Spend a great day in the Emerald City

Wally’s World

If you’ve read these columns for any length of time, you surely realize I’m quite fond of Seattle. It may not be as magnificent as New York or as charming as New Orleans, but Seattle seems preferable to most other American cities that come immediately to mind, including San Francisco, which has its appeal, and Los Angeles, which I detest. And who can spend more than a few days in a gaudy fire-drill like Las Vegas?

In the footloose days of my wayward youth, I often drove into the Emerald City three or four times a week, hell bent for the Frontier Room – and then meandered slowly back to Enumclaw on the backroads at 3 a.m., too hammered to see past the hood of the car. (I certainly wouldn’t recommend anyone emulate such senseless and rabid behavior, unless you’d enjoy spending several years in the slammer for manslaughter.)

Today, I don’t get into Seattle nearly as often as I’d like, but each summer I always spend at least one afternoon wandering about the Pike Place Market, absorbing the awesome color and flash of the flowers and produce. Depending on how much time I have, it’s nice to spend a couple of hours exploring the various shops and stalls in the underground levels. Of course, no trip to Seattle is complete without lunch or a beer in the Athenian Restaurant, the repository of Seattle’s soul.

The Seattle Art Museum is a few blocks south of the market. I’m not sure what particular exhibit is currently being highlighted there but, if that show doesn’t spark your interest, you can at least amble through the permanent collection which, even if you’ve seen it before, is worth another visit.

Then there’s the waterfront, from the Olympic Sculpture Garden down to Pioneer Square. That makes for an enjoyable little stroll with any number of really swell restaurants – Elliot’s, Ivar’s, and Anthony’s – for indoor or outdoor dining. The aquarium is surely worth the price of admission, especially if you’ve never been there. You might even ride the ferry to Bainbridge and back.

I like to spend time lounging in one of the sidewalk cafes around Pioneer Square. Here again, one can easily while away an afternoon in the antique shops and unusual boutiques. The Central Tavern has changed very little since the Klondike Gold Rush. A few years ago, the J and M Cafe was the province of the gay, glitter set, but the place has gone uptown now.

I have no earthly idea what Paul Allen and Jeff Bezos are doing in the South Lake Union area. Ride the new streetcar from Westlake Center and check it out for yourself. Whatever is going on, it will significantly change the downtown skyline.

And speaking of significant changes, there’s the Belltown district. These eight or nine square blocks used to claim some of the seediest, drunken bars and hip, avant-garde clubs found anywhere in the city. But all that’s been dismantled now, taken over by luxury, high-rise condos and some very expensive, posh restaurants and lounges.

If you and your sweetheart haven’t cruised Seattle for awhile, you might try it some weekend this month. Given the recession, hotel rates are probably as close to reasonable as they’ll ever get.