In a perfect world, one without traffic and other such concerns, 20 minutes from the Seattle city limits opens up quite a bit of interesting


Ten times the fun

Got 20 minutes? Then you've got yourself a getaway.

In a perfect world, one without traffic and other such concerns, 20 minutes from the Seattle city limits opens up quite a bit of interesting real estate. But as Voltaire tells us, this is only the best possible world, and therefore we should plan on not ranging too far afield. Why, on some days, at certain times, 20 minutes doesn't even get you from the Market to the Dome. So let's proceed with the following, which should all be reasonably accessible within about 20 minutes, starting from some nebulous central-downtown point, which is probably just beyond the traffic jam you are in.

1. Slippery Solitude. Perkins Lane, historic haunt of the wealthy and reclusive, and focal point for a number of nature's more destructive forces, is something to be seen. In this one small stretch of land, we may all believe that there is more to natural selection than social status. A healthy chunk of the southern end of Perkins Lane, you see, has been sliding into the Sound with little regard for those who had settled there. Large homes and small, lifetimes of memories and living rooms of furniture, have all flowed with the mud to be smashed into the sea. It is truly a tragedy. But you can drive your car to the cement barriers, ignore the "Road Closed" signs, and walk out to a singularly hushed display of a number of things: the fury of nature, the tireless procession of geologic evolution, and the arrogant presumptions of man. Oh, and it's probably not safe. Nature at work, you know.

2. Olympic Dreams At Marymoor. Bolt east at the right time of day and 20 minutes will get you far enough down 520 to reach Marymoor Park, monument to the eclectic dreams of the suburbanite. If you own a dog, you owe it a trip to the off-leash mecca, which dominates one corner of the park. Otherwise, head for the more removed, covered-in-cobwebs, lesser-used areas and break out your self-propelled wheeled vehicle on the Marymoor Velodrome. It's cool, slanty, and sexy, and the gristly nature of the track's cement guarantees a prominent road rash for any tumbles. But go there enough and you may just become the next, you know, Famous Biking Guy. Or try your hands on the very impressive, free-to-the-public, climbing spires a few feet away. But remember the first rule of outdoor climbing: Slippery when wet!

3. It Ain't New England, But . . . Lighthouses are cool; water-treatment plants generally aren't. You can view both, however, at Discovery Park's West Point. At the water's edge the Coast Guard operates a stubby but attractive lighthouse, which, not coincidentally, sits in a spot blessed with a sweeping view of the Puget Sound. Nice days and low tides offer great beachcombing, though the piles of driftwood scattered about the lighthouse speak of the frequency of wicked weather. Shipping traffic and ferry boats move by in seemingly no hurry, and various sea creatures make good viewing from here. When bored by natural beauty, you may have a peek at the massive, though surprisingly unobtrusive, West Point water treatment plant. Here, zillions upon zillions of gallons of smelly, befouled water are pumped into Elliott Bay. But it's cleaned it first.

4. Sisyphus, Where Are You Now? Pick a cold, rainy day when you won't be mauled by gawking tourists. Drive to Commodore Park on the oft-ignored south side of the Chittenden Locks. Walk to the locks and enter the gloomy sanctuary of the fish ladder viewing room. Pick a greenish thick window and sit in front of it. Watch the pathetic struggles of salmon driven maddeningly by instinct through a pounding man-made upstream struggle to what is a certain death. Reflect on how much better your life is in comparison. On a recent visit, I watched a smolt going the wrong way. Fish viewing is open from 7am until 9pm. And if you haven't seen the working of the locks, it is just like a very exciting action movie played in super-slo-mo. Quite a feat of engineering, however. Boats come in. Water goes up. Water goes down. Presto-change-o, you're in Lake Washington!

5. The Road Less Traveled. Ever feel like you just aren't getting anywhere with your life? Well, now you can drive there! Yes, just take the Off-ramp to Nowhere from I-520 and you'll never get farther than 20 minutes from Seattle! Standing as an inexplicable monument to the strategic prowess of the Washington State Department of Transportation, there is actually an off ramp from 520 that leads to Nothing. Rather, it just ends—before you've actually gotten anywhere. Unfortunately, they don't allow you to drive on this piece of roadway (where would you be going, anyway?), but you can walk to it and admire the planning that went into it. Park at a small lot off Lake Washington Boulevard E, distinguished by its "high car prowl area" signs, and walk until you find the cement that leads only to swamp. It's a good place for a chuckle, or just to ponder Big Things that don't go anywhere or do anything. Or you can do some improv role-playing: OK, I'll be the construction foreman, you be the highway engineer. Now, I say, "Hey, uh, buddy. Where did you say you wanted this road to go again?"

