Seattle certainly punches above its weight culturally; it’s spawned Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana and Pearl Jam, tech giant Microsoft is based here, it was the setting of the most critically acclaimed sitcom of all time, Frasier, brought Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan to its shores for some 90s rom-com action and is the birthplace of Starbucks which, love it or hate it, has basically turned us all in hardwired espresso addicts.
Luckily, we got to experience this amazing bayside city like locals, thanks to the lovely Eric and Arisa, friends of the incredible American ladies we met in Argentina, yet whom we’d never met until we turned up on their doorstep. What could possibly go wrong!
Thanks to our sparkling wit (and theirs) we got on like a house on fire, of course! And we couldn’t be more grateful that they gave up their entire weekend to show us their favourite places, even going to extra trouble as it was Chris’ *ahem* 33rd birthday. So we all got suitably inebriated… naturally!
Back in the cold light of day, and hangovers receding… we headed down to the waterfront. The epicentre of any Seattle trip has to be Pike Street Market, a rabbits’ warren of amazing seafood, coffee (natch), flowers and bizarre bric-a-brac shops.
It’s also next to an equally bizarre alley christened Gum Wall. Thousands of people have been sticking gum to the wall for 24 years, to the point where authorities have given up trying to clean it off and declared it a tourist attraction.
If you love seafood of any kind, well, you’ve found your nirvana (excuse the pun).
Alaskan salmon, locally caught cod and crab and clam chowder all jostle for attention. But it’s the chowder most people clamour for, and the line outside Pike Place Chowder (and the awards all over its walls) suggest it’s the go-to place.
We scoffed down the classic chowder, and very lovely it was, too. Just down from the market is one of the original Starbucks coffee shops, complete with 1970s-style sign outside and traditional interior. Sadly, the burnt-tasting coffee is the same regardless of the branding, but it’s worth a photo opp regardless.
We’re really not fans of the coffee, but you can’t knock the success story. So, we headed down to Starbucks’ new gourmet experiment, Starbucks Roastery and Tasting Room.
The ambition of the place has to be commended, and it looks great inside, but sadly giving your latest blend a ridiculous name like East Timor Peaberry won’t stop it tasting awful. And at $6 rather than $4 a cup, the awful is costing you 50% more.
Thankfully, there are dozens of amazing espresso joints, if that’s your thing. We enjoyed Storyville – but that was again down to a great recommendation by coffee connoisseur Eric!
Seattle’s outdoor spaces and buzzing suburbs are what makes it special, so our hosts focussed on showing us some local treats we probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
Gas Works Park is a unique green space; built around an abandoned, rusting gas plant on the banks of Lake Union.
We got some cheap wine (Trader Joes supermarket is a revelation!) and watched the seaplanes land and take off on to the water with the city skyline for a backdrop.
We enjoyed ambling around Eric and Arisa’s Capitol Hill neighbourhood as well. Washington State legalised cannabis in 2012, so we had to visit the iconic Uncle Ikes, which stocked all the herb in all its forms anyone could wish for.
Capitol Hill’s Volunteer Park is great for a sunny day as well, designed by the guys behind Central Park, the Olmsted Brothers.
Walking the 109 steps to the top of the park’s water tower produces some of the best views of the city and its iconic Space Needle, with the awesome Olympic Mountains looming in the background.
One activity we probably wouldn’t recommend, though, is Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour.
We were intrigued by the premise; that much of Seattle’s downtown was effectively paved over after rebuilding efforts in the years following the 1889 Great Fire, creating a network of underground alleyways.
In reality, the whole experience was like walking around a damp basement, narrated by a Jack Black-impersonator-on-speed tour guide, who was as annoying as that description sounds.
Despite only spending three days in Seattle, we managed to get under its skin thanks to Eric and Arisa.
We loved the landscapes and waterways around the city, the Victorian and Art Deco architecture downtown and the food and drink scene, and grunge fans would no doubt find another level of interest in Seattle’s streets, too.
For us, though, instead of a Nirvana geek off, we hired a SUV, cranked up another Seattle success story the Fleet Foxes on the sound system, and decided to head south, in search of snow and The Goonies!