Well, hello Seattle. Nice to meet you, too.
Seattle. It’s a thriving city surrounded by water, mountains and glorious forests with just over 680,000 residents within its physical borders, and another 1.5 million or so within its metropolitan area. It’s growing at (what seems like) the fastest rate ever based on the condo units I’ve watched spring up this season. They say to know a city is to love a city, but rarely as a traveler do you get a chance to do just that.
There are certain things that give a city it’s lifeblood. Things that are part of the hum and beat that make it tick on a daily basis as we hustle from one spot to another. Things that can rarely be captured in words and pictures alone, rather they must be experienced. These five standout items help you paint a picture of what matters to Seattleites–where they spend their time, money and experiential capital. (It’s how I spent a fair bit of my own time as well.)
Here are my top picks to help you feel like a local—faster. So what exactly is it like to be trotting around up here in the Pacific Northwest on a daily basis? Allow me to introduce you.
Seattle Love #1? ⛵ Water
Boats, Bridges and Beaches
To say water is a fundamental part of the Seattle experience is an understatement. This is the first time in my life I’ve had the pleasure of living so close to so much water, and I have to admit it’s intoxicating and therapeutic. There is nothing that centers the brain more than a walk along the water. It’s magical seeing your place next to that vast, black dark underworld and the (seemingly) tiny toy boats perched atop.
It helps remind you of your interconnectedness with the rest of the world. That bay, that sound, that ocean…it goes somewhere. Somewhere farther than I can see. And it makes amazing commercial sea enterprise possible.
Never in my daily grind have I seen and experienced so many boats, bridges and beaches. There are so many waterside adventures that you could spend every day on the water doing something and not get bored.
My favorite Seattle water recommendations are:
- Kayak.: Rent kayaks at Agua Verde Cafe & Paddle Club before or after a meal
- Lakes. Spend a fair bit of time experiencing Seattle’s many lakes and lakeside walking trails. My favorites are Lake Washington, Green Lake and Lake Union.
- See some seaplanes. Speaking of Lake Union, one of the best (free) things you can do is go hang out at the Center for Wooden Boats and go on a free sail one Sunday and watch the seaplanes take off and land every 10 minutes or so. If you want to get even more adventurous, you can get your own seaplane ride to Canada, or another one of the nearby islands.
- Sailboats and yachts. While I don’t personally have any yacht-bearing pals, I certainly see a great number of them go by. The sailboats are serene and showy.
- Bridges and ferries. Good golly, bridges with a capital “B.” So many bridges. And boats. And ferries. Seattle has about 20 bridges, including one of the world’s only floating bridges, which is pretty amazing to experience. Taking the ferry also becomes part of the regular, as does watching the drawbridges go up to allow larger boats to pass.
- Beaches. To be clear, beaches of the PNW are not the tan or white sand wonders you have in mind. They are rocky, damp and mossy, but still teeming with nearby wildlife including whales, otters, seals, porpoises, fish, crabs and other critters. They are worth seeing and enjoying…with a jacket in tow.
THE FLIP SIDE: If you happen to hate the water, you should rethink your interest in this city. Because you’re going to have to get used to quite a bit of it. It’s everywhere. And it has an impact on your ability to exist. And that’s either magical, or maddening.
Seattle Love #2? ☕ Coffee
Roasters, Shops and Connoisseurs
So…coffee. That caffeine-rich crop has nestled itself into every cranny of this city. Walk up to some intersections and you can find a coffee shop pointing in any three of four directions on that block alone. If you are a connoisseur of the best brews, this place has your name written all over it. While most people immediately think of Starbucks, it’s actually more of a local coffee shop mecca for insiders.
You could try a different coffee shop every single day of the year in Seattle and probably still not make it to them all. Actually, I think I tried to do this without realizing it now that I write this. (I have had a LOT of coffee this past six months.)
The reason? Lots of coffee roasting and supply chain infrastructure exists in this part of the U.S. so starting, expanding and testing coffee is easier and more well established. I think it’s also a basic supply – demand principle. They brew, we buy.
It’s estimated that Seattleites spend around $40 per month on coffee alone, but I’d say it’s closer to $100 when you add snacks and specialty attractions such as cupping events (like beer tappings), custom cold brews, bottling and other nifty trends they try out here regularly. That’s a lot of Mo’ for yo’ Joe.
