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Are you looking for tips on what to do in Seattle?
As part of our city guides series, we interviewed Hilary Billings, The Nomad Grad. Hilary took her first trip to Seattle in 2008 for a swing dance/jazz weekend event and immediately fell in love.
Unable to resist the pull, she travels back to The Emerald City multiple times a year for good coffee and dancing.
Hilary takes us through the list of must-do’s and must-drinks of her favorite North American city.
Seattle is one of those cities that is recognizable just by a snapshot of The Space Needle or Pike Place Market (Pike’s Place). There are very few cities in the world as iconic as this one.
Some of the biggest corporations in the world, like Microsoft and Starbucks, were founded here. Then of course you have badass musical influences such as Nirvana and Pearl Jam hailing from this rainy city (obviously there’s something in the water).
Famous television sitcoms and dramas have been set here (Frasier- need I say more?). Then of course, there are those vampires rumoured to dwell just hours outside the city (but please confirm with Stephanie Meyer; she’s the expert).
Obviously pop-culture finds reason to obsess over Seattle and you should too. You can’t beat the beauty of the summer with cherry blossoms lining the
sidewalks. Just one taste of a bowl of clam chowder or a whiff of the coffee grounds wafting through the air and you’ll understand.
For a city with such a strange and unusual history, it’s steeped with culture and awesomeness. There a million reasons to love the land of McDreamy, but I recommend just visiting and deciding for yourself what makes you fall in love.
If it’s your first time in Seattle, make sure you hit the typically hyped tourist attractions. They’re necessary adventures, not to mention famous attractions for a reason.
Take a trip up The Space Needle, visit the first Starbucks and then take a gander through Pike’s Place. Make sure you hop on the brass pig and try some flavor infused honey sticks.
Feel free to use fruit humor when talking to the produce guys. It’s a ‘pearfectly’ acceptable form of communication.
Make sure you do The Underground Tour on one of your first days in the city. It provides great historical background as well as gives you the Reader’s Digest version of its surly past. It’s not something you’ll do again but you’ll start to notice and appreciate the little nuances downtown (like the skylights in the sidewalk) that you wouldn’t have noticed before.
Take a ferry ride to Bainbridge Island to get a different perspective on the city as well as to experience some local living. It’s homely charm will make you think you’re walking through a fairytale.
Of course if you’re really adventurous, Mount Rainier awaits only a short drive away. Take a hike if you’re up for climbing one of the country’s most dangerous and active volcanoes. I prefer to view it from the plane but I’m not nearly as ballsy as some of you hiking enthusiasts!
Capitol Hill is definitely my favorite area of Seattle. You can find anything and everything to do on this hill. Each bar has more flavor and atmosphere than the last. The eateries are just as unique.
The second-hand stores and novelty shops are bound to delight and you will even find a century’s old ballroom packed with couples dancing to jazz music weekly. What more could you ask for?
If Seattleites know how to do anything well it’s coffee (it’s why I love them so). Starbucks, Tully’s, and Seattle’s Best were all founded here. And while you can’t go wrong with any of these choices, I recommend trying one of the smaller but equally delicious cafes like Victrola.
You can’t visit Seattle without trying a triple layer cappuccino and Victrola has a great one. It’s 1/3 espresso, 1/3 milk, and 1/3 foam. They are more expensive than a traditional cappuccino but I promise the extra few cents are worth the deliciousness waiting in your cup.
Seattle is full of healthy options for lunch dining. I am a fan of The Honeyhole on Pike Street. They have sandwiches for everyone, including awesome vegetarian options.
Want to treat yourself to the ultimate seafood experience? Have a bowl of clam chowder or lobster bisque at Ivar’s Acres of Clams. The fish couldn’t be any fresher and you’ll adore the waterfront views. It’s the perfect upscale dining experience after a day of fun on the pier and exploration at The Seattle Aquarium.
My other favorite ultimate dining experience is The Steelhead Diner located just steps from Pike’s Place. Don’t let the name fool you. You’re in an array of aromas and flavor, even with perfected seasonal desserts to please your palate. Service can be slow but the food is oh-so worth the wait.
I’m not a big fan of drinking but Capitol Hill makes bar hopping easy. With them being squished together in close proximity, you can down shots at one bar, high-five your friends, and then stumble ten feet to the next bar to high-five new friends.
While you won’t find the bartenders overly friendly (they’re hipster like that), you’ll be sure to meet visitors from around the world sampling brew.
I enjoy spending time at The Tin Table conveniently located across from The Century Ballroom. The ambience is groovy, quiet, and laid back. During the week you’ll find dances of all kinds hopping across the hall. Have a drink and then have a dance. And if you get too drunk you can always just stare at the pretty blue glasses.
