Off Duty in Seattle: a 3-Day Guide
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Two months ago, sitting cozily on the sofa in my apartment, you would have probably overheard a conversation between my boyfriend and I that went a little something like this.
"If you could go anywhere on the west coast to celebrate our anniversary, where do you think we would go?"
(Speaking completely hypothetically) "Hmmm. I've always wanted to go to Seattle."
- 6 days later -
"I got a hotel in Seattle! Let's start planning!"
".... wait. What?"
That's pretty much how all of our trip planning goes. We dream up places to go, my boyfriend dissents (we have bills to pay, I get it), and I concoct some crazy scheme to make it happen anyway… sometimes without telling him until after there's no going back. That brings us to Seattle, and how we wound up spending a 3-day weekend there for our 2-year anniversary.
There are a lot of beautiful, sunshiny destinations on the western side of the US. Los Angeles, San Diego, Hawaii, Scottsdale... But there's a different atmosphere altogether that comes once you venture more up north to the Pacific Northwest. Stereotypically associated with rain and muggy clouds (okay, the stereotypes are like, 70% true), Seattle wouldn't honestly have crossed my mind if it wasn't for letting my boyfriend pick. But there's a cool, urban, slightly grungy, yet entirely modern air to downtown Seattle that's thriving and altogether electrifying 365 days a year, rain, wind, or shine.
Seattle is located on a little sliver of land nestled between Lake Washington on the east, and Puget Sound on the west. Fittingly nicknamed the Emerald City, while downtown Seattle is compact, walkable, and sprawling with skyscrapers, the surrounding suburbs and distant mountains and forests are densely packed with lush trees and greenery as far as the eye can see. The surrounding areas are supposedly absolutely beautiful (hiking Mount Rainier, taking a ferry to a neighboring island, detouring into Vancouver, and touring the San Juan Islands were some of the things we were recommended to do if we had more time), but we stayed in the city since we only had a long weekend to spare.
Here's how you conquer downtown Seattle in 3 days.
If you've only got a short time in the downtown area, you'll want to stay somewhere as central as possible so that you can walk everywhere. The Hotel Andra, where we stayed, was perfectly located at just a short >10 minutes' walk from Pike Place Market, 15-20 minutes' walk from Capitol Hill, 15 minutes from the Space Needle, and about 20-30 minutes from Lake Washington. Hotel Andra's simple Scandinavian-inspired decor, friendly staff, and attention to detail made our stay extremely seamless. They even welcomed us with chocolates and a note for our anniversary, which took us both by complete surprise!
Take a Seaplane Tour of the Area
I could try to explain this slice of the PNW's geography to you, but you're better off seeing it for yourself–by sky. We stumbled upon Kenmore Air randomly while I was Googling unique activities we could do in Seattle's city center without a car, and were excited to see that this small charter airline offers a variety of seaplane scenic tours of Seattle and the surrounding areas. We took a 30-minute scenic tour of the city and were mesmerized by the vast bodies of water, islands, peninsulas, bridges, floating homes, the University of Washington campus, and more. Tours start at $99 for the scenic city flights, and go up to $299.
Get 360-Views of the City
Sure, everyone might tell you that you need to go to the Space Needle to get iconic views of the city, but in my opinion, wouldn't it be better to see the city skyline WITH the Space Needle in it? That's where Sky View Observatory comes in. Located on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center, Sky View offers another equally (if not better) 360-degree view of the city, with Puget Sound, the Space Needle, the Seattle Great Wheel, the Smith Tower, and–if you're lucky and the weather is clear–Mount Rainier all well within view. Fortunately for us, the Friday that we arrived in Seattle was unnaturally clear and sunny, so we went to Sky View at sunset to soak up all the beautiful, crystal-clear views, Mount Rainier included! And, at about $12 cheaper than the Space Needle, Sky View really can't be missed.
