Jeff Dickey, author of "The Rough Guide to Seattle," answered your questions about Seattle.
Jeff Dickey: Hello, I'm Jeff Dickey, author of TheRough Guide to Seattle, here to suggest ideas for things to do, see, and experience in the Emerald City, great for its natural beauty, seafood, coffee, architecture, outdoor activities and plenty more. Let's begin the chat.
Guelph, ON: I am taking a ferry from Victoria, BC to Seattle. What should one day in Seattle consist off? Regards, Natasha
Jeff Dickey: Lots of questions have come in about activities in Seattle if you only have a day or two to experience the city. Of course, much depends on your interests. The venerable Pike Place Market is the usual place to stop first for most out-of-towners, its multilevel produce and seafood vendors, restaurants, bars and clubs making it deservedly the city's most popular attraction. From there, down the market's "Hillclimb" stairway, is the Seattle waterfront, which offers a decent aquarium, seafood restaurants (including the old favorite Ivar's), ferry dock, and, further north, Olympic Sculpture Park.
Indeed, if art and architecture appeal, the park is a must for anyone with a yen for modern sculpture and environmentally sensitive design. Accordingly, you shouldn't miss a trip to the recently renovated and reimagined Seattle Art Museum, which has not only expanded its collections on view, but added a quirky "Art Ladder" for a new take on art. Also a necessity for aesthetes is Rem Koolhaas's breathtaking and somewhat bizarre Seattle Central Library, which resembles a giant modernist greenhouse for books and people.
Finally, don't forget good old Seattle Center north of downtown, to which the famed Monorail leads. Both are a product of the 1962 World's Fair and manage to retain significant tourist interest. The Center offers science and children's museums, carnival rides, the musical institution of the Experience Music Project (and attached sci-fi museum), and of course, the city symbol, the Space Needle.
There's much more to experience and enjoy in the city if you have more time here, so hold on for more suggestions.
Capistrano Beach, Calif.: Are there any reasonably priced places to stay across Elliot Bay at Alki Beach? I like the small "beach like" atmosphere.
Jeff Dickey: Alki Beach is one of Seattle's more enticing spots, off the beaten tourist trail to some degree (depending on the tourist), but fascinating for its sandy bayside shore, miniature Statue of Liberty, and various historical markers that recall Alki's place as Seattle's original townsite... until the early pioneers packed up and relocated to what's now Pioneer Square. Accommodation, beyond the usual chain motels here and there, is scarce, but there are a few distinctive places, though not directly on the shoreline itself. Closer to the center of the West Seattle peninsula, the Villa Heidelberg is a pleasant B&B with nice amenities, as is the Wildwood B&B, somewhat further south near the Fauntleroy ferry terminal.
Whaton, Ill.: Trip: 9/23-9/30, 2 adults (53,57) leaving from Chicago. Where is the best 1 day biking tour for moderately active adults around Seattle? In Seattle? The San Juan Islands (which one?), the coastal mountain area?
Jeff Dickey: The San Juan Islands are one of the country's most beloved natural jewels, but unfortunately don't factor into a one-day biking tour around Seattle. Rather, they require a separate, multi-day trip to get there by ferry (or seaplane, if you have the money). Likewise, the coastal mountains of Olympic National Park are beautiful, but not part of a Seattle day trip—too much effort required to get there and get oriented.
Instead, you have two great choices around the city: the first, the Burke-Gilman Trail, leads from the northern Seattle neighborhoods of Ballard and Fremont along the Lake Washington Ship Canal and eventually over to the suburbs of the eastside with the Sammamish River Trail, 27 miles altogether. A shorter route can be found along Lake Washington Boulevard, which takes you from the Washington Park Arboretum down through a series of well-heeled neighborhoods like Madison Park and Madrona before concluding in Seward Park. Even better, on select summer weekend days, the boulevard is closed to automotive traffic.
Harrisburg, Pa.: I will be attending a conference in Seattle the last week of October. Where can I find great bakery items in the downtown area? What two restaurants do you recommend?
Jeff Dickey: Both of my choices are a few blocks north of downtown in the Belltown neighborhood. Macrina has great breakfasts, pastries, cinnamon rolls, tarts, and various other tasty treats, while Dahlia Bakery, about seven blocks away, has all of the above, plus scrumptious sandwiches and the virtue of being near one of Seattle best restaurants, Dahlia Lounge.
San Rafael, Calif.: Weather, weather, weather! What specific places in and around Seattle (50 miles) are more or less rain-swept and what months are the rainiest? Thanks.
