First-time visitors to Seattle can scarcely take in the place, and for good reason. If you encountered this Pacific Northwest hub in book form, you’d swear it was fiction, not fact.
First, there’s Seattle’s whole confusing ethnic/cultural mix, an unlikely, sometimes unruly amalgam of Native Americans (Chief Sealth is the city’s namesake); Scandinavians, who once logged these forests, then turned them into houses; African-American and Deep South descendants of the military personnel who manned the Pacific fleet during World War II; Pacific islanders who followed the fleet home; SoCal expats; East Coast smarties; grunge rockers, pot smokers (now legal here); twinkly-eyed Chinese entrepreneurs; and some guy named Gates.
Not even the iconic Space Needle could get a bead on this place; that’s why it points to the sky, Seattle’s own inverted exclamation point.
Once you exit Sea-Tac, here are the 10 Seattle short stories you must explore:
Pike Place Market: The easiest way to immerse yourself in all of the above is to wander wide-eyed through Seattle’s downtown landmark, a menagerie of high-brow, low-brow and pierced-brow shops, diners and fishmongers, wrapped in noisy busker madness. Yes, a little ol’ coffee vendor called Starbucks got its start right here in 1971. But what you’ll go home raving about are the fresh-baked crumpets at The Crumpet Shop, the colorfully crazy Post Alley Gum Wall, and the view of Puget Sound from the rooftop alcove (ask anyone where they are). OK, and maybe those guys tossing salmon about, too.
Zoo Tunes: Ever heard a shed full of elephants trumpeting along with a funky jug band or a smooth a capella group? I did when John Sebastian and The Persuasions played the summer outdoor music series at the Woodland Park Zoo north of downtown. Catch it if you can.
The Ave: Seattle’s asphalt line in the sand between conformity and non, University Avenue on the western fringe of the University of Washington campus is a Fellini film come to life on a slow day.
Nordstrom: Credit the Alaskan gold rush with providing John Nordstrom with $13,000 in seed money back in 1897 to start a humble Seattle shoe store that grew into an unlikely department store giant. Where else can you still get a personal shopper for free?
Gasworks Park: Soak in the backside view of downtown from this unusual Frisbee park on the north side of Lake Union, built atop the ruins of an old gas plant from who knows when. Great for a picnic and dog play, or enjoy the same view from the new Westward restaurant nearby.
Museum of Flight: Who could visit the home of Boeing without a pilgrimage to the Museum of Flight? In addition to the requisite story-of-flight dioramas, the world’s largest private air and space museum features 150 vintage aircraft and spacecraft, including the supersonic Concorde and an Apollo 17 lunar module.
Kerry Park: Situated atop Queen Anne Hill, this is Seattle’s selfie nirvana and post-wedding Mecca. Go ahead; we’ll wait.
Olympic National Park: If time permits, get thee to the Olympic Peninsula, that huge green mass across Puget Sound. This glacier-capped, old-growth rain forest is unforgettable. Spend the night at Lake Crescent Lodge or Lake Quinault Lodge, stop in for a swim at Sol Duc Hot Springs and goof around the vampire accoutrements in Forks, setting for the Twilight books and films.
Ride a ferry: See Seattle from the sea on a cross-sound voyage aboard a Washington State ferry from downtown. Vashon Island is a good round-trip choice for lunch, or sail to Bremerton for a visit to the Puget Sound Navy Museum and a tour aboard the USS Turner Joy.
The Space Needle: You knew this was coming, right? But like most singular sensations, the Needle is worth its 600-foot elevator ride. Enjoy these revolving SpaceNeedleCam views of Elliott Bay, Mount Rainier and the Olympic Range in person from either the observation deck or SkyCity Restaurant (order the local Dungeness crab, trust me).