Some of my favorite “local” coffee spots include:
- Stumptown – Seattle (technically from Portland and being acquired by Peets)
- Honor Coffee & Tea (ah ooh la la experience)
- Victrola Coffee Roasters (swanky throwback style to match the name)
- Caffe Umbria (it’s own locations and served at many more)
- Slate Coffee (yummy brews and clean design = happy work spot)
- Ada’s Technical Books & Cafe (best croissant in the city we’ve found so far and great co-working space)
- Cafe Solstice (two great locations with wonderful work environment and free WiFi)
- Caffe Vita (pretty cool Capitol Hill location, among others)
- Starbucks Reserve Roastery (one of few in the world) and 15th St. location (cool windows)
THE FLIP SIDE: If you happen to loathe coffee and overpriced cafe experiences, this may be strike two for you. I can assure you that coffee is part of the flow that perks this city up, and part of their mainstream attraction. After all, it’s not every historic building that has a full-blow roastery in its basement, right?
Seattle Love #3? 🚴🏻 The Great Outdoors
Mountains, Trails, Bikes and Lifestyle Enthusiasts
I’ll state it simply: These people get out and enjoy their city—extensively. There are many beautiful parks, amazing biking trails and nearby mountains…(full-fledged, glorious, people come from across the lands) mountains. And there’s a lot of all of it.
It’s no coincidence REI occupies an entire city block in this town and has its HQ in the greater Seattle area. Ain’t no party like a West Coast outdoorsy folksy person party, right?
Let’s start within the immediate Seattle stomping grounds.
Firstly, it’s a much hillier city than most people realize. Is it as hilly as San Francisco? No. Is it going to be a big shock to your tushy if you’re not tracking several miles a day of vigorous walking? Yep, you can bet your (not-so-tight) ass it will. So, be prepared to be surprised in some areas if you become winded.
My favorite part about the city, beyond just walking the hilly streets is the parks.
Here is a list my favorite parks with quick notes about why:
- Seward Park. This is probably the park I visited most, largely based on its waterside sunset views. The 2.4-mile walking path on the lower loop is perfect for evening strolls, and has a nice family-style beach at the Lake Washington end. Head outside the park area directly on the Lake Washington Boulevard Trail for a 6 to 8-mile adventure that will take you throughout the entire city.
- Cal Anderson Park. Urban outing to see bike polo (don’t knock it ’til you try it), skateboarders, kite flyers and cat walkers. Not for those easily scared by strange people who don’t look just like them. Totally for those who love adventure. (Pro tip: Hit up Molly Moon’s across the street for ice cream. I recommend the salted caramel in a handmade waffle cone.)
- Volunteer Park. Black Hole Sun. Remember that little ditty by Soundgarden? Well, you can see it’s namesake inside this massive park, as well as a picture perfect view of the Space Needle, the Seattle Asian Art museum and a conservatory. It’s big, great for picnics and city strolls. I hear it gets sketchy after dark, but I never hung around to find out. Next door is Lake View Cemetery if you want to go and visit the city’s founders and a handful of other local celebrities.
- Magnuson Park. One of the city’s largest parks, Magnuson Park offers extensive walking trails, and one of the largest off-lease fenced dog runs in the city. If you have larger dogs you want to allow to explore for a long time, this is a great place to take them. They also have a wonderful community garden and a beautiful sunset view on a grassy knoll.
- Washington Park Arboretum. A beautifully manicured tree gallery with an amazing bridge and Japanese Garden. A perfect place for morning or evening walks which are level, maintained paths and ADA compliant.
- Madison Park. Great little park with a fantastic small beach that is normally underutilized and perfect for picnics and a swim. Also a top-secret fireworks viewing spot for Fourth of July. Shhhhhh….
- Alki Beach. One of my favorite beaches. Located in West Seattle, it offers perfect views of the Seattle skyline and built-in fire pits for summer s’mores dates.
- Lincoln Park. This West Seattle park offers a great beach side walk, and several trails through the woods. A real stunner.
- Golden Gardens Park. Extensive beach and very popular in the summers.
- Carkeek Park. Mostly amazing for the beach that sits on the other side of the railroad tracks and offers a great pedestrian bridge to watch the train stroll by along the Puget Sound. Also has a fun orchard, and extensive walking trails.
- Seahurst Park. Great escape just a few minutes outside the city with a magnificent beach, playground and hikes.
