A Love Letter to Seattle
Plus the top 19 things to do in the city
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Note: This piece was originally published on my old blog in September 2020.
After almost a decade of living in this beauty of a place we have decided to leave. What better time to write a post about Seattle than now?
When I think of Seattle I think of water and nature. All around. Everywhere you look. This city nested between lakes and the ocean is a real beauty and it’s worth a visit. Specifically, in the summer, when the sun shines 12+ hr a day, the weather is warm enough to make you want to jump in the almost-never-warm-enough waters, and everyone is out and about.
Growing up in Venezuela the weather was never something we paid attention to, a topic almost never discussed in any circumstance. I was born and raised in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, and there, although it’s hard to believe, the temperature is around 75F every single day of the year. You never have to think too hard about what you are going to wear, or look at your weather app, you just know it’s going to be sunny and pleasant. Of course it rains, but it’s fast and furious, and also warm, so no one cares. In fact, it’s lovely and refreshing.
Not surprisingly, I never truly realized or really appreciated this magical aspect of my city until I left it. First to Texas, where the summer heat and humidity, and the intense and unpredictable nature of the weather was utterly shocking. Then to Seattle, where I first spent a summer thinking I had found paradise and then the winter came along and slapped me in the face. Never in my life have I spent more minutes of the day talking about the weather than in Seattle. Seattleites are absolutely and utterly obsessed with the weather. And who can blame them? It really does rain a lot. But more than that, the darkness is what gets to me. During the winter you wake up and it’s dark, you finish work and it’s dark. So much so that “happy lights” are a thing here, something I didn’t even know existed until a coworker who apparently recognized early signs of depression in me recommended I get one during my early years in Seattle. You know you leave in a place with shit weather when you need a light to make you happy. But I digress…
So, for 9 long months, we wait for the summer, because indeed they are glorious, and because having spent that long hiding under covers you better believe we are going to squeeze the shit out the three months of sunshine we get. The moment summer appears to have arrived (which if we are being honest with ourselves we know it’s a fluke and it hasn’t yet but still) we put shorts on and go outside without a rain jacket. Forget about the fact that it’s only 60F.
No, but really, summers are glorious and this city is a beauty, and you must visit if you haven’t. That rain we all talk about so much? that is also the reason the city is so lush, to a startling degree. The abundance of trees is astonishing, but also their size – how tall and big they are! Everywhere you look you will see green, different shades of green, including an almost fluorescent green that has amazed me for the entire decade I have been here. If you are plant/flower person (here here) do yourself a favor and come to the very aptly named Evergreen State.
And then there are the mountains, the many mountain ranges and volcanos souring through the clouds. There are infinite hiking opportunities in the summer that then turn into skiing runs in the winter. And we can’t forget about Mt. Rainier, the majestic volcano visible from all parts of the city, which after all these years still takes my breath away every time I see it.
In summary, come to Seattle, you won’t be disappointed. Even this year, there’s still time to catch the sun up here and the fall in the city is a beauty. I know getting on a plane is not looking very appealing right now, but maybe a roadtrip could work. Many of the things I recommend below are still open, certainly most of the outside ones :). And if not in 2020, save these tips and come some other time!
Below are the top 20 things to do when you come visit!
Go kayaking in Lake Union
Right in the middle of the city you will find a calm lake with gorgeous views of the Seattle skyline. Rent a kayak or paddle from Northwest Outdoor Center, admire the views, and check out all the floating houses! If you are not into kayaking you can also rent a boat to take around the lake, or even go around it in a hot tub boat!
Check out the best view of the water and the city from the highest building in Seattle, the Columbia Tower
The Sky View Observatory at the Columbia Tower has by far the best view of the city, and much better than the Space needle, in fact you can see the Space Needle from it. Go on a clear day so you can see Mt. Rainier and many other mountains. Another place to consider going for views is Smith Tower, which was the highest building 100 years ago :), they have a cute tour of the building and a nice rooftop with a bar. Kerry Park also has fantastic views of the city.
Golden gardens is my favorite beach in Seattle. It’s just so pretty, surrounded by greenery and with views of the mountains. Make a fire, lay in the sand, and watch the sunset. But before you head there stop at the Ballard Locks, a mini Panama canal with a salmon lather, beautiful gardens, and live music on the weekends
Admire glass art at the Chihuly Garden & Glass Museum and see the Space Needle (from below)
Dale Chihuly is a world renounce artist from Tacoma Washington. His work is included in more than 200 museum collections worldwide, and this one in his home state is truly magnificent. It’s located right next to the space needle, which you can see from the gardens of the museum in between glass sculptures. In my opinion going up the Space Needle is not worth it, the views are a million times better from the highest building in Seattle (point above!) but it is the touristy thing to do :). You can also visit Chihuly’s home town museum in Tacoma, where you can watch glassmaking live at the studio.
Gasworks is a special park as it’s located on the site of the former Seattle Gas Light Company gasification plant and contains remnants of it. But, more importantly, it has a beautiful view of the city! It’s on the north shore of Lake Union so you will see it when you are kayaking on the lake. Grab a picnic basket and enjoy the sun, then walk to the cool and weird Fremont Troll, and finish off at the Fremont Brewery for a summer ale.
