For those unfamiliar, Seattle may seem like a rather random place to host the most anticipated volleyball competition of the year, but after the 2013 NCAA Women’s Volleyball National Championship and the corresponding annual AVCA Convention, most would agree it made an excellent fit for volleyball fans, players, and coaches (and magazine staffs!) from around the country. Washington-area volleyball fans came out strong, selling out the arena for both the semis and final.
But beyond the volleyball-atmosphere in the arena, Seattle proved to be a great pick because of all the other attractions and entertainment it had to offer.
Our group of volley-travelers began their Seattle adventure at the Belltown Inn. We got lucky, paying only $75 a night because we booked our room during a 48-hour online sale, but even without the special, the Belltown’s main attraction is it’s affordability. Rooms start at $89 a night and include a kitchenette with refrigerator and microwave. The Belltown slogan, “Walk to everything” is no lie. We strolled down to Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, and all around downtown in minutes. A no-frills kind of group, we recommend the Belltown as a clean, friendly stop for travelers looking to spend their funds on some of the delicious culinary options Seattle has to offer, instead of on a fancy hotel room. Something to note though, the wifi in the Belltown, which costs $5 to set up in your room, is highly unreliable, making conducting business rather challenging. However, when we called down to the front desk for help, they gave us an Ethernet cord to use and immediately removed the wifi charge, so at least customer service was excellent.
Later in the trip, to be closer to the volleyball action in KeyArena and at the Washington State Convention Center, we made the Seattle Westin our new VBM headquarters. In general, it was a standard downtown hotel experience, however, we experienced a few nice surprises. On our bathroom window, a sign declared that for only $5 you could rent a set of New Balance workout gear and shoes. We cursed our choice to take up precious space in our luggage with our own workout gear, but good to know for the future. The Westin also rewarded guests for choosing not to have their linens changed with a $5 credit to be used in the hotel’s bar or restaurant each night that you choose to forgo the service.
To journey from the Westin to KeyArena—located in Seattle Center along with the Space Needle, Seattle Children’s Museum, theaters, sculptures, and gardens—we hopped on the Monorail, an elevated public transit train built for the 1962 World’s Fair. The Monorail has only two stops, conveniently one right near the Westin and the other a quick walk to KeyArena.
Speaking of the Space Needle, no Seattle visit would be complete without a trip to the top. We lucked out, getting one fairly clear day in late December where we could experience the full 360 degree view–Mt. Rainer, the Seattle skyline, and Olympia National Park across the sound. Well worth our $19 admission fee.
The second most well-known Seattle tourist stop would have to be Pike Place Market, home of fish-throwing young men in orange overalls, the original Starbucks, and a shop for everything you might want to commemorate your trip to Seattle, like a beautiful dried flower bouquet for only $10, Washington cherry jam, handmade scarves, pottery, jewelry… You get the point. Anything. The market also provides beautiful views of the Seattle waterfront.
Ok, but we’re all athletes here, and if there’s one thing we’ve learned about athletes in our years working with them, it’s that often, their number-one concern is when, where, and what they’re going to eat next. Seattle certainly had no shortage of choice edibles.
Coming from the East Coast, we discovered some excellent happy hour deals to satisfy our 4:30 p.m. dinner cravings. At Wasabi Bistro we dove into three sushi rolls for $14, washing them down with $5 wine and $4 craft cider. Our favorite roll, crispy tofu, had a surprisingly robust flavor, and we found ourselves fighting over the last piece.
At Sazerac, we snacked on bar treats like bacon wrapped dates with goat cheese and a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato jam before catching a show at Triple Door, a downtown performance and live music venue.
Prior to Thursday’s semifinal matches, we got dinner in the Armory, a food court and entertainment venue serving all of Seattle Center. You could get barbeque, middle eastern fare, coffee, locally-sourced vegan eats, and more, but a little blue and orange vender promising simply “Pie” lured us in. Featuring eight or so different varieties of sweet and savory hand pies that change daily (including vegetarian and gluten-free options), the little pies were the perfect burst of energy before a long night of volleyball coverage. We even went back to try a new flavor before Saturday’s championship match.
Finally, for late-night downtown dining, we recommend Palace Kitchen. The regular menu features “rustic preparations of lamb and poultry” but after 10 p.m., you can order late night curry, the perfect remedy for a group of drained magazine staffers looking for a final warm meal to celebrate an exciting championship weekend.
Outside of downtown, the Ballard and Fremont neighborhoods offered a different Seattle experience with locally sourced cafes (including Portage Bay Cafe, with an excellent and filling brunch menu), boutique shopping (check out Kick It Boots and Stompwear), and the Fremont Sunday Market, a bazaar of food, arts, junk, and more.
And of course, we’re always looking to get a game in, but the local volleyball spot Alki Beach stood deserted each rainy December day we were in town. We hear in the summer it’s packed with games of all levels, including beach tournaments and clinics hosted by the Alki Volleyball Association.
Seattle certainly welcomed the volleyball community with open arms. In fact, we’re already dreaming of another trip, this time in summer, or maybe fall. We can catch a University of Washington match and then get our own games going, and, of course, eat some more Seattle delicacies.
Originally published in February 2014