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Washington - Seattle: Native's Notes on the Emerald City

Sarah N Walker

The following is a rundown of some of the most popular and central neighborhoods as well as my tips for each area. I grew up in Magnolia and, therefore, am biased towards Seattle (not an eastside fan or insider here). I also tend to know the north better than the south. So I apologize for my limited perspective.

Pioneer Square

When I think of Pioneer Square, I think of five things, in the following order

  • Old brick buildings occupied by rug shops and pubs, except for the Elliott Bay Book Company (see Pauline's travel notes on Seattle).
  • Bums hanging out in the square and in the nearby parks.
  • Late night partying at the (above) pubs and discos.
  • Mariner and Seahawk madness on game days.
  • The Underground Tour, which I somehow missed, despite going to Seattle schools.

Any visitor to Seattle has to include Pioneer Square on her list. It is one of the few remnants of early Seattle, and the so-called Underground Tour takes you through the earliest buildings erected by settlers and burned down in the fire that destroyed much of the city in 1889. You can get to the area by walking down the waterfront or down First Avenue from Pike Place Market. The white Smith Tower (best seen from the ugly Viaduct highway) was once the tallest building in Seattle. The old rail station is undergoing heavy restoration. Stop inside to have a look at the photos of what it once looked like (and will hopefully resemble when construction is finished).


This is about as central as you can get. In the last five years or so Belltown has bloomed into a thriving residential area with many new apartment and condo buildings rising to the skyline. The area hosts a ton of great cafes and bars and is well-worth a visit in the evening or combined with either the Pike Place Market or the Seattle Center.

Belltown Restaurants

CJ's, 2169 1st Ave, tel: 206-728-1648
This spot if popular with locals for breakfast. Just about everything is good in this no-frills diner cafe. I don't think they take reservations, so just show up.

Jai Thai, 2132 1st Ave, tel: 206-770-7884
This inexpensive Thai restaurant has a sister in Fremont and both offer the same (good) quality and variety of Thai food. The wait staff is friendly, too.

El Gaucho, 2505 1st Ave
This is a high-end steakhouse and cigar bar popular with some famous locals, including professional athletes. The reputation is very good. I am not the kind of person to go to a steakhouse, but if you are, this is the one. Reservations (necessary) can be made online.

Cyclops, 2421 1st Ave, tel: 206-441-1167
Small bar on the corner with a giant eyeball sign that cannot be missed, this place has a nice atmosphere and decent drinks.

Crocodile Cafe, 2200 2nd Ave, tel: 206-441-5611
This is an institution in Seattle for live music throughout the week. Check the web schedule.

Queen Anne

A highly desirable place to live, Queen Anne is conveniently located in the city with important features surrounding it. Just North of the Seattle Center, enclosed by the shipyard canal and bordered on the east by Lake Union, the neighborhood offers charming older homes, beautiful views and a good selection of shops, cafes and restaurants, most located on or around Queen Anne Avenue. The Thriftway at the top of the hill has always offered a large selection of gourmet foods, wines and cheeses, and Trader Joe's found an ideal location at the south end of the hill. To see Queen Anne at its elitist, drive or walk south along Highland Drive and see mansions with sweeping views south to downtown and Mt. Rainier.

Queen Anne Restaurants

Caffe Ladro (Lower and Upper Queen Anne)
This small coffee shop chain serves only Fair Trade beans and brew and is a mouthpiece for fair wage business in the Seattle area. The coffee is good, the setting pleasant and the staff very friendly. See the website for various locations, two of which are on Queen Anne Hill, one in Fremont.

Dick's, 500 Queen Anne Ave N, tel: 206-205-5155
Serving Seattle since 1954, this is one of five in a chain of drive-in burger joints, only this one isn't a drive-in. They have a funky old seating area, just across from the Uptown cinema and down the street from Key Arena. Locals love the food here, and it is remarkably similar to what it once was. Not everyone from out of town will rave about it, but maybe it is a local thing-you grow up eating it and it becomes the standard. One good thing is that the Dick's employees add up the total in their heads, adding tax and everything. For such skills, they are paid fairly well and receive financial incentives to stay in school and do well.

