When visiting the Washington coast in the Pacific Northwest, it’s all too easy to spend your entire time in Seattle, its Western islands and Olympic National Park. But you’d be remiss if you didn’t cross Lake Washington and spend some time on the city’s Eastside. Cities and towns like Bellevue, Kirkland, Woodinville and Bothell offer loads of charm, character and originality in their own right, all an easy trip from the airport and Seattle proper. From world-class restaurants in wine country, to a hotel housed in a former school (complete with a principal’s office bar, no less), here are five reasons to explore Seattle’s vibrant Eastside.
Salmon with soba noodles, seaweed, house kimchi and soy-chili vinaigrette at Barking Frog
With its prevalence of fresh produce, seafood and farms, this region of the U.S. is rightfully world-renowned for its restaurants. Beyond the boundaries of Seattle, that sentiment certainly holds true in Eastside regions like Bellevue and Kirkland, where chefs and restaurateurs have branched out in recent years. Along with outposts of Pacific Northwest sensations like dumpling-slinging Din Tai Fung and El Gaucho, a steak-centric temple with some of the best service (and caviar-laced martinis) you’ll find anywhere, Bellevue boasts stunning originals like Seastar Restaurant and Raw Bar. For several years, the seafood-focused restaurant from chef John Howie has been a keystone of the city’s growing food scene, earning accolades and amassing fans with nautical dishes that tastefully balance delicacy and envelope-pushing originality. Like an impossibly tender black cod immersed in citrusy ponzu with garlic crisps, or cedar plank king salmon punched up with smoked broccoli. Don’t miss the raw bar selections, either, with items like scallop ceviche with mango and kiwi, or the Washington maki roll studded with crab, smoked salmon and apple. For breakfast, don’t miss Eques, a hidden gem nestled within the confines of downtown’s immaculate Hyatt Regency hotel. The locally sourced eatery goes far beyond the call of hotel restaurant duty, establishing itself as a destination in and of itself with items like cedar plank salmon Benedicts, corn fritters with jicama-apple slaw, quinoa granola bowls with labneh cheese and congee, a warming rice porridge served with Chinese donuts.
A few miles north of Bellevue you’ll find the quaint lakeside town of Kirkland, chock full of independent boutiques, eateries, cafes and quirky pubs. Swing by DERU for lunch, but show up early because this garage-cum-restaurant is madly popular. Recommended: the roasted carrot and Brie sandwich on fluffy, fragrant focaccia, a side of olive-packed chickpea salad and a wedge of peanut butter chocolate cake for dessert. Keep the good times going with a game of mini golf at Flatstick Pub (which you may recall from our mini golf feature). The original location of this bar/gaming sensation offers nine holds of surprisingly challenging mini golf with an unsurprising beer theme. The bar boasts an impressive variety of all-Washington beers and ciders. Just around the corner and up the street is Lady Yum, a gorgeous macaron and Champagne lounge with offbeat flavors like salted cookie dough, brandy-Nutella and something called “Shindig,” which tastes like Fruity Pebbles.
Continue further north into Woodinville where you’ll find longstanding institutions like Hollywood Tavern, a wholesome American eatery in the heart of wine country. The food is super fresh, the service is welcoming and the vibe is incredibly cozy. Ancho chile tots, blackened salmon Caesar salad and perfectly fried fish and chips are a few noteworthy standouts. For something special, you can’t beat the Barking Frog, a Woodinville fixture doing local cuisine at a very high level. The upscale bistro toes the line between elegant and relaxed, with an amiable and adept staff serving up course after course of refined Northwestern fare. Opt for a four-course tasting menu (with wine pairings, naturally) to fully experience chef Bobby Moore’s talents. The menu changes seasonally, with recent highlights like shaved cauliflower with Champagne vinaigrette and olives and a beautiful poached halibut with baby artichokes, fava beans, peas and herb pistou.
Paper art installation at the Bellevue Arts Museum
Culinary art isn’t the only creative expression lighting up the Eastside these days. The Bellevue Arts Museum, for instance, has played a pivotal role in shaping the region’s development. After a few temporary locations and a stint in Bellevue Square, the museum got its own building downtown in 2001. When the building, designed by esteemed architect Steven Holl, made its debut, it beckoned a renaissance in Bellevue, helping transition the burgeoning city into a full-fledged cultural destination in its own right. Unique to most any art institution, this museum doesn’t feature any permanent exhibitions. Rather, the three-floor property houses a revolving array of displays and mediums, many of which encourage interactivity. Recent exhibits include Emerge/Evolve, a dazzling kaleidoscope of kiln-glasswork, and Cut Up/Cut Out, with intricate paper pieces whittled out of everything from dollar bills to books.