Jeff Dickey: From mid-June through September, you're on safe, and dry, ground if you're looking to visit the city without being caught in a downpour. Indeed, summer months are some of the favorite times for visiting Seattle, but keep in mind that prices for lodging and other costs rise accordingly. January and February end up being quite wet, even snowy at times, but if you're sticking to an indoor itinerary and focusing on saving money, you'll be satisfied despite the gloom. That said, if you'd like to venture into a truly rainy climate (though a bit further than 50 miles away), try the Hoh, Queets and Quinault rainforests of Olympic National Park, among the rainiest—and most beautiful—places in the country, where all that moisture contributes to some truly stunning scenery and record-sized giant trees.
Cedar Rapids, Iowa: What's going on in Seattle the weekend of August 16-17? Rooms are hard to find.
Jeff Dickey: Although it's tempting to look for culprits in the form of major events (that weekend it's BrasilFest at Seattle Center), most of Seattle's huge shindigs are in the weeks before and after mid-August. So the reason for the lack of vacancy is likely that it's the height of the summer season, when the city is temperate and lovely, and everyone's who's heard good things about Seattle wants to go there. If you're calling around and having no luck finding accommodation, try the concierge service at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center, located downtown at Seventh Ave at Pike (206/461-5840, visitseattle.org), one of whose aims is provide assistance to visitors to the city, especially for hotel reservations and the like. Alternatively, you can try A Pacific Reservation Service (206/439-7677 or 1-800/684-2932, seattlebedandbreakfast.com) or Seattle Bed and Breakfast Association (206/547-1020 or 1-800/348-5630, lodginginseattle.com), if you're interested in staying in one of the city's handsome B&Bs.
Although it's going beyond the scope of the question a bit, I should add that the Emerald City has a bevy of good places to stay, provided you aren't thwarted like the Iowa visitor above at the height of summer. Some recommendations would have to include the funky boutique atmosphere of the Ace Hotel in Belltown; downtown's ultra-plush and chic Alexis, Andra, Monaco, W and Vintage Park hotels; the arty Hotel Max, also downtown; B&Bs like Pensione Nichols near Pike Place Market, or the majestic Shafer-Baillie Mansion on Capitol Hill; and cheaper getaways like the University Inn near the U District, Bacon Mansion on Capitol Hill, and, cheapest of all, downtown's Green Tortoise hostel, hardly the most private spot in the world, but one of the most relaxed and convivial.
Auburn Hills, Mich.: Hi, My husband and I would like to take a train from Detroit to Seattle but we do not know where to begin. We definitely are looking for the scenic route. We would also like to avoid a car rental in Seattle, Is that possible? We plan to travel the last two weeks in August. Any suggestions?
Jeff Dickey: To go by train, you basically have one choice: Amtrak's Empire Builder line, which runs once daily from Chicago to Seattle (with another line going to Portland, Ore.), traveling through the Dakotas, Montana's stunning Glacier National Park, Spokane, and the Washington Cascade Mountains along the way. It's a good trip, but on such a lengthy route, it may be worth the extra money to upgrade to a sleeper cabin so you can get some rest along the way. Once you arrive in Seattle, you can easily avoid renting a car if you don't mind getting around by bus. The Metro system is safe and extensive, and there's a Downtown Ride Free Area which allows for free transit rides between 6am and 7pm. Other transit options are light rail (generally in the suburbs), monorail (from Downtown to Seattle Center), and waterfront streetcar (now undergoing refurbishment). If all else fails, you can walk. Seattle is quite pedestrian-friendly in places, though it has its traffic congestion in spots, and areas from Pioneer Square to downtown to Belltown, Seattle Center, and Capitol Hill can easily be explored by hearty walkers who don't mind a few hills—the views from which, toward Elliott Bay, are generally outstanding, especially in the upper Queen Anne district north of Seattle Center.
Milwaukee, Wis.: We'll be in Seattle at the end of this month with two kids, 2 and 4 years old. We're in town about 24 hours. What's the best Seattle experience for all of us? Thank you!
Jeff Dickey: Along with the fun experiences already mentioned (Pike Place Market, Olympic Sculpture Park, Seattle Aquarium, etc.), you should seek out the Children's Museum at Seattle Center, which has all kinds of kid-friendly, bright, colorful and kinetic doodads to play with and learn from, and the Seattle Children's Theatre, which has productions for a variety of ages. Those readers who have more time in Seattle to spend with the kids should try the productions of the Northwest Puppet Theater, the various animals of the verdant Woodland Park Zoo, or the big planes of the Museum of Flight, south of town. Across Lake Washington in Bellevue, the Museum of Doll Art is one of the less familiar, but still fascinating, sights for anyone with an interested in miniature human toys—some 3000 in all. And if you come back in May, there's also the Seattle International Children's Festival at Seattle Center, with lots of engaging music, dance and theater performances.
North Falmouth, Mass.: We will be in Seattle for only a day and a half, August 30-31. What should we try to do in such a brief time? Also, after a long flight from the East Coast, we'll probably be looking forward to a casual place to have supper. Thanks for any suggestions.
