As one of the country’s most famous travelers, Rick Steves has seen much of the world, and yet, “I’d live nowhere else but Edmonds."
“I have a heritage here in Edmonds,” he continues. “I’m looking out my window at the field I ran around on as a 7th grader. I was the slowest runner,” he adds with a laugh. “At that City Park, I spent years with kids, watching fireworks, going to festivals.”
On a trip to Europe, he became fascinated with other cultures and places. Sitting on a bench in an Oslo park, Steves realized his ethnocentric, teenaged view of the world was myopic and that people around the world had rich and meaningful lives with dreams of their own. He decided to travel on the cheap, riding trains overnight to avoid the cost of a hotel, and couch-surfing by the good graces of newly-minted European friends.
In the intervening years, Steves became a household name, described by The New York Times as a “legendary PBS superdork.” The same piece declared Steves “miraculously untouched by the need to look cool, which of course makes him sneakily cool.”
It wasn’t long before Steves had created a travel empire, now employing around 100 people — many of whom he paid to do volunteer work in the community during the pandemic. How “sneakily cool” is that?!
Steves may tell travelers where to find the best mom and pop restaurant in Europe, but it’s the mom and pop that captivate his interest. It’s the people who make the threads of a community, and their hard work and creativity that weave it all together. And that’s what Steves celebrates — whether it’s in Europe or Edmonds.
“The small businesses I love in Europe are personality-driven,” he says. “And it’s that same thing that makes Edmonds great. It’s heroic people who do what’s going to make the fabric of our community stronger.” Great communities like ours don’t just happen. These community drivers sit in meetings all year long to create festivals and events that “carbonate the whole business community.”
“The mom and pops, creative ventures and one-offs — that’s the beautiful thing about Edmonds. I’m impressed by the resilience and heartiness of those businesses. That’s what makes Edmonds Edmonds — it’s these labors of love that are called businesses. We patronize those businesses, because we know you can shape your future by how you consume. I really like it when I go to a restaurant or a cafe and I am served by the owner.
“That esprit de corps is the fertile soil from which the arts are viable — the cultural soil, the economic soil, and the community soil,” he says.
Then there is this sense of place. He takes walks to parks that are honeycombed with forested walking trails. From there, he follows Main Street to the “classic town square at Fifth and Main” — which reminds him of his travels in Europe — and on down to the ferry dock and the beach.
“The environmental ensemble makes Edmonds such a great spot. I hear the trains coming and going, reminding me there is a bigger world out there. Ships come and go, reminding me that this is the gateway to the Pacific Rim. Cruise ships to Alaska go by, as we are the gateway to Alaska,” he says. All this he can see from the windows of his home atop a bluff, with a view of the waterfront and the Olympic Mountains. For Steves, every sunset on the Olympics is a devotional…especially during the pandemic.
“There is this sort of connectedness with the environment and with our heritage and history of our community today,” he muses.
Steves would know about that heritage. He grew up in Edmonds. His father was the school band director and would take his students to perform downtown on weekends and for special events — something successive band teachers continue to do.
His family’s piano store is now the location of ChurchKey Pub, and it’s where the Rick Steves Europe staff now gathers for after-work camaraderie.
By traveling, we connect, Steves says, and people connect in Edmonds by creating the environment that draws neighbors out. The pubs and restaurants, festivals, music on the streets, holiday trolley, and waterfront walkways are all part of that community fellowship.
“When I have not been able to travel, I have made a point of employing my traveler’s mindset right here at home. A good traveler is curious, gets out of their comfort zone, and tries new things. They dust off old passions and discover new ones,” he explains. Whether you travel across the sea or just across your home town, he notes, you can take home those souvenirs of a broader perspective, embracing life in all its diversity.
Steves and his sweetheart take regular walks to the ferry dock from downtown, stroll the beach, and “see the birds, like little sentient beings, lining up on driftwood.” The Underwater Park and Marine Sanctuary leave him to wonder about the underwater treasures that can’t be seen from his shore-side view.
Where Sunset Avenue turns, the couple always stops to rest on a bench. Just as he sat as a teen on the Oslo park bench and reflected on his life and others’, the Sunset Avenue bench is also a place of reflection. “It’s our peaceful place to rest. To be thankful. And to marvel at how blessed we are to call Edmonds home.”
Images by Matt Hulbert