Paul Reilly: Our insider’s guide to Seattle

Otherwise known as Our Man in Seattle, Paul Reilly is the aircraft production and delivery manager for our 787-9 Dreamliners. He left school at 16 to study for an aircraft engineering apprenticeship, then worked as an engineer for a number of years before joining Virgin Atlantic seven years ago. Responsible for bringing in our modern twin engine fleet of Airbus A330s and Boeing 787 Dreamliners, his biggest challenge is to ensure every aircraft is delivered on time.

But despite the hard work and dedication involved in his role, Paul has always made time to explore the Emerald City and the natural wonders of the Pacific Northwest. So as we prepare to launch our new direct flight from London Heathrow to Seattle today, we invited him to share some of his best experiences and tips. Paul, it’s over to you…

Paul Reilly... at work and at play

Paul Reilly… at work and at play

Paul says… For the past three years I’ve been responsible for managing the delivery of Virgin Atlantic’s 787-9 aircraft and this has meant a large amount of time living in Seattle. During this period I’ve picked up some great tips on places to eat, drink, see and visit in and around the city. Here are a few of my favourite discoveries…

Seafood and sunsets

A short taxi ride north of downtown Seattle is a great seafood restaurant, Ray’s Boathouse in Ballard. There’s a wonderful Pacific Northwest menu including local salmon but what makes this place extra special is the view. You can sit and gaze out west across Puget Sound with the Olympic Mountains in the distance – great in the evening as the sun goes down. Nearby, is the Ballard fish ladder at Chittenden Locks. This route through a canal lock allows the salmon to return upstream and spawn the next generation. View through the glass panes and you’ll see the fish migrating up the ladder from the salt to the fresh water. It’s free, and the best time to visit is between July and September.

The boat to Bainbridge

If you’re staying downtown, head to the seafront (Pier 52) and take a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island. The 35-minute journey offers great views back towards the city and the Space Needle, as well as Mount Rainier to the south. Winslow – Bainbridge Island’s downtown area – has some good shop and restaurant choices, including breweries, coffee shops, ice-cream parlours, and plenty of artisan bakeries. There’s a regular Art Walk on the first Friday of each month, along with seven different wineries – three of which have tasting rooms easily accessible from the ferry terminal.

Fancy a beer

The Pacific Northwest is well known for its craft beer scene. North of downtown Seattle, the Fremont neighbourhood has some fabulous brewers producing hundreds of different beers. Popular with a younger crowd, it’s a great place for a night out. But before too many drinks be sure to stop by the Caribbean-inspired Paseo sandwich shop for something to eat. The most popular menu item is the grilled pork sandwich which is smothered in garlic and caramelised onions, all in a handmade roll. Every local knows about this place!

Movie magic

For something quintessentially American, you could also head for one of the drive-in movie theatres around Seattle. Although they receive great support, they are progessively closing down, so do take time to visit one if you can. My favourite is the Blue Fox Drive-In Theater on Whidbey Island, which requires a short ferry ride from the terminal in Mukilteo, not far from the Boeing Everett factory where both our Boeing 747s and our brand new 787 Dreamliners were made. Stop by and take a factory tour.

A day trip away

Mount Rainier offers exceptional hiking opportunities during the summer months

Mount Rainier offers exceptional hiking opportunities during the summer months

Head south to the mountain that dominates the Seattle skyline (when it’s not cloudy) and take a day trip to Mount Rainier National Park. The peak rises to over 14,000 feet and is still considered one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes. On the way visit the 268-ft Snoqualmie Falls – famed for its appearance in Twin Peaks – which offers great photo opportunities, with a restaurant and coffee shop alongside.

A misty day at Snoqualmie Falls

A misty day at Snoqualmie Falls

When you reach Mount Rainier, if you’re feeling adventurous you can circumnavigate the mountain, where the route provides fantastic lookout points over evergreen forests. Alternatively, head to the Paradise Jackson Visitor Centre on the south side of the mountain for more great views and a variety of wildflower-strewn walking routes.

A view of Mount Rainier taken by one of our captains, Chris Hall, while we were flight testing our first 787, Birthday Girl.

A view of Mount Rainier taken by one of our captains, Chris Hall, while we were flight testing our first 787, Birthday Girl.

Other side trip ideas include the San Juan Islands to the north of Puget Sound, which offer a variety of great escapes. My personal favourite is Orcas Island, with its mixed terrain and vistas. At its centre is the main village of Eastsound, which has a bohemian feel with plenty of restaurants, galleries and craft stores.

Orcas Island, part of the San Juan Islands archipelago

Orcas Island, part of the San Juan Islands archipelago

As the name suggests, it’s an excellent place to go orca, or ‘killer’ whale watching. Reach the islands by heading to Anacortes, around an hour north of Seattle, for the ferry out to the archipelago. A tip: stay on the ferry until the furthest point you want to go, as they only charge when travelling west. This means on the return route you can get on and off for free. If visiting in April, combine your trip with a stop in Skagit County to see the amazing sight of multi-coloured tulip fields.

The tulips of Skagit County

The tulips of Skagit County

If you fancy something further afield, head about 2.5 hours east into the Cascade Mountains towards the Bavarian town of Leavenworth. This place has a real alpine feel and throws a great Oktoberfest serving German beer and pork shanks. If you want to make a weekend of it continue around the Cascade Loop. This scenic route takes you through a perfect mix of open plains, deep mountain gorges and cowboy towns. Just make sure you check the route is clear, as the Washington pass closes at the first snowfall.

Finally, don’t forget that Washington State is renowned for its fantastic red and white wines. Many are produced on the far side of the Cascade Mountains, but to make things easier some vineyards have cellars in the Woodinville suburb, just 20 minutes from Downtown. One of my favourites – and one of the largest – is Chateau Ste. Michelle which produces a wonderful award-winning Dry Riesling that is under $10 a bottle. This vineyard also hosts a series of concerts in its grounds over the summer with acts like John Legend booked this year.

Virgin Atlantic operates a new, direct route to Seattle from London Heathrow. Book your flight today.

About Dave Gunner

Dave is the co-editor of Ruby, the Virgin Atlantic Blog. He has worked at Virgin Atlantic for over two decades. In that time he has amassed some truly epic memories but never lost his fascination with the airline world. Dave's on a mission to bring you some great insights into our people, planes and planet.
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