It’s not often that I’m impressed with a city from the moment I deplane, but when my husband and I arrived at Seattle/Tacoma airport, the smell of fresh-ground coffee beans was already wafting through the air as we passed a bakery, a wine bar, and a day spa—all on the way to the restroom. Little did we suspect that, while Seattle would in fact live up to its stereotype as the Mecca for all things coffee, indie, grey, and grunge, it would also surprise us with an unanticipated sophistication.
When we hailed a cab to take us to our hotel, a Prius hybrid pulled up to the curb.
After a quick ride along the waterfront and into downtown, we began to conceptualize Seattle as a quirkier version of San Francisco: a chilly city oozing hipness and a glowering fog, but with a tangible uniqueness. We soon discovered that Seattle’s thriving downtown is surprisingly walkable. It is packed with upscale hotels and restaurants, and the best attractions are all just a stroll away.
We met up with my parents at the ultra-cool Hotel Monaco, just blocks from the water. We had done our research and called in advance to request finned companions—goldfish named Steve and Brian—who were there to greet us in our rooms in pristine little bowls and keep us company for the duration of our stay. We took full advantage of the hotel’s daily Happy Hour offerings: free local wines, chair massages, even a chance to try out Guitar Hero with fellow guests on one of the hotel’s standard flat-screen televisions.
We packed a lot into our two-day visit, fueled by the cappuccinos that were available on every corner and kept us amped up late into the evenings. After breakfast in magnificent surroundings at the Fairmont Hotel’s restaurant on our first day, we headed to Pike Place Market. We intended to stay just an hour or two, but ended up whiling away the entire afternoon. Never-ending rows of fresh-picked flowers and farmer’s market fruits overwhelmed our senses. We made the requisite pilgrimage to the original Starbucks and sampled artisanal wares at Beechers Handmade Cheese, where you can watch craftsmen make their famous flagship cow’s milk cheese right before you pop it into your mouth.
After a wonderful dinner at beloved local chef Tom Douglas’ Dahlia Lounge, we discovered to our amazement that it was still light out—at 10 pm (this was June)! So we rushed off to Seattle’s tallest and most famous landmark, the Space Needle, in time to catch a spectacular 360-degree panorama of our first Pacific Northwest sunset.
On our second and final day, we experienced the high comedy and low ceilings of the Seattle Undergound Tour, which took us through the dormant tunnels of the city’s oldest area, Pioneer Square. The tour’s a must-do for history buffs, but claustrophobics beware. Seattle’s beginnings are about the unluckiest of any town ever: filled with floods, fires, and corruption of every stripe. After the tour, we dallied around in Pioneer Square’s quirky shops, including a mysteries-only bookstore and a funky outfitter that had on display a hipster “skirt for men” called the UtiliKilt.
We ended our all-too-brief stay in Seattle with a visit to The Purple Café and Wine Bar, tipped off by an old friend who is a longtime city resident. Its exciting Tasting Bar menu offers an extensive list of miniature gastronomical delights, and allows you to add 3-ounce wine pairings with each one. We tried several of Washington’s excellent up-and-coming wines, and still had plenty of room for dinner afterwards.
Alas, after just two days exploring the charms of Emerald City, our weekend was over. We left with regret and vowed to return to continue our adventures at the next possible opportunity.