Saturday, September 06, 2014

A Snarky Introvert’s Guide to Seattle


A Snarky Introvert’s Guide to Seattle

A childhood classmate from Chicago will be visiting Seattle soon and she asked me for tourist recommendations other than the obvious Space Needle. I probably put more thought into this than I should’ve, seeing how socially-averse I am. Still, I felt compelled to highlight a few spots from my adopted city.

But before I get to my completely biased Seattle tour guide, I’d like to take a moment to explain how I happened to build a life here. Feel free to scroll down to the guide if you’re not interested or if you want to be a dick about this whole thing. I don’t mind.

Back in 1994-95, I was attending the Navy Training Center in San Diego. I was finishing an advanced electronics course for a radar/missile launching system that I was going to support once I reached my ship in the fleet. Because my GPA was ranked third out of the twelve sailors in the course, I basically had my choice of ships to serve on. (I know that this sounds like shameless humble-bragging, and it is, but hang with me. The payoff is coming up soon.) I had three options for sea duty: 1. one of many ships home-ported in San Diego, 2. a ship home-ported in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii (Hawaii!), or 3. a ship named the USS Ingraham, home-ported in Everett, WA, twenty-five miles north of Seattle.

I know. Shut-up. I know, OK?

Had I been single, I would’ve jumped all over those Pearl Harbor orders. But my first wife had family and a built-in support group already living in Washington State, so it just seemed like the most reasonable choice – reasonable in that any other choice would’ve probably resulted in an argument and/or inevitable divorce. So naturally, I gave her what she wanted, and naturally, six years later we divorced anyway. Initially, this was one of my biggest regrets of my adult life (Other than marrying my first wife, of course. Women, am I right, fellas? *adjusts tie*)

It’s pretty funny how a series of wrong choices for wrong reasons led me here, to a fairly liberal outpost where it’s almost always overcast and rainy, and the locals almost always say things they don’t mean like, “Let’s hang out sometime!” Most Seattleites hate hearing about the infamous “Seattle Freeze” but it does exist, and thank goodness for it. As an introverted nerd with personal space issues, I fit right in here. Despite being slow to trust, Seattleites are polite and remarkably laid-back. This has been an ideal place for me to develop a circle of comfortable acquaintances that don’t trip or pressure me to “come out of my shell” as if there is such a notion. (And to anyone who has ever uttered those words to an introvert, on behalf of all introverts everywhere, I say go eff yourself. I love my shell.)

Through work and play, I have forged acquaintances and friendships with wonderful people who I cherish greatly and continue to make excuses for not seeing on account of me being a social weirdo, and almost all of them know me well enough to not be offended if/when I freak-out and bail on them. More importantly, through online chatrooms, mutual friends, and the idiocy of fate, I met the woman who would become my second wife at The Showbox at the Market. I have no earthly idea how she puts up with me, but she’s still here! So blessed. So blessed.

I am fortune’s fool, fortunate enough to find myself surrounded by good people who accept me, warts and all. That is why I stayed here on the left-coast with the rest of my fellow weirdos. Now Seattleites, Kindly avert your eyes while I give my Chi-Town colleagues a brief tour while lightly roasting Seattle until the beans taste like someone tried to brew them with a Timberland boot. Or as you Seattleites call it, Breakfast Blend.

Also, fuck the Seahawks! (That was a test. Still here? Good.)


The Most Seattle Things to See While in Seattle

(Links to webpages provided in the headings and throughout the essay.)


Ride the Ducks


I am told that some humans enjoy being driven around in an antique motorized amphibious vehicle while an over-caffinated tour guide points out landmarks and occasionally demands that the tourists wave, hoot, holler, and sing corny songs. I’ve never experienced this phenomenon because I am a reasonably sane adult with shit to do, but to each their own.

Verdict: If you have young children or still giggle when you see your feet, do it. Otherwise, skip it.

Counterpoint from Wifey: She rode the Duck, and once that jalopy went into the water, she was certain that she would never live to see dry land again and that dive teams would have to cut the Duck open like a rusted-over sardine can to recover her lifeless body from the deep blue abyss. So there’s that.


Washington Park Arboretum


If you want a peaceful excursion that is off the beaten path, then this is the place for you. The landscape is beautiful, there is a pond full of colorful koi fish, and everything about this place screams chill-the-eff-out and slow down. Unfortunately, young children may quickly become restless with so little to do. You could probably buy yourself 30 minutes if you really upsell the koi fish.

Verdict: If you’re really into Zen or believe you possess legendary parental skills, do it.

