And they say the Midwest is friendly. As soon as you’re on the city-bound bus from Seattle-Tacoma airport, you get a sense of the Northwest’s niceness. A few locals strike up a conversation with a Mexican tourist, happy—ecstatic, even—to advise his trip. Later, a crowd huddled by the bus’s back door notices a mom and child are slow to exit, and they yell for the driver to hold up. So when a seated woman offers to put your suitcase by her feet after you struggle to keep it steady, you gladly, unskeptically let her.
It must be Seattle in the summer. Residents have waited all gray fall/winter/spring to bask in the Vitamin D–soaked city: Puget Sound’s fresh smell; the fact that the sun rises at 5am and sets at 10pm; the way the Space Needle (pictured above) lights up the clear night sky (it’s kinda creepy, but awesome). The good weather is fleeting, so, like Chicagoans, Seattleites want to take full advantage—as politely as possible.
Make the most of your days by staying downtown, with easy access to buses. Of course, that can get pricey, so skip the fancy accommodations and head to the Hotel Seattle (315 Seneca St, 206-623-5110, $100/night). We’re not gonna lie, the rooms are…simple: no AC, no HBO, no Wi-Fi. But they’re clean, and you’re not going to be inside much anyway.
In Seattle, a long day begins with a good, strong cup-o-joe. Of course there’s this local joint, Starbucks, that’s kind of a big deal in these parts. Avoid the usual coffee-chain crowds there and head to indie coffeehouse Nanung (1121 NE 45th St, 206-632-1665) in the University District. The atmosphere is light, the chairs are comfy—like hanging on a breezeway—and the roast is smooth, yet bold and toasty. As long as you’re in the northern part of town, walk down 45th Street—boutique clothing stores and comic books await, in addition to more smiles from strangers—before making Portage Bay Café (4130 Roosevelt Way NE, 206-547-8230, average meal $13) your next stop. The all home-grown brunch spot heaps generous portions of eggs, chicken-basil sausage and organic pancakes onto your (large) plates. But if that’s not enough, carb orders—such as sweet challah French toast—include a trip to the toppings bar. Gorge on fresh raspberries; feel great.
Keep the calories coming at Pike Place Market (pictured), a stretch of produce shops and counter-service restaurants downtown along the sound. At the Pike Place Fish Market (86 Pike St, 206-682-7181), enthusiastic fishmongers walk customers through their collection of iced, stinky gems, shouting the order to the waiting counter workers. Then it’s heads-up—the packaged fish fly, literally. You can’t help but smile at their antics, and they get the job done well.
The first Starbucks (pictured) is nearby, but—if you can believe it—the line’s out the door. Best to let yourself get sucked into the hustle-bustle of the market, full of happy shoppers and street musicians rocking accordion Cure covers. Slowly make your way south toward the Elliott Bay Water Taxi (Spring St at Alaskan Way, $3), which runs every half hour. You’ll float across the bay to Alki Beach in Western Seattle, the perfect spot for panoramic cityscape shots.
The trek back is entirely uphill, so you’re going to work up an appetite. All manner of fish in this town is great, and you can save some dough at Ray’s Café (6049 Seaview Avenue NW, 206-782-0094, average entrée $16.95). It shares a kitchen with fancy-schmancy Ray’s Boathouse, but dishes—such as blackened rockfish on polenta—are a fraction of the price. As for later in the evening, nightlife here comes in neighborhood varieties. Bar-heavy Belltown makes for diverse pub crawls—everything from wine bar the Local Vine (2520 Second Ave, 206-441-6000) to gritty, wood-paneled Lava Lounge (2226 Second Ave, 206-441-5660). Pioneer Square is where you hang out in da clubs, such as Trinity (111 Yesler Way, 206-697-6900), which houses both techno and hip-hop rooms. University Village is home to Jet City Improv (5510 University Way NE, 206-781-3879, $10 tickets), a ComedySportz-style theater with Friday and Saturday night shows. But if you’re tired from all the walking, Capitol Hill is your place. The queer-friendly ’hood is very Wicker Park—as in it’s overrun by faux hipsters who lament gentrification. Still, its hangouts have character: divey Linda’s (707 E Pine St, 206-325-1220) and its killer back patio; the Chapel (1600 Melrose Ave, 206-447-4180), a converted mortuary with lofted ceilings and mod furniture; Redwood (514 E Howell St, 206-329-1952), slinging quirky cocktails such as the michelada, a concoction of soy sauce, Tabasco, Negro Modelo and muddled citrus.
For those who aren’t ready for bed, drunk grub, in the form of 12-egg omelettes (you read that right), is a short cab ride away. Beth’s (7311 Aurora Ave N, 206-782-5588, $10 for plain omelette) is open 24 hours for maximum kitsch—pinball machines light up the back room, crayon drawings blanket the walls. And the omelettes…well, the term egg brick springs to mind. But you can forgive people for their hunger—nine months of rain would drive anyone to summer overexertion. And there’s strong coffee to look forward to tomorrow.
Two nights, two people
+ Hotel $230
+ Meals $200
*Both American Airlines and Southwest offer direct flights.