While it’s natural to gravitate to Seattle’s main visitor draws, you’ll discover the city’s true charm by exploring its distinct neighborhoods. And in a city where people name-drop farmers and cheesemakers, you don’t have to look far for crusty sourdough, sustainable seafood or local wines. The only difficulty is pacing yourself.
Since opening nearly 25 years ago, Macrina Bakery (macrinabakery.com; 206-448-4032; 2408 First Ave.) remained a constant while the gritty neighborhood of Belltown transformed into a land of condo towers and craft beer joints. Get to Macrina early to nab a seat in the cafe, where the menu highlights its artisanal baking, niche comestibles from the Pacific Northwest and the season’s best bounty. For smaller appetites, there are savory brioches and all manner of sweet things swaddled in croissant dough. Do save room for a giant cookie, especially Rick’s chocolate apricot espresso, which gets a delightful accent from dried apricots. It’ll be valuable sustenance as you leave the flat terrain of Belltown — the result of a massive regrading project at the beginning of the 20th century — for nearby tourist attractions. Walk 10 minutes northwest for Olympic Sculpture Park or southeast for the perennial draw of Pike Place Market.
There’s a palpable divide between the present-day bustle of Capitol Hill’s vintage shops (and at night, its myriad bars and clubs) and the timeless atmosphere inside Cafe Presse (cafepresseseattle.com; 206-709-7674; 1117 12th Ave.). Melt into the happy chatter and settle at one of the chartreuse tables for exemplary French bistro food. Here, a croque monsieur — ostensibly a ham-and-cheese sandwich, admittedly one slathered in bechamel and kissed under a broiler — becomes something that stops time. (To really gild the lily, put an egg on it and make your monsieur a madame.) Pair it with coffee from local roaster Caffé Vita or a glass from the affordable wine list before exploring one of Seattle’s most playful shopping districts.
If you want quirk, head north of Lake Union to Fremont, where you’ll find a bronze sculpture of Lenin and a Volkswagen-crushing troll under the Aurora Bridge — as well as some of the city’s best dining. With its seasonally inspired, vegetable-forward menu of shared plates, The Whale Wins (thewhalewins.com; 206-632-9425; 3506 Stone Way N.) could have been a simulacrum of restaurant trends. However, in Renee Erickson’s hands, it’s a paean to the Pacific Northwest. (She didn’t win a James Beard award for nothing.) The shopping-list style menu may be off-putting to some, listing ingredients separated by commas, but it’s consistent with what arrives: impeccable ingredients, simply prepared and allowed to speak for themselves. Also note that the restaurant charges an automatic 20 percent gratuity to provide a living wage to employees.