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People in hammocks on the beach at Golden Gardens.
People in hammocks on the beach at Golden Gardens.
CITY GUIDE

A local’s guide to Seattle

People in hammocks on the beach at Golden Gardens.
People in hammocks on the beach at Golden Gardens.
  • By Seth Sommerfeld
  • Photos by Hayley Young
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Seattle’s tucked-away location in the northwest corner of the country has always bred a brand of isolationist cool that can’t be manufactured. It’s given creative people a freedom to blossom slowly outside the nation’s gaze and has led to culture-shaping music and tech.

Although the prevailing stereotypes of the city still have not moved far past “rainy grunge place where they throw fish,” there’s much hidden under our winter’s gray clouds. While the booming tech industry is, unfortunately, driving out artistic types who traditionally lent Seattle its style and sound, it has also boosted the culinary scene. And there are still plenty of weird nooks of delight to discover, if you know where to look. The all-too-real “Seattle Freeze” might prevent us from being the most outwardly welcoming city. But play it cool and you’ll blend right in.

Meet Seth Sommerfeld

Seth has lived in Seattle since 2011. He was born and raised in Billings, Mont., with collegiate pit stops in Spokane, Wash., and Syracuse (go Zags, though) along the way. You can probably run into him at a concert.

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IN THE ACTION
Capitol Hill
For many years, Capitol Hill served as the hub for Seattle cool, home to musicians, artistic weirdos and the vibrant LGBT populations. While the weekend invasions of tech bros make the scene less fun now, the neighborhood still sports the best culinary and artistic density around. If you want to dine, shop, catch a concert or try to get into late-night trouble, it’s the spot. Find this neighborhood.
LOW-KEY
Greenwood
With enough distance between it and the downtown-area hubbub, Greenwood puts out a residential vibe while still offering plenty to do. The area has fun drinking holes (the hockey dive the Angry Beaver, beer emporium Chuck’s Hop Shop, bar arcade Coindexter’s), some excellent food options (FlintCreek Cattle Co. might be the city’s best steakhouse) and prime theatrical offerings (Taproot Theatre and the D.I.Y. oasis the Pocket Theater). Find this neighborhood.
Neighborhoods

