Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Love Affair with the PNW

My love affair with the Pacific Northwest, and Seattle in particular, is pretty easy to explain.  Seattle was the first place I moved to after leaving Hawaii.  It's where I went to college (go huskies!).  It's where I found my independence and, in a very real sense, myself.  It's where I was able to be selfish for the first time -- with my time, my dreams, my future -- and have that be perfectly okay.  It's where I fell in love.  And it's where, when I look back, I remember being really deep-down in-the-gut happy.

Sure, Seattle has its pitfalls: it really does rain for 10 straight months of the year.  I never realized how many different shades of gray there are until I lived under the clouds of this city for an extended amount of time.  There isn't as much diversity in the northwest as there is, say, in the San Francisco Bay Area -- but really, that's to be expected, isn't it?  It's cold there in the winter.  A biting, stinging cold that, coming from Hawaii, was hard to bear sometimes.  I remember thinking by the time December came around that I was just about 100% over the cold.  

But none of that really matters to me when it comes down to it.  I love this city, with its mountains and bays and bridges.  And I love who I am in this city.

So in case any of you are planning a trip up north in the near future, here are some things to do and check out:

Take a ferry to the Olympic Peninsula.  Even if you have no idea what to do once you arrive in Bremerton or Bainbridge Island (hint: drive until you get to Port Townsend or the Olympic National Forest or the coast near La Push and Cape Flattery -- all are incredibly beautiful and wild places).  The bonus here is that the ferry leaving from or arriving back to Seattle offers you the best possible views of the city you'll ever get (see the second to the last picture above).  On a clear day, you'll even be able to see the Cascades and the Olympic mountain ranges.  It's breathtaking.  If you want a longer ferry ride, head to the San Juans and Orcas Island.

Visit Kerry Park. That's where I took the first picture featured above.  It's another great view of the city (and yet another can be seen from the free observation deck of the Columbia Tower downtown or Gasworks Park near Wallingford) and the Space Needle in particular.

Go on a tasting at Theo Chocolates in Fremont.  It's chocolate.  It's delicious.  And it's in quirky Fremont.  While you're there wandering through antique malls, used bookstores, and clothing boutiques, check out the statue of Lenin (yes, that Lenin) or the famous Fremont Troll that lives under the bridge (pictured above).

Walk around the University of Washington.  Because, really, why not?  If you're there in the spring, you may even catch the cherry blossoms in full bloom.  There are some good, cheap eats along The Ave which borders campus too.

Go to Pike's Place Market because you have to.  It's a great photo opportunity, but don't buy anything there since things are way overpriced.  Make sure you ask someone to point you towards the gum wall.  I know it sounds awful, but do it anyway.  And if you're in the mood for coffee, steer clear of the first ever Starbucks -- why go there when there are Starbucks on every corner these days? -- and instead head to La Panier and order sables.  Trust me. 

Play whirlyball.  Think basketball, lacrosse and bumper cars.  Now add beer.  Oh, yeah.  When you're done, head to Dick's and get a burger.

Take a tour at Red Hook Brewery if you're into beer and laughs.  It's only a dollar and the tour guides are hilarious.  They also let you sample enough beer to make you feel just fine.  If you need to soak up some of that alcohol before getting behind the wheel, there's an restaurant on-site too.

Check out the nightlife in Ballard.  Sure, there's Belltown, Capital Hill and Pioneer Square, but since we went to Ballard on this visit, that's what I'm going to suggest.  The Matador has a pretty good happy hour.  And speaking of happy hour...if that's your thing, download The Strangers Happy Hour iPhone app before going out.  It's amazing.  Ivar's Salmon House also has a good happy hour and outdoor seating right on Lake Union.

There are obviously other typical spots to check out (the Experience Music Project, the Space Needle, Kurt Cobain's house...), but these are just a few ideas to get you started.

Seattle, I love you.

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