Seattle, in the air-conditioned northwest corner of the United States, has a reputation as a rainy place. Yet, in actuality, the city’s rain is a fine mist, rather than the downpour of many other places. It actually rains less in Seattle than in New York.
And in summertime, due to its northern latitude, the city enjoys longer days of sunshine than most places in the United States. From mid-July through September or mid-October, visitors can expect glorious sky-blue days and the deep golden rays of evenings that seem to last forever.
Situated on the eastern shore of the United States’ greatest inland body of salt water, Puget Sound, the city has a maritime feel to it. Whales course through the waters just off downtown, salmon leap at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, where sailboats and commercial vessels climb between the Sound and the Lake Washington Ship Canal, and bustling ferries transport visitors and locals alike to islands and the Olympic Peninsula to the west.
Seattle is also a waypoint for hikers, bikers, climbers, skiers and others who enjoy the rocky trails or snow of the Cascade Mountains (just an hour east) and the Olympic Mountain Range (two hours, including a ferry ride, to the west).
The city is a relative newcomer, as U.S. cities go. In 1851, five families from the Midwest who had traveled on the Oregon trail disembarked from the schooner Exact on the golden sands of Alki (in today’s West Seattle) and began a new life here, opening a sawmill and platting streets for the settlement they envisioned.
In the late 19th century, Seattle was a hard-working seaport. Then, on July 17, 1897 , the steamer Portland docked in the harbor with 70 men who had made it rich panning for gold in the Yukon River. With the Yukon Gold Rush, the city burgeoned overnight with provisioners and settlers on their way to make their fortune.
In more recent history, the city became known as the headquarters of the aerospace giant Boeing, which moved its headquarters to Chicago in 2001. While much of Seattle ’s economy had relied on the aircraft company for decades, the company’s move wasn’t felt as strongly as it might have been, as the city today has a diverse economy with corporate monoliths such as Microsoft, Starbucks and amazon.com, as well as numerous high-tech firms. And it has a thriving retail climate for visitors who have discovered the charms of this outdoorsy, yet culturally sophisticated city that has won national awards for its livability.
Getting around in Seattle is quite easy on Metro buses. If you’re here only for a weekend, there’s no need for a rental car. On the other hand, a car is handy if you wish to explore beyond, to perhaps the rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula, the pastoral San Juan Islands, the Victorian seaport of Port Townsend, the awe-inspiring Mt. St. Helens volcano, or the flower-filled slopes of Mt. Rainier, the region’s mascot mountain that rises just south of downtown, looking like an immense blueberry ice-cream cone.
Bus tours of the top sights of Seattle and the region are available through Gray Line of Seattle (www.graylineofseattle.com). Argosy Cruises (www.argosycruises.com) offers tours of Seattle’s waterways. And for something completely different, consider taking a land/water tour on one of the city’s Ride the Ducks (www.ridetheducksofseattle.com) amphibious vehicles.
To experience the best of Seattle’s many moods over a three-day weekend, consider this “insider’s” sample itinerary, written by a long-time city resident:
Check into the Alexis Hotel (www.alexishotel.com), a downtown boutique hotel known for its richly decorated guestrooms with original art. The hotel overlooks Elliott Bay, with mesmerizing views of ferries and sailboats in front of the snow-capped Olympic Mountain Range. Room rates range from US$ 199 to US$ 329.
After you have checked in, stroll three blocks north to the Pike Place Market, Seattle’s iconic public marketplace where farmers and artisans stock stalls with freshly grown and creatively crafted foods and goods from throughout the region. Be sure to stop by the doughnut machine, where you can watch the doughnuts being made on the spot and sample them, still hot, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar.
Sur La Table is one of the finest kitchen stores you’ll find, with imported linens, thick French casserole dishes and numerous other fun items. Beecher’s Cheese, where you can watch cheese being made, is another local favorite. Be sure to explore the stairways and ramps taking you to lower levels of the market, where you can find everything from a magic store to import shops.
