Obviously, everyone should visit Seattle. With its glorious scenery, kink-positive nightlife, and overall love of the bizarre, Seattle’s like the San Francisco of the North, with only half of the gentrification.
But when you visit, locals will direct you to the super-touristy spots. Blah blah blah Space Needle, blah blah blah Monorail, blah blah blah Pike Place Market. These places are all fine and dandy for the more timid tourist, but if you really want to enjoy the city, you’ve got to visit like a local.
We polled some actual real-life Seattle residents for their favorite destinations, and here are their suggestions:
1. The Pike Place Market
Wait a minute. Didn’t we just make fun of this place as a tourist trap? Well, yeah, the market is super-touristy. But like Disneyland, if you pick the right time to go, you can avoid the awful crowds and enjoy it like a local. It’s a massive, sprawling complex — nine acres! — full of crafts (like a stall of colored hand-blown glass doodads), weird foods (maple bacon cider), collectables (a whole shop of ceramic Mickey Mice), a shoe museum, and street performers (youthful guitarists abound). Check out Kells Irish Restaurant and Pub, and the icky Gum Wall when you’re there.
2. Beacon Hill
Head south from downtown to Beacon Hill for some lovely views of the city and a nice quiet place for contemplation. If you like old architecture, you’ll enjoy a gander at the old veteran’s hospital, and the adorable old homes you’ll find as you stroll the side streets. Additional highlights: cheap beer pitchers while you bowl at Imperial Lanes, pan de leche at Delite Bakery, and zip-lining in Jefferson Park.
3. Olde Central Antique Mall
Take a ferry across the Puget Sound to the Olde Central Antique Mall to stock up on curios galore. You never know what strange old item you’ll find here: road signs from bygone eras, elaborately painted teacups, a bike with a mysterious past, nautical equipment, dangerous dolls, old-timey hats that are perfect for your revival of “Thoroughly Modern Millie.” Staff are generally very friendly and knowledgable, which is helpful because you will probably have no idea what you’re looking at.
Seattle’s best movie theater just got even better, with a total revamp that includes all new projector, sound systems, seating, and screen. This is a theater for movie lovers, run by movie lovers: they show excellent movies (classics like Godard’s Goodbye to Language, and American Sniper) with projection quality that’ll blow away any run-of-the-mill AMC. They’ve retained the kitschy old movie palace sign out front, and you can spot the building from blocks away by its blaringly-bright red and blue movie icon mural. Inside, the starry lighting in the ceiling calls to mind a drive-in, and the screen is framed by a grand curtain. No one should have to endure a trip to Los Angeles to see a film in a Cinerama dome, and now you don’t have to.
Local consensus has generally settled on Vivace as the apex of the Seattle coffee experience. Don’t waste your time with Starbucks, even though this is the land of its birth. Instead, head over to one of the three locations (two in Capitol Hill, one in South Lake Union) for the city’s finest brown liquid. Vivace has a weekly tasting event where they test the latest batch of beans, then adjust their roasting technique to provide consistent flavor while accounting for variables that even include local weather.
6. Bruce and Brandon Lee’s Graves
Okay this is maybe a little grim. But if you’re a martial arts film devotee, you may wish to check out the gravestone at Lake View Cemetery. Hours are 9am to dusk, but take note: dusk comes early in the winter, usually around 4pm. The Lee graves are unassuming: two upright stones with brickwork all around, a carved book above Bruce with the inscription “your inspiration continues to guide us toward our personal liberation.” Once you check out those particular graves, you might also want to stroll the grounds in quiet contemplation. It’s a lovely facility, founded just a few years after the Civil War. And if you really enjoy your stay, good news: they’re still accepting reservations. In the ground, that is.
7. Deception Pass
There’s tons of hiking just down the road from the city — you’ll just need to rustle up a car for most of them. (A few, like Wallace Falls State park, are reachable by bus.) Deception Pass, so named because explorers couldn’t quite figure out where it was at first, is one of the most popular: it’s in the middle of a lovely state park, has a nice campground, and there’s a beach. You can go for a nice hike through the dense woods that comprise most of the area, rent a boat and float out on the lake, or go fishing — just remember to bring some rain gear in case it gets damp.
8. Copperworks Tasting Room & Distillery
What better way to get to know a new city than by getting a little woozy on its finest spirits? This is the prettiest distillery in the city, and luckily enough you can go on a tour and treat yourself to a tasting of some exceptionally smooth gin. Distilling nerds will want to geek out over the backstage tour, and foodies will enjoy the creative cocktails, like Juno’s thistle, the turf, gin-gin mule, and a Berlioni. Added bonus: the local sourcing of ingredients adds up to a very Seattle experience. Local ingredients include Washington barley, juniper, and heather.
Like Boston, Seattle is a town that takes its sports very seriously. So if you like sports, you’ll definitely want to sports with the sportspeople here. This is not a world that we understand, but we’ve been informed that CenturyLink Field and Safeco Center are the two major sporting pens; and the Seahawks, Mariners, Sounders, and Storms are the important squadrons. Bleacher’s Sports Pub is probably the best location for enjoying a game, due it its legendary nachos and screens that extend even into the bathrooms. Or check out George & Dragon Pub, where it’s all British all the time. We cannot over-emphasize how enthusiastic the locals can get about their sporting, so if you would enjoy having a lengthy heated discussion, we suggest that you compare the sportage of your region to that of another region. If, on the other hand, this is not of interest to you, consider this your warning to avoid broaching the topic at all costs.
10. The International District
The term “international” here mostly means Asia, but there are multiple nations in Asia to technically it’s an accurate title. Various restaurants, food markets, and art museums will great you in the International District. Get some honey walnut prawns at Hue Ky Mi Gia, or xio long bao (steamed buns) at Ping’s Dumpling House. Friday is Ramen Day at Tsukushinbo, and BBQ pork is popular at Fortuna Cafe. Drop by for Lunar New Year’s in Januaryish, or the Dragon Festival during the summer for parades and special vendors. But if you want to avoid the crowds, just pick a weekday to stroll down the street and see what you discover.
Previously published Februrary 18, 2015.