Morning comes, and the sun wrestles with the clouds in a fierce battle to reign over the day. When those first golden rays hit Elliott Bay, Seattle’s blues disappear as quickly as a morning espresso.
On a beautiful day, I like to stroll to Pike Place Market for a buttery croissant from Le Panier Very French Bakery. Then, a few doors down, at the original Starbucks, I grab my “ristretto no-fun latté.” (Translation: half shot, decaf.)
“Come on, folks! Washington peaches and pears!” shouts the young vendor until his cheeks turn pomegranate pink. He hands out samples to passersby, hoping to capture a sale. However, beware of stalls where you can’t touch the immaculate spreads. If you buy anything, the vendors will sell you fruit hidden behind the display.
A trickle of eager tourists walks by, hoping to catch the fish-tossing antics of the guys at Pike Place Fish Market. They don’t disappoint, and the tourists leave with happy snaps and an Alaskan salmon packed to go.
At lunch, office hibernators emerge from their concrete caves. They roll up their work pants, exposing white legs that resemble steamed chicken ready to be browned. Guys and gals swap their North Face parkas and Patagonia thermals for Billabong shorts and Birkenstocks. Everyone comes to spread out on the Harbor Steps, a giant staircase leading from First Avenue to Elliott Bay. It’s a popular people-watching spot, water views included.
Walk a little, and you’ll soon discover why sensible shoes are a must. Seattle’s hills are second only to San Francisco’s, so leave your Jimmy Choos at home. As you wander, lovely vistas unfold between the downtown buildings—a peek of shimmering waters here and a snowcapped mountain range there.
If you’re lucky, the camera-shy Mount Rainier might complete the scenery. Like the sun, it materializes about 60 days a year. While tourists head to the Space Needle for postcard shots, locals go to little-known Kerry Park, which affords quintessential Seattle views.
On the first Saturday closest to the solstice, Fremont, self-proclaimed “Center of the Universe,” presents its Summer Solstice Parade. (Watch out for nude cyclists!) Although the quirky neighborhood has suffered extensive gentrification, its freethinking spirit is alive and well. A self-guided walking tour introduces you to a giant troll who sits under a bridge, a huge statue of Lenin rescued from Russia, and a real-life rocket stuck on top of a store.
If music and arts are more your cup of chai, don’t miss Bumbershoot. Seattle’s largest arts and music festival attracts more than 2,500 artists each Labor Day. I’ve seen Lou Reed, Concrete Blonde, and Blackalicious perform on the same day for only $25.
Like to get out and move your muscles? Because Seattle is sandwiched by water and mountain ranges, the city is one of the few places where you can sail and ski on the same day. Hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, and rock climbing are just some of the activities available. Unless, of course, it rains.
The city’s rainy reputation has more to do with long stretches of gray days and light showers rather than actual precipitation. Although it rains more than 150 days a year, the average yearly rainfall of 38 inches is just an inch more than in Dallas. The summer months are the driest.
The persistent rain, however, forces people to turn to indoor activities. The three main obsessions here are coffee, books, and music. There’s a coffee shop on every corner to get you out of the rain, but tourists love the original Starbucks, mainly because it’s the only store that sells the coveted Pike Place Market mug.
After you’ve perked up, check out Elliott Bay Book Company in historic Pioneer Square. The cluttered, creaky old bookstore holds about 10 author events a week. A few steps away is Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, one of the nation’s smallest national parks. The park rangers are full of, ahem, nuggets of information about the Klondike Gold Rush of 1897. For the kitsch factor, take Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour and roam the subterranean passages that were once Seattle’s downtown. Though not much remains, the tour guides tell hilarious stories that the pioneers probably wouldn’t want you to hear.
Another fantastic indoor attraction is the Experience Music Project in Seattle Center. Conceived by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft, EMP is much more than a music museum; it’s a billionaire’s indulgence, complete with the latest technology that lets visitors play musical instruments, write songs, and perform in front of a virtual audience. In the same building is the newly opened Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame.
Summer is the time for outdoor music. Summer Nights at the Pier features concerts staged on the waterfront. Look for Liza Minnelli and Chris Isaak this month. And wine connoisseurs will enjoy performers like Crosby, Stills & Nash or The Corrs on the beautiful grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle vineyard in Woodinville, just a half hour’s drive from Seattle.