Who doesn’t like a night of good food and dancing? Start by having a drink at one of the bazillion pubs off of Pike and Broadway. Then mosey on over to The Century Ballroom for a night of dancing and jazz/salsa/or swing music (depending on the night).
After you’ve worked up a sweat and an appetite, walk downstairs to Molly Moon’s Ice Cream Parlor. I don’t care what time of year it is. You must try one of their delicious homemade flavors that’s made in the back of their shop. I recommend the lavender-honey or strawberry-balsamic.
Also make sure you treat yourself to a fresh waffle cone. The sweet smell of the cooked sugar will make your heart melt, even if the weather is freezing.
There are tons of options but I’m a big fan of The Silver Cloud Hotel. They have a chain of boutique hotels situated all over Seattle, but I love their Broadway location. Their room prices are decent, even given their prime locale and a big breakfast is included.
During peak season rooms will run about $130/night. And even though this is kind of expensive for backpackers like me, you’re guaranteed a level of quality when booking with this chain.
If you’re looking for something waterside, I recommend the appropriately name Edgewater Hotel. This hotel offers up local charm and warmth on a platter. The price per night will depend on what type of ‘package’ you book (they offer a wide array from honeymooners to family getaways). Their cheapest rooms run $200/night during peak season.
Uh- yeah. But I’m biased. I could probably spend days in Pike’s Place eating myself to happiness. Plus all the fresh flowers, kitschy knickknacks shops, and interesting international markets gives it such color and vibrancy.
But my thoughts are controlled by the mini deep-fried doughnuts available by the pig. They are mindnumbingly yummy. If you eat them you will only think amazing things about Pike’s Place. Consider yourself warned.
Downtown Seattle also has some great shopping. You’ve got streets lined with mainstream designers and a mall full of credit card comas waiting to happen (complete with movie theater).
But I prefer the unusual shops of Pioneer Square. Here you can find crystal shops that put a price on mysticism and hipster guitar centers full of vintage Fenders and vinyl records. I promise you there’s a specialty shop for every unique soul in this wonderfully weird district.
The bus system is very reliable, consistent, and cheap. I highly recommend it if you’re going to be navigating all the typical tourist attractions. Downtown and Capital Hill themselves are not large areas but they’re set up much like San Francisco. Taking the bus can be beneficial to your knees instead of hoofing it up-and-down Skid Row.
The Light Rail is also a great way to get from the Sea-Tac airport to downtown Seattle.
It better be, what with it being the home of Microsoft and coffee shop sitters! Pretty much every coffee shop has free WiFi or WiFi time available with purchase. I have yet to find a location that does not offer internet access.
But if you do happen upon one of those dark unicorns, make sure you cry, “Heretic!” The Seattleites will run to your rescue with pitchforks. Treason like this is rarely tolerated by the steadfast locals.
Peak season is definitely March through August. Because of all the rain you are guaranteed the prettiest flower blooms, best weather for outdoor activities, and variety of festivals during the height of the summer.
If you’re brave and decide to visit during the fall/winter off-season, be sure to bring a waterproof jacket and rain boots.
Don’t trust the cab companies when they say your taxi is on its way. People steal taxis like it’s going out of style. Plus they normally take at least a half hour to reach you anyway. I recommend learning the bus routes and utilizing those as much as possible.
Seattleites don’t use umbrellas but don’t view this as a competition. Feel free to pack one if you’re planning on spending a lot of time outside (just don’t ask them what they think about you carrying one).
Invest in some sturdy rain boots and a weatherproof jacket for walking around. The goal is to stay dry. If you stay dry, you won’t be nearly as cold as
you think. And after running through your first downpour, I think you’ll realize why these Seattleites are such hot beverage freaks.
For me, Seattle is a blend of everything that’s great in the world. The city is brimming with delicious espresso, culture, art, open-mindedness, jazz music, and intellect. It has three-story bookstores and libraries that are built to be pieces of art, for goodness sake.
The entire city is filled with a salty breeze from The Harbor and all the food is made with quality and ingenuity unmatched on the west coast.
There’s just something about Seattle that feels like happiness. It’s got a very distinct vibe and flavor and I love that. You’ll never be bored. It’s a place where people aren’t afraid to be themselves and that resonates deeply with me.
Some cities just look and feel like every other city, but Seattle gets my seal of approval for its originality and personality. And I double dog dare you to find another city like it.
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About the Author
Hilary is a Las Vegas local and world traveler. When she’s not at home working on productions or taming lions, you can find her boarding down volcanoes and living in remote villages.
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