Counterpoint from Wifey: You could buy another 45 minutes by having the kids feed the koi their fish food supplied by park patrons. I don’t know if there’s a fee, but there’d damn-well better not be one. I can’t imagine paying someone for the privilege of doing what is clearly a public works job. That’s big-time hustle right there. I’d be like, “Bitch! Y’all better hand me a fistful of dried-up fish pellets for free and stop playin’ with me!” Well, not really; I’d just not buy any and walk away quietly, but you get the idea.


Seattle Art Museum


Pro: It’s easy to get to, I guess? Con: just two or three blocks west of here is the waterfront, so the SAM’s positioning is basically like placing a public library directly next to an amusement park. Full-disclosure: at my former job, I walked past the SAM twice a day, and each time I thought to myself, “I need to go in there and check out some of the exhibits.” I still haven’t set foot in that place, but I will. Someday.

Verdict: I haven’t a damned clue, so if you can resist the allure of the waterfront, roll the dice. Take a chance.

Counterpoint from Wifey: Erin has been to several exhibits here and at its less expensive, slightly less pretentious little brother on the eastside, the Bellevue Art Museum. I recently went to the BAM for an exhibit showcasing the artistry of Japanese American intern camp prisoners, and it really hit me on an emotional level. (I was less taken by the curator who kept following me around as if he feared I was hell-bent on nefarious acts like touching the art, stealing it, rubbing my big black wang-doodle on everything I saw, or whatever the “undesirables” do to earn themselves a constant silent escort, but maybe I’m just being oversensitive.)

(NOTE: After exposure to her college friends, Erin now passionately refers to both venues as “the SAM” and “the BAM” respectively, and she was incredulous to the fact that it took me a moment to figure out what the hell she was talking about because she’s totally not a snobby Seattle scenester at all. Nope. Not even a little bit.)


Seattle Underground Tour


A tour guide takes you down beneath Seattle to show you tunnels, tell you historical anecdotes, and try to spook you with ghost stories. For my Chicago friends, you’ve seen Lower Wacker Drive, right? Now imagine paying good money so someone could take you on a tour of it. Sounds stupid, right?

Verdict: Skip it.

Counterpoint from Wifey: I did not know this, but apparently in the 1800’s Seattle suffered a major fire similar to the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. But instead of razing everything to the ground and starting over, Seattle paved over the whole thing and built on top of it. Therefore, the Seattle underground is an actual ghost town that exists beneath the contemporary city. Isn’t that interesting? No? I didn’t think so either. Is it true? Don’t care? OK… moving on…


Argosy Cruise


Remember that Ride the Duck thing I mentioned earlier? Well replace the rickety amphibious ride with a sleek boat that you stand a far greater chance of surviving on, replace the land/sea tour with just a water tour, and then lower the price a bit and you have yourself an Argosy Cruise. I enjoy seeing Seattle from this vantage point, and – call me crazy – but the lower price/higher survivability chance is probably worth it. Your mileage may vary.

Also, some boats have a full bar! Once, I went to a wedding event hosted on an Argosy boat that had an open bar! Free drinks, brah! You won’t get that, but I did! And… well… that’s pretty much all I remember about that day. Somebody got married, they later had a kid… totally on some circle-of-life shit. All thanks to Argosy.

Verdict: Do it if you can, if not, no worries.


Pike Place Public Market Tour


This is where you watch fish being thrown! This is where you go to throw the fish! This is where you catch the fish being thrown to you! What is the meaning and history behind all this? Glad you asked!

Here’s my answer, based on critical reasoning and extensive observation:


Verdict: Meh. Your call.


Ferry to Bainbridge Island


Wifey Recommended. Take the Ferry to Bainbridge Island for the day and enjoy a five hour day trip on the island with a nice ferry ride and plenty of wonderful sightlines for photo ops. It is difficult to snark-up this option, so I won’t. If you want the quintessential Seattle experience, this is a can’t-miss option. The fresh, salty sea-air permeates the lungs as the ferry gently rocks back and forth beneath your feet. I love the ferries. In fact, take a damn ferry. Any ferry. The destination doesn’t matter (unless you’re unlucky enough to end up in Tacoma. Avoid Tacoma. Just trust me on this.)

Verdict: Take a damn ferry. Any ferry. Avoid Tacoma.


Olympic Sculpture Park


Wifey Recommended. Look, I’ll be frank; you’re arriving in October. It will probably be raining. Possibly windy too. You see all that wide-open, uncovered space? Don’t go to the sculpture park, OK? Trust me on this. Unless you like wet abstract art and soggy hippies, just don’t.

Verdict: Don’t go here, OK? Go take another ferry ride instead.


Seattle Center: A Multi-Venue Experience


This area bustles with activity from tourists, day-trippers, and locals, and it is almost inevitable that you will find yourself here at some point. Here’s a breakdown of some of the key attractions:

Space Needle – self-explanatory. I’ve been there once when my brother came to town. Haven’t been back since. You’ll go because you can’t help yourself.