6. Green Is Good. Not far from the above lesson on how not to spend tax dollars is one on how to spend them. The Arboretum is one of the most irrepressibly pleasant places in all of King County. A juggernaut of greenery, the Arboretum is a joint project by the city of Seattle and the University of Washington to make our lives a little bit better. I also understand they have a fine collection of trees. But as easy as it is to get caught up in the wonders of Azalea Way, venture instead to the north end of the park and take the Arboretum Waterfront Trail. The trail is a half-mile walk along marshes and floating walkways that will introduce you to much of the Seattle nature that goes largely ignored. Why, I stood not 2 feet from a sizable excremental offering by our friendly Canada geese. You will also have the opportunity to be seriously killed by a stray ball from the Broadmoor Golf Club driving range while walking to the trailhead. Brochures on other nature visible from the trail are available at the Arboretum Visitors Center.

7. Seattle Now And Then. Conveniently, the Arboretum Waterfront Trail ends in McCurdy Park, a little-used splash of green opposite the UW stadium. The park also hosts the Museum of History & Industry (2700 24th E), a privately operated facility dedicated to displaying the history of Seattle and King County. From pleasure boating to the great Seattle fire to salmon to Puget Sound Native Americans, the museum offers exhibits of all and more, featuring photographs, artifacts, and re-creations. It is a quiet, thoughtful place, containing the diversity of our region in one building. If you are younger than 2, you get in free. Otherwise, it'll cost you $5.50. From the museum, it is also an easy walk to the UW, where gawking at idealistic, shapely young people is always restorative.

8. Harbor Island? What For? You haven't been there, have you? It's just an industrial rock sunk into the southern end of Elliott Bay, an ignored exit off the West Seattle Bridge. But, oh man, there is so much great junk to see on Harbor Island! Admit it, you've always wanted to get a little bit closer to one of those great, big, view-screwing orange cranes. Guess where they are? That's right, Harbor Island. Or really watch the hustle and bustle of a major port. Again, Harbor Island. But what may be my favorite thing about Harbor Island are the huge mountains of slaughtered cars and smashed metal hunks that populate the yard of Seattle Iron & Metals Corp. This place has its own train tracks to haul away mounds of twisted and abused ore, and it's all moved around by these massive, mean-looking yellow scoop loaders (also on tracks!), the kind that every guy wishes he could hop in the cab of, just once, and yank the levers and make it go. Oh, and there is absolutely no way to tell that you are actually on an island.

9. Sure Is A Lot Of Damn Water Around Here! Don't forget that in Seattle, 20 minutes away may very well be across the water. Go west, across the Sound to the particularly inviting Blake Island Marine Park. Here's a little rock, roughly 5 miles around, which is a very short boat ride from Seattle, but could as easily be in the peaceable San Juan Islands—except for the traffic noise from Southworth and the glow from Bremerton. But never mind that; this is about as far away as you can get from here while still really being here. And it's easy to get to: Rent a boat if you are inclined to do it on your own, from the end of "G" Dock at Elliott Bay Marina. Or pick up one of the tour boats that visits the Tillicum Village on the island, and you'll get a traditional salmon bake dinner for your troubles. Best yet, if you've got more than the 20, push off a kayak from Alki Beach and make the 3-mile paddle to the island. Drift around the silent rocky shores, the log-strewn beaches. Slip from the bucolic splendor of the west side of the island to catch a great vista to the east, including the city's skyline. Do it at sunset. You may thank me later.

10. Up, Up, and AWAY! If you want to get away, and you've only got 20 minutes to do it, what do you do? Pretend you are getting away! Head south on I-5 to the Albro Street exit, get off the freeway, and you're in Ruby Chow Park. Bring a lunch and enjoy your spread on one of the picnic benches conveniently in line with runways 13 Left and Right at Boeing Field. The park is just off the north end of the airfield and affords fanciful views of all types of tony biz jets going to and coming from places like Aspen and Hawaii and Napa. Of course, there is also a healthy number of whiny little Cessnas going to or coming from Renton or Kelso, but ignore those. And when you tire of objects in motion, it is a quick jaunt to the Museum of Flight (9404 E Marginal Wy) for viewing of motionless but really cool aircraft. In addition to lots of educational and interactive exhibits, $8 gets you up close with more than 50 vintage or otherwise significant aircraft. Twenty minutes and a world of aviation away, you're out of Seattle and enjoying the true Jet City.

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