LET’S ASSUME you’re downtown because you probably are. First, to get around much quicker, rent a bike from The Bicycle Repair Shop ( $9-20/hr).
Right from the start you have to decide if you want to do something touristy. Touristy, but cool. The Underground Tour captivated me as a youngster with its potential for ghosts, damp corners, and scurrying wharf rats. For an hour or so a guide leads you through Pioneer Square’s catacombs, shedding light on Seattle’s past among the buried remains of a city that used to be.
Take the tour. Or don’t. Then stop by Occidental Park (where there is wifi) to see what protest / art installation / gaggle of listless homeless has set up camp. Get a muffin at Grand Central Baking Company — just like Obama did, to much fanfare. Note: the building that contains the Grand Central is worth exploring. Book binders, artists, and possibly magicians practice their craft in the basement.
Hop across the street to the Waterfall Park, a Shangri-La amid the dumpsters and brick and the site of the very first UPS. Hundreds of gallons cascade down among slick boulders and Japanese maple. Eat your muffin.
Walk towards the waterfront.
Grab some fish and chips at Ivar’s Acres of Clams on pier 54. Eat a piece or two but make sure you save the bulk of this fried pile of goodness for the squawking seagulls gathered en masse outside. Feeding the gulls is fun. Not as fun as the skee ball located at the Waterfront Arcade two blocks down, but fun.
If it is nice and sunny and before the end of September, jump on a sail boat at Let’s Go Sailing, also on pier 54. It is pure awesome to glide off the pier into Elliot Bay in a sailboat. And super romantic. Buy a bottle of wine and get comfy on the deck while some dude sails your happy ass around for an hour or so.
Let one of those pedicab dudes wheel you a few blocks to Elysian Fields (brew pub) or Owl and Thistle (Irish pub) or the Pioneer Square Saloon (washed-up 90s rocker pub). He will do it for just a few bucks.
Ok, enough of the waterfront unless you want to go to the Aquarium, but what is the point of that? To see fish, I know. Well, if you want to see fish, chart a course to the Pike Place Market. Tourists go crazy for the fish-throwing camera hams that work the Pike Place Fish Market counter. Take a photo but don’t linger. The Market is cool, it really is. It is the oldest public market in America and is a labyrinth of shops and bizarre cubbies of commerce. However, it is tits to nuts packed with tourists who amble at zombie pace. Be warned.
The crowds are more tolerable if you can eat enough molten-lava-fresh mini doughnuts at Daily Dozen Doughnut Co. — nibble hum bow — and sample truffle oil, honey, almonds, dried apple, and cheese curds at the myriad food stalls and produce stands.
Should you go to the top of the Space Needle? If you don’t mind dropping nearly $20 for an elevator ride and a killer view, then sure. I would prefer to view the Needle from a distance and so I head to Capitol Hill. Walk (17 min), bike (8.5 min), bus (11 min), or cab (5 min) up Pine towards Broadway.
Get yourself a shot of espresso at Bauhaus Books & Coffee. Just don’t gag on the thick-pea-soup fog of hipster smugness on your way to the counter. Get your juice and grab a seat on a chair outside and people watch for 12 minutes.
If hipster watching isn’t your thing, skip Bauhaus and grab a chai at Travelers.
Bust out and plot a course to Molly Moon’s to grub on some salted caramel ice cream. Moon’s has the best ice cream in the damned state so don’t bother looking elsewhere.
Wander over across the street to Cal Anderson Park and lie in the grass. Wish that you had some ganja and…what’s this? You do have some ganja! Sneak a toke. You won’t be the only one glancing over your shoulder and exhaling billows of smoke. And/or go to the esteemed Elliott Bay Book Co. for some major perusing in one of Seattle biggest and best book havens.
Walk (15 min) or bike (7 min) to Volunteer Park and climb the water tower for big views of the city. Look wistfully over the skyline and wonder if you should call your mom. Take a stroll through the nearby Lakeview Cemetery, where Seattle’s founding families (and Bruce Lee) are interred in big fancy graves. The place is huge and old and beautiful. It closes around 4pm.
You could go back to your home / hotel / friend’s couch and head out later after a nap…or you could walk (1 hour), bike (22 min), bus (20 min) to the University of Washington Waterfront Activities Center (WAC) to rent a canoe ($8.50/hr; check website for times). You can pay to park your car out front ($3/hr).
Did I mention you should grab a tall boy or a flask or a joint or a jug of wine?
Do it then paddle towards the freeway overpasses that rumbles on submerged columns above Lake Washington. The jungly swath of green beyond is the Washington Park Arboretum, a giant park filled with tended gardens, wetlands, and a shit ton of birds. Paddle for a few hours among the lily pads, ducks, bald eagles, great blue herons, turtles, and masturbating weirdos hiding in the bushes.
Spot a masturbating weirdo from your canoe (they never keep an eye out for people on the water, as they are scanning the trail for joggers) and shout something at him like “This is the police! Drop the dick and put your hands up!”
Maybe you will see an enormous beaver swimming around or a murder of crows circling Marsh Island.
Maybe you will drive out to Ballard tonight to watch some band your friend’s friend is in.
Maybe you will end up in Belltown playing shuffleboard at the Lava Lounge.
Maybe you will just float on in your canoe as the sun says bye bye and sea planes take off and land.
10 tips for 24 hours in Seattle
- rent a bike
- get a real map
- scope happy hours at Gotime.com/seattle
- go see music on Capitol Hill, Fremont, or Ballard
- check the Weekly for event times and places
- eat at restaurants that seat 40 people or less
- drink local beer, coffee, and Washington wine
- get out on the water via kayak, sailboat, ferry, or canoe
- visit the parks
- come in the summer
Matador articles for Seattle trip planning
- Escape to adventure: Seattle
- 6 dive bars in Seattle, Washington
- Guide to the 5 best parks in Seattle
- Eat your way through Seattle’s International District
- Seattle on the cheap: 7 tips to save cash in the Emerald City
- Cabs: Relatively plentiful but hard to find off the beaten path.
- Public transportation: Cheap, timely. Ride Free Area downtown until 2012.
- Rail: Somewhat limited. Reliable rail options extend from downtown to the Airport (about 14.5 miles). The Monorail only runs from Westlake Center to the Seattle Center.
- Bikes: Many bike paths and extended bike routes. [Download the 2011 Seattle Bicycling Guide Map]
- Foot: Seattle and its surroundings are easily explored on foot provided you are in reasonable shape. There are tons of walkways, trails, alleys, bike paths, and parks to use to stitch together an epic Emerald City walkabout.
* Feature photo: Nicola since 1972