The Great Northern
Following US‑2 through wide-open spaces is guaranteed to bring new meaning to the expression “getting away from it all.”
An engaging and energetic combination of scenic beauty, blue-collar grit, and high-tech panache has made Seattle one of the most popular cities in the United States, for visitors and residents alike. A young city, historically and demographically, Seattle has managed to preserve much of its heavy industrial heritage as parks and museums, if not as economic engines. The eco-conscious, civic-minded city spreads over a series of hills, surrounded by the waters of Puget Sound (be sure to ride a ferry or two!), with a backdrop of the snowcapped Cascade and Olympic Mountains. The evergreen Seattle can be an entrancing city—at least when the sun comes out, which no matter what people say is likely to happen at least once during your stay.
The heart of downtown Seattle, Pike Place Market is a raucous fish, crafts, and farmers market with some 500 different stalls and stores filling an early-1900s municipal-feeling building that steps along the waterfront. For a respite from the hubbub, head two blocks south to the postmodern Seattle Art Museum (1300 1st Ave., 206/654-3100, closed Mon. and Tues., $19.50) and enjoy the amazing collection of regional Native American art and artifacts on display. Downtown’s other piece of noteworthy recent architecture is the shiny Seattle Central Library (1000 4th Ave.), a fantastic (and free!) high-tech (some say hermetic) space whose multifaceted glass diamond exterior steps down between two city blocks.
At the south edge of downtown, a little under a mile from Pike Place Market, the 20-some-block Pioneer Square historic district preserves the original core of the city, which boomed in the late 1890s with the Klondike Gold Rush. Just south of Pioneer Square, spectators can enjoy downtown views and Puget Sound sunsets at Safeco Field ballpark, where the Seattle Mariners (206/346-5000) play. The soccer Sounders and NFL champion Seahawks play next door at CenturyLink Field, cheered on by the world’s loudest fans (136+ decibels).
Another essential place to go is the Seattle Center (305 Harrison St., 206/684-7200), a mile north of downtown at Broad Street and 5th Avenue North, built for the 1962 World’s Fair, and featuring Seattle’s Space Age icon, the Space Needle (400 Broad St., $10-22). The Seattle Center, which you can reach via a quick ride on Seattle’s short monorail, is the primary location for Seattle’s excellent annual Labor Day arts and music festival, Bumbershoot, and is also home to the intriguing Experience Music Project, now better known as EMP (325 5th Ave. N., 206/770-2700, daily, $18), a hands-on musical exploration that includes a living memorial to the city’s native-born guitar genius, Jimi Hendrix. A don’t-miss photo opportunity: a statue of Chief Seattle with the Space Needle rising behind him.
Besides funding EMP, Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen has indulged his taste for Space Age adventure by subsidizing the private rocket ship SpaceShipOne, and closer to home by renovating the widescreen Cinerama theater (2100 4th Ave., 206/448-6680), an early 1960s icon.
Seattle’s main airport is Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (“Sea-Tac”), a half-hour drive south of downtown Seattle via the I‑5 freeway. Seattle’s freeways are often filled to capacity most of the day, but the best drive-through tour of Seattle follows old US‑99 along the Alaskan Way Viaduct, a concrete freeway that cuts along the downtown waterfront, runs through a tunnel, then follows Aurora Avenue on a soaring bridge over the west end of Lake Union. (By the way, under the Aurora Bridge sits one of Seattle’s biggest pieces of auto-art: the Fremont Troll, caught in the act of capturing an old VW Beetle.)
Most everything of visitor interest in Seattle is within the walkably compact downtown, where an extensive bus system runs in a fare-free zone; there’s also a 1.2-milelong monorail ($2.25 one-way), linking 5th Avenue and Pine Street downtown with the Seattle Center and Space Needle.
The niftiest place to stay is the Hotel Ändra (2000 4th Ave., 206/448-8600, $189 and up), a fully modernized 1920s hotel just a short walk from Pike Place Market. At the other end of the scale, the cheapest place to stay has to be the newly renovated HI-Seattle at the American Hotel (520 S. King St., 206/622-5443, dorm beds around $30), just east of Pioneer Square, which offers clean and comfortable dorm beds.
Seafood, not surprisingly, is the thing Seattle restaurants do best, and the city is full of great places to eat fish. The sushi here is as good as it gets, outside Japan. Try Maneki (304 6th Ave. S., 206/622-2631), which has been serving fresh sushi for over 100 years in the International District. For fish-and-chips or cheap, fresh oysters (and Washington produces more oysters than anywhere else in the United States), head down to Emmett Watson’s Oyster Bar (206/448-7721) at the north end of Pike Place Market. More down-home fare is served up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the 5 Spot (1502 Queen Anne Ave. N., 206/285-7768), in the residential Queen Anne district, about two miles northwest of downtown high above Lake Union.
The best source of advance information on visiting Seattle is Seattle’s Convention and Visitors Bureau (206/461-5840).