For you U.S. domestic travelers out there, may I suggest Seattle?
Highlights: Coffee, beer, natural beauty, relaxed vibe.
Lowlights: Surprisingly bad public transit. Aren’t you guys supposed to be a bunch of eco-liberal types?
After simmering in Boston all last summer, my fiance and I took ourselves a little break and went to visit friends out West.
Seattle immediately felt more spacious and mellow than our East Coast abode. It’s also a bit more playful, I dare say:
Anybody know what this is? I liked it.
However, its sartorial stereotypes appear to be very true. I got off the plane in a coral dress; my fiance was in a bright-blue button-down. As soon as we hit the streets, a roving band of black-clad youths, armed with sarcasm, yelled some vaguely heckling things at us. I gather that they weren’t making fun of our clothes, but I suspect it was our clothes that drew their attention in the first place.
It was also amusing to realize that my Boston look was actually too sunny for these people. Strange.
Stuff to do
Best: Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour
Early Seattelites engaged in a terrible struggle with the ocean tides that surged in and out of their low-lying town. Seattle wanted to flush its waste to the sea; the sea had other ideas. Poop-related issues weighed heavily on the minds of the city’s founding fathers. Finally, after a fire conveniently destroyed much of the town, they engaged in a massive engineering project to elevate and level off the ground.
The remnants are underground passageways of the old city, and one hell of a foundational tale. You get to wander around the original streets and hear the whole shebang.
Civil engineering projects; economics lessons related to the Yukon gold rush; poop; prostitutes; prostitutes who made sub-prime loans and were actually quite good at it; historical preservation — this tour has it all.
Very, very important
For a stroll: Walk down and up Seattle’s 4th, 2nd and 1st avenues downtown, where you’ll its prettiest buildings and public areas, and eventually come upon the cheerful hub of Pike Place Market. A festive outdoor market, it’s also packed to the gills (heh). It’s fun to pass through and check out the scene, although I’m not much for buying trinkets, sidewalk art, or fresh fish, regardless of whether those fish were flung through the air in a manner pleasing to tourists.
Nature in the city: Discovery Park.
Discovery Park, situated on bluffs by the sea, is a curiosity. There you can walk through deciduous forest, then round a corner to encounter unexpected sea vistas, and grassy hills that look strangely…. prairielike. We also saw an owl. It had its head on backwards, Exorcist-style, and it was watching us. Owls are intimidating.
Hard to get to if you haven’t rented a car — we cabbed it there, but to get home we ended up walking all the way to the neighborhood of Ballard. So, warning: have an exit strategy.
Beer!: The Stumbling Monk
Our favorite bar experience, by far. Up on Capitol Hill, it’s an unadorned corner spot with some battered booths and tables. I was tipsy at that point in our evening, so maybe I’m biased, but this place seemed excellent to me. I couldn’t tell if it was trying too hard not to try very hard, or whether it was genuinely hitting just the right level of not-trying. But who cares? There was a chalkboard menu of delicious Belgian beers, the slouchy midweek crowd was enjoying itself, and so did we.
Also hit up:
The 5-Point Cafe. Motto “Alcoholics Serving Alcoholics Since 1929.” Good pub grub, good beers, and a bargain-priced boilermaker. The staff wears the Seattle uniform of zero colors and greets you brusquely. I was still wearing my girly coral dress and felt out of place, but, unbowed, boldly ordered a dainty little salad anyway. Might as well own it, right? Salad was actually good, too.
Thai food. Like, anywhere. Seattle has tasty Thai food, so just eat it, OK?
Coffee. I actually liked the Cherry Street Coffee House. It’s a local chain and it offered rest and caffeine for me while I was weary, so it has won a place in my heart.
Ballard. A neighborhood in the northwest, where colorful bars and restaurants line the street. A person could spend a happy evening hopping from watering hole to watering hole.
Also also maybe hit up:
Head north from the Pike Place Market for a solid 15-ish minutes, and you’ll reach the Olympic Sculpture Park, which has nice ocean views and some rando sculptures hangin out.
The Museum of History and Industry is the sanitized version of the stuff from the underground tour — it also covers a broader range of stuff, and is therefore less detailed and interesting. Still, the building is indeed impressive (it’s set on the shore of Lake Union) and the eye-catching visual displays fill in any lingering gaps in your knowledge of this city’s past.
And, hm… is there something I’m forgetting? Oh yeah:
That guy! It just sort of peeks out at you randomly as you walk along the street. We didn’t bother going up — we figured it wasn’t worth the cash/effort — but it’s nice to be able to look up and go, “yep, guess I’m in Seattle.” In case you forgot.
Dirty old Seattle, in the underground tour