Re-Exploring Seattle: Life outside of Downtown
Can I tell you a secret? I’ve been to Seattle a few times since I’ve lived in Vancouver and I’ve never really understood what all the fuss is about. It’s great for shopping, and I’m all about dinner at the Cheesecake Factory, but other than that it’s just a slightly uglier version of Vancouver, right? Well, yes and no. After talking to some friends who are significantly more enamoured with the city than me, I started to wonder whether I had it all wrong. I still don’t think Seattle will be winning any ‘most beautiful city’ awards, but now I’ve realized that’s not the point. It’s not supposed to be as pretty as Vancouver, because it’s not Vancouver. It’s the birthplace of grunge, a pioneer in performing arts, home to over 3,500 restaurants, and a mecca for craft beer and coffee. In other words, its hipster central. Although this made sense to me, I was confused as to how I hadn’t experienced any of this in my trips to downtown Seattle. The answer seemed to be to look outside of the tourist district, so the man and I headed down for a dog-free long weekend in search of the ‘real’ Seattle.
Even though we were pretty much boycotting Downtown when it came to exploring, we ended up staying at the Westin because it was central, had a pool (number 1 on the wish list for our dog-free weekend!) and we got a great deal on Priceline. When we checked in on Friday afternoon we were upgraded to the 42nd floor with great views of the city. We headed out pretty much straight away for stop number 1 on the hipster tour: Ballard.
Ballard is a neighbourhood in north west Seattle which seems to be the equivalent to East Vancouver, in that its home to a TON of microbreweries and tap rooms. James was in charge of picking the route, and he chose three breweries which were within a few blocks of each other. We jumped in a cab (about $20) so we could both partake in some tasting, and enjoyed samples at Stoup Brewing, Reuben’s Brews and Populuxe Brewing. All of the breweries were small, basic and packed full of after-work drinkers. Stoup and Reuben’s were in large warehouse-type buildings with garage doors which were open in the warm weather. Populuxe was in a converted house, with a bar in what would be the living room and picnic tables in the garden. None of the breweries sold food, which mean that they were all pet-friendly and full of dogs. And I mean real dogs, not Yaletown dogs. They all had delicious looking food trucks parked outside which were very popular.
The best thing about the breweries was how laid back they were compared to Vancouver. There was no need to worry about finding a seat or waiting outside, drinking whilst standing was encouraged and made for a much more enjoyable atmosphere. James preferred Stoup and Populuxe to Reuben’s (the beers there were very, very strong), and when pushed said that Stoup was his favourite. After our evening of sampling we jumped in a cab back down to Capitol Hill and had a burger (and another flight of beer) at Six Arms, followed by dessert from (of course) Cheesecake Factory.
Saturday was Capitol Hill day, and we started with a quick look around Starbucks Reserve Roastery & Tasting Room (when in Rome) and then headed to Victrola Coffee Roasters, which was just opposite. Coffee and scone in hand, we spent the next couple of hours walking through the commercial and residential areas of Capitol Hill. My favourite stop was the water tower at Volunteer Park, which was about 30 minutes north of Victrola and had great (free) views of Seattle from the top. As we were walking, we decided that Capitol Hill is a bit of a mix of Kits, Main Street and a bit of Commercial Drive too – it has the tree-lined sidewalks, huge houses, quirky bars and restaurants and small, independent businesses.
One of our favourite things to do to get to know a new area is go on a food tour, so we signed up for the Hip on the Hill tour with Savour Seattle. It was a 2-hour tour that we did as part of a group of 16 people, which included 6 sweet and savoury stops. For some reason we decided an hour before the tour that grabbing a snack at Poquito’s Mexican Restaurant was the right thing to do, so I started the tour already full on guacamole and margaritas! It turned out not to be the best food tour I’ve ever done, but I still enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it. Highlights were the flavoured cream cheese at Eltana Bagel Cafe, the spicy pork tacos at Marination Station and the berry cocktail at Manhattan.
When we were finished and full we washed down the food with more beer at Elysian Brewing and spent the evening walking back to Downtown via various bars. My favourite was Canon, a small and popular bar specialising in cocktails that claims to have the western hemisphere’s largest spirits collection. Eventually we were hungry enough for a light dinner from the happy hour bar menu at Capitol Hill institution Linda’s (the quesadilla was amazing!).
Sunday was a short day as we had to get the bus in the afternoon, so we got up early-ish and spent the morning at the EMP museum. I’d heard nothing but good things about this pop culture museum, and they had some fun exhibits including ‘Infinite Worlds of Science Fiction’, ‘Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses’, ‘Fantasy: Worlds of Myth and Magic’ and ‘Can’t Look Away: The Lure of the Horror Film’. They also had a Sound Lab upstairs which had lots of little sound-proof Jam Rooms with electric guitars and drum kits in that you could go into for 10 minutes and just…jam. I had fun with the guitar pretending to be a rock star (one that can only play D, G, C, Am, A, E, Em and occasionally C) and randomly bashing the drums to make as much noise as possible.
Once we were done at the museum we grabbed a Top Pot doughnut on the way to the Cheesecake Factory for the world’s biggest Cobb Salad, which lasted me until we were almost at the border. We survived the Greyhound bus home (no decapitations, phew) and were pretty pleased with everything we achieved over the weekend. I would definitely go back to Seattle for another city-break, and next time will try and get to Freemont, another fun looking neighbourhood in North Seattle. My days of Downtown are all but over, and I have to say I’m not at all sorry.