Leave it to hockey to let the masses in on a secret — Seattle has never been cooler. News of the Pacific Northwest metropolis joining the NHL in 2021 is huge, but if you’ve been keeping up with the local headlines — TopGolf introduced the world’s first Lounge by TopGolf indoor virtual gaming complex in the Seattle area in January 2020; Atari announced that a video-game-themed hotel will be coming soon — you’ll notice that sports franchises are far from the only thing trying to get connected with the city these days.
To get an authentic feel, Forbes Travel Guide dabbled with the timeless, the techie and the tasty to come up with a 48-hour itinerary you will love — no matter if it’s your first time or fifth in the Emerald City.
Thompson Seattle will be your home for the next few days. While we could certainly say the main reason for this is because of the Forbes Travel Guide Recommended hotel’s prominent positioning — the 150-room downtown property sits just minutes from Pike Place Market and Puget Sound — we’d only be partially telling the story. Thanks to nautical navy hues, warm hardwoods and Audrey Hepburn silhouettes, the place has an irresistible modern midcentury vibe. There’s a rooftop lounge, The Nest, that locals flock to as well. And the first-level restaurant, Conversation, is already the talk of the town with its seasonally driven dishes and spectacular drink menu.
After you explore a bit and drop the bags off to your room, put on your tourist hat. Make the short walk from the hotel to the Seattle Center Monorail. From there, it’s just a two-minute ride from downtown to Seattle Center. If you have time before your scheduled Space Needle tour (that you pre-purchased online), walk the grounds. You’ll see the stunning Museum of Pop Culture and check out the International Fountain.
Though the Space Needle is one of the most recognizable structures in the world, it underwent a $100 million millennial makeover in 2017-18 that gives the landmark a fresh feel. Now, when you walk about, you can touch interactive screens, take digital photos and walk across the first revolving glass floor of its kind. But even with all the new gadgets, thankfully, the classic views of the sound, the city and stunning Mt. Rainier are still there. So too is a great angle of the under-construction New Arena at Seattle Center, the future home of the yet-unnamed NHL team.
Once you’re back on the ground, you have a choice: feast your eyes on legendary glass sculptor Dale Chihuly’s jaw-dropping works at Chihuly Garden and Glass or nibble on tasty turkey panini and clam chowder at its Collections Café. The former is treasure trove of colorful indoor exhibits and towering outdoor gardens that baffles the mind every time. While in the restaurant, Chihuly’s accordions, dolls and other collectibles fill the space, but you’ll be so engrossed in your crab and bay shrimp roll that you hardly notice.
From there, make the 10-minute drive to check out Elliott Bay Book Company, a local institution since 1973 (though it’s only been at its current address since 2010). You’ll find everything from the latest release from Seattle native Lindy West, The Witches Are Coming, to a brilliant collection of Moleskine notebooks here. Grab a latte from Oddfellows and peruse to your heart’s content.
Just don’t get too wrapped up in the pages. If the hometown Seattle Mariners have a baseball game slated that night, do yourself a favor and get over to T-Mobile Park for the action. Though the team is in a complete rebuild mode (save for Daniel Vogelbach’s explosive bat) these days, the ballpark is fantastic and the in-game atmosphere is generally pretty good.
Should the team be on the road when you’re in town, you’ll head back to your hotel room for some rest. Before your 7 p.m. dinner reservation at Conversation, though, order a glass of wine (we recommend Columbia Valley’s Wiseguy Sauvignon Blanc) at the bar or take your drink over to one of the leather chairs in the cozy alcove. The spaces are sophisticated without being overly starch-collared.
When it’s time to eat, expect a rather unique experience. For starters, you’ll find engaging notecards with questions written on them in the back of your menu. It’s amazing how inquiries like, “What is something that is popular now but, in five years, people will be embarrassed of?” can spark such a discussion at the table that no one even thinks about scanning their Twitter feed.
As you’ve heard, the region’s diverse population and dynamic natural surroundings reflect in its food. Conversation’s kitchen, in particular, thrives off telling this story in as colorful a manner as possible. Needless to say, when dishes start coming out, you’ll want your phones at the ready. A local green salad sprinkled in yellow flowers and purple beet dust looks as if an artist dropped vibrant acrylics all over the plate. But if the pan-seared, caramelized-onion-topped trout is frame-worthy, the head-turning crispy split pig head earns a spot in the Seattle Art Museum.
You’re in Seattle, so Starbucks makes sense for your morning cup, right? Not this time. You’re going to pass the old reliable and head straight to Pike Place Market (but do take a picture of the chain’s Pike Place location, the first Starbucks in the world). There, you’ll find a host of bakeries and cafés just waiting to curb any caffeine cravings.
Besides, inside the market is where you want to be in the morning, especially around 9 a.m. for the roll call determining where vendors will set up for the day. Don’t worry about the Pike Place Fish Market moving locations; Ryan, Sam and the rest of the guys have been hurling halibut from the same spot for years.
But the amazing (and probably most underrated, really) thing about the market is that there’s so much more to it than flying fish. There are 500-plus independent businesses onsite, ranging from florists and honey growers to baseball card dealers and artisans like Sabando Design, where you can find beautiful handcrafted jewelry gifts.
Our best advice: get lost among the stalls for a while. We promise you’ll stumble across something old (Market Theater’s infamous gum wall), new (the 2017-opened Marketfront) and surprising (Pike Place Market has a senior center, preschool and full-time residences).
After walking around, you can go a couple of directions — it just depends on that temperamental Seattle weather. If the skies are cooperating, make the short stroll (grab some clam chowder from Ivar’s Fish Bar along the way) toward Colman Dock. From there, take the 35-minute ferry ride to Bainbridge Island. You’ll find the destination to be a charming spot filled with parks, quaint shops and, most importantly, some peace and quiet.
If it’s a rainy weekend, however, get to brunch at Eight Row, a bright, plant-filled eatery in Green Lake. Led by brothers David and Ian Nichols, the restaurant personifies the siblings’ upbringing in Washington orchard country. Farm freshness permeates across a menu of midday treats like house-cured bacon, fried oyster hash and sourdough waffles with whipped bee pollen butter. As you’ll learn, nothing cures a soaking Saturday quite like good ol’ bee pollen butter.
Should the forecast remain gloomy, seek out one of the city’s many museums for shelter. It won’t matter if your interest lies with arcade games (Seattle Pinball Museum), the arts (Frye Art Museum), Asian history (Wing Luke Museum) or alien movies (The Museum of Pop Culture), the city has a stop suited just for you.
Whatever your afternoon activity, kick your feet up back in your room when you’re done. Once you’re relaxed and refreshed, it’ll be time for one last meal. We don’t know if there’s a better setting for reflecting on your short time in town than Sawyer. One of the city’s most talked-about establishments (it was a James Beard finalist for 2019 New Restaurant of the Year), the space lives up to the hype with its décor (exposed rafters and herringbone-patterned walls in a former sawmill) and deliciousness (rotisserie duck, potato gnocchi).
For dessert, try a Dilly Bar, a sprinkle-covered chocolate treat that’s embedded into a scoop of cookie dough. After a few days galivanting around Seattle, you will be hard-pressed to come up with a sweeter ending.