Quarantined in Seattle
Rain, Starbucks, Grey’s Anatomy, Nirvana… the list goes on of the Seattle icons that I’ve heard named by out-of-towners. As amazing as Nirvana and Starbucks are, this maritime city is far more than its staples let on. Seattle is a tech hub with an eclectic food scene, a haven for nature, wine and craft beer lovers; it’s also progressive, active, and a little bit grungy. The biggest city in Washington state and the heart of the Pacific Northwest, Seattle has complex characteristics that can’t really be fit into one box. Although the city was founded by Europeans in the mid-19th century, Seattle was built on indigenous land belonging primarily to the Suquamish and Duwamish tribes. This territory had been developed long before with social and trade networks by people with a deep knowledge of the surrounding land and sea.
Check out a great weekend trip idea: taking the Amtrak from Seattle to Portland.
Coming back to Seattle unexpectedly during the global shutdown shook my conceptualization of home. Seattle is the closest place I have to call home, despite spending most of my adolescence abroad and not having lived there permanently for coming up on a decade. Although I typically spend a couple of months in the Seattle area a year, when I returned during the shutdown, I noticed just how much had changed.
While I sat inside dreaming of all the far-flung destinations I was supposed to be exploring, I realized that some of the best parts of travel — exploration, wandering, discovery — are just as easy to experience at home. With this in mind, I set out to rediscover Seattle and reunite with the joy of exploration.
Through simply the act of walking, I felt myself discovering Seattle’s nooks and corners through a more conscious lens, and yet still merely scraping the surface of the incredible details of the dense, vibrant, and expansive neighborhoods sandwiched between Lake Washington, the Puget Sound, and the Cascade Mountain range.
The eclectic nature of Seattle is readily apparent in its architecture, which changes from street to street, neighborhood to neighborhood. Grand brick homes reminiscent of the turn of the 20th century stand beside timber houses typical of the Northwest. Modern, Scandinavian-inspired homes stand out against houses splashed in bright shades of turquoise, orange, and purple, while industrial buildings are painted in colorful graffiti, often bearing messages of resistance.
Georgetown, Beacon Hill, and Industrial District
Located south of downtown are Georgetown, Beacon Hill, and the Industrial District, which historically held a reputation of being rough around the edges until some recent revitalization — thankfully, they’re not quite overcrowded (yet!). They have all preserved the energy of a humble neighborhood, a feat that isn’t always so easy to accomplish in a fast-growing city.
South Seattle is rich in diversity, which perhaps shines through most in its food scene. If you’re craving Hispanic food, head to Plaza Roberto Maestas, which is a multi-functional development that supports the Beacon Hill community. The plaza is abundant has a stunning food scene offering Mexican culinary delights. I opted for the fresh, mouth-watering shrimp ceviche from Sharkbite Ceviche.
If you’re feeling thirsty, one of Beacon Hill’s most recent additions is worth a visit. Petite Soif specializes in natural and biodynamic wines. Their rotating menu of wine by the glass—including an orange wine—and their bottle shop stocks some of the wine world’s best organic wines. This humble offering boasts a small inside eatery along with a cozy patio that was developed last minute in response to shifting requirements for COVID.
Pace yourself on the way to Georgetown, however, which is known for its brewery and winery scene. While Georgetown Brewing Company is a reliably good staple for craft brews, Lowercase Brewing Company is a humble competitor. A neighborhood joint true to Georgetown’s lack of pretension, Lowercase Brewing offers reliably good brews in a casual, PNW-inspired joint, where repurposed kegs are used as tables and scenes of Seattle and the Northwest are painted on skateboards. One of my favorite stops in Georgetown is the SoDo Urban Works building. This complex offers a number of tasting rooms featuring Washington wineries. You can easily hop between your favorites and go on a condensed tasting tour through Washington wine country. Structure Cellars’ Syrah is smooth, bold, and leaves me wanting more after each sip.
I tend to avoid downtown Seattle for the traffic and impossible parking. Much of the area is abundant in chain restaurants and stores, lacking a bit of character overall. One exception to this is Pike Place Market and the surrounding streets. One of the silver linings of the pandemic is the reduced crowds in Pike Place, which is typically packed with tourists year-round. The buckets of fresh cut flowers reflect the picks of the season, while colorful fruits and vegetables are sold next to stands abundant with pink salmon and gigantic Alaskan king crab legs.
