Seattle Gets Visitors Grooving to its Own Beat
Stepping off the train it felt like I had entered the cool kids’ corner of the cafeteria. The quirky artsy and sci-fi crowd that spends Saturday nights at the “Rocky Horror Picture Show“, know all of the latest up and coming indie bands, and just are too cool for school.
Seattle is that and so much more.
Located in Elliott Bay of Puget Sound, Seattle was named after the local Indian Chief Sealth. Founded by a small group of pioneers in 1851, Seattle grew into one of the largest ports for ships along the Pacific Coast along with Los Angeles, Monterey, Oakland, Portland, San Diego, and San Francisco. Seattle played a key role in supplying lumber to help build San Francisco during the Gold Rush and the Great Earthquake of 1906. Remnants of San Francisco’s history and its connection to Seattle can be found outside of Il Bistro (93 Pike St.; 206-682-3049; IlBistro.net) at Pike Place Market.
Super G affectionately calls Seattle a “mini San Francisco,” but Seattle could very easily have been called the “Little Big Apple”, as the founders originally named the waterfront city “New York – Alki.”
Seattle officially doesn’t take any of those nick names. Due to its greenery and watery landscape and robust industries (Amazon.com, Boeing, Microsoft, REI to name a few) that mark it as one of the most beautiful and progressive cities in the United States, Seattle, also affectionately called Seatown by locals, is known as the Emerald City.
The city has hosted two World’s Fairs, first in 1909 with the Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exhibition, which is now the site of University of Washington, and again in 1962 with Seattle’s World’s Fair.
The “Emerald City” name only adds to the mysterious, magical, sci-fi techie vibe that flows throughout the city and is its trademark with the Space Needle (400 Broad St.; 800-937-9582; SpaceNeedle.com), which turns the big 5-0 this year. The city is celebrating big throughout the year and has returned the color of the iconic building to its original color, “Galaxy Gold” to commemorate the occasion when it was built for the second World’s Fair.
Today, Seattle is a bustling mid-size city with very distinct neighborhoods connected by land and floating bridges to the rest of Washington State that is the home to a bounty of agricultural (fresh food and wine) and outdoor adventures – including a tour of Mount St. Helens, a living volcano that last erupted in 1980, that make for great side trips.
The way to the Emerald City
The easiest way to get to Seattle is to fly into Sea-Tac, Seattle’s international airport that plenty of airlines from around the world fly in and out of daily thanks to Microsoft, REI, and other major companies whose headquarters call Seattle home.
Super G flew into Sea-Tac on Southwest from San Francisco to meet at the train station in Seattle (which wasn’t as cool as Portland’s historic train station, but will be undergoing a major cosmetic and functional upgrade in the near future).
No need to drive or fly for Oregonians and upper Northern Californians. Freeways are surprisingly congested in the Pacific Northwest, so getting to Seattle from Portland or upper Northern California is best by public transit.
Amtrak Cascades is a beautiful and easy ride from Portland to Seattle all the way up to Vancouver, but it books up fast. It’s easy to know why, comfortable seats, free Wi-Fi, and delightful scenery. The trick is to book early to get your assigned seat and pay the cheaper rate ($28 up to $50 per seat the closer to the travel date) if you know you are definitely traveling. Travel plans not solid? Call in advance to reserve your seat and cancel within 24-hours if travel plans change without being charged, a local tells me and another traveler.
It is a cool three and a half hour scenic train ride from Portland to Seattle that beats sitting in five hours of traffic on a freeway for what should be a three-hour drive. If you have the time and want a cheap ride, grab a Bolt Bus for as low as $15 for one person or add $1 for a second person. Popular on the East coast, the Bolt Bus isn’t yesteryear’s coach. These busses come with comfortable leather seats and free Wi-Fi … so sit back, relax and who cares if there is traffic?
Travelers can easily take an international weekend side trip from Seattle or Portland to Vancouver, Canada. Just don’t leave your passport at home.
I was ready to rejoin my girlfriend, Super G, in Seattle after spending some quality girl time with one of my best friends, Erica, in Portland.
