Seattle: Experience this cool city

Amanda Linnell gets a little help from some local friends to find the many hip experiences this Pacific Northwest city has to offer.

It was the 90s and I was backpacking around Europe when I first met Buzz. This coolest of cats, he was travelling in a Kombi van and we ended up working a ski season with a group of friends in the Pyrenees. He was from Seattle and would tell me tales of weekends spent hiking and skiing in the mountains, hanging out in coffee bars and partying with some of the best bands that made their name in the city.

Ever since, I have dreamed of making it to Seattle — the birthplace of Sub Pop, the record label responsible for most of those 90s grunge bands, and the place where coffee culture began, thanks to Starbucks. Having friends on the ground helped ensure my itinerary was a healthy mix of the expected and the unexpected. Here are some cool things to do:

Buy vinyl …
Seattle is full of excellent record stores selling a selection of new and used vinyl. It was while chewing the fat about the local music scene with the owner of Singles Going Steady in Belltown (a great store renowned for punk and grime), that I picked up a print-out of a hand-drawn map of where to find the best vinyl. Easy Street Records & Cafe in West Seattle is a cool place to hang, sift through a selection of vinyl, CDs and memorabilia — I left with a beanie, T-shirt and fridge magnet, as well as some brilliant albums. Named by Rolling Stone magazine as one of the US’s top record stores; apparently Eddie Vedder worked a shift in 1995 and played on repeat the store’s copy of Sonic Youth’s new record Washing Machine. Everyone’s got a story.

In Ballard (see Make Like A Local…) you’ll find Bop Street Records (which apparently has half a million vinyls on the floor-to-ceiling shelves) and Sonic Boom for a good mix of independent records. In Capitol Hill you’ll find the vast Everyday Music where you can hang with the hipsters and rifle through the endless rows of records. The coolest of cool in Seattle is, of course, Sub Pop, and its airport store (departure side) means getting to the airport early is a must.

Satisfy your fashion cravings …

At one of the most beautiful stores in Seattle, Totokaelo. Its gallery-like space houses fashion labels from Dries Van Noten to Yohji Yamamoto, Balenciaga to Rick Owens, along with ceramics, textiles and homewares from names such as Alvar Aalto and Isamu Noguchi. You’ll be hard pushed not to blow the budget on one piece to bring home. Situated in Capitol Hill (the capital of cool), there is lots to explore and see: next door is the literary haven that is the Elliott Bay Book Company.

Embrace the peace …
When you walk in to the Seattle Art Museum you won’t be able to resist going “wow” at the large-scale sculpture of a western hemlock tree hanging overhead. Artist John Grade made a full plaster cast model of a loving tree and it stretches to 45m in length. SAM is an elegant, peaceful gallery with impressively curated collections and exhibitions. Allow yourself 2-3 hours for an unrushed exploration, and don’t miss Big Picture: Art After 1945 a significant collection of abstract paintings and sculptures by greats such as Pollock, Rothko and Jasper Johns. American Modernism showcases the likes of Georgia O’Keeffe, John Marin and Marsden Hartley. The museum also has a great cafe and a gift shop.

Eat and drink …
Reassuringly for Kiwis, the city of Seattle takes its culinary scene pretty seriously. Time your visit during the annual Taste Washington festival (every March) and join in the multitude of happenings from visits to artisan food producers in the region and restaurant events, to the Grand Tasting where you can “sample” wines from more than 200 winemakers. This is a fun event. Any other time of the year, head along with every other person in town, to Pike Place Market and eat yourself silly from all the delicious stalls. I recommend taking a Savour Seattle Signature tour and learning all about the amazing history of the market as you go.

Make like a local …
On a Sunday morning, grab a coffee and head to the suburb of Ballard for the farmers market. Ballard Avenue is lined with buskers, food and artisan stalls, selling a huge range of goods including special kombucha on tap, hot organic apple cider, handmade ceramics, fresh flowers, infused honey, and products from the Gaia Harmony Farm — you get the vibe. Permanent fashion boutiques, bars and cafes will also work to ensure you will come away with your tummies and shopping bags full. Look out for the sweet store Blumenkinder with beautiful handmade ceramics, clothing and art. (221 NW Market St).



Checklist

GETTING THERE

Return flights from

Auckland to Seattle with Hawaiian Airlines

(via Honolulu, for travel on selected dates), start from $1385. Add on a nine-day Pacific Northwest self-drive tour, including accommodation and rental car, from $2165pp, twin share.

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