, and even stuff for the kids to do. We happened to drop in during fresh hop season, so they had a variety of seasonal IPAs that were mind-boggling. Their selection rotates often, so you won’t often see the same beer. I advise getting a flight.

We agreed that Stoup was our favorite beer place in Seattle.

I also enjoyed Flying Lion quite a bit. I would’ve spent a lot more time there had it not been for a little person completely crashed out asleep at that point. Not many places do cask-conditioned ales, so that was a nice treat. I also loved the old warehouse vibe, and the entire place smelled like cedar. It was so comfortable and easygoing that I wanted to take it home with me. My standout aside from the cask IPA was a blood orange IPA.

Then there’s Optimism, a no-tipping establishment that is sprawling and fun. It has plenty for kids to do, but they could probably take the decibels down a notch. They’re also a Bring Your Own Food sort of place, and they provide utensils. To be honest, Optimism is a bit undistinguished from a beer point of view (their IPAs tasted way too similar to each other), but as a concept, I can’t help loving it.

Point A to Point B

Seattle is awesome at public transit. The bus system, monorail and subway are easy to navigate. It’s a pedestrian-friendly environment. And there are ferries for little desert kids like mine who aren’t used to waterways that are navigable!

seattle with a kid
Taking a ferry to Bainbridge Island

We used Uber for getting to the hotel from the airport and back, and on only one other occasion (the trek for Sengalese food — well worth it).

Seattle with a Kid — Do It

How much did our little person like Seattle? She already wants to go again. We didn’t have to really go too far out of our way to entertain here. She found adventure in every street and on every bus ride. It’s hard to go wrong.


Could Your Hotel Room Key Card Work on More Than One Room?

Shortly before midnight at a rural Clarion hotel in West Virginia, a man slips his key card into the door of his room. He enters – and immediately hears a woman scream. Seconds later, a man wearing only his underwear comes running at him from the darkened room. He immediately backpedals into the hallway -- and realizes that he somehow opened the door to the wrong room.

hotel room key card
Are these key card-activated locks having more problems than hotel guests realize? (original image found at Gizmodo – and you should read their story, too)

Just in case you haven’t figured it out, I was Underwear Man. And this recently played out at the Clarion Shepherdstown. You can imagine this was a pretty startling experience for everyone involved. You’d also think the the front desk staff would’ve been maybe just a bit apologetic about it when my wife told them about it the next morning.

"That’s been happening to us recently," someone told her.

Wait – what?

I can’t say I expected them to comp our room or anything. But I would expect them to act as if having rooms that are far-less-than-secure would maybe be cause for action and maybe some sort of reassurance.

This particular Clarion loses a lot of points for not seeming to care very much about the security of its rooms. But this can’t be the only hotel with such problems, even though I’ve literally never had this happen anywhere else.

So exactly how safe are these hotel room key cards? When I searched for information, most of the results were about how the most-common magnetic strip cards eventually stop working and need to be re-magnetized. I also found a few results about ID theft via the key cards (which seem entirely the stuff of misunderstandings turned into urban myths). Maybe I’m just searching with the wrong terms.

That means nobody is talking about one key card working for multiple doors. Granted, for criminals this seems like a very low-percentage endeavor. Most likely, when this happens you’ll just have two guests scaring the crap out of each other. It stands to reason that the industry would rather not talk about it – it doesn’t happen very often and it’s potentially embarrassing. But it still deserves more than a shrug and "shit happens" attitude like the Clarion’s front desk staff.

Have you ever heard of this happening? How would you expect the front desk staff to react? How should upper management handle this?





Four Ways to Make Me Hate a Hotel

English: Looking north across 11th Avenue at K...
English: Looking north across 11th Avenue at Kimpton Hotel, 659 11th Avenue, on a sunny midday. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I hate to admit this, but I spend more nights in hotels than in tents when I travel. I wish it didn’t have to be that way, but it’s tough to camp in the middle of a city (at least legally … without establishing your own shantytown) So I’ve had some thoughts about hotels – mainly, about how hotels can do little things that make me really, really dislike them.

