How to See Your Own City Through the Eyes of a Tourist

Ashley Steel's picture

How can you help your kids explore other cultures when you don’t have the time or money to travel? And how can you capture that wonderful combination - the challenge of a new experience and the joy of exploration - that you experience when you’re “on the loose” if you’re actually on a budget or on a schedule? 


Travel in your own city! Wake up and head out to a café for breakfast with a map, a bus schedule, a daypack (snacks, diapers, weather protection), and maybe even a guidebook. Don’t forget good walking shoes and a camera. Even if you don’t have a full day, you can still escape for a few hours.


We recently enjoyed 3 hours of sun without work or school obligations. Instead of sticking close to home or doing errands, we decided to “travel” downtown in our hometown of Seattle, WA. We started at the relatively new Olympic Sculpture Garden. Why don’t we go there all the time? The horizon rested gently on Puget Sound, moderated by the faint faraway mountains. The view was worthy of a very long stare.  As we left the park, we discovered a fascinating fountain. In the fountain, a grown man appears to be welcoming or rescuing or beckoning a young child trapped in a neighboring fountain. We’ve probably driven past this fountain 100 times but were too busy or too distracted to notice the details. When you’re traveling, even in your own city, you pay more attention to those enchanting details. And, since we were traveling, we took the time to sit in the sun-warmed rock lounge chairs and stare at the fountain, trying to determine what the artist was trying to convey.


Olympic Sculpture Garden, Seattle


Olympic Sculpture Garden, Seattle


Next stop, Pike’s Place Market! But again, instead of racing to grab a few favorite items, we behaved like tourists. We looked at the art on display, we chatted with the artists, and we sampled the wares: delicious flavored hazelnuts, almonds, honey, cherries, jams, spreads, and slices of fresh peaches. We enjoyed a giant hunk of smoked salmon as a sample too and then decided to buy an even bigger hunk  as the foundation of a picnic. We hit the bakery of course because, as travelers, we were walking miles and needed, really needed, to make sure we had a nice cookie to finish off our picnic. We collected cherry tomatoes, peaches, and cheesy scones. Then we perused the shelves of the gourmet deli until we stumbled on cucumber soda and lavender chocolate. 


Pike's Place, Seattle


Picnic from Pike's Place, Seattle


With one hour left in our adventure, we started back to the sculpture garden, sipping our ice cold cucumber sodas, carrying too many bags, and getting just a little bit lost. When we finally arrived back at the sculpture garden, we accidentally wandered into a dead end path that led only to a giant square sculpture … and we got the giggles. For a moment, we actually were in a foreign city, experiencing something wacky and intriguing. Eventually we composed ourselves, regained the main path, and located a sunny bench with a view. We sat with our picnic, did a bit of people-watching, and thought about the joy of traveling. We did all that in 3 hrs and for less than the cost of a taxi to the airport.


Puget Sound, Seattle


Round out your “travels” by sending postcards to friends, visiting a museum you’ve never been to before, asking directions (maybe in another language if you can manage it), collecting brochures (send them to a friend as an invitation to visit), eating locally-famous food, or splurging on a real tourist activity – a duck tour or wax museum. Make a photo scavenger hunt! How many of the famous icons in your nearest big city have you actually visited anyway? It took us over a decade to arrive at the top of the Space Needle. Why wait so long!? Travelers see places with new eyes. Take the time to visit your hometown with new eyes.


Seattle scavenger hunt


Post script: After writing this post, we felt so inspired that we headed downtown again the next day!  We hopped a duck tour. It was a quack-up (yes, it was a funny experience full of really bad jokes). The tour guide worked hard, adding lots of personal anecdotes and silly songs. We blew into our quackers whenever we pleased. Even our teenager was willing to quack and be silly. Along the way, we learned some neat facts about Seattle, too. We toured the lake, watched stand-up paddle boarders drift along, and saw the houseboat from Sleepless in Seattle. We also passed by that fountain from the day before only to discover – with screams of delight – that the boy was now free of the water and the man was trapped inside. Wonderful! After the tour, we wandered through town and eventually caught a Mariner’s game. We invested in cheap hot dogs outside the park for dinner and our cheap seats afforded us a gorgeous view of the Seattle skyline as the sun set on a clear, unseasonably warm evening. 


Seattle duck tour




Seattle Mariners stadium





Ashley Steel is the Traveling with Kids Editor for Wandering Educators. Ashley co-curates  She and her husband Bill wrote “Family on the Loose: The Art of Traveling with Kids” just published by Rumble Books and available on (,, and all the channels. 

All photos copyrighted by Bill Richards and E. Ashley Steel 2013.