indulging · travel

Seattle on the Cheap

This is a guest post from my husband.  He makes a very good sandwich.

Seattle on the cheap
Seattle and the Space Needle.

I really don’t like to say cheap, but it seemed to work better in the title.  Traveling for me is really about having fun, first, and starting out with the attitude of seeing how little can be spent.  Framing it this way gets me thinking about experiences – parks, museums, sights, and festivals, that are fun and yet don’t necessarily get better by spending more.

As part of her blogger exploits, Sara was attending the International Food Blogger Conference (IFBC) in Seattle.  Not having spent much time there, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be great to go along and experience the city?”

Well, since this wasn’t planned (shades of the BlogHer Food conference in Austin…), I figured, go at it with the same attitude of “try to have as much fun as possible, while spending as little as possible.”

First the big things – getting there, staying there, and getting around…

Seattle on the cheap Pike Place Market

1.  Getting there…

With no super plane flight deals happening (we live in Portland) it was either train or drive.  I could have saved a few bucks by driving but the hassle and stress of driving and parking lost out to the ease of the train (less than $100 bucks, but could have been even less if I’d just bought the ticket earlier…).

2.  Staying there…

Having spent some nights in centrally located, safe, clean, inexpensive accommodations in Europe, I thought I’d see what was similarly available in Seattle.  By using a combination of Google and TripAdvisor I found a great place in The Moore Hotel, for less than a third of the cost of the hotel hosting the conference.  It was only $68 a night for Sara (sink in-room, bathroom down the hall) and an extra $12 for me.

3.  Getting around…

Seattle is no Austin, Texas, which has an incredible, $2 for a 24-hour, bus pass.  In Seattle, rides are $2.50 per trip (good for 2 hours).  But, luckily, for a 2 1/2 day trip, most sights are within easy walking distance. Until fairly recently Seattle had a “free ride area” for downtown but they cancelled it.  Too bad.

Seattle on the Cheap – Thursday (evening)

Since Sara would be attending a pre-conference party for the evening, I used the time to walk the blocks around our hotel (which happened to include Pike Place Market) and check out the restaurants, food carts, markets and parks.  Not having yet mapped out my eating strategy, I found a well stocked grocery store and opted for my go to favorite of salami, baguette, carrots and a beer – all the major food groups. For $7, this was easily enough for dinner and an early lunch tomorrow (ok, not the beer).

Train station in Seattle
The train station in Seattle.

Seattle on the Cheap – Friday

The weather was nice, so I decided on a walking day around the city.  Most Seattle sights fit within the southern area from the King Street train station (next door to the football stadium) up to “Seattle Center” where the Space Needle and the EMP music museum reside.

I usually try to do most of my trip planning (selecting multiple sight and eating options) before leaving home and then leave the specifics (addresses, locations, which day to go) until when I arrive, to allow for flexibility, weather and serendipity.

The day started out with a run along Elliot Bay, beginning at the bottom of Pike Place Market, heading up through Myrtle Edmunds Park and past/through the Olympic Sculpture Garden – cost $0!

Sara’s conference was right next door to Seattle’s great public library, so I began by touring that, looking at some Seattle guidebooks and finding locations for the rest of the day, using the library computer.

From there, I headed South down past Mario Batali’s dad’s restaurant, Salumi, and then on to the, free, Klondike Gold Rush Museum.  This is a great little museum that showcases the launching off point for the very short lived Klondike gold rush (they found gold in 1896; it took people a 1 1/2-years to organize, stock up and travel out there; then it was over by 1898).  Nice exhibits and an interesting 20 minute movie (Jack London was one of the “stampeders”).

By now I was looking for something to eat and had committed to not leaving Seattle without some oysters.  I planned on eating a little, then walking around Pioneer Square, the historic old Seattle area.  I found a place that served 3 oysters for $3.50 (starting at 3:00pm) and also had a pint for $2.50!  Bam, $6 bucks!  If only I could have stopped at 3 oysters.  So, half a dozen oysters later, plus the beer, tax and tip and I got out for  about $12. Not bad.

The Moore Hotel
The Moore Hotel: great price, bathrooms down the hall.

I walked around Pioneer Square.  They had some little Parisian style bistro chairs and tables and were setting up for some sort of art installment later.  Nearby, at 2nd and Main, there’s a great little, secluded, waterfall garden park with seating if you wanted to have a picnic (but keep in mind, post-summer it closes/locks up at 3:45pm).

The rest of the evening I spent walking back uptown on 6th Avenue through the shopping district, then back down through, the always bustling, Pike Place Market.  I had read about a store called The Spanish Table and wanted to pick up some wine, chorizo and bread.  I got some great wine and meat – $15, but no fresh bread.  So, I swung by the Pike Place Bakery and grabbed a cheddar, jalapeño roll – $2.25, then headed on back to the hotel for a nice dinner.

