Seattle is surrounded by water and mountains and the city’s attraction lies in the stunning views seen from the many vantage points throughout it’s several neighborhoods. The awesome height of Mount Rainier is truly appreciated when seen from within the city, as it puts skyscrapers to shame from 200 miles away. These are views which indicate Seattle’s easy access to outdoor recreational activities throughout the year.
In the past few decades, Seattle has quietly grown from a far-flung port city not registering on too many radar screens, to being nationally recognized as one of the most livable cities in the US. This recognition is based on criteria such as a critical mass of advanced technology, diverse economic sectors such as agriculture, services, manufacturing and international trade, superior educational and health care, (First Hill just east of downtown has been nicknamed “Pill Hill” due to the number of medical facilities crowded onto its slopes), public safety, a well-educated work force, quality of life and the international outlook of its people. The popularity of Seattle’s natural and cultural amenities, that so epitomize the attraction of the Northwest, see the city now faced with the challenge of preserving its livability under the pressure of increasing residential and tourist populations.
History & Culture
Before the arrival of Europeans, the Seattle area was home to the Duwamish, a generally peaceable tribe that fished the bays and rivers of the Puget Sound and befriended early white settlers. In 1851, a native New Yorker named David Denny led the first group of settlers across the Oregon Trail with the intention of settling along the Puget Sound. Recognizing the area’s seaport possibilities, Denny’s band staked a claim on Alki Point in present-day West Seattle. after a winter of wind and rain, the group moved the settlement to Elliott Bay, renaming it Seattle for the Duwamish chief Sealth, a friend of an early merchant. Hardly a boomtown, early Seattle was peopled mainly by bachelors until one of the founding fathers went back east on a mission to induce young unmarried women to come to Seattle. On two different trips, a total of 57 women made the journey and married into the frontier stock, in the process setting a more civilized tone for the city (and inspiring the especially bad 1960′s TV show Here Come the Brides).
A spur from the Northern Pacific Railroad’s terminus in Portland reached Seattle in 1893, linking the town by rail to the rest of the country. The lumber, shipping and general commerce derived from immigration soon swelled the town’s ranks so much that even the Great Fire of 1889 barely slowed the advance. after 50 blocks of the old wooden downtown burned in a single day, the city was reborn in brick and iron, centered on today’s Pioneer Square.
Seattle’s first boom came when the ship Portland docked in 1897 with its now-famous cargo: two tons of Yukon gold. Within weeks, thousands of fortune hunters from across the country passed through on their way to the northern gold fields. Local business blossomed as Seattle became the banking center for the nouveau riche and the bars, brothels and honky-tonks of Pioneer Square overflowed with pleasure-starved miners.
The boom continued through WWI, when Northwest lumber was greatly in demand and shipyards along the Puget Sound ‘harvested’ the surrounding forests. WWII furthered the shipbuilding boom and aircraft and atomic energy industries added to the region’s pattern of profit. Today, business giants like microsoft, Boeing and Nordstrom make up the backbone of Seattle’s booming economy, while the city’s progressive politics, inventive culture and ready access to outdoor recreation have lured restless people in recent years like no place else on the West Coast.
Nested between Puget Sound and Lake Washington, present day Seattle once was home to the Duwamish people of the Salish tribe. In 1851, David Denny led a group of settlers to Alki Point with hopes of establishing a seaport. Today, the site is marked by a pillar, memorializing the arrival of these midwestern explorers. However, the Denny party soon relocated from Alki Point and most early development occurred in what is today known as Elliot Bay.
By 1880, with the sizable population of 3000, Seattle came in as a close second to Walla Walla in terms of town size in the Washington territory. Within a few decades, the town’s attractiveness helped the population shoot up to a grand total of 200,000 Washington citizens.
after relocating from its original 1861 site, Lake Union became the University of Washington’s new home in 1895. The Bostonian Olmsted Brothers, also known for designing the network of avenues linking Seattle’s parks, redefined the campus landscape for the Alaska, Yukon and Pacific Exposition, an event encouraging Seattle’s connections to Alaska and the Pacific Rim.
