Frommer's Irreverent Guide to Seattle & Portlandby Jim Gullo
Looking for a travel guide that goes where other guides fear to tread? One that rides roughshod over ad-copy puffery to smartly deliver the real scoop on a destination's sites and attractions? One that dares to be honest, hip, and fun? Look no more. Frommer's Irreverent Travel Guides are wickedly irreverent, unabashedly honest, and downright hilarious, and provide an insider's perspective on which attractions are overrated tourist traps and which are the secret gems that locals love. You'll get the lowdown on restaurants, lodging, and shopping, and even find out what the locals think of you. "Like being taken around by a savvy local," said the New York Times. "Hipper and savvier than other guides," concurred Diversion magazine. Never shy about confronting the issues, the Irreverents are guides to real travel in the real world.
For the lowdown on the two hottest destinations in the Pacific Northwest, look no further than Frommer's Irreverent Guide to Seattle & Portland. Want to know where the locals go for coffee? Where to find the Portland grade school that serves great pizza and beer? Want the skinny on dressing down to fit in with the "Aggressively Plain" Northwest fashion scene? You'll discover the best way to distinguish tourists from locals in Seattle, and what makes Portland a shopping mecca (no sales tax). Frommer's Irreverent Guide to Seattle & Portland give you all that, plus the hottest travel tips and recommendations for both cities.
Read an Excerpt
Frommer's Irreverent Guide to Seattle & Portland
By Paul Karr
John Wiley & SonsISBN: 0-7645-3925-6
Spend one winter here, and you quickly realize that if you stayed inside on every rainy day, you'd run out of food in a hurry and develop a terrible TV habit. So get over it, it's only rain. Seattle's many parks are even more lovely when viewed through the filter of a light mist that spritzes the trees and makes the grass glisten. We get outside at every opportunity for a walk or to play ball with the kids in a park, but when a storm front hovers over the city for a week at a time, there's plenty of other things to do. In other words, even when your stock options have collapsed, you can still enjoy a nice walk in a park.
Families with kids will love the parks with swing sets, slides, and wading pools, as well as the variety of amusements in Seattle Center. Romantics can get all snuggly over waterfront walks, ferry rides, and discovering absolutely the right restaurant. Everyone can enjoy an urban environment with plenty to do but few of the dangers of some cities. There's no single museum or attraction that you must absolutely see. Seattle itself is the main attraction, and gathering it all in will be your number-one goal.
Getting Your Bearings
Let's start at Safeco Field in SoDo (south of downtown), since it's one of the most expensive ballparks in the history of the planet. The Downtown area hugs the curve of Elliott Bay andPuget Sound to the west and then climbs steeply to Capitol Hill on the east. Within downtown are several sub-sections, all of which are close enough together to walk to. It begins with Pioneer Square, the oldest section of the city, which starts just north of Safeco Field. A few blocks up First Avenue is the Pike Place Market, centered on First and Pike streets, and beyond that starts Belltown, the newest trendy neighborhood in town. The center of the downtown Shopping District is at Fifth Avenue and Pine Street. Downtown officially ends when you cross Denny Way to the north, which puts you at the Seattle Center development that includes the Space Needle and the neighborhood of Queen Anne, which has commercial districts at both the top and bottom of Queen Anne Avenue North. Magnolia is the bedroom community on a hilly bluff to the north and west of Queen Anne. Beyond Queen Anne, a ship canal connects Puget Sound to Lake Union just north of downtown and Lake Washington to the east of the city. Drawbridges over the canal connect the city's northern neighborhoods, which include the Scandinavianinfluenced Ballard, funky Fremont, gentrified Wallingford, and the University District, home of the University of Washington.
The Big Three Festivals ... If mega-crowds don't faze you (we're talking upwards of 80,000 people at a time here) and you want to experience a cherished part of the local cultural scene, attend one of the three huge civic festivals held every year at Seattle Center. On Memorial Day weekend every spring, the Northwest Folklife Festival brings three days of folk acts to a dozen different venues inside Seattle Center. For a daily admission fee, you can see Scandinavian dancers, Native American drummers, bluegrass guitar players, and polka bands, among many others, in a massive celebration of folk music and culture. Food is the sole concern of Bite of Seattle, held in July, again at Seattle Center, where most of the best restaurants and bistros in town set up booths and sell small portions of their specialties for a few bucks per serving. The grazing potential is unsurpassed, even if the place is absolutely mobbed-get there early on Friday for the smallest crowds and best access. I usually dart in for a surgical strike of gyros, salmon, and an enormous strawberry shortcake, and then get out of there just as fast, but there are people who spend all day wandering the stalls and communing with the throngs. Last year's top find: "miyis" (pronounced MY-wise), an Australian empanada with a superb crust and spicy fillings. The biggest and best event of the year is Bumbershoot, held over Labor Day weekend, when Seattle Center is transformed into an enormous concert venue, this time with everyone from grunge bands to cowboy poets doing their thing on different stages, capped by national acts like Bonnie Raitt or Elvis Costello headlining in Memorial Stadium. Any festival that includes everyone from Janis Ian to Sonic Youth can't be bad. One ticket price usually covers everything but the headliner, and you can wander from dance performances to literary readings to musical events until you are completely glutted with culture. Don't even think about parking near Seattle Center for these festivals; hoof it in or take the bus, and you'll save yourself an extraordinary amount of hassle and stress.
