Capitol Hill: Seattle’s Hipster Haven

Capitol Hill is Seattle’s hipster neighborhood, with an incredible concentration of trendy restaurants, bars, boutiques, and cultural happenings. And I’m not just saying that because it’s my ‘hood.

429 15th Avenue East
Recently remodeled, Coastal Kitchen has shed its colorful decor for a more upscale, modern vibe, but it’s still serving the same stellar brunch dishes, like the ever-popular gingerbread waffles shown here. Every few months, they create an entirely new menu based on a regional cuisine (currently, it’s Veracruz), including special brunch entrees. The regional theme even extends to the restrooms, where you’ll hear audio language courses recorded by staff. Coastal Kitchen also has three happy hours daily, with food and drink specials: 4-6 pm and 10 pm to midnight, plus a “don’t judge me” 8-10 am one featuring Bloody Marys and mimosas (M-F). Seafood lovers, take note: the chef’s daily “two-buck shucks” are available from 3pm to close (bar only). No RSVPs, but they can accommodate large groups and you can call ahead to put your name on the list.
1118 E Pike St, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
Unicorn is one of my favorite places to take visitors because there’s just so much to look at: the lurid circus-painted walls, the costumed and accessorized taxidermy, the lavishly painted bar that seems to have been pulled off a carousel. During happy hour, load up on discounted snacks like “narwhal balls” (deep-fried potato croquettes with dipping sauce), hand-dipped corn dogs, and bacon popcorn. They recently expanded into the basement, now known as Narwhal, which has another full bar and a selection of vintage arcade and pinball games. It gets wild on weekend nights, but you can stop in on a weekday afternoon or evening for a more sedate experience if you just want to soak up the colorful surroundings.
1521 10th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
The Elliott Bay Book Company is the Seattle bookstore and, thankfully, survived its move from Pioneer Square to Capitol Hill with soul and towering cedar bookcases intact. Elliott Bay lost a significant chunk of square footage during the move but gained a home right in the heart of Capitol Hill. Which makes it even easier to execute the ideal lazy Sunday afternoon combo: new novel + Fonte latte and one of the book-size housemade muffins from the on-site café (if it’s sunny, make a beeline for the grassy Cal Anderson park, just across the street). The food is northwest downhome—unpretentious salads with local greens, wholesome soups—but the abundant outlets and cozy café vibe make up for any food misses.

Try it there: The lemon crepe

Bring it home: Thomas Pynchon’s Inherent Vice and tickets to a Neptune Theater reading
915 E Pine St, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
Feel like learning to East Coast Swing, Salsa, Tango, Waltz or Kizomba while you’re in Seattle? From events to classes, to venue rentals and Footloose-inspired advocacy (repeal the ‘dance tax’ in Washington State), this is the perfect place for a creative date night. The organization is made up of three venues that include the Century Ballroom, the West Hall and the East Hall (pictured). Be sure to check online in advance for availability and times that certain types of lessons are taught, and then make a reservation. You’re in the perfect place for dinner as well, in that hip East Pine St and 10th neighborhood, but wouldn’t you know that the Century Ballroom owns a lovely dining spot on the same floor of the building where you’ll be dancing. The intimate Tin Table is a great spot for a cocktail and some food to fuel all of that movement. Have fun!
1505 10th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
Lost Lake may look like it’s been open for decades, but despite its dimly-lit vintage decor, this Capitol Hill diner just opened in 2013 — and is already a favorite with locals. One side is a restaurant and the other side is a bar, depending on your mood. Stop by this 24-hour joint anytime for drinks, milkshakes, or a stick-to-your-ribs meal. The poutine is a salty, greasy delight at the end of a long night out, and the sandwiches and burgers are classic, filling fare. There are two happy hours: 6-9 am for breakfast, and 4-6 pm. The breakfast happy hour features deals on breakfast sandwiches, Bloody Marys, and mimosas. The afternoon happy hour includes a cheeseburger with fries, deep-fried cheese curds, and chicken-fried bacon. Don’t pretend your mouth isn’t watering.