In the 1890′s, Seattle made the map as a Pacific Northwest destination, gaining recognition from railroad access via the Northern Pacific Railroad and increased banking activity from gold prospectors who made fortunes in Alaska’s Yukon Territory. Signs of the gold-rush economy permeated the quickly growing city. Most notable was not the docking of the Portland ship from its Alaskan trek, but its precious cargo of nearly 4,000 pounds of pure gold. In just a matter of weeks throngs of gold-hungry prospectors from all over the nation made their way into and through Seattle, advancing on Yukon territory. Gold attracted all kinds of people, giving rise to a new breed in Seattle’s socioeconomic fabric.
Prospects for gold continued through World War I. The urban landscape manifested this wealth and opportunity in development, giving rise to bars and brothels and Pioneer Square, the city’s brick and iron comeback to 1889′s Great Fire. Development following the Great Fire included interurban transportation, providing access to downtown from residential neighborhoods.
As demand for timber increased, so did interest in the lumber industry. Logging companies harvested the forests surrounding Puget Sound on a massive scale. Consequently, lumber began to dominate the region’s economic activity and became quite visible in the lumber shipyards dotting Seattle’s landscape.
Seattle’s current cityscape manifests the historical progression of industrial development and urban infrastructure. The many bridges act as hinges, connecting Seattle’s downtown with its harbors and residential communities. The 1917 opening of Lake Washington Ship Canal joined Puget Sound to a fresh water harbor which led to further feats in bridge building such as the Fremont and the floating Lacey Murrow bridge. Now, these arteries of transportation prove to be the lifeblood of the central business district as Bill Gates and his microsoft empire pump vital sustenance into Seattle from the surrounding communities of Bellevue and Redmond.
Rounding out the skyline, or perhaps making it, is the 1962 Space Needle, an icon looking “forward” made possible by Seattle’s World’s Fair. Seattle just wouldn’t be Seattle without it. Another quintessential piece of the city is the Pike Place Public Market, which came into being in 1907. There, you can browse through beads and baubles and shop for fresh crab and salmon among laidback Seattlites and the few tourists who are thrown into the mix.
Attractions are found everywhere in the city. No matter your interests, your budget, or, the time available, you will find something to suit your fancy. As in most cities, attractions mirror the culture, history, industries and natural landscape of a community. Thus, in Seattle, you will find attractions related to the historical roots of the community; the entertainment interests of its citizens; the natural wonders of the nearby waters, mountains and forests; and attractions related to the city’s air and space, maritime and oceanic industries. For a hungry traveler on a budget, Seattle has no greater attraction than the Pike Place Market. Nine decades old, Pike Place is one of Seattle’s most popular landmarks, as famous for the theatrics of its boisterous vendors as it is for its vastly appealing edibles. Its most popular buildings are the Main and North arcades, with their artfully arranged banks of produce and fresh fish, crabs and mollusks piled high with ice. The best bet for enjoying the market is to go on an uncrowded weekday morning. Wander slowly, sample frequently and remember to keep your eyes peeled for flying fish: the fishmongers hurl huge salmon between their stalls. Over half of the market’s open-air stalls are now devoted to locally made arts & crafts and its labyrinthine lower levels are filled with pocket-sized shops of all descriptions, from Indian spice stalls to magicians’ supply shops. The streets surrounding Pike Place Market continue the maze of shops, with ethnic food stalls, plant shops, galleries and gift boutiques. Pike Place Market is in the northwestern corner of downtown, close to the waterfront.
The 1962 World’s Fair, also known as the ‘Century 21 Exposition’, brought in nearly 10 million visitors from around the world for a glimpse of Tomorrow, Seattle-style. What remains of the futuristic enclave of exhibition halls, arenas and public spaces is today called the Seattle Center. Don’t be surprised if it generates more nostalgia for The Jetsons than thoughts of the future. No other icon epitomizes Seattle as well as the Space Needle, a 600 foot rocket-styled observation station and restaurant. after the 41-second zip up its elevators to the top, the brave of stomach are treated to breathtaking 360 degree views. A 1.5 mile experiment in mass transit, the Monorail is another signature piece of the 1962 fair. Today, it provides fun and frequent transport between downtown and Seattle Center, covering the distance in only two minutes. The Flag Pavilion & Plaza and the International Fountain (with jets of water that pulse to the beat of music) point to the cosmopolitan sympathies of the fair. The Seattle Opera House (home of the opera, symphony and ballet), the Pacific Science Center, two sports arenas, a children’s museum and the Fun Forest Amusement Park are other remnants of the fair. Seattle Center is less than a mile northwest of downtown.