Visit the Space Needle (but don’t stop there)
All things aside, I can't argue with the appeal of city landmarks–they're iconic for a reason, after all. So, go to the Space Needle if you have time (we didn't go mainly because we didn’t have time, and didn’t want to spend the additional money). But if you do go, don't only go to the Space Needle. The surrounding area features a broad selection of art galleries, museums, and other attractions, all of which you can actually gain access to with one bundled ticket, if you want. We skipped out on the Space Needle and instead walked through the Chihuly Garden and Glass art gallery next door instead.
Wander around Pike Place Market
There's the standard things you'll probably want to see here – the original Starbucks, Murray's Cheese, freshly cut tulips, and the gross but I guess somewhat charming gum wall, but the real appeal of this Market is the atmosphere. It's busy, constantly buzzing with activity and momentum. The distinctive smell of fresh fish and blooming flowers. The hoards of people weaving in and out. It's not hard to see why Pike Place Market is a pulsing heartbeat and historic centerpiece in Seattle.
If you're in the mood for actual food or drinks while you're walking around, I'd recommend Piroshky Piroshky, Pike Brewing Co, or The Pink Door. Scroll to the next section below to find out why.
Walk Down the Waterfront
The walk down Seattle's waterfront, along the Puget Sound, has tons of character and a picturesque view. Each pier has its own charm, and you can find some pretty interesting eats, novelty shops, and things to do at each one as you make your way up to Pike Place Market.
Get to Know the Different Neighborhoods of Seattle
One of my favorite ‘challenges’ whenever I go somewhere is to try and figure out what each neighborhood in is about, and every pocket of downtown Seattle definitely has its own unique rhythm and charm. We didn't get to explore everything, obviously, but some of the coolest areas we did check out were –
Pioneer Square: The original and most historic part of the city, rife with characteristic brick buildings and original cobblestone.
Capitol Hill: Grungy, funky, eclectic, and a bit rough around the edges while still looking and feeling like you'd probably need to pay a decent amount to rent an apartment in the area... if that makes sense. Naturally, some great bars, coffee shops, and restaurants to be found here. This is also the LGBTQ hub of the city.
Ballard: One of the best scenes for spending a night out with good food and good bars.
Belltown: Not sure what this area is like during the day, but at night, it's a bit raucous and extremely lively, with tons of bars and restaurants to choose from.
Purple Cafe & Wine Bar
My coworker recommended this restaurant to me for its impressive selection of wine, and it did NOT disappoint. The second you walk in, your eyes are immediately propelled upward as you can't help but stare at the 30 foot tall wine 'rack' slash bar slash spiral wrap-around staircase in the center of the restaurant. When I win the lottery, I swear to you I'll be duplicating this in my own 3-story kitchen (hah).
The Pink Door
We knew we wanted to go to at least one nice dinner while we were in town. We were celebrating 2 years of putting up with each other, after all! But we had never even heard about The Pink Door until a local Seattle resident recommended it to us. The Pink Door is literally just an unassuming pink door in an alley near the entrance of Pike Place Market. Very easy to miss, but as soon as you open the door, you enter an entirely different underground world of sultry mood lighting, fine italian dining, and... burlesque?
Oh! And there's no bread on the menu, but if you ask for it, they’ll bring you some. If there are carbs, I’ll find them. I’ll always find them.
Lost Lake Cafe
Lost Lake is a 24-hour diner in Capitol Hill that serves up giant plates of just plain good brunch and diner food. We ordered grits and a plate of chilaquiles, and loved every last bite.
Another tip. Lost Lake serves PINT-SIZED mimosas for $10. I was pretty excited about this, obviously. If you're the reader I hope you are, you're probably excited, too.
This little food stop at Pike Place Market is memorable for two reasons – first, because the piroshky are damn good. Second, because two minutes before I was able to even eat said piroshky, some lady actually ran me over with a 5-foot tall cart full of fish. Did I brush off my battle scars and march straight back into the line for a cheese and potato piroshky to ease my suffering? You bet I did.