I got up in the morning, Voodoo Doughnuts (22 S.W. 3rd Ave.; 503-241-4704; voodoodoughnut.com) in hand, and headed downtown to the historic train station.
The Voodoo Doughnuts, very much sought after by locals and visitors alike by the constant line out the door (Erica and I got lucky and hit a lull slipping in seconds before the line caught another life), didn’t make it to the end of the journey. The delicious treats went well with my coffee.
Super G and I were picked up along with another guest at Seattle’s train station and whisked away to Washington’s wine country by tour guide Dan Salvatora of Evergreen Escapes.
Washington is the second largest wine producer in the U.S., nipping at the heels of California’s famed Napa and Sonoma counties, Dan tells us while we cruised across one of the city’s floating bridges into the mountains in our Mercedes tour bus (a signature of the tour company along with guaranteed on time pick up). Washington boasts of 60 different varietals produced by 800 different wineries, but it’s known mostly for Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and blends, many of which are traditionally young, he says.
Our half-day wine country tour took us high into the Cascade Mountains to Sparkman Cellars (14473 Woodinville Redmond Road Northeast, Woodinville; 425-398-1045,; email@example.com) and Airfield Estates (14450 Woodinville-Redmond Road, Suite #109, Woodinville; 425-877-1006) after a short stop at Snoqualmie Falls.
Sippers and swirlers can find great tasting, full bodied red wines named after the family’s two spirited daughters Ruby Leigh and Stella May (read their cute bios at the winery’s website) at Sparkman Cellars. A Zin girl, Super G was enamoured with the 2009 Kingpin Cabernet, that’s how good all of the wines are.
Airfield Estates’ story and related chotchkies about turning their agricultural land into a World War II airfield training base and then into a vineyard selling grapes in 1968 is somewhat more interesting than the wines the family finally began producing in 2005. I couldn’t resist picking up the fly girl coasters to bring home to Super G’s new house.
Snoqualmie Falls, which was the first hydroelectric plant in the U.S. built in 1880, is now also a romantic getaway with a AAA four diamond resort, Salash Lodge and Spa (6501 Railroad Avenue S.E., Snoqualmie; 800-272-5474; firstname.lastname@example.org) perched on the edge of the falls.
Sleeping in Seattle
After wine tasting we checked into the 9 Cranes Inn (5717 Palatine Ave N.; 206-855-5222; 9cranesinn.com) a block away from the Woodland Park Zoo (601 N. 59th St.; 206-548-2500; Zoo.org ) in the artsy Phinney Neighborhood. Perched near the top of a hill, our romantic, luxurious room included a deck and spa tub that overlooks Seattle and a gourmet breakfast prepared by owner Shelley Goulding that got us started for the day.
For a more urban experience, we stayed at the fun, funky and swanky Hotel Max (620 Stewart Street; 206-728-6299; HotelMaxSeattle.com) in the heart of downtown Seattle where we easily walked to Pike Place Market, to the Monorail to check out the Space Needle and the EMP Museum (325 5th Ave. N.; 206-770-2700; EMPMuseum.org), and up to Capitol Hill, the gayborhood.
Transportation is easy to navigate and plentiful in Seattle, but the first lesson we learned was not to ask anyone – bell boys to bus drivers to locals – for directions and make sure our smartphone was charged at all times. Unlike other cities where we have often found helpful locals on the streets, in Seattle they were more like the unhelpful magician behind the curtain in Oz. We were often left to figure out our own way until we found non-Seattleites who lived in the area to direct us the first few times we got lost and our smartphone ran out of juice.
Late at night when we weren’t in the mood to take public transit or walk, cabs were plentiful. Travelers should be aware that when taking cabs they are responsible for bridge tolls and other zone rates. When we were ready to return to San Francisco we simply took the light rail a few blocks from Hotel Max for the 30-minute ride to the airport.
