It's a US city renowned for its live music scene, a great farmers' market and cafés where you can chill out with a Grande caramel macchiato. Best of all, many of its cultural events are free
The city centre of Seattle boasts enough stores and Starbucks to keep you busy for the whole day. On a rainy morning, a great first stop is the area around the Westlake Centre and Pacific Place, two great shopping centres full of one-of-a-kind boutiques and major department stores alike. The Nordstrom in Pacific Place is a North-west shopping treasure, and you are unlikely to find better customer service anywhere. As a bonus, the Nordstrom Café, located just inside the store, has a reasonably priced and tasty lunch menu.
Head east down Pike Street toward Pike Place Market – the oldest continually running farmers market in the United States. There, a tantalising array of fresh flowers, local produce and fish awaits you. Make sure you stop at Rachel the Pig, the famous bronze statue of a porker that serves as an orientation point and a spectacle for tourists, and watch the fish fly. Fish-throwing is one of the best things about Pike Place Market.
Basically, the fishmongers yell "Catch!" and hurl a fake stuffed fish into the crowd, taking tourists off-guard and making them scatter. Hilarious. One of the stallholders showed me "the monk fish" and encouraged me to come closer. Suddenly, it started moving! Of course I gave a little yelp and then he showed me the trick (which you can find out for yourself).
I definitely earned a coffee after that, so I made for the original Starbucks. When you are in Seattle, order coffee like a local. I very much enjoyed my "Grande, 2 per cent, decaf, caramel macchiato, stirred".
Pike Place may be most famous for food, but there are stalls run by local artists and artisans selling such things as hand-made pottery, lavender soap, opal earrings and bracelets made from recycled belts. Though many vendors have credit-card machines, I recommend bringing some cash. It makes life easier.
What to do at night
For a special occasion…
Seattle boasts many restaurants serving food that is is locally sourced and mostly organic. One of these, in the heart of the Pike Place Market, is The Pink Door (1919 Post Alley) between Stewart and Virginia (North/South) and First Avenue and Pike Place (East and West). It not only serves great Italian-American food, but has a nightly cabaret with dinner (US$30 dollars per person, including wine).
If you are looking for freshly prepared South-east Asian food, the Triple Door (216 Union Street) also does dinner and live music. The venue is full of comfortable semi-circular booths facing the stage, where big names and local artists alike get a chance to perform. The food is served from the Wild Ginger restaurant; the fresh Dungeness crab cakes and the Vietnamese hot-and-sour soup are delicious.
For live music…
Seattle is known for its great music scene, and it's easy to find your way around it. Everything downtown can be accessed via the bus system – and rides are free within the downtown area. To plan your trip around upcoming shows, check out www.seattleweekly.com/music. Among the first places to look are the Triple Door in downtown (see above), the Tractor Tavern in Ballard and the Crocodile in Belltown. If you feel like making your own music, head to North Seattle for the Rickshaw Karaoke Night. As a bonus, the Rickshaw sells inexpensive, greasy, Chinese food.
One of my favorite ways to spend an evening is swing dancing at the Century Ballroom on Capitol Hill. Start off with the free lesson before the dancing begins. If you arrive at 9pm on Wednesday or 8.30pm on Saturday for swing (9pm of it's salsa), a free lesson is included with the US$6-7 entry fee. The great thing about the Century is that, when you are tired or feeling uncoordinated (as I often am), you can buy a drink at the bar and take a seat to watch the dancing. It makes for a great group outing.
Summer in Seattle
If you are on a budget, Seattle is a great place to go in summer. There are free outdoor cinemas in Freemont (http://fremontoutdoormovies.com), while Green Stage (www.greenstage.org) presents free performances of Shakespeare in various parks around the city. All year round, there is a free ArtWalk throughout Seattle on the first Thursday of every month (www.firstthursdayseattle.com).
Labor Day Weekend falls at the end of May and traditionally marks the beginning of the summer holidays. If you are in Seattle at that time, you must attend the Northwest Folklife Festival. It is a celebration of culture featuring free concerts, impromptu jam sessions and art by local artisans. The food is not to be missed either. Where else can you get a veggie bratwurst followed by chocolate-covered strawberries on a stick? You can't get more of a Seattle cultural experience than that.