Two Hours in Seattle


For as long as I've lived on the best coast, I've explored a surprisingly small amount of it. Truth be told, it's hard for me to leave this pretty little city of ours. Which is why, at the beginning of 2013, I actually made a resolution to visit three new places this year just to force myself to get out. While I can't really say that my trip to Seattle two weeks ago was of my own accord since I was there on business, I did force my sleep-deprived, travel-battered little body to take a 20 minute cab from Microsoft headquarters to downtown during my only free time at the conference.

Even though I only had a couple of hours to myself, I was determined to make the most of it. And so, after a day that started with a 4am taxi to the airport followed by a 2 hour flight then 6 hours of non-stop learning, I ventured out into the perpetual drizzle, hopped in a cab and headed to Pike's Place.

As cheesy as it was, I couldn't help but start my mad dash through Seattle with a visit to "the first" Starbucks. It was a simple, tiny store, that had very few of the hallmarks of a normal Starbucks and was packed wall-to-wall with foreign tourists. The most unique part about it is about to happen in the picture above: the cashiers toss the cups, orders scrawled on the side, across the store to the Baristas to fill each order.

While I was ordering my pumpkin spice latte, my cashier turned off the "Welcome and where are you from!?" charm he had used on the past ten customers after they ordered their coffee in various accents and gave me a look that said my American city-dwelling self should know better. I do, so I blame it on being both in desperate need of caffeine and amused by the novelty of being in the birthplace of my favorite chain. When they called my name, I elbowed my way up to the counter to grab my drink and quickly hurried out into the bustle of the closing stalls at Public Market.

Making my way up Stewart, I stumbled upon a cute antique shop and even though I knew it was dangerous, I ducked inside. I could have spent hours in there, but I limited myself to fifteen minutes, which was far more difficult than it sounds. Miraculously, I walked out with nothing but a craving to head back there the next time I'm in town.

The rain held off while I power walked through the city, with the Waterfall Gardens in mind as my destination. After doing some frantic pre-planning on Trip Advisor in the cab, the mile-long walk through the city to this little park seemed like the perfect way to enjoy my latte and see some other landmarks along the way, such as the moving Hammering Man sculpture outside the Seattle Art Museum. As I walked, the streets and hills reminded me a bit of San Francisco, but far less occupied.

In fact, the closer I got to Waterfall Garden, the fewer pedestrians I saw and the more nervous I became since it was getting dark fast. It's funny... you would think after two years of living in Manhattan that empty city streets wouldn't faze me, but apparently I've lost all of my edge living in San Diego. By the time I reached the gated entrance to the Garden, it was closed, something I wasn't even aware was a possibility: apparently my cab research hadn't totally paid off. I peered through the bars at what looked like a great space to eat lunch or read a book and then briskly headed back to 1st Ave, walking behind a guy dressed in camouflage with a patch on his backpack that read "I love guns and Starbucks." Good to know.

About two blocks into my walk back up 1st on my way to catch a cab to the Space Needle, a storefront caught my eye. The store, E. Smith Mercantile, was dim inside and almost looked closed but the door was clearly open and upon closer inspection, there were a couple of people inside, browsing through clothes. I went in, thinking that I'd catch a few minutes before closing time to poke around, and was greeted with the distinct sound of bar chatter. Walking to the back of the store, I glanced around a partition to find an awesome, itty bitty speakeasy-style bar.

There was only room for about 20 or so patrons, so I hopped on a stool, read through their list of craft cocktails and ordered an Opal, made of gin, curacao, orange and absinthe. The sweet bartender, Jessie, welcomed me to Seattle and chatted with me for a few minutes about the bar, which had only been open for a few weeks. The atmosphere was the perfect respite from my day and the only part of my visit that didn't make me feel like a tourist.

With 30 minutes to spare before I needed to head back to Redmond for a networking reception, I was nervous that the line for the Space Needle would be too long for me to get to the top. Luckily, it was quite the opposite: a private event was being held inside the observation tower so not only was there no line at all, but my ticket was also discounted. My ears popped on the short elevator ride to the top, which offered a gorgeous view of the city, the impending rain clouds, and the Puget Sound. I had enough time to do a couple of laps around the observation deck, take pictures for some tourists and enjoy the smell of rain before it started coming down. Then I stopped by the gift shop and took a cab back to my hotel to get ready.

In all honesty, while I'm pretty impressed with how much I was able to accomplish during my whirlwind visit, I wasn't that taken with Seattle itself. Maybe it's because I had enough rain and greenery in Connecticut to last a lifetime, but there wasn't much at all that I found appealing during my short stay. So if you live in Seattle, I'd love to know why. Of the people I asked there, the answer was always the same: the few days or weeks of summer each year that are just absolutely perfect make the often dreary days worth it. My guess is that in reality, it's the opposite, that those people are actually there for the rain.

On the plane ride home, I listened to Jaymay's album, "Autumn Fallin'" which is an entirely appropriate soundtrack for Seattle in the fall and pretty much sums up my mood during the trip. Even though I was only away from San Diego for 48 hours, it was more than enough time. As a fellow Emerald City interloper once said, "There's no place like home."