When the mountain is out ... When finally the clouds lift (as they always do eventually, if you just wait a month or two), locals head straight for their favorite lookouts to see the guardian spirit that hovers over the city even when it seems to have vanished for months at a time. Mount Rainier [see Great Outdoors], a 14,410-foot sentinel, starts about 100 miles south of the city yet appears to be looming right up from South Seattle, just behind the downtown skyscrapers. At different times, in different lights, it looks like a great, craggy heap of snow and rock, a big mound of whipped cream with a swirl on top, or a mirage floating on a bank of clouds. Seeing it, especially after a rough period of winter weather, is an instant reminder of how dramatically beautiful this place can be and how summer weather, with its entire weeks of Rainier vistas, is never too far away. It's the locals' favorite mood enhancer. "The mountain is out!" they say with great relief to friends and neighbors. Everyone also thrills to the sight of the Cascade and Olympic Mountain ranges standing as snow-capped sentinels on either side of the city. Head to Kerry Park, on Highland Avenue North in Queen Anne, for an unsurpassed view of the city and Mount Rainier, and then walk west on Highland to catch a great view of the sound and the Olympics. The Alaskan Way waterfront and Bainbridge Island Ferry are also superb places to gaze at the snowcapped Olympics; from the northern end of Alaskan Way, near the Edgewater Hotel, you can see Mount Rainier peeking down on Safeco Field, the Mariners' hypercool new stadium.
On the University of Washington campus, find your way to Red Square, bordered by the two main libraries, and then look past the fountain for a stellar view of Mount Rainier, Lake Washington, and the Cascades.
When the mountain is in ... Here's a question for you theologians: If Our Maker had intended us to stay inside on rainy days, why did he give us Gore-tex shoes and Helly-Hansen raingear? Walking in a park is a lovely way to get a big dose of Northwest trees and that addictively lovely, rainy smell. Grab a hat and your rubber shoes and head off to Carkeek Park to follow a winding, muddy trail all the way down a hillside to Puget Sound. Woodland Park, home of the zoo, lives up to its name with acres and acres of tall trees. If you stumble upon the rockery where people leave heads of lettuce and bunches of carrots, you'll know you've found the bunny hutch, residence of dozens of wild rabbits. The Washington Park Arboretum labels its acres of trees for quick identification, and adds a lovely Japanese garden that is perfect for misty-day contemplations. When the flowers bloom in April, the place is a wonderland (but frequently a boggy wonderland; wear appropriate footwear). Discovery Park, in Magnolia, is enormous and sprawling, with trails that lead through heavy woods to a rocky beach or to play areas (the one on the north side of the park has the longest slide in Seattle). The beaches are also great places to stroll (though of little use for swimming). Go to the end of the boardwalk at Golden Gardens in Ballard, and you might see egrets, cormorants, dolphins, or sea lions.
The newest and coolest ... That bizarre building that looks like a pile of the Space Needle's rumpled laundry is Paul Allen's Experience Music Project, a $100 million museum dedicated to (try to follow me here) experiencing music. Design is by architect Frank Gehry (we still can't decide if we like the building or not), and inside you'll find galleries with rock artifacts like Jimi Hendrix's guitars and Elvis's leather jacket. An enormous video wall called the Sky Church doubles as a concert venue, and a very cool, very high-tech Sound Lab allows you to play instruments and learn the opening notes to "Jumping Jack Flash," among other rock anthems. Headphone devices bludgeon you with just as much background info and sound bites as you could possibly want. Allen, who is fast becoming locals' favorite billionaire, also shelled out the cash to renovate the Cinerama Theater on Sixth Avenue downtown. It was on the brink of being torn down before he threw wads of money at it and made it the premier movie house in town with every imaginable digital bell-and-whistle and that still-impressive, curving Cinerama screen.
