~Nicholas Baker: Discovered editor.
I'm a recent transplant from the San Francisco Bay Area to Seattle and so my first months here have been all about discovering what the locals do, and finding out more on the history of the city. Of course, playing tourist in your new hometown is easy when you first relocate, because after all, it's all new and exciting!
The comparisons to San Francisco are plentiful. Although, San Francisco has a bit of a head start on Seattle in years, its historical beginnings are quite similar. The overall vibe of Seattle has a tenor to that of The City by the Bay. People are laid back and friendly. It's a foodie's delight with lots of outdoor recreation to explore in and around Seattle. The city's architecture tells a history all its own. The Puget Sound waterways and hills of the city create a beautiful geography, and when the sun does come out (the news would have you believe it never does) spectacular views can be enjoyed from almost any direction.
Seattle's beginnings are quite humble. Timber was its primary industry, which is a far cry from its current industry kings like Boeing, Starbucks, Amazon and Microsoft. The name Seattle was so named by Dr. David Swinson Maynard ("Doc" Maynard) a founder and prominent figure. He named the city after the great Chief Sealth of the Duwamish people indigenous to the area in the 1850's. Chief Sealth helped to build alliances between the natives and the white settlers. He became friends with Doc Maynard and was a signatory to the Treaty of Point Elliott in 1855. This treaty between the U.S. government and the Native Nations of what was then, Washington Territory, created reservations and land use laws. Seattle, effectively got it's start in 1851. Washington became a state in 1889.
Pioneer Square, a popular tourist area, is Seattle's first neighborhood and historically its most significant. This is where it all began, and is beginning again. By 1889 Seattle was effectively a city and it seems, as is with all great American cities, was brought to its knees by destruction. June 6, 1889 was the Great Fire! It leveled 125 acres and 30 city blocks. No one was killed. Seattle started over and built stone structures and now has one of the densest collections of Romanesque Revival architecture in the country. The Seattle Underground Tour is fascinating and great for locals and tourists alike. It takes you on a journey of the re-creation of Seattle in 1890. From toilet plumbing concerns to Lou's... ahem... "sewing circle". Our tour guide, Gael, was hysterical and should be on the comedy circuit. Pioneer Square has been plagued with homeless issues for many years, presenting the city with a bit of a visual problem for the neighborhood. Still, Pioneer Square is reviving and there are some fab new places to eat, drink and shop. One of my favorite spots to visit is Intrigue Chocolates. You have to seek them out.... no storefront. It's almost like a speakeasy. You enter an old building, follow the stairs up and zig-zag down a couple of long corridors. Give a twist to the ringer on the door... wait. You are then greeted by Aaron, the very friendly owner and chocolatier. He makes the truffles right there and you get to taste them! Orange-Fennel is my favorite and the Pie Are Around is spectacular!
North of downtown, is an "up and coming" neighborhood called Ballard. This was established as a separate town, and then annexed by the city of Seattle in 1907, mostly due to Ballard's inability to solve a drinking water issue on its own. Ballard only recently has become a bit of a destination for locals. Great shops and eateries and one of two year-round farmer's markets makes this part of town a weekend destination. It is quickly gaining recognition outside the region, even in San Francisco. The Farmer's Market has become locally famous with beautiful Washington State produce, crafters and purveyors of breads, meats and cheeses all made in the region. Sexton restaurant has a great funky-Seattle vibe and wonderfully made comfort-style food. If you like bourbon this is the bar for you! In fact, all over Seattle, there's a bourbon explosion and there are many small distilleries opening. Not only bourbon but vodka distilleries too. Seattle loves to drink! Happy Hour is big here... huge!
