Of all the places I visited on my recent Pacific Northwest trip, Seattle is the only one I could see actually living in (don’t worry, my head and heart are firmly planted in Somerville). It’s a city brimming with wonderful food, lots of history and culture and has easy access to the great outdoors. In addition to ideas for where to stay, where to eat and what to do in Seattle, I’ve provided two ideas for side trips in the area if you’ve got access to a car.
Where to Stay
Seattle is a sprawling city, so I recommend staying downtown close to many of the tourist attractions and nearby major bus routes. We stayed at the Grand Hyatt Seattle, which had nice views, comfortable rooms and a fantastic gym with a hot tub, sauna and steam room. There are tons of other hotels in the area so pick the one that suits you and get ready to explore.
Where to Eat
Bathtub Gin: Unlike some of the more contrived speakeasy bars I’ve frequented in the last few years, Bathtub Gin felt like the real deal. In fact, it reminded me of our own superb Backbar, including accessing it from a side alley.
The Calf and the Kid: We found this gem of a cheese shop after seeing Anthony Bourdain visit it on one of his shows. It’s in a neat building that also houses two other recommendations, Homegrown and Sitka & Spruce (see below).
Homegrown: With several locations in Seattle, chances are there’s a Homegrown nearby. And you’ll be glad there is once you get a taste of the delicious yogurt parfait with roasted apples and homemade granola and the breakfast sandwich with egg, avocado, gouda cheese and hot sauce.
Little Uncle: Another spot discovered via Bourdain, lunch at Little Uncle was truly fantastic. The bold flavors, fresh ingredients and rustic setting of the Pioneer Square location made me wish this place wasn’t 3,000 miles away.
Local Pho: One of the best parts about being on the West Coast was all of the incredible Asian food around every corner. Local Pho (pictured above) was a random find when we were hungry for lunch near the Experience Music Project (see below) and the huge lunch crowd told us we’d chosen wisely. Big, steaming bowls of warm soup are exactly what you need in a place where it rains a lot.
Portage Bay Cafe: With the motto “Eat Like You Give a Damn” printed on their mugs, I knew I would love this place. The brunch is legendary so the lines are long, but you can make a reservation, which I highly recommend. Then order one of the dishes that comes with the breakfast bar where you can pile your plate with tons of toppings.
Revel: Ever have a meal you think about for weeks after? For me, this happened at Revel, a place I’d been dreaming of coming to for quite some time. It lived up to the hype and I’m still dreaming about the lunch I had there (pictured below). And scheming of how to recreate it at home.
Rob Roy: This beautiful bar serves expertly mixed cocktails (and inventive nonalcoholic beverages) in a setting that’s both old and new all at once. It’s the perfect place to tuck into a drink and chat the night away.
Serious Pie: I love pizza, but it’s one of those foods that can be utterly amazing or completely disappointing. Luckily Serious Pie serves only the good stuff. The pizzas and salads were truly top-notch. In fact, a woman sitting at a nearby table declared it the best pie she’d ever had!
Sitka & Spruce: Another Bourdain pick, Sitka & Spruce does local, seasonal shared plates and they do them really, really well. The atmosphere is beautiful and relaxed, the food is fresh and flavorful and the wines paired perfectly with everything we ordered. A great spot for a special meal with your special someone.
Storyville Coffee: The airy yet cozy Storyville was the perfect destination on a rainy Seattle morning. The coffee was phenomenal as was the fruit bowl, which was all sourced from nearby Pike Place Market.
Sun Liquor Distillery: On the heels of the craft beer movement is the craft distillery movement and while it’s a cool concept, it’s not all good. Sun Liquor is the real deal though, with a friendly staff serving their tasty offerings in a quirky bar and restaurant.
The Walrus and the Carpenter: If you love oysters, you must make the trek to the Walrus and the Carpenter. Plan to arrive early, as the place is often packed and doesn’t accept reservations. Bonus points if you make it for happy hour (4 p.m.-6 p.m.) and get your oysters for half off. Double bonus if you save room for the indescribably delicious roasted dates for dessert.
Veggie Grill: OK, so Veggie Grill is a chain, but there aren’t any on the East Coast, so I was excited for the chance to try it while on the other side of the country. The All Hail Kale salad was great, but the sweet potato fries really stole the show. It’s worth seeking out for them alone.
What to Do
Pike Place Market: The home of the famous flying fish, Pike Place Market is a must-see spot for anyone visiting Seattle. Yes, it’s touristy, but it’s also historic, has beautiful views of the waterfront and is full of interesting sights. Don’t miss the gorgeous (and super cheap) flowers for sale throughout!
Space Needle: Towering high above Seattle, the Space Needle is another must-see for anyone visiting the city. The 360-degree views from the observation deck are stunning, especially on a clear day.
Experience Music Project: I first visited the Experience Music Project more than a decade ago when it first opened and was eager to return on our recent trip to Seattle. It’s only gotten better with age and is an essential stop for any music lover. Don’t miss the Nirvana exhibit, spend some time in the history of guitars and be sure to hit up the interactive spaces.
Fremont: This quirky neighborhood that has a lot in common with Somerville (and Cambridge) is the perfect place to spend the day strolling around. Visit the Fremont Troll, pop into the small shops on the main drag and snag a sample at Theo Chocolate. We used this walking tour from Frommer’s to get a lay of the land and be sure to visit the Fremont Sunday Market if you’re in Seattle on the weekend.
Gas Works Park: While in Fremont, walk along the path next to Lake Union until you reach Gas Works Park. It’s a rally unique spot with beautiful views of the city.
Lake Union: If you’re looking for a place to walk, run or bike, head to Lake Union, which is surrounded by paved paths that connect to even more trails. It takes you by the aforementioned Gas Works Park and provides great views of all the many houseboats doting the shores.
Pioneer Square: Once the center of Seattle, this neighborhood was ravaged by a fire in 1889. When it was rebuilt, many of the buildings second floors became the first after Seattle raised the level of the city’s streets. Pioneer Square was the original Skid Row and is now home to the Underground Tour. We stumbled upon the Smith Tower, which provided beautiful (and completely different than the Space Needle) views of the city from the top.
Seattle Great Wheel: If you haven’t had your fill of overhead Seattle views, take a spin on the Seattle Great Wheel. It provides another very different view of the city from above, mostly of the waterfront area.
Seattle Seaplanes: This is definitely a splurge, but it was probably the best thing we did during our whole two-week vacation. The 20-minute scenic ride takes you high above the city and gives you a glimpse at the elusive Mount Rainier. It was a truly breath-taking experience that I’ll never forget.
Mount Rainier: If you’re got a car in Seattle, I recommend heading to Mount Rainier to take in this beautiful National Park. There are lots of hiking trails, opportunities to see wildlife and stunning views (if the weather is clear).
Olympia: I did an internship in Olympia many years ago and have a major fondness for this funky state capital. Located at the southern end of Puget Sound, Olympia’s waterfront is gorgeous and home to a great farmers market. Don’t miss breakfast at the tiny, delicious New Moon Cooperative Cafe, a quintessential Olympia experience.
Have you been to Seattle? What are your recommendations for where to stay, where to eat and what to do?