Kyle Kotajarvi

American West Blog

Day 1: Seattle


Waking up at 4.a.m. is a special occasion.  It's one of those events you anticipate and dread at the same time.  Falling asleep is nearly impossible and you awake more tired than the night before.  Everything moves so slowly, but quickly at the same time.  That was the case this morning.  After four and half years of college, including two straight years of summer session (to catch up on credits lost to transferring schools), I was about to embark on my first post-graduation adventure. 

Let's back up a bit...

About a month ago, my friend Kassidy (@kassidyrenee) invited me to road trip more than 3000 miles down the West Coast from Seattle to Los Angeles, and then through the Great American Southwest back to Minneapolis.  Along with her friend Clancy, we would gallivant across some of the most beautiful terrain in the country and focus on taking photos along the way.  I knew I had to go, so after sorting out my finances and clearing my work schedule, I bought my one way plane ticket to Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. 

Back to now...

As my girlfriend drove me to the airport for my 6:00 a.m. flight I had that ominous feeling that I had forgotten something, but overall, I was brimming with excitement.  After checking my bag, I proceeded through security relatively quickly and found a lounge seat near my gate where I sat in my post-three-hours-of-sleep haze for the next hour. 

The flight from Minneapolis to Seattle was about three hours long, which was enough time for me to watch an episode of "Lost" (what's wrong with me?) and close my eyes for a bit.  The greatest part about flying from east-to-west during sunrise is that you're essentially racing the sun.  The sun would come up over the horizon for a bit, and then would set again as the plane pushed forward.  Such a unique experience.

Sea-Tac airport is amazing. Plain and simple. If you ever get a chance to fly into that airport make sure to take the time to appreciate the beautiful glass walls in the food court.  

My good friend Wiley (@wileyput) had invited me to stay with him for a few days before meeting up with Kassidy which was an absolutely amazing thing of him to do since I wouldn't have had any time to explore Washington if it wasn't for him.  After a short scare at baggage claim that the suitcase containing all of my clothing for the next three weeks and been lost, I found Wiley parked outside. 

I guess this is where the real adventure begins...

Having never been to Seattle before I definitely wanted to get a good view of the skyline from afar before actually heading into the city, so Wiley took me to this awesome viewpoint in the Beacon Hill neighborhood.  Wow wow wow. 

First impression: Seattle is the most beautiful city I've ever seen. 

From Beacon Hill we headed downtown to the infamous Pike Place Market.  I hadn't heard much about the Market prior to visiting it, so I wasn't sure what to expect.  Honestly it was one of the most unique urban places I've ever been.  The Market sits atop a steep hill overlooking the Puget Sound and is home to tons of shops, food stands and a restaurant or two.  Apparently it's the 33rd most visited tourist attraction in the world! 

Verdict: If you don't have money to spend this place will be cool for about 30 minutes, but definitely don't miss it if visiting Seattle for the first time.  Definitely an epicenter of culture! 

From Pike Place we headed down towards the waterfront to Pier 62 and 63 which was this massive pier jutting out into the Sound.  The pier was almost entirely deserted save for a few fisherman and some seagulls.  I couldn't believe how beautiful the weather was.  With the slight breeze coming off the water and the temperature hanging around the mid-50's it was absolute heaven compared to the Minnesota tundra I had departed from.  It was perfect jean-jacket weather. 

Pier 62/63 had incredible views of the Olympic Mountain Range as well as the skyline.  Definitely a must-visit place. The view of the city from the pier was just simply incredible.  From the pier we climbed the Bayfront Steps and ventured towards Columbia Center. Here are just a few observations along the way.  

Columbia Tower is the tallest building in Seattle and is the second tallest skyscraper on the West-Coast.  The Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor of the tower is 902' above street level and offers 360 degree views of downtown Seattle, the Olympics and Mount Rainier (on clear days).  It's about twice as tall as the Space Needle and half the price! The fee for the observatory was only $9 a person with our expired student IDs.  The view speaks for itself. 

We stayed atop the observation deck of the Columbia Center for a good hour before we both realized how hungry we both were.  The gut rot became so real, so quickly.  Pizza seemed like a good idea (always a good idea), so after skimming Yelp for a few minutes we settled on a place called Mod Pizza, which was located on 6th Avenue, just a few blocks away from the tower.  Having never heard of Mod Pizza before I wasn't sure what to expect.  

Upon entering Mod Pizza you're directed to a Subway-like food line where you can select your sauces, meats and toppings.  The pizzas are sort of an Americanized style with a Neapolitan brick-oven flare.  Each pie  is made-to-order, so you're allowed to customize it to your liking, and then it is tossed into a fiery oven for about 90 seconds!  Being a classic-topping pizza enthusiast, I ordered a 10" pepperoni pizza with spicy Italian sausage and a soft drink.  My total was about $10, which was pretty decent for the amount of food we were given.  All-in-all, the pizza was really great! The restaurant itself was nice and quiet, so we took some time to catch our breaths and discuss what was on the agenda for the rest of the week.  

After filling our stomachs with some 'za, we headed to Glazer's Camera, which is hands down the best camera store I've ever been to! The store is located on the north end of downtown and carries anything a traveling photographer would ever need.  They have a large variety of different films kept in the fridge at the back of the store and they also offer lens rentals at their satellite facility a few blocks down from the main store.  After ogling some  Canon L Lenses for what seemed like a lifetime, I ended up purchasing five rolls of Kodak Portra 400 and some additional packs of Instax 210 film.  

From Glazer's, we headed to Gas Works Park.  Gas Works Park is located on the north shore of Lake Union facing downtown Seattle.  The 20 acre park contains the remains of the sole coal gasification plant in the United States.  Though production ceased about 60 years ago, the buildings and manufacturing structures still remained, so the city of Seattle purchased the facility and transformed the area into a park, which opened to the public in 1975.  The park was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2013 and remains as a symbol of the Seattle's industrial history.  Paired with its historical significance, the park also offers unbeatable views of  Seattle's skyline across Lake Union.

After being at Gasworks for a while, we headed downtown yet again to watch the sunset from Columbia Center's Sky View Observatory.   The Observatory was a bit more crowded than earlier today, but it was definitely still manageable.  

A healthy tip for anyone visiting the Observatory -- if you're planning on taking photos after the sun goes down and you want to avoid the interior window reflections, the staff will be more than happy to shut the lights off for you! Yay! 

We spent a few hours taking in the views of the city before heading back to Wiley's condo in Factoria.  What a day.  Seriously, today was one of the best days I've ever had and I couldn't be happier.  I captured only 297 photos today, which is quite conservative for me, but I'm really happy with the results.  I couldn't help but to just take everything in. Sometimes you just have to set the camera down and appreciate your surroundings beyond the viewfinder.  

The last photo in that set is my favorite photo I took all day! I was able to set up my tripod on a little table they had near the window and capture a 30 second exposure.  Honestly, have you ever seen a more beautiful city? I fell completely in love with Seattle today.  The waterfront, the beautiful architecture and just the general vibe was like nothing I've experienced before.  I can't wait to see what the next few days hold.  We're heading to the Olympic Peninsula tomorrow for a day trip and I have a feeling it's going to be an extraordinary adventure.