Long before the Starbucks franchise was a glimmer in its creator's eye, Seattle was known for having the most coffee drinkers per capita than anywhere else in the U.S. That probably comes as no surprise, but here are some facts that are eye-opening: More sunglasses are sold in Seattle than anywhere else in the U.S., more books are sold and more residents hold library cards.
Seattle isn't just another coastal city; for one thing, it isn't even located on the ocean, but rather at the inland-most end of Puget Sound, which wends its way north to the Pacific. It's the gateway to some of the most magnificent scenery the continent has to offer. Pristine mountain ranges rim the east while hundreds of islands dot the Sound to the north and west. It's the closest big city to the border of British Columbia, has -- or so it's claimed -- the most privately-owned small boats per capita, and has more residential houseboats than any other city in the United States. It's consistently rated in the top 10 cycle-friendly cities in Bicycling magazine, and it has the highest percentage of people biking to work compared to other metropolitan communities of the same size.
Known as the Emerald City because of its omnipresent evergreens, Seattle is a charming and welcoming metropolis with a small-town feel. Pike Place Market is the oldest continuously-operating farmers market in the United States and accommodates millions of visitors a year. Modern architecture (check out the new downtown library, which looks like precariously balanced glass cubes tumbling down a hill) and turn-of-the-century buildings create a visual contrast that works. And of course, there's Seattle's most famous landmark, the Space Needle, created for the 1962 World's Fair, which changed the city's skyline forever.
Seattle gets a bad rap because of its weather, and while it is indeed overcast much of the time, it gets a lot less rain than Miami, for example, or Mobile, Alabama. In fact, Seattle is 44th in a listing of U.S. cities by rainfall amounts. When the clouds clear, though, there is something about the sun glinting off Puget Sound and the many lakes in Seattle that turns the city golden.
Washington has the second largest production (after California) of domestic wines; many of the wineries are located within easy reach of Seattle and offer tours and tastings. If you only have a short time to visit, though, that's all right -- the downtown area is quite walkable, and there is ample public transportation in the city center and along the waterfront. Shopping, dining and attractions are all within easy reach of those in port for even a day.
Seattle Quick Facts
Pike Place Market, the oldest continually operating farmer's market in the country, and the home of "those fish-throwing guys." The south end of the market houses the edibles, including the fish stalls, the original Starbucks, fresh meats, and fruit and vegetables. The north end is filled with artists' wares and freshly-cut flowers (which cruise passengers are seen carrying back to the ship to brighten their cabins on their voyage -- a nice-sized bouquet can run as low as $5). And don't forget to go to the lower levels; you might find a weird collectible that you've always wanted, or you can get your palm read by a self-proclaimed psychic. It's about a 15-minute walk along the waterfront from the cruise dock, or you can take the free-zone bus. Info: www.pikeplacemarket.org
Experience Music Project (325 Fifth Ave. N. at Seattle Center, 1-877-454-7836) Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen had a great idea, partly inspired by the fact that Jimi Hendrix was a Seattle native. This interactive museum/exhibit space/gallery is housed in a spectacular Frank Gehry building near the Science Center, and offers hands-on music creation in a state-of-the-art studio, among other things. Contemporary artists, classical musicians and retro songsters are featured along with memorabilia and live concerts. Info: www.emplive.com The Science Fiction Museum and Hall of Fame is also co-located with the Experience Music Project. Open daily in the spring/summer from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. and daily in the fall/winter from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Info: www.sfhomeworld.org.