Restaurants on the upper part of Queen Anne Avenue (on the hill)

Pasta Bella, 1530 Queen Anne Ave N, tel: 206-284-9827
This is our favorite Italian restaurant in Seattle. Perhaps the best dish on the menu is the Involtini di Pollo, a Roulade of chicken breast stuffed with apricot, bacon, nuts and other delicious things. The sister restaurant is located on busy 15th Ave W in Ballard.

Queen Anne Cafe, 2121 Queen Anne Ave N, tel: 206-285-2060
This popular cafe in the heart of Queen Anne's commercial center is often overflowing on Sunday mornings with people wanting to have brunch. The food is good, the prices okay, if not a tad pricey, but overall, a nice way to start a day up on the hill.

Firefly, 2128 Queen Anne Ave N, tel: 206-694-0055
More at the northern end of Queen Anne Avenue, this newer restaurant offers delicious American cuisine-home cooked style meals, like Chicken and Dumplings, Sweet Potato Casserole and the like. It is not cheap, but the food is delicious.

Queen Anne Shops

Queen Anne Avenue's northern side is host to many little shops and boutiques.

Mail & Dispatch, 2212 Queen Anne Avenue
Eclectic mix of women's items and postal services!

Ravenna Gardens, 2201 Queen Anne Avenue
Local chain with nice garden and home accessories.

Homing Instinct, 1612 Queen Anne Avenue
A nice store with home accessories.

Hilltop Yarn and Needlepoint, 2224 Queen Anne Avenue
A good source for knitters.

All the Best Pet Care, 2127 Queen Anne Avenue
This is the equivalent of the yuppie's pet shop. Perfect for Queen Anne!

Trader Joe's, 100 W Galer St (at the S end of the hill)
Arguably the most popular supermarket.

Lower Queen Anne Shops

(near the Seattle Center and down the Counterbalance)

Champion Party Store, 124 Denny Way
This is an institution - party supplies and costumes.

Monkey Love Rubber Stamps, 623 Queen Anne Ave N
Been there forever, they DO stamps.


This is a centrally located area which is, however, an island in many ways. Flanked by the sound to the west and the south and the Ship Canal and Elliott Bay to the north, Magnolia is only reachable by three bridges. This (largely symbolic) distance makes the home of about 25,000 seem suburb-like in many ways. The largest park in the city, located in the NW corner and overlooking Elliott/Salmon Bays is an oasis in itself. If, however, you go for a nice walk, run or drive along Magnolia Boulevard, you will soon see just how close Magnolia is to downtown. At the south end of the Boulevard you will find spectacular views as far as Mt. Rainier; a great spot to watch the July 4th fireworks from.

For a bit of history and some nice views, visit the Hiram Chittenden Locks located in the north part of Magnolia, just east of Discovery Park, or in the underbelly of Ballard. Created in 1919, the Locks connected Lake Union to Puget Sound, facilitating (immensely) shipping and trade. Do not miss stopping in the visitor's center and the fish ladder, nor wandering through the lovely Botanical Garden. Looking across from the Ballard side, you will see a lovely residential area which leads out westwards to a point. Just ninety years ago this area was still inhabited by members of the local Duwamish tribe who fished and traded on the shores of Elliott and neighbouring Shilshole Bay until they were "relocated" by US authorities to reservations.

Restaurants in Magnolia

Wild Salmon Fish Market
Located in Fisherman's Terminal just off from the Ballard Bridge and Emerson St. is a complex with Chinook's restaurant. Next door is an excellent fish market, which offers fresh seafood at better prices than Pike Place Market, and is run by a local couple and their very helpful, friendly and knowledgeable staff. Don't know what to do with a Dungeness Crab? Don't worry, they have it all worked out for you on a handy leaflet with their favorite recipes and cooking tips. If you are in the mood for fish and chips, you can go around the corner to Little Chinooks. But be prepared to take a Tums afterwards. That batter is rich!!

Romio's, 2001 W Dravus St, tel: 206-720-8804
This local pizzeria has always offered a good alternative to the commercial chains. Plenty of good combinations, though this is not a thin crust house.

