SEATTLE -- It's not something that people in Seattle like to broadcast too much, but the Emerald City gets plenty of sunshine. Last year, there were 48 straight days of no rain to go along with long summer days, presenting a perfect setting to explore the numerous free parks, bike trails, markets, beaches and lakes the city offers. Here is a small collection:
Pike Place Market: There are few landmarks that invoke Seattle as much as the glowing red letters of the Pike Place Market. Sure, it's a tourist trap, but it recalls a time when nearby farmers sold their produce to the hungry city masses. Peruse the bounty of flowers, chocolates, fish, fruit and much more in the multi-level market built on a steep hill in downtown Seattle. Stop by the Gum Wall to leave your own chewy legacy. Take in the fishmongers throwing salmon around. But don't confine it to this one market. Seattle boasts a healthy arsenal of neighborhood outdoor markets. One example: The market in Fremont sells everything from consignment clothes from the 1980s (perfect for your hipster friends) to whole furniture sets, old maps, old records, old games and more on Sundays right next to a ship canal, http://www.fremontmarket.com/ . It's free and fun to visit whether or not you decide to buy.
The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks: Known locally as the Ballard Locks, this water gateway constructed and run by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers separates the salty Puget Sound from Lake Union and Lake Washington using a system of water elevators. Recreational, tourist, working and research vessels make their way through the locks every day, lowering and elevating before crowds of onlookers. It's an engineering gem that opened in 1917, a miniature Panama Canal in the middle of the city, but the locks offer more than that. There are fish ladders that salmon use for their annual spawning migration. Sockeye, king and coho salmon as well as steelhead can be seen making their way on outdoor and indoor (and underwater) views of the ladder. Occasionally, a hungry sea lion will also hang around the entrance to the ladder to grab himself a salmon meal, like a true Seattle-ite. The locks also feature botanical gardens, rolling greens that make for nice picnic spots, and free one-hour tours of the facility between March and November. For more information: http://1.usa.gov/11nY2KR.
Discovery Park: At 534 acres, Discovery Park is the largest park in Seattle and it features some of the most stunning views within city limits. On top of seaside bluffs, visitors can overlook the Puget Sound, islands and the Olympic Mountains to the west. Look south and Mount Rainier and the city skyline rise above the horizon. The park, which used to be a military fort, features hiking and jogging trails through acres of forest. Down below, a sandy beach adorned with a lighthouse snakes around the park. Lucky visitors encounter baby seals sleeping on the beach, sea lions swimming just offshore or bald eagles perched on trees. There are also wide open grassy areas on top of the bluffs. Oh, and one time a cougar made the park its home for a week or so, much to the dismay of local pets. Away from the slice of nature, there is also the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, which hosts art by Native American artists. For more information: http://www.seattle.gov/parks/environment/discovery.htm.
The Seattle Central Library: It's a bit of a quiet tour to take in the 362,987-square-foot Seattle Central Library. After all, even though it's renowned for its modernist architecture, it's still a well-used library. Explore the nine levels open to the public to admire the bright neon escalators, lipstick red hallways, and the slanted steel and glass roof that looks like an oversized chain-link fence. Despite budget woes and issues with the homeless, the $165 million building remains a modern architectural achievement, full of ambition, for Seattle. For more information: http://bit.ly/16phdmO.
The Olympic Sculpture Park: Think of it as an outdoors museum. The Olympic Sculpture Park, an extension of the Seattle Art Museum, provides visitors the opportunity to relax on its green grass or stroll through its collection of artwork. There's the "Eagle" with its red-painted steel pointy curves; benches are that giant eyes; an oversized typewriter eraser; a stainless steel tree; and 14-foot high steel curved forms called the "Wake." The park also features a walkway along the waterfront. Connected to the Sculpture park is Myrtle Edwards Park, a Port of Seattle waterfront property with a fishing dock that spits out over the water, and bike and walking trails. For more information about the Sculpture Park: http://bit.ly/10rSPjy .