How to Win Your First Year in Seattle

In Seattle, becoming a local is a rite of passage that includes surviving a gloomy, rain-filled winter, accepting gridlock at random times without honking your horn and withstanding lectures on political correctness from the dreadfully earnest.

The good news about your first year here is that it should also involve these experiences that aren’t required, but are recommended.

Buying fish in the public market in Pike Place, Seattle
Buying fish in the public market in Pike Place, Seattle

Within One Week

Do the tourist thing….with a twist. Enjoy every tourist attraction with the pride of ownership, including the off-beat ones. Take an Underground Seattle tour and learn about your new town’s history. Go to the Pike Place Market…and buy stuff for dinner. Admit that the gum wall (pictured at top) at the Market is over-rated. Visit the Space Needle at Seattle Center, look out over the city, chortle to yourself and say, “Mine, mine, this is all mine.”

“I visit Pike Place Market as often as possible during the offseason. There’s a reason it’s Seattle’s number one tourist attraction. The fish mongers, produce stalls and flower sellers are as close to the cosmopolitan arcades of Europe that we find in America.”

–Crai Bower, Seattle-based travel writer. 

Eat at Ivar’s House of Clams. Because nothing says Seattle like fried salmon and clam chowder in a joint named after one of the greatest hucksters and self-promoters the city has ever known.

Cruise for coffee. Sure, Starbucks is great, but you must find a go-to, neighborhood coffeehouse now while you’re still relaxed and not desperate for caffeine or a place to escape. Even if you don’t like java all that much, coffee shops are community hubs in Seattle and you’ll need to find one.

WA state ferry in Puget Sound
Washington State Ferry in Puget Sound

Within One Month

Meet your neighbor(hood)s. Seattle’s neighborhoods are filled with character and cool, unexpected surprises. Funky Fremont has a Volkswagen eating troll statue, Wallingford is home to internationally loved novelty store, Archie McPhees and Ballard boasts boat locks and a salmon ladder. Who knew fish could climb?

“Because neighborhoods are so different and so diverse, it’s important to experience neighborhoods beyond your own to get a feel for what the city is. It’s important to see what other neighborhoods have to offer.”

–Heather Bryant, Communications Manager, Visit Seattle

Visit Greenlake. Seattle has plenty of great parks including Volunteer Park, Discovery Park and the Washington Park Arboretum, but Greenlake has one of the city’s most popular loops for walkers, bikers and people who need to discuss their relationship.

Ride a ferry. Hit the Waterfront, then hop a Washington State Ferry. It’s cheaper than a tourist cruise, but you still get the same stunning views. Or you could get a free 45-minute cruise around Lake Union on Sunday at the Center for Wooden Boats.

“The number one thing you have to do in any place as spectacular as Seattle is, you have to get all the clichés out of the way as fast as you can. You’ve got to understand the mountains, the water and the magnificence of our skyline. The best way in terms of money, time and lower commitment to experience that is to jump on a ferry. [The view] is totally gob-smacking.”

–Steve Lorton, former Northwest Editor of Sunset Magazine.

Try a food truck. Try one downtown at lunch or go to the monthly Mobile Round Up every second Sunday at the Fremont Market. There’s one for almost every cuisine you could think of and a few you probably never imagined.

Snoqualmie Falls
Forget Twin Peaks, there is nothing creepy about Snoqualmie Falls

Within Three Months

Weather, shmeather. Take a day off and join the throngs skiing, hiking, kayaking or climbing in places ranging from the 27 mile Burke Gilman Trail all the way to Mount Rainier.

Expose yourself…to art. On the first Thursday of the month, Pioneer Square art galleries open new shows and many museums have free admission including the Seattle Art Museum and the Museum of History and Industry.

Get a little rhythm. Considering that Seattle has produced such musical talent as Jimi Hendrix, Nirvana, Macklemore and Nirvana, it would be a shame to miss the local live music scene. Start at places like the Crocodile and Neumos.

See Snoqualmie Falls. Ooh and aah over the waterfalls that the TV show “Twin Peaks” made famous.

Break for brunch. Seattleites love weekend breakfasts and Salty’s seafood buffet in West Seattle is one of the best, with an eye-popping view of the Seattle skyline.

Seattle, Washington, USA - June 18, 2011: Many people lined the streets and participated in the 2011 summer solstice parade, which is part of the Fremont Fair in Seattle. Funds from the fair raise money for many local non-profits. The fair was founded in 1972 and the free-spirited Solstice Parade is organized by the Fremont Arts Council. It is a celebration of the Fremont neighborhood's motto, “Delibertus Quirkus” – Freedom to be Peculiar. Summer was welcomed with a rainy day in Seattle, but it didn't stop everyone from enjoying the festivities.
Don’t miss the “peculiar” Fremont Solstice Parade held every summer.

Within Six Months

Festival season starts around Memorial Day and there are lots of them ranging from Seattle Folklife and Bumbershoot at the Seattle Center to the Dragonfest in Chinatown and the Fremont Fair. Score bonus points if you bike naked in Fremont’s Solstice Parade.  

Be a good sport. We pretend not to be fans of organized sport, but still fill stadiums for the Seattle Seahawks, the Sounders and, occasionally, the Mariners. If you’re not into ball games, check out the Seafair Hydroplane races in July.

Protest something. It doesn’t matter what. It’s the Seattle way.

Eat at Tom’s. Restaurateur Tom Douglas isn’t from here, but his restaurants are part of the fabric of our dining scene. Don’t miss the coconut cream pie.

The Lime Kiln Light is a functioning navigational aid located on Lime Kiln Point overlooking Dead Man's Bay on the western side of San Juan Island, San Juan County, Washington.
The Lime Kiln Light is a functioning navigational aid located on Lime Kiln Point overlooking Dead Man’s Bay on the western side of San Juan Island.

Within One Year

Now that you know Seattle, it’s time to visit one of the region’s other big destinations. Whale watch in the San Juan Islands, drive down to Portland or cross the border into cosmopolitan Vancouver, BC.

Watch the Apple Cup. It’s not a fruit holder. It’s the annual football game between the University of Washington Huskies and the Cougars. It’s more fun to pick a side even if you aren’t an alum, just to taunt your friends.

Christmas Cruise. Find a bit of beach and have a bonfire along Lake Washington while you wait for this brightly lit flotilla of boats to pass by during the holiday season.

Go to Canlis. Celebrate your surviving your first year here by going to the city’s top special occasion fine dining restaurant, Canlis. It’s a classic Seattle place with amazing food, stunning views and service so good you won’t want to go home.

David Volk