Originally the site of the 1962 World’s Fair, the Seattle Center (305 Harrison St., 206-684-7200, seattlecenter.com) is the city’s multi-modal headquarters for festivals and events. Rising up behind it is the Fair’s futuristic centerpiece, the Space Needle, and at its center is the giant, modernist sprinkler called International Fountain.
Weekends find the grassy Seattle Center plaza crowded with strolling families, sightseers, and al fresco diners. The flower and sculpture gardens attract botany enthusiasts and meditative types, and skaters shred at a top-of-the line, 10,000-foot skate park. In May, hang out around Seattle Center for the multi-culti Giant Magnet performing arts festival (206-684-7338, giantmagnet.org, individual event tickets $10–$15), which fills the Center’s performance spaces with dance, circus, and theater troupes from around the globe.
Ride the elevator up 520 feet to the Space Needle’s observation deck for an unbeatable view of the city and the Sound. Tickets are $17 for adults, $9 for kids. While you’re up there, grab a snack at the Sky City rotating restaurant (206-905-2100, spaceneedle.com, lunch entrees $25–$35). The fine-dining menu can be a bit pricey, but the famous Lunar Orbiter dry-ice-and-ice-cream dessert concoction is a sweet, smoky treat that you have to see to believe.
Fishmongers have been tossing the day’s catch around at the downtown Pike Place Market (85 Pike St., 206-682-7453, pikeplacemarket.org) for more than a century, making it one of the country’s oldest continually operated farmers’ markets. And while the flying seafood, cobblestone streets, and bohemian buskers all add to the ambience, the real appeal is stall after stall of excellent fresh fish and produce. Skip dining out for the night: Pick up dinner at Pike Place.
A stop at the Le Panier French bakery (corner of Stewart St. and Pike Pl., 206-441-3669, lepanier.com) should hold you over while you shop - try one of the stall’s knockout brioche loaves. Up the street, Pike Place Fish (corner of Pike St. and Pike Pl., 206-682-7181, pikeplacefish.com) has amazing salmon, halibut, and crab right off the boat, plus it’s where the staff famously hurls their lunkers through the air, delighting crowds of shutterbugs. Delve into the market’s basement level to find Lionheart Books (206-903-6511), an overlooked gem of a bookstore where exuberant owner David Ghoddousi will chat your ear off while digging up rare first editions from among his cluttered stacks.
Of course, if Pike Place has given us nothing else, it has given us Starbucks. The original location of the ubiquitous java phenomenon (1912 Pike Pl., 206-448-8762) is characteristically cookie-cutter, but there’s a cool retro sign, and you can always say you’ve slugged a Frappuccino back where it all began.
Spring in Seattle means a welcome reprieve from the cold, gray drizzle that oppresses the city six months out of the year. Stir-crazy locals ditch their umbrellas, the sun beams out across Puget Sound, and the city’s unsurpassed system of parks, trails, and outdoor public spaces finally starts greening up enough to justify its “Emerald City” nickname. Forget coffee shops and rock clubs - today’s Seattle is the West Coast’s capital of outdoor recreation, eco-chic eats, and funky urban architecture. In a weekend’s worth of neighborhood-hopping, you can take in the best of the city’s “metro-natural” highlights, from the classic sights to under-the-radar curiosities. By Brian Kevin