Between the restaurants, the neighborhoods, the history and the activities, it’s all too easy to get swept up in Seattle. With its limitless opportunities, one could easily spend months whittling down a bucket list in the Emerald City, but for the weekend traveler, the city affords ample opportunities to get a full-fledged experience and taste, well beyond the standard Pike Place Market and Space Needle. In order to make the most of it, here’s a handy guide on where to stay, what to do and what to eat while on a whirlwind weekend in Seattle.
Where to Stay
While Seattle is chock full of unique neighborhoods, downtown is still a good launching pad and starting point. Not only are the views striking and the neighborhoods easily accessible, but the hotels are world-class. Case in point: the Motif Seattle, A Destination Hotel effortlessly toes the line between metropolitan and artsy, contemporary and classic. While the facade and decor are as slick and upscale as can be, the property does an impressive job of blending into Seattle culture from an aesthetic standpoint. References to local art, history and music are woven throughout the property, right down to the vivid imagery on display in each guest room and suite. The room are newly renovated, outfitted with top-of-the-line furniture and a color palette inspired by the Pacific Northwest. Confines are so pretty and comfy that they almost rival the views outside — no matter the angle, each room sports awe-inspiring vistas of the city skyline, building ever skyward, or glistening Elliott Bay.
Beyond the aesthetics and amenities, which include a 24-hour fitness center with a view, electric car charging stations and even plush dog beds for pets, the hotel goes above and beyond with consummate hospitality. The front desk regularly features seasonally inspired cocktails that are complimentary for guests at checkin. In winter, for instance, this might mean a hot tea-based cocktail splashed with Cognac.
That hospitality extends to the hotel’s restaurant, Frolik Kitchen + Cocktails, a restaurant with inventive, locally inspired dishes as modern as the space itself. The restaurant is best enjoyed during warmer weather, as it features an expansive fifth-floor terrace overlooking the city. Rows of fire pits and lush planters provide a pleasant backdrop as well. Wherever you’re seated, order a specialty cocktail, like the rosemary- and pisco-based Pina Romero, and graze on shareable bites like cornmeal-crusted oysters, roasted romanesco and merguez and manchego fondue with crispy lavosh. Heartier portions harken to Seattle’s regional bounty and its cultural melting pot with dishes like king salmon with wilted chard and poblano tahini or berbere-roasted hen of the woods mushrooms with Brussels sprouts, crispy chickpeas and muhammara.
What to Do
Of course, if you can pry yourself away from the hotel itself, you’re going to want to hit up some of the Seattle essentials.
Start with a trip to the Seattle Art Museum (SAM), conveniently located a few blocks from the Motif. This slick, sprawling wonderland regularly rotates exhibitions, keeping things fresh and dynamic. Recent additions include Middle Fork, a gigantic replication of western hemlock trees found in the Cascade Mountains; Western Mystery, a series of color panels at the Olympic Sculpture Park, inspired by sunsets over Puget Sound; and Pure Amusements: Wealth, Leisure, and Culture in Lake Imperial China, a humbling collection of ancient Chinese sculptures, furnishings, prints and ceramics.
For a museum that’s a bit more interactive, head to the Center for Wooden Boats. Much more than a collection of nautical history, the South Lake Union fixture invites visitors to get out on the water themselves, on schooners and row boats. The museum also offers lessons and classes, as well as numerous exhibits and galleries that delve into Seattle’s extensive maritime lore.
Another offbeat way to explore the city is by heading underground. Not to the infamous gum wall, but to the subterranean tunnels and derelict roadways that once served as Seattle’s downtown before a fire razed 31 blocks of wooden buildings. When the city recovered in the late 1890’s, stone and brick buildings were constructed atop retaining walls that helped elevate the city above the ravaged terrain. However, curious visitors are still able to explore the remnants with walking tours beneath Pioneer Square. Though multiple tour companies now take people underground, the original guide started by Bill Speidel departs from Doc Maynard’s Public House.
In terms of shopping, eschew boutiques and retail in favor of Ye Olde Curiosity Shop, a longstanding institution that’s been in operation since the turn of the century. Much more than Space Needle souvenirs, expect to marvel at shrunken heads, animal skulls, mummies and narwhal tusks. There’s even a Fiji mermaid strung up in the rafters. Located on Pier 54, it’s an essential stopover for oddities and eccentricities in downtown Seattle.
Where to Eat and Drink
Home to one of the best food scenes in the country, Seattle has no shortage of world-class restaurants and bars. Which tends to make whittling down your to-eat list somewhat challenging. To get a solid taste of what the city has to offer, in terms of flavors and neighborhoods, here’s a surefire weekend guide:
Hit up Tavolata (pictured below) for dinner. With locations in Belltown and Capitol Hill, it’s easy to understand the popularity and success of this bustling, modern Italian haunt. Start with smoked fish bruschetta, Burrata with boquerones and baby carrots with ricotta and honey. The fresh pastas are requisite, especially the tonnarelli with cracked pepper and butter and the conchiglie nero with grilled squid and uni. If you’re still hungry, the pork chop saltimbocca with apple agro-dolce and escarole is a solid bet, especially if you’re sharing with a hungry friend.
You can’t go wrong with any of Renee Erickson’s restaurants in Seattle, of which she has several, each affording a unique style and concept in various neighborhoods. Start with a breakfast snack at General Porpoise, an adorable and sunny donut shop in Capitol Hill. Here, the bill of fare is freshly fried donuts filled with custards, creams and jams. Get the chocolate-marshmallow for a satisfyingly gooey treat, and if you arrive in summer, keep an eye out for nectartne jam.
Round out your Erickson eats with a meal at The Whale Wins (pictured below) in the quaint neighborhood of Ballard. Located in a lofty building alongside an outdoor outfitters shop, the cottage-like restaurant serves as an homage to Seattle’s local farms, purveyors and waters. The menu changes constantly, but here’s a taste of what the kitchen is churning out: roasted squash with harissa and kale; sardines toast with curried tomato mayo; smoked lamb leg with merguez oil and anchovy aïoli; and hama hama clams with pea vines and Serrano ham.
To drink, Seattle represents some of the best cocktail bars in the country, with spots like Canon and Foreign National routinely racking up the accolades. For something immersive and intoxicating, seek out Bathtub Gin & Co., a discreet Belltown bar located down an alley and underground. Decked out like a legit speakeasy, flickering candlelight and brick walls in tow, the bar feels like transporting back in time. Snag a cozy corner seat by one of the lamps and order the Atticus Finch, a gin- and vermouth-based tipple with grapefruit, Licor 43 and black walnut bitters.
A far cry from speakeasy haunts, Navy Strength (pictured above) is a newcomer with a nautical vibe. It’s a luscious tiki bar that slings coffee and juice by day before dimming the lights and pouring out colorful creations like the mango-meets-bourbon Butuan City Soundtrack or the Panglao Punch, which combines cantaloupe and pandan in a coconut. Then there’s the namesake Navy Strength cocktail, a potent medley of Cognac, rum, roasted tropical fruits and bitters.