In spite of getting lost, we found our way to the Capital Grille (1301 4th Ave.; 206-382-0900; TheCapitalGrille.com/locations/seattle), Capitol Hill, and our other culinary and fun destinations. Capital Grille, a downtown classic steakhouse belongs to a family of restaurants of the same name across the U.S. and impresses, rolling out a menu and wine list that any culinary savant would appreciate.
We also discovered celebrity chef Tom Douglas, who owns 12 acclaimed restaurants in Seattle, including Dahlia Lounge (2001 4th Ave.; 206-682-4142; TomDouglas.com) and Serious Pie (316 Virginia St.; 206-838-7388; TomDuglas.com/restaurants/serious-pie), right around the corner and seriously hard to get into if you aren’t a part of the Savor Seattle Gourmet Tour. For brunch we checked out Seattle’s Cafe Campagne (1600 Post Alley; 206-728-2233; CafeCampagne.com) at Pike Place Market and renowned vegan restaurant Cafe Flora (2901 E. Madison St.; 206-325-9100; CafeFlora.com), owned by former Berkeley, Calif. native Nat Stratton-Clarke, a 30-year-old transgender man. The restaurant immediately struck a nostalgic chord with me, recalling the once beloved Patio Restaurant that formerly inhabited the heart of the Castro neighborhood in San Francisco, Calif. Yet, Cafe Flora is solidly in a neighborhood that has a very Berkeley vibe.
“I love the people in Seattle. I think it is just a fantastic community and absolutely incredible,” says Nat, who has called the area home since 2005. It was the right move – three years later he found himself owner of Cafe Flora.
Michael Hein and Tony Portugal, owners of the Yellow Leaf Cupcake Co. (2209 4th Ave.; 206-441-4240; TheYellowLeafCupcake.com), a gourmet cupcake shop, fell in love with Seattle and took the plunge leaving their high-powered health care careers in Los Angeles and turning their vacation destination into their home in 2008.
Following Tony’s dream to own a restaurant, the couple, who met at an Academy Awards event in 2007, settled on cupcakes. They opened the shop in the heart of downtown Seattle in 2010.
A great way to experience Seattle’s culinary fare is to take the Savor Seattle gourmet tour. The walking tour winds through the heart of downtown Seattle and Pike Place Market through some of its best restaurants. The tour starts at the Yellow Leaf Cupcake Co. (“I like how they think, desert first!,” says Heather), grabbing a bite at Serious Pie and a drink at Pike Brewing Company (1415 1st Ave.; 206-622-6044; PikeBrewing.com) (“I’m thirsty!” says Super G), and for truffle addicts (like ourselves) sampling imported truffle oils, salts and more at La Buona Tavola (1524 Pike Pl.; 206-292-5555; Trufflecafe.com) to name a few stops on the tour.
Pike Brewing Company also hosts an annual women brewers event, North West Women in Beer, presented by Thirsty Sisters and lead by Abil Bradshaw, the PBC’s tour guide extraordinaire, during American Craft Beer Week in May. This year marked the event’s second year.
Seattle doesn’t slow down for the rain day or night. The city is bustling with events from the arts to festivals to the great outdoors to a thriving nightlife scene. Seattle’s distinct neighborhoods are really villages unto themselves offering something for everyone.
This year, Seattle’s iconic symbol, the Space Needle, was joined by a new scenic attraction. In June, Pier 57 welcomed The Great Wheel, a giant waterfront Ferris wheel that overlooks the water near the famed Pike Place Market.
Art lovers might want to check out ArtsCrush that hosts a variety of events throughout October and Bumbershoot during Labor Day weekend. LGBT and ally filmgoers might want to catch the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival, October 11 – 21.
Music lovers can become rock stars at the EMP Museum, producing their own recording and rocking out on stage. The museum is currently exhibiting “Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses”, and a photo history of the Rolling Stones’ 1972 tour “The Rolling Stones 1972, Photographs by Jim Marshall”. The cool leather jacket will be the focus of an upcoming exhibit about the history of the black leather jacket, “Worn to be Wild: The Black Leather Jacket”, starting October 20 and running through January 20.
