48 Hours In: Seattle
This waterside gem of the Pacific Northwest has given birth to musical legends and coffee chains, but next month it's all about the arts, says Simon Calder
Simon Calder’s career in travel started at Gatwick Airport, where he cleaned aircraft for Laker Airways and later worked as a security officer. He became The Independent’s Travel Correspondent in 1994, and is known as “the Man Who Pays His Way” because he does not accept free travel facilities. He writes across the Independent titles, as well as for the Evening Standard.
Friday 27 September 2013
Why go now?
Next month, this young and dynamic Pacific Northwest city goes into artistic overdrive. On Tuesday, the month-long Arts Crush festival (artscrush.org) begins in the city, promising "31 days of creative adventures" including theatre, dance and puppetry.
The annual Earshot Jazz Festival ( earshot.org) begins on the same day and continues until 17 November.
The founders of globe-girdling local businesses, Microsoft and Amazon, have bestowed the city with uncommon cultural wealth. And Seattle becomes more accessible from 27 October, when a new morning flight from Heathrow launches, reaching the city in time for lunch.
British Airways (0844 493 0787; ba.com) flies daily from Heathrow, increasing next month to 10 times a week. Delta will add competition next year, and meanwhile offers connections via several hubs – as do the other big US carriers, American and United.
The lowest fares, however, are likely to be found on Icelandair (0844 811 1190; icelandair.co.uk) from Gatwick, Heathrow, Manchester and Glasgow via Reykjavik.
Sea-Tac airport (001 206 787 5388; bit.ly/Sea-Tac) is 10 miles south of the city centre. The quick and cheap way into town is on the Light Rail service that runs to the city centre every 10 or 15 minutes (001 888 889 6368; soundtransit.org; $2.75/£1.85 one-way). It makes several stops en route; about one minute after leaving Beacon Hill station, the train emerges from a tunnel to reveal a fabulous view of the city on the right-hand side. The overall journey takes 40 minutes to the final stop, Westlake (1) – where you can change for buses, trams and the monorail.
Get your bearings
Seattle perches above Elliott Bay, part of Puget Sound. The original settlement lies between Pioneer Square (2) and King Street, location for the city's main rail station (3). This four-square block bookends the southern extent of downtown. Parallel avenues aim north-west towards the Seattle Center complex, at the northern extreme of downtown. Two key neighbourhoods beyond downtown are Capitol Hill and Queen Anne.
The Market Information Center (4) at First Avenue and Pike Street (001 206 461 5840; visitseattle.org; 10am-6pm daily) offers advice on the whole city.
The Moore Hotel (5) at 1926 Second Avenue (001 206 448 4851; moorehotel.com) was the grandest property in town when it opened in 1907; it is now the least expensive downtown hotel. A comfortable, clean double in an excellent location starts at $112 (£75), room only.
The Alexis (6) at 1007 First Avenue (001 206 624 4844; alexishotel.com) is more stylish and expensive. It has a boutique look at street level, best appreciated during the early evening "wine hour", with a free drink in hand. Rooms are more traditional. Advance-purchase doubles start at $192 (£128), room only.
When big events are in town, rates for rooms can go sky-high; I paid $160 (£107) for a downtown loft apartment through Airbnb.com.
Take a hike
Start where the city began, with the Pioneer Square Walking Tour around "Seattle's First Neighborhood". Pick up a map at the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park (7) at 319 Second Avenue South (10am-5pm daily, free), which tells the often-tragic story of how Seattle became base camp for prospectors during the 1896-1899 Gold Rush. This is the starting point for the 21-block "Trail to Treasure".
At Pioneer Square (2), view the sculpture of of an impassive Chief Seattle, whose name was taken for the city. Divert at the end of the trail to explore the elegant King St Station (3).
Walk north along Second Avenue as Seattle gets into its mighty stride with fine early 20th-century buildings crowding over steep hills. The Seattle Art Museum (8) occupies an entire block; the entrance is at 1300 First Avenue (001 206 654 3100; seattleartmuseum.org; $17/£11; 10am-5pm from Wednesday to Sunday, open late until 9pm on Thursday and Friday).
Lunch on the run
You are one block away from Pike Place Market (9), a historic complex that manages to be Seattle's tourism hub, a working fruit-to-fish market and excellent lunch venue. Ask for a table by the window at Lowell's – motto, "Almost Classy" – which opens 7am-6pm daily (001 206 622 2036). Order Seattle Joe's Scramble, which contains sausage, spinach and mushrooms ($13.50/£9). To wash it down, see how long the queue is outside the world's first Starbucks; the global chain began here in 1971. Local planning rules mean it retains the original branding.
The star of Seattle's shopping celebrates its 75th anniversary this year. REI (10) began life in 1938 when Lloyd Anderson, a mountaineer, was seeking an ice axe. He could not find what he needed so, along with 22 other outdoor enthusiasts, he set up what has become America's largest consumer cooperative. Its flagship store occupies a block at 222 Yale Avenue North (001 206 223 1944; rei.com; 9am-9pm daily, Sunday 10am-7pm). You can stock up on anything from energy bars to high-altitude sleeping bags, and explore the outdoor park .
On a fine evening, choose a location from the many options along the waterfront. But given Seattle's unpredictable autumn weather you might prefer to head for Capitol Hill and sup at the Lost Lounge (11), which opens 24 hours a day at 1505 Tenth Avenue (001 206 323 5678; lostlounge.com). A pint of Bloody Mary, best shared, costs a modest $7.50 (£5).
Dining with the locals
The Lost Lounge (11) is ideal for a low-cost but tasty dinner, with "build-your-own-burger" the speciality. An alternative is next door at 1525 Tenth Avenue: Oddfellows (001 206 325 0807; oddfellowscafe.com) is a fascinating venue with 90 per cent of its furnishings salvaged. The short but succulent menu includes tuna with cous cous and olives for $17 (£11). Afterwards, nip around the corner to Broadway and Pine to see a statue of Jimi Hendrix (12), Seattle's joint-favourite dead musical genius (the other being Kurt Cobain of Nirvana).
Sunday morning: go to church
The Sky Church is a shrine to rock music inside the Experience Music Project (13) at 325 Fifth Avenue North (001 206 770 2700; empmuseum.org; daily 10am to 5pm; $18/£12). Frank Gehry's creation, commissioned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, celebrates musical heroes local and global – with Hendrix topping both lists.
Take a view
Take the elevator to the observation deck of the Space Needle (14) (001 206 905 2100; spaceneedle.com; from 9.30am at weekends, 10am other days, closing varies). The $19 (£13) fee is worthwhile on a sunny day, when the mighty city and its beautiful surroundings sparkle.
If the weather is dull, aim for the Queen Anne district instead, where the viewpoint (15) at the western end of Highland Avenue offers a fine panorama over the bay for free.
Out to brunch
Up the hill from the viewpoint, 5 Spot at 1502 Queen Anne (001 206 285 7768; chowfoods.com/5-spot) is a fragment of San Francisco that has floated north, showing how much DNA Seattle has in common with its more celebrated sister city. The French toast is mountainous. Walk in the park
The Olympic Sculpture Park (16), at Broad and Bay Streets (001 206 332 1377; seattleartmuseum.org; free), fills a meadow overlooking the water. It is scattered with dramatic, larger-than-life statues such as Alexander Calder's giant red-steel "Eagle".
The former Naval Reserve Armory on the southern shore of Lake Union has been spectacularly transformed into the Museum of History and Industry (17) – MOHAI (001 206 324 1126; mohai.org; 10am to 5pm daily, Thursdays to 8pm; $14/£9). The museum was bankrolled partly by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon. It celebrates the city's many achievements over a mere 16 decades. The Bezos Center for Innovation opens on 12 October, allowing you to "discover the innovator within yourself."
Take a ride
The chances are that you arrived on a Boeing. William Boeing began his career in a workshop on the north-eastern shore of Lake Union, and in 1916 his biplane, named Bluebill, flew over the water.
At Northwest Outdoor Center (18), a mile clockwise around the lake at 2100 Westlake Avenue (001 206 281 9694; nwoc.com; 10am-6pm daily except Monday and Tuesday), you can rent a kayak for two for an hour for $20 (£13) and espy the waterside home featured in Sleepless in Seattle from a polite distance.
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