When I think of my time in Seattle, the sun-drenched days are the ones that shine brightest in my mind. And while some lucky tourists benefit from discovering the city when Mother Nature is at her peak, I secretly think she’s making a love offering to those who stay year-round and patiently wait for the next sunny day.
HOW TO GET THERE
American Airlines (800-223-5436; www.aa.com) flies daily nonstop to Seattle. Once you get there, Flexcar (877-FLEXCAR; www.flexcar.com), a car-sharing program, is a great alternative to taxis and public transport. For $9 an hour, members have access to 130 vehicles, primarily Honda Civics or Civic Hybrids (sorry, no SUVs). Reserve the vehicle, pick it up from a designated spot, and park it in the same place when you’re done.
WHERE TO STAY
2411 Alaskan Way, Pier 67
This waterfront landmark was made famous when, in 1964, The Beatles dropped fishing lines out their hotel window into Elliott Bay. The hotel is commemorating the 40th anniversary of the historic stay with Fab Four-related events all year (www.edgewaterfabfouroh.com).
Inn at the Market
86 Pine St. 800-446-4484
Located in the heart of Pike Place Market, this charming boutique hotel offers Tempur-Pedic mattresses in luxurious rooms that overlook Elliott Bay. Room rates range from $200 to $525 per night.
WHAT TO DO, RAIN OR SHINE
Chateau Ste. Michelle
Elliot Bay Book Company
101 S. Main St. 206-624-6600; www.elliottbaybook.com
Experience Music Project
325 Fifth Ave. N. 206-367-5483; www.emplive.com
Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park
117 S. Main St. 206-553-7220; www.nps.gov/klse
Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame
325 Fifth Ave. N. 877-724-3428; www.sfhomeworld.org
1912 Pike Pl. 206-448-8762; www.starbucks.com
Summer Nights at the Pier
Summer Solstice Parade
Soup’s on in Seattle
Unlike Dallas, Seattle has no real dining “scene.” Jeans are pretty much acceptable anywhere, but don’t be fooled by the relaxed attire. Seattleites are serious about their food.
86 Pine St. 206-728-2800
Enjoy Country French cuisine inspired by Pacific Northwest produce. You’ll probably need to dress up for this one. If you prefer a more casual dining experience, go next door to Cafe Campagne (1600 Post Alley. 206-728-2233), which offers Parisian bistro classics such as steak frites with Roquefort butter.
Matt’s in the Market
94 Pike St., Third Floor
Hidden above Pike Place Market, this local favorite serves a seasonal menu that leans heavily on fresh seafood. Chefs gather their produce from the market daily.
1919 Post Alley. 206-443-3241
Look for the pink door, because there’s no sign at this rustic Italian eatery with stunning summer views of Puget Sound.
Pike Place Market
Foodies flock here for everything from seafood to spices. Pike Place Fish Market (800-542-7732; www.pikeplacefish.com) will ship or specially pack fresh seafood such as Alaskan King salmon or halibut for the traveler. La Buona Tavola (206-292-5555; www.trufflecafe.com) offers truffles, truffle oils, and micro wines direct from Italy. Chef Alexandra Thompson makes a killer meatball sandwich drizzled with black truffle oil. Handmade Biringer’s tea cookies (especially the orange vanilla) are the standout at Seattle Gourmet Foods (206-467-0383). Head to MarketSpice (206-622-6340) for bulk teas, coffees, and spices from around the world. The signature MarketSpice tea is flavored with cinnamon, orange peel, and clove. People-watch at Le Panier Very French Bakery (206-441-3669) or feast on grilled salmon, halibut, or prawn sandwiches slathered in delectable rosemary mayonnaise at hole-in-the-wall Market Grill (206-682-2654). At Tenzing Momo (206-623-9837; www.tenzingmomo.com), one of the West Coast’s oldest apothecaries, “Uncle Fred” sells more than 400 medicinal herbs and 100 fragrances and essential oils.
2401 Second Ave. 206-443-9844
Savor second-to-none sushi created by chef Shiro Kashiba, including hard-to-find geoduck.
1400 Western Ave. 206-262-9797
Lauded as one of the hottest chefs in America by Bon Appétit, Bo Lohasawat Kline creates some of the most authentic Thai food in Seattle, including the rare peasant dish miang kum.
Local freelance food and travel writer Cheryl Ng Collett used to live in Seattle.