Starbucks Reserve Roastery
No matter what your feelings towards Starbucks are, a trip to the Roastery is worth it. Beyond coffee, the whole Starbucks operation is just a fascinatingly large-scale and precise enterprise, and the attention to detail at their Reserve, located in Capitol Hill, is unparalleled. Here, expect to redefine your presumptions about frappuccinos and flat whites. The Reserve serves up everything from legitimately tasty (not burnt!) cold brew to flights of Starbucks coffee blends prepared in a variety of different ways, from pour over (yum) to Clover (not my personal favorite).
Despite my reservations about the typical Starbucks cup of coffee, if there’s one thing I’ve also always admired about Starbucks, it’s the variety of food and pastry offerings at its locations all over the world. Am I right? From sweet, sticky baklava in Greece to the most tender chocolate croissants in France, Starbucks is always on its A-game in this department. If you appreciate Starbucks food, you’ll appreciate the food offerings at the Roastery just as much.
Just steps away from the Space Needle, QED is as modest as its coffee is good. We almost walked right past it on our way back to our hotel, but I’m so glad we didn’t. The coffee was delicious, and the baristas were some of the friendliest people in the entire city–they’re the ones who pointed us in the direction of The Pink Door!
Bright, clean, and filled with young professionals working the day away. There are actually a handful of Coffee Works locations, but we wound up at the one in Capitol Hill.
Victrola Coffee Roasters
I really hope the fact that this coffee shop is just across the street from Starbucks’ Reserve Roastery doesn’t dissuade people from stopping in, because Victrola is really neat. A simple, open environment with delicious spicy chai and free drip coffee offered to anyone who buys a bag of their beans.
Bathtub Gin & Co
If you like gin like I do, this is the place to visit. A speakeasy of sorts located between 1st and 2nd street downtown, in an alley behind a closed door with nothing to identify it but a tiny, insignificant sign on the outer right-hand side to help indicate that you’ve arrived, Bathtub Gin & Co is as low-key sophisticate as it gets. Sitting-room only, so don’t expect to get into this bar if all of the tables are full. We waited about 15 to 20 minutes for a table, and ordered from their list of 80% gin-based fare, all of which was incredibly gut-punching, but delicious in only the way a dark, mysterious, underground bar could muster up.
Extremely casual and everything you’d expect from a neighborhood brew pub. We started off one of our evenings here and had no complaints.
We wandered into Jupiter Bar at the tail-end of the evening, so we didn’t have extremely high hopes. If you’re here, follow in our footsteps – the drinks won’t be great (but you can never go wrong with beer), but the atmosphere is that of a sort of warehouse-meets-arcade, so it was a chill spot to hang out in until they turned the lights on at the end of the night.
Pike Brewing Co
Located in Pike Place Market near the infamous gum wall, Pike Brewing Co is a large restaurant and brewery, with affordable pitchers and a decent menu. When we were here, the crowd was about 18% more rowdy than I would’ve liked, but otherwise, it wasn’t a bad place to be.
Down in Pioneer Square, the Good Bar is a modern, clean bar nestled in a historic setting. With a simple name and a simple, yet good, cocktail menu, the Good Bar is a no-fuss destination for the craft cocktail enthusiast. Get the Order of the Phoenix (a mezcal cocktail), and then stay for 2 or 3 more.
A proper brewery in all senses of the word, Optimism is a huge warehouse operation up in Capitol Hill that serves up a nice beer selection and offers tons of cafeteria-style seating. Just note – the brewery does not accept cash at any time, so be ready to whip out your plastic.
This post was a long one, but there was just so much to be said about Washington’s capital that I needed to make sure you were armed with all the juicy details. There’s a reason the phrase “sleepless in Seattle” exists, after all. Pack an umbrella, take a trip, have the time of your life, and enjoy. This urban gem in the Pacific Northwest has everything you could hope for and more.