Jet-setting to Jet City: How to Travel like a Local in Seattle

Posted on July 29, 2015, 9:51 am
14 mins


If you only had 48 hours to experience Seattle, what would you do?

As a long-time Seattleite, I was recently approached by a friend with this question because her “very hip and well-traveled cousin” was coming from London for a visit. Her cousin only had a couple of days to explore, so she wanted to make it count.

Her request made me ponder… if I was jetting through Seattle, what would the perfect 48 hours look like?

When I travel, I embrace the motto, “I’m not a tourist, I’m a temporary local.” I often dream of a day when I can become a mobile citizen of the world. When I travel to a new city or country, I want to embrace the homegrown culture as much as possible; I want to eat where the locals eat, sip their “signature” drinks, listen to the music they love and uncover hidden gems and underrated spots. I’ve always been pretty lucky to have friends old and new put me on track, so this was my chance to pay it forward, and I was very happy to do so. It is is an exciting time to be talking about Seattle!

Seattle in the Moment

When I moved to Seattle over 12 years ago, out-of-towners usually associated the city with Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, Boeing, Microsoft, rain and grunge music. Undoubtedly, a lot has changed since then; while Pike Place Market and Space Needle remain top tourist attractions, people are beginning to take notice of the Olympic Sculpture Park and the Museum of History and Industry (MOHAI). Amazon and SpaceX have now become the most-talked-about companies in this region, even though Boeing and Microsoft still have a huge influence on the local economy and culture, but, sexier, younger, and more nimble companies are taking center stage now.

Being a tourist in my own city! #monorail #Seattle #spaceneedle #summer #weekend #timelapse #video

A video posted by Jiawen Shi (@jiawenshi) on

As for the rain—it’s always been somewhat of a myth. Most people don’t realize that we actually get less rainfall on average than New York City. Locally, the food scene seems to be just as vibrant, if not more, than the music scene. You still see remnants of the grunge scene at places like the legendary Crocodile, but Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Alice in Chains are little more than ghosts of a bygone era.

I used to tell people, Seattle is an excellent home base if you can travel a lot. While that’s still true, I find myself wanting to explore my adopted home city more and more. Seattle has always had a big “town” feel. We’re laid back like much of the left coast. We care more about quality of life than a cutthroat rat race at all costs. When I first moved here, at times I found myself miss the hustle and bustle and abundance of choices of a big city. However, the recent tech boom brought a lot of fresh blood to the Jet City, and with it comes new ideas, energy, and amenities. Seattle feels less and less like a big town and is shaping up to be a real metropolis.

It kills me to hear of people coming to Seattle and not making it out of downtown. To me, the real Seattle is out in our neighborhoods, so if you want to truly experience Seattle, you need to immerse yourself in those distinctively different areas. I, of course, have a highly-biased list of favorite neighborhoods.

Queen Anne

Queen Anne is on top of that list because of its walkability, richness of cultural activities and killer views. Forget about riding the elevator to the top of the Space Needle, the best view of Seattle is halfway up the Queen Anne Hill at Kerry Park. Whenever I want to show off the “Frasier view” to my out of town guests, I take them to Kerry Park. On a clear day, you can see Mt. Rainier in all its glory behind the downtown skyline, with the snow-capped Olympics Mountains to the west. Some days, I have to pinch myself in disbelief that I live in such a beautiful city.

If you’re a culture fiend, lower Queen Anne is the perfect area for you. Within a one-mile radius, it boasts the Seattle Opera, Pacific NW Ballet, Seattle Repertory Theatre, Gates Foundation Visitor Center and OnTheBoards, just to name a few. If you’re the active type, walk, run, or bike (there are a couple Pronto bike rental stations near Seattle Center) along the trail from Myrtle Edwards park on the waterfront all the way to the Smith Cove and Elliott Bay Marina. Trust me, the trek is full of awe-inspiring views.

Boat traffic #Seattle #summer #bridge #fremont #timelapse #video A video posted by Jiawen Shi (@jiawenshi) on


Fremont, the funkier neighbor of Queen Anne across the shipping canal, is a close second on my list of favorite hoods. The Fremont Bridge across the canal is the most-raised drawbridge in America, so you might expect a little delay in getting across from Queen Anne, especially during boating season. Most of my favorite seafood restaurants are located in Fremont, although you’ll rarely hear them described as “seafood” restaurants by locals; we prefer the term “Pacific Northwest” cuisine. Rock Creek and Manolin are great places to sample Pacific Northwest dishes: Bring on those geoducks, Dungeness crabs, and wild-caught salmon.

