Surrounded by jagged mountains and breathtaking water vistas, Seattle is a city finally living up to its grand natural beauty with excellent restaurants, shops, and activities reflecting its prized Pacific Northwest location. As the city floods with new tech-boom residents, the fledgling industries for which it first became famous evolve and expand. Starbucks takes coffee drinking into near-museum status at its posh Capitol Hill Roastery, while the city's chefs are finally finding the proper homes where they can showcase the region's spectacular seafood — which tourists can follow from boat to banquet, should they wish, starting at Fishermen's Terminal. For residents and newcomers alike, discovering the many-faceted aspects of Seattle's food and cultural scenes is pure pleasure, an adventure matching the majesty of its natural surroundings.
The core of the city, from the iconic Space Needle (an icon from the 1962 World's Fair) south to the revitalized historic Pioneer Square neighborhood (booming with top-notch restaurants) is easily accessible on foot — and an easy trip from the airport via LINK light rail. Trendy neighborhoods that are a bit further afield, such as Ballard and Fremont, are accessible via city buses or fast cab ride.
Seattle's hotel options mirror the city ranging from large, well-known names to smaller, quirkier boutique lodgings, all conveniently located for easy sightseeing and dining. If costs aren't an issue, we suggest the chic Four Seasons Hotel Seattle across from the Seattle Art Museum, or the classically elegant The Fairmont Olympic Seattle. The Inn at the Market is a favorite boutique hotel a half block from the historic, lively Pike Place Market. Or book a lovely room at the Hotel Monaco Seattle, a favorite with business travelers for its many amenities, including high-speed wi-fi and hosted evening wine hour.
For those seeking a place to sleep that acknowledges Seattle's role in the arts — and as the birthplace of grunge music — the Hotel Max is an excellent choice. A bonus is its companion restaurant, Miller's Guild, a live-fire steakhouse, directed by stellar chef Jason Wilson. Another option is the Ace Hotel, known as very fashion-forward and budget-friendly. For accommodations with drop-dead water views, no hotel in Seattle can beat The Edgewater on Pier 67, which was built for the 1962 World's Fair and remains the city's only right-on-the-waterfront hotel. The Arctic Club Seattle, a restored Seattle classic, combines the history and grandeur of an early 20th-century men's club with contemporary design and amenities.
1: Space Needle, Experience Music Project, Pike Place Market and Seattle Aquarium
Hop aboard the Seattle Center Monorail right downtown at Westlake Center (a shopping mall located between Fourth and Fifth Avenues at Pine Street) for the one-mile ride to the 74-acre Seattle Center. The site of the 1962 World's Fair and the exposition that gave the city its landmark Space Needle, a 605-foot tower that still turns heads more than 50 years later, the Center remains a draw for both residents and tourists. For the full experience, ride a glass-sided elevator 520 feet up to the observation deck where you can enjoy stunning 360-degree views stretching across Puget Sound west to the Olympic Mountains on the Olympic Peninsula, and east to the Cascade Range. On a clear day, you'll see snowcapped Mount Rainier 60 miles south of the city. At the base of the Space Needle, visit Seattle's newest treasure — the spectacular Chihuly Garden and Glass, which highlights the exuberant colorful blown glass creations of the internationally famous glass artist, Dale Chihuly. Born in nearby Tacoma, the 70-year-old artist designed the museum, which includes Collections Café serving lunch and dinner overlooking thet Chihuly Gardens. For nearly the same view as you get at the top of "The Needle" — but with a postcard-perfect view of the Needle itself — hike halfway up nearby Queen Anne Hill to Kerry Park. It's an ideal spot for photo opportunities and counting crane hovering over Seattle's newest apartment and condo buildings.
Back at Seattle Center, you'll merge right at the EMP Museum (originally named the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Museum) — a haven celebrating music of all genres, from rock to hip-hop, country, punk and gospel. The EMP's extraordinary building designed by famed architect Frank Gehry is still a controversial landmark, often compared to a giant smashed guitar with its cascading roof panels of green, red, and silver. Aptly named, it's an interactive museum where you can try your own skills singing or playing different instruments. Rock-and-roll fans will enjoy the EMP's extensive collection of rare musical memorabilia, including a gallery devoted to Seattle native Jimi Hendrix. With the same admission ticket, head to the connected Science Fiction Museum (SFM) and the Hall of Fame. And seriously, no visit to Seattle Center is complete without a visit to the Pacific Science Center. Kids of all ages will love the Live Science Stage shows, Laser Dome, Planetarium and state-of-the art interactive exhibits on view here, as well as the Tropical Butterfly House and two IMAX Theatres.
