Some cities try hard to be cool and some...well, they just are cool. The kind of places where if you don’t like them, well, your loss, because the locals are pretty happy thank you so just carry on your own sweet way.
There are few other cities that epitomise this coolness like Seattle, the home of Microsoft, Amazon and Boeing. Among many other things, this city can claim to be the birthplace of grunge music and a certain, well-known, world-wide coffee chain...
Locals claim it’s the often-soggy weather that was the catalyst for driving people indoors to seek a great cup of coffee and why Seattleites are obsessed with it. The very first Starbucks opened in 1971 at 2000 Western Avenue, but the chain’s oldest surviving store is at much more tourist friendly Pike Place, which is why it’s as rammed with people taking Instagram photos as it is with folks actually ordering a latte.
Pike Place Market is a good spot to get your bearings on day one and take the pulse of the city. The market has been going since 1907 and if you’re up early enough with jet lag you can witness the raucous daily roll call when traders have their stalls allotted, and maybe grab breakfast at the same time. It’s also home to one of the city’s most photographed traditions – the fishmongers who fling whole salmon through the air and across the counter like a slippery grey football before they’re wrapped for customers.
And if you want to witness, or add to, another local custom walk nearby to the Gum Wall southern end of Post Alley. It started when masticating theatre-goers stuck their chewing gum to a wall while waiting to buy tickets. Now it’s preserved as living art. Very Seattle.
For another perspective on the area, head skywards, to the building whose outline defines the city – so much so it featured in the credits for the TV show Frasier. The Space Needle was built for the World’s Fair in 1962, and from its 605ft-high observation deck you can get a fantastic perspective not just of Seattle but further out to Mt Rainier and the islands of Puget Sound too.
Another great reason to come to Seattle is to eat and drink yourself around its hip neighbourhoods, like Ballard, Freemont, Belltown and Capitol Hill. Fresh fish from the Pacific abounds on menus, and with a high proportion of inhabitants having their roots in Asia, you can find a riot of flavours from Japan to Indonesia.
In Ballard try the Walrus and the Carpenter, a cool oyster bar that gets consistently high praise: you can also get meat and cheese there if molluscs aren’t your thing. In Capitol Hill there’s Sitka and Spruce – try the communal table for brunch when you can nosh on yoghurt, tayberries, raspberries and toasted sesame seeds as well as picking up some city tips from the chatty locals.
If you have a sweet tooth, get your licks at Molly Moons Ice Cream, which has six branches in the area. The Balsamic Strawberry is always in demand, or try a seasonal flavour such as Blueberry Lemon Custard.
Or if doughnuts are more your thing, you can’t go wrong at Top Pot Hand Forged Doughnuts, which started back in 2002, but which has now achieved something of cult status, elevating the humble doughnut to an art form. What’s not to love about a double-trouble chocolate cake variety?
Seattle is one of those towns where you can explore from dawn to dusk – or just chill out and soak it all up. There’s plenty to do, but it’s friendly, laid back vibe is just as enchanting if you settle into a good café, order another coffee and just watch the world go by, planning a few bars and gigs for the evening and thinking when you might want to move on. Probably no time soon...