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Travel: Soulful Seattle
IT'S NOT HARD to fall hard for Seattle. It's a city designed for urban travellers looking for all the attractions a great city has to offer — but at a pace two notches lower than New York, Paris or London. Here you'll find great restaurants, chic cafes, hip microbreweries, niche museums, great bookstores, rare record stores and a jaw-dropping roster of top touring musicians. Yet somehow you never feel overwhelmed.
Instead, you find yourself stepping into a quiet cafe frequently to relax and reflect. The city has a calm, take-one-day-at-a-time vibe to help you do that. And the coffee is almost always very good. (This being the birthplace of Starbucks, the city takes its java very seriously.) Not only that, Seattle has the advantage of being a short drive away from expansive nature reserves where you can lose yourself among tall majestic trees, lush foliage and mysterious mountains – something not every city boasts.
Despite being a rainy metropolis, Seattle has been a magnet for tens of thousands of new settlers these past decades, many of whom are drawn to the burgeoning tech industry and flourishing F&B scene. Once-sleepy neighbourhoods have transformed rapidly into vibrant enclaves of restaurants, pubs and art galleries. And even longstanding attractions such as the Space Needle have undergone million-dollar renovations to prepare for the influx.
It's no wonder then that Singapore Airlines recently introduced non-stop flights to Seattle to allow easy access to the city's growing hive of activity.
FIRST-CLASS FOOD CITY
Let's talk food first. Yes, Seattle is famous for its fanatical coffee culture. And you would be remiss not to join the dozens of people taking photos at the first Starbucks store at Pike Place Market. But saying Seattle is great for coffee is like saying Singapore is great for kopi-o – it ignores the wide and excellent variety of food at different price points.
Seafood, for one, is excellent here. Seattle is a port city, so there's no shortage of wild catch from the Pacific Northwest. One terrific seafood-and-steak place is Salty's On Alki Beach Seafood Grill. The waterside restaurant has a wrap-around deck that offers a spectacular view of the Seattle skyline – bested only by the food. It’s famous for its wild Alaskan salmon and halibut in season, live Dungeness crab, and fresh Northwest oysters, clams and mussels.
And if you're staying for the weekend, you must try Salty’s Sunday brunch that's regularly voted tops by Seattle's magazine readers. The restaurant even provides complimentary limo service from most downtown hotels if you make reservations. Other recommended steak-and-seafood joints include Daniel's Broilers (Lake Union) and Ray's Boathouse & Cafe.
But if you’re looking for even fresher food, head down to Pike Place Market, a famous farmers’ market that's over 100 years old. This is one place a Singaporean foodie could spend two or even three days in, because there are hundreds of independent shops run by small farmers, traders and craftsmen selling everything from artisanal biscuits and single-origin chocolate to fresh produce and flowers. There are so many bite-sized delights, you find yourself munching on something every 15 minutes, and cracking open your wallet just as frequently to buy souvenirs for the folks back home.
Some of our see-and-snack recommendations include Seattle Bagel Bakery (for its standout bagels), Market Spice (which sells teas, the most famous being its cinnamon-orange flavour), Los Agaves (for authentic Mexican street food) and Honest Biscuits (which serves amazing homemade biscuits and black coffee). There are also excellent restaurants a stone's throw away from the market, such as the Sushi Kashiba (for award-winning sushi and omakase), the Pink Door (for sensational Italian coupled with cabaret) and Pike Place Chowder (for some of the best clam chowder you'll ever have). When you feel bloated, venture below the market to browse beautiful antiques, old books, small paintings and other collectibles.
Now if you've spent your mornings trying artisanal food at Pike Place Market, you might want to commit your nights to sampling Seattle’s ale. The city has two definitions of ‘liquid heaven’.The first is coffee, and the second is beer. There are so many outstanding breweries here boasting a wide selection of suds, a beer lover might think he'd died and gone to heaven. Recommended pubs include Rueben's Brews, Rooftop Brewing Company, Fremont Brewing Company, Pike Brewing Company and Ghostfish Brewing Company. And if those aren’t enough, your concierge would be able to suggest a dozen more.
MARVELS, NATURAL & MAN-MADE
One of the reasons why food is so good in Seattle is that the city is located in the Pacific Northwest. The region is famous for its range of climates which include the cool oceanic temperatures near the coastal areas, the Alpine conditions of the higher mountains, and arid zones east of the mountains. Consequently there is a bounty of different foods available around Seattle to inspire chefs, cooks and microbrewers to experiment and invent.
For the visitor, the proximity of these landscapes also means you have many outdoorsy options not far from the city. Seattle is close to natural parks that are perfect for hiking, camping and fishing. Mount Rainier, North Cascades and Olympic National Park are all located about two to two-and-a-half hours drive from the city centre.
The closest to Seattle and most famous of the three is the magnificent Mount Rainier, which at 14,410 feet is the 17th highest peak in the United States. The mountain plays host to an astounding variety of landscapes, from warm rolling meadows to cold inhabitable glaciers, and with that a wide range of wildlife from mountain goats and black-tailed deer to spotted owls and bald-headed eagles.
Hire a guide so he or she can help you pick a walking trail suited for you. The Wonderland Trail, for instance, will give you a gorgeous view of the mountain and its rich surrounding vegetation. The Reflection Lakes gives you the most postcard-perfect view of the mountain. And the Grove of Patriarchs trail will take you deep into the forest, where you stand in awe of 15-metre tall trees that have existed for over 1,000 years and have circumferences as big as the average bedroom. Native Americans have hunted, gathered and held spiritual ceremonies in these woods for thousands of years, and its hushed magical quality bespeaks as much.