1727 15th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
Want to stay conveniently close to downtown Seattle‘s attractions without paying downtown-Seattle hotel prices? Or would you rather be a short walk away from Capitol Hill’s vibrant shopping, eating, and bar scene? Either way, the Gaslight Inn B&B is an affordable option. Located in Capitol Hill (it’s right on the #10 bus line that goes through the Hill and downtown in about 10 min.), the Gaslight has eight rooms, including two that are for single guests. Amenities include a heated pool, free wifi, the owners’ art collection, a library, and free continental breakfast. From the Gaslight, you’re just a block away from French patisserie Bakery Nouveau and the dining and shopping options on 15th Street, and it’s a short walk to the Pike/Pine area that’s the heart of Capitol Hill. Also walkable are Cal Anderson Park and Volunteer Park, where the Seattle Asian Art Museum is located. You can’t beat the Gaslight’s central location as a home base for your Seattle exploration.
1221 East Pike Street
Love local beer? You can’t get much more local than the Elysian Brewery, which brews its beer in Georgetown, a neighborhood in south Seattle. They offer 20-plus different beers at their three locations. They’re possibly best known for their Night Owl Pumpkin Ale, but the Jasmine IPA is refreshing and novel, and the spiced pear ale sounds downright delicious. (There’s a full bar for non-beer-drinkers.) The food is actually pretty good, too, and a bit fancier than what you might expect at a pub: hummus platters, vegan curry, steamed clams, and tofu salad. Of course, they also have more typical fare like burgers, fries, and sriracha wings. If you’re curious to try Seattle’s microbrew scene, the Elysian is a convenient and convivial stop.
1622.5 N 45th St, Seattle, WA 98103, USA
Another food-truck-made-good in a permanent location, Molly Moon’s now has five locations around town, but still sends out its iconic baby-blue truck for special events — just follow your nose to the heavenly scent of their freshly made waffle cones. Flavors range from classics like vanilla bean and strawberry to local specialties like Theo Chocolate or Stumptown Coffee (pro tip: get those two swirled together), with more adventurous rotating seasonal flavors (current offerings include blackberry bergamot and watermelon mint sorbet). Locally sourced, organic ingredients are the emphasis here. They also have vegan options and pints to go, as well as plenty of merchandise featuring their goofy-cute pug mascot, Parker Posey.
411 15th Ave E, Seattle, WA 98112, USA
Open since 2000, Victrola is a fixture on the 15th Ave strip, and its mismatched outdoor seats are always full of patrons sipping coffee drinks and enjoying the people-watching. The cafe features art openings and local art on its walls, and the occasional live band on the weekend. At Victrola’s online store, you can buy single-origin coffees and blends, including the popular Streamline Espresso served in their cafes. There’s a roasting schedule posted on their website, so you’ll know when to expect your beans; they’re shipped within 12 hours of roasting.
1635 11th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
Cal Anderson Park (named after Washington’s first openly gay legislator) is located at the Pike/Pine nexus of gay-friendly, hipster-filled Capitol Hill. With plenty of grassy lawns for picnics, reading, or playing bocce ball, it’s no surprise that crowds flock here whenever there’s a sunny day anytime of year. It’s also conveniently located near some great shops and restaurants: Molly Moon Ice Cream, Rock Box karaoke, Cure, Cupcake Royale, Unicorn, Elliott Bay Book Company, Everyday Music, and all the cheap eats on Broadway. Grab some takeout or a coffee to go and head to the park to admire the fountain or enjoy some people-watching. On Sundays, the Broadway Farmers Market is just a block away on Broadway.
1325 E Madison St, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
Another hallowed Capitol Hill rock venue, Chop Suey is a short walk up the hill from the Pike/Pine intersection. The performers tend to skew toward local bands, electronic, and drag shows, but one of Seattle’s most unique dance parties is Talcum, featuring the best of Pacific Northwest soul and Motown music (the name refers to the practice of sprinkling talcum powder on the dance floor for better slipping and sliding). Talcum happens every fourth Saturday, and vintage/formal attire is strongly encouraged. Most Chop Suey shows are 21+, and there’s a full bar, but no kitchen; however, you’re allowed to bring your own food inside, oddly enough. Grab a Seattle Dog, slathered with sautéed onions and cream cheese, at the hot dog cart parked out in front. Cash only, if you buy tickets at the door.
4150, 1400 E Union St, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
Skillet started life as a food truck, and you’ll still see their mobile kitchen popping up around Seattle throughout the week (check their website for location info). But sometimes it’s easier to head to one of their permanent diners, where you know they’ll be in the same place day after day. The truck always offers their famous burger and poutine, along with rotating specials, but the restaurants have an expanded menu, including an excellent brunch. Locally roasted Fonte coffee is served while you wait, which is a good thing, as the line can be long (an hour or more on weekends for brunch). The dinner menu is hearty, rib-sticking comfort food like southern fried chicken or pork belly confit. If you see elk meatloaf on the menu, order it without hesitation — it’s out of this world.