Szmania's, 3321 W McGraw St, tel: 206-284-7305
This is the gourmet restaurant run by Ludger Szamania (German-born former chef at the Four Seasons Hotel) that has people coming from other parts of the city to dine on regional specialties and some German fare. About 15 years old, the enterprise has faired well, with Szmania now offering cooking classes, opening a second restaurant in Kirkland, and dabbling in a line of food products.

Palisade, 2601 W Marina Place, tel: 206-285-1000
Under the Magnolia Bridge at the terminal is one of the nicest restaurants in town. Beautiful views of Elliott Bay complement the good food. Not inexpensive, caters to a mixed crowd.

Capitol Hill

This neighborhood, and particularly its center on Broadway, is Seattle's Punk and Gay/Lesbian area, but it is much more than that. Capitol Hill has some of the oldest and loveliest homes in Seattle.

Capitol Hill Restaurants

Julia's on Broadway, 300 Broadway E, tel: 206-860-1818
The original Julia's in Wallingford was one of my favorites. The sister restaurant of Julia's is now located on Broadway and the food is just as good. There are some original creations and plenty of creative options for vegans and vegetarians. Non-pretentious.

Dick's, 115 E Broadway, tel: 206-323-1300
See the above description for the Queen Anne location. A piece of Seattle history and culture.

B & O Espresso, 204 Belmont Ave E, tel: 206-322-5028
Popular with students from Seattle University and locals, this cafe is the closest it gets to the European style coffee and cake kind of experience. The surroundings themselves, which are a bit run-down, include mixed furniture, wall paintings and funky carpet. They just add to the experience.

Capitol Hill Shops

There are just too many to mention! Walk along Broadway from Aloha down to about Pike St. This is a great place to find quick bites to eat, vintage clothing, gifts and clubbing gear.

REI, 220 Yale Ave, tel: 206-223-1944
Not just a store, this outdoor outfitter was a pioneer, opening up in Seattle in 1944 at another Capitol Hill location. Now the new complex, with climbing wall, trails and testing grounds for their products is a sightseeing destination in itself. You can rent skis, snowshoes and all sorts of gear here, or buy it, get planning advice, and take care of all your needs before embarking on your outdoor excursion. This shop is best reached by car, as it is wedged between the Mercer and Denny exits from I-5, and at the foot of Capitol Hill near Lake Union.

Beacon Hill

This neighborhood was mostly middle class and white until the late 1960`s, when minorities from neighboring areas to the south and many Asian immigrants moved in. Lately, however, many of the older homes are being bought, renovated and turned around on the market to people looking for central living and not too exorbitant a price. That being said, I imagine that the local Vietnamese joints and mom and pop shops will soon be replaced by upscale yuppy-catering businesses, but it is too soon to say. Nevertheless, I haven't got any recommendations because I rarely go there. But do try, yourself!


Known as the "Center of the Universe" by the inhabitants, Fremont is in a world of its own. Between rockets on street corners and VW bug trolls under bridges, this place is definitely eccentric. Walk around the streets just west of the bridge and discover plenty of boutiques and artsy shops. Plenty of fun cafes and restaurants are within a 3-4 block radius. Despite all of the new waterfront development and subsequent uproar, Fremont has not lost its charm. Do not miss the Fremont festivals, details of which can be found on the link to the Chamber of Commerce above.

Fremont Restaurants

Sergio's, 707 N 34th St, tel: 206-632-6885
A newer Mexican restaurant in one of the new buildings just east of the bridge (it's called the Adobe Solstice Plaza), you can get fresh corn tortillas (made right near the register) and wholesome Mexican food. They have outdoor seating for good weather and friendly wait staff. Afterwards grab a coffee at the neighboring Torrefazione or walk up Fremont Ave to the Still Life Cafe (below).

Still Life Cafe, 709 N 35th St, tel: 206-547-9850
This is a special place with art, music and regulars. Every time my Portland-loving, California-born, Pacific-Grove-residing brother-in-law comes up for a visit, he packs his books and laptop in a bag and steals out in the morning to spend a good half day at this cafe, drinking good coffee and just being.

Triangle Lounge, 3507 Fremont Place N, tel: 206-632-0880
Sort of an institution, this old triangular brick building has a cafe that is popular and worth a visit.

