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Reasons to Visit Seattle

Up in the top left corner of the map, Seattle retains a sense of mystery with its slightly isolated location, legacy of grunge music and rumors of non-stop rain. But as any local will undoubtedly clarify, New York annually receives more precipitation than Seattle. It just so happens that the Emerald City receives its rainfall little by little over the better part of nine consecutive months. Locals also don’t mind that this reputation keeps tourists to a relative minimum most of the year.

In the short, sweet summer, though, Seattle is a playground for all types. Go outside the city to the mountains or islands, get lost in neighborhood record stores and organic restaurants, or just try to fit in as many concerts and shows as possible. And for those who don’t believe in Seasonal Affective Disorder, winter is also a prime time to ski, snowboard and to test out every coffee shop within walking distance. This gem of a city has plenty of reasons to be a must-see destination.

1. Speaking of green…

Held every August in Seattle’s waterfront Myrtle Edwards Park, free of charge Hempfest promotes a “protestival” vibe as thousands advocate for the further repealment and relaxation of marijuana laws and promote the benefits of cannabis (tie-dye not required). Although Washington, along with Colorado, legalized simple possession of marijuana in 2012, the founders and participants of Hempfest continue to spread their message, especially as the fest has grown exponentially. Since 1991, Hempfest has expanded from just 500 pot aficionados to thousands dropping in over a three-day period to check out panels with local politicians, groove to local and national acts, and become more aware of the political, health and social benefits of Mary Jane.

2. Ahead of its time

In regards to sex, LGBTQ equality and conservation, Seattle remains ahead of the curve. Seattle’s alt-newspaper The Stranger is edited by sex columnist Dan Savage, and the city is home to The Center of Sex Positivity, the annual Kinky Carnival and Erotic Art Festival, all of which retain a welcoming attitude for all types. In addition, the state legalized gay marriage in 2012, and the annual Pride Parade is much more than just a parade. There’s Pride Idol, a Pride Brunch, and much more. Adding the green in the rainbow, Seattle has been crowned the greenest in the nation. The city banned disposable plastic bags in 2012 and is a leader in recycling and hydropower.

3. The land of music gods

Grunge gods Nirvana and Pearl Jam put Seattle on the map, and they’re just a few of the legends and under-the-radar awesome acts from here, including Jimi Hendrix, Pretty Girls Make Graves, Heart, Blue Scholars and Soundgarden. The city’s renowned radio station KEXP and record label Sub Pop Records can consistently be counted on to deliver quality new music. For live shows, check out historic Paramount Theatre for stunning architecture to complement the music. And to walk through music and pop culture history, head to the Experience Music Project, an eyesore or futuristic perfection depending whom you ask, which was designed by Frank Gehry and sits right next to the Space Needle.

Festivals define summer in Seattle. Memorial Day weekend kicks off with chill — and free! — Folklife, which promotes the respect and sustainment of the Northwest’s diverse cultures and their respective traditions. The family friendly fest, held at Seattle Center, also boasts international food stalls, participatory dance venues and professional and amateur regional musicians. The same weekend is Sasquatch, a three-day long festival held at Gorge Amphitheater, which is carved into the cliffs above the Columbia River Gorge about three hours outside Seattle. Sasquatch also features a completely different lineup over 4th of July weekend.

Back in the city, bask in the sun and rock out at the Capitol Hill Block Party, which reliably brings in big-name regional and national acts. The three-day long festival also promotes progressive politics and local non-profits and food trucks. End summer with a bang at three-day long Bumbershoot, which is also held at Seattle Center over Labor Day weekend. Bumbershoot features comedy acts, writing panels, a family-friendly area called Youngershoot and of course, tons of huge and up-and-coming bands and artists.

4. Heaven on earth

Mt. Ranier National Park is about a 2.5-hour drive south of the city, and it would be a sin to miss. The 93-mile Wonderland Trail encircling Mt. Rainier is strenuous, but it’s possible to turn back if it’s too much. That trail or one that branches off all offer incredible vistas of meadows, glaciers and the snow-capped peaks of Mts. Hood, St. Helens and Adams. Another option is just a slice of the 2,650-mile long Pacific Crest Trail. Try the 11-mile long Kendall Katwalk, which is not for those with vertigo, as it trails along the cliff face between Kendall Peak and Red Mountain.

Equally gorgeous is the Olympic Peninsula, a three-hour drive west of the city. One entrance is Hurricane Ridge outside Port Angeles, where there are even more glacial views. The other entrance is the Hoh Rainforest outside Forks (as in Twilight). Take the Hall of Mosses trail to fully experience the ethereal, temperate rainforest. Bring raincoats no matter the time of year. Finish the trip with a hike to Third Beach and a glimpse of sea lions playing past the rocks jutting out into the water.

Inside the city limits, visitors can bike along the 14-mile long Gilman-Burke Trail, which travels north from Ballard to Kenmore. Biking through the Arboretum or to Golden Gardens is also beautiful and highly recommended. Golden Gardens is also notable as this beach is one of the few places where it’s legal to have a bonfire.