Space Needle (Seattle Center, 206-905-2100). This indelible landmark allows you to soar in seconds to the Observation Deck 520 feet above the ground. There's a 360-degree view of Seattle, the mountains, the ferries, Puget Sound and the islands, Lake Washington ... and if you can't see it all with the naked eye, don't worry. Complimentary telescopes are part of the package. Info: www.spaceneedle.com. The Web cam at the top of the Observation Deck is a great way to see the ships at dock, too. www.spaceneedle.com/webcam
Pioneer Square (starts at Alaskan Way and Yesler Way), Seattle's first neighborhood, is a charming blend of cobblestone streets and turn-of-the-century architecture with some notable historic features. Smith Tower, built in 1914, was for a time the tallest building (at 42 stories) in the world outside of Manhattan. There's a waterfall garden and the Klondike Gold Rush National Park plus lots of shops and coffee houses to entertain for an entire day. Info: www.cityofseattle.net/tour/pioneer.htm
Bus service from Pier 66 along the waterfront and to downtown is actually in the "free zone," available from 6:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. every day (www.transit.metrokc.gov). The waterfront trolley has been removed, but a bus that goes along the same route has taken its place. It is Metro route 99. Cabs are plentiful, and if you want to walk, the waterfront offers plenty of eateries and sights, including Seattle's magnificent oceanfront aquarium, as you meander to Pike Place Market and downtown.
Getting from SeaTac airport to the city center will cost between $28 and $35 in a cab, plus tip.
If you'd prefer to reserve a shared or private shuttle, limousine or sedan for your transfers between the airport and cruise port or just around town Shuttle Express provides reasonably priced transportation for visitors in the Seattle area. Look for cruiser specials on their Web site.
Where You're Docked
Ships dock at the Bell Street Pier Cruise Terminal, which is in downtown Seattle, or at the new Terminal 91, much less convenient. Belltown (the new Olympic Sculpture Park is located both on the waterfront and in Belltown), the area surrounding the Bell Street pier, has seen a great deal of urban renewal and an influx of trendy shops, hotels and restaurants within just a few steps of the dock. (There is almost nothing of interest around Terminal 91 at this time; it's in the industrial port.) Holland America, Princess and Cruise West are using Terminal 91 facilities almost exclusively for their sailings.
Staying in Touch
Seattle is the most "wired" city in the U.S. If you have a laptop or PDA, turn it on; you're probably already in a "hot zone." If you don't, here are a couple of Internet cafes where you can enjoy a cuppa brew and a connection:
Online Coffee Company (1111 First Avenue, 206-318-1911), www.onlinecoffeeco.com
Aurafice Internet and Coffee Bar (616 E. Pine St., 206-860-9977)
Seattle Duck Tours: Tour Seattle in these restored World War II amphibious landing crafts; go from land right into the water. Silly narration and sing-alongs included. $24 adult, $13.50 children.
Seattle Highlights: Approximately three hours, includes motorcoach tour of Seattle, including Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market and the top of the Space Needle. Cost is $45 adult, $30 child under 13.
Waterfront: Ivar's Acres of Clams (Pier 54, 206-624-6852), a Seattle institution for over 80 years, is located along the waterfront near the ferry docks. It started out as a little fish stand and has grown into a multi-restaurant corporation, but this, the original, is still special. Yes, it is touristy, but so what? The food is great, really inexpensive and brilliantly served, and the menus are fun and funny. If you listen carefully, you can still hear the ghost of old Ivar yelling his signature "KEEP CLAM" as you blissfully munch on clams, calamari, fish and sourdough rolls while watching the Washington State ferries arrive and depart at the adjacent dock. Info: http://www.ivars.net/Acres_Home/acres.html
City Center: Take time from a busy day of downtown shopping to enjoy contemporary American cuisine in the convivial environment of the FOX Sports Grill (1522 Sixth Ave., 206-340-1369). "Upscale yet casual," this restaurant serves up sports on giant plasma screens but has no kitschy memorabilia. Instead there are armchairs, sofas and places to relax and unwind while you munch. Info: www.foxsportsgrill.com
Pike Place: Located at the north end of the market area, Etta's Seafood (2020 Western Ave., 206-443-6000) is a perfect place to sit after the walk from Pier 66. It offers fresh seafood daily, and weekend brunch. Info: www.tomdouglas.com/ettas/index.html
Pioneer Square: Pyramid Alehouse, Brewery and Restaurant (1201 First Ave. S., 206-682-3377) serves upscale pub fare and offers brewery tours daily. Info: www.pyramidbrew.com/alehouses/seattle.php
Chinatown, Int'l District: House of Hong (900 S. Jackson, 206-822-7997) is well known for one thing: dim sum! Seventy-five items of dim sum are offered daily, along with other menu items as well.
