Living in a big city has many advantages, but sometimes it can become too stressful and you eventually need to get away from that hectic lifestyle and just relax a bit and recharge your batteries. If you live in Seattle, Olympic National Park is probably the destination you hear about the most – beautiful and fascinating nature, quaint and picturesque towns, the lot.
However, it’s not exactly right next door. It takes at least a couple of hours to get there plus a fair amount of time to reach the place you want to visit. Fortunately, if you don’t have that kind of time, there’s a great alternative. Bellevue is right next to Seattle and offers everything a town/small city for a weekend getaway should have. You can reach it in a jiffy and then have the whole weekend to yourself, away from the big city. Sounds great, right? Here’s a short guide on everything you need to know about Bellevue.
GETTING TO BELLEVUE
Bellevue is actually a part of the Seattle metropolitan area and located on its eastern edge. That can immediately tell you that you really don’t need a lot of time to make the trip. It’s a drive of just over 10 miles (17 kilometres), so by car you can be there in like 20 minutes or so, depending on the traffic, of course.
The two cities are quite well connected by public buses, most notably with the route 550 (although there are a few more lines), which runs from one downtown area to the other. In addition, if you land in the Seattle-Tacoma airport, you can get directly to Bellevue – just hop aboard Sound Transit no. 560.
Of course, taxis and even Uber drivers are also an option, but at a considerably bigger expense.
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WHERE TO EAT IN BELLEVUE?
Bellevue is largely considered to be a great place to live. As a matter of fact, it has received many recognitions as one of the best (sometimes THE best) places to live in the whole of United States. Obviously, in a place like that, there have to be plenty of good food choices. Sure enough, you have a variety of choices, from fine dining to fast food, from Mediterranean to vegetarian cuisine. The following places will surely interest you if there’s even a trace of foodie in you.
Top end: Seafood is exceptionally important to the whole state of Washington, not just in Seattle, and if you want to experience it properly, go to Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar. Yes, raw dishes are also on the menu which is pretty extensive, so if that’s not your thing you’ll easily find something else (of course, vegans and vegetarians can enjoy here, too). Clams, scallops, calamari, crab cakes, salmon rolls, sushi, pasta with different kinds of fish… you name it and it’s there. Plus they have some excellent wines to go along with everything. A great place for a special occasion.
Mid-range: In the mid-range category, you will have a very hard time finding a better restaurant than Mediterranean Kitchen. This is not all about Italian pastas or Spanish dishes, though. The restaurant focuses on Lebanese and Middle Eastern cuisine and they are absolutely fantastic. All kinds of kabobs and couscous can be ordered, plus this cuisine is extremely vegetarian-friendly, so if you don’t eat meat you’ll still love it. Oh, and their baklava is sublime.
Low end: Want just a quick and cheap, yet delicious bite to eat? Burgermaster is your typical American fast food restaurant, but these guys have been around for quite a while – since the 50s! – so they sure know what they’re doing. People especially praise their fish sandwiches, but the burgers are just as good. In addition, this is a place where you order from and eat in your car, just to give you that vibe of a simpler time.
WHAT TO DO IN BELLEVUE?
START YOUR DAY IN BELLEVUE BOTANICAL GARDEN
While Bellevue is no Olympic National Park, there is certainly no lack of green areas in the city. The best example of that is the local botanical garden which is actually composed of multiple different gardens with a huge amount of plant, a lot of them local.
You can also learn a lot about nature in this part of the world too since the garden also has a visitors centre and facilities in which various lessons and classes can be attended. But if you’re not up today, a nice stroll through the greenery will prepare you perfectly for the day ahead.
DO SOME SHOPPING
Bellevue is a fantastic place to do some serious shopping. Bellevue Square is the oldest mall around (built in 1946!), but there are plenty of other places to visit for this purpose, as well.
The Bravern is a must because not only does it approach the shopping experience from a slightly different perspective (it’s an open-air mall), but it also has a lot of luxury shops. Furthermore, almost every neighbourhood in this city has some interesting shop you can check out, so you definitely won’t be bored as you’re walking the streets.
