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Seattle City Trip - International District

Seattle Skyline From Bainbridge Island
Seattle from Bainbridge Island

SEATTLE DAY 2: International District, Pioneer Square and Central Library

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Today, explore the many cultures that have helped shape Seattle. Similar to San Francisco, the city's Pacific Coast location attracted diverse ethnic groups, particularly from Asia. In the 1880s, an influx of Chinese immigrants arrived to help construct railroads, creating a thriving Chinatown. As immigrants flowed in from other Asian nations, including Vietnam, Korea and the Pacific Islands, the name of the neighborhood was changed to the International District (locals just call it the "ID"). Located southeast of downtown, the neighborhood's boundaries run from South Washington Street to South Weller Street and between Second and Twelfth Avenues South. You'll know you've arrived when you see the bright pagoda and colorful murals at Hing Hay Park and the huge Japanese lantern marking Kobe Terrace. Colorful shop signs are in many different languages. Here you can buy Asian teas and herbs, sample offerings at bakeries and check out beautiful fabrics. Be sure to visit Uwajimaya, a modern superstore with foods and goods showcasing the bounty and diversity of Asia. The nearby Wing Luke Asian Museum spotlights Asian-American history, culture and art.

Occidental Park in Pioneer Square
Occidental Park in Pioneer Square

There are dozens of lunch choices in the International District. Tour the food court at Uwajimaya with its numerous options and join the noisy throngs enjoying fast-food, Asian-style. For a dim sum lunch, the House of Hong is a good option, while Green Leaf and Tamarind Tree offer tempting Vietnamese dishes.You might also begin walking towards your next destination, Pioneer Square, and have lunch at Delicatus, famous for its lamb sandwiches. Or, if it's a weekday, stop at Salumi, where Armandino Batali (father of New York celebrity chef Mario Batali) cures pork Italian-style and serves it by the slice for charcuterie plates and in tasty sandwiches. Homemade soups and pasta are also available. Also in Pioneer Square, al Boccalino offers a charming intimate setting for a romantic lunch or dinner.

After lunch, it's time to explore Pioneer Square, the area slightly south of downtown where the city took root. This historic district with turn-of-the-century red brick buildings stretches along First Avenue between Cherry and King Streets. You'll enjoy touring the area's many art galleries and funky boutiques. Turn the pages back a century at the Alaska-Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park, a museum recounting the days when pioneers came through Seattle on their way to the Yukon's gold mines. To really discover the bottom of this area's colorful history, take the Underground Tour. In this novel journey below Seattle's modern-day streets, you see the original storefronts that were once at street level before most of the town was destroyed in the fire of 1889. At Occidental Park, be sure to take a look at the modern totem poles, icons of the Pacific Northwest.

The Central Library
The Central Library

On your walk back from Pioneer Square, stop at the Seattle Public Library's main branch, the Central Library. Designed by world-famous Dutch architect Rem Koolhaus, the building's cantilevered structure covered with a net-like diamond grid gives it a distinctive profile in Seattle's cityscape. Wander the stacks, ride the neon green escalators, tour the open reading areas and sit in on a lecture or film. Be sure to visit the second-floor Friends of the Libraries gift shop to find novel gifts for book lovers. The library offers free one-hour tours several times a day, beginning at the second-floor welcome desk. Farther along First Avenue, you may want to enjoy a coffee or wine break at Fonte and — if you have any energy left — visit the Seattle Art Museum across the street. Open until 9 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, SAM's permanent collection includes excellent exhibits of Native American and African art.

Tonight, discover what it means to enjoy the bounty Pacific Northwest cuisine at one of Seattle's fine downtown restaurants. If you're up for seafood, Elliot's Oyster House is a Seattle legend, but Steelhead Diner in Pike Place Market or Blueacre are terrific alternatives to the larger seafood emporiums. In fact, Steelhead serves what many consider to be the best crab cakes in town. For contemporary Northwest cuisine, check out Lecosho at the Harbor Steps or Japonessa for exotic sushi rolls. You may also enjoy classic Pacific Northwest cuisine at Tom Douglas' Dahlia Lounge or take a taxi to Sitka & Spruce or Terra Plata, both in Capitol Hill's trendy Melrose Market (reservations are recommended at both places). If hip sounds intriguing, head to Belltown to savor cocktails and creative cuisine at Black Bottle or Spur gastro pub. Following dinner, enjoy a Broadway show at The Fifth Avenue Theatre, hear a local jazz group at Tula's or go clubbing at Crocodile Café.

Continue to Day 3

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*Photos courtesy of Tim Thompson at the Seattle Convention & Visitors Bureau and Beth Somerfield

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