Drink coffee, lots of it! You are in Seattle, we are coffee snobs. There are infinite options, such as Elm, La Marzocco, Vivace, Storyville, Fiore, Bauhaus, Victrola, Vita. Even the Starbucks Reserve is worth a stop.
I really love Discovery park. It’s far enough to feel wild and never really be crowded, but close enough to get to it easily. The views of the Puget Sound are incredible, but my favorite part is the loop trail, perfect for running and truly stunning. Three miles of peace and quiet, with huge beautiful trees all around. I have always done it clockwise but either direction will be ok as there is minimum elevation gain. If you are not into running you can always just walk the loop. There is also a pretty lighthouse by the beach, and you can do that trail also as a loop, although it has a lot more ups and downs. If you happen to be in Seattle in July during Seafair, don’t miss attending the Indian Powwow at Discovery Park. It’s a beautiful and moving tradition that brings Native Americans of all tribes and cultures together to celebrate, and showcases traditional Indian cooking, jewelry-making, music, and especially dancing.
Sculpture Park is also lovely, with scattered sculptures all over it and a stunning view of the water. It’s totally flat and I recommend running it all the way to Elliot Bay Park (1.5miles one way). You can also bike it, or just walk to a spot you like and have a picnic. While you are in Sculpture park don’t miss going into the Neukom Vivarium, and exposition of a 60-foot Western hemlock (a big tree :)) that fell outside of Seattle in 1996, acting as a nurse log within a greenhouse.
Eat at Shiro’s
There is plenty of good food in Seattle and you can find many other recommendations at the end of this post. BUT, Shiro’s is truly unique and a must-go if you are into sushi. It’s not cheap, but it’s worth every penny. The fish is so fresh and tender it literally melts in your mouth. It has changed my expectations and enjoyment of sushi forever. You must sit at the sushi bar and order Omakase (leave it up to the chef!), it’s the only way to go. Make sure you get there when they open (5pm) since the sushi bar has limited seating and it’s always packed. The master sushi chef Shiro Kashiba opened the restaurant back in 1994 but it’s no longer owned by him. We have been going for years and quality hasn’t dropped at all since he moved on. The chef did open a new restaurant, Sushi Kashiba, just a few blocks away, and although excellent as well we found it a bit too pretentious, so we stick with Shiro’s.
Admire (and buy) all the fresh fruits, veggies, seafood, and flowers at the Ballards Farmers Market There are plenty of farmer markets in Seattle throughout the Summer, but the best imo is the Ballards Farmers Market and it’s open all year long! Head there on Sunday morning, stroll around the market, and grab something to eat.
Stroll around the Pike Place Market
Quintessential Seattle, can’t visit Seattle and not go to the market. See salmon being thrown around, buy flowers and pasta, admire art, sample chocolates and jams. Eat a smoked salmon chowder at Pike Place Chowder or a grilled cheese at Beecher’s or a piroshki at Piroshky Piroshky, and finish it with a passion fruit yogurt from Ellenos. Don’t forget to pay a visit to the disgusting Gum Wall (yup, literally a wall covered in gum) and the newer part to the market with amazing views of Mt. Rainier
There are plenty of museums in Seattle, but these two are my favorites. Go to the Museum of History & Industry if you want to learn about the area’s history in a fun and interesting way. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center (free) is a small but super informative museum about the foundation’s work.
Take a sunset sailboat around the Puget Sound to see the city from the water
I would have never done this weren’t for the fact that friends were visiting and we wanted to do something special with them. But wow, we loved it and highly recommend it. Get on a gorgeous sailboat, take a bottle of wine and some snacks, and watch the sunset over the city skyline. It’s truly magical. We booked with Sailing Seattle.
Visit the Washington Park ArboretumBy now you know I am into trees and flowers and anything green so no surprise I am recommending a place that has all of it and more. This huge arboretum is a worth a stroll. It’s beautiful throughout the year, but really magical in the fall.
Go to a live music show and eat a Seattle Dog afterwards You are in Seattle after all, a city known for its music scene and birthing fantastic musicians and bands such as Kurt Cobain, Soundgarden, Hendrix, Foo Fighters, and many others. Live music is still big in the city and there are plenty of cool venues to go enjoy it at, including The Crocodile, Tractor Tavern, Nectar Lounge (great for reggae), Chop Suey, Sunset Tavern, and Neumos. Jazz clubs are also pretty popular and the usual bands are superb, check out The Triple Door and Dimitriou’s Jazz Alley. After enjoying the show don’t forget to eat a Seattle Dog, a hot dog with a great sausage (I like the Hot Link) with cream cheese and sautéed onions, it’s a Seattle staple and you can find them everywhere there is night activity. My favorite is Monster Dogs in Capitol Hill.
Spend a few hours at the Central Seattle Public Library
This 11-story glass and steel building in downtown Seattle is a work of art and worth spending a few hours in just admiring the architecture, and of course, some books!