Jeff Dickey: Dining in Seattle has only gotten better in the last decade or so, and significant attention is now given to the region's foodways and many fine restaurants for a variety of budgets and tastes. The signature Northwest Cuisine that many of the mid-to-upper-end restaurants serve is something of a variation on California Cuisine—including fresh, local ingredients (which in the Northwest can be anything from the apples of central Washington to the seafood of the Pacific coast) and inventive combinations of flavors, spices and ingredients, combined with a presentation style loosely modeled on French nouvelle cuisine.
Good dining choices for this kind of food, or anything else, tend to be quite numerous and beyond the scope of a chat to encompass (consult your favorite guidebook, ahem, for details). Some of the better eateries in the central area are Anthony's Pier 66, which has fine, expensive seafood on the waterfront; Campagne, tops for French dining near Pike Place Market, with a cheaper attached café; Monsoon, consistently good pan-Asian food in the Capitol Hill neighborhood; Wild Ginger, delicious southeast Asian cuisine downtown; Dahlia Lounge, the Northwest Cuisine restaurant mentioned earlier, as well as Lampreia for the same cuisine, also in Belltown; Piecora's, for its pizza in Capitol Hill; and for lunch only, the redoubtable Salumi in Pioneer Square, which has stupendous sausages and sandwiches that make people line up outside during weekdays. Few dining spots in the Northwest are excessively fancy (with the exception of places like Lampreia), and what might suffice as casual wear on the East Coast will be more than adequate in the Northwest. But if you really want cheap eats, the famed Dick's Drive-In has diners for cheap and hearty burgers and fries all over town.
Puerto Rico: I travel regulary, on business, to Seattle. Because it's work related I don't have much leisure time. What would be the must see, visit, shop and eat at places in Seattle if you had only 1-2 days to spare?
Jeff Dickey: Sightseeing and dining matters are addressed above, but for shopping, downtown has numerous shopping malls with the usual chain stores, with Westlake Center being the most conspicuous—it also hosts one terminus of the monorail. Seattle's biggest names in brand shopping downtown are Nordstrom and REI, but for something unique to the area, venture a short distance south to Pioneer Square, which not only boasts the top-notch Elliott Bay Book Company, but is also rich with art galleries (the Gallery Walk on the first Thursday of the month is a key event) and stores selling arty knickknacks, as well as some good coffeehouses and bars. There are also myriad galleries in the up-and-coming SoDo part of Seattle further south, into the now-gentrifying industrial district.
For alternative boutiques, where you can pick up oddball vintage wear or stylishly upscale adornments, try Capitol Hill east of downtown, where such merchants can be found on and around Broadway; there's also a smattering of good record stores. (The Pike and Pine corridor also has a decent array of similar shops.) The University District, to the north beyond the Ship Canal, also sells books, records, and clothing, with an understandable tilt to the student market. Further west, Fremont is known for its warren of stalls at the Fremont Sunday Market, hosting vendors of secondhand jewelry, clothing, furniture, trinkets and the like, while Greenwood, further north, is still known for its antique sellers, though not as many as a decade or so ago.
Closer to downtown, Belltown's Second Avenue has just a few lingering galleries and alternative shops (and hardly any record stores), as most of the shopping has turned toward the upper-end boutique variety, ever since the old grunge scene of the 1980s and early 1990s was turned out to make way for high-end condos. Finally, if you're really pressed for time, good old Pike Place Market has dozens of vendors of fruits and vegetable, coffee and other staples (including the original location of Starbucks), book- and record stores, and newsstands selling a variety of periodicals.
Pa.: Are there any excursion trips to any of the Boeing factories in the area?
Jeff Dickey: Gray Line of Seattle is the main operator for all manner of tours in the city and the region beyond. Some of its offerings include double-decked bus tours of the central city, culinary and dining journeys that take in restaurants, excursions to Mount Rainier, whale watching, and cruises along the city's locks. Gray Line also has trips down to the Museum of Flight in Tukwila or up to the Boeing factory in Everett. Prices can vary widely. The Boeing tour itself is four hours long, for around $50.
However, if you have transportation of your own, you can also see the huge facility by yourself—it's 98 acres and the biggest building in the world by volume. Inside you can watch planes from 747s to 777s being built, as well as new craft that haven't hit the skies yet, such as the 787 Dreamliner. Touring the factory is a major and involved affair, not for casual visitors in town for a day or two, but essential for anyone interested in aerospace and/or heavy industrial machinery. For more info, check out boeing.com/companyoffices/aboutus/tours.
Columbia, Md.: Hoping you could help me. What's the one of a kind food experience I should be sure to have in Seattle? Also, any great brewpubs? Thank you!
