Visiting the Space Needle. Credit: JiaYing Grygiel
Editor's note (Aug. 4, 2020): We've just learned that Seattle's Space Needle, our city's signature landmark, has reopened. Like other attractions, it has instituted lots of new safety policies and procedures, including requiring face coverings and advance-booked tickets. Our writer JiaYing Grygiel visited back in 2018 to check out the Space Needle's major renovation. Note that in her original article below, some what she describes won't apply to a visit now, but you can get an idea of of some of the glassy updates!
Original article (Sept. 6, 2018):
Even if you’ve been up the Space Needle before, it’s time for another trip. Seattle’s quintessential landmark underwent a $100 million renovation this past year, and in August, it unveiled the world’s first and only revolving glass floor.
There are now two levels of observation decks: the glass floor at 500 feet, and glass walls and glass benches around an open-air deck at 520 feet. All that glass — 20,000 square feet of it — means that the Space Needle's spectacular view is now even better.
My family and I went to check out the renovations, find out the fun stuff for kids and press our faces against all that glass.
All that glass
The last time I visited the Space Needle was years ago, pre-renovation and pre-kids. I remember it as claustrophobic and somewhat anti-climatic after a long wait in line.
This time, stepping off the elevators was an instant “Wow!” Everything is bright and open now, with clear lines of sight, thanks to all the added glass.
The star here is the 360-degree, panoramic view of Seattle, Puget Sound and beyond. To enhance the view, new glass barriers that tilt outward replaced wire caging on the outdoor observation deck. (The Space Needle’s original design had low glass walls; the wire caging was a later addition.) Inside, floor-to-ceiling glass has replaced low pony walls.
There are 24 new glass benches that also tilt out. When you sit down for a selfie, you’re leaning out 520 feet above the city below. "It is very scary, but you get used to it," we heard a woman reassure a little girl. "I was also scared, but I didn’t fall," she said.
There’s a small gap between each of the glass panels, and my 7-year-old liked to freak out mom by playing this game: What-body-part-can-I-fit-through-the-hole?
There’s a small gap between each of the glass panels, and my 7-year-old liked to freak out mom by playing the game: What-body-part-can-I-fit-through-the-hole?
Ride the Loupe
The observation deck used to be just the Space Needle’s upper level. Now, the two levels are connected by a circular staircase, and you’re welcome to go up and down as much as you like. The lower level, formerly Skycity Restaurant, now features a revolving glass floor called the Loupe. The 37-ton floor makes one revolution every 45 minutes. (A total of 176 tons of glass were used in the renovation.)
Through the glass, you can see the 12 motors turning the floor, watch the elevators and their counterweights coming up and going down… and see all the rust spots on the 56-year-old structure. There are 10 layers of glass in that floor, so hypothetically, even if one layer cracks, there are 9 more layers underneath to catch you. I wouldn’t want to be that person in the stilettos, though.
A full-time crew circles the Loupe with a floor-scrubbing machine. There are shoe scuffs and dirt, which you’d expect, but sunscreen and lipstick too because people pose for pictures laying down. I even heard this admonishment from a parent: "Addison, don’t lick!"
That spectacular view
Looking through the glass, I scanned the skyline looking for that familiar Space Needle profile, then realized, "Oops, I’m on it." We spotted my son’s elementary school and the bridge to our neighborhood. Looking down from that viewpoint, you can plan out your entire Seattle itinerary: Maybe start at the Pacific Science Center, followed by the Olympic Sculpture Park and then a ferry ride?
Even though the air was hazy with wildfire smoke during our visit, everyone was in a good mood. Phones and cameras recorded the experience, and strangers helped each other take group shots. People come from all over the world for this view — almost 60 million visitors have gone up the Space Needle since it opened in 1962. The Space Needle is great for sightseeing tourists, and it’s an even richer experience for Seattle-native children. It’s all the sights you know well and love, from a different perspective.
Continued construction and snacks in space
There are lots of rough edges, visible signs everywhere that construction is still in progress. The renovation was done in sections, so the Space Needle could stay open to visitors during construction. When we visited last week, we saw drywall yet to be hung, empty holes for lighting fixtures and plywood covering unfinished glass benches.
A new "dining experience" will be announced later this year. For now you can buy snacks, beer, wine and coffee at Atmos Café, albeit at sky-high prices. A bottle of water, $3. A bagel, $4. We saw a foreign visitor try to pay for a bag of popcorn with a $5 bill; the cashier shook her head and flashed 10 fingers: $9.81 was the total.
Even with all the glass and the enhanced, sky-high sights, not everyone was impressed. The teens at the next table over were busy ignoring the $100 million view for — what else? — their phones and tablets.
Tips for families
- Make sure the kids snag a spot in the front of the elevator by the window for the 43-second trip.
- The restaurant deal is gone (it used to be your meal was your free ticket to the observation deck) but there are still ways to save on your tickets. Ticket prices vary by time of day and season, so avoid peak times. Go before 10 a.m. or after 8 p.m. to save up to $10. Visit after Labor Day for lower prices and fewer crowds. King County residents with I.D. get a $5 discount when they buy a ticket at the door (not online) between 10 a.m. and 8 p.m.
- We recommend buying tickets online for a specific time slot. If you buy on location and it’s a busy day, it might be a few hours before there’s an open time slot. Once you go up, you can stay as long as you like. Most people average about 60 minutes for a visit.
- The cost of a Space Needle visit makes it a splurge, for sure, but a fun and illuminating special outing, perhaps for when grandparents or relatives are in town.
- Wheelchairs are allowed on the observation decks, but strollers need to be checked.
- Kids ages four and under are free.
If you go...
Hours: Open daily. Sunday–Monday hours are 9 a.m.–9 p.m.; Tuesday–Saturday hours are 9 a.m.–10 p.m.
Tickets: General admission tickets for adults are $27.50–$37.50; youth tickets for ages 5–12 are $22.50–$28.50; and senior tickets for ages 65 and older are $25.50–$32.50. Prices vary by season and time of day. Buy timed tickets online to avoid waiting in line and choose early or later times for slightly cheaper prices. King County residents with proper I.D. can save $5 off admission prices at the door (not online).
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