Photo: Rocky Grimes/Shutterstock

How to Turn Your Seattle Work Trip Into a Mini Vacation

Seattle Lifestyle Insider Guides Business Travel
by Matthew Meltzer Aug 12, 2019

To say Seattle has changed a little in the last 30 years would be the understatement of the century. The blue-collar lumber town that was once full of Boeing machinists and the people who supported them is now a full-blown tech hub, now drawing as many visitors for Amazon’s concrete jungle as it does for its abundance of temperate rainforest.

Seattle, especially during the summer months, is the picture of a bleisure destination (which, if you’re not hip on the trend, means combining your business trip with personal leisure for a mini work-sanctioned vacation). A place where you might come to meet with the people at Microsoft or Amazon or Facebook, then see Mount Rainier in the distance and think, “I wanna spend a few days here.” The Emerald City is one of America’s finest, and on a clear day there may be no prettier place in the nation. So if you’ve been called to Seattle — or its booming technology neighbor in Bellevue — for work or a big convention, here’s how to enjoy the city both during and after your work time.

For business

The home away from home

For those spending their days at the Convention Center, many downtown hotels are walking distance away. Start with the Motif Hotel, right across from the 5th Avenue Theatre with large rooms and a fifth-floor bar called Frolik overlooking downtown. It offers a complimentary wine happy hour starting at 4:00 PM, and if you’re nice to the front desk folks, they’ll keep it going for a while.

If you’re working from your room, and possibly hosting clients, check out the Kimpton Alexis. Every room in this refurbished collection of century-old buildings is different, many with conference areas right inside your room. And the bedroom door closes, so your colleagues aren’t looking in on your literal dirty laundry. It also has a gym with a rock climbing wall if you want to tell people you went climbing while you were in the Northwest.

For something a little more leisure and less business, The W is your move. One of the original W hotels, the downtown location has a recording studio inside and a lobby Living Room bar that’s still one of the top cocktail lounges in the city. It’s right across the street from the library and a short walk to Pioneer Square, the Washington State Convention Center, and Pike Place Market.

On the eastside, your business go-to is the Seattle Marriott Bellevue. Confusing name? A little bit, but this towering downtown Bellevue spot lets you walk to most eastside offices and has pretty easy freeway access to the city. It also has a massive gym (with Peloton bikes!) and a big, airy lobby bar and restaurant with a scenic video board.

The morning coffee

Photo: Anchorhead Coffee/Facebook

If there’s one thing Seattle is known for, other than rain, it’s coffee. And while you might be tempted to brave the line to have a frappuccino at the original Starbucks, it’s not the 80th-best coffee shop in the city. Near the convention center, the best and easiest option is Anchorhead Coffee, which does a heavy variety of pour-overs if you’ve got time to wait. Elm Coffee and Zoka Coffee are also solid picks. And if you’re willing to go explore, take a trip to Phinney Ridge and visit Lighthouse Roasters, where they start roasting in a massive cast-iron roaster every day at 7:30 AM.

The business lunch

Photo: Patagōn/Facebook

Ethan Stowell, one of Seattle’s hall-of-fame restaurant names, has a bright Italian eatery near the convention center called Cortina that has small plates and salads, as well as wood-fired pizzas if you don’t mind an afternoon food coma. For a more leisurely, three-martini lunch, belly up to Patagon at the Charter Hotel, where you can pair flame-broiled meats with an extensive wine selection. If you’re dining solo, there’s an outdoor food court on 3rd Ave. and Marion Street with about six different countries worth of cuisine, plus a solid burger spot.

The daytime work drinks

Photo: Pike Brewing Company/Facebook

If there’s a third thing Seattle is known for, it’s probably beer. The city was doing craft beer when most of America was still hooked on macrobrews, and the Pike Brewing Company is one of the originals. Stop in for Nellie Golden Ale or a Kilt Lifter if your afternoon workload is light. If your workload isn’t anywhere near light, mix coffee with your cocktails at the Starbucks Reserve Roastery on Pike Street near I-5. For something a little more refined, sip on Seattle’s most impressive collection of French wines at the La Caviste wine bar.

