Up in the top left corner of the map, Seattle retains a sense of mystery with its slightly isolated location, legacy of grunge music and rumors of non-stop rain. But as any local will undoubtedly clarify, New York annually receives more precipitation than Seattle. It just so happens that the Emerald City receives its rainfall little by little over the better part of nine consecutive months. Locals also don’t mind that this reputation keeps tourists to a relative minimum most of the year.
In the short, sweet summer, though, Seattle is a playground for all types. Go outside the city to the mountains or islands, get lost in neighborhood record stores and organic restaurants, or just try to fit in as many concerts and shows as possible. And for those who don’t believe in Seasonal Affective Disorder, winter is also a prime time to ski, snowboard and to test out every coffee shop within walking distance. This gem of a city has plenty of reasons to be a must-see destination.
10. Take in the views
On a cloudless day, head up to the top of the Space Needle to enjoy the boundless views in every direction. An equally good view of Mts. Baker and Ranier, the city and Elliot Bay can be seen from the 73rd floor Sky View Observatory in West Seattle. At sunset, ride the Seattle Great Wheel, the West Coast’s largest ferris wheel. Thrillseekers can take a ride when winds pick up — within reason, though, as the wheel shuts down if winds go over 55 mph.
9. A real neighborhood feel
Throw a dart on a map of Seattle, and more than likely it’ll land somewhere worth seeing. For those with just a day, take the morning to explore vibrant Capitol Hill with the caveat that this is barely scratching the surface, then check out all the vintage clothing shops and boutiques on the walk downtown. Once there, Pioneer Square, which is unfairly maligned as “sketchy,” upscale Belltown, Pike Place Market and more are all quickly accessible.
Beacon Hill is one of Seattle’s more diverse neighborhoods, and the neighborhood’s 45-acre park and Tippe and Drague Alehouse, which features 16 locally crafted beers, are just two of the reasons it’s necessary to visit. Chinatown-International District is a foodie mecca with Chinese festivals and a summertime night market. West Seattle provides some excellent views of the city when biking past Alki Beach. Save some money for Fremont and next-door Ballard, as it’s sure to go fast at the upscale boutiques, vegetarian restaurants and Sunday-only market on Ballard Avenue. In free-spirit Fremont, a two-ton troll sculpture with one gleaming eye crouches under the Aurora Bridge. For a cheaper day, simply walk around South Lake Union, which positively glitters in the sunshine.
8. Local-minded food and drink
[Also see this travel article from Hopper “The World’s Ten Best Coffee Cities“]
Coffee and Seattle go together like… well, like grunge music and Seattle. Die-hard Starbucks fans can see the original shop in Pike Place Market, but don’t stop there. Of all the options,one that stands out is Street Bean Espresso, which takes the call of social justice seriously. In addition to only using direct-relationship, sustainable and locally roasted coffee, the shop also helps marginalized and homeless youths find not just a job but a career in a community-minded space.
For a more adult beverage, head to tiny Woodinville, which lies 30 minutes northeast of the city. Woodinville makes up for its lack of vineyards with over 90 tasting rooms dedicated to the riches of wines from the Columbia Valley on the other side of the Cascade Mountains.
To even scratch the surface of Seattle’s culinary treats would require several column inches, so let’s make do with these two instead. For breakfast, turn to Mighty-O Donuts, which does the seemingly impossible by creating incredibly delicious organic and vegan treats. And for dinner, Belltown’s Local 360 is so named as it sources almost all its food within a 360-mile radius of the city. The restaurant works with local farmers who are taking care to preserve their land for future generations and only serves organic and antibiotic-free food.
7. Indoor and outdoor art and museums
The Seattle Art Museum is full of riches, and is notable for its focus on Northwest, Pacific Island and Japanese art. The museum also operates the nine-acre Olympic Sculpture Park on the waterfront, which is a wonderfully relaxing place to have a free date or sit and daydream away the afternoon. The Seattle Asian Art Museum is also under SAM’s umbrella, and is located in the utterly relaxing Volunteer Park, which has a conservatory, water tower and is an ideal setting for an afternoon suntan. Oftentimes, the space that houses the museum is just as interesting. The Nordic Heritage Museum is in an old schoolhouse, and the can’t-miss Museum of History and Industry is in the renovated Naval Reserve Armory.
6. Island hop with ease
Whether a quick afternoon or long weekend away, the nearby islands provide the perfect getaway. Only accessible by a 20-minute ferry, Vashon is now slightly more gentrified with its influx of retirees and corporate employees, but the island maintains its hippie vibe. Pick berries at local farms in the summer, watch for whales in the winter, or hike around any time of year. Get a dose of history on gorgeous Bainbridge Island, where visitors can check out the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, as the first group to be transferred in internment camps during WWII came from this island. Just to the north, in Suquamish, visitors can pay respects at Chief Seattle’s grave and take in the view of the city named after him across Puget Sound.
For those with time, take a ferry up to the San Juan Islands for out of this world scenery. The archipelago is famous for its orcas as well as a rich and diverse animal population. While the islands are a popular tourist destination, it’s also possible to find plenty of alone time on a motorbike ride, chartered sailboat or hiking and whale-watching in Lime Kiln Point State Park. Those who don’t have time for San Juan Islands can still see marine wildlife up close at the top-notch Seattle Aquarium, which features a stunning underwater dome, an emphasis on conservation and daily activities.