Before you leave the market, stop by Ticket Window (www.ticketwindowonline.com) at First Avenue and Pike Street, to look into last-minute discount tickets for tonight. Venues represented here range from the Bagley Wright Theatre to McCaw Hall (home to Seattle Opera and Pacific Northwest Ballet), with scores of additional options.
Go down the market stairs and cross Western Avenue, then continue down the next set of stairs to the waterfront. Next stop: the Seattle Aquarium (www.seattleaquarium.org). The aquarium has a wonderful tropical fish exhibit with sharks cruising through the water, as well as an underwater sphere in which visitors can view the creatures of Puget Sound all around them. But perhaps the most-well-loved is the mammal exhibits, where you can watch sea otters clutching clams to their bellies and doing underwater barrel rolls.
After, walk south along the waterfront to Pier 55, where an 11:30 a.m. boat departs for a four-hour excursion to Tillicum Village (www.tillicumvillage.com), located on Blake Island, eight miles (13 km) south of Seattle. On the island, you’ll walk up a clamshell-strewn path and into a native lodge, where an alder-smoked salmon feast and a dramatic presentation of Northwest coast Native American culture await. Be sure to take the time to go for a walk along the sandy beaches or through the Douglas fir, cedar and maple forest.
You’ll find yourself deposited back at the dock at 3:30 p.m. There’s just enough time to stroll through the Seattle Art Museum’s vibrant new Olympic Sculpture Park (www.seattleartmuseum.org; opening October 28, 2006), at the north end of the waterfront.
Afterward, stroll the meandering 1.5 mile (2.4 km) waterside pathway in adjacent Myrtle Edwards Park for yet more spectacular Sound and mountain views.
For dinner, walk uphill to acclaimed chef Tom Douglas’ Dahlia Lounge (www.tomdouglas.com), at 2001 Fourth Avenue. Reservations are recommended at this palate-pleasing place. Food & Wine Magazine named the Dahlia Lounge the “Quintessential Seattle” restaurant in 1999. The dining room is draped in sumptuous ruby tones, and the food is presented just as beautifully. Try the famous Dungeness crab cakes, oysters on the half shell or Anderson Valley lamb.
After dinner, it’s showtime! Attend the performance of your choice with the tickets you purchased earlier at Ticket Window. Or, alternatively, purchase tickets online prior to your trip for a taste of Seattle culture. Seattle features a broad array of arts. Among the city’s many options are Broadway musicals at the 5th Avenue Theatre (www.5thavenue.org), an evening of pops music with the Seattle Symphony (www.seattlesymphony.org) and a play at the Seattle Repertory Theatre (www.seattlerep.org). This is your chance to sample your favorite “truffle” from the city’s box of chocolates.
If you are visiting in spring 2007, your first stop of the day should be the newly expanded Seattle Art Museum (www.seattleartmuseum.org), which is closed until then for construction. The museum houses an impressive collection of Northwest Coast Native American art. Ceremonial art, basketry, textiles and carvings here come from diverse cultures in Alaska, British Columbia and Washington.
If you are visiting before then, or if your tastes run toward aviation history, you’ll be drawn, instead, to the Museum of Flight (www.museumofflight.org), the largest aviation museum on the West Coast, with 70 historic airplanes on display and fascinating exhibits about aviation history. The museum is located south of the city, so you’ll need to take a bus or taxi.
Back at the south end of town, the historic district of Pioneer Square offers scores of art galleries, Seattle’s quintessential independent bookstore, Elliott Bay Books, jewelry shops and boutiques, as well as one of the oddest tours imaginable: Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour (www.undergroundtour.com).
When Seattle was built, its citizens experienced plumbing problems with the incoming tide. The city’s solution was to raise the “ground level” up one story. The original 19th century storefronts and passageways are still down there. This tour takes visitors into the subterranean depths of the city for tales of intrigue.
Walk a few blocks east of Pioneer Square to the bustling International District, with its iconic red dragons twined around streetlamps. Here you will find meat shops with ducks hanging in a row, Chinese bakeries, piles of exotic fruits and vegetables in curbside crates and one of the most fun places to spend time in the city: Uwajimaya (www.uwajimaya.com), a massive specialty supermarket and retail complex devoted to all things Asian. Check out the many different patterns of rice bowls, tea sets or other household items. For lunch, the House of Hong (www.houseofhong.com) offers the city’s best dim sum.