The University of Washington campus sits at the edge of a busy commercial area known as the U District. The main streets here University Way, commonly called the Ave and NE 45th St are chock-a-block with cheap restaurants and cafes, arthouse cinemas and student-filled bars. It’s less a throwback to the 1960′s as it was in days past, but the bustle is no less satisfying. ‘U Dub’, as most people refer to the university, is a lively place that’s definitely worth touring especially in spring, when pink and orange flowered azaleas paint the campus in brilliant hues. Burke Museum keeps a good collection of dinosaur skeletons, but its real treasures are its Indian artifacts, especially the collection of cedar canoes and totem poles. The school’s fine-art showspace, Henry Art Gallery, mounts some of Seattle’s most intelligent 20th century art exhibits.
Just south of the Lake Washington canal, university-run Washington Park Arboretum features 5500 different plant species within 200 acres (80ha) of mature forest and gardens. At the southern edge of the arboretum is the Japanese Garden, a collection of koi pools, waterfalls and manicured plantings. Bird watching is popular at the northern end of the arboretum, as are canoeing, fishing and swimming. The U District is 3 miles (5km) northeast of downtown and accessible by bus. Inlaid brass dance steps along Broadway propel you into a rumba or a tango (actually, it’s public art), but you’ll never see a local learning the steps. And that’s about as aesthetic as the streets get. Unlike other parts of the city, it’s the throngs of people and not the buildings that really set Capitol Hill apart from other neighborhoods.
Rising above Seattle Center is Queen Anne a neighborhood of majestic red-brick houses and apartment buildings, sweeping lawns manicured to perfection and gorgeous views of the city and bay. Queen Anne is not nearly as established as other neighborhoods, but it does have cafes, trendy music clubs and some old-time Seattle entertainment. The main reason to visit is to check out the view. The observatory deck at 3rd Ave and Highland Drive is the best spot for it, especially at night or sunset. Queen Anne is just over a mile (2km) northwest of downtown and has frequent bus connections to the city center.
Farther to the southeast is Pier 52, where you will find the Washington State Ferries that provide transportation to the many islands and peninsulas of Puget Sound. Turning inland at Pier 52, you’ll reach Pioneer Square, a restored historic district that teems with boutiques, galleries, bars, restaurants and panhandlers. While there, be sure to visit the building that houses the Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park. It commemorates Seattle’s role in that craze of the late 1890′s.
Another side of Seattle’s past gets revealed in the Underground Tours, which descend to a subterranean level of abandoned storefronts in the Pioneer Square area. Take some time to sample Seattle’s quirky and hip character in the Fremont and Capitol Hill neighborhoods. Fremont is an arty, eclectic and funky neighborhood full of boutiques, secondhand and antique shops and cozy restaurants. If nothing else, you should see Fremont’s offbeat public art, including a statue of Lenin that was purchased from the former U. S. S. R.
Plentiful views of water and snow-capped mountains are a continual reminder of the possibilities for outdoor recreation. As hometown to the giant outfitting companies Eddie Bauer and REI, it should come as no surprise that Seattle folk love their great outdoors. It’s even possible to hike wilderness trails without ever leaving the city. Seward Park, which juts into Lake Washington 6 miles southeast of downtown, offers several miles of trails in a remnant of the area’s old growth forest. Even longer trails are available in the 530 acre Discovery Park, 5 miles northwest of downtown. Another long-distance path that is welcoming to both hikers and bikers is the Burke-Gilman Trail, a 13 mile paved path at the northern end of Lake Washington in the suburb of Kenmore. The trail follows an old rail line along the shores of Lake Union and Lake Washington and the views are great. Nearby Green Lake Park is a favorite with swimmers and windsurfers in summer and the paths that line Green Lake are often alive with joggers.
The city area has more than 190 miles of waterfront, so there is a good chance that water-sports or fishing are to be found at your doorstep. You can go boating without even leaving the city. In good weather, the surface of Lake Union offers fine sailing, as well as sea and white-water kayaking. The Waterfront Activities Center on the University of Washington campus rents canoes and rowboats.
Seattle is fortunate to have several ski areas within easy drive of the city. Only 45 minutes away are the Cascade Mountains, a wonderful alpine environment for hiking, climbing, biking and skiing, depending on the season. Closest are the ski slopes at Snoqualmie Pass and Stevens Pass, 80 miles east of Seattle. If you don’t have a vehicle or don’t want to face the drive, ski buses leave from several locations in the Seattle area.