In Kirkland, Ryan James Fine Arts is a pioneer all its own, helping push the region’s art scene beyond the bounds of Seattle and Bellevue. Located in an unassuming, quiet area of the city, the gallery is full of aesthetic surprises. Here you’ll find thoughtfully curated collections of abstract and contemporary art, displayed either by a single artist, a duo of artists or a small collection of artists that the gallery rotates through. Casual and inviting, it’s a breath of fresh air for an industry with an intimidating reputation, and founder Ryan James is well-versed at guiding guests through his selections, be it an art enthusiast or someone looking to snag their first piece. They also feature an art rental program, which is a great way for newbies to try things out for a few months and see how they feel before committing. Be sure to check the gallery’s website for news on receptions, a fun and immersive way to experience new artist shows.
Bellevue Botanical Garden
One of the best — and most magnificent — aspects of this part of the U.S. is the abundance of lush green trees (a pleasant side effect of rain) and air that’s breathtakingly fresh. It’s easy to experience both just about anywhere on the Eastside, be it a stroll by the Bellevue marina or a lakeside picnic in Kirkland, but whatever you do, don’t miss the Bellevue Botanical Garden. This majestic bastion is free and open daily, offering a variety of winding trails through its bountiful grounds. As you meander, you’ll discover varied landscapes like wetlands, meadows, alpine rocks, woods and even a suspension bridge over a cavernous ravine bursting with enormous trees. The Yao Garden is a particularly pleasant zen-like alcove to sit and read a book, and there’s even a tranquil coffee shop by the entrance.
Chateau Ste. Michelle
Unsurprisingly, wine is a big deal out here, with Washington being one of the premiere wine-growing states in the U.S. While wine isn’t actually made in the Eastside (that job is reserved for wineries East of the Cascades), Woodinville Wine Country boasts tasting rooms on par with anything in Sonoma or Napa. A mere 30 minutes from downtown Seattle, it’s not only easy to access, but with more than 100 wineries and tasting rooms, it’s got plenty of places to entertain. Juggernauts like Chateau Ste. Michelle and Columbia sharing the valley with a variety of smaller boutique tasting rooms. Places like Ste. Michelle are a good starting point, as the sprawling grounds really showcase everything the state has to offer. With castle-like buildings and meticulously landscapes lawns resembling that of an Ivy League college, it’s also quite a dreamy destination. Inside you’ll find several tasting bars and rooms, each with its own regional focus. The winery also offers tours, events, wine and food experiences and more.
From here, venture into Woodinville’s smaller offerings, at places like Matthews Winery. This Bordeaux-inspired property has a sleek, sophisticated tasting room, a sloped outdoor space lined with patio chairs, a garden and another al fresco alcove tucked away by a creek. Here, the wine selection is an example of quality over quantity, with a few focused options like Claret, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot. Periodic live music and farm-to-table dinners enhance the experience.
With two different tasting rooms and a New World approach to wine style, Patterson Cellars carves out an impressive niche. The Hollywood Hill tasting room provides a more traditional tasting room approach, complete with patio and fireplace, while the warehouse district outlet offers more of a front-row seat to all the wine-crushing and aging action. Cabernet Sauvignon, Viognier and Chardonnay are just a few of the wines waiting to be sampled.
McMenamins Anderson School
Along with a cornucopia of hotel brands now found in downtown Bellevue, including soaring properties like the Hyatt Regency and the W, offbeat inns can be found scattered throughout the Eastside.
The end all-be all is McMenamins, the type of regional hotel chain that should make all other regions of the country jealous. This family-owned collective can only be found in Oregon and Washington, each one totally distinct for the company’s tendency towards refurbishing historic buildings and transforming them into unique dwellings. The hotel’s Anderson School location in Bothell, just outside Woodinville, is a real star. The art deco-style property was once a junior high school, as the name suggests, transformed into a hotel where previous classrooms are now guest rooms, the third-floor principal’s office is now a tiny bar, the school pool now contains an adjoining tiki bar and the cafeteria is a massive tavern-style restaurant. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Each room is named after a prominent local figure in Bothell history, filled with distinct art and photography, plus an original headboard inspired by said figure. In case all that wasn’t enough, there’s also a small movie theater, a sports bar and a brewery on-site, plus a pretty incredible gift shop.
In Kirkland, The Heathman reigns supreme as one of the ultimate destinations downtown. Conveniently close to the immaculate waterfront and countless restaurants, bars and cafes, the property is the only boutique hotel downtown, complete with comfy guest rooms, complimentary bicycles and even free SUV service within a 10-mile radius. Trellis Restaurant is housed on the ground floor, serving seasonally inspired dishes all day long, along with a thoughtful wine list and cocktail program.
Back in Woodinville, on the property that contains Barking Frog is Willows Lodge. This majestic resort, looking like something out of a lush fairy tale, personifies coziness, with its roaring lobby fireplaces, soaring wood beams and toasty whiskey tipples at the bar. It’s got a spa, balconies on all the spacious guest rooms, soaking tubs and pristine gardens to explore. Right nearby is the Sammamish River Trail, which is great for a walk, a run or a bike ride.