Fashion & Beauty

Summer in the City: Seattle—Shangri-La

Toni Myers, our “Western Correspondent,” has been “Aging Damply in Rain City, U.S.A.”  for more than 40 years. Asked to write for us a story on summer pleasures, she responded with persuasive evidence that in summer, Seattle is Shangri-La. Who knew?

 8042317032_f98694669d_zFerry, West Seattle/Alki Beach & Puget Sound. (Photo by Michael Holden via Flickr).

 Long ago, in an Irish pub, a schoolgirl sharing a table with me asked where I was from. Hearing “Seattle,” she exclaimed, “Kurt Cobain!” At a wedding in Taos, New Mexico, last week, the follow-up to this query was the usual: “How can you stand all the rain?”

Toni MyersThe view from Pike Place Market restaurant Maximilien (Photo by Toni Myers).

Seattle’s secret is our summers. Unless you love the heat (it was 99 degrees in Albuquerque when I arrived on June 4), Seattle’s summer climate is just about perfect.

Our summers run from July through September. Temperatures are most often in the 70s, though there are heat waves in the upper 80s and even low 90s—with reasonable humiditythat is, humidity less oppressive than it is in many of our cities.Everyone rushes out to strip the stores of fans and air conditioners when we hit the big 9-0.

From your incoming airplane you will note that Seattle is surrounded by water and two mountain ranges. Puget Sound, on the west, is bordered by the Olympic Mountains. Lake Washington stretches along the entire eastern border, with the Cascades a looming presence not far away. Two special lakes alter the city landscape: the lovely Green Lake. a mecca for walkers, joggers, skaters, and strollers, and the very urban Lake Union, where seaplanes share space with sailboats year round. Your pilot may announce that Mount Rainier is just south, a looming presence outside the window.There is a ship canal with boat locks from Puget Sound to Lake Washington. Visit the Ballard Locks and its underwater fish ladder–your chance to see the salmon migrating upstream to their doom.

Experience fresh (not farmed) salmon on the plate in most Seattle restaurants. If you get to Ballard, on the Sound five miles north of Downtown, try Ray’s Café, an upstairs, expansive-view place. If the weather is fine, get there by 4 p.m. for Happy Hour, since we all have the same idea, or try the late-evening Happy Hour.

Winter sunbreaks feature our own version of the running of the bulls, since everyone rushes outside to grab the light. Summers bring the imperative to be outdoors, doing all the touristy things visitors enjoy.

Seattle boasts more than 400 parks—10.2 percent of the total land area—though neighborhoods are adding small outdoor spaces all the time. Here’s hip hop star Macklemore on the pleasure of his Seattle youth, growing up in the parks:

If you arrive by air and take light rail to Downtown Seattle, you will find parks, water, music, and scores of free activities without leaving the immediate area.

Waterfront Park stretches alongside Downtown, at the bottom of the steep hill from Interstate 5 to Elliott Bay.

Get fish and chips from Ivar’s on the water and feed your fries to the gulls. Not environmentally correct, but fun.

 Toni Myers 2Lunch with gulls on the waterfront (Photo by Toni Myers).

At Downtown waterfront’s south end is Pioneer Square, where the first settlers made their homes in 1852; there are cobblestones, art galleries (first Thursdays are a must-go), an Underground Tour (if you must), and some wild nightlife. Waterfront Park’s north end is the Olympic Sculpture Park, a wonderful addition to the Seattle Art Museum, opened in 2007, free seven days a week. There will be dances and other events at this and other Downtown parks all summer. All the usual suspects have sculptures here, including the newest addition, a VERY large head.

A few blocks away from the Olympic Sculpture Park is Seattle Center, home of the Space Needle and several museums, including Chihuly Garden and Glass museum (Seattle-ites love or hate glass artist Dale Chihuly). There’s also the Experience Music Project, Paul Allen’s baby, by architect Frank Gehry; Pacific Science Center, interactive paradise for kids; and the Seattle Children’s Museum. Add theaters, a large fountain, good walking, free music, and outdoor exercise (Zumba and gentle yoga, also at Olympic Sculpture Park) and lots of restaurants, the most overpriced being top of the Space Needle.

The Needle gently turns so you get a 360 degree view. Take the elevator to the top of the Columbia Tower for a cheaper panoramic view.

Seafair is the overarching event of the summer, with events everywhere around the city. The Seafair Pirates land in June. They are or pretend to be drunk any time I’ve encountered them.

 Toni Myers 3The author and a pirate in the International District (Photo by Skip Kerr).

The milk carton boat races at Green Lake are a Seafair highlight. It’s on July 12 this summer, one bus ride away from Downtown. Seafair sponsors two fireworks displays on July 4, visible from most anywhere in this City of Seven Hills. My personal favorite July 4 event is the West Seattle Kiddie Parade.

In the center of Downtown is the main Seattle Art Museum and its all-summer show this year: Modernism in the Pacific Northwest: the Mythic and the Mystical (Tobey, Graves, Callahan, Anderson . . .). It’s stunning.

If you want to experience an eccentric, exciting building, explore the Downtown Seattle Public Library for an hour. There are tours—some of them architectural, thanks to the unusual award-winning design that also has its detractors. See what you think, and be sure to ask to see the scariest place in the building.

There are Out-to-Lunch Concerts (free outdoor concerts at noon) at Westlake Park (heart of the main shopping area) and other Downtown sites, every Wednesday and Friday. Zoo Tunes outdoor concerts, with national acts, are held a bus ride away.

