When I told the locals in my new hometown of Seattle that Mike and I were spending the weekend in Bellevue, the overwhelming response was “why?” Bellevue may be Seattle’s second city, but it a land of sparkling mountains and gorgeous waterways, it’s certainly not it’s most popular weekend destination.
It’s true, Bellevue isn’t overtly flashy or attractive. It actually reminded me a lot of my hometown of Arlington, Virginia. A bustling, hard working place that exists mostly to support this bigger city across the water. It’s best known for being the home of Microsoft, Expedia, and other big corporations (Concur, who I do freelance work for, is also based here). Like Arlington it’s very livable (it was voted 2nd best place to live in the US), but is it very visitable?
Years have travel have taught me that almost everywhere has it’s charms worth discovering, so off Mike and I went to explore our Eastern neighbor. And like I suspected, we actually had a really enjoyable weekend. Here is what I found:
It’s an Easy Trip
This might not be motivation to go in and of itself, but Bellevue is super simple to get to from Seattle proper. You can drive of course, which will take maybe 15 minutes, or if you’re car-free like me, you can take the bus. The trip from our neighborhood of Capitol Hill to Downtown Bellevue took roughly 45 minutes but cost just $2.50.
Once we were downtown we were able to walk to all the destinations we visited.
The Botanical Gardens
Bellevue is very much a city, but the Bellevue Botanical Gardens are a terrific urban escape. 36 acres of gardens including areas dedicated to fuschias, dahlias, meadow flowers and more. There is also a beautiful Japanese garden as well. The park is free and open daily all year round. In the summer there are concerts and more than one local spoke lovingly of the Christmas light displays.
If you’re looking for a bigger slice of nature there is also Mercer Slough Nature Park which is 320 acres.
Old Bellevue Main Street
A lot of the shopping space in downtown Bellevue is dedicated to big chain stores like Crate & Barrel and the Cheesecake Factory, but you only need to walk a few blocks to end up in a quaint old fashion main street. This area was once the original nucleus of small town Bellevue. It’s been decidedly modernized but it’s still a lovely area to spend an afternoon browsing the shops, sampling chocolates at Frans and admiring the artistic glassware at GlassyBaby.
Ah yes, the number one reason to visit anywhere basically. Bellevue has a lot of chains, but also a lot of unique and fun options. We chose to dine at Wild Ginger, a critically acclaimed pan-Asian restaurant with a huge variety of dishes and a “satay bar.” The Wild Ginger Fragrant Duck was tasty but we both went wild for the Seven Flavor Beef. Seriously wild. I haven’t seen Mike that excited about a dish since we were actually in Asia.
It’s Just Very Pleasant
Ambience can really make or break a place. With it’s shopping, outdoors space and lots of public art, Bellevue was mostly just a really pleasant place to escape from the confines of Seattle. It didn’t hurt that the afternoon we visited was the sunniest and warmest day of 2015 so far. In Downtown Park families flooded out to enjoy the ridiculously nice early- April weather, and so did we.
I left Bellevue not exactly blown away but definitely eager to return to visit the Art Museum, some more of the parks and maybe Wild Ginger again. Mike would come back to visit the Tesla store in Bellevue Square (he is dying for a test drive).
You never know what you might discover in your own back yard.
Our overnight trip to Bellevue was hosted by Visit Bellevue.