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A Walking Tour of Seattle Neighborhoods
Despite the rain, Seattle seems more connected to its natural environment than any other city in the U.S. Ethereal mountains playing hide-and-go-seek on the horizon, wild blackberry brambles hugging trees on the side of the road, and water, water everywhere give this city a fairytale charm, as if Mother Goose herself built the set.
Though she didn’t plan for the notoriously bad traffic, you really don’t have to fear getting caught in the crush. The city comprises more than 100 distinct and comfortably walkable neighborhoods (the government actually includes a Department of Neighborhoods), with those of most interest to tourists clustered around the downtown area. You can park and hoof it (just ignore the rain) to many of the city’s most interesting attractions.
Any first time visitor to Seattle must explore the downtown district, home to Pike Place Market,the Seattle Art Museum, a cluster of the city’s tallest buildings and the first Nordstrom store. A stroll through Pike Place Market reveals the incredible bounty of the Pacific Northwest’s volcanic soil and deep ocean waters, with seafood galore, fresh flowers of every imaginable species, locally produced artisan cheeses and renowned boutique wines on display in booths that seem to stretch on for a mile. Just below the market on the Elliot Bay waterfront, you can visit the Seattle Aquarium.
Downtown easily segues into Belltown, a hip, mostly residential district where many of the city’s affordable ethnic restaurants flourish. Continue north for a few blocks, and you’ll come to the Seattle Center , location of the iconic Space Needle and neighboring Pacific Science Center, setting for the 1962 World’s Fair and home of the newer EMP Museum. If you really don’t feel like walking, grab a ride on the monorail, which cuts right through the Frank O. Gehry-designed, guitar-inspired building.
On the south side, historic Pioneer Square, the city’s original downtown, has struggled to shed a somewhat seedy reputation and recapture interest in the community. It didn’t help that the venerable Elliott Bay Book Company, the city’s largest independent bookstore, moved upmarket to Capitol Hill in 2010. But there’s still reason to visit this neighborhood of restored Richardsonian-Romanesque and Beaux-Arts buildings, if only to watch endless games of bocce in Occidental Park. Just a couple of blocks over, the International district, with Chinatown at its center, reminds visitors of Seattle’s location on the Ring of Fire and its Pacific ties to Asia. Uwajimaya, the region’s largest provider of Asian products, brings it all together under one gigantic roof.
Funky Fremont, north of downtown, displays Burning Man-style pageantry all year long, with the eclectic variety of its residents on display every Sunday at its famous street market. The iconic “Center of the Universe” sign will direct you to Taiwan, the Guggenheim or the North Pole, but it’s clear you will find everything you want or need or didn’t even realize you had to have within just a few blocks.
Ballard, still further north and slightly west of downtown, recalls the hard-working days of Seattle’s maritime past, with a strong modern emphasis on recreational boating of all kinds. Though the working waterfront still welcomes home the North Pacific Fishing Fleet, this historically Scandinavian enclave, commemorated in the Nordic Heritage Museum, seems decidedly ready to indulge in leisure time, with a marina, thrumming entertainment district and large beachfront park.