Go to a summer festival
Every single weekend during (a regular) summer there will be a festival (or multiple) going on in the city. Go to whichever is happening when you are around. Some of our favorites are Fremont Solstice Parade (naked painted cyclists! pic at the top), Bite of Seattle, Seafair, Bumbershoot, International Beer Fest, and Pride. There are many others outside the summer that are fantastic too, such as the Ballard Jazz Festival and Oktoberfest
What is not to love about a water taxi? Take it to West Seattle while admiring the view of the city, and then grab a JUMP bike on the other end (just used your Uber app to find them), or just walk, to Alki Beach, where you can spend an entire afternoon sunbathing or playing beach volleyball. Then grab dinner, coffee, or desert at any of the great restaurants on West Seattle, here are some recommended by good friends who live in that area: Buddha Ruska, Marination Mai Kai, Sound & Fog Coffee, Raccolto, Il Nido, Pizza Credo, Mashiko, La Rustica, Medzo Gelato, Heartbeet Cafe, Youngstown Coffee
Grab a pint at one of the many excellent breweries around town
Stroll around the University of Washington Campus
Visiting the library at the UW campus is like entering a Harry Potter movie. It’s a gorgeous campus. The neighborhood around the campus is pretty cute too and they have a farmers market on Saturday. In the spring, the cherry blossoms on campus give a magical show for about 2 weeks.
OK. There is so much more, but that is my top 20! Now, Washington state is a mind-blowing place and worth a post just for itself, but this is not it. However, I didn’t want to leave out at least a few place to make sure you visit if you are coming all the way here.
Don’t miss the National Parks. There are three, all incredible. Mount Rainier, North Cascades, and Olympic National Park. If I had to choose only one to visit I would probably go to Mt. Rainier, but Olympic National Park is like 10 parks in one and visiting the Hoh Rainforest there is like entering a fairy tail, and the blue Diablo Lake is out of this world in the North Cascades. So honestly, make it a month and go to all. State Parks are also fantastic!
Go Hiking. So many options! You can find enormous mountains 30 minutes away from Seattle. You can go hiking in any of the above national parks, but also across the state. This is a good place to find the perfect hike for you: https://www.wta.org/
Go to the Boeing Factory. Visit the word’s largest building (by volume) and see how planes are made
Drink great wine in the wineries of Eastern Washington. We are fans of Zillah, a sleepy little town with fantastic down to earth wineries owned by really fun people, but Lake Chelan or Walla Walla are also good choices. For a unique experience near Zillah stay at a cute Teepee at Cherry Wood B&B. This is also a great part of the state to scape when there is non stop rain in Seattle.
Admire infinite rows of tulips at the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival
Other resources on Seattle
On point recommendations from the NYT: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/05/travel/what-to-do-in-seattle.html
For all events, festivals, concerts around Seattle: https://www.thestranger.com/events/
Other ideas: https://davidspicks.wordpress.com/
Here are some of our favorite restaurants and bars, in no particular order:
Manolin. New American/Seafood. Small plates. Go with people and order everything on the menu, including cocktails!
Señor Moose. Authentic Mexican, they serve typical food from all over Mexico and it’s best for brunch
Carta de Oaxaca. Authentic Mexican food from Oaxaca, best for dinner
Tacos Chukis. Good tacos.
Asadero. Mexican steakhouse
Barnacle. If you are into bitter cocktails don’t miss this place. You can combine with dinner at the below spot
The Walrus & The Carpenter. Seafood
Taylor Shellfish. Down to earth seafood
Essex. Excellent cocktails, burger, and wood oven veggies
Damn the Weather. New American
Marrakesh. Moroccan, go on Saturday night for the whole experience with belly dancers
Monsoon. Vietnamese (multiple locations)
Pestle Rock. Authentic Northern Thai, our go to for consistent food at amazing value
Thai Tom. Popular and small Thai place
Kin Len Thai Bites. Thai. Small plates, good cocktails
Song Phang Kong. Authentic Thai/Cambodian
Lionhead. Fancy Sichuanese
Seven Stars Pepper Szechwan Restaurant. Sichuanese
Rupee bar. Sri Lankan
Revel . Korean (multiple locations)
Kedai Makan. Malaysian
Nue. Street food from around the world
Yoroshiku. Ramen and other yummy Japanese things
Kaname Izakaya and Shochu Bar. Japanese (Izakaya/small plates)
Harbor City. Favorite Dim Sum spot
Jade Garden. Dim Sum
Serious Pie. Best pizza in town (multiple locations)
Delancey. Very good pizza as well
Il Corvo. Probably the best pasta in town, only open for lunch and during the week
Spinasse. Fancy Italian
The Pink Door. Italian, with a beautiful view of the market and sound
Machiavelli. Classic Italian
Columbia City Bakery. Amazing bread
Navy Strength. Fun tiki bar
No Anchor. American
Salt & Straw. Excellent ice cream, very original flavors (multiple locations)
Molly Moons. A Seattle ice cream staple (multiple locations)
Homegrown. Legit sandwhich spot (multiple locations)
Mamnoon. Middle Eastern
Have you been to Seattle? Am I missing things on the list? Please send over my way!