We challenged travelers to explore Seattle and discover the city’s rich history. The catch? No phones, no planning, no research beforehand. Armed with only a notebook and a Polaroid camera to record the experience, our fearless sightseers could only rely on the recommendations of Seattleites to guide their adventures.
Josh Johnson, by way of Louisiana and Chicago, is one of the most well-known writers on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. With an upcoming Netflix comedy special on the way, Johnson performs his standup all over the country, including at the 2018 Bumbershoot Festival in Seattle over Labor Day weekend.
There’s a reason why Seattle is affectionately nicknamed the Emerald City. The greenery and forests gave the city its moniker, but you’ll find all kinds of landscapes juxtaposed to Seattle’s urban center. Just a few miles in each direction, you’ll find sandy beaches, mountain ranges, and wild parks. We tasked Johnson, a city dweller and Brooklynite, to trek his way through Seattle’s diverse nature scenes.
“I’d never been to Seattle before, and I felt like this was how to see the best, most honest representation of the city.”
Mount Rainier National Park
Let’s start with the craziest fact about Mount Rainier — it’s an active volcano that Seattleites are hiking. It’s the tallest mountain in the Cascade region, and it’s been said to be one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the country. But not to fear: There haven’t been any significant eruptions in more than 500 years. Seattleites are braver than me; I was a little bit horrified at first but they soldiered on.
It was great to go snowshoeing up the mountain, but I was a total novice. I would have never expected to see so much snow just outside of Seattle this time of year.
Driving out of Mount Rainier National Park, I was told to make a stop at Snoqualmie Falls. The sight of this 270-foot waterfall was really unbelievable. And the other visitors there told me it’s the same waterfall featured on Twin Peaks! I fan-boyed hard after that.
Once I made it back to the city, I met a bunch of locals who gave me a full itinerary of outdoorsy things to do when in the city. Everyone was so friendly and interested in telling me their secret getaways to nature. They all seemed so active and fit — I’ve never seen so many joggers in one place. I’m convinced that if there was ever a battle between fittest — East Coast athletes versus West Coast athletes — the West Coast would win 100 percent. They run for fun!
Discovery Park was the number one recommendation from locals. It’s easy to see why: You get a little bit of everything there, like the shoreline with a lighthouse leading the way, deep forests, hiking trails, the works. Someone once said it’s the Central Park of Seattle, but this was way more wild than my city parks.
I met a birdwatcher and photographer, Paul Bannick, who showed me where to spot owls in the park — because who knew that more than a dozen species of owls live in Washington?
The Center for Wooden Boats
The Center for Wooden Boats is a museum that preserves the maritime culture of Seattle, so I got to explore that for a bit. The boats out on the water are like mini-museums, artifacts of Seattle’s maritime history. Plus, the center offers workshops to let you get your hands dirty on the boat. I hadn’t ever been out on a sailboat, and I knew I had to go out on the water, since I was so close to the Pacific.
I have a full appreciation for the guys who go out every day — it’s hard. I had never rowed my own boat before, and as soon as I used my own oar, I understood why we built motors for boats. But being on the water was beautiful.
I had no idea there was a beach within driving distance of Seattle — turns out, you can hop on a water taxi to West Seattle then take a shuttle or Uber to this quirky little beach. If you walk out to Anchor Park, you can find a 2.5-ton anchor that was dredged up by a divers’ club, plus the remnants of a closed-down waterfront amusement park in low tide. But mostly I found a lot of Seattleites just happy to be out in the sun.
Traveling without my phone made me pay attention to my conversations and people. Seattle is just a really unique place, you can only find this type of experience here.
I can’t believe that these five places can all coexist near Seattle — every climate and type of activity all in just one city. It’s hard to believe I went everywhere from a snow-capped volcano to a sunny beach in two days. Every spot felt like it was its own small town, each doing its own thing.
Here’s where Seattleites told me to go.
Our itinerary of stops, mapped.