For many locals, Seattle’s enduring appeal lies in the ease of embracing the outdoors, even within city limits. Its largest green space, the 216-hectare Discovery Park, is a wonderland of rocky beaches, forests and meadows (plus a lighthouse and other sites dating to its origins as a fort). The Loop Trail takes you on a 4.5-kilometre jaunt through these landscapes, including a lookout point for views of the Puget Sound and Mount Rainier. Keep an eye out for seals, great blue herons and other creatures great and small; more than 270 bird species have been spotted. Bald eagles reside to the southeast in Seward Park, amid old-growth Douglas firs, red cedars and madrones.
Opened in 1907 by farmers eager to cut out the middleman, Pike Place Market now welcomes 10 million locals and visitors annually (weekday mornings tend to be least crowded). A 2017 expansion added art installations and a ‘meet the producers’ hall for businesses like Old Stove Brewing Co that make products on-site. At the entrance, you’re greeted by the scent of fresh flowers and the sight of flying salmon slung by fishmongers. For a seafood meal, Matt’s in the Market stands out for its fried catfish sandwich. Beecher’s Handmade Cheese is another favourite, whether for a bowl of mac and cheese or a hunk of its nutty, tangy signature. And globetrotters will appreciate the atlases and accessories at Metsker Maps of Seattle.
Seattle is the birthplace of global juggernaut Starbucks. Amid the city’s rich coffee culture, small-scale purveyors have cropped up, and you won’t find them anywhere else. Across from Pike Place Market, Seattle Coffee Works’ Slow Bar tasting experience gives participants a deeper appreciation for flavour nuances and the art of manual brewing. Victrola roasts its own single-origin coffee and hosts free tastings at its East Pike Street location on Wednesdays. In Capitol Hill, Espresso Vivace’s pavement bar has been a fixture for about 30 years – beloved for its latte art and silky cappuccinos made with northern Italian espresso.
Musicians who come as they are
In the early ’90s, grunge acts Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Soundgarden and Alice in Chains put Seattle at the top of the charts with their angst-ridden lyrics, guitar distortion and fashion (ripped jeans, tartan). Radio station KEXP, the first to play Nirvana on air, has continued to champion local talent, from indie rockers Band of Horses to rapper Macklemore. When you visit Seattle, stop by for a studio tour and browse the vinyl at on-site Light in the Attic Record Shop. As for live shows, the cool kids still want to play The Crocodile, which doubles as a neighbourhood hangout thanks to back bar events like karaoke, and the grander beaux-arts Paramount Theatre.
The freshest catch
How does Seattle do seafood? Let us count the ways. First come regional oysters for slurping at The Walrus and the Carpenter, Renee Erickson’s celebrated small-plates bar in Ballard. Rockcreek casts a wider net, serving mussels from Washington’s Totten Inlet as well as Casco Bay monkfish and Hawaiian tuna, in a fishing lodge-inspired space. In West Seattle, creative omakase menus of sustainable-only sushi await at Mashiko, while Salty’s on Alki serves up a bountiful brunch buffet, including salt-crusted salmon, chowder and Puget Sound clams. Come for the food and stay for its front-row view of Elliott Bay and the skyline.
Seattle operates the country’s most extensive ferry network, and a visit isn’t complete without hopping aboard. Bainbridge Island makes an appealing day trip, only a 35-minute scenic ride across Elliott Bay. Walking up to the main town of Winslow, you’ll pass the contemporary Bainbridge Island Museum of Art and an eclectic mix of boutiques and locavore dining spots – notably Hitchcock, for oysters, salmon and heritage-breed Mangalitsa hogs, and Mora Iced Creamery for blackberry and lavender flavours. To explore the island’s wild side, rent a bike from Classic Cycle or wander the Bloedel Reserve, which shows off the Pacific Northwest’s majesty (towering cedars; blooming meadows; an ethereal moss garden).
Amazon named Seattle ‘America’s most well-read city’ based on sales data – but Seattleites are often fiercely loyal to their preferred indie bookstore. The Elliott Bay Book Company hosts more than 500 author readings a year, and bookworms can while away a few hours browsing its cedar shelves. The Central Library, with a strikingly modern Rem Koolhaus design, and the Alexis Hotel’s Bookstore Bar are other places to curl up with a good read (and, at the latter, a stiff cocktail). Classics come to life through the Book-It Repertory Theatre’s stage adaptations. It’s enough to earn Seattle a UNESCO City of Literature designation, one of only about 30 worldwide.
Seattle-area native Dale Chihuly studied at a Venice glass factory before founding his own school and making a name for his large-scale sculptures inspired by nature. Chihuly Garden and Glass plays off that relationship: the indoor centrepiece is a conservatory soaring enough for a 30-metre-long suspended sculpture in citrus hues; outdoors, his works punctuate an oasis of actual plants. Overhead, the renovated Space Needle features an open-air observation deck with glass benches and a lower level with the world’s first rotating glass floor. Also new is The Spheres, a trio of enormous glass orbs full of 40,000 plants sourced from cloud forests worldwide. It’s part of Amazon’s downtown headquarters and open to the public two Saturdays a month.
Seattle has a quality and quantity of museums on a par with any world-class city. Its most spectacular is Olympic Sculpture Park, a former industrial stretch of waterfront that now showcases installations by the likes of Alexander Calder, Richard Serra and Teresa Fernandez. A path zigzags from the visitor pavilion across former train tracks and down to the rocky shoreline. It’s free and open 365 days a year. Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park is the bucolic setting for the art-deco Asian Art Museum, slated to reopen this year after extensive renovations. They’re both offshoots of the Seattle Art Museum, the city’s cultural grande dame.
Pride of place
Seattle’s rise as a tech hub is remaking the city and fostering debate among old-timers. Even as downtown neighbourhoods change, others like Ballard and Fremont are striving to stay distinctive. The former was founded by industrious Scandinavian fishermen; pay tribute to that heritage at the Nordic Museum and the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, a waterway system for boats and spawning salmon. Ballard’s modern-day workers produce craft beer at Stoup Brewery and jewellery and paper goods sold at Venue. To the east, Fremont has a hip food scene (Kamonegi’s soba noodles are habit forming) but still keeps things weird with its public art – a troll lurks under Aurora Bridge – and freewheeling festivals like the Solstice Parade.