Seattle’s serendipitous mix of mountain views, clean streets, espresso stands, and rainy weather was the magic formula of the 90s, attracting transplants from across the US. The droves of newcomers provide an interesting contrast to the older residents. There is a nook or cranny for almost anyone in Seattle. The city is shrouded in cloud 200 days a year, but when the skies clear Seattleites rejoice that “the mountain is out” and head for the country.
Seattle stretches from north to south on an isthmus between Puget Sound to the west and Lake Washington to the east. Get to downtown (including Pioneer Square, Pike Place Market, and the waterfront) from I-5 by taking any of the exits from James Street to Stewart Street. Take the Mercer St. exit to the Seattle Center. The Denny Way exit leads to Capitol Hill, and, farther north, the 45th St. exit heads toward the University District. The city is easily accessible via I-5, which runs north-south through the city, and I-90 from the east, which ends at I-5 southeast of downtown. The less crowded Route 99 (also called Aurora Ave. and Aurora Hwy.) runs parallel to I-5 and skirts the western side of downtown, with great views from the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Rte. 99 is often the better choice driving downtown or to Queen Anne, Fremont, Green Lake, and the northwestern part of the city. Street parking creates many blind pullouts in Seattle, so be extra careful when turning onto crossroads. Downtown, avenues run northwest to southeast and streets run southwest to northeast. Outside downtown, everything is simplified: with few exceptions, avenues run north-south and streets east-west. The city is divided into quadrants: 1000 1st Ave. NW is a long walk from 1000 1st Ave. SE.
When driving in Seattle, yield to pedestrians. Locals drive slowly, calmly, and politely, and the police ticket mercilessly. Downtown driving can be a nightmare: parking is expensive, hills are steep, and one-way streets are ubiquitous. Read the street signs carefully, as many areas have time restrictions, and ticketers know them by heart. Prepare yourself for heavy traffic, especially on I-5, at almost any hour of the day.
Most of the city’s major sights are within walking distance. Seattle taxpayers spend more per capita on the arts than do any other Americans, and the investment pays off in unparalleled public art installations throughout the city. The investments of Seattle-based millionaires have brought startlingly new and bold architecture in the Experience Music Project and International Fountain. Outside cosmopolitan downtown, Seattle boasts over 300 parks with well-watered greenery.
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The coffee bean is Seattle’s first love; you can’t walk a single block without passing an institution of caffeination. The city’s obsession with Italian-style espresso drinks has even gas stations pumping out the dark, soupy java. Although Seattleites appear to subsist solely on espresso and steamed milk, they do occasionally eat. When they do, they seek out healthy cuisine, especially seafood.
Seattle has world-renowned underground music scenes and a bustling theater community. In summer, the free Out to Lunch series brings everything from reggae to folkdancing into parks, squares, and office buildings.
Seattle has moved beyond beer to a new nightlife frontier: the cafe-bar. The popularity of espresso bars in Seattle might lead one to conclude that caffeine is more intoxicating than alcohol, but often an establishment that poses as a diner by day brings on a band, breaks out the disco ball, and pumps out the microbrews by night. The best spot to go for guaranteed good beer, live music, and big crowds is Pioneer Square, where UW students from frat row dominate the bar stools. You may prefer to go to Capitol Hill or up Rte. 99 to Fremont, where the atmosphere is usually more laid-back than in the square.
The first Thursday of each month, the art community sponsors First Thursday, a free gallery walk where galleries and art cafes open to the city. The Fremont Fair honors the summer solstice in mid-June with the Fremont Solstice Parade, led by dozens of bicyclists wearing only body paint. Bumbershoot is a massive four-day festival that caps off Labor Day weekend with major rock bands, street musicians, and a young, exuberant crowd.
Puget Sound’s yachting season starts in May. Maritime Week, in the third week of May, and the Shilshole Boats Afloat Show in mid-September, let boaters show off their craft. Over the July 4 weekend, the Center for Wooden Boats sponsors the free Wooden Boat Festival and Classic Speedboat Show on Lake Union, which includes a demonstration of boat-building skills. The finale is the Quick and Daring Boatbuilding Contest, in which competitors sail wood boats that they built in the previous 24hr. using limited tools and materials.
In the US, good table manners means quiet eating. Loud chewing, talking with food in your mouth, or slurping are seen as rude, and burping or flatulence is not seen as complementary to the chef. Servers at sitdown restaurants usually expect to be tipped 15-20%.
Dress in the US tends to be more modest than in Europe. Toplessness, particularly in women, should be avoided. Many establishments will require a customer to wear a shirt and shoes. The most acceptable forms of public affection are hugging and holding hands; kissing in public will usually draw some glances. Although most cities are tolerant of homosexuality, gay or lesbian couples should be aware that they may receive unwanted attention for public displays of affection, especially in rural areas. Also, note that many American will say “see you later” without really intending to make future plans.
One of the most offensive gestures in the US is extending your middle finger at someone. Known as “giving someone the finger,” this gesture is considered not only rude, but obscene. On the other hand, a “thumbs up” gesture is a sign of approval and a widely recognized signal for hitchhiking, which Let’s Go does not recommend.