1013 East Pike Street
A popular spot for late-night carb-loading (it’s open until 2 a.m. every night), Bimbo’s serves up cheap and enormous burritos in its eye-catching restaurant, decorated wall-to-wall in a Mexican-wrestler-and-black-velvet theme. When you see the giant blinking red arrow, you’ve found the place. They offer burritos, tacos, nachos, tortas, and taco salads, and nothing is over $10. Vegetarian and vegan options are available. Downstairs is the Cha Cha Lounge, a large basement space with plenty of seating for groups; there’s an upstairs and downstairs bar for convenience. Happy hour is 4-8 every day, and all day Sunday and Monday. Wells are $3.50, sangria is $4, margaritas and Bloody Marys are $4.50, and there’s a small happy hour food menu. But really, with prices this cheap, how much of a discount do you need?
1833 Harvard Avenue
Also known as “the bookstore with the cats,” Twice Sold Tales has a great neon sign that’s worth the visit all by itself. But don’t stop there—go inside and wind your way through the narrow aisles of bookshelves packed with used books. The store is filled with 10,000 books plus an assortment of fluffy, lazy cats with varying degrees of interest in being petted. Twice Sold Tales has locations in Capitol Hill and the University District, with plenty of affordable books perfect for a rainy afternoon’s browsing.
527 Broadway E, Seattle, WA 98102, USA
Comfort food doesn’t have to be heavy and drowned in grease: just try pho, the light and flavorful Vietnamese soup that’s much loved by Seattleites. Than Brothers is the local chain, with locations all around town, but the Capitol Hill one is one of their longer-established restaurants. First-timers can start with the classic #1, medium-rare beef, before advancing to options such as tripe and tendon; chicken, meatball, and vegetarian choices are also available. The “small” bowl is a hearty, filling portion for about $5, and comes with their trademark cream puff, but add on a Vietnamese iced coffee or tea for an extra sugar-and-caffeine rush. As their menu notes, pho is particularly good when you’re feeling under the weather — Vietnam’s answer to chicken noodle soup, perhaps?
1314 East Union Street
Part of the recent local boom in artisanal and craft liquors, Oola Distillery describes itself as a “micro-distillery” in the heart of Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. They create small batches of gin, vodka, flavored vodkas (including rosemary, chili pepper, and citrus — no marshmallow-whipped-cream-cupcake vodka here), and bourbon whiskey on-site. Stop in and sample their award-winning spirits in the tasting room Fridays and Saturdays from 2 to 10 p.m. Tours are offered on Saturdays at 3 p.m.; reserve online or by phone.
1532 Minor Ave, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
Capitol Hill’s Melrose Market is a spacious, sunlit, vintagey-looking indoor market with a variety of artisanal and locally made foods: Rain Shadow Meats, Calf & Kid cheese, the Marigold & Mint flower shop, and Taylor Shellfish. There are also a few wine bars and restaurants in here, like Sitka + Spruce, Homegrown Sustainable Sandwiches, and Bar Ferd’nand. There’s outdoor sidewalk seating when the weather is nice, and some indoor tables and bars. You could put together one heck of a fancy dinner party with just one shopping trip (Sonic Boom Records next door can provide the background music) — but it’ll cost you.
1001 E Pike St, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
Quinn’s gastropub specializes in meat, meat, and more meat — everything from crispy pork belly to wild boar sloppy Joes to roasted bone marrow and foie gras frites. Choose an assortment of small plates to share, or get a large plate all to yourself. The two-story restaurant feels casual but intimate, with dark wood furnishings and candles at the tables, and the lighting is romantically low. Service is cordial but leisurely, so peruse their extensive drinks list and settle in with a Trappist beer, a fine whiskey, or a craft cocktail and enjoy the Capitol Hill people-watching through their floor-to-ceiling windows.
925 E Pike St, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
Its proper name is Neumos Crystal Ball Reading Room, but pretty much everyone just calls it Neumos (pronounced new-mows, a reference to the previous venue in that space, Moe’s Mo’Roc’N Café). The space includes the Pike Street Fish Fry, the Moe Bar, and a new downstairs venue, the Barboza. Neumos features indie rock, metal, hip-hop, punk, and electronica bands, plus DJ nights and special events. Happy hour is 3-7 p.m. every day, and includes $3 wells, selected $3 shots, $4 mojitos and margaritas, and $5 well shot + beer. On weekends, wells are $2, and Bloody Marys and mimosas are $4.
