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Why Seattle should be on every music lover’s bucket list

The Seattle skyline, presided over by architectural landmark the Space Needle.

The Seattle skyline, presided over by architectural landmark the Space Needle. Photo: Getty

When it comes to pop culture, there’s something for everyone in Seattle. Gen X-ers will know this fair city – on the USA’s Pacific northwest coast, just a four-hour drive from the Canadian border – as the place where grunge was born and the legend of Kurt Cobain lingers. For others, it’s the city where Meg Ryan stalked Tom Hanks in Sleepless in Seattle and Frasier had a radio show. But did you know Jimi Hendrix was born here? Or that Seattle is considered the home of modern coffee culture, sparked by the opening of the first Starbucks in 1971?

And that’s not all there is to it. Set on picturesque Puget Sound and with a backdrop of snow-capped Mount Rainier, it’s a great base for exploring both its cultural and gastronomic offerings and the natural gifts beyond the city limits. Get set for a packed couple of days.

What to see and do

Helpfully, the city crams its top attractions into one easily walkable precinct called the Seattle Center. Start off by enjoying sky-high views from the observation deck of the Space Needle – a landmark since its construction in 1962. 

Seattle Needle Chihuly Garden and Glass

The Space Needle hovers high above the intricate creations at Chihuly Garden and Glass. Photo: @ppoppo2

Back on terra firma, a few hours can easily be lost admiring the exquisite glass sculptures of renowned artist Dale Chihuly at Chihuly Garden and Glass. 

And no trip to Seattle would be complete without exploring the breadth of contemporary music, TV, movies and more at MoPOP (Museum of Pop Culture). Rock fans won’t want to miss the guitar gallery with its collection of instruments that have belonged to the likes of Eric Clapton, Gene Simmons, Chuck Berry and John Lee Hooker.

When you need a caffeine hit, stroll to public radio station KEXP-FM, where you can hit up Caffe Vita in the Gathering Space and see what’s showing in its art gallery. Popular with visiting bands and musicians, it’s well worth checking, too, if there’s a live in-studio performance on the day you’re visiting.

Pike Place Fish Market

All kinds of local produce and wares can be found at Pike Place Market, including flying fish. Photo: supplied

Next up is Pike Place Market, it’s in the Downtown area and packed with artisanal food, crafts, farm shops, clothing and buskers. Arrive early before it becomes too busy, especially in the area where the fishmongers do their thing. Picture a cocktail-making scene from a 1980s movie, but instead of drinks, the beardy blokes at Pike Place Fish Market are tossing salmon. Also nestled in the market is The Athenian, a seafood restaurant where Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner meet for a meal in Sleepless in Seattle. 

If you’d rather see live fish, the Seattle Aquarium is a short walk away and well worth a visit, as is the nearby Seattle Art Museum.

Where to eat and drink

Ballard is a neighbourhood that offers plenty of opportunity for strolling indie shops, bars, cafes and breweries. There are more than 60 craft brewers in Seattle, so do a Ballard crawl and take in Obec Brewing, Stoup Brewing, Urban Family Brewing Co and Wheelie Pop Brewing – you’ll barely have walked two blocks. 

At day’s end, take up your booking at nearby Italian-inspired Staple & Fancy. Go family-style with the chef’s tasting menu at this former marine supply building and expect plates of antipasti, maybe some fried oysters, handmade pasta, a main course with sides, and seasonal desserts. 

Staple and Fancy Seattle

Enjoy the moody, industrial atmosphere at Staple & Fancy. Photo: Jeremy Drake

For vegetarian options, Capitol Hill eatery Mamnoon delivers the vibrant flavours of the Middle East and its mezze menu features a wide variety of plant-based options (plus seafood and meat dishes for omnivores). It’s well-known for its in-house bread service, which includes all types of freshly baked brilliance.

Happy-hour oysters on your Seattle bingo card? At Taylor Shellfish Farms Oyster Bars, the shuck of the day costs $US2.25 each between 3pm and 5pm during the week. 

If you want to eat at an award winner without spending a small fortune, head to the lunch counter at Oriental Mart, back at Pike Place Market. Leila Rosas has been cooking classic Filipino dishes like chicken adobo, salmon sinigang and pancit here for more than 40 years. Tourists and locals rub shoulders with chefs and Leila’s relatives at this no-frills joint given the nod as one of America’s Classics by the James Beard Foundation.

Where to stay

Put yourself at the centre of the action at Kimpton Hotel Monaco Seattle. It has spacious modern rooms with red and grey accents, excellent service, and a wine hour in the welcoming lobby every day make it a favourite with both leisure and business visitors. 

Pearl Jam Suite Edgewater Hotel Seattle

Rock out, respectfully, in The Edgewater Hotel’s Pearl Jam suite. Photo: The Edgewater

Or, for more immersion in the music scene, The Edgewater, set over Elliott Bay, has hosted the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Neil Young and the Foo Fighters. More recently, its designers collaborated with Eddie Vedder to create the Pearl Jam Suite, with Ames Brothers tour posters, a Fender guitar and amplifier, plus a record player and vintage vinyls to play.

Beyond Seattle

Rent a car and catch the ferry to Bainbridge Island, then drive to the Olympic Peninsula, which is a stunning region. Head in one direction and stop at Finnriver Farm & Cidery at Chimacum, where you can taste ciders made from apples grown on the property and other hyperlocal ingredients like organic cranberries and foraged rosehips. Then head to Port Townsend, an artsy, quirky town with incredible Victorian architecture. 

In the other direction is Hoodsport, another village with personality, perched on Hood Canal. Aim for a Friday or the weekend, so you can stop at Hama Hama Oyster Saloon, an ocean-to-table outdoor eatery, with a rotating selection of fresh-as shellfish. You can get oysters, clams, salmon and crabs from the Hama Hama Farm Store during the week. 

The writer was a guest of Visit Seattle.

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