I’ve wound up staying at the Loews Ventana Canyon Resort over the past few years. Each time, Loews gave me very few reasons to like it. Rather, it offered a case study in how to make a traveler hate a hotel that should have everything going for it. Let’s take a look.

It’s Isolated from Everything Interesting

This particular Loews is tucked into the mountains on the north side of Tucson. It is extremely far from everything interesting about Tucson – the funky shops, the cool cafes, the museums. The scenery is pretty, but wow -- this neighborhood is dull. This seems to be a Loews theme. Consider the Loews Coronado Bay Resort near San Diego. Each cab trip to the interesting bits of Coronado Island is going to set you back a good $25. Or you can wait for its not-frequent-enough shuttle that runs on octagenarian hours.

My theory? Loews would rather have you pay $8 for a pint of local microbrew (double the going rate) at its own bar than shell out for a cab and spend time going to the actual brewery. So they don’t do a good job of standing by local businesses, either.

Charging for WiFi

Fancy hotels seem to invert everything. They charge you for stuff that cheaper hotels include. Case in point: WiFi. A hotel might as well charge guests for broadcast TV if it’s going to charge for WiFi. The Internet is necessary whether you’re a business traveler or a leisure traveler. And it’s 2015. Wise up, hotels.

Wasting Resources

Some hotels have this nailed. I checked into  The Grand Hotel Minneapolis (operated by Kimpton Hotel & Restaurant Group) and marched straight into the shower. There, I found refillable glass-and-metal dispensers on the shower wall – they held liquid soap, shampoo and conditioner. This is so much better than the hotels that have individual-sized, individually wrapped or bottled bars of soap and liquid toiletries.

Hotels that haven’t caught onto the importance of eco-friendliness earn a big points deduction. It’s short-sighted to their bottom line, too. So they’re not good at acting in the planet’s best interests, and they’re not good at acting in their own best interests.

So, hotels – let guests reuse their towels and bedding for a few days. Use refillable dispensers. Maybe even think of using linens made from sustainable materials like bamboo fiber.

Terrible Hours for Amenities

Here’s another chance for me to pinata Loew’s a bit. I had an urge for a workout. My schedule was a bit discombobulated, so I wound up hitting the gym at 7:45 p.m. That’s when I found out it closes at 8. Every single night.

Why bother having a gym if you’re going to close early? Travelers need to burn calories when they’re away from home. And traveling messes with people’s schedules. They might not fit into the local time zone.

Wrapping it Up With Some Praise

I mentioned Kimpton Hotels earlier. I’ll go out of my way to stay at a Kimpton hotel. Each one I’ve seen has a much more contemporary vibe (compared to the better-known hotel chains), a friendly staff and a reasonable price. The Minneapolis location I mentioned? It had a wonderful little bar with some great regional microbrews; it also had a knowledgeable bartender who was quick to point out some great local craft beer hangouts. So much different from the frosty, corporate-enforced courtesy and laminated luxury from the older, bigger hotel chains. Keep it up, guys!


24 Hours in Turku – A Visit to Ruisrock

Nightwish concert
Nightwish performs at Ruisrock (Photo credit: tiendan)

It’s a warm summer weekend in Turku, Finland. I just stepped off the VR train from Helsinki to check out Ruisrock. This is a swift, convenient, punctual train trip that I’ve never seen equaled in the U.S. – for some reason, we’re a nation that hasn’t grasped the benefits of high-speed rail travel.

Now, it’s time to wander Turku. We have a good eight hours to kill before we head to Ruis Salo, the island that hosts Ruisrock. Today’s lineup ranges from Nightwish – the day’s headlining band and Finland’s best-known musical export – to Children of Bodom, Apocalyptica and The Cardigans.

Continue reading


Jumbo Stay at Stockholm Arlanda Airport

The Jumbo Stay blends into the background at Stockholm Arlanda Airport. If you spot it as your plane rolls along a taxiway, you might notice an aging widebody jet parked by its lonesome self in a secluded part of the airport.

But the Jumbo Stay is no regular Boeing 747. A closer look reveals that its four engines are gone. A tire swing hangs from the bottom of the rear fuselage. There’s a metal structure permanently attached to its left side. It’s not going anywhere. Though it says “747” on the outside, inside it’s all hotel. As far as I’ve discovered, it’s one of just four airplanes throughout the world converted to hotels. Here’s what you need to know about the Jumbo Hostel.

jumbo stay
Evening in the former first-class section of the 747 that is now Jumbo Stay.