VISIT THE KIDS QUEST CHILDREN’S MUSEUM
Have kids with you? Take them to KidsQuest Children’s Museum and they won’t be able to have enough of it! They can run around and play with a whole bunch of interactive exhibits, but at the same time they will learn a lot too because the museum covers fields like science, art, technology and many more.
There are even workshops the whole family can participate in, and when you see all that’s on display here, even you will want to stay and play.
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VISIT THE BELLEVUE ARTS MUSEUM
Now, this museum is more for grown-ups.
The Bellevue Arts Museum focuses on art and design and has quite an interesting collection ceramics, textile, sculptures and many other works of art of this character. What is interesting is that it gives a lot of space to local artists, so you can learn a lot about the local scene here, as well as view the works of globally recognized names. The gift shop is also very good, so if you want to pick up a souvenir this is your place. In any case, BAM is one of the main attractions in Bellevue.
ENJOY A DAY AT THE LAKE
Bellevue is surrounded by two lakes – Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish – and they both offer plenty of things to do, particularly if you’re looking for some recreation to help you turn your visit to Bellevue into an active weekend.
At Lake Sammamish, you can hike, ride the bike trails and even water skiing, whereas Lake Washington offers plenty of great beaches you can enjoy in summer. The choice is yours, and if you decide to simply spend a whole day at one of these places, nobody will be able to tell you that you’re making the wrong choice.
EXPLORE CROSSROADS BELLEVUE
Crossroads Bellevue is right next to the botanical garden and is a great place to spend at least a part of your day, especially if you’re here for the first time. This is a public market, but you would be forgiven for thinking that some sort of celebration or a carnival is going on. It’s a bustling place, with rides, game and great food to enjoy, so you can really get a feeling of what this small but vibrant city is all about.
A farmers market is also held here every Tuesday, which is another incentive to come. The prices are pretty affordable too, so all in all this seems like a great way to spend the day in the open.
RELAX IN DOWNTOWN PARK
As you’re walking through downtown Bellevue, you are sure to stumble upon Downtown Park, a large patch of greenery in the city centre where you’re bound to relax after all that walking and/or shopping. It has a promenade which is protected by trees from either side, so you can hide from the sun here if it’s too hot. On top of that, the park has a huge waterfall and the place is excellent for picnics, too. If you’re here with your significant other, the park can also be a pretty romantic place.
However, the main reason you should visit it is because you can stumble upon a free even here, maybe a concert or something like that, which will only add value to your Bellevue visit.
SEE SOME WILDLIFE AT MERCER SLOUGH
More nature! Mercer Slough Nature Park is very close to the city centre, but when you enter it you’ll get the feeling that you’re miles away from the nearest city. You can explore the plants and trees, plus the park is home to more than 170 different species of animals, so animal-lovers this is your thing!
What is unique about this park, however, it that it has a blueberry farm on the premises, of all things. You can actually go there and pick them if you want and maybe learn a little bit about the park in general. A great day out if you have kids with you!
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HIT A SPA
Spas are big in Bellevue. There are plenty of choices for everyone, and if you’re here just to relax and maybe enjoy a dash of luxury, going to one of these is a great choice to get pampered. Relaxing massages, plushy bathrobes, long soaks in hot water… don’t worry people here know how to treat you well. And they will often offer to spice up your visit with some kind of exotic treatment. You’ll feel completely invigorated after just one visit!
CLIMB THE COUGAR MOUNTAIN
Overlooking the city is the Cougar Mountain, a regional wildlife park with several great trails for hiking. Want to get out of town a bit and stay active? Well, just come here and you’ll enjoy some beautiful nature. Cougars, deer and bears live here, plus there is a neat zoo close by, so you can spend the day there, as well. But the lush forest will provide you with ample amount of peace and quite, and when you get to Coal Creek you’ll feel totally immersed in nature. Beautiful place!
Anca is the founder and chief editor of One Day Itinerary, a travel blog dedicated to those who want to make the most of their time in a new city, even if they only have only one day there. Thanks to the fact that she has travelled literally all over the world, she can tell you the dos and don’ts of pretty much every major city in the world. As a matter of fact, she’s already done so in her blog posts.