5. Independent spirit

One of the most charming things about Seattle is the emphasis on independently owned shops. Many can be found in tourist favorite Pike Place Market, including crammed-full Golden Age Collectibles and the four fish stands. Easy Street Records has a knowledgeable staff and a calendar full of in-store appearances and performances that are perfect for those who prefer to see their artists in a more intimate setting. Movie buffs can enjoy concessions from local shops and a full-service bar at certain local theaters and the city also hosts an annual independent film festival.

6. Island hop with ease

Whether a quick afternoon or long weekend away, the nearby islands provide the perfect getaway. Only accessible by a 20-minute ferry, Vashon is now slightly more gentrified with its influx of retirees and corporate employees, but the island maintains its hippie vibe. Pick berries at local farms in the summer, watch for whales in the winter, or hike around any time of year. Get a dose of history on gorgeous Bainbridge Island, where visitors can check out the Japanese American Exclusion Memorial, as the first group to be transferred in internment camps during WWII came from this island. Just to the north, in Suquamish, visitors can pay respects at Chief Seattle’s grave and take in the view of the city named after him across Puget Sound.

For those with time, take a ferry up to the San Juan Islands for out of this world scenery. The archipelago is famous for its orcas as well as a rich and diverse animal population. While the islands are a popular tourist destination, it’s also possible to find plenty of alone time on a motorbike ride, chartered sailboat or hiking and whale-watching in Lime Kiln Point State Park. Those who don’t have time for San Juan Islands can still see marine wildlife up close at the top-notch Seattle Aquarium, which features a stunning underwater dome, an emphasis on conservation and daily activities.

7. Indoor and outdoor art and museums

The Seattle Art Museum is full of riches, and is notable for its focus on Northwest, Pacific Island and Japanese art. The museum also operates the nine-acre Olympic Sculpture Park on the waterfront, which is a wonderfully relaxing place to have a free date or sit and daydream away the afternoon. The Seattle Asian Art Museum is also under SAM’s umbrella, and is located in the utterly relaxing Volunteer Park, which has a conservatory, water tower and is an ideal setting for an afternoon suntan. Oftentimes, the space that houses the museum is just as interesting. The Nordic Heritage Museum is in an old schoolhouse, and the can’t-miss Museum of History and Industry is in the renovated Naval Reserve Armory.

8. Local-minded food and drink

Coffee and Seattle go together like… well, like grunge music and Seattle. Die-hard Starbucks fans can see the original shop in Pike Place Market, but don’t stop there. Of all the options,one that stands out is Street Bean Espresso, which takes the call of social justice seriously. In addition to only using direct-relationship, sustainable and locally roasted coffee, the shop also helps marginalized and homeless youths find not just a job but a career in a community-minded space.

For a more adult beverage, head to tiny Woodinville, which lies 30 minutes northeast of the city. Woodinville makes up for its lack of vineyards with over 90 tasting rooms dedicated to the riches of wines from the Columbia Valley on the other side of the Cascade Mountains.

To even scratch the surface of Seattle’s culinary treats would require several column inches, so let’s make do with these two instead. For breakfast, turn to Mighty-O Donuts, which does the seemingly impossible by creating incredibly delicious organic and vegan treats. And for dinner, Belltown’s Local 360 is so named as it sources almost all its food within a 360-mile radius of the city. The restaurant works with local farmers who are taking care to preserve their land for future generations and only serves organic and antibiotic-free food.

9. A real neighborhood feel

Throw a dart on a map of Seattle, and more than likely it’ll land somewhere worth seeing. For those with just a day, take the morning to explore vibrant Capitol Hill with the caveat that this is barely scratching the surface, then check out all the vintage clothing shops and boutiques on the walk downtown. Once there, Pioneer Square, which is unfairly maligned as “sketchy,” upscale Belltown, Pike Place Market and more are all quickly accessible.

Beacon Hill is one of Seattle’s more diverse neighborhoods, and the neighborhood’s 45-acre park and Tippe and Drague Alehouse, which features 16 locally crafted beers, are just two of the reasons it’s necessary to visit. Chinatown-International District is a foodie mecca with Chinese festivals and a summertime night market. West Seattle provides some excellent views of the city when biking past Alki Beach. Save some money for Fremont and next-door Ballard, as it’s sure to go fast at the upscale boutiques, vegetarian restaurants and Sunday-only market on Ballard Avenue. In free-spirit Fremont, a two-ton troll sculpture with one gleaming eye crouches under the Aurora Bridge. For a cheaper day, simply walk around South Lake Union, which positively glitters in the sunshine.

10. Take in the views

On a cloudless day, head up to the top of the Space Needle to enjoy the boundless views in every direction. An equally good view of Mts. Baker and Ranier, the city and Elliot Bay can be seen from the 73rd floor Sky View Observatory in West Seattle. At sunset, ride the Seattle Great Wheel, the West Coast’s largest ferris wheel. Thrillseekers can take a ride when winds pick up — within reason, though, as the wheel shuts down if winds go over 55 mph.