The after-work decompression

Photo: Checubus/Shutterstock

One of the great Seattle after-work traditions is taking a lap around Green Lake, a man-made lake in northeast Seattle that doubles as the city’s defacto outdoor recreation area. The 2.8-mile loop is the perfect stroll to unwind after a long day. You can also immerse yourself in the wetlands and enjoy a front row seat to Lake Washington at Magnuson Park, also home to the Soundgarden sculpture for which the famous band is named.

Closer to downtown, take a stroll through the Olympic Sculpture Park near Pike Place Market. It’s an oasis from the tourist-trap next door with views out over Elliott Bay.

If you’re on the eastside, walk half a mile from downtown Bellevue through Downtown Park to Meydenbauer Bay. There, you’ll grab a kayak at the REI Boathouse for a little DIY tech mogul home tour along Lake Washington. In an hour you can paddle past the multi-million dollar mansions of tech titans you’ve probably never heard of but who’ve built houses that look like you should. Bill Gates’ house is along here somewhere, too — just be careful because security will stop you if you get too close.

The happy hour

Photo: Smith Tower/Facebook

No bar is giving you a better happy hour sense of place than the one atop the Smith Tower, the iconic 1920s skyscraper that was once the tallest building on the West Coast. The Chinese lounge on the top floor is done up in ornate oriental ceilings, with a solid cocktail menu and 360-degree views of the city and the water beyond.

If you want an observation deck where you can drink outside, hit The Nest at the Thompson Hotel. The best rooftop bar in Washington parallels the shores of Elliot Bay and has introduced the concept of a drink queue to American patrons. It might be the most civilized rooftop hotspot in America.

Closer to ground, Cantina Lena is the go-to for margaritas and appetizers. This Tom Douglas creation boasts a massive collection of tequilas and mezcals, plus dirt-cheap tacos and chips and guac during happy hour.

On the east side, the undisputed winner is the Living Room at the W, where swinging chairs and comfy couches all come with a sprawling view of downtown Bellevue.

The business dinner

Photo: Canlis/Facebook

In seafood-heavy Seattle, business dinners don’t always mean tying one on around a big, smoking piece of meat. Sometimes it means gourmet, expense-account dining with sweeping views of the city at spots like the venerable Canlis, a date-night and special-occasion staple in Seattle for decades.

If you do opt to go the big meat route, you can never go wrong at Metropolitan Grill. Though for something a little more contemporary, try The Butcher’s Table, which serves Mishima Reserve Wagyu Beef and an equally impressive seafood menu with stuff like crab gnocchi.

To get to know your clients beyond just what they do for a living, take them for drinks at The Nest then downstairs to Conversation where, as the name might imply, the family-style dishes like dippin’ dot oysters and crispy split pigs head lend themselves to talking about more than just work.

The spot for after dinner

Photo: Canon Seattle/Facebook

With a large group you want an after-dinner drinkery where there’s something for everyone. So hitting the place with the largest spirit collection in America is probably a good idea. That’ll be Canon, where over 4,000 different liquors await, ensuring there’s something for even the pickiest drinker. For the city’s best craft cocktails, hit Navy Strength, which won Best New American Bar at 2018’s Tales of the Cocktail. For nighttime views of the city and some of its best beer, grab drinks at Old Stove Brewing at Pike Place Market. If you’re lucky, the after-work crowd will have thinned out, and you can grab a seat for sunset over the water.

For leisure

The way to see the city

Photo: Edmund Lowe Photography/Shutterstock

Nothing will put you in awe of Seattle’s beauty like taking a trip on a Washington State Ferry. They leave right from downtown and can take you across gleaming Elliot Bay into Puget Sound to any number of ports. Where you go isn’t as important, as a ferry trip is truly about the journey and not the destination. Not to mention it gives you countless photo ops with the city skyline, Mount Rainier, the Cascades, and the Olympic Mountains behind you.

For a more-aerial view, drive down to the Muckleshoot Casino at the crack of dawn and hop on a hot air balloon with Seattle Ballooning. It’s as close as you’ll get to Mount Rainier in a balloon, and you can see all the way to the downtown skyline and into Puget Sound from the top.

