Somehow, sometime, Capitol Hill became part of the tour of visitors from around the country and around the world checking out Seattle from aboard a hop on, hop off, open-top, double-decker bus. With the buses plying the tight turns of Pike and Pine daily, CHS got on board and checked in on what it’s like to be a tourist in the neighborhood.
“You are now entering the Capitol Hill neighborhood,” the recorded tour message informs riders as they make their way up the Hill. “This area is the unofficial center of Seattle’s LGBTQ community and features some of the city’s hippest restaurants, bars, and boutique shopping.”
“Stop #13,” the voice says. “Capitol Hill and Jimi Hendrix statue.”
Boasting its historic LGBTQ+ support and ample nightlife, Capitol Hill is highlighted as one of many must-see spots in Seattle by City Sightseeing and other city tours. Since 1999, the UK-based City Sightseeing has been busing tourists and locals around more than 100 cities across the world, Seattle included.
Lisa Bouzaglou from Riverside, California, just finished a cruise from Seattle to Alaska and was recommended to take the bus tour by her cruise. She spent most of her time at the Museum of Pop Culture which is at the first stop. Bouzaglou also looked forward to seeing the Starbucks Roastery and enjoyed her time on the tour so far.
City Sightseeing offers three tour routes to choose from — Must-See Seattle, Boeing Field and Historic Georgetown and Scenic Seattle — and also offers a Harbor Cruise to Seattleites and visitors. In total, there are 33 stops highlighting areas throughout the city including the Historic District, Historic Georgetown, Fremont and Gas Works Park. Landmarks like the Space Needle, the Jimi Hendrix statue in Capitol Hill and the Paramount Theatre are also along the route.
A double decker bus picks up and drops off patrons at designated stops every 30 minutes, so participants can hop off at one location and tool around until they’re ready to head to the next spot. The hopping on and hopping off only happens at designated points, however. You’ll find one, of course, across from the popular Starbucks tourist stop on Melrose.
There are both open and closed-top doubledecker busses. With the overhead lines in Seattle at 16-18 feet, the open-top busses come close to the overhead system operating at 700 volts DC. The open-top busses are about 12.5 feet tall, allowing just 3.5 feet between the participants and the electric wires in some places.
20-year-old tour guide Jason Parke says he’s had no issue with people touching the wire or even coming close. Low hanging branches might be another matter.
Larger hazards might be the turn from E Pike onto 10th and then onto E Pine to head back down off the Hill. The tour drivers are usually unnaturally calm about the tight squeezes and close calls. The big red buses have become part of the daily mix of traffic that passes through Pike/Pine.
Parke has been working with City Sightseeing since the beginning of summer selling tickets to the tours. He typically sells to tourists around the Space Needle and at the waterfront. He encourages visitors to join the tour because the tour hits the hot spots and provides an opportunity to get to know the city fast.
“You learn a lot about the city when you’re on the tour,” Parke said.
The recorded tour highlights don’t always stay in synch with the bus’s path but as you come up on stop #12, it is time for Starbucks.
“”Coming up on your left, you’ll see the Starbucks Reserve Seattle Roastery,” the tour narrators reads. “Just nine blocks from the original Starbucks store in Pike Place Market, this Starbucks Roastery opened in 2014 to provide customers with the ultimate coffee experience.”
Meanwhile, farther up the Hill, the neighborhood color becomes a highlight.
“As you will see, in 2015, the city opted to paint the crosswalks of Capitol Hill in rainbow colors,” the voice points out, “in order to celebrate the neighborhood’s LGBTQ culture and its contributions to the Seattle community.”
The season for the Must-See Seattle starts in May and ends in October. Tickets start around $39.
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