Story and photos by Anna Hobbs
All it took was three days – three perfectly sunny days – to debunk the rumour that it’s always raining in Seattle, and for my husband and me to give it a high five as one of America’s most pleasant cities to visit.
Nestled between Puget Sound and Lake Washington and surrounded by the snow-capped Olympic Mountains and the volcanic Cascade Range, Seattle more than deserves its ‘Emerald City’ alias. Amid all this spectacular natural beauty, the city struts the vibe of a modern metropolis, while maintaining the appeal of a small town. We love the compact downtown, the ease of getting from one diverse neighbourhood to another and how, in minutes, you can be out of the city and into the stunning countryside.
But it’s not just us – a lot of people love Seattle.
Russell Wilson, the Seahawks amazing star quarterback is one. So is Howard Schultz, Starbucks founder. So is Bill Gates.
And then there’s Jayme Gustilo. As the Monorail ticket seller for the past 25 years, he has said, “Hello,” to some eight million passengers. “Seattle is the friendliest city I’ve ever been to,” he says with pride.
Here are some of the things that make Seattle so welcoming and pleasant:
In keeping with the city’s green theme, the Hyatt at Olive 8 (located on the corner of Olive Way and Eighth Avenue) is as green as it gets. This oh-so-hip gem lays claim to being Seattle’s first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) – certified hotel. In addition to being eco-friendly, the public and guest rooms are sleek, modern and luxurious. The $175-million, 39-storey hotel/condominium opened in 2009, an oasis, smack-dab in the centre of the city, within easy walking distance of a day’s worth of shopping and tourist attractions. The state-of-the-art fitness centre, part of the Stay Fit at Hyatt program, is arguably the best of any of the city’s hotels.
GET THE BIG PICTURE:
1) “Make the Space Needle your first stop,” Ian Chase, Hyatt’s bearded concierge tells us as we head off to explore. “It’s the best view. Catch it while the sun is shining.” Before hopping on the Monorail for the two-minute ride, we meet Jayme Gustilo who tells us he has probably made the round trip 165,000 times. Built for the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair, this skyscraper has been Seattle’s iconic structure ever since. In 43 seconds flat, we are whisked up 520 feet to the observation deck and treated to a 360-degree panorama of the city, the surrounding green forests and sparkling lakes, and the bay’s bustling waterfront. From up here, it’s a green paradise.
2) Anyone who loves Ferris wheels can enjoy an easy walk from downtown to the city’s famous Great Wheel. Climb up above the gleaming waterfront to more than 175 feet in one of 42 fully enclosed, temperature-controlled gondolas for another panoramic view of Mt. Rainier, the Olympics and all of downtown.
3) Back down on terra firma, treat yourself to the Gray Line Hop-On, Hop-Off tour featuring double-decker buses that circle through the city and its neighbourhoods.
4) For a totally different perspective, take a trip through the underworld with Bill Speider’s 75-minute Underground Tour. You’ll explore the subterranean passageways beneath today’s Seattle and see many of the original storefronts and saloons found in the nineteenth-century town.
SEE & DO:
Pike Place Market is Seattle’s most visited attraction and one of the fun stops you just have to see when in town. It’s also the oldest continuously-operating market in the nation. We browse through the bustle and clutter of farm-fresh produce, flowers, local crafts, junky souvenirs and an incredible assortment of fresh fish, our camera ready when one of the sassy fishmongers tosses around a huge salmon. You can’t visit Pike Place without checking out the original Starbucks store, opened in 1971.
The Ballard district, perched between Puget Sound and Salmon Bay, had been the centre of the local fishing industry since the end of the 19th century. Today it is one of the hippest neighbourhoods in town. We spend a lazy afternoon surfing the new wave of eclectic boutiques, galleries and designer shops that have sprung up along Ballard Avenue, creating one of the city’s most charming streets. The boisterous Ballard Sunday Farmers’ Market, open year-round, rain or shine, is the best in the city.
“Along with unleashing a national espresso craze in the 1990s, Seattle is the birthplace of the grunge music movement. From icons such as Jimi Hendrix to Nirvana, Alice in Chains, the city embraces its hometown heroes. Music lovers – and others – shouldn’t miss the interactive displays of the Experience Music at the EMP Museum designed by Frank Gehry.
EAT & DRINK:
On our first evening, we decide to ‘eat in’ at the hotel’s restaurant, Urbane, which attracts a lively group of locals and tourists, lured by Chef Greg Lopez’s commitment to fresh, local Northwest cuisine. Dungeness crab, the signature dish, lives up to its “none better” reputation.
Learning that the perfect Seattle meal start in one restaurant and continues in another, we head to the grungy fringe of South Ballard and The Walrus and Carpenter. “Go early,” we’re advised, to avoid lineups that start forming after six. We overindulge on inventive small plates and some of the freshest, sweetest oysters we’ve ever tasted. To complete “the perfect meal,” we wander up Ballard Avenue to Hot Cakes and discover a chocoholic’s Nirvana. Autumn Martin is famous for her molten hot chocolate cakes. And no wonder – they are baked to order in miniature mason jars and served with homemade ice cream.
At Taylor Shellfish Farms, a fifth-generation, family-owned company, the specialty is geoduck (pronounced gooey duck), a unique seafood delicacy that gets our vote as an acquired taste.
Named America’s Best Coffee City 2013 by Travel & Leisure magazine Seattle offers coffee on nearly every city block.
For a doughnut and coffee, locals head to Top Pot Doughnuts and its 45 varieties, including salty caramel, chocolate éclair and President Obama’s choice – pumpkin.
Green Leaf, a little hole-in-the-wall in the International District serves the city’s best Vietnamese food and is a great place for lunch.