Capitol Hill: Coastal Kitchen (429 15th Ave. E., 206-322-1145) is a casual seafood eatery in the heart of hipness; it serves breakfast, too. Info: www.chowfoods.com/coastalkitchen
Lake Union: Chandler's Crabhouse (901 Fairview Ave. N., 206-223-2722) serves up fresh seafood and beautiful views of Lake Union. Info: www.schwartzbros.com/chandlers.cfm
Ballard and the Locks: Weekend breakfast, daily lunch and dinner are offered at Chinook's at Salmon Bay (1900 W. Nickerson St. 206-283-4665), located where the fishermen dock with their catch.
Cascadia (2328 First Avenue, 206-448-8884): Located near the cruise dock in Belltown, this highly lauded restaurant serves "decidedly Northwest" cuisine in an elegant environment. The kitchen is separated from the dining room with a unique "rain window," an etched glass sculpture with a cascade of softly flowing water. Menu items feature fresh regional specialties. Info: www.cascadiarestaurant.com
The Hunt Club (900 Madison Street, 206-343-6156): Located off the lobby in the Hotel Sorrento, the romantic ambiance plays second fiddle only to the innovations of the executive chef, who decides his menus based on what's fresh in the market and which fresh herbs and vegetables he can bring to the restaurant from his own garden. Consistently voted "The Best Place to Kiss" in Seattle, it's an ideal mood-setter; enjoy after-dinner drinks and nightly jazz (Thursday to Sunday evenings) in the even more romantic Fireside Lounge, adjacent. Info: www.hotelsorrento.com/
Oceanaire Seafood Room (1700 Seventh Avenue 206-267-2277): Reminiscent of a 1930s supper club, complete with plush red leather seating and a circular oyster bar, this restaurant typifies upscale Northwest dining with over 30 varieties of seafood and 200 selections of wine. The menu, updated daily, offers specials, but you can also request your seafood to be simply grilled or broiled. Info: www.theoceanaire.com/seattle
Restaurant Zoe (2137 Second Ave., 206-256-2060), in the heart of Belltown near the cruise port, has been Zagat-rated one of Seattle's top five restaurants for New American Cuisine. Calling itself an "Urban Bistro," it combines the best of Northwest ingredients with unique and innovative menu options. Info: www.restaurantzoe.com
The Pink Door (1919 Post Alley 206-443-3241): The main draw here is the view over Puget Sound from the arbor-covered al fresco patio. Located just above Pike Place Market, it's a lovely spot for a breather after tangling with the crowds below. Italian trattoria-style food, "Italian garage sale decor," according to the owner.
Earth and Ocean (1112 Fourth Ave., in the W hotel, 206-264-6060): Even if you don't have a full meal here, at least go in for coffee and dessert. Info: www.earthocean.net
If you've dropped off your luggage at the Bell Street Pier and are just waiting to board, there are several really nice lunch spots in Belltown not too far away. Flying Fish, (2234 First Avenue, 206-728-8595) an award-winning restaurant specializing in Pacific Rim cuisine, serves lunch (on weekdays only, alas) including a quickie two-course meal from the extensive menu. It's within walking distance from the two dockside hotels and is open every night for dinner. You're in Seattle, so just walk about three feet in any direction and you can get a great cup of coffee, espresso, latte or cappuccino with biscotti, either from a street cart or in a real sit-down joint. Pacific Place shopping center (Sixth and Pine) is a healthy fifteen-minute walk from the Bell St. pier, much of it uphill, but it does offer some swanky shops like Tiffany if you need to buy a bauble or two. If you have a couple of hours to kill, wander down to the amazing Seattle Aquarium (1483 Alaskan Way, 206-386-4300) where you can visit the exhibits. Or go a bit further to Pike Place Market, have lunch (or weekend brunch) at Etta's (2020 Western Ave., 206-443-6000), browse the stalls, throw a fish and return to the ship with bouquets of fresh flowers for your stateroom.
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