West of these restaurants on the shore of Lake Union (technically in the Wallingford neighborhood), Westward has a great outdoor area with a panoramic view of downtown over the water. Order a dozen oysters and a glass of rose, and you can park yourself on the patio for hours. We Seattleites are blessed with an abundance of seafood here in the Pacific Northwest, so “when in Rome”, take in as much fresh, local food as you can!

Crossing the rainbow #Seattle #capitolhillseattle #crosswalk #pride #skater A photo posted by Jiawen Shi (@jiawenshi) on


Capitol Hill

Capitol Hill has traditionally been known as the gay district and home to many artists and counter cultures. It is also rapidly gentrifying, much to the dismay of long-time residents, and has become the west coast’s most densely populated urban village. The city recently declared it Seattle’s first official Arts District because of its abundance of venues and creative spaces among so much residential property, retail and restaurants. This is part of a larger initiative to maintain cultural capital and cohesion during the current rush of development, and you will see evidence of that development everywhere you look—cranes and new constriction towering over old brick facades and newly painted rainbow crosswalks.

On 10th Avenue between Pike and Pine (referred to as the Pike/Pine corridor), you’ll find the beautiful and world-famous Elliott Bay Book Company adjacent to the high-fashion boutique Totokaelo, one of Seattle’s destination shopping experiences. Both are across from independently owned Everyday Music, which is not just a great place to explore for vintage and new music, but to get a quick look at what live music events are happening around town.

The wealth of restaurant options on Capitol Hill also makes it a foodie haven. The Melrose Market houses Mediterranean influenced Terra Plata, crowd favorite Sitka and Spruce, and the legendary Taylor Shellfish. A few streets up, the bright minds behind the Melrose Market concept recently unveiled Chophouse Row, a retail, work and restaurant development that mixed modern design with the façade of a historic building (formerly housed the well-known music studio, “Chophouse”). It’s something you might see in NYC’s DUMBO neighborhood, and already a hit with Seattleites.

Aside from the “new,” Capitol Hill stills offers plenty of old-Seattle charm. Take a stroll on Millionaire’s Row on 14th Avenue East, from E. Prospect Street to E. Roy street (known as Millionaire’s Row) and you’ll see plenty of grand or architecturally distinguished homes dating back to early twentieth century. Continuing north, you’ll enter Volunteer Park. If you’re looking for another great view of the city from a different vantage point, climb the water tower and you’ll get a 360 degree peek at Seattle through the treetops. It’s a good work out for the legs and, best of all, it’s free! The Seattle Asian Art Museum is also located in Volunteer Park. Formerly the Seattle Art Museum’s home location, it is a beautiful 1933 Art Deco building and has a renowned collection of Asian art, especially Chinese and Japanese. It’s a hidden gem and worth a visit!

Another beautiful day in #Seattle!! #nofilter #lakeunion #summer A photo posted by Jiawen Shi (@jiawenshi) on

Drinks Around Town

After dishing so much about some of my favorite restaurants, it’s only fair to spill some of my go-to “drinking” spots too. It’s no secret that we Seattleites like our coffee. I recommend Milstead & Co. in Fremont, which specializes in small-batch, single-origin brews. Bauhaus in Ballard and Capitol Hill is consistent and offers good, casual ambience. The Capitol Hill location has a little balcony area, and the Ballard location adjoins a cramped, cute used book store and displays pulp fiction for sale alongside fresh baked goods and individually wrapped Ding Dongs.

If you want something out of the ordinary, go to the historic Panama Tea House in the International District and get their Macha Green Tea Latte. For craft cocktails, go to Percy & Co. in Ballard, or Canon in Capitol Hill. the mixologoists at both spots are practically magicians. I can sit and watch them make drinks all day long!

These ideas are surely enough for a 48-hour visit. It’s not much of an itinerary, but who needs an itinerary? All one really needs are a few points of interest and to enjoy journey in between. In its lush, green and blue corner of the world, Seattle itself is like a hidden jewel box, with so many delightful surprises waiting to be discovered for those who are not afraid to venture out of the beaten paths and take the road less traveled.

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