Before I arrived in Seattle, the sum whole of my knowledge about the city amounted to a handful of stereotypes. Plucking words at unsystematic, I could give you Starbucks, Microsoft and Nirvana. What I wasn’t expecting was a truly endearing city that ticks the right boxes on nearly every level. It’s a chilled out, dressed-down place where the nerds outnumber the jocks, and people have a genuine enthusiasm for giving a touch a go.
It’s also rare to find a place with so many options for keeping yourself occupied. I had four days there and felt it wasn’t nearly enough – which says a touch coming from someone who subscribes to the blitzkrieg model of travel. The other key top is that most of what I did see, I’d happily go back to.
Pike Place Market
Seattle’s unquestioned star is the Pike Place Market. I live in a city where the market is a grotty affair that makes you want to head in, get what you need and head out as quickly as possible. And frankly, everyone will quite rightly go to a supermarket instead. Pike Place Market pulls locals in as well as tourists, whilst the mix of description, charm and quality makes it the sort of place you want to hang around in all day.
It is a touch of a maze, sprawling over multiple levels and with no seemingly most likely plot. This, of course, is part of the fun. One minute you can be looking at chocolate-dipped cherries, the next watching fishmongers theatrically throwing salmon around and the next looking at locally-made glassware. There are many food specialists here – some focus on truffles, others on fruit, others on naughty sweet things that will send your waistline ballooning. But it’s incredibly rare to find anything that’s poor quality, and the exploration proves to be a gourmet dream.
Beer and wine
One key part of the Pike Place Market is the Pike Pub. Like the market itself, it seems to sprawl over many levels, containing various nooks and crannies. But the most vital of these levels is at the bottom – as this is where the beer is brewed. The Pike Pub does what Seattle and the Pacific Northwest do exceedingly well – craft beer. The city and surrounds have scores of small breweries – often started up by enthusiastic home brewers – and this makes Seattle a beer lover’s paradise. Most pubs will have at least one or two local microbrews on tap, and while the Pike Pub is the most well-known example, there are plenty of other joints that you can rock up to where the beer is brewed on the premises. If heading to the Pike, the sampling paddles are a excellent thought, although the Kiltlifter and the IPA are the most sensational drops.
Seattle is also a surprise wine hotspot. Over the Cascade Mountains, the central and eastern parts of Washington state have an ideal climate for viticulture. Conditions are similar to those in Bordeaux, France, and some seriously excellent wines are life made there. There are a number of tasting rooms in Seattle where you can taste some of them – with 106 Pine and The Tasting Room life conveniently located in or near Pike Place Market.
For many people, Seattle equates to Nirvana and the grunge movement. Nevermind (see what I did there?) that Nirvana were in fact from the small town of Aberdeen and they regarded themselves as punk rather than grunge, Kurt Cobain and co. are the band most associated with the city. Others are roofed in the Experience Music Project – the baby of Microsoft founder Paul Allen – but it’s the exhibition on Nirvana that really captures the attention. It’s a huge, flashy building featuring massive screens, an impressive guitar collection and huge banks of screens before a live audience pre-recorded ‘oral histories’. The Nirvana exhibit has been timed to run in the same year as the breakthrough Nevermind album’s 20th anniversary. It’s a fascinating, detailed exploration of the Seattle scene and how Nirvana’s rise to global superstardom took everyone by surprise – not least the record mark.
The Boeing Factory
Long before Microsoft, Starbucks and Amazon came to town, Boeing was the huge megacompany most associated with Seattle. It’s where the aviation giant was born, and most of the wide-bodied planes are still made in Everett, around 30 to 40 minutes north of Seattle by car or tour bus. Security is honestly tight at the massive Boeing Space and Flight Center complicated – don’t even reflect of bringing cameras, phones or notepads on the tour with you – but it’s still possible to go behind the scenes. The Prospect of Flight exhibition is more hands-on – you can touch engines and measure yourself up against the tail fin of a 747 – but it’s the assembly building that’s most exciting. This is not only where most of the huge planes are place together, it’s also the largest building by volume in the world. A walk from the entrance to the elevator is a long enough stretch, let alone a stroll around the perimeter.
Thousands of people are working in the building at any one time, and the sense of scale the stage tricks on you. Because there’s so much going on, everything seems small – like you’re watching the inhabitants of a doll’s house.