Blink and it’s changed: Seattle can be that ephemeral. Welcome to a city that pushes the envelope, embraces new trends and plots a path toward the future.
First time in Seattle? Cut to the chase and make a beeline for its proverbial pantry: Pike Place Market. It was founded in 1907 to fortify locals with fresh Northwest produce, and its long-held mantra of ‘meet the producer’ still echoes enthusiastically around a city where every restaurateur worth their salt knows the name of their fishmonger and the biography of the cow that became yesterday’s burgers. It doesn’t take long to realize that you’ve arrived in a city of well-educated palates and wildly experimental chefs who are willing to fuse American cuisine with just about anything – as long as it’s local.
A United States of Neighborhoods
Visitors setting out to explore Seattle should think of the city as a United States of Neighborhoods or – to put it in more human terms – a family consisting of affectionate but sometimes errant siblings. There’s the aloof, elegant one (Queen Anne), the cool, edgy one (Capitol Hill), the weird, bearded one (Fremont), the independently minded Scandinavian one (Ballard), the grizzled old grandfather (Pioneer Square) and the precocious adolescent still carving out its identity (South Lake Union). You’ll never fully understand Seattle until you’ve spent a bit of time with them all.
To outsiders, Seattle is an industrious creator of macro-brands. To insiders, it’s a city of micro-businesses and boundary-pushing grassroots movements. For proof, dip into the third-wave coffee shops, the microbreweries with their casual tasting rooms or the cozy informal bookstores that remain rock solid in a city that spawned Amazon. Then there are the latest national trends that Seattle has helped create: craft cider, pot shops, micro-distilleries, specialist pie-makers, homemade ice cream and fledgling nano-breweries. Walk the streets and scour the neighborhoods; there’s far more to this city than Starbucks’ vanilla lattes and Boeing airplanes.
A Walk on the Weird Side
It may have nurtured tech giants Microsoft and Amazon, but that doesn’t mean Seattle hasn’t got a surreal, arty side. Crisscross its urban grid and you’ll find all kinds of apparitions: a rocket sticking out of a shoe shop; a museum built to resemble a smashed-up electric guitar; glass orbs in wooden canoes; a statue of Lenin; a mural made of used chewing gum; fish-tossing market traders; and a museum dedicated to antique pinball machines (that you can still play). No, you haven’t over-indulged in some powerful (legal) marijuana. You’ve just worked out that Seattle is far more bohemian than beige.
Pike Place Market
A cavalcade of noise, smells, personalities, banter and urban theater sprinkled liberally around a spatially challenged waterside strip, Pike Place Market is Seattle in a bottle. In operation since 1907 and still as soulful today as it was on day one, this wonderfully local experience highlights the city for what it really is: all-embracing, eclectic and proudly unique. A brand-new expansion of the market infrastructure adds vendor space, weather-protected common areas, extra parking, and housing for low-income seniors.
If you’re coming from downtown, simply walk down Pike St toward the waterfront; you can’t miss the huge Public Market sign etched against the horizon. Incidentally, the sign and clock, installed in 1927, constituted one of the first pieces of outdoor neon on the West Coast. From the top of Pike St and 1st Ave, stop and survey the bustle and vitality. Walk down the cobblestone street, past perpetually gridlocked cars (don’t even think of driving down to Pike Pl) and, before walking into the market, stop and shake the bronze snout of Rachel the Market Pig, the de-facto mascot and presiding spirit of the market. This life-size piggy bank, carved by Whidbey Island artist Georgia Gerber and named after a real pig, collects about $10,000 each year. The funds are pumped back into market social services . Nearby is the information booth, which has maps of the market and information about Seattle in general. It also serves as a ticket booth, selling discount tickets to various shows throughout the city.
A guide to Seattle’s Alki Beach
Seattle’s closest beach is a Pacific Northwestern riff on the popular beaches of Southern California. Along this two-mile stretch of beach, you’ll find a fair number of volleyball courts, ample tidepooling opportunities, as well as a handful of restaurants, bars, and cafes perfect for a visit any time of day.
