USA

A Height-Phobic’s Guide to Visiting Seattle’s Iconic Space Needle

The Space Needle is perhaps Seattle’s most iconic and recognizable landmark.  I’ve been up a few times in the very distant past, and don’t recall liking it.  That had nothing to do with the quality of the experience that generally comes with visiting the Space Needle. Instead, it had everything to do with my intense dislike of heights.  And I remember the last time I braved a ride to the top of the Space Needle – probably 30 years ago – I discovered that the floors of the outdoor observation deck slanted just a little downward towards the outer edge.  I really didn’t like that.  I was already nervous about the height, but I remember that slant also really concerning me.  It seemed to direct me right towards the Space Needle’s 520 foot drop.

I’ve been to Seattle a few times over the ensuing years, but haven’t gone up again. As I contemplated activities for our recent trip to Seattle, I quickly crossed visiting the Space Needle off my list. But then I thought – Hold on….. I put aside my anxieties and went up in a Cessna for an air tour of Kauai, and survived.  And I ignored my inability to swim, went snorkeling in St Croix, and loved it.  So certainly, I could muster up the courage to visit the Space Needle once again.

An upward view while visiting the Space Needle

Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links.  If you buy something after clicking one of these links, I may earn a small commission.  This does not cost you anything extra and helps support this blog.

A Spontaneous Decision to Go Up

I almost talked myself out of visiting the Space Needle.  In the days before our July trip,  I read online about long lines and people crowded into the waiting area.  And this was reportedly occurring despite the Space Needle’s assigned-time reservation system. Given that our visit coincided with the surging Delta variant of the coronavirus, I decided that I had no interest in long tightly packed indoor lines, and so crossed visiting the Space Needle off our list.  

Upon our arrival to Seattle, touring the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum was a top priority.   It sits immediately next to the Space Needle within the grounds of the large Seattle Center complex.  When we arrived at the Center’s grounds to tour the Glass Museum, I looked over to see those reported long lines at the Space Needle.  And there did not appear to be any!  This was 3:30 on a beautiful summer Wednesday afternoon. There were a few people at the ticket kiosks, but the outdoor rope maze erected to direct traffic was empty. Just a trickle of people going though.  And looking inside the entry building, I couldn’t see an appreciable line either.  So spontaneously, I decided to go up. This turned out to be ideal. I had no time to worry.

The main entrance while visiting the Space Needle

Getting Tickets and Some Brief History

Tickets to visit the Space Needle can be purchased online with an assigned 15 minute time frame for entry.  You can alternatively purchase a ticket from the self-serve kiosks outside the entrance.  These also assign a time for entry based an availability, but assigned times were available for the current 15 minute block, and we walked right in. The cost is $35 per person, but a discounted ticket is also available if visiting the Chihuly museum on the same day.  The combo ticket is $57 (saving $13 off the two separate entry fees)

After entering the building, a ramp took us past a collection of photos presenting the Space Needle’s history.  I won’t go into all the details here, but just a couple of quick points.  The Space Needle was built in 1962 for the World’s Fair.  The designers wanted to depict a Flying Saucer.  When finished it was the tallest building west of the Mississippi.  And the observation deck sits at 520 feet.  The Space needle underwent a renovation a few years ago that added a second rotating glass-bottom observation deck called The Loupe.  Apparently, it’s the world’s only rotating glass floor. And unsurprisingly, as I made my way up the ramp, I was pretty unsure if my height anxiety would allow me to experience the world’s only rotating glass floor or not.

You Know How They Like to Take Your Picture at These Attractions?

Before heading over to the elevators, we had the option to have our photo taken as is common at popular tourist destinations.  This photo is included in your admission price and you simply download it at your convenience.  Because of the pandemic, masks were required everywhere indoors at the Space Needle, and so our faces were masked for our photo.  I found that certainly the best part of this photo opportunity was the ability to change our background on the photo website. So I now present a partially accurate photo story about our journey to visit the Space Needle…..

Riding the Ferry to see the Space Needle (we didn’t)
Arriving at the Seattle Center…. from about 150 feet in the air
On the Observation Deck (I look much calmer than reality – just wait…)
And then the angle on this background is a little odd – have we fallen over the edge, calmly on our way down?????

My Memory Was Correct – There Really is a Slant

With photo taken, we then headed over to the elevators. Here we were directed to stand and wait for a specific one.  The Space Needle’s outdoor elevators can be seen scaling the center of the Needle all day long.  Once inside one of these, it takes 41 seconds to reach the top.  The elevators are covered in windows, so you get views all the way up. 

Entry and elevators at the Space Needle
While in the elevator riding up to the top of the Space Needle
From inside the elevator on the way up

The elevator let us off on the top observation floor.  Here, we stepped outside onto the outdoor viewing area.  This observation area has a “floor-to-ceiling” glass barrier all the way around, but open air above (no ceiling). And yes, my memory did serve me right.  There is a noticeable slant towards the edge – probably subtle for some, but very noticeable to me.

The great view towards downtown Seattle from the top outdoor observation deck while visiting the Space Needle

But, I actually did fairly OK on this level with minimal anxiety.  I was able to stay closer to the center structure for most of my time and still enjoy the view.  I did manage to sit along the edge for a photo.  And as you would expect, the views towards downtown Seattle and out across the Puget Sound are fantastic.

Sitting on the edge of the outdoor observation deck while visiting the Space Needle

The Fear Can Be Seen in My Eyes

With the main observation deck experienced, I wasn’t so sure at this point about visiting the see-through lower level. Wasn’t a triumphant return to the slanting floor enough? No…I convinced myself to at least check it out briefly.  An internal staircase connects the two observation decks, and we walked down to the lower level.  I immediately noticed that the entire floor was not see-through, and this immediately helped ratch my courage up a notch.  Only certain areas along the length of the floor are cut out and covered with glass.  I found that I could easily stand back and look down without too much issue.

The view from the Space Needle's Loupe observation deck
Views out and views down on The Loupe
Looking down to Seattle Center from The Loupe while visiting the Space Needle
Chihuly Glass and Garden as seen from 500 feet above. Also note that you can see the inner workings of the rotating floor

But standing directly on top of the glass portions was another matter entirely.  I wasn’t sure if I could do it. My palms were sweating and my heart was racing as I stepped out over the drop below.  You can actually see the fear in my eyes in the photo below.  But I did it….long enough for photographic proof, and then quickly back to my favorite kind of floor….non-transparent. 

A scared Thorough Tripper standing on the see-through Loupe while visiting the Space Needle

Final Thoughts and Tips

All in all, we spent about 45 minutes visiting the Space Needle, from the time I decided to suck it up and go, to our return to earth.  Was it worth it?  Especially given that it costs $35 for the short time?  Yes, the views are great, and I’m glad I experienced the see-through floor.  Plus, I’m sure that many visitors stay longer.  In fact, there is a lounge on the see-through level. 

Would it have been worth it had the lines been long?  Mmm…maybe not by itself.  But the Chihuly Glass and Garden combo ticket does reduce the price some.  And you really shouldn’t miss viewing Dale Chihuly’s amazing work.  Be aware though that the museum closes in the early evening, while the Space Needle stays open until 11pm.  So plan your overlapping visits accordingly.  

And to learn more about another great activity in Seattle, check out my post about touring the Ballard Locks by boat.

A view of the Space Needle from Chihuly Garden and Glass
From inside the Glasshouse at the Chihuly museum

18 Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *