Seattle, Washington, sometimes called the Emerald City, is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. Over the last 20 years, Seattle has become significantly more developed and less seedy with the massive influx of dirty money, but Pioneer Square is still the original Skid Row (Denny Way was a "Skid Road" for logs being dragged from the forests down to Arthur Denny's lumber mill near Elliot Bay).
The city is a damp green gem, with water and trees everywhere, and on clear days, spectacular views of the Olympic Mountains across the Puget Sound to the west, and Mount Rainier and the Cascades to the east. Within the city limits, you will rarely be more than 100 yards from an espresso stand.
The weather can be rainy (usually just drizzly) any day of the year. Even the Fourth of July is not exempt from rain, but August and September are often sunny and sometimes even hot. The short and gloomy winter days would be less unpleasant if it would snow instead of hovering above freezing but below 40 degrees. As long as you don't kill yourself during the winter, the long, light summer days make up for the depressing winters.
Seattleites nearly always describe a location in terms of what "neighborhood" it is in. This is partly because of a potentially confusing system of street addresses (see #Getting Around). The breakdown into neighborhoods is mostly informal, and while there are often signs on major arterial roads to let you know that you are "entering" a particular neighborhood, the placement of these signs is rather arbitrary.
The map at right shows most of the neighborhoods that are most likely to concern a tourist. Some others that may crop up are:
- Sodo - 0riginally "South of the Dome", referring to the now-demolished Kingdome. To keep some sense in the name, it is sometimes explained now as "South of Downtown".
- Denny Regrade, South Lake Union, Cascade, Eastlake - As you go north and east from Belltown and then curve north around Lake Union, you imperceptably move through the Denny Regrade, South Lake Union (a.k.a Cascade), and finally Eastlake. The boundaries are vague, but you will regularly hear locals use these names to explain where something is.
Leschi and Madrona each include both part of the Lake Washington waterfront and the adjacent hills. Upper Madrona has a nice little shopping district; Leschi is mainly of interest for its waterfront parks.
The International District is also known as the "I.D." or "Chinatown". The University District is often called just the "U. District" and the adjacent University of Washington is simply "the U" or "U. Dub".
"The East Side" means the suburbs on the other side of Lake Washington.
Seattle's street designations make sense once you understand them, but unless you do understand them, you can end up many miles away from your destination. Can you find NE 45th Street and 45th Avenue NE? What if it were written more compactly and confusingly as "NE 45th and 45th NE?" How far would "1401 45th SW" be from "1401 NE 45th?" (answer: 11 miles and 20 minutes driving)
The North/South streets are called "Avenues" and the east/west streets are called "Streets."
Additionally, the city is divided into a tic-tac-toe grid:
NW | N | NE
W | ... | E
SW | S | SE
Street addresses in each sector are written with the area name BEFORE the street's number, e.g. NE 45th Street or NE 45th.
Avenue addresses in each sector are written with the area AFTER the avenue number, e.g. 45th Avenue NE or 45th NE.
So NE 45th and 45th NE is an intersection, does exist in the northeast part of the city, and turns out to be on the edge of Laurelhurst Park.
You might also find your navigation complicated by a body of water (canals, lakes, the Puget Sound), the lack of a freeway (I-5) overpass, or a steep hillside.
All in all, it's probably worth a few bucks to carry a map when you're trying to find an address.
Neighborhoods are important to Seattleites and can be a good sanity check when you're looking for an address. A Seattleite would describe 1401 45th SW as being in West Seattle, and 1401 45th NE as being in the U District (University District). A few major neighborhoods include Ballard and Fremont to the west, the U District and Greenlake to the north, Queen Anne and Capitol Hills northwest and east of downtown, and the ID (International District/Chinatown) and CD (Central District) to the south and southeast. Oh, and West Seattle is relatively inaccessible to the southwest of downtown, separated by Elliot Bay.
Ways to Get Around
- Metro Transit (electric or diesel city buses) actually works pretty well. The web trip planner is straightforward and accurate, as long as your bus is on time. Metro is also a cheap, if a little slow way to get from Sea-Tac (the airport) to downtown. $1.75 one way, roughly 30 minutes plus 10-15 minutes waiting at the airport.
- On weekends, you can often rent cars for well under $20/day. I've found $9.95/day weekend specials using Enterprise.
- Bicycling is better than in most cities, except for the damp roads and frequent rain. Buy yourself some Gore-Tex raingear at REI's Flagship Store (222 Yale Ave). Drivers don't actively try to kill you as in, e.g., Pittsburgh.
- Space Needle - the most expensive elevator ride in America. You can get a comparably good view for free from Bhy Kracke Park (pronounced "By Crackie") atop Queen Anne Hill. There is an (also expensive) restaurant near the top that completes one revolution per hour as you eat. The sensation of looking up to discover a different view than when you looked down a few minutes ago doesn't nauseate most people.
- Monorail - Not as bad a deal as the Needle. If you need to get between Downtown and Seattle Center, it's perfectly good transportation and kind of cool, but it doesn't go anywhere else. The 1962 Alweg monorail probably won't be there much longer, because it's being torn down to build a more extensive one.
- Pike Place Market - An enormous working public market and popular tourist draw. Much good food to be had. The selection of fresh flowers and vegetables is excellent. And yes, they really do throw the fish around. Downstairs, there are creepy, dusty corridors full of obscure little shops below the more trafficked areas, and the cramped Parrot Store even further downstairs (on 1st Avenue) is worth the $0.50 admission if you like Parrots.
- Museum of Flight, near Boeing Field. The name tells you right away whether you personally will find this interesting.
- Troll under Aurora Bridge (Aurora Bridge is Hwy 99 as it crosses Lake Union just north of downtown, and it's legally the George Washington Memorial Bridge, but no one uses that name.) The troll is under the north end of the bridge, in the Fremont neighborhood. Fremont itself is a worthwhile place to walk around and browse/eat.
- Snoqualmie Falls (east of Seattle on I-90).
- Broadway on Capitol Hill, and the Pike/Pine corridor leading up from downtown to the Hill. Hipster central. In good weather, this is the best people-watching in the West. Sit down at a sidewalk cafe and watch the scenesters.
- The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks' (a.k.a. Ballard Locks): boats, a salmon ladder, and beautiful gardens, just west of the built-up center of the Ballard neighborhood. Buy greasy but delicious fish and chips at The Totem House (3058 NW 54th St, (206) 784-2300), then walk across the street and railroad tracks to the locks and feed your extra fries to the gulls.
- Little Saigon - centered at 12th and Jackson.
- Seafair runs in August, with the unpredictable Seafair Pirates kidnapping women (seriously) and plundering the town, starting with the Torchlight Parade (scheduled for July 31 in 2004). The hydroplane races and the Blue Angels bring fast boats and fast planes to Lake Washington.
- Mountain biking. Try riding "The Tapeworm" in Philip Arnold Park in Renton, southeast of Seattle. Other trails are in this park, as well.
- Take a ferry to Bremerton and back. Almost 2 hours on the water, in a place as scenic as the Aegean Sea, walk-on passengers a little under $6 round trip.
- Visit the Center For Wooden Boats (1010 Valley St at the south end of Lake Union, (206) 382-2628) and poke around boats in various stages of restoration, from big broken hulks to gorgeous polished speedsters.
- Rent a canoe from the WAC (Waterfront Activities Center, (206) 543-9433, at the University of Washington, a quarter mile south of Husky Stadium) where parking will suck except after noon Saturday. Open to the public (cheap, under $2/hr) and students (super-cheap). Paddle across the Lake Washington Ship Canal into the Arboretum and watch ducks, geese, swans, random migratory birds, and lots of other boats. If you're an experienced sailor, you can also rent a sailboat after a checkout with their staff.
Seattle is the home of Starbucks and of SBC (now owned by Starbucks) and Tully's, but you can do a lot better for both coffee and atmosphere. There are over a hundred good locally owned coffeehouses, which contribute greatly to making Seattle what it is. Some of the more notable are:
- Zeitgeist at Second Avenue Extension and Jackson Street in Pioneer Square (+ three other locations). Elegant and arty.
- Zoka, in what is variously known as the Meridian District or Tangletown, between Wallingford and Green Lake. Studenty place, great desserts, and they roast their own coffee.
- Victrola, 411 15th Avenue East on Capitol Hill. Neighborhood place in a hip neighborhood.
- Espresso Vivace Roasteria, 901 E Denny Way on Capitol Hill. Where Victrola gets their beans. Arguably the best roast in town. Their beans, plus Top Pot doughnuts, are available at the sidewalk Vivace on Broadway between Harrison and Thomas
- Top Pot Doughnuts (and Coffee, of course). (609 Summit Ave E near Mercer, (206) 323-7841). Walk down from Broadway for free wireless internet access and a quick grease, sugar, and caffeine high. There's a handy tavern next door, too.
- Coffee Messiah near the corner of Olive Way and Denny on Capitol Hill, ten minutes walk (uphill) from Downtown. There is nothing like it. Religious kitsch, live entertainment most evenings, and a crowd that somehow manages to be both hip and welcoming. Get a tattoo next door.
- B&O Espresso, 204 Belmont Ave. E. (Capitol Hill), 206-322-5028, Great desserts and more recently, great lunches and dinners. The menu seems to be evolving as of early 2004.
- C & P Coffee Company (in West Seattle, (206)933-3125). Offers awesome coffee from Lighthouse Roasters, free wireless access and live music.
Bars and Taverns
In Washington, "bars" have a full liquor license, "taverns" are restricted to beer, wine and cider. These are bars, unless otherwise noted.
- The Baltic Room, 1207 Pine St. (Capitol Hill), a rather elegant and reliably hip DJ club (and occasionally a live music venue, though less so than in past years). Just across the I-5 freeway from downtown. Cover varies.
- The Cha Cha Lounge, 506 East Pine St, Capitol Hill, a few blocks east of the Baltic Room and on the other side of the street, is a weird cross of dive-y bar and trendy spot. Your bartender may have had an album in the charts circa 1992.
- Cyclops, 2421 First Ave (Belltown), good, hip (but not ultra-hip) bar, and not a bad restaurant either. Interesting neo-retro decor. The Ace Hotel is upstairs.
- The Pink Door, 1919 Post Alley (Pike Place Market), reasonably good Italian restaurant, but it's a better bar, with a rather European market ambiance and a trellis-covered outdoor deck. Occasional cabaret-style live entertainment, no cover.
- Ivar's Acres of Clams Seafood served indoors and out at a scenic downtown waterfront location popular with tourists -- eat with the seagulls! Inexpensive.
- Ivar's Salmon House, north of Lake Union, a good waterfront bar and an impresive neo-longhouse interior.
- Ray's Boathouse and Ray's Cafe, on Shilshole Bay west of Ballard; great views and, in the downstairs Boathouse restaurant some of the best seafood cooking in the city, priced accordingly. Upstairs, the Cafe is more casual, the food is good but not comparable to downstairs, and you can keep it to $20 a person.
- Upmarket Asian fusion food at Wild Ginger (just north of the Symphony Hall at 3rd and Union) and
- Monsoon (obscurely located on 19th E, on the far side of Capitol Hill from downtown).
Both noisy, both great.
Seattle is not known for Mexican food, but
- Agua Verde, (Boat Street) on Portage Bay between Lake Washington and Lake Union, just south and west of the University of Washington is a standout, attractive but informal, with creative, contemporary Mexican cooking, including a lot of great vegetarian and seafood options.
- Mama's Mexican Kitchen (2234 2nd Ave between Blanchard and Bell) is not as innovative, but has plentiful portions of decent food and a fun, festive atmosphere.
Chinese seafood restaurants are a Seattle institution popular with locals, many with "live tanks". Not particularly elegant, but the food is great (if a bit venturesome for some tastes). They're closely clustered in or near the ID (International District), also known as Chinatown. (Seattlites have long called it the "International District" or simply "ID", but when the city put oup signs, they didn't want to confuse the tourists, so "Chinatown" has been coming into use."
- Ho Ho
- Hing Loon
- Sea Garden
- Honey Court
Aside from the seafood places, try Top Gun for Dim Sum lunch even on weekdays. (Many restaurants only serve Dim Sum on Sunday midday.) If you aren't a complete master of chopsticks, bring your own fork for the slippery shrimp and rice noodles, because the staff will rarely get around to bringing one. Roving waitresses bring carts of exotic but often delicious food, then stamp your meal ticket each time you select a dish. When you're done, take your ticket up to the register and pay-per-dish.
- Lots of good Ethiopian food with entertaining names ("Yemisser Wat," "Atakilt Aleecha," and "Niter Kibeh") in the Central District.
- Taste of India (Roosevelt Way around 55th Ave NE) is in a funky building that has been amateurishly expanded, but the food is quite good.