Experience Music Project (EMP) – A music museum of some type. I haven’t been yet, though numerous Seattleites tell me that I just have to experience it for myself. Because I just have to, you know? Well no one has dragged me there with a gun to my head or taken my wife and kids hostage yet, so I think I’m still safe to continue skipping it for now. Again, your mileage may vary.


Seattle Monorail – This is the endpoint for one the greatest technological mass-transit marvels… of 1962! It will get you from Seattle Center to Westlake (all .96 miles!) in a matter of seconds for the low price of a fare on an actual modern mass-transit vehicle that has far greater range than this clanking fossil because, Seattle! Don’t pass up the chance to ride this polished-turd of a tourist trap that almost guarantees that it probably won’t blow out its brakes and crash, collide with the one other monorail it should’ve been designed to avoid, or just flat-out catch fire!

Seattle Children’s Museum – I’ve heard great things about this place. It is ideal for young children. I hear there’s a butterfly habitat inside. Wifey took our daughter there when she was younger, and the pretty bugs flying around and landing on her creeped her right the fuck out, which sounds awesome! Sadly, there are no photos of this.


IMAX theatre at Pacific Science Center – Self-explanatory. I’ve been here once to see a mediocre animated film about robots. Can’t recall the name of that film for the life of me. Anyway, I haven’t been back since.

(Note from Wifey: The butterfly habitat is actually at the Pacific Science Center, which is also a Seattle Center attraction. Why haven’t I been here yet? I’m a science nerd, and science is right in the flipping name! I show up for a meh IMAX film, but don’t stick around for the SCIENCE? I am ashamed.)

Key Arena – Former home of the Artists Formerly Known as the Seattle Sonics. Last time I was here, the Sonics squared-off against the Detroit Pistons. I saw Rasheed Wallace’s Baldspot up close for the first time and it changed my life. I haven’t the slightest idea of what they use this place for now. I think Jay-Z performs here when he needs gas money for his fleet of private jets or something. Also, I heard rumors about an all-female roller derby league or women’s professional basketball team renting the place for some reason.

Seattle Center Verdict: Inevitable. You’re going to the Space Needle. Don’t even lie and tell me you’re not. Everyone goes. You come to Seattle and you’re guaranteed of consenting to two things: 1. paying to have disgusting, over-roasted, bitter, burnt coffee crammed down your gullet, pausing only for you to nod and say, “Dat coffee was def!” and 2. throwing away good money to be hoisted up a glorified flagpole so you can “see Mt. Rainier gooder.”


Seattle Asian Art Museum and Volunteer Park


I haven’t been here yet, but it is on my to-do list. If you do find yourself in this area, just north of Volunteer Park is Lake View Cemetery. This is the final resting place of movie star, martial artist, and philosopher, Bruce Lee, and his son Brandon Lee. People ask me for key sights to check out while in Seattle and I direct them to the cemetery. I wonder why more folks don’t ask me for things like this?


The Performing Arts

Seattle’s outstanding theatre scene is wildly underrated and understated, which makes absolutely no sense to me. I suspect that this is because Seattleites are too busy yammering on about how long they’ve been Seahawks fans, why Starbucks founder and former Supersonics owner Howard Schulz is the Antichrist, why their particular favorite brand of craft beer or shitty coffee is superior to all others, and why Macklemore is the modern era’s Martin Luther Effing King Jr.

But I digress; if you can, check out some shows!


Act Theatre – Local talent shine in intimate productions (200-500 seat theatres). My first experience with this wonderful theatre was the play A Christmas Carol. We loved it so much that it became one of our annual holiday traditions. Last year, we branched out and saw numerous non-holiday productions and we haven’t seen a bad play yet.

I’m at about 2,300 words now, and I should probably wrap this up, so I’ll give you the abridged versions of the remaining options.

Seattle Theatre – A listing of live Broadway shows in Seattle.

Seattle Theatre Group – A Non-profit arts organization.


Dining Options


Ivar’s Pier 54 Fish Bar – Good, fresh seafood, great service, kid-friendly, scenic view of the Puget Sound. Feed the seagulls, sometimes even against your will! (They are crafty thieves, worthy of a warrior’s death French fry or two.)

Elephant and Castle – Good food, wonderfully friendly service, kid-friendly, incredibly chill vibe. If Jeff is your bartender, say hi and tell him you know me.


T.S. McHugh's Irish Pub & Restaurant – One block from Seattle Center, a cozy Irish pub, great food and atmosphere.

I’ll go ahead and stop there. What about you, Seattleites? Do you have any can’t-miss sites for my visiting Chicagoans to check out? Any tourists-traps that you recommend they avoid? Any bitches, gripes or complaints about my guide to Seattle and/or my glaring lack of Seattle knowledge? Feel free to add them in the comments.