The neighborhood to explore

Photo: cdrin/Shutterstock

Once upon a time, Ballard was a sleepy enclave of aging Norwegians and excessive amounts of lutefisk. Not so much anymore, as the neighborhood became the destination of choice for transplants and now feels a little like the East Village set in Seattle. Yes, it’s still home to the National Nordic Museum and you can watch salmon swim upstream as boats raise and lower at the Ballard Locks. But Ballard’s new blood makes it ripe for exploration.

Wander through the Ballard Farmers Market on a weekend and sample produce and bread from all over the Northwest. You can dine in an old fire station at the Hi-Life or eat smoky Mexican food at Asadero. Get your fruity drinks on at No Bones Beach Club, a vegan tiki bar that features neither bones nor a beach. Speaking of beaches, Ballard is also home to Seattle’s best beach at Golden Gardens, a hotspot for barbecues and families with soft sand and views of Puget Sound. It was also a landing point for boats smuggling whiskey from Canada during prohibition.

The best place for a variety of food

Photo: Checubus/Shutterstock

Though you’ll be fighting tourists tooth and nail, Pike Place Market is still offering the best selection of food, inch for inch, in the entire city. The aforementioned outdoor food court on 3rd and Marion is a hidden gem with teriyaki, Middle Eastern, Mexican, sushi, and burgers all surrounding a bright sunny courtyard. You can also hit the Center House in Seattle Center, which makes for a perfect lunch locale if you’re visiting the newly revamped Space Needle.

The restaurant to try

Photo: JuneBaby/Facebook

Tucked away in northeast Seattle, you’ll find the residential neighborhood of Ravenna. It’s not the kind of place you’d expect to find the 2018 James Beard Award winner for Best New Restaurant. But calmly sitting there on NE 65th St you’ll find JuneBaby, a southern-inspired spot from Eduardo Jourdan, who also took home a trophy for Best Chef: Northwest. The fried chicken may have supplanted Eizell’s as the city’s favorite, but you’d be hard pressed to find a local who’d admit it.

Just down 65th is the restaurant that won Jourdan his Best Chef award, Salare. It’s as good if not better than its cousin down the street, with a Mediterranean focus and vegetable-driven entrees. A few miles from Ravenna in Greenwood there’s also Joule, a small-plate Korean steakhouse with stuff like spicy rice cakes, turnip cakes, and jerk-spiced carrots for the inevitable vegetarians.

The day trip

Photo: Danita Delmont/Shutterstock

As any local will tell you, the best thing about living in Seattle is the abundance of cool places you can go just for the day. If you want some spectacular views and not-too-challenging day hikes, head east to Issaquah and North Bend. The filming site for Twin Peaks also has some spectacular hikes, like the climb up to Rattlesnake Ledge where you’ll look over a bright blue lake and green mountains for miles.

About two hours east into the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest you’ll find the little town of Leavenworth, a Bavarian theme village that during winter feels like you’ve driven across the pond. Two hours in the other direction brings you to Olympic National Park on the Olympic Peninsula, the only temperate rainforest in the contiguous United States.

If the islands are calling you, the easiest one to do in a day is Bainbridge Island. The hour long ferry ride is worth doing by itself, but once you’re on the island the traffic and crowds of Seattle seem a world away. Take a walk along the Waterfront Trail along the shores of Eagle Harbor. Or head into the Grand Forest and make your way to Battle Point Park. Then reward yourself with a beer at Bainbridge Island Brewing.

The place to take in the local culture

It’s hard to believe that Pyramid Brewing was once called a “microbrewery.” Of course, Pearl Jam was also once a garage band, so lots of things in Seattle have grown since the early ‘90s. Pyramid’s current brewery sits right across the street from T-Mobile Park and Century Link Field, and if the Mariners, Sounders, or Seahawks are playing, it’s the best place to get a feel for Seattle’s eclectic fans.

You also can’t leave Seattle without eating a bag of Dick’s. It is to Seattleites what In-n-Out is to Californians, a landmark burger spot longtime locals don’t shut up about. Except at Dick’s everyone has to stand outside, and it becomes as much of a social occasion as it is an excuse to get burgers. You’ll find everyone from tech billionaires to high school kids to Sir Mix-a-Lot standing in line for a Deluxe and fries. And as Seattle has changed so much over the past few decades, its lone constant is the giant orange beacon of Dick’s.

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