In the afternoon, consider a trip up the 605-foot-tall (184 m) Space Needle (www.spaceneedle.com), located at the Seattle Center, a remnant from the 1962 World’s Fair, to catch a 360-degree view of Lake Washington, the Cascades, Puget Sound and the Olympics. Below the needle, be sure to walk around the International Fountain, a massive metal half-sphere that spouts streams of water in time to music. The fun part is watching children run down to its base, seeing how close they can get before the water geysers shift in their direction.
For dinner tonight, it’s the trendy community of Belltown, which boasts an astonishing array of restaurants. Belltown is situated between downtown and the Seattle Center. For one of the best, go to Flying Fish Restaurant (www.flyingfishrestaurant.com), presided over by James Beard award-winning chef Christine Keff. Try their cumin-dusted halibut with grilled potatoes and sweet onions. Or perhaps their grilled organic Wagyu steak (a highly marbled beef from Japan that’s worth its weight in gold). Whatever you select, it will be creative, delicious and memorable.
For sizzling jazz, strut over to Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley Restaurant & Nightclub (www.jazzalley.com), Seattle’s premier jazz showcase that brings in top national acts.
Whether it’s the sultry voice of Seattle’s own jazz classics diva Diane Schuur or the Django Reinhardt Festival, you know if it’s at Jazz Alley it will be exuberant displays of jazz musicianship.
For a special start to your day, have brunch at Café Campagne (www.campagnerestaurant.com), a charming and award-winning French bistro at the Pike Place Market. How about bourbon-brioche French toast served with housemade granola and seasonal fruit? While you’re at the market, pick up foods for a picnic lunch later.
Today is a good day to enjoy some down time in quieter spots. For starters, especially if you have children, a visit to the Woodland Park Zoo (www.zoo.org) is engaging and relaxing. This 92-acre (.37 km²) national-class zoo features award-winning natural habitats for some 300 species of animals. Among the highlights: Jaguar Cove, Tropical Rainforest and Elephant Forest.
Now it’s time to consider whether you’re a water lover or a land lover. If it’s water, head to the Agua Verde Paddle Club and Café (www.aguaverde.com), on Lake Union . Here you can rent kayaks to explore the shoreline of this city lake that’s rimmed by industry, residences and Gasworks Park. The best part? Explore Seattle’s houseboat community made famous by the movie Sleepless in Seattle.
If hiking is more your style, visit Seattle’s expansive Discovery Park (www.seattle.gov/tour/discov.htm), situated on a bluff overlooking the Sound. This 534-acre (2.16 km²) natural area has two miles (3 km) of protected beaches with a lighthouse, sand dunes, forested ravines and dramatic cliffs. The three-mile (5 km) Loop Trail offers a good sampling of these visual delights.
Next stop: The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (www.inballard.com/Webroot/locks.shtml), one of the most-visited attractions in the city, is located in the Ballard neighborhood. Vessels of all sizes pass through this mechanical marvel, which moves them from the higher-level Lake Washington Ship Canal to the lower level of Puget Sound (and vice versa). During salmon runs, this is the place to watch nearly solid walls of fish passing through the fish ladder.
Ballard is Seattle’s recent hot spot for dining, with scores of fashionable new restaurants. The upscale, yet casual Volterra (www.volterrarestaurant.com) has garnered attention on the national scene for its innovative contemporary Italian cuisine. Try to get a spot in the charming courtyard where you can enjoy a dish such as wild mushrooms with truffles or little-ear pasta with lamb ragu.
To watch the sunset on your final day in the city, visit Golden Gardens Park (www.seattle.gov/parks/Parkspaces/Golden.htm), a long sandy beach at the base of bluffs in west Ballard. The view to the west is spectacular, and the experience is enhanced just after sunset, when locals light bonfires and bring out their guitars to celebrate the end of another gorgeous Seattle day.
If You Go
Seattle Convention and Visitors Bureau