Seattle, USA: Jewel of the Pacific Northwest

Friendly people. Amazing food. Stunning views. These are just a few things Seattle has to offer, and we haven't even mentioned the soft water that does wonders for your skin and hair.


Gas Works Park. © Eileen Hsieh 謝雅琳

A City Against All Odds

Friends questioned my sanity when I decided to leave London during a glorious sunny spell for vacation in Seattle, where extreme cold (average temperate in April was 52.3°F/11.3°C) and continuous rain (21 out of 31 days in March and 20 out of 30 days in April) had given the city one of its most dreary springs on record

Combine that with notoriously bad traffic, high suicide rate and a relatively homogeneous population (ranked as the fifth whitest major city in the United States), news headlines don’t portray Seattle as an appealing place worth exploring. 

For me, however, the choice to visit the Emerald City was an easy one: free flight (air-miles), free accommodation (staying with a friend), time off work, and most importantly – I had never been.

How could I judge a city if I’d never personally experienced its wrath? With my carryon luggage packed with winter clothes and an umbrella firmly nestled in a bigger suitcase – got to prepare for shopping – off I went to investigate the myths and realities behind the most popular city in the Pacific Northwest.

Recommended Reading: 40 Years Young: A History of Starbucks

 

Unstoppable (CAFFEINE-FUELLED!!) Energy

Yes, Seattle is home to big-name businesses like Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon, and Nordstrom department store. It’s also the birthplace of the grudge movement that pushed bands like Nirvana and Pearl Jam into the international spotlight. But let’s be honest, what Seattle is really known for is its coffee, and by that I mean Starbucks coffee. To most of the world, Seattle is synonymous with Starbucks.

40 years after the Original Starbucks café opened its doors in downtown Seattle, the coffee giant’s effect on Seattleites’ way of life is evident. It is the driving force behind the city’s vitality. How else can you explain the chattiness of residents to ANYONE under the gloomy sky? Or their love for outdoors activities rain or shine? Or the longevity of vibrant music and art scenes that have inspired Americans for decades? 

That extra burst of energy would also in handy in Seattle if you’re single and looking (either for love or a job). The latest Forbes list ranks Seattle as the fourth best city in America for singles - just after New York City, Boston and Chicago – based on its low living cost, high job growth and undeniable cool factor.

For an elating injection of caffeine before that big date or interview, I highly recommend the Ultimate Mocha from Seattle’s Best Coffee – an aromatic and rich chocolate concoction totally worth the calories. SBC’s new retro décor is pretty sweet too.

Check out the Top 10 Coffee Shops in Seattle, accoding to Seattle.net


My Journey in Photos

 

There’s Something for Everyone

Seattle's most famous farmer's market. © Eileen HsiehFor a city with just over 600,000 residents, Seattle offers a respectable variety of activities to keep most people occupied. Surrounded by three national parks, it’s especially a paradise for outdoors enthusiasts. Downtown Seattle is small enough to explore on foot, by bus (free from 6am – 7pm in the Ride-Free Area), by the Monorail that links downtown Seattle and the Seattle Center, or by Streetcar.

If you’re staying outside of the city center, however, getting around can be difficult without a car. My friend’s place was on the northern end of Lake Washington about fifteen miles northeast of Seattle, so when getting a ride wasn’t an option, my main means of transportation was the buses. Luckily bus 522 Express went from our street directly to Third Avenue and Union Street, stopping in the middle of Seattle’s best shopping district and just a short walk from the world-famous Pike Place Market.

I did not expect to see everything during my four-day visit to Seattle. Moreover, the stunning lake and mountain vistas on every corner made me accomplish much less than I could have. But when in Rome, do as the Romans do – so I just kicked back, sipped on my latte and let the Seattle panoramas take my breath away. 

 

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POPULAR ATTRACTIONS

  • Space Needle at NghtPike Place Market Where fishmongers throw huge salmons at each others. The smoked salmon from City Fish is divine and can be shipped or taken abroad. 
  • The Original Starbucks Definitely a tourist magnet, but no one will believe you've been to Seattle until they see a photo of you in front of that adorable brown logo.
  • Space Needle The iconic Seattle landmark recognized the world over. Its Observation Deck and restaurant offer a glorious 360-degree view of the natural beauty surrounding the city.
  • The Experience Music Project|Science Fiction Museum Billed as the place where music meets science fiction, EMP|SFM is a museum dedicated to Seattle's music history and science fiction exploration. Located adjacent to the Space Needle, the museum building designed by Frank Gehry (the man behind Bilbao's Guggenheim Museum) is just as eye-catching. 
  • Seattle Central Library I didn't learn about this place until after my departure, but if all the guidebooks say this eleven-story, glass and steel building is a must-see, it must be special. Looking at the library's floorplan, I can't help but be jealous of Seattleites' good fortune!
  • Gas Works Park The former natural gas plant was turned into a public park in 1975 and offers a panoramic view of the Seattle skyline over Lake Union. It's also a popular spot for picnics and kite flying. 
  • Lake Union, viewed from Gas Works Park. © Eileen HsiehLake Union A freshwater lake in close proximity to downtown Seattle, visitors can kayak, catch a boat or seaplane for an unobstructed view of the city. The Lake Union Park had just open to the public in September 2010.
  • Green Lake The 2.8-mile path around this lake in north central Seattle makes it a popular recreational spot for residents seeking fun on land and in the water. With beautiful old houses on tree-lined streets, this neighborhood is understandably highly sought after and expensive.

 

NATIONAL PARKS

  • The Mountain from Indian Henrys Hunting Grounds. http://www.nps.govMount Rainier National Park Next time I'm in Seattle, I'm going to rent a car and climb to the top of this majestic mountain. The highest peak in the Cascades, Mount Rainier is about a two-hour drive southeast of Seattle and can be seen from almost anywhere in the city. On hazy days it can appear as if floating in the air from a distance.
  • Olympic National Park A UNESCO World Heritage Site, this park covers nearly one million acres of land, has three distinct ecosystems and is only a two-hour drive west of Seattle. Follow the park's guidance and pay a visit to the Visitor's Center for the latest road and weather information before exploring.
  • North Cascades National Park Snow-covered peaks, glacial valleys, canyons and lakes make this park one of the most wild and wonderful in the Pacific Northwest. It's the farthest of the three national parks near Seattle but still only a 110-mile drive northeast. Cruise down the North Cascades Highway in Setpember and October for a spectacular show of fall foiliage.

 

PROFESSIONAL SPORTS 

  • Sounders.com PhotosFootball: Seahawks The only team with a losing record that made it to the 2011 NFL playoffs, and beat the defending champion New Orleans Saints. Who says losers never win?
  • Baseball: Mariners When Ken Griffey Jr. retired in 2010, Ichiro Suzuki became the most recognizable (and probably the best) player on the team, especially after he broke the Mariners' all-time career hits record in April 2011.
  • Soccer: Sounders The two-time defending US Open Cup champions enjoy great popularity in Seattle, selling out every match and setting records for attendance. Despite the "FC" in the team's official name, this is still very much a soccer team playing by the American rules. It even has its own marching band.

 

PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION

  • Metro Bus Service Serving the greater Seattle area. Comfortable, affordable and punctual.
  • Seattle Center Monorail The two-minute and one-mile long journey between Fifth Avenue/Pine Street and the Seattle Center Campus (for Space Needle, Experience Music Project, the Children's Museum and etc.) will set you back $2.00 per adult. Cash only.

 

While streetcars are making a comeback in Seattle, 2011 marks the 70th anniversary of the day that trackless trolleys and buses replaced Seattle’s first streetcar system. 

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