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Eat

BREAKFAST
Cafe Presse
Seattle is a long way from the streets of Paris, but Cafe Presse manages to re-create the effortless, elegant charm of those famed French coffee shops in its small space. For starters, the cappuccinos and lattes are on point, though the flavorful, locally roasted Caffe Vita house blend holds up on its own. The menu excels at light simplicity, from housemade yogurt with honey and walnuts to the fresh, flaky croissants to the gooey ham-egg-and-cheese delight of the croque madame. And with the breakfast options available all day, there’s no rush to be the early bird.
BTW: On Tuesdays, there’s a special prix-fixe menu.
Cafe Presse, 1117 12th Ave. Seattle, Wash. 98122
BREAKFAST
Morsel
This restaurant’s design is nothing to write home about (there’s an industrial storage rack in view), but Morsel’s substance has no time for your criticism of style. The biscuits at Morsel don’t mess around; we’re talking hefty, not flaky. Whether you’re filling up on a breakfast sammie or grabbing a biscuit to go with butter or jam, it’s hard to go wrong, despite the limited menu. This is a spot to get the sort of tasty carb fuel that sticks to the walls of your belly as you take on another Seattle day.
BTW: Because ambiance isn’t Morsel’s forte, take your meal to the park across the street for some open-air dining.
Morsel, 5000 University Way NE, Seattle, Wash. 98105
LUNCH
Un Bien
When Seattle’s Cuban-sandwich mecca suddenly shuttered in 2014, it was a heartbreaking trauma for foodies. While Paseo eventually reopened under new ownership (and is still excellent), the sons of the original owner split off to found Un Bien with the family’s recipes. Today, which is the superior supplier of Cuban sandwiches remains a contested debate, but more Seattleites tend toward Un Bien. The pork shoulder in the signature Caribbean roast is slow-cooked and marinated to perfection. The caramelized onions are sauteed so perfectly the toppings have earned a sandwich of their own (the Onion Obsession).
BTW: While you should absolutely do the Caribbean roast on a first visit, the seared-scallops sandwich offers a wonderful seafaring alternative with the same great fixings.
Un Bien, 7302.5 15th Ave. NW Seattle, Wash. 98117
LUNCH
Ba Bar
Pho is a staple of the Seattle diet, and although there are plenty of spots specializing in the Vietnamese noodle soup, Ba Bar offers the most variety. The lunch menu’s array of flavors includes rotisserie duck and spicy pork belly, dumplings, pork rice tamales and vermicelli noodles. That said, on a rainy day it’s hard to top a bowl of that standard, soul-warming brothy goodness. While this location is temporarily closed, the Capitol Hill and University Village restaurants are still open.
BTW: Don’t blow by the bakery display. The macarons and other pastries can satisfy most sugar cravings.
Ba Bar, 500 Terry Ave. N. Seattle, Wash. 98109
Temporarily closed
DINNER
RockCreek Seafood & Spirits
Forget the glitzy waterfront spots. The best seafood in Seattle is tucked away in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it locale across from the Fremont Abbey. The restaurant is modeled to resemble an urban fishing lodge, and its fresh-daily seafood selections make for a never-a-wrong-choice menu. Be it with char, bass, cod or any other gilled catch, the chefs have a knack for cooking each fish to melt-in-your-mouth perfection, with expertly paired garnishes that make each dish sing. Who needs a view when your taste buds are blissed out?
BTW: RockCreek’s happy hour is not one to be slept on, with choices like bacon-covered oysters “Brock-a-Fella” and the delectable crispy fried-oyster po’ boy.
RockCreek Seafood & Spirits, 4300 Fremont Ave. N. Seattle, Wash. 98103
DINNER
Salare
While chef-owner Edouardo Jordan’s James Beard-winning Southern restaurant, JuneBaby, has rightfully earned a ton of praise, Salare, his vision of a neighborhood restaurant, flies somewhat under the radar despite being two blocks away (and a million times easier to get into). The vibe is earthy-hangout, and the salads, pastas and meat dishes — which skillfully play on Jordan’s aptitude at mixing Southern, African, Caribbean and European styles — have a spring flair to them without feeling “lite.” So grab a few of Jordan’s A+ biscuits and enjoy fine dining with a carefree attitude.
BTW: Salare isn’t too refined for little ones. There’s always an affordable kids option on the menu.
Salare, 2404 NE 65th St. Seattle, Wash. 98115
LATE-NIGHT
Damn the Weather
You can’t force cool; it’s only effective when it’s effortless. And that’s the type that Damn the Weather achieves. Here, brick facades, low-hanging industrial lights, chandeliers and funky Christmas lights don’t even seem hodgepodge. It helps that the stellar drink menu is rich with elite cocktails, and the food (from oysters to spaghetti to chicken-fat fries) is gastropub cuisine worthy of soaking up any booze imbibed. Lit with the perfect warm glow, it pulls off chic and homey in a way few bars do.
BTW: It may seem weird that the chicken-fat fries come with a slice of lemon, but squeezing that citrus over the crispy snacks ratchets up the flavor.
Damn the Weather, 116 First Ave. S. Seattle, Wash. 98104
LATE-NIGHT
Frankie & Jo’s
It’s a testament to Frankie & Jo’s that despite being 100 percent plant-based (i.e. dairy free) and totally gluten-free (even the waffle cones!), those facts aren’t the most intriguing hooks to this ice cream hot spot. The true draw is the variety of one-of-a-kind flavors and ingredients that make other ice cream shops look lazy. There’s salty caramel ash with charcoal; California Cabin, with apple-wood-smoked vanilla and oat-flour shortbread; gingered “golden milk,” with turmeric, cardamom and black pepper; and classic flavors like chocolate mint brownie.
BTW: If you want more Frankie & Jo’s after departing Seattle, the company sells pint four-packs that ship (with dry ice) across the country.
Frankie & Jo’s, 1010 E. Union St. Seattle, Wash. 98122
(Seattle illustrator Sarah Morris for The Washington Post)
LOCALS THINK YOU SHOULD KNOW
  1. The “original Starbucks” in Pike Place Market isn’t actually the original location. That one closed in the 1970s. Also, many of us can’t forgive Howard Schultz for selling the NBA’s Seattle SuperSonics to owners who moved the team to Oklahoma City.
  2. If you go to either of the two brick-and-mortar Amazon Books stores, you’re dead to us.
  3. To many Seattleites, umbrellas are a sign of weakness. If you want to give yourself away as a tourist, use an umbrella.
(Seattle illustrator Sarah Morris for The Washington Post)

