Just in case you’re ever so busy or rushed you venture to the Emerald City knowing virtually nothing about it, here’s a little primer from a New Yorker on crutches who was unprepared.
10 things to know before you go, Seattle edition:
- Walking: Think hills. If this is your first visit, you will spend at least a day saying and hearing how unexpectedly hilly the city is–so much like San Francisco and no one knew. Seattle is conveniently easy to navigate, and if you plan strategically you can do much more walking than cabbing, just anticipate steep hills.
- Weather: I know what you’re thinking: “Duh, it rains a lot there,” but I’m more referring to the fact that I was sweating outside the first day and freezing the second day with zero precipitation involved. This is not a “bring a sweater” trip, you should pack as many warm clothes as you do cool. And if you don’t bring a rain jacket, you’re going to buy one. Note that these are North Face people, not umbrella carriers. Locals always have a jacket on hand and never use an umbrella, if you’re looking to blend in.
- Shopping: I immediately noticed on our first trip to Walgreens that they sell liquor behind the counter–a wide variety I might add–and charge five cents for bags, two things to keep in mind throughout your stay. The city just implemented the bag program, much like San Francisco’s, and only paper is available. So bring your own bag or bags whether you’re planning to carry a lot, don’t like wasting money, or happen to be on crutches. Note: Tax on meals and shopping is 10%.
- Recycling: As the recent bag policy implies, this is a green city throughout. Every business has separate receptacles for trash and recyclables, some divided by plastic and paper. If nothing else, at least be careful not to throw trash away in a recycling bin. If this shocks you, take notes on how you can implement sustainable practices in your community.
- Transportation: Seattle has an impressively sufficient bus system, which most locals rely on. Rides are around $2.25 a trip and can be paid for with cash. Download a map app to take advantage of public transportation and save on cabs.
- Public Restrooms: Seattle doesn’t want you in its restrooms if you’re not supporting its businesses. Every restroom I attempted to use had a lock in the door, so don’t forget to ask your waitress the code before getting up.
- Geography: It helps to get the phonetic pronunciation of Rainer and Puget down before referencing these icons daily as you’re there. It’s “rain-ear” and “pew-jit,” which admittedly took me a few tries. Other vital landmarks to be aware of: Lake Union in the center of the city and Lake Washington to the west, and the Olympic mountain range to the west and the Cascades to the north. Puget Sound is northwest and Mount Rainer is the giant peak in the Cascades (you can usually see it near the Seahawks stadium).
- Tourist traps: Is going to the top of the space needle worth $20? Yes, so worth it, the city’s gorgeous from above! In the middle of a completely white, cloudy day? No, no way, you can’t see anything. I’m more of a park and local restaurant recommendations traveler than a see every single museum and attraction tourist, but I have to recommend the Chihuly Garden and Glass Museum. It’s outright fascinating and you can save a few bucks if you buy a joint museum-needle ticket. I missed the music experience, flight museum and aquarium this time around, but highly recommend Kerry Park, Gas Works, Olympic Sculpture Park, the ferry to Bainbridge Island, seeing the troll, and obviously Pike Place Market.
- Dogs: This is such a dog-friendly city it’s worth mentioning. I could’ve and would’ve brought Nugget along on nearly every activity, and mentioned it frequently. I also heard someone remarking they’d never seen so many pit bulls per capita for what it’s worth. My point: feel free to bring Fido…if you go in July, too.
- Locals: People are friendly. I learned this very quickly when I snapped at someone who made fun of my crutches and was reassured he was simply making conversation. Moments later a local bartender let us stick around two hours after close and simply serve ourselves while he worked. We felt right at home immediately. I do hear there’s a little something called the Seattle Freeze for newcomers, but as long as you’re visiting, I think you’ll be surprised at the hospitality.
There’s plenty to come on restaurants and recommendations, especially at Rand McNally’s blog. I haven’t been this sad to leave a place in a long time and cannot wait to share must-see’s and do’s with you.
- a little good here: Part of Seattle’s green movement is a devotion to local products. From choosing beer and wine from the region to grocery shopping in the farmer’s markets, giving back to this community is as easy as experiencing it.
- a long way: Besides an outright spirit of environmental sustainability, Seattle supported cancer research everywhere I looked. In July they hosted a giant yoga class to benefit City of Hope, a local research facility, and in June they’d held a motorcycle run to support the Children’s Hospital. Even the vintners at one of our wine tastings donated a portion of proceeds to cancer research. If you can’t find an organized event while in town, pay a visit to one of Seattle Children’s Bargain Boutiques. There are several locations and all proceeds benefit the hospital. What better place for souvenirs?
Feel free to share your experiences of showing up at a destination completely unprepared. Whether you found yourself crutching uphill or wearing a dress in freezing weather, we can all relate.