Where to go for a King Kong view of Seattle

  • By Andrea Brown Herald Writer
  • Thursday, May 22, 2014 6:47pm
  • LifeGo-See-Do

There are many ways to get high in Seattle.

It just depends on how high you want to get and where.

A uniformed elevator operator opens the latticed gate and pushes the brass buttons for the chauffeured ride to the 35th floor Chinese Room and Observation Deck in the century-old Smith Tower.

But you’re on your own at the Columbia Center. Push the buttons yourself to negotiate the two rounds of elevators it takes to soar to the Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor.

The first elevator delivers you to the 40th floor, steps away from the planet’s highest-altitude Starbucks. Grab a latte before meandering around the hallway to board the next elevator to the tallest public observation deck west of the Mississippi River.

Yep, Columbia Center’s viewing platform is higher than the Space Needle.

“The birds look like mosquitoes,” said recent Columbia Center visitor Jonah Tannatt, 7, as he pressed against the window about 932 feet from the sidewalk.

The Space Needle’s observation ring is a mere 520 feet over the Matchbook-looking cars below, while the Smith Tower deck is about 400 feet above the ground. It was the tallest building on the West Coast until the Space Needle was erected for the 1962 World’s Fair.

Each of Seattle’s three towering tourist attractions has it’s own charm.

The Space Needle is space-age funky and ultra-touristy.

Columbia Center, built in 1985, is a sleek monolith of smoked tempered glass and carnelian granite.

Smith Tower is white ornamented terra cotta with old-fashioned elegance.

Columbia Center, in the financial district, and Smith Tower, in Pioneer Square, are worlds apart, yet within blocks of each other.

It’s fun and easy to visit both in an afternoon or evening jaunt. The Space Needle, amid a mecca of tourist attractions, is a few miles away at Seattle Center.

Until a year ago, Columbia Center’s Sky View Observatory was more like a windowed corridor in a high-rise.

Not any more. In a massive renovation, it was expanded for 360-degree viewing, with seating areas and room for 100 people to party.

Informative markers take the guesswork out of what’s what in the expansive view of mountains, islands, bays, towns and landmarks.

“It’s a first place to come for tourists,” said Columbia Center spokeswoman Tamara Wilson. “They can say, ‘There’s West Seattle. Oh, that’s Ballard. There’s the locks.’ It’s helpful.”

Conde Nast Traveler recently named Columbia Center’s Sky View Observatory in their list of the world’s top observation decks. It’s right up there with the Empire State Building, Shanghai World Financial Center and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.

Sky Observatory is completely enclosed, making it ideal in any weather. On a clear day, you can see forever. Well, at least to Bremerton and beyond.

At Smith Tower, you can see, hear and feel the mojo of the city below from the wraparound deck. Rails keep you from falling, but you can still get that dizzy high.

The Chinese Room has a carved teak ceiling and ornate furnishings that were gift from the Empress of China to building namesake Lyman Smith.

The Wishing Chair has a carved dragon and a phoenix. Legend has it that any wishful unmarried woman who sits in it would be married within a year.

Take a seat and give it a shot.

At the pinnacle is a three-story penthouse that is a family’s residence. It’s off-limits to the public.

At the base is a familiar Everett name: Shawn O’Donnell’s American Grill &Irish Pub.

The pub added the second location in Seattle last year.

“It is similar to the one in Everett,” said Chase Van Cotthem, co-owner of the Seattle site with the founder’s son, Shawn Jr.

“Everybody seems to enjoy the corned beef, cabbage and shepherd’s pie. We spend about six hours a day cooking corned beef. A few regulars stop by. We’re making new friends down here, too.”

Andrea Brown; 425-339-3443; abrown@heraldnet.com

If you go

Columbia Center, 701 Fifth Ave., is open 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.

The building has three interlocking concave facades, 8,800 windows, 48 elevators and six escalators. The building occupies a city block.

At the top is Columbia Tower Club, a private club with the cool bathroom you have probably heard people talk about.

Tickets for the Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor are $12.50 adults; $9 military, seniors and ages 6 to 12; free for 5 and under.

For more information: www.skyviewobservatory.com.

Smith Tower, 506 Second Ave., is open daily from 10 a.m. until dusk.

Smith Tower, the southern bookend to Seattle’s skyscrapers, was once the tallest building on the West Coast. It has been an office building since opening in 1914.

Because of concerns about the possibility of a repeat of the Great Seattle Fire, about 8 million pounds of steel was used in the frame for construction. The Observation Deck opened July 4, 1914. Admission was 25 cents.

Tickets are now $7.50 adults; $6 students and seniors; and $5 ages 6 to 12. Free for 5 and under. For more information: www.smithtower.com.

Space Needle, 400 Broad St., is open 9:30 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 9 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 9 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $22 for ages 13 to 64; $19 seniors; and $13 ages 4 to 12; free for 3 and under. For more: www.spaceneedle.com.

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