Our ongoing travel series focuses on the less ballyhooed parts of big cities that are wonderful vacation spots. Seattle is one of the USA’s gem big cities, hence its nickname “Emerald City,” but did you know that nearby Bellevue is a fantastic and alternative way to experience this part of the Pacific Northwest? Join our features writer Karen V. Stevens as she takes us on an extended weekend blitz to this fun destination. – Editor
I haven’t taken a real vacation in years. So I decided to give myself a treat and take off to somewhere different for a few days of relaxation and good times.
There are many options with thousands of beaches and hundreds of cruises to choose from. Then there was the option of going to Europe: museums, cafes, glorious food, hot guys with names like Paolo or Lucque… I just wanted to find a place where I could enjoy the excitement of a city and still get healthy fun outdoor time.
My choice was actually very easy to figure out… Seattle, Washington. More specifically, the Eastside of Seattle in a little town called Bellevue. So I convinced my old friend, Stephanie (aka Seattle Road Dog) to join me on my Bellevue exploration vacation.
I’ve visited Seattle many times and each time I limited myself to the city center and never ventured to the other amazing areas that surround it. This time I purposefully chose Bellevue as my destination, a city that is constantly growing but still charming and super clean. For those who don’t know, Bellevue is akin to the Beverly Hills of Seattle, except with less face lifts and Gucci totes.
Bellevue was a farming and rural area before 1940 when they opened the Lake Washington Floating Bridge.
By the way, Bellevue has recently been ranked as one of the best places to live in America by various national media outlets. According to the city’s website, “The city spans more than 31 square miles between Lake Washington and Lake Sammamish, and is a short drive from the Cascade Mountains.” Which is exactly what I looking for. The ability to shop, hike and do watersports and still have fabulous meals and do some damage at the mall.
When flying to the Northwest, you can’t go wrong with Virgin America Airlines. This is how flying used to be. How quickly we forget what it is like being treated as humans while boarding the airplane (and not cattle as if being shuttled into a slaughter truck) by a flight crew that has brains and beauty. Not a drop of snark to be felt. I didn’t get one eye-roll or annoyed sigh, and I admit to being a high-maintanance gal. By the way, if you buy your tickets in advance you can also get a great deal on upgrades to Main Cabin Select. Main Cabin Select is about a $30 extra fee, and you get one free bag checked (checking your bag is $25 in coach), board the plane sooner and more leg room. This is definitely the way to go.
Virgin America might be a drop more expensive than some airlines, but if you are going on vacation why not start it where you take off, not where you land. It really does set the tone of the vacation… think about it and you will realize I’m right!
I suggest getting a rental car if you are staying in Bellevue so you can explore the many secrets of the Eastside. Getting a rental car from Sea-Tac Airport couldn’t be easier, all the agencies are located about a mile offsite in one big facility. A free shuttle will pick you up and delivery you directly to the front entrance. They have all the majors there but I like Enterprise because it was quick and easy… perfect for a vacation. If you pre-pay the gas you don’t have to worry about filling it up before returning (it was about the same cost as if you filled up yourself). I got a very clean and very comfortable Ford Focus that worked great and was worry free.
Bellevue has many great hotel options but my number one choice is the Hyatt Regency. This 4-star hotel has quickly become one of my favorite places to stay. It’s like a regular Hyatt but on massive steroids. And I’m talking the good kind, the ones that A-Rod presumable took. (Without his knowledge of course, wink wink).
Hyatt’s have always been quality hotels but the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue really knocked it out of the park. For such a big hotel it still has an almost boutique-like quality about it. The service and staff are way above par and the rooms are comfortably large enough for two adults who over-packed and over shopped.
I got a room on the 17th floor with a view of Lake Washington… score!
I’m a sucker for a super chic hotel with a big lobby lounge where you can people-watch while sipping on a smooth bourbon before heading out for a night of adult fun.
Since the Hyatt Regency Bellevue is located near the Microsoft campus you are bound to strike up a conversation with some incredibly interesting nerdy techy guy or the next start up billionaire. And don’t be surprised if you come across some of your favorite Seattle sports stars strolling through the lobby on their way to the team bus.
