Charyn’s Seattle

In June 2010, food, travel, and lifestyle journalist Charyn Pfeuffer swapped her BlackBerry for a backpack to volunteer with 12 community projects in 12 countries over 12 months. After volunteering more than 900 hours for her Global Citizen Project, she’s back home in Seattle, Washington, to share all things food, travel, and volunteering. In another Wednesday edition of I Heart My City, read Charyn’s insider tips to Seattle, then tell us what you love about the Emerald City in the comments section below.

Seattle Is My City

The first place I take a visitor from out of town is Ray’s Boathouse, a restaurant in Ballard. The views of seals playing, Puget Sound, and snow-capped Olympic Mountains from the upstairs deck are pretty spectacular. Plus, you see working fishing boats returning to Salmon Bay with their catch, so the seafood is about as fresh as it gets.

When I crave a Bloody Mary I always go to Matt’s In the Market. This second-story restaurant and bar right across from the throngs of tourists at Pike Place Market epitomizes Pacific Northwest cuisine and sensibilities. Its Bloody Mary pays homage to the region’s Scandinavian heritage by subbing Aquavit for vodka. I love that it comes with a snit of Miller High Life.

If I want a nature fix, I go to the Cascade Mountains. Mount Si is a decent six-mile hike, which takes folks through multiple ecosystems to its 4,167-foot peak. It scores extra points for being dog-friendly.

For complete quiet, I can hide away at Fremont Peak Park. This postage-stamp-size community park on a residential stretch is a quick dog walk from my house and offers panoramic views of Ballard, the bridge, and Salmon Bay. It’s one of my favorite places to watch the sun set.

If you come to my city, get your picture taken with Rachel, the bronze piggy bank at Pike Place Market. The word on the street is that since 1986, she’s collected roughly $7,000 in currency from around the world.

If you have to order one thing off the menu from Marination Mobile (voted America’s Best Food Truck by Good Morning America), it has to be the kalbi beef tacos. The nunya sauce really makes these three-bite delights, and I’m grateful that my go-to Wednesday food truck has finally bottled the stuff for sale. (The truck moves from neighborhood to neighborhood throughout the week.)

Ballard Farmers Market is my one-stop shop for great produce, fish, meat, eggs, bread – you name it. If it’s local/in season, this well-attended market will have it. It’s held every Sunday from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. My dog, Gus, makes a beeline for Wilson Fish for salmon skins, where fishmongers will tell you exactly when the salmon and halibut were pulled from the water.

Locals know to skip Starbucks and check out Lighthouse Roasters instead. This tiny neighborhood coffee shop has been roasting beans in vintage machines since 1995 and makes the best mocha I’ve had in Seattle. I brew it with a French press at home daily but regularly visit the shop for its perfect foam and unpretentious baristas.

When I’m feeling cash-strapped I take advantage of Seattle’s twice-daily happy hours. There’s absolutely no reason to not eat and drink well in Emerald City. Early happy hour is pretty standard across the board, typically with deep discounts on food and booze. Late-night happy hour usually lures imbibers with cheap food deals.

In my city, an active day outdoors involves renting a canoe or rowboat from the Waterfront Activities Center (WAC) at University of Washington and paddling around Lake Washington. It’s a cheap afternoon– rentals are only $8.50 an hour.

My city’s best museum is the Museum of History & Industry. It’s hardly a cutting-edge facility, nor the flashiest venue in town, but I’m a nerd for time and place facts, and this museum chronicles 150 years of Seattle’s history. If I had to rate a favorite museum based on its gift shop, Seattle Art Museum (SAM) takes the retail win, hands down. The pottery, jewelry, and knit goods in that place are well worth maxxing out your credit card.

My favorite jogging/walking route is around Greenlake. I do in-line skating, walk my dogs, or dish with my girlfriends on its 2.8-mile loop. During the summer, you can swim in the lake (dogs, too!). In cooler months, I grab a pre-stroll Mexican hot chocolate at Chocolati Café near Stroud Avenue North.

Tavolàta is the spot for late-night eats. Belying Belltown’s meathead stereotype, this is where food-obsessed locals hang out late at night and where chefs eat on their night off.  Chef/owner Ethan Stowell’s (Food & Wine Best New Chef 2008) delicate, handmade pastas are dream- and drool-inducing carbs. (He grinds his own wheat for the pasta.)

To find out what’s going on at night and on the weekends, read the Stranger, one of our two alternative weekly newspapers.

You can tell if someone is from my city if the skin is translucent. Vitamin D deficiency is a real issue in Seattle during its gloomy winter months.

For a great breakfast joint try the Dish. The Slacker Especial, a fancy version of migas, will fix any hangover. There’s almost always a wait, but there’s self-serve coffee on the sidewalk to keep the hungry masses warm and caffeinated.

Just outside my city, you can visit Whidbey Island. It’s a quick ferry trip from Mukilteo, and the island is the perfect day-trip getaway with wineries (Whidbey Island Winery is quite good), local Penn Cove mussels (in Coupeville), and Deception Pass State Park (35 miles of trails). Remarkable bridges make me weak in the knees, and the arched version at Deception Pass is a suspended, two-lane stunner.

The most random thing about my city is the statue of Lenin in the Fremont neighborhood.

For a night of dancing, go to Century Ballroom in Capitol Hill. Evening classes and sessions rotate between salsa, tango, and swing. Or, for live music, check out the Tractor in Ballard. This intimate neighborhood venue serves tallboys of PBR while acts like Jonathan Richman and Dave McGraw take the stage.

In the winter you should go the San Juan Islands. Sure, the off-season weather may be moody and gray, but tourists have gone home, hotel rates drop, restaurant reservations are a snap to secure, and wildlife is more abundant.  On my winter “to do” list: Book a cabin at Doe Bay Resort on Orcas Island, and finally make it to French Laundry alum Lisa Nakamura’s restaurant, Allium.

In the late-spring you should visit the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks. Almost always referred to by its more informal name– Ballard Locks– this complex water shifting system links salty Puget Sound with the fresh waters of Salmon Bay, Lake Union, Portage Bay, and Lake Washington.

In the summer you should go to Discovery Park and pick wild blackberries. My pantry is filled with blackberry jam made from summer walks turned impromptu picking fests.

A hidden gem in my city is Schmitz Preserve Park in West Seattle. It’s a slice of old-growth wooded heaven in the midst of a residential neighborhood. On occasion, you can hear coyotes howling from the park’s ravines.

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When I think about my city, the song that comes to mind is anything by Pearl Jam or Nirvana. When I get in my car and switch on the radio, I play a little game to prove I can’t scroll through one rotation of stations without hearing a song by one of these artists.

Viadoom could only happen in my city.

My city should be featured on your cover or website because it cannot seem to escape its so-called rain stereotype. Yes, it’s gray and gloomy for months on end, but it’s also one of the most beautiful, lush, vibrant cities in the country. Poor Seattle suffers from an inferiority complex and is highly underrated. Some people say that the myth of continuous rainfall in Seattle was actually invented by the locals in the early 1960s to try to keep people from moving into the state.

Tell us what you love about Seattle. Leave the details in the comments section below.

Want to see your city on Intelligent Travel? Copy and paste our list of fill-in-the-blank questions into an e-mail, fill in your answers, and send your responses (with any photos, videos or links) to

[Seattle Guide]

[Family Trips: Seattle]

[Photos: Seattle’s Markets and Cafés]

Photo: Anita Elder/My Shot

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