In reality, Seattle has so much going on it is best to surf through any one of the local publications, like the City Arts Magazine, Seattle Weekly or The Stranger, or create an event itinerary at Visit Seattle. Also, save some money getting into Seattle’s most popular attractions by picking up a CityPass at Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau’s visitor’s center (701 Pike Street; 866-732-2695).
“I love Seattle,” says Sarah Toce, editor-in-chief of TheSeattleLesbian.com. Sarah gets her best writing done at the city’s cafes.
“I really enjoy going out writing with my laptop and drinking my cup of coffee. The coffee is really good here,” says Sarah, a 29-year-old lesbian who escaped New York City to Seattle after a vacation.
Surrounded by Puget Sound’s water ways, Seattle’s neighborhoods are unique villages unto themselves. Super G and I didn’t get to explore all of the city’s more than 30 neighborhoods during our visit, but we enjoyed walks through Capitol Hill, Downtown, Pike Place Market, and Phinney Ridge, along with a short jaunt around Madison Park, where Café Flora is located.
At night we headed up to Capital Hill where we hung out at the Wildrose Bar (1020 E. Pike St.; 206-324-9210; TheWildRosebar.com), one of Seattle’s lesbian hot spots located in the heart of Capital Hill. Queer women are on par with the gay men in Seattle’s nightlife offerings. To be honest, Super G and I found it quite refreshing. Another thing we noticed was that the gayborhood, wasn’t quite as gay as it once was. It was a mishmash of queers, hipsters, and fratboy / sorority girl wannabe cool kids. Chatting with locals confirmed our observations.
We were surprised that Capital Hill made some San Francisco hot spots look tame as nearly every venue was bursting at the seams on Saturday night.
LGBT travelers heading to Seattle should check out Guide to Queer Seattle.
Seattle’s downtown is bustling with trendy fashions and financial transactions between businesses and a plethora of hip to luxury hotels and restaurants, such as Capital Grille, Dahlia Lounge and Icon Grill (1933 5th Ave.; 206-441-6330; IconGrill.com). The Monorail zips riders between the boutique and high end shops at the Westlake Center Station to the Seattle Center Station directly to the Space Needle and EMP Museum every 10 minutes and Pike Place Market is an easy walk.
Public transportation is plentiful enabling visitors to get to the most popular neighborhoods within a reasonable time.
Phinney Ridge Neighborhood
Phinney is an artsy and family-filled neighborhood that overlooks Seattle and Puget Sound. It has several dinning and shopping areas located near the zoo along Phinney Avenue. Strolling down Phinney Avenue towards neighboring Greenwood and we peek through the windows of some of Seattleites’ highly rated restaurants, such as the In The Red Wine Bar & Cafe (6510 Phinney Ave. N.; 206-420-8992; IntheRedWineBar.com) and Stumbling Goat Bistro (6722 Greenwood Ave N.; 206-784-3535; StumblingGoatBistro.com ).
Pike Place Market
Not just a place for tourists to check out the original Starbucks and Sur La Table — the only way a chain store can be in Pike Place Market is to start at the market, our Savor Seattle guide Brett Affleck-Aring tells our group — locals habitually shop the market too. We met one of my cousins for breakfast at Cafe Campagne at Pike Place Market before she left us for her Sunday shopping.
The outdoor and sunken market is a delightful maze of stands and shops, restaurants and bars, and of course the fishermen challenging passerbyers to have the catch of the day slung at them. Challenged on a different trip to Seattle, Super G caught the fish.
Seattle is definitely not sleepless, except for all of the adventure and life that it offers locals and visitors alike making it a city on any traveler’s must visit list.
High above the bustle on our final day in Seattle, Super G and I found Pnk Ultra Lounge (600 Pine St., 4th floor in Pacific Place; 206-623-2222; email@example.com; Pnkultralounge.com) at the top of one of the high end shopping centers downtown. Sipping our final drinks in the Emerald City and to celebrate Super G’s new home we were ready to welcome the sight of the Golden Gate Bridge and the Bay, but were already planning our return to Seattle.
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