Seattle Center is also home to the nationally-renowned Seattle Repertory Theatre, the Intiman Theatre, the highly acclaimed Seattle Children's Theatre and McCaw Hall, home of the Seattle Opera, and Pacific Northwest Ballet. As you walk the grounds, take time to see the International Fountain with its continuous water and music displays that shoot 120-feet in the air. Bring swimsuits for the kids, who are welcome to play in the fountain.
Families, or anyone young at heart, may also want to ride "The Duck," a quirky land and water tour aboard a WWII amphibious landing craft and a fun way to explore the streets and waterways of the city. Reserved seat departures may be booked at ticket booths at the Space Needle at Fifth Avenue and Broad Street or downtown at Westlake Center on Fourth Avenue.
Return on the Monorail (or grab a taxi), and then walk a few blocks west to Pike Place Market, often called the Soul of Seattle. With views across Elliott Bay to the majestic Olympic Mountains on the Olympic Peninsula, this vibrant and colorful market celebrated its 100th birthday in 2007 as the oldest continuously working farmers' market in the U.S. Today, the year-round public market hosts 250 merchants, 100 farmers, 200 craftspeople and scores of street performers daily. From a bounty of fresh produce and flowers in artistic displays, to tastes of squeaky cheese curds at Beecher's Handmade Cheese, and the clever antics of market salespeople — including salmon and halibut tossed in the air by lively fishmongers — this is indeed the true heart of Seattle. A tip: If you need a cocktail stop, Radiator Whiskey is located right inside the Market and offers some of the best cocktails in town through its custom barrel-aging system. Stop in to enjoy local, domestic, and foreign whiskeys served with a smoked-meat-inspired food menu.
While you're touring the Market, be sure to check out Pure Fish Food Market at 1511 Pike Place. With the market's oldest vendor, Sol Amon, it's a good place to purchase the freshest fish on the spot. You can easily have your catch of the day delivered free to your downtown hotel, packed and ready for an airplane trip, or order and send it via FedEx to your hometown.
To truly experience the Market, stroll up and down the streets and alleys letting it's sights, sounds and smells entertain you. Many foods, not just fish, sold at the market can be packed for shipping or air travel, allowing you to take home a taste of Seattle. Pike Place Market caters to home cooks, but also offers a tempting selection for restaurant chefs. In fact, if you arrive early, you'll probably see a chef or two selecting produce or fish for their daily menu.
For lunch, stop at Café Campagne to enjoy classic French bistro fare. Or pick up a sandwich and a pastry to-go from Three Girls Bakery and plant yourself on a bench at Victor Steinbrueck Park to watch ferry boats crisscrossing Elliott Bay. If you need an afternoon energy boost, stop at 1912 Pike Place, the site of the original Starbucks Coffee. The shop (no seating) usually has long lines, but the nostalgia and coffee aromas are worth a wait. For a more authentic "local" coffee experience, visit Seattle Coffee Roasters at Pike Street, just across from the entrance to the Market. In the mood to sample Washington wine? Duck into the cozy The Tasting Room, also on Post Alley, to sample some of Washington's most celebrated boutique wines. The shop is arranged so you may taste a few flights or enjoy a full glass of wine, and then, if you choose, purchase current releases and rare older vintages.
From the Market, take the stairs on Pine Street leading down to Alaskan Way, the wide avenue bordering the waterfront bustling with ferries, yachts, fireboats and cruise ships to Alaska (during summer months). A bit honky-tonk and touristy, the waterfront is home to the Seattle Aquarium, and also boasts a giant Ferris wheel (constructed in 2012) that is a colorful addition to the area's piers, shops, attractions and seafood restaurants.
At this point, grab a cab or bus and head north toward Ballard. Founded as a fishing and lumbering village in the 1800s for mainly Scandinavian immigrants, the neighborhood has recently morphed into a hot restaurant destination. Walking into the center of Ballard, make your way to Renee Erickson's renowned oyster bar, the Walrus and the Carpenter, or go for a more casual bite at Porkchop & Co. Stop in at the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks to see ships move from saltwater (Puget Sound) to freshwater Lake Union, and then Lake Washington — and vice versa. Alternatively, hop into a cab and wind your way down to the ship canal to reach Westward. This is where former Top Chef contestant Zoi Antonitsas puts out Mediterranean-style seafood in a beautiful, open, waterfront setting. After diner, settle in with a cocktail in the Adirondack chairs at the outdoor firepits and watch the sun go down.
If you're a music lover, top off the evening by heading back downtown to catch some beats. Your destination might be either The Triple Door, a live music venue at the wildly tasty Wild Ginger restaurant, or perhaps at Dimitriou's Jazz Alley, a popular club featuring world-class musicians. Classical music aficionados may want to check out the current program of the Seattle Symphony at nearby Benaroya Hall.
to Day 2