Without the crowds, I was able to wind my way through the back corners of Seattle’s most famous market and find a rich food scene selling Middle Eastern, Indian, and Hispanic goods, essential oil and natural medicine stores, stalls of vintage posters, and books. Dozens of casual food stands and shops worth a peek can be found Inside the market, through colorful Post Alley (where the infamous gum wall and the eclectic Italian eatery, Pink Door live), and along the street in front. Truffle Queen offers an enticing blend of truffle and olive oils and regional wine tastings.
Grab something to go from one of the global eateries, selling Turkish, Polish, French, and Bolivian cuisine among others. If you’re wanting to stay local, check out Beecher’s cheese, a local cheese company famous for their mac n’ cheese and grilled cheese sandwiches. Or grab a bowl of chowder from Pike Place Chowder, their salmon chowder being my personal favorite. Head out of the market and grab a step with a waterfront view to enjoy your food. If you’re feeling thirsty after (like I apparently always am), stop by Cloudburst Brewing to try a phenomenal sampling of PNW IPAs.
Over the past several years, Capitol Hill has become a gentrified neighborhood where the rent is exorbitant and the parking a nightmare. Old blends with new, as modern apartment buildings rise above the skyline and graffiti splashes the traditional brick architecture. The neighborhood extends from the edge of downtown Seattle up into north Capitol Hill, where turn-of-the-century homes are tucked away from the chaos of the city among tree and flower-lined streets, neighborhood cafes, and the sprawling Volunteer Park. A melting pot of culture, activism, wealth, homelessness, and innovation, Capitol Hill is not easily categorized.
This sprawling section of Seattle perhaps experienced its most substantial change in June 2020 amidst the BLM protests, when a five-block radius of the neighborhood was declared a police-free autonomous zone. Seemingly overnight, the streets were transformed into an activism-fueled scene reminiscent of the summer of love. Artists and musicians created alongside activists speaking out against police violence against BIPOC individuals. Graffiti covered the streets and walls. A memorial was erected memorializing lives lost at the hands of police. Community gardens were planted in adjacent Cal Anderson Park and free food stands stood beside community conversation circles. For the first time in over a decade of me frequenting this neighborhood, it seemed that the community was coming together to listen, to learn, to engage in conversation, and to forge a path forward.
After CHOP (the autonomous zone) was eventually dismantled, elements were preserved as reminders. However, the energy largely returned to this part of Seattle like what it had been pre-CHOP, particularly known for its drool-worthy food and drink scene that continues to evolve and innovate with time.
Tamari Bar offers a unique menu of Japanese street food and snacks, bento boxes with unusual findings such as crab fried rice, noodles, and bao, all with a creative twist. Head down the hill to Melrose Market and you’ll find an upscale market-style experience, including natural wine shop Marseille, a gourmet cheese and deli stop, and local arts. Momiji boasts one of the best sushi happy hours in town, with delicious rolls for $5. La Dive is a vibey, off-beat wine bar featuring primarily natural wines. Their other specialty? Dumplings. A glass of bubbles with butter and Adjika-soaked dumplings surprisingly hits the spot. My summary of Capitol Hill: there are simply too many quality places to keep up or to capture in one piece.
Among all the spots I came across, one that took me by particular surprise. Footprint Wine Bar sets itself apart among the rest with its commitment to sustainability. How do they accomplish this? By serving wine on tap. All the wines Footprint offers comes from Washington and Oregon wineries that produce organic, environmentally friendly wines. This concept elevates sustainability to the next level by eliminating bottles and instead storing wine in kegs. Footprint also offers growlers that you can refill with wines on tap as often as you’d like.
Fremont, which spans a canal linking Lake Washington to the Puget Sound, is as eclectic as it is abundant in nature. Notorious for its giant cement troll that lives underneath the Fremont bridge and its naked bike parade each year on the summer solstice, Fremont is a neighborhood where creativity, innovation, and individualism converge.
Take a stroll or bike ride along the canal where you can find a spot to sit and watch boats, canoes, and paddleboards pass by. Continue along that route and you’ll find yourself at Gas Works, a hilly park on the site of the old Seattle Gas Light Company overlooking Lake Union. On a sunny day, expect to find the hills abuzz with picnics, dogs, and flying kites, where bikers and runners wind along the paths throughout the park.
Vintage and craft lovers should head to Fremont on Sundays and explore the vibrant market where vintage goods are sold alongside local produce and handicrafts. The entire neighborhood boasts fantastic eateries and joints to quench your thirst. Pablo y Pablo is a must for margaritas and tacos. The Dungeness crab and Baja fish tacos are both delightfully scrumptious and flavorful that require one or two of their equally delicious margaritas to wash them down with.