Pike Place MarketPike Place Market (Photo Credit: pikeplacemarket.org)

Pike Place Market is squarely Downtown a block or so up from the waterfront. It includes a Farmers’ Market, a Craft Market, and lots of places to eat. You will find it crowded unless you go to breakfast—places open beginning 6 a.m. The flower booths are my personal favorite, with some bouquets at $5, no tax. Make this No. 1 on your Things to Do in Seattle list and reserve a couple hours.

Directly east of Downtown there’s the International District (I.D.). You’ll find delicious places to eat, the Wing Luke (Asian) Museum, and one of the city’s most fascinating stores: Uwajimaya, “quality Asian groceries and gifts since 1928.”

Have tea at the renovated landmark Panama Hotel, built by a Japanese architect in 1910 and a major “character” in Jamie Ford’s 2009 historical fiction, The Hotel at the Corner of Bitter and Sweet (bittersweetromance amid wartime prejudices). Also directly east of Downtown is the Capitol Hill neighborhood, on the steepest of Seattle’s seven hills. It is known for some lavish homes as well as for street people, as a gay population center, and for its music and arts culture. Visit its three gems:

1) Volunteer Park, with its Conservatory, Seattle Asian Art Museum, and views, especially from the water tower, of its adjacent Lakeview Cemetery, home of Seattle pioneers as well as Bruce Lee.

2) Frye Art Museum, donated in perpetuity with free entrance and parking, not to mention a charming café and weekly meditation at lunch in the auditorium.

3) Chapel of St. Ignatius on the grounds of Seattle University, designed by Steven Holl as “seven bottles of light in a stone box.” MOMA has a scale model of this exquisite little building.

From Downtown you can catch buses to any place in Seattle. Look up directions online at http://tripplanner.kingcounty.gov/

Ferries galore leave from the waterfront.

Argosy Cruises offers visits to Blake Island (aka Smugglers Island) and Tillicum Village for salmon dinners and Northwest Coast Indian arts and culture programs.

Bainbridge Island is a rather posh and lovely place to visit. A short walk uphill (always uphill around here) to Downtown Winslow leads to shops, restaurants, and a special wine bar: Island Vintners. Washington State is full of vineyards.

A water taxi from Downtown takes you to West Seattle, where you catch a shuttle to another waterfront spot, Alki beach. The westernmost spot in West Seattle, Alki (Chinook for “by and by”) is the place where the whites first arrived in the area. (Lewis and Clark never came this far north.) A boardwalk, lots of little restaurants, and a miniature Statue of Liberty greet you on the beach.

The silliest activity of all is “Ride the Duck!”, a 90 minute award-winning tour which ends with 30 minutes in Lake Union.

Summer in Seattle: outdoors, over the water and through the often woodsy parks, to music and festivals, happy hours on the sidewalks, outdoor art, crafts, parades and festivals citywide, long warm days and cool nights.

It’s Summer in the City as you will not find it elsewhere. You’d better make a list. I think you’ll need two weeks.

Mt Rainier and the Space Needle

Mt. Rainier and the Space Needle.

 

Join the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  • Susanna Gaertner July 7, 2014 at 2:00 pm

    …makes me want to visit…the tourism people should have you on retainer; truly wonderful article

    Reply
  • Toni Myers July 3, 2014 at 2:06 pm

    After my bragging about Seattle’s perfect summers, beginning July 1st, it unexpectedly reached 94 in the city on the 1st this year-a record for the date.

    Reply
  • ellensue spicer-jacobson July 2, 2014 at 5:50 pm

    I agree! i agree! I lived in Seattlefrom1997-1999 &loved it. After it rained, everything was green. No gray like PA.
    And summer temps are lovely.
    Thanx for helping me reminisce.
    ellensue

    Reply
  • Kathleen Hammond July 1, 2014 at 2:47 pm

    Excellent article.

    Reply
  • Barbara Palecek July 1, 2014 at 2:15 pm

    I read it twice so I could go back and click on all the added site material. I thought you have covered it all and after 40+ years here was happy to know that I had been to all the places you mentioned. Then I thought of the places you didn’t mention, some of which I have not been to and thought it might take more than two weeks to cover them all, more art museums, history and science museums, flight and space, more cemeteries including the Civil War plot north of Volunteer Park. I love the Conservatory. Maybe you should write a book. Illustrated with your great pictures.

    Reply
  • Toni Myers July 1, 2014 at 11:05 am

    Thanks, Gail. You and I could form a tourist bureau with Macklemore and Ryan Lewis!
    Washington state has 9 different eco systems, all worth exploring.

    Reply
  • Gail Willis July 1, 2014 at 10:56 am

    My friend and former library colleague, Toni Myers, sums up our fair city in summer perfectly. I would add that we also offer the perfect jumping off point for those who also want some splendid summer adventures in nature. A short trip west takes you to Hurricane Ridge with panoramic views, past two gorgeous lakes (Quinault and Crescent) each with wonderful lodge accomodations built during TR’s national park initiative. Continuing west you can spend time in a rain forest that will feel as if you have returned to primordial time. Then, just a little further west you find yourself gazing at the Pacific Ocean. Ah, but if you travel east from Seattle you can see the results of ice age floods that created giant coulees and carved a path for the mighty Columbia River. Summer tours at the mammoth Grand Coulee dam are followed by evening light shows played out against the giant wall of dam water. All of Washington is a summer paradise; for a native like me the city in the summer is the icing on the cake.

    Reply