Get Cultured: Seattle – A Local Guide to this Hip City’s Food, Coffee and Markets
Our own Christine Medina gives us the local scoop on Seattle’s hip food scene, popular markets and famed coffee culture.
On your first day here, seeing this is a must: The postcard-perfect view of the city skyline from Kerry Park, in the Queen Anne neighborhood never fails to impress me. Seattle has a rare innate beauty, so I always take visitors here and let the city speak for itself. Striking skyscrapers, abundant greenery, the city’s iconic Space Needle and one of the world’s most dangerous volcanoes (Mt. Rainier) looming behind it all. I’m hard-pressed to think of a city skyline in the U.S. more scenic.
Most people don’t know this, but to get a true taste of the local culture”…Get out of downtown and head to the local neighborhoods because they each offer their own unique subculture. Chow down on some international cuisine and tour the University of Washington campus in the U-District. Mingle with hipsters and check out the LGBT-friendly nightlife in Capitol Hill. Go barhopping in Ballard and cycle naked (yes, really) with the free-sprits in Fremont. You’ll discover Seattle is a city of colorful neighborhoods with their own vibe going on, rather than one big sprawling metropolis.
For a glimpse of daily life, I recommend this form of transportation: To be a true Seattleite, you’ll live in the city but cling, white-knuckled, to your car. Or, you’ll be one of those annoying cyclists who takes up the entire road. As far as public transport goes however, The Emerald City has an embarrassing lack of options. In recent years we’ve added the ever-expanding Light Rail, which brings in connections from the airport and surrounding suburbs, but public transport is mostly limited to the bus and commuter train. With that said, the bus is always full of interesting and entertaining characters and is certainly an experience, not to mention, a free one, as buses downtown cost nothing from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.
I had my best night’s sleep at: The Inn at The Market. If I could choose it for its rooftop alone I would, as it offers sweeping views of the Puget Sound and a prime location in the Pike Place Market; perfect for exploring the city, experiencing the nightlife and popping into local cafés and restaurants. The service, free Wi-Fi, views and location launch it to the top of many of Seattle’s “best hotels” lists for good reason.
The meal at this local eatery had me salivating for days: In Seattle you can’t play favorites because there are so many worthy restaurants. From serious splurges like Canlis in Queen Anne to seafood-heavy spots like Palisade to an overall wide array of international cuisine (I personally love The Continental for no-frills, authentic Greek food in the U-District) your taste buds won’t leave the city disappointed.
The most quintessential dining experience in Seattle is the SkyCity restaurant, located atop of the Space Needle. It features specialty dishes from the Pacific Northwest, and 360-degrees views of the city; the floor slowly rotates as you sip on locally produced wines and nibble at small plates like Pacific Ahi Crudo and Lamb Dumplings. Dining with a view doesn’t get better than this.
Best place to find artisan handicrafts: The Fremont Sunday Market, which is every Sunday from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Pike Place Market, open daily 9 a.m. ““ 6 p.m. (5 p.m. on Sunday); both feature local artisans selling jewelry, clothing and pottery, savory bites from neighboring restaurants and street food vendors, and plenty of antiques worth browsing through.
Local celebration not to be missed: Seafair, a month-long summer festival that starts with smaller neighborhood celebrations and block parties in July and cumulates into a citywide affair in August. Popular events are the family-friendly Pirates Landing at Alki Beach and the two-mile-long Torchlight Parade, but the biggest weekend is Seafair Weekend. Seattleites and tourists alike head out to Lake Washington to participate in a bit of debauchery on boats, jaw-dropping performances by the Blue Angels flying overhead, and hydroplane races.
Another festival that’s completely unique to Seattle is the Fremont Fair. Though it contains all of the usual suspects like beer gardens and musical performances, it also features the Solstice Parade, where the aforementioned naked cyclists deck themselves out in body paint and pedal along elaborate floats. It’s definitely one of those festivals where Seattle’s quirkier side comes out.
Favorite pastimes: Living up to our coffee-addicted reputation (there’s coffee on nearly every street corner), flocking to every public green space when the sun comes out, walking around umbrella-less in the rain (it’s how we spot tourists from locals)and being all-around fervent, loyal Seattle sports fans, despite our often lousy records.
The art/music scene is alive and well here: Many Seattle neighborhoods have their own venues, but Seattle’s premier music and arts event is the Bumbershoot Festival, which takes place every Labor Day weekend in the city, featuring both big acts and small names. Also highly recommend are the Capitol Hill Block Party in July for up-and-coming acts and The Northwest Folklife Festival for street performers and ethnic and folk music.
Where the locals get tipsy: As each neighborhood has its own vibe during the day, it’s even more contrasting at night. Most locals stick to Ballard, Fremont, Capitol Hill or Lower Queen Anne and students stay mostly in the U-District or wander down to Belltown for its rowdier vibe. A local, laid-back watering hole is King’s Hardware in Ballard. Especially welcome in the Rainy City is their covered patio with separate bar, their decent selection of microbrews and their surprisingly good burgers.
For expertly crafted cocktails and lip-smacking pub fare, try Tavern Law in Capitol Hill. For Belgium brews, Brauwer’s in Fremont is your place.
If I had only 24 hours to explore Seattle I would: Wake up early and get a steaming cafe au lait at Espresso Vivace. Then, I’d stretch my legs with a walk to Pike Place Market to buy a perfect $5 bouquet — even though it’d be completely unreasonable for a 24-hour trip — they’re just so pretty and affordable, I wouldn’t be able to resist. After perusing the market stalls for a bit, I’d take the water taxi to Alki Beach for the infamous buffet brunch at Salty’s (think fresh Pacific NW salmon, all-you-can-eat Dungeness Crab, made-to-order omelettes, fresh seasonal fruit and a chocolate fountain to start).
To pay for my gluttonous sins, I’d rent a canoe from the UW Waterfront Activities Center and paddle off the calories on Lake Washington until I worked up an appetite again. A picnic would make for a light dinner (with Pike Place Market finds) at Gasworks Park to watch the seaplanes land on Lake Union. Later, I’d stop by Golden Gardens or Kerry Park to watch the sunset, and lastly I’d head out for cocktails in whichever neighborhood strikes my fancy that particular night. (I rotate them often, and enjoy being around the different crowds the city offers.)
This, of course, is a very summer-centric plan, but even if you’re in Seattle during the low season, there are plenty of cozy cafes and museums to find refuge from the drizzle.
*Check out last week’s Get Cultured: Belize and be on the lookout for the next installment in the series.
About Christine Medina
Christine Medina is a freelance writer, aspiring photographer and wanderlust-stricken expat currently living in Andalusia, Spain. Upon graduating from The University of Washington with a BA in Communications and a BA in Social Science, she set off to Spain to immerse herself in a new culture and learn the Spanish language. She writes about expat life and all things Spain on her blog, http://www.christineinspain.com. Follow Christine on Twitter at @christinenspain
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