Do

Marshall Park
Queen Anne’s Kerry Park boasts the undisputed best view of the city, but a walk west on Highland Drive brings you to the best (and less crowded) spot to watch the sunset: Marshall Park. Calling either of these small strips of grass with some benches a “park” is generous, but their unobstructed sightlines across Puget Sound make up for it. Expect a color-drenched cascade as the sun dips over the horizon.
BTW: There’s free street parking in Queen Anne on Highland Drive and north, so if you don’t mind walking hills, it’s also the ideal spot to park for Seattle Center.
Marshall Park, 1191 Seventh Ave. W. Seattle, Wash. 98119
Frye Art Museum
You can’t beat the Frye’s price point: free. But the admission isn’t the only thing that makes this First Hill institution special. The Frye has made a concerted effort recently to showcase active Seattle artists and isn’t afraid to take risks on up-and-coming names. Additionally, the scope of media on display is vast (recent exhibits included slave-revolt blackout poetry, fungal growths and daily queer-clown dance shows). To top it off, the Frye Salon is the most gorgeous single art room in the city, showcasing almost 150 close-hung paintings from the museum’s permanent collection.
BTW: Check the calendar online before you go, to see whether there are any special activities coming up, such as art meditation sessions. Also, the Frye is closed on Mondays.
Frye Art Museum, 704 Terry Ave. Seattle, Wash. 98104
Temporarily closed
The Showbox
The debate about which Seattle concert venue is most beloved was put to bed in 2018 after plans were announced to tear down the Showbox for development. It birthed a hysterical outcry, with citizens rallying to the city council to “Save the Showbox.” (And, at least for now, those efforts have been successful.) It’s not hard to see why it’s adored. The Showbox has long been the go-to club for touring bands and the benchmark for local acts (headlining the Showbox means you’ve made it), thanks to two wraparound bars, a spring-loaded floor, and — of course — a great sound system.
BTW: If you grab a drink at the adjoining Kerns Music Shop (which opens two hours before doors), you can enter the Showbox directly.
The Showbox, 1426 First Ave. Seattle, Wash. 98101
Golden Gardens Park and beach
Here’s the thing: We don’t dispute the “it’s always rainy in Seattle” stereotype, because we don’t want any of y’all to find out that summer here is perfect. So while nobody thinks of Seattle as a beach town, the city has a couple great beaches. West Seattle’s Alki Beach Park has more of a city/touristy vibe, but Golden Gardens is a more secluded sandy strip of (comparatively) peaceful bliss in Ballard, especially before sunset, when it gets hopping.
BTW: There’s an off-leash dog park that’s part of Golden Gardens up the road (though it’s mostly dirt, so avoid it on rainy days).
Golden Gardens Park and beach, 8498 Seaview Pl. NW Seattle, Wash. 98117
Seattle Pinball Museum
Don’t be scared away by “museum”; this is actually Seattle’s best arcade — and you just might learn something while manning the flippers. Patrons pay a flat fee ($18) and then have free-play access to a rotating collection of about 50 pinball machines, spanning from the gaming origins of the 1960s to high-tech models (plus, a few old video game cabinets). The variety of play style between old and new is a treat, but in addition to flipping and tilting to your heart’s desire, each machine also has an info card explaining its origin and place in pinball history.
BTW: It’s not the most popping spot during weekday afternoons, allowing for near-infinite replay on your favorite machines.
Seattle Pinball Museum, 508 Maynard Ave. S. ​Seattle, Wash. 98104
Temporarily closed
Ferry to the San Juan Islands
If you’re looking to escape the metro area, a day trip here is as good as it gets. It takes about 90 minutes to drive up to the ferry in Anacortes, followed by a peaceful ride across the water to the archipelago. From there, the various islands are your proverbial oyster: Kayak at Crescent Beach on Orcas Island, bike the roads of Lopez Island, take in the calm of Shaw Island, or eat at an array of restaurants. The Willows Inn (a top dining destination in the country, on Lummi Island) can be reached via the ferry at Gooseberry Point.
BTW: Avoid rush hours at all cost. If you’re fine leaving in the late morning and returning well after the post-work rush, the journey will be a lot less stressful.
2100 Ferry Terminal Rd. Anacortes, Wash. 98221
Seth Sommerfeld
Seth has lived in Seattle since 2011. He was born and raised in Billings, Mont., with collegiate pit stops in Spokane, Wash., and Syracuse (go Zags, though) along the way. You can probably run into him at a concert.
Hayley Young
Hayley is a photographer living in Seattle since 2003, drawn there by its music scene. She loves her city’s white-capped-mountain views, freshwater lakes, relaxed culture and collective embrace of sunshine. You can spot her at the Tractor Tavern catching touring acts before they make it to arena tours.
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hyoungphoto

CITY GUIDES