Museums the whole family can explore ... Boeing shocked the city by moving its corporate big cheeses out of town, but it still has a considerable presence. The Museum of Flight showcases a spectrum of aircraft (many of them built by Boeing), including a replica of the Wright Brothers' glider, a DC3, a biplane, and an Apollo space capsule that you can look into. The adjacent Red Barn, with an exhibition on the history of flying, was Boeing's original factory dating from 1910. The hangar-sized galleries give a properly grand scope to the whole aviation theme. You can also tour the Boeing manufacturing facility in the northern suburb of Everett, which takes place in a building touted as the world's largest space under one roof. From catwalks, you watch as enormous pieces of fuselage and wing come together and are connected; you may be surprised to see the greenish metal skin of an unpainted airliner before the logo colors of an airline go on. At the hands-on Pacific Science Center, part of the Seattle Center entertainment complex, you can study dinosaur fossils and play with kinetic exhibits while younger children blow enormous bubbles or play with waterjets and older kids try a virtual basketball game played against a giant. A number of interactive stations demonstrate how your eyes, ears, and bones work; animatronic dinosaurs move and bellow: a good time is generally had by all. An IMAX Theater and a planetarium are also inside the Science Center, with separate admission. The above-mentioned Experience Music Project has stations where you can play instruments, as well as a motion-simulator ride that takes you into the heart of a funky concert. The Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, on the University of Washington campus, has fossils, dinosaur bones, an enormous wall of bugs under glass, and a walk-through volcano in its Life and Times of Washington State exhibit. It makes a nice stop on a walk around the campus, but we wouldn't plan a whole day around it. The cloyingly sweet quotient goes up a little at the The Children's Museum in the Seattle Center House, an interactive kid-sized environment with tubes to crawl through and a simulated mountain to explore. Younger children will love it, though, and you can get a decent cup of coffee and a fresh beignet or elephant's ear from the take-out counters of the Seattle Center House to ease your pain. Okay, it's not a museum, but GameWorks, the video-game chain created by Steven Spielberg's DreamWorks SKG Studio, might as well be. It has incredible games and simulations that represent the best of computer gaming technology, much of it created in Seattle.
More grown-up museums ... When the Seattle Art Museum relocated downtown in 1991, it was an instant sensation, with Jonathon Borofsky's enormous, shadowy Hammering Man sculpture looming over the entrance courtyard. This museum tries a little too hard to please a lot of people, with widespread permanent collections of Northwest Coast Native American art, African art, and painting galleries that go from the medieval to the modern. Major exhibitions come through here, such as a collection of artifacts from ancient Egypt or Bill Gates's original Da Vinci manuscript, which he temporarily displayed here while his library was being built. For special exhibits, compact disc players are supplied so each patron can listen to adult- or kid-oriented commentaries on major exhibits, which allows everyone to tour at his or her own pace. The art museum's old home in Volunteer Park, a cool Art Deco stone building, is now the Seattle Asian Art Museum, home to a premier collection of art and artifacts from the Far East, with an emphasis on Chinese and Japanese collections, including rooms of Japanese screens or folk art. The setting is as tranquil as the galleries. The Frye Art Museum, a small private museum on First Hill, specializes in 19th-century painters like Winslow Homer, Edward Hopper, and Thomas Hart Benton, with a Picasso thrown in for good measure. Although its commitment to figurative art remains true to the dictates of the founding Frye family, the museum has become much more lively and vital since a 1997 remodeling.
Animal magnetism ... There are aquariums that give you gaily colored tropical fish, and then there's the Seattle Aquarium. The coral-reef tank with its cruising sharks never fails to excite, but the aquarium's best may be the Puget Sound exhibits, where you can pet a starfish and see the lingcod, wolf eels, and a giant Pacific octopus named Neah, whose relatives inhabit the chilly waters of the sound. Short of donning scuba gear and jumping into the frigid sound, you won't get a better look at its inhabitants. In Ballard, the fish ladders and viewing windows of the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks can provide an absolutely jaw-dropping view of wild and farm-raised salmon fighting their way upstream from Puget Sound to inland lakes and rivers (and it's free). When the fish are really running, it beats the aquarium hands-down for sheer drama-these fish are literally fighting for their lives. The salmon used to run thick in local waters year-round, but dwindling salmon numbers now make it highly seasonal.
Excerpted from Frommer's Irreverent Guide to Seattle & Portland by Paul Karr Excerpted by permission.
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Meet the Author
Besides writing mesmerizing guidebooks to the Pacific Northwest, Jim Gullo writes plays and travels the world on assignment for Islands, Sunset, and Diversion magazines. He lives in Seattle with his wife Kris and sons Michael and Joe, to whom this book is dedicated
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