- Olympic Sculpture Park. I think “park” is a term used liberally in this instance, nonetheless this is a great spot to go and walk around outside for an hour or so and take in the large, public (free) outdoor art. It also connects to the waterside Elliot Bay Trail that is worth exploring by foot or pedal.
The city is also known for its well-established biking trails, the most notable being the Burke-Gilman Sammamish Trail. The nearly 50-mile trail goes through the entire city and also connects other nearby metropolitan areas in certain segments. Overall the city has nearly 100 miles of bike trails, and the entire county has about 200. In other words, bring your bike. (And a helmet, and a light—both required for safe cycling in this city.) Many people commute by bike daily, so you may make new friends.
Go a little further outside Seattle’s city center and you’ll start to hit all the nearby hiking trails and smaller mountain ranges. Some of the most notable nearby hikes include:
- Rattlesnake Trail
- Poo Poo Point
- Mailbox Peak
- Si and Little Si
- Dungeness Spit and Hurricane Ridge in Olympia
- Paradise Loop Hike at Mt. Rainier
- Snoqualmie Falls
Next up are the forests, mountains and camping areas. I’ll spend more time on these later, but quickly on most people’s “must-see” list we have:
- The Cascades including:
- Mt. Si
- Mt. Olympus (and the Olympic Peninsula)
- Mt. St. Helens
- Mt. Baker
- Mt. Adams
- Mt. Rainier (a.k.a. “The Mountain”)
- Glacier Peak
- San Juan Islands
- Vancouver and Victoria (Oh, Canada!)
THE FLIP SIDE: If you happen prefer a sedentary lifestyle and hate the thought of bugs, sweat, camping, hiking, biking, snakes and hills (big or small), this may be strike three for you. The Pacific Northwest isn’t for wussies. It’s for adventurers.
Seattle Love #4? 🐟 Fish
Lock, Stock and Crab Pot
Dorothy, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore because there’s a crab pot for sale at Costco. I’m serious.
So about the fishies in the deep blue sea. Turns out their success lies directly in the wake of global warming, habitat loss, increasing human populations (and their abundant over-the-counter drug use it seems) and safe, freshwater / saltwater transition areas.
Enter the Puget Sound. A critical life-cycle location for vast quantities of fish and marine mammal populations. Such focus has been placed on monitoring and fostering their recovery in the area, that federal, state and local organizations are working tirelessly to develop a central plan. The 2015 State of the Sound isn’t all roses and lollipops. In fact, it paints a fairly grim picture for the area’s wildlife, largely affected by the actions of humans. And that’s a real shame because arguably salmon and Killer Whales are two of the most iconic natural ambassadors for this area. And without healthy fish populations, whales are left starving and their populations also decline. It’s a no-win situation for our water-loving friends.
Fish, crab and oysters are an important part of the Seattle identity and culture. Viewing the salmon at the Ballard Locks (doing their fresh – saltwater adjustment dance), watching today’s catch go from fishmonger to family member at rapid speed at Pike Place Market, or catching your own crab can be one of the best parts of the city. I just hope it’s done with the care and respect that our waterways deserve, and our ocean life need.
To date, one of my favorite experiences was riding kayaks, catching fresh crab and having crab salad that same afternoon. If a seemingly crazy person is shouting at you to slow down as you make your way down through the Sound toward Lake Union, that’s our pal John. He’s got the timbre (the British accent helps) and striking looks of a sea captain. He merely needs the cap.
THE FLIP SIDE: If you happen to hate fish and seafood, dude just don’t even bother. I mean, there’s other decent food here, but this isn’t a “foodie” town. It’s a seafood town.
Seattle Love #5? ✈️🚆💡 Tech
Planes, Trains and Massive Brains
I don’t know if I’ve ever seen so many planes in the sky. I mean, I’ve lived in the airport flight path before (shout out to IND!) and do so now. (Shout out to SeaTac – security lines from hell!) What I haven’t seen as frequently is the quantity of private planes and jets in the sky that I see here on a regular basis.
I presume having the Boeing HQ nearby has some bearing on that air space. There are also about seven (7) regional or private airports and tech titans like Microsoft, Amazon and Zillow in the house. The “Ode de Plane” is so striking that Seattleites actually dedicate a large part of August to celebrating it on and over beautiful Lake Washington with Seafair, a multi-day air and sea extravaganza. They take their aeronautical ties seriously here folks. (Also, refer to list Item #1 about the clever inclusion of both water and planes in this annual event.)