For nightlife, the Hyatt Regency Bellevue houses one of the hotter hangs in the city, Suite, a chic and comfortable restaurant that offers a full bar and big cozy couches where you can watch the game on TV or work on your “game” in the lounge. Within walking (or stumbling) distance are several great local watering holes including: Joeys, Earls and The Parlor along with the more recognizable franchises… but come on, you can go to a Cheesecake Factory anywhere, be adventurous and try someplace new!
Every Friday evening, the hotel offers cocktails in the main lobby and on Saturday afternoons they have a table set up with tasting samples cooked up by the various sous chefs from their in house restaurant, Eques. We just happened to return to the hotel during a desert tasting of two mousses…. Coconut and Strawberry.
Both were delicious, creamy and smooth with just the right amount of sweet. By the way, you are welcome to take as many little plates as you want… we took extra, shhhh!
Dining is also a treat here. Executive chef Brent Martin who oversees all aspects of the culinary operations at the Hyatt Regency Bellevue has been a James Beard nominee and even cooked for the Dalai Lama, not too shabby for a little town on the Eastside of Seattle.
And if you want to host and event at the Hyatt Regency in Bellevue, you can have over 70,000 feet of event space to choose from. The most in the city.
Good news for shopaholics, the Hyatt Regency is attached to the Bellevue Collection which is just a fancy way of saying a super chic mall. With over 250 shops, from the Tesla store to Façonnable and Tiffany to Orogold Cosmetics, you can make a nice dent in your bank account. The Hyatt and The Collection are joined together by a series of sky bridges so you never need to brave the Northwest rains for a day of killing your credit cards.
If you want to get a more natural form of exercise than mall walking, there are plenty of walks and hikes within the city limits. Just a few blocks from the hotel is the Bellevue Downtown Park,
20 acres of greenery and a great place to get some clean air in your lungs on the half mile strolling path or you can toss a ball with your dog and… if the mood strikes you… play a piano on the one provided by the parks and rec department. I opted to save the locals from my Tea For Two rendition.
For the more adventurous hiker, there are many trials to choose from in the City of Bellevue. We decided to explore the Coal Creek Park Trail.
I would suggest parking at the YMCA (which has nice clean bathrooms) off of Newcastle Golf Club Road and starting from there. Within a few feet of the trailhead I could swear I was in the middle of a fairytale forest… no more city sounds, just nature. (There are no trashcans or water fountains so bring your own and don’t litter!)
About a half mile into the trail we got to enjoy a little snack from Mother Nature, sweet and cool blackberries that grow wild along the way.
I am not a berry person, but can I just give a shout out to the Man upstairs for gifting us with these treasures? We even saw some locals picking them to make homemade jam! We did about 4 miles and got a nice work out. There are hills and bridges and waterfalls and some fun surprises, like this mossy tree that looks like a boar’s head.
The Coal Creek Trail is easy to do and worth the time. We went in the middle of the week so it was relatively empty and perfectly serene.
If you want to venture outside of Bellevue, Renton is just south and home to Boeing and the Seattle Seahawks.
Boeing offers small group guided factory tours but be sure to check with the website as there is a long list of no-nos, (no personal items, no photography, no small children and you can’t drive yourself there). For something a little more sporty, The Seahawks had open practices a few days a week for fans at the start of the season.
Check out their website to see times and dates if still offered.
If you are a runner or a gym rat like me, then about 15 miles north of Bellevue in Bothell is the Brooks Shoe Outlet. Brooks makes my favorite work out shoes and this is the only place in the country where you can get their best sellers at outrageous discounts.
I have discovered the most wonderful place for your next visit to the Northwest for the fancy gym rat. There are only 11 Lululemon outlet stories in the country and one of them is off Highway 5 about an hour south of Canada in Burlington, Washington. It’s the same quality and styles at the regular Lululemon stores but far less expensive! And, if you see something you like at your local Lululemon, you can call Kelsey or Jeffrey to see if they have it at the outlet yet and they will ship it to you for free. If they don’t have it, they will keep your information and let you know when it comes in.
Not surprisingly for the area, we were caught in a summer deluge and I was in desperate need of a rain jacket. If this happens to you, run into a Pro Shop, you can satisfy your rain jacket needs and pick up sports souvenirs at the same time. You can find Pro Shops throughout the city. Weather your team is the Mariners, the Seahawks, Sounders or the Sonics, you will find merchandise there.
Coming up, I review one of Bellevue’s favorite brunch spots and get the secret recipe for their newest buffet surprise.