The flight to Seattle takes several more hours than the flight to New York, and I can’t promise that you will be rewarded with weather as sunny as California upon arrival. But while the city may lack convenience and you might not leave with a perfect suntan, Seattle’s unique culture and geography are more than enough to make up for it. Where else in the world could you find yourself on a beach, in the mountains, in the city and in the rainforest all in 36 hours?
Head to the heart of downtown and visit Pike Place Market. It’s one of Seattle’s most famous tourist attractions for a reason. Get in line at the very first Starbucks cafe, which has been open since 1971. Take your coffee and browse through the stores and stalls. Don’t miss the underground section, which is home to a variety of quirky shops, including a second hand bookstore, the Market Magic and Novelty Shop, and a vintage poster collector’s outpost. Take a picture with Rachel, the piggybank that weighs five hundred pounds, and wait for someone to buy some fresh fish at the Pike Place Fish Market, where you can watch as the fish is tossed from the freezer to the packaging station.
For dinner, choose a country restaurant. Go all-American and pick up food at Chicken Valley or Taxi Dogs, which is the place to have creative hot dogs. Other choices include Turkish Delight, Pike Place Chinese, Crepe de France, Kastoori Grill, Jasmine Thai Restaurant, Japanese Gourmet and La Mexicana. Take your food to the park at the end of the street where you can enjoy the views of Puget Sound and watch the ferry boats go by.
Wake up early and experience the best of Seattle’s coffee obsession. Caffe Vita has a friendly, neighbourhood coffee shop vibe, probably because it is owned by local coffee enthusiasts. They are committed to investing in farmers who practice sustainable agriculture and hold the highest standards for their coffee. Brewing coffee is both an art and a science at Caffe Vita, where they manually control every step of the roasting and brewing process and will carefully top your drink with a perfect leaf or heart.
Before the caffeine wears off, experience a favourite local pastime: hiking. Discovery Park is only 20 minutes from the centre of downtown and occupies most of a former military fort. The old barracks and crumbling buildings contrast with the tall evergreen trees and moss covered ground, making for an interesting and beautiful walk that ends with views of the water.
After spending the morning in the forest, spend the afternoon at Alki Beach. While most of the beaches in Seattle are rocky, Alki Beach has sand. It’s also directly across from downtown, offering incredible views of the Space Needle and the Seattle skyline from across the Puget Sound. If it’s a clear day, you can even see the Olympic Mountains behind the city. For an even better view, visit the old lighthouse and climb to the top. The lighthouse has been around since 1913 and is a reminder of Alki’s history as the first place of white settlement in what would eventually become Seattle.
Visit the Seattle Art Museum. It will be hard to miss because just in front of it is the sculpture of the Hammering Man, which is nearly as tall as the building and has a motorised moving arm. As soon as you walk inside you will see antique cars hanging from the ceiling, which sets the standard for the rest of the incredible art throughout the museum. If it happens to be the first Saturday of the month, admission will be free. If not, admission is $12.50 for teens and $19.50 for adults.
For dinner, head to the pier and have fish and chips – American style – at Ivar’s. It has been around since 1938 and has reasonably priced food and the best view of the water. It’s also located right next to the Seattle Great Wheel, Seattle’s version of the London Eye, which offers great views of the city and is much more entertaining than the tourist trap that is the Space Needle.
You can’t visit Seattle without checking out the music scene. Best known for being home to Nirvana, Pearl Jam and all things grunge, Seattle continues to produce great musicians today. Whether you like electronic, alternative or classical music, you will be able to find a venue that specialises in it. If you are under 21, the Showbox puts on all ages music events and is right across the street from Pike Place Market.
Before you leave, head east and have brunch at Snoqualmie Falls. The drive takes half an hour but is absolutely beautiful. You will pass over Lake Washington and see the Bellevue skyline, home to Microsoft headquarters. The lakes and small waterfalls you see on the way will seem insignificant once you catch a glimpse of the falls from the Salish Lodge Dining Room. Make sure you order the pancakes, which are so popular the restaurant sells the mix in grocery stores. If you have time, there is a two-acre park surrounding the falls that has hiking trails so you can work off those pancakes.