There’s a handful of handy public transit options includes buses, light rail, car sharing services and your typical ride-sharing options. It’s still handy to have a car in my opinion. It’s even better if you have a car in a locked garage because petty theft of the vehicular variety is quite common. Some handy transit links for you:
- Link Light Rail and Sounder Train
- Seattle Monorail and Seattle Streetcar
- Seattle Buses (RapidRide)
- Seattle Ferries
- Car2Go Seattle (frequently used by what I can only assume are infrequent drivers based on their likelihood to almost kill you)
- ZipCar Seattle
- Pronto! Bike Share Seattle
So about the Trekkies…I mean techies. You can’t swing a cat without hitting a programmer or tech-related professional in this town. (And I really have no room to talk being in a tech-related field myself.) Having a city whose (coffee) cup runneth over with a particular archetype has its perks, and it’s drags. (Like how I weaved a coffee and weed reference in there for you?)
This became a point of conversation at dinner one night with mutual friends, which then led to a discussion about the male – female ratio of the city. Presently there are about 1.4 men to every 1 woman in the area. This fact prompted another local into a summary of what he called, the bizarre-ness that is the Seattle dating scene. Since I’m not exploring the Seattle dating scene personally, I thought I’d take to the interwebs to determine whether or not I could support or refute such claims.
I have highlighted a few recent articles that offer some Seattle dating scene scoop:
- 11 Ways that Dating in Seattle is Different than any other City
- What’s Wrong with Seattle’s Dating Scene
- Seattle’s (Most Eligible)…Offer Advice for Success
According to the same orator, I also learned that Seattle has a large Polyamory scene, which can be explored through a community member here. I might also add that Seattle is very LGBTQ-friendly, and you’ll encounter many individuals joyously embracing the safety of support of the Seattle community as they should.
So in short, it’s a woman’s market. Or a swinger’s. Or a man’s too I guess. Scratch that. It’s everyone’s and anyone’s market really.
THE FLIP SIDE: Like I said, the Pacific Northwest is full of adventure. You choose your own. Literally.
An Editor’s Note: This blog can and will be updated. Think we missed something? Tell us. We’ll consider adding it based on facts, a strong recommendation or our own experiences. Find a mistake? Ugh, I hate mistakes. Happy to correct those and give you a big thumb’s up for finding them. Yours in
Negative Nancy says, "But, wait. There's more..."
Did I fail to mention the city is teeming with rats? Oh, right. Well, there’s that. 🐀 And, let’s not confuse this with the NYC subway variety. These are just your average, everyday city, tree, bush, lake, water, anywhere and everywhere else rats. They are just all over the place. All the time. Watch your feet at the beach. Eek!
It only takes a couple days in Seattle to realize something wicked this way comes. And we can thank Edger Allen Poe for this nonsense. Well, him and all the climate and habitat offerings that make Seattle the perfect spot for our corvid pals. The crows are super smart. Do not piss off a crow. They will tell their entire crow network, and like the mafia, put a hit out on you. Crows never forget.
Rain, rain go away. Come again some other day, like, say September 1. Be prepared for rain nine (9) of 12 months in Seattle. Summer in Seattle is quite lovely. Don’t let anyone fool you. It’s warm and wonderful and barely sees a drop of serious rain. It’s a tourist mecca in the summer. I can take all the 5 a.m. showers that Washington has to offer because it’s no bother to me.
But, when September comes? A switch flips. The temperature drops (to a comfortable 60 and sunny) and a lot of grey days are ahead.
Pro Tip: Don’t be caught dead with one of these ☂ unless you want everyone to know you are a tourist. The rain isn’t hard enough, nor lasts long enough to warrant one on most days.
Does the “Seattle Freeze” exist? The jury’s out for me.
So let’s start by covering my experience so far. Coming here fresh of my time in San Francisco, I’d forgotten just how downright cordial people could be. Don’t get me wrong, San Francisco is full of amazing people doing extraordinary things, it’s just that the hamster-like wheels everyone is caught up on running day and night keep them discretely focused on the matter at hand any given moment and that is rarely you. Enter Seattle.
Right away I loved how kind people were to me in Seattle. I made friends on the street. I was gladly introduced to friends of friends who openly welcomed me into their homes and circles. It was a great reminder—people are fascinating and fun. So if there is a freeze happening, I’m not seeing it. Granted, I don’t meet a lot of people who I ask to hang out with me randomly, but generally people seem warm, interested in connecting with others and friendly.