1211 Pine St, Seattle, WA 98101, USA
With two locations (Capitol Hill and Ballard), Lil’ Woody’s is known around Seattle for their hearty, inexpensive burgers. (Note to convention-goers: the Capitol Hill location is just a few blocks up Pine St. from the Convention Center.) Toppings range from classic to creative: the rich and savory “Fig and the Pig” burger features a scoop of Boat Street pickled figs, Hills bacon, mayo, and crumbled gorgonzola cheese. They also offer veggie burgers, a fried chicken sandwich, and salmon burgers for non-beef-lovers. The hand-cut “crack fries” come with a cup of Molly Moon’s milkshake for dipping.
300 E Pike St, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
The Six Arms Brewery is a Seattle outpost of the regional McMenamin’s chain. Their beers include a range of stouts, pale ales, and IPAs, plus Edgefield cider and wine — but more importantly, you can get their delicious pear brandy sidecar cocktail at the bar (which you’d otherwise have to travel to Portland for). Like all McMenamin’s, it has handsome wooden fixtures and plenty of interesting things to look at, such as the hefty metal chandeliers. The menu is Northwestern pub fare, including tasty burgers and sandwiches, soups and salads, and appetizers. Happy hour is from 3 to 6 p.m. and again from 10 p.m. to close, and features discounted drinks and food specials.
1216 Pine St, Seattle, WA 98101, USA
Seattle is mysteriously blessed with an abundance of excellent Oaxacan restaurants. If you love the savory fare at Ballard’s La Carta de Oaxaca — but not the long weekend wait for a table — La Cocina Oaxaquena, at the edge of downtown-meets-Capitol-Hill, is a welcome alternative. At happy hour (4–6pm and 10pm–12am), grab a patio table, enjoy a half-carafe of sangria, and snack on sizable small plates such as tacos dorados (rolled and fried tortillas with chicken or beef, guacamole, black beans, dried chile sauce, Oaxaqueño cheese, and crema), molotes, and pozole. If you’re not feeling adventurous, they also offer tacos al pastor and chips and guacamole. There’s a full dinner menu and the kitchen is open until midnight, so you don’t have to settle for chain-restaurant food downtown when this place is just a few blocks up the hill.
425 15th Ave E, Seattle, WA 98112, USA
Even in a bibliophilic city like Seattle, Ada’s Technical Books and Cafe stands out as an exceptionally geek-friendly haven. For one thing, it presides over some of the best themed book clubs in town—human thought and sexuality, classics of science fiction, nonfiction, and general science fiction—plus it has a charming little café that serves coffee, beer and wine, baked goods, and vegetarian comfort food. In addition to computer and engineering manuals, this store carries architecture, math, science, sci-fi, and general interest books. Wooden puzzles, electronic kits, jewelry, and notebooks make excellent gifts for your favorite nerd; and we love the “I Read Technical Books” T-shirt.
1247 15th Ave E, Seattle, WA 98112, USA
Volunteer Park is a beloved neighborhood park in the heart of Seattle’s Capitol Hill. Originally created in 1876, the park was named in 1901 to honor the volunteers of the Spanish-American War. The Seattle Asian Art Museum is located inside the park, as well as the Volunteer Park Conservatory, which features 600 varieties of orchids and a cactus house. Take in a stunning 360-degree view atop the historic water tower, or stroll the walking paths around the reservoir.
1531 14th Ave, Seattle, WA 98122, USA
Inside Spinasse’s charmingly rustic dining room, you’ll feel like you’ve left Seattle for an Italian trattoria. The roasted beet salad with cherries, radishes and marinated La Tur cheese is tangy and refreshing, while the hand-cut egg pastas are buttery and rich. No matter where you sit, you’ll have an excellent view of the open kitchen; step around to the side to see the pastaio making fresh pasta. For the full foodie experience, try the degustation menu, a family-style tasting of every antipasto, primo, and secondo on the menu.
More from AFAR
Sign up for our newsletter
Join more than a million of the world’s best travelers. Subscribe to the Daily Wander newsletter.
AFAR Journeys
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
Journeys: Africa + Middle East
National Parks