Seattle City and Culture

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Seattle City and Culture
Fueled by coffee, Seattle's innovation hub has fired on all cylinders since Boeing's first airplane took off in 1916. From grunge to Amazon to Jacob Lawrence, the 20th century's most acclaimed African American painter, this energetic city sparkles with creativity. Yet it's also a nature lover's utopia, thanks to its mellow, outdoorsy residents and jaw-dropping natural beauty.
By Amanda Castleman, AFAR Local Expert
Photo courtesy of Howard Frisk/Visit Seattle
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    The Waterfront
    Despite being in the throes of a multidecade renovation project, Seattle’s waterfront offers a bewitching view of Elliott Bay and endless charming distractions. Check out the kitschy souvenir shops, and try a square of caramel pistachio fudge. Then refuel at Ivar's Acres of Clams before exploring the city's famous aquarium, riding the Great Wheel, or cruising to a brand-new destination on the Water Taxi.
    Photo courtesy of Howard Frisk/Visit Seattle
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    The Emerald City
    Seattle’s nickname refers to its verdant landscape, but it could easily be a nod to the area's environmental earnestness. The cycle-friendly streets, energy-efficient architecture, and sustainable seafood restaurants mean it's easy being green in this town. Look for restaurants like Tilth or the Whale Wins, which pack their menus full of organic and local produce. Then take a guided hour-long tour around the Bullitt Center, the world’s greenest commercial building, or marvel at the Amazon Spheres: three futuristic glass domes housing botanical gardens and one-of-a-kind meeting spaces for the e-tail giant's 24,000 employees.
    Photo courtesy of Nic Lehoux/Bullitt Center
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    The Life Aquatic
    Seattle's glistening skyscrapers hug Lake Union, a commanding body of water the size of Monaco. You can make a splash with a kayak or stand-up paddleboard rental from the Northwest Outdoor Center, or get weird with a ride on the new 14-passenger Cycle Pontoon, a human-powered paddle wheeler perfect for booze cruises. If you'd prefer to relax, try the charming bijou Water Taxi or indulge on the Sunday Ice Cream Cruise.
    Image of paddling South Lake Union by Amanda Castleman
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    Public Art
    City law commands Seattle to "accept a responsibility for expanding public experience with visual art." So prepare to broaden your mind and deepen your soul with over 400 permanent works embedded in every neighborhood. Twirl in the bronze footprints of Dancers' Series: Steps along Capitol Hill’s Broadway, or be awed by the slow-moving Hammering Man sculpture shadowing the Seattle Art Museum. Then snap a shot of the skyline from Queen Anne’s Kerry Park, with the Space Needle and Mount Rainier framed through the Changing Form sculpture.
    Photo courtesy of Tim Thompson/Visit Seattle
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    Galleries and Museums
    Like any great metropolis, Seattle is home to world-class exhibits, such as Chihuly Garden and Glass, the Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI), and funky MoPOP. But it’s the niche collections that really put the city on the cultural map. Learn all about Ballard's first settlers at the country's only Nordic Heritage Museum—then contrast their journey with the black pioneer experience chronicled at the Northwest African American Museum. If you want to travel even further back in time, zip across the Sound to the Suquamish Museum, a landmark to the Northwest's American Indian tribe.
    Photo by Nikki Bayley
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    The Live Music Scene
    Music lovers are spoiled for choice in the city that gave the world Jimi Hendrix, the grunge scene, and Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Baby Got Back." At Capitol Hill dive bar Chop Suey, you can head bang to thundering rock. Not feeling the mosh pit? Groove to electronica at Q Nightclub, catch a gig at elegant Triple Door, or clap along to high-concept burlesque cabaret at Can Can downtown. Then hop the light-rail to Columbia City’s Royal Room for bourbon and local blues artists.
    Photo courtesy of Jason Woo/Q Nightclub
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    Quirky Seattle
    On the continent's fringe, there's room for all things kooky—from pickle-flavored candy canes at Archie McPhee to an alley decorated with old chewing gum. Even the public art has a certain wry humor: The funky Fremont district declares itself the Center of the Universe and asks visitors to set their watches back five minutes. They can then explore the district's giant troll sculpture under the highway bridge and a Slovakian statue of Vladimir Lenin that locals love to dress up in crazy costumes.
    Photo of the Lenin statue by Amanda Castleman
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    Historic Neighborhoods
    Seattle’s historic heart still beats in Pioneer Square, which dates back to 1852 and has the Romanesque revival architecture to prove it: gorgeous rounded arches and fortresslike walls. The neighborhood shelters one of America's smallest national parks, the Seattle unit of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. (Whew!) There visitors can delve into the city's first role as a staging post for Yukon stampeders, then wind through the cobblestoned streets of Ballard to the northwest. Once a Nordic fishing village, it’s now home to hip bars, hotels, and restaurants—a transformation spreading to nearby Columbia City, one of the country's most diverse zip codes.
    Photo by Wolfgang Kaehler/age fotostock
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    Year-Round Festivals
    Every March, gourmands flock to Taste Washington, the nation's largest single-region wine and food event. Nature lovers welcome spring in late April with the Cherry Blossom and Japanese Cultural Festival, and locals kick off the summer with Fremont's zany, human-powered Solstice Parade (warning: may contain naked, body-painted cyclists!). Then Bumbershoot—one of North America’s biggest music and arts festivals—sprawls across multiple stages on Labor Day weekend.
    Photo of Fremont's Solstice Parade by Amanda Castleman
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    Get Out!
    Seattle has a superabundance of natural beauty and outdoor adventures, from the 19-mile Burke-Gilman bike trail to the coastal cliffs of its largest park, Discovery. But locals are always rarin' to go further with day trips like Ebey’s Landing, the San Juan Islands, and even Mount Rainier, the most glaciated peak in the contiguous United States. Take a floatplane from downtown's Lake Union for a memorable travel experience.
    Mount Rainier National Park by Amanda Castleman