Essential Baking, 1604 N 34th St, tel: 206-545-0333
This organic bakery has a small cafe and a fabulous selection fresh baked goods. It is already a favorite of many locals and makes a great stop on a walk along the Burke Gilman trail and the north side of Lake Union. It is a bit further east on the way towards the University District.

Fremont Shops

There are just too many fun ones to mention-trendy, European boutiques; bath and garden shops; antique malls galore; gift stores; bookshops; specialty food. These are the streets you need to walk along:

  • Fremont Ave (go up from the bridge)
  • Fremont Place N (just East of Fremont Ave)
  • 34th, 35th and 36th St


Ballard's historic center (a small Nordic fishing district) is experiencing a revival. Walk along the streets south of Market to see old brick buildings occupied by trendy boutiques, taverns with nightly music and good restaurants. For a nice day, visit the Ballard  Locks (Hiram Chittenden Locks-see Magnolia) and then walk along Seaview Avenue up to Golden Gardens. Shilshole Bay is beautiful on a sunny day, and the views of the port, the Olympic Mountains and of Discovery Park are worth seeing. For dinner or lunch one could stop at Ray's Boathouse, one of the best known seafood restaurants in Seattle.

Ballard Restaurants

Ray's Boathouse, 6049 Seaview Ave, tel: 206-789-3770
The old one was so good, that when it burned down nearly 20 years ago they rebuilt the restaurant. Enjoy the gorgeous views and great seafood; a romantic place to eat.

Thaiku Noodle House, 5410 Ballard Ave, tel: 206-706-7807
This place used to be located on Fremont Ave in Fremont, but has since moved to the heart of a gentrified Ballard. An architecturally interesting old building with yummy Thai food and, in particular, soups.

Madam K`s, 5327 Ballard Ave, tel: 206-783-9701
This is a newish pizza place in Ballard that looks interesting. Set in a former brothel, it plays on the theme of love and eroticism, all the while serving good food, according to the reviews. Give it a try. I definitely will when I next visit home.

Ballard Shops

Walk along Market St East of 24th Street and down towards the canal on Ballard Ave and neighboring streets.

Archie McPhee, 2428 NW Market St, tel: 206-297-0240
Archie's used to be a Fremont shop, but moved about 6 years ago to its current home in Ballard just a bit up from the Ballard Locks. You come here to find strange gifts, tacky decorations, Pez dispensers, lunchboxes, things made of rubber and plastic-wacky merchandise from American pop culture throughout different decades. They have it all. They also do a mail-order catalog. Prepare to laugh walking around this store.

Excellent Places to Walk

Magnolia Boulevard: Lined with Madrona trees, this beautiful road overlooks Elliott Bay and downtown to the south and west. Along the East side are some of Magnolia's prettiest properties.

Queen Anne's Highland Drive: A lovely road featuring some of the most elite Seattle addresses and the most impressive homes and views.

West Seattle's Alki Beach: The beach to the north of West Seattle with a sweeping view of downtown.

The Burke Gilman Trail: Along the north side of the Ship Canal-from Fremont to the University District.

Golden Gardens Beach: At the north end of Seaview Ave, up the road from the Ballard Lock's, Ray's Boathouse and the Shilshole Bay Marina in Ballard.

Greenlake: Walk around the man-made lake and explore the north end for a slice of real Seattle life.

Discovery Park: In NW Magnolia, this lovely park has trails, sand dunes and a Native American cultural center (Daybreak Star) complete with annual pow-wows.


www.undergroundtour.com: Underground Tour

www.pikeplacemarket.org: Pike Place Market

www.seattlecenter.com: Seattle Center

www.nws.usace.army.mil: Hiram Chittenden Locks

www.fremontseattle.com: Fremont

www.inballard.com: Ballard

www.unitedindians.com: Native American cultural center

www.ci.seattle.wa.us/parks/parkspaces/alki.htm: West Seattle's Alki Beach

www.cityofseattle.net: City of Seattle, information for many parks

seattletimes.nwsource.com/pacificnw/2003/1012/nowthen.html: Duwamish tribe who fished and traded on the shores of Elliott and neighboring Shilshole Bay until they were "relocated" by US authorities to reservations.

Sarah was born and raised in Seattle, Washington but currently lives in Munich, Germany.

© Sarah N Walker

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