Downtown Seattle is literature, from its magnetic waterfront parks to its stunning architecture. With bars, cafes, and bookstores packed into each block and a view of the water from the top of every hill, the city center is the final sentence of a book so good you hate to put it down.
Practically everything worth seeing in the city is located downtown, an area which includes the Central Waterfront and the neighborhoods of Belltown, First Hill, and Pioneer Square. First Avenue alone houses the Seattle Art Museum, 104-year-old Pike Place Market, and the entrance to Underground Seattle in Pioneer Square, a subterranean network of shop fronts that were street level before the Great Seattle Fire of 1889. Downtown is nothing if not historic, and further proof of this lies in the century-old Moore and Paramount theaters, both built in the early 1900s.
Lest visitors think the city is comprised entirely of buildings erected before the Taft administration, the new central branch of the Seattle Public Library is a modern-day lesson in geometry. The 11-story, 363,000-square-foot structure was designed by Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, and ranks #108 on the American Institute of Architects’ list of 150 favorite American buildings. Its magnificent steel frame and glass walls jut out at sharp and unexpected angles and give the appearance of an iridescent patchwork of windows.
Also downtown is Benaroya Hall, home of the Seattle Symphony. Another building, the Washington State Convention & Trade Center, hosts such events as the annual Flower & Garden Show and the Emerald City ComiCon, where costume-clad comics enthusiasts are among the most kindred of spirits.
The Seattle Center has teemed with tourists and locals ever since the 1962 Seattle World’s Fair—a mammoth event for which the Space Needle and the monorail were specifically built. The center is a hotbed of iconic city sights: the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the Seattle Opera (both performed in McCaw Hall); the Experience Music Project/Science Fiction Hall of Fame; the Seattle Children’s Museum; headquarters of the Seattle International Film Festival; the Seattle Shakespeare Company; Key Arena, once home to the ex-Seattle Supersonics (basketball); and the Pacific Science Center, complete with an IMAX theater and the space to accommodate such enormous (and enormously popular) exhibits as Harry Potter: The Exhibition and Star Wars: Where Science Meets Imagination.
Sports fans who are not entirely distraught by the abrupt relocation of the Seattle’s beloved basketball team to Oklahoma City can scramble for the chance to catch a foul ball during a Mariners game at Safeco Field. Another stadium, Quest Field, is the home turf of the NFL Seahawks and the Sounders Football Club, the latter despite being fairly new to Major League Soccer, has garnered the largest fan base in the league.
Just north of the stadium district, the Central Waterfront is a string of docks and piers protruding like wooden jetties from the city’s shores. Ferries shuttle passengers to and from Bremerton and Bainbridge Island, and the Victoria Clipper sails daily to Victoria. The Port of Seattle operates a cruise port that services familiar lines like Royal Caribbean and Holland America. Argosy Cruises tours the major waterways of the region, including Elliott Bay and Lake Union, and passes through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (known to locals as the Ballard Locks)—allowing boats to move from the salt water of Puget Sound into the fresh water of the Ship Canal (and vice versa) by regulating the water level through a system of gates and channels. The Central Waterfront also houses the Seattle Aquarium, the third most popular paid attraction in the state.
Belltown offers much of the city’s nightlife, as well as the Olympic Sculpture Park—an outdoor art installation operated by the Seattle Art Museum—and Myrtle Edwards Park, which has a picnic area, running trails, and beach access.
- • Downtown Seattle: www.seattle.gov/tour/dntn.htm
- • Belltown: www.belltown.org
- • Central Waterfront: waterfrontseattle.org/
- • First Hill: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/First_Hill,_Seattle
- • Pioneer Square: www.seattle.gov/tour/pioneer.htm
- • Ballard Locks: www.seattle.gov/tour/locks.htm
- • Pacific Science Center: www.pacsci.org
- • Seattle Art Museum: www.seattleartmuseum.org
- • Seattle Center: www.seattlecenter.com
- • Seattle Central Library: www.spl.org
- • Washington State Convention & Trade Center: www.wsctc.com