Seattle on the Cheap – Saturday

My big day.  Sara was booked until late, so I had the whole day.  Better pace myself;  start out eating and/or drinking too early and the day could be a bust.

Since yesterday was spent downtown and south, I thought I’d head north.

The Moore Hotel view

I started by walking up to catch the monorail at 5th Avenue and Pine Street – $2.25 one way.  A short 2 minutes or so, with a glide through the EMP museum, and I was staring up at the iconic Space Needle (along with the monorail, built for the 1962 World’s Fair).

After walking around the Seattle Center, I planned on renting a bike, riding the Burke Gilman trail, heading over to the quirky Fremont Neighborhood and then seeing what happens.

I picked up my bike, which came with a lock, helmet, and Seattle bike street map, for $25 plus tax for 1/2-day.  Not super inexpensive, but for up to 5 hours of adventure and sightseeing (and a little exercise) it seemed like a good deal.

Gasworks Park Seattle

I rode along Dexter Avenue out of Belltown which basically takes you right across the Fremont Bridge.  Turn right just after crossing the bridge and you are on the Burke Gilman Trail.  Well signed, and designated for cyclists and pedestrians, it’s an easy, flat ride.  Be sure to stop off at Gasworks Park, a great spot, with a nice hill for Seattle views and watching seaplanes take off and land.  On the way back down the trail I stopped off at the “Fremont Oktoberfest” and was treated to a chainsaw pumpkin carving contest and live music.  I also liked how they “proudly serve” Rainier tall boys for $3.  After an additional walk and ride around the Fremont neighborhood, I headed back into town to drop off the bike. After a quick stop by the hotel I headed out for sushi.  The best deal I could find was $12 for a tuna combo – 5 pieces of maguro and a spicy tuna roll. I finished up the night with a beautiful sunset walk through Pike Place Market.

Seattle on the cheap

So, for a little more than $40-bucks, it was a great day – and the sunny weather definitely helped.  $40 isn’t nothing, but the first goal was to have fun.  I’ve probably missed a few fun opportunities by trying to cut it too close, but I’m learning.

All in all, it was a great weekend.  It also reinforced the notion that it’s the little things (what you see when you’re riding around, listening to a band playing a noon-time concert in a park with day-glo blue painted tree) that create the experience.  And spending more isn’t always necessary to get that.

Have you ever been to Seattle?  What did I miss?  What should I do next time?

Go Gingham related links:

Travel tips for a trip or stay-cation around the Northwest
Travel packing in a little suitcase and a chart
Our San Francisco home exchange –Part I, Part II and
Part III  How to: Save money on your next trip: before and during

8 thoughts on “Seattle on the Cheap

  1. I’m a Seattle native so it was fun to see what you chose to do and how you kept expenses low. Sounds like you saw & ate a lot – my own priorities too 😉


  2. Once a year at least one of us takes our son, Teddy, to see the Red Sox play the Mariners. I have found that the best deal for getting to Seattle from Portland is the Bolt Bus. One way is typically under $20; and every trip has one ticket for only $1. The bus goes from downtown Portland to the Safeco/King station area. There is an Asian marketplace across the street that has tons of food options and would be a great starting point for some cheap, delicious meals.


    1. Melissa –
      I should have talked to you before I left. The Bolt Bus sounds like a great deal and next time I’m going to check out the Asian marketplace you suggested. Thanks.


  3. Seattle is one of our favorite places to vacation. We’ve taken trips up there in our car, and have taken the train a few times. After doing both, we’ve decided that unless there is something that absolutely requires us to have a car, we’re taking the train. Haven’t done the Bolt Bus yet, but my nephew has, and says it’s a good deal. I just have too many horrible memories of bus trips from high school and college. We do spend for a nice hotel, though. Started that when the 16 year old was an infant. We took a trip to California, and were trying to save money by staying in an inexpensive motel/hotel. We flew down, so weren’t able to pack the car with stuff for the baby. By the time we got done with some of the basics, we had spent more than we would have, had we stayed in a nice place.

    If you want to have a wonderful trip with a very small child, and aren’t afraid to fork out the dough —— we highly recommend the Olympic hotel. There’s no additional charge for a crib, and it’s a REAL crib – not a folding play yard. Has it’s own linens, baby bath items, washcloths folded like little duckies, insulated lunch bag for baby/child, no charge for a DVD and use of DVDs, a personalized greeting for said infant/child upon check-in, and a complimentary milk bottle of milk with a fresh baked chocolate chip cookie the first afternoon you’re there with child! Believe me —- it ain’t cheap, but it’s much easier than schlumping gear with you, or getting nickel and dimed to death!


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