Aslan Brewing, an intimate, disco-inspired craft brewpub with origins in Bellingham offers a break from the typical IPA scene serving many seasonal specials, including sours and Berliner-inspired brews. Adjoining Aslan is Local Tide, which specializes in seafood sandwiches. The rockfish is banh-mi inspired and bursting with herbs and spice, although if you’re there on the weekends, the infamous Dungeness crab sandwich might be the way to go.
Stone Way has some of the best concentration of restaurants in the area. Stone Way Café has a phenomenal lunch menu of salmon tacos, hearty salads, among other filling, nutritious eats. Miir is one of my favorite spots to work from. As someone who can’t drink caffeine, I appreciate a working space that offers a broad selection of other beverages. With a few dozen beers and kombucha flavors on tap, Miir offers a welcome change to the typical coffee shop scene. Rooted in sustainable products, social good, and the outdoor community, this space quickly became a favorite spot of mine. Claret Wine Bar is another favorite spot to grab a glass of wine or browse through their rotating shop of carefully selected bottles.
Whale Wins is potentially the standout among the restaurants on this strip. Its aqua-colored décor spans an indoor European-style grocer and a patio flooded with hues of green. The rotating menu of European and PNW-inspired dishes, complemented by a standout wine list, necessitates a group to properly try out each dish that will surely leave you wanting more.
The Fremont Cut eventually opens up into the Ballard Locks, where one of Seattle’s most northerly and charming neighborhoods sits. Ballard boasts a proud Nordic history, waterfront views, and yet another innovative culinary and beverage scene.
While Northwest Market St. is one of the most popular sections of Ballard (and Seattle) on account of its food and drink scene, some of my favorite spots are outside of this central strip. Home to a dozen or more breweries, you’ll be spoilt for choice when choosing where to quench your thirst. On a sunny day, Reuben’s Brews offers a sprawling outdoor deck with an impressive rotation of brews IPAs and Hazy IPAs to choose from. For a cuisine that’s particularly unique in Seattle, book yourself a table at Rupee Bar. A blend of Sri Lankan and Indian flavors inspire the menu at this bar, which focuses on small, shareable dishes and craft cocktails inspired by the spices of South Asia.
On a rare hot summer day, pay a visit to Golden Gardens, one of Seattle’s only sandy beaches. Join in a game of beach volleyball, brave the frigid temperatures of the water, or simply relax and soak up the sun. Come sunset, this is one of the preferred locales to watch the pink sun sink into the ocean. During summer months, look for bioluminescent algae in the water and then build a bonfire to stay warm and enjoy the long, cool summer nights.
Wandering through a city that once felt like home, but now seems like a distant notion, has a way of stirring up nostalgia. Much of Seattle is unquestionably impacted by the pandemic, the once vibrant local music scene still yet to be resurrected. However, by visiting local businesses I not only discovered new favorite spots to eat, drink, and work from, I also deepened my understanding of the impact of COVID on the local economy. Although business owners were nervous about the future, they weathered the constantly evolving regulations and conveyed a deep gratitude for the opportunity to open again, albeit in a limited capacity.
So many of my favorite spots in Seattle can’t be captured in one neighborhood or simply one article. The city is known for its vibrant outdoor scenes, best experienced in late spring, through summer, and into early autumn. Spreading a picnic beneath the pale pink petals of blossoming cherry blossom trees at the University of Washington in spring. Lazy summer days at one of the many beaches in the city: Seward Park, Madrona, Madison. Urban hikes among forested pathways in the Arboretum and kayaking or canoeing on Lake Washington. Paddleboarding on the Puget Sound from Alki Beach with views of the Seattle skyline. Summer days melting into summer nights aboard a sailboat, watching as the late summer sun sinks into Lake Union. Walks through the fallen leaves of autumn past statuesque homes in Leschi, catching views over Lake Washington.
In this practice of slow, mindful walking I notice the details that still make Seattle feel like home. Neighborhoods where blackberry bushes grow in thick vines; where blooming dahlias and hydrangeas decorate garden fronts; where evergreen and maple trees tower over the streets, and where neighborhoods open up to views over Lake Washington and Mt. Rainier in the distance. These subtle details mixed with the fresh sea air, the invariably blue skies of summer, and the rain-soaked sidewalks of autumn, all refresh my relationship with the unmistakable character of the Pacific Northwest.
Is there a staple of the Seattle food scene that we left out of this article? Let us know on Twitter!