For a relatively young city, Seattle has an awful lot going for it. Since its origins as a frontier outpost, Seattle has hard-wired its way into American hearts as the city that brought ‘coffee shop culture’ and ‘grunge’ into the mainstream. The Emerald City always offered more than that though, and as home to booming fishing, logging, and most recently, tech industries, Seattle has never had to play catch-up. For the first time since the mid-nineties, Seattle has had to deal with the international spotlight on an entirely new level, as it braces itself for another housing boom and influx of small business ventures, finally challenging Seattle-based corporations like Amazon, Nordstrom, and Starbucks to once again consider the role of the proverbial ‘little guy.’
Album: The Sonics – Here Are The Sonics
Book: Trout Fishing in America – Richard Brautigan
Movie: Singles (1992)
Season: Autumn or Summer
Once the geographic center of Seattle, this brick-accented neighborhood in the southwestern corner of the city has grown a lot since being settled in 1852. The area is filled with coffee shops, bookstores, fountains, totem poles, bars and a few old haunts that even many locals steer clear of. The famous underground portion of Seattle is concentrated below the brick streets, but the only tours left of the underground city have somewhat dodgy reputations. The area is seemingly made for walking around and exploring, though. Pioneer Square links downtown with the homes of Seattle’s Seahawks and Mariners too, and each team offers regular tours of their respective stadiums.
3401 Evanston Ave N
Enough reason for us to ensure that our trips to Seattle always last through Sunday, this is probably Seattle’s most eclectic street market. Past the statue of Vladimir Lenin that adorns the neighborhood’s center, local craftsmen and women line the streets while local chefs set up independent food stalls. Head inside the garage to sift through piles of vintage photographs, maps, and racks of old clothes. To date, despite its small size, this remains our favorite street or flea market in the United States.
2200 2nd Ave
History complimented by perfectly greasy breakfasts (and, somewhat oddly, made to order personal pizzas after nightfall) in a setting as authentically ‘grunge’ as you’re likely to find anywhere in downtown Seattle. Name your favorite Seattle-born band, and odds are that they got their start right here. The dimly lit lounge has unpublished and rarely seen photos (some glam, some action) of the Seattle scene’s early heroes playing on the Croc’s own legendary stage. The shot of a young, in-the-moment Andy Wood of Mother Love Bone is enough to give you chills.
1428 Post Alley
Post Alley offers all sorts of surprises– the used chewing gum is only its most popular. The alley runs along the lower side wall of Pike Place Market’s front entrance, and along its walls, you’ll find meters upon meters of original art, some colorful, some politically-driven, all Seattle-centric. As you make your way down this side street, the road will bend left, and where you’ll run directly into the gum wall. Unexpected Productions, known as the ‘improv theater behind the gum wall,’ is a fun place to catch a casual show for relatively cheap.
1001 Alaskan Way
We assume this waterfront shop was named after the Dickens novel, but there’s nothing especially drab, Victorian, or British about this store. Oddities line the walls, mini-exhibitions that oscillate between retired circus attractions and creepy museum leftovers. The shop’s shelves though are stocked with locally-themed trinkets and keepsakes. Our favorite section is to the rear of the store: Protected by a separate counter, an entire wall full of hand-carved totems of various sizes, straight from Native American artists from across the Pacific Northwest, are displayed for sale. Don’t forget to check out the flattened walrus face on your way out!
3015 NW 54th St
Known locally as “The Ballard Locks,” this early twentieth century locks complex has more to offer than ship passage. The entrance to the complex is surrounded by The beautiful English Jr. Botanical Gardens, home to what may be the prettiest summer flowers in the entire city if you visit at the right time. Just past the locks themselves, you’ll find the fish ladder, a spellbinding, eye-level perspective of the Pacific Salmon’s annual trip home to Lake Washington. Be sure to head downstairs and look through the glass!
211 W Highland Dr
If you leave Seattle before taking in this postcard-perfect view, you’ve done yourself a major disservice. The neighborhood park is nestled into the quiet, residential Queen Anne neighborhood. Not overly easy to find on foot, it’s rarely crowded, so you won’t have to contain your excitement while waiting for a chance at a photo. On clear days, look for the peak of Mt. Rainier to add the finishing touch to what might be The United States’ most pristine skyline.
2209 NW Market St
A humble record shop set on Ballard’s main drag, this gold mine is one of the surviving music shops in a city once dominated by the record trade. Sonic Boom is fueled by local talent, and it isn’t uncommon to see younger bands on the shop’s most prominent display shelf. Lots of used vinyl to sift through, but Bop Street Records across the street might be a better bet for those more inclined to go crate-digging.
85 Pike St
This one’s definitely in the guidebooks, but we refuse to omit it from our itinerary, nonetheless. Every morning, hundreds of vendors head down to the Pike to set up shop for the day, armed with fresh fish, produce, flowers, candles, beeswax. paintings, almost anything imaginable. The famous fish-tossing happens right in the front entryway of the market’s main promenade, but the lower floors are just as exciting, if in a different way. It’s much quieter ‘Downunder‘, and the variety of shops gets even more random. Nearly every one of them offers something unique, and the views over the Sound from the back of the market are equally special.
3919 18th Ave W
Even if you don’t stick around for the fresh oysters or a seafood meal at either of the three main eateries around the port, the terminal is an important part of Seattle’s history and deserves a visit. There’s a chilling memorial to the fisherman lost at sea, and the fact that names continue to be added to the list each year might make you think. Fishing is an ancient trade, and undoubtedly remains a large part of Seattle’s identity.
North 36th St
Ok, so Fremont is weird. We love that it’s weird, and, if you ask a resident, they’ll tell you it’s supposed to be weird. Fremonters refer to their section of Seattle as “The Center of The Universe,” even their welcome sign celebrates this self-designation. Just across and under the George Washington Memorial (Aurora) Bridge resides a massive, mixed-media troll. Go ahead and climb up him, he was built as an interactive statue back in 1990, and clutches a full-size VW Beetle in his left hand. We still can’t tell if it’s as creepy as it is cool.
325 5th Ave N
Paul Allen’s most exciting passion project to date. This non-profit museum is dedicated to showcasing the Seattle-area’s contribution to rock n’ roll history, using exciting new technology and its massive inventory of memorabilia to do the job. While revolving exhibitions continue to lure the locals, the EMP’s open sound booths and mock-recording studios make an afternoon-long trip fly by. Guests are able to jam at their own pace, in the privacy of soundproof rooms, before or after coming face to face with Jimi’s guitar and Kurt’s worn-out cardigan.