Just East of downtown Seattle is the Capitol Hill neighborhood. Historically, probably the second most important neighborhood. It also takes up a large swath of the central Seattle area. Beautiful old, expensive homes can be found throughout. Many of the homes from the prominent families of the early 1900's are part of an area called the Belmont/Harvard Historic District. I took a walking tour provided by the Seattle Architecture Foundation and open to members, locals and tourists alike. If you enjoy history and especially how it has shaped cities architecturally, the SAF is a great way to explore. The day I went was cold, rainy and miserable (shocking for Seattle) but with like minds I persevered. I was amazed at how in-tact these large homes were, and all still privately owned. Many still had their carriage houses which, coming from the Bay Area, astounded me. The "historic district" designation means that these homes can never be physically changed on the outside. The tour was informative and fun. It took a while for my hands to thaw, but it was well worth it.
Capitol Hill has been known for years as the "gay district" of Seattle. Predominantly at the 12th Ave. and Broadway corridors. As "gay ghettos" fade across the country, it still has enough of a scene that if you need to find a bar to hang out in or that special "gay gift" you're in luck. Q Seattle is a nightclub that just opened this Fall. It's New York styled interior, sound system, and light show have been unheard of in these parts until now. The difference is... no New York attitude! Okay, maybe a little, but it's cool. Come as you are and have a great time. They make their own flavored vodkas too! I'm partial to the coconut. Oh, and darling, don't forget your dance shoes.
One of my absolute favorite things to do in any new city is walk the great parks of the city. Volunteer Park is an especially lovely one. Located in the Capitol Hill neighborhood and celebrating its 100 year anniversary of completion. It was designed by the famed Olmstead Brothers, and houses a conservatory, beautiful picnic areas, and the Asian Art Museum. Originally Seattle simply named the park "City Park" but changed the name in 1901 Volunteer Park to honor the volunteers of the Spanish-American War. Again... a nice bit of history and a calm respite from the noises of a busy city. I've been told the Volunteer Park Cafe is a fabulous brunch destination. I still need to go.
Seattle's Belltown is part of the downtown scene and has great restaurants, happy hour menus and unique boutique shops. I love the brick buildings of this neighborhood. It is a hop-skip to the Seattle Center where the Space Needle is located, so a really nice place to grab a late lunch in Belltown. My current favorite spot for brunch or dinner in Belltown is Le Pichet. A quaint little French bistro-styled restaurant. The owner is French and so is the the menu. It has a wonderfully warm atmosphere in a small, cozy space. Going later in the day should ensure you've got a table. Then take the elevator ride to the top of the Space Needle (maybe have a glass of wine when you get there) and view the entire Puget Sound region. The Space Needle just celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2012! Venture back down to the Chihuly Garden & Glass exhibit at the base. Once you've done this, you can head to any number of places for happy hour drinky-poos and creative munchies. If you like a bit of sake, I would highly recommend Umi Sake. Its happy hour starts at 4:00 and goes 'till 6:00 or 8:00 depending where your seat is in the restaurant (bar or "front porch"). They have sake or Japanese beers to go with your sushi, sashimi and other gorgeous things. Really, really well priced and oh so yummy!
Your visit to Seattle wouldn't be complete without a jaunt to the famous Public Market. Just passing its 105th year of operation the market has developed over time into an interesting mix of food and food stuff shops, restaurants, local crafters, and a flower market. It is reminiscent of many of the markets I've been to in Europe, where you feel more of a connection to the food you're buying and there's a sense of history. I'm so lucky, that in my new hometown I get to go here every day if I want to! I get all my fruit and veggies here. My butcher is here as well. I absolutely love DeLaurenti's where you can get dry goods, canned goods, olive oil, wonderful charcuterie, and Italian wines. The Market Spice shop, where you can purchase as little as 1 oz. of nearly any spice you need (as well as a wide assortment of teas) has delicious aromas wafting from though its doors. It's wonderful for us cooks who may only need a little fennel seed or a bit of cumin. One of the absolute best things are the unique flower bouquets for sale. You really can have flowers on your table every day. It's fun to bring my foodie friends to see what delicious finds we can bring back to the dinner table.
Those who've never been to Seattle think it rains all the time. Those who have been to Seattle or live here know that it doesn't. This emerald city stays green all year long, and come rain or come shine there is always something to do. I can tell people this, now that I'm here. Seattle is a very cool town for both locals and visitors.