  1. 918 E. John Street is where you can find this beloved Seattle landmark. The "Mystery Coke Machine" on Capitol Hill is a 70's era soda dispenser...but it seems to have an endless supply of soda to quench the thirsts of natives and visitors alike.
    The Fremont Troll is another favorite, perhaps my love of Grimm's fairytales plays into that...but it is close to "Beth's Cafe" a grungy diner with the best breakfast menu (12 egg omelette anyone?) and a chillax vibe.
    "The Swinery" in West Seattle is a great spot for lunch after walking the beach @ Alki--> order the "Danger Fries" handcut fried in pork fat seasoned with smoked sea salt and topped with a blue cheese bechamel sauce

  2. Continued from above: "The Swinery" also has awesome organic grass fed beef burgers with your choice of bacon or PORK BELLY!! Eat in the lovely courtyard next door-but its super small and gets busy fast so get there early. Swinery also operates a fine butchery so grab some brats or ribs to take home and enjoy for later.
    Salty's on Alki is the place to take your guests to impress. Call ahead to request a window/view table reservation for the Sunday ALL YOU CAN EAT BUFFET. Chocolate fondue fountain? Check! Omelettes to order? Check! Build your own bloody mary bar? Top shelf liquor? CHECK CHECK!! Cornicopia of crab legs and prawns on ice? Check! Worth the steep price? WITHOUT A DOUBT, YES!!!
    The Northwest Railway Museum in Snoqualmie is a must for the kiddos as well as a visit to Snoqualmie Falls and hike to the bottom of the falls is breath taking-coming back is all uphill, but do able. Visit "Scott's Dairy Freeze" in North Bend for yummy slushies, shakes and really good hamburgers-it is a dumpy dive, but a local favorite-it wont disappoint. Pop into "Twede's Twim Peaks Cafe" for a slice of cherry pie-Fans of the series "Twin Peaks" from the 80's will recognize the signifigance of this Cafe immediately-many scenes from the series were filmed here-Cherry pie and coffee being a favorite of many of the characters. The Snoqualmie Casino hosts many great concerts, has several lovely upscale dining options and of course gambling (I hate crowds-so I stick w/ seated concerts and the buffet or asian restaraunts.

  3. The "Gum wall" is a Seattle tourist favorite. I've been here 9 years and have never gone myself. I'll take everyone's word that it is a fun experience. I am quite content with the amount of expectorant substances my three children produce.

    1. I never understood the allure of a wall of chewed bubblegum. Just looking at it would make me wanna douse myself with Purell.

  4. Question #1 - What's the deal with Tacoma? Why should I avoid it?

    1. I've heard a few good Tacoma experiences, but the overwhelming majority of Tacoma stories sound like this one:

  5. Barry, thanks for the incredible amount of time and energy you've put into developing such a comprehensive list of things to do while in Seattle. Now I'm having a hard time deciding what to do in the 48 hours that I'll be there. So far, I think we'll visit the Seattle Center and take in the infamous glorified flagpole (LOL!!!). No trip to Seattle would be complete without taking in at least a glimpse. I think we'll try one of the ferries but is it really five hours? I'll have to check their website. We've heard that we must stop by Pike Place Market so we'll pop in and see what the hoopla is all about. We'll try T.S. McHugh's for lunch and The Crab Pot after the game on Sunday. Whew! I'm sure I'll be tired by then.

    We plan to return in April for one day. We're taking a trip down the west coast by train. Yes, by train. My husband works for the railroad so it's complementary. We'll be in Seattle one day and will take the train to San Francisco. We'll spend a few days in Frisco then hop back on the train to Los Angeles for a few days and conquer Disneyland among other places. By then, I'll be tired again and we'll fly back. While in Seattle for the one day in April, I plan to visit Snoqualmie Falls and the Northwest Railway Museum.

    Thanks again for the information. I absolutely appreciate it. You've helped me cut down on the amount of internet surfing that I'll have to do at work and my boss will appreciate it too!

  6. Oh...I almost forgot to mention your dry wit had me in stitches.

  7. Well..this was a surprise. There were words in there I have never heard before but they sound hilarious. I have never been to the States.My favourite bit was your reaction to the curator secretly following you about at the gallery. A sort of Seattle version of Inspector Clouseau. I think this could be one of the funniest things I have ever read especially your colourful description and expressive term for the boast about your physical prowess...( Chuckles)

  8. I haven't been to Seattle but will certainly check out your recommendations when we do visit ~ My hubby has relatives there and we have been meaning to go someday ~ Have a good week Barry ~ Enjoyed this one ~