Still, if you're a diehard urbanite with little interest in hiking and fishing – preferring instead miracles of the manmade – Seattle has enough architectural wonders to delight you for days. Three of the must-see marvels are the famous Space Needle, a futuristic observation tower with see-through glass floors; the Rem Koolhaas-designed Central Library with its dazzling walls of glass; and the avant garde Frank Gehry-designed Museum of Pop Culture – all of which honour Seattle's nickname of "Emerald City" one way or another.
The latest of their ilk is the Amazon Sphere, three spherical giant glass domes built by tech giant Amazon. Opened in January 2018, this extraordinary-looking complex houses not just Amazon’s offices, but also 40,000 species of plants from 50 countries. The public can access parts of the building but the queues can be long. The building, if anything, is a symbol of Seattle's growing reputation as a tech city housing industry titans Amazon, Microsoft and Boeing, as well as hundreds of tech startups. Indeed, it's not unusual to meet men and women here driving the latest Tesla model or flaunting the just-launched Apple credit card. Futuristic innovations and centuries-old marvels co-exist happily here.
COME AS YOU ARE
Despite all these attractions, however, Seattle feels like a city made for introspection too. Perhaps it’s to do with the frequent rain, so Seattleites have cultivated the habit of cuddling up to a book and a cup of coffee. In fact, when the city wanted to raise taxes in the early 2000s to pay for the construction of the US$165-million extravagant-looking Central Library to house 1.4 million books, its famously bookish people voted "yes".
Seattle's best bookstore is the Elliott Bay Book Company, a large and beautiful wood-paneled cocoon that has an exceptionally well-curated selection of books. If you're book nerd (like this writer), you won’t be able to leave the store without buying at least a dozen excellent titles, some of which you didn't know existed despite your frequent scrutiny of Goodreads, Kirkus and The New York Times' Books section.
If you also like music, you should cross the street to Everyday Music, a sprawling record warehouse with tens of thousands of used and new CDs and vinyls. Here you'll find old out-of-print titles you won't get on eBay – yes, it's that precious.
Seattle's obvious respect for the written word and music chord may explain why it is the birthplace of some of the best musicians and bands in American history, including Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Alice In Chains, Soundgarden, Foo Fighters and Fleet Foxes. The famous grunge sound of the 1980s and 1990s, for instance, originated in Seattle. And today that hybrid of music blending punk and metal continues to be commemorated by the Museum of Pop Culture, which has a special section on Nirvana.
Indeed, diehard music fans should take advantage for SIA's current fares promotion to Seattle. A city loved by musicians, Seattle welcomes in October the likes of Morrissey, Lana Del Rey and Charlie XCX. In the upcoming months, Jason Mraz, The Black Keys, Sleater Kinney, Brandi Carlile and other big names are set to jam at various venues.
The diversity of music offerings from reggae-pop to alternative country ultimately reflects Seattle's embrace of diverse ideas and cultures, the kind of cosmopolitan openness that makes it easy for visiting urbanites to feel right at home. As that famous Nirvana song goes: "Come as you are, as you were, as I want you to be..."
The writer was a guest of Singapore Airlines. Singapore Airlines flies non-stop to Seattle four times a week. Visit singaporeair.com
PSYCHED IN SEATTLE: 9 top attractions in the Emerald City
1. Pike Place Market
Every Singaporean visitor needs to put this legendary farmer’s market as No. 1 on their itinerary – and hope they’re not tempted to cancel everything else to return to it the next day and the day after.
2. Olympic Sculpture Park
If you enjoy walking, stroll along the waterfront from Pike Place Market to the Olympic Sculpture Park. The 9-acre public park is filled with gorgeous sculptures in steel, granite, fiberglass and bronze, created by master artists such as Alexander Calder and Richard Serra.
3. Space Needle
This will test those with acrophobia – but thrill everyone else. The iconic Space Needle observatory lets you look through the moving glass floor you’re standing on, from a dizzying height of 180 metres.
4. Chihuly Garden And Glass
Seattle’s Dale Chihuly is one of the most renowned glass artists in the world. He created this eye-popping garden of glass sculptures that will have you wowwing and Instagramming every few minutes.
5. Whale watching
The waters near Seattle have some of the highest concentration of whales and dolphins in the world. To catch sight of these beautiful creatures, go to the Port of Edmonds Marina and look for a boat company. We recommend Puget Sound Express.
6. Grove of the Patriarchs
Here’s a magical forest to make you feel like a Tolkein hobbit. The Grove of the Patriarchs is a centuries-old forest with massive and majestic red cedars and Douglas fir trees, all reminding you you’re just a dust speck in Mother Nature’s scheme of things.
7. The Museum of Flight
If you love airplanes, you must visit The Museum of Flight, the largest private aviation museum in the world. Here you’ll find more than 175 aircraft and spacecraft, tens of thousands of artifacts and millions of rare photographs.
8. Central Library
Even if you don’t like books, you need to visit Seattle’s Central Library, a strange and magnificent jewel case, made out of glittering glass walls and floating staircases.
9. Craft beer heaven
If you wanted to, you could think of Seattle as nothing but a huge beer garden filled with countless beer taps, unique craft beers and unapologetic pub food. At the last count, the city has more than 170 breweries and microbreweries serving an endless selection of ales. Burps optional.