Jeff Dickey: See my earlier answer for some of the top restaurants, but as for brewpubs, Hale's Ales in Ballard and Elysian Brewing near Capitol Hill are some of my favorites. Also don't forget about Big Time Brewing in the U District or the staples of the McMenamins chain like Dad Watson's or the Six Arms. The most popular brewpubs, though, tend to be in the touristy areas, like the Pike Pub & Brewery near Pike Place Market, or Pyramid Brewing near the stadiums. Regardless of location, any of these places should satisfy your palate to a nice degree—though, this being Seattle, there's nothing wrong with popping open a macrobrew at a good old fashioned dive bar like the Comet Tavern or Central Saloon.
Charlotte, N.C.: Where is the best/most unique place to get a cup of coffee in Seattle?
Jeff Dickey: Drinking coffee is one of the abiding joys of a trip to Seattle, and there are countless java joints at which to get your fix. For many caffeine fans, the several locations of Vivace Espresso are at the top of the list, since they're well known for their espresso-roasting dexterity. On the other side of Capitol Hill, Bauhaus Books and Coffee is a classically compelling, and cramped, environment that's alive with neighborhood dwellers and a few scenesters looking to pose. Other reliable choices are Victrola Coffee in Capitol Hill and Caffe Vita, with a handful of branches around town. Other names, like Zeitgeist, Top Pot, Caffe Umbria, Caffe Ladro, All City, and Stumptown (a Portland interloper!) all have their passionate adherents, and there are many others that have their appeal—often as simple as a cart on a sidewalk. The city has not only led the way in appreciating the many kinds and styles of java, but been instrumental in drawing Northwesterners, and ultimately Americans, away from their old percolator habits. Ironically, of course, Seattle is also the home of a certain company that's led the way in global homogenization of the coffee experience...can't seem to remember the name...
Boston, Mass.: I'm planning a trip to Seattle July 16 and spending about 4 days in Seattle and making some day trips and then taking the ferry to San Juan Island and spending about 3 nights in Friday Harbor. Do you have any suggestions of special things I should see that might not be highlighted in the general guide books, and what day trips should I take from Friday Harbor?
Jeff Dickey: The San Juan Islands make for a great trip from Seattle, and Washington State Ferries runs numerous routes to four of the islands—Lopez, Orcas, San Juan and the little-visited Shaw—from a base in Anacortes, north of Seattle. The typical guidebook recommendations for the main island, San Juan, revolve around the American and English camps of San Juan Island NHP, the Whale Museum, and various whale-watching cruises. If you're interested in outdoor activities, though, you really can't go wrong with the possibilities for hiking, cycling or sea kayaking. Companies like San Juan Safaris and San Juan Transit can provide information on all of the above (along with whale watching) and you can rent a bike from outfitters like Island Bicycles. If your journeying takes you beyond San Juan, Orcas Island is a good choice for its range of striking scenery and Mount Constitution (crowned by a medieval-looking tower), while Lopez Island mainly appeals for its miles of country lanes for cycling, compelling sea kayaking, and Shark Reef Park for nature watching.
Chicago, Ill.: Hello, Jeff. My boyfriend and I are foodies on a budget. Any recommendations for our trip to Seattle?
Jeff Dickey: Several questions ago, I mentioned a handful of restaurants that were good for food lovers without regard to price. For budget restaurants specifically, the 5 Spot in Queen Anne is one of my favorites for its modern take on classic diner fare. In Pike Place Market, El Puerco Lloron has cheap and tasty eats from south of the border; Phnom Penh Noodle House, in the Intl. District, and Noodle Ranch, in Belltown, come to mind when thinking about cheap and savory noodle dishes; the local chain I Love Sushi, despite the goofy name, has solid and inexpensive raw fish and rolls; Café Flora in Madison Park offers reliable vegan and vegetarian fare; Ivar's Acres of Clams is the major seafood haunt on the waterfront, with an attached raw bar; Saigon Deli in the Intl. District has authentic Vietnamese cooking worth seeking out; and Madame K's in Ballard is a good, rib-sticking pizza joint. Also in Ballard, Hattie's Hat is one of the longstanding diner/dive bars that has affordable well drinks, cheap beer, and good and greasy breakfasts (perhaps with a chaser) to eat and drink the pain away.
Jeff Dickey: That's about it for this hour's chat. Thanks to everyone for sending in such good questions. If you'll be in town at the end of July, check out Seattle's Seafair celebration, which has airplanes and hydroplanes on view, plus milk-carton boat races and other quirky events. And if you're around over Labor Day weekend, Bumbershoot is one of the country's premier cultural events, loaded with hundreds of musical acts of all styles, performers, theater events, food vendors, and other artists, artisans, and events all over the city. With the weather cooperating, it's just about the best time to see the Emerald City glitter. Whenever you visit, good luck on your journeys.