In The Area
An hour’s drive into the mountains east of Seattle is the Salish Lodge at Snoqualmie Falls. This beautiful resort lodge, perched atop 270 foot Snoqualmie Falls, was the locale for many of the scenes from the TV series Twin Peaks. The drive into the Cascades, views of the waterfall and short hikes in the area, followed by lunch at the lodge (jokes about cherry pie and a cup of joe are mandatory) make for a nice day away. The falls and resort are 4 miles northwest of the town of Snoqualmie on Highway 202.
The suburban community of Woodinville, 20 miles northeast of Seattle off Interstate 405, is home to two popular wineries and a brewpub. Chateau Ste Michelle was one of Washington’s first wineries and its historic estate lends itself easily to summertime picnics and concerts. Next door is the Columbia Winery, offering still more tippling and touring. Redhook Brewery, one of Washington’s first microbreweries, has opened a new Woodinville brewery and pub, the Forecasters Public House. Tours are offered daily here as well.
Island-strewn, misty and mysterious, Puget Sound is a great area to explore via ferryor sea kayak. The most popular ferry trip for visitors is the link between Seattle and Winslow, Bainbridge Island’s primary town. Winslow has an array of shops and restaurants within an easy walk of the dock, but most people take the ferry simply for the ride and the great views of Seattle. The Bainbridge Island Winery in Winslow is a good destination both for cyclists and wine buffs. The island is 6 miles west of Seattle. Ferries board around the clock at Pier 52 on the Alaskan Way waterfront; the trip takes 35 minutes each way.
Bremerton is the largest town on Kitsap Peninsula and the Puget Sound’s principal naval base. The main attraction here is the Naval Museum and USS Turner Joy, a US Naval destroyer at the waterfront park by the ferry terminal. Bremerton is 15 miles west of Seattle. The ferry makes 13 trips daily from Seattle’s Pier 52.
Blake Island is a state park whose only approach is by boat, which made it a safe place to host the 1993 APEC conference, where President Clinton met with 14 Asian leaders. The most popular facility on the island is Tillicum Village and its Northwest Coast Indian Cultural Center & Restaurant. Blake Island is 12 miles southwest of Seattle. Boats depart Piers 55 and 56 for a tour of the waterfront and the crossing to the island. Once there, the package includes a traditional Indian salmon bake, traditional dancing and a film about Northwest Native Americans.
Just across the Canadian border, Vancouver is to British Columbia what Seattle is to Washington: the locus of the region’s culture and vitality. Consistently rated among the world’s most beautiful cities, a large part of Vancouver’s appeal lies in its location. The city sits on a thumb-shaped strip of land almost entirely surrounded by water: Burrard Inlet lies to the north, Fraser River to the south and English Bay and the Strait of Georgia to the west. North of Burrard Inlet, the massive flanks of the Coast Mountains rise in an unbroken chain all the way to Alaska. Vancouver is larger and more cosmopolitan than Victoria, B. C.’s capital across the Strait of Georgia. The downtown area sits on the peninsula separating the Burrard Inlet and English Bay. In Gastown, downtown’s trendiest morsel, buskers jam beneath the glow of antique lampposts. Just east of downtown, Chinatown packs more people of Chinese descent into its few crowded blocks than most Canadian towns have residents.
Seattle has a well-deserved wet and rainy reputation, perpetuated not least by the self-depreciating humor of its citizens. It is a pertinent point that the 36 inches of annual rainfall received by Seattle each year is less than the annual rainfall of places like New York. It is just that the rain comes down over a longer period often precipitating as a slow drizzle, begrudgingly deposited by low lying clouds that seem to hang around far longer than necessary to get the job done. The waters throughout the Puget landscape can but reflect the gray skies, resulting in somewhat monochromatic views. Mysterious, if that’s your cup of latte, depressing if it’s not. Yet these mists and rain keep Seattle cleaner and greener than most cities of a similar size. It takes only a day of sunshine to shake the winter blues. The city sparkles, the land lies green and beckoning across the bays, rivers and waterways as the landscape is transformed from gray monotones into the glittering hues that earn the “Emerald City” its nickname.
Perhaps those winter months have fostered the production of artifacts by which Seattle has made its presence felt. On the face of it, the cultural icons of grunge-rock, espresso coffee and software may seem an odd combination. Could it be, however that one is the expression of the winter blues, one the antidote to the winter blues and one the productive use of short, rainy days
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