It’s true, and in the midst of one of the worst winters ever: the sun really does shine — at least some of the time. A year ago, my husband and I slipped into town between snowstorms and had a blast. Of course, it did rain some of the time (no snow), but that didn’t put a damper on exploring Seattle. With an active maritime industry, diverse neighborhoods, crowded cafes, and serious foodies, this northwestern city is very much like San Francisco. Settle in at the edge of downtown (near South Lake Union) and you’re within walking distance of everything. Eat and drink to your hearts’ content because you can hike it off as you get an up-close view of the city at the same time.
In a courtyard of shops and over a massive upscale market, you’ll find the Pan Pacific Hotel. With a modern design and soft colors, the hotel blends easily with its picturesque surroundings. Most rooms have views of downtown and the Space Needle and offer luxe interiors — perfect for resting our weary bodies and souls. But not yet, we were here to soak up the Seattle scene. Whether you walk the whole way south from the hotel on Westlake Avenue or catch the trolley half way, you’ll arrive at city center in less than 10 minutes. From there, take the monorail out to the Space Needle and several museums or continue downtown and stroll along 4th Avenue to one of the hippest restaurants in town.
Purple Café & Wine Bar combines wine tasting and seasonal fare in a great venue. Catch a birds-eye view of the interior and watch the activity on the street through the floor-to-ceiling windows. We sat at the bar under the 5,000-bottle wine tower. Since it was a late lunch, we went with the tasting menu and as the restaurant describes it, “the fine art of grazing”: Moroccan-braised chicken salad; peppadew peppers and smoked salmon mousse; and piquillo peppers with merguez sausage, preserved lemon and cilantro. Determined to stay with mostly Washington state wines, we chose the 2007 Efeste Evergreen Riesling from the Columbia Valley and the 2005 Syrah from Aldercreek Vineyards (from the Horse Heaven Hills AVA of Southeast Washington) for the spicier dishes.
Time to start walking, so we headed farther south from downtown to Pioneer Square, a historic area rich with old brick buildings, bookstores, cafes, and a museum to chart the past. On the way back, we took the waterside route. Past the usual tourist attractions is a vibrant harbor: Ships, ferries and tugboats cruise Elliott Bay.
At the north end of the waterfront, head up from the bay and stroll through Belltown. It’s filled with boutiques, bistros and a distinct neighborhood vibe. From there, it’s a short walk back downtown to the Seattle Art Museum, which has something for everyone. From ancient Egyptian reliefs to Asian, African and modern art, the collection is diverse. For some reason, museums help work up appetites, and we were primed for another form of art: The ART Restaurant Lounge at the new Four Seasons Hotel.
ART is dessert for the senses. Everything about the experience exudes the Northwest — from the locally sourced ingredients, to the interior use of native woods and the knockout views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic Mountains. Popular chef Kerry Sear is behind it all. Mix and match selections from the Counter Menu or the Kitchen Menu and create a meal with the right amount of food. Don’t forget the pan-seared salmon with Indian spice rub and include a 2006 Amavi Syrah from Walla Walla. The vanilla-dusted donuts for dessert are decadent, but it was the special sorbet that blew us away. Infused with Douglas fir, the delicate flavor comes from soaking pine needles in water. After dinner, take advantage of a walk back to the hotel. Crash in the soft king bed; get a weather update on the flat-screen TV, and gaze out of the window at the twinkling lights of Seattle. Tomorrow’s adventures await.
Start the day bright and early at Local Color Art, Coffee & More. After all, the coffee culture is an integral part of what makes Seattle tick. Located in the middle of Pike Market, this unique venue was created by artist and businesswoman extraordinaire, Sydne Albanese. Showcasing local artists, jazz musicians, and of course coffee, the cafe features Caffé Vita (roasted in the Capital Hill neighborhood) and house-made pastries and sandwiches at breakfast.
Pike Place Market is a foodie’s heaven. Hook up with Seattle Food Tours for an insider’s look. It’s easy to spend most of the day exploring. Taste your way through the lively establishments and enjoy shopkeepers’ personal stories, local artisanal food and wine and tales from 1907 when the farmers’ market started. The market’s mantra remains: “sell direct” and “meet the producers.” Don’t forget to duck when salmon is tossed around.
Dinner the last evening was at BOKA Kitchen + Bar. The acronym stands for Bold Original Kitchen Artistry. It lives up to the name: An olive oil-poached ahi tuna tartine was paired with a 2007 L’Ecole No. 41 Semillon from Walla Walla, and a 2005 Northwest Cellars Merlot from the Yakima Valley was just right with the mussels plus frites.
Before departing Seattle, there’s one more stop to soothe mind and body. Indulge at Vida, the spa located across the courtyard from the hotel. Ayurvedic treatments (based on the 5,000-year-old system of holistic Indian medicine) reign supreme. I was cleansed, detoxified, steamed in a West Coast cedar cabinet, and then massaged. Ready for the grand finale.
The Space Needle (at 605 feet up) has a restaurant on the top. It is always delicious; it’s the weather you can’t count on. But amid the crazy winter conditions, we caught sunshine in Seattle with a panoramic view. Officially opened in 1962 for the World’s Fair, the Space Needle is now environmentally friendly with its water filtration, energy conservation and composting programs.
With each course at SkyCity, you are treated to a different slice of the Seattle landscape as the restaurant rotates 360 degrees — one full turn every 47 minutes — enough time for brunch on wild gulf prawn omelet and SkyCity eggs Benedict with a NV Domaine Ste. Michelle from the Columbia Valley. Order the Lunar Orbiter for dessert and see what happens!
Seattle is easy. Soak up the local vibe. Enjoy the food and drink. It might rain or snow — or you might get lucky and get sunshine. Whatever the weather, it’s worth the trip.
Photos by Bo Links