Cool Factor + Convenience
Jumbo Stay is a quick bus ride from the terminals – it’s possible to walk, but I wouldn’t do it with luggage. We arrived late in the afternoon and had a flight to catch early the nex morning. We got pretty lost while trying to walk to the terminals. Some better signage pointing the way would be nice (and yes, you will lose sight of the old Boeing jumbo as you walk). Speaking of convenience, the rates include breakfast. It’s typical Scandinavian fare – cold cuts, bread, cheese, jam, some herring – which I love. The cafe is in the first-class section of the retired Boeing jet, and you can also buy other food and beverages during the non-breakfast hours.

More Comfort Than Coach Class
The Jumbo Stay owner did a great job in keeping the air travel vibe alive. There’s still a distinct sense of Boeing jumbo jet, despite being nearly unrecognizable  as you walk down the hallway. The rooms are small but efficient; ours had bunkbeds and a small TV. The mattresses were comfortable. Despite the airport location, we didn’t hear much airplane noise – and what we did hear didn’t affect our sleep.

jumbo stay
Welcome aboard Jumbo Stay.

Connect to Other Fun
You can book through the Jumbo Stay website to combine nights there with stays at other cool places – the ICEHOTEL in Jukkasjärvi and the Tree Hotel.

More About the Rooms
You’ll find all sorts of rooms at the Jumbo Stay. If you’re really well-heeled, book the cockpit room – you’ll get an incredible view from the distinctive hump of the old Boeing. You’ll also find dorm rooms with four beds, private rooms and nicer private rooms with their own bathrooms. Our room had room for three, but we used the shared showers/toilets (the same room we had goes for about $112 right now).

jumbo stay
Our room in the Jumbo Stay.
jumbo stay
Looking down the Jumbo Stay’s hallway.

Review: Inn at Northrup Station in Portland, Oregon

The Inn at Northrup Station
Relaxing in a room at The Inn at Northrup Station

My three nights at the Inn at Northrup Station in Portland, Oregon, took me back to New Zealand. The Kiwis have no shortage of quirky hotels with all the comforts of home. Here in the U.S., this is just a rarity.

What makes it stand apart from other hotels in Portland? And in the country, for that matter?

First, there’s an in-room kitchen. A stove, four burners, a full-sized refrigerator. Now, Portland has all the restaurants you could ever want. So why bother with a kitchen? Because of the abundant farmer’s markets. Sarah and I went to a Saturday market -- scored some morel mushrooms, fresh pasta, crab, baby bok choy. We turned it into an awesome feast.

The Inn at Northrup Station
Even the outside looks pretty slick.

The neighborhood also stands out. It’s right on the Portland streetcar line, which connects to the MAX lightrail (to the airport and many other points). You’re walking-distance from Jeld-Wen Field (home of the Portland Timbers MSL team), the Pearl District, an uncountable number of shops and restaurants. And yes, brewpubs.

The Inn at Northrup Station
Baby bok choy cooked up just right.

And give Northrup Station style points. No bland beige or institutional furniture. Purples, yellows, reds -- I know plenty of people who’d like their house to look like a room at Northrup Station. It oozes "hip," but not "hipster."

The service is far more personal and friendly than average. The staff members are friendly, ready to print your boarding passes, give you free tickets for the street car or directions to just about any cool spot. You also get a free if unspectacular breakfast. Didn’t bring a computer? Just slide behind one of the Macs.

Finally, the price is reasonable. Less than $150 a night in the beginning of summer – with all the fees and taxes. Just try equaling that in Seattle or Vancouver.

Inn at Northrup Station
A hotel room with a kitchen - a must if you want to try local flavors (like morel mushrooms) cooked your way.

When I return to Portland, I’ll stay here again. I’ll try scoring a room on the third (top) floor -- some people have heavy footsteps.

But if all I get is a second-floor room, I still won’t complain. Not with all the other factors adding up to a great and unusual hotel.

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