What to Do in Seattle

Local expert and "Seattle Magazine" lifestyle editor Ali Brownrigg shares her short list of where to eat, sleep, drink, shop and more in the Emerald City.

Seattle is nestled between mountain ranges, surrounded by water and blessed with a long drizzly season that ensures a verdant year-round landscape. Highly influenced by the scrappy pioneering spirit that put the city on the map, as well as a close ties to the Pacific Rim, this refined but relaxed town is filled with independent and innovative people who drive the region’s unique cultural scene.


For easy access to the cosmopolitan center, make your home base downtown. The modern Four Seasons (99 Union St.; 206-749-7000), with sweeping views of Elliott Bay and the Olympic mountains, is ideally situated by the Seattle Art Museum, Pike Place Market and great dining and shopping options. The relative newcomer has 147 rooms, including 13 luxury suites and a rare outdoor rooftop infinity pool for the few short months of spectacular weather. But if your tastes run more toward the ornate, The Fairmont Olympic Hotel (411 University St.; 206-621-1700) has been Seattle’s premier hotel since 1924, thanks to its Italian Renaissance–inspired architectural decor and formal, polished service. The enclosed, sky-lit swimming pool area feels like a hidden retreat, and high tea in the soaring Georgian Room restaurant is a perennial favorite. Don’t miss designer Luly Yang’s in-hotel atelier for stunning bridal and couture gowns. Visiting dignitaries (the Sultan of Brunei once stayed there for months) and celebrities often select a room in the swanky yet understated Alexis Hotel (1007 First Ave.; 206-624-4844). Top accommodations include the 1,200-square-foot SAM Suite, named after the city’s art museum and decked with a curated art collection.


No foodie pilgrimage to Seattle is complete without a visit to family owned Canlis (2576 Aurora Ave. N.; 206-283-3313), the city’s most prestigious restaurant since 1960. With its sleek, midcentury modern building in the Queen Anne neighborhood, Canlis is the only restaurant in town that requests men wear a suit or sport coat, and diners can expect an exquisite meal of uncompromising quality. (Don’t miss the Canlis salad and the divine twice-baked potato.) At the other end of town, The Corson Building (5609 Corson Ave. S.; 206-762-3330), one of chef Matt Dillon’s excellent restaurants, is perhaps his most picturesque. Situated in an historic house in the gritty Georgetown area, the restaurant is notable for its elegant, rough-hewn interior and wild, rambling garden, as well as the fresh, interesting and always changing menu. Given its history as a working port, Seattle has fewer waterfront dining options than one might think, which is just one of the reasons why Westward (2501 N. Northlake Way; 206-552-8215) is one of the city’s culinary darlings. Positioned on the banks of Lake Union, it has a view that is a treat all its own, while dishes boast a deft command of Mediterranean flavors. Spinasse (1531 14th Ave.; 206t-251-7673), in trendy Capitol Hill, is one of the city’s most intimate restaurants, complete with flickering candlelight, lace curtains and expertly prepared Piedmontese cuisine led by wunderkind Jason Stratton. The specialty of the house, tajarin pasta (made with a higher proportion of egg yolk) tossed with butter and sage, is simply transcendent.

Bars & Lounges

No one makes better cocktails than the bartenders at Canon (928 12th Ave.). Boasting a huge spirit collection, this atmospheric Central District bar makes the city’s most expensive cocktail—the $1,100 Vintage Brandy Crusta (J.G. Monnet Cognac 1875, Cointreau 1930, Maraschino 1960, lemon juice and Peychaud’s)—but everything they create is good. Pioneer Square is the city’s reawakening historical district, and E. Smith Mercantile (208 First Ave. S.; 206-641-7250) is leading the charge. Belly up to the bar and choose from a menu heavily influenced by Seattle’s boom-time heyday with drinks named Gold Rush (rum, Cocchi Americano, curry tincture and lemon) and Miner’s Campfire (Scotch, tequila, grapefruit, honey and smoke bitters). Damn the Weather (116 First Ave. S.; 206-946-1283), also in Pioneer Square, is a much-lauded newbie to the scene and is a critical success for both its beverage and food menu. While the bar attracts a younger local set, the menu at Belltown’s Rob Roy (2332 Second Ave.; 206-956-8423) lists many interesting and pricey pours and is a perennial favorite among brown-liquor aficionados.


Expect world-class department stores and a vibrant boutique scene that makes the style set right at home in Seattle. Capitol Hill’s Totokaelo (1523 Tenth Ave.; 206-623-3582) is the city’s most destination-worthy boutique for men, women and home wares (over 80 percent of its bustling online sales come from New York City). Whitewashed walls complement the shop’s pantheon of designers like Acne, Margiela and Rick Owens. Belltown’s Baby & Company (1936 First Ave.; 206-448-4077), one of the city’s oldest and best boutiques, has been selling chic for almost 40 years. The first store to introduce Kenzo and Yohji Yamamoto to the city’s locals now focuses on hot European brands, including  Antoni & Alison and Nigel Cabourne. Just next door, Jack Straw (1930 First Ave.; 206-462-6236) is a small but mighty boutique with an extensively curated inventory of sharp Italian suits for men and stylish separates from Marni and Issey Miyaki for women. With its grand staircase and downtown location, Mario’s (1513 Sixth Ave.; 206-223-1461) is where to go for a stellar selection of Brunello Cucinelli, Etro and Armani, and equally stellar customer service. If Gary Graham and Isabel Marant are more your métier, head to Fremont’s Les Amis (3420 Evanston Ave. N.; 206-632-2877), a charming store filled with gorgeous, well-organized clothing with a bohemian bent.

Art & Culture

Don’t let the weather deter you from visiting the Olympic Sculpture Park (2901 Western Ave.; 206-654-3100), one of the city’s cultural jewels. Spend a few hours at this free, open-air museum and enjoy larger-than-life art from Alexander Calder and Jaume Plensa, whose Echo sculpture, an elongated female head, stares serenely out at Elliot Bay. Glass art is big in Seattle thanks to Dale Chihuly (305 Harrison St.; 206-753-4940), who has designed colorful installations for the Bellagio in Las Vegas, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and now at his eponymous Garden and Glass space at the Seattle Center (also home to the Space Needle). Explore the world of regional art at two highly regarded galleries: Pioneer Square’s Greg Kucera (212 Third Ave. S.; 206-624-0770) and South Lake Union’s Winston Wächter (203 Dexter Ave. N.; 206-652-5855), which also has a New York outpost. Both are well regarded for their modern art in a variety of mediums, from photography to mixed-media painting.