OK, so maybe the sand along Alki Beach isn’t a picturesque stretch of pristine white shoreline, but it’s got its own Pacific Northwest charm. It’s interrupted by massive driftwood trees, stripes of seaweed, and kelp pushed in at high tide. Most people who visit Seattle are surprised to learn there’s a beach at all, much less one within a water-taxi ride from downtown.
Alki Beach is an ideal spot on a sunny day in Seattle. Families flock to the beach during low tide to spend time exploring the small tide pools that emerge as the water in Puget Sound recedes, and they often share the beach with intrepid seagulls and crows seeking a few mussels or crabs among the rocky formations.
Running parallel to the beach, cyclists, runners, skateboarders and rollerbladers can take advantage of a flat, well-maintained path and sidewalk roughly 2.5 miles in length. During nice weather, it’s also common to see Seattleites sunbathing in beach chairs and on towels while others catch rays from kayaks and stand-up paddleboards available for rent. There are also several beach volleyball nets set up for public use, and grills and fire pits are available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Ample food and drink
While Alki Beach stretches from Duwamish Head to the Alki Point Lighthouse, restaurants, bars and cafes, are primarily along the stretch of beach designated as Alki Beach Park. In this area, there are a variety of cuisines to choose from, as well as options for meals throughout the day. Farther east, there are two main restaurant options: Salty’s on Alki for a great view of the city and equally delicious food, and Marination Ma Kai which serves Hawaiian and Pacific-inspired dishes in an informal dining area.
In the morning, it’s necessary to stop at Top Pot Doughnuts to enjoy an official Seattle Seahawks doughnut and Ovaltine latte before setting out to explore the area. Ampersand Café is another casual, all-day spot with a reputation for delicious, fresh-baked cinnamon rolls. There is – of course – also a Starbucks in the area for those seeking an alternative ‘local’ coffee chain.
Lunch options are equally casual. Blue Moon Burgers, a fast-food burger chain in a converted auto garage, is good for a quick bite before renting a bicycle to ride along the beach path. Duke’s Chowder House is another well-known Seattle restaurant; like their South Lake Union location, this Alki Beach restaurant boasts a water view and warming chowder on a gray Seattle day. Lastly, Spud Fish & Chips has a walk-up counter and claims to be Seattle’s original fast food restaurant.
It’s also a good option to end a day at Alki Beach with dinner at one of the waterfront restaurants. Cactus has a location of their popular Seattle Mexican restaurant on Alki Beach, and they open their windows to let in fresh air on nice days. Phoenecia is an intimate, Mediterranean-inspired tapas and wine spot that makes it easy to forget you’re just a few miles from Seattle. Lastly, West Seattle Brewing Company carries on Seattle’s famous craft beer tradition that pair well with their pizzas, wraps and salads; they also offer morning yoga sessions on their patio during warm weather months.
Alki Beach was the original landing point for settlers who went on to establish the city of Seattle, so there are several interesting spots along the beach for history and culture enthusiasts. Alki Point Lighthouse is a fully functioning Coast Guard lighthouse that offers free tours to the public on weekend afternoons during the summer.
Farther east along the beach, a large monolith commemorates the first settlers landing in Seattle, along with additional plaques for the First Nations peoples of the region, the wives of settlers, and other important groups in the history of Seattle.
Lastly, a six-foot tall Statue of Liberty stands roughly halfway along the stretch of Alki Beach Park. Rededicated in 2007, the statue is an occasional community meeting point, such as in solidarity with New York City in September 2001. The statue stands as a visual reminder of Seattle’s ongoing commitment to freedom, liberty and openness as a city.
How to get to Alki Beach from Seattle
There are two ways to easily reach Alki Beach from downtown Seattle. With access to a car, one can easily drive across the West Seattle bridge and take the Harbor Avenue exit to cruise along the waterfront road that parallels the beach. Harbor Avenue is lined with parking opportunities close to the beach and other amenities.
Locals know better than to risk traffic and parking stress, so they opt to catch the West Seattle Water Taxi from its dock near the Seattle Ferry Terminal in downtown. A 15-minute boat ride deposits you on the eastern end of Alki Beach, and it’s a flat and manageable walk to access restaurants and beach facilities.