Best spots

Best Seattle slide area

In the sodden city, there are many candidates: Capitol Hill above the freeway, Queen Anne along 15th West (where a landslide still blocks the on-ramp to the Magnolia Bridge), and, of course, Perkins Lane on Magnolia's west bluff—where expensive, and sometimes condemned, houses still sit empty and broken due to repetitious winter mud slides. But based on our rather limited soil sampling expertise, drippy, slipping West Seattle seems hard to beat if you're a homeowner who likes to travel a lot. Don't fancy this ZIP code? Hang on, your house will soon be in another one. Now El Ni�as made precarious living a year-round event above wet and shady Harbor Drive, swamplike even in summer. Trees and earth can still be heard going bump in the night. As a West Seattle homeowner told us recently, "I want to move, but every time I put out my 'for sale' sign it slides away."

Best places to be when the Big One hits

You know we're due for a major earthquake sometime soon. Everybody tells you that. But nobody tells you where you should plan to be when the earthquake strikes. We consulted the experts. Eric Holdeman, who heads King County's Office of Emergency Management, says that his top choice is on a ferry boat in the middle of Puget Sound. That way you're away from the shaking land, and, he says, "There is only a very slight tsunami threat on Puget Sound waters." Get there early: "Being at the dock," he notes, "would not be good." The second-best place, Holdeman says, would be inside your car in your driveway, which would keep you somewhat protected from falling trees and power lines. Not surprisingly, the worst place to be caught at earthquake time is the place you just know you're guaranteed to be: the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Bill Steele, coordinator of UW's Seismology Lab, has his best spot all picked out, too: Volunteer Park. What was on Steele's checklist to recommend this popular Capitol Hill greenspace? It's got stiff soil, for a minimum of shimmying and shaking; there's little danger of landslides and not too many buildings around to fall on top of you; and, perhaps best of all, it's got a beautiful view for watching the rest of the city crumble into dust. Steele makes one qualification, though: "I'd want a rowboat docked by the Montlake Cut, so I could get home again."

Best reason for violence to erupt on the streets

Those goddamned motorized, amphibious, tourist-laden Ducks (Ride the Ducks of Seattle, 441-3825). When did the notion arise that when you're visiting another city it's appropriate to making quacking sounds at the locals? Doesn't this constitute harassment? What's next, retirees throwing grenades out the windows of swiftly moving tour buses?

Best place to hear a train whistle

Because it's night. Because you couldn't hear it before. Because the experience of attending a baseball game is meant to encompass many sights and sounds besides those of Mariner—excuse us, Safeco Field (First S and S Atlantic)—a fact lost on the guy who designed the Kingdome's 200 level. Because we're paying a lot of money for the privilege. Because baseball and the rails are both about a deliberately paced way of life that this high-tech, high-tension town would do well to revisit. Because it makes the food taste better. Because the sound of a train whistle is the sound of the cold lonely wind, and Kingdome survivors are about to learn all about wind. Because children wave down from the second level walkway and the passengers coming in from Portland wave back. Because it sounds a little like "EEEDDGAAARRRR!" Because the clatter of the Number 4 just beyond the center field wall in the House That Ruth Built is the secret ingredient that made the Yankees the best team in history. Because we are free at last from the Field of Seams.

Best feat of engineering

This one's a tough call. The Mariners have won, no question about that. But do they win for their remarkable ability to extract hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayer money through impressive political maneuvering and strong-arm tactics? Or do they win for the remarkable structural qualities of the world's most expensive stadium that they built with our money? By a slight margin, we give the nod to Safeco Field itself (First S and S Atlantic), whose unique retractable roof has been called "considerably more complicated than even a bridge" by one of the stadium contractors. Building the roof required erecting a 165-foot-high work platform that by itself cost $2 million. The 13,000-ton roof opens and closes in about eight and a half minutes. It consists of three giant steel panels that each begin rolling simultaneously at different speeds and stack on top of each other to let the sun in. It can withstand 70-mile-per-hour winds. And it looks pretty cool, but. . . .

Best graveyard browsing

When Capitol Hill's Lake View Cemetery (1554 15th E, 322-1582) was first established in 1872, it was so remote from then-downtown Seattle—today's Pioneer Square—that after pioneer David ("Doc") Maynard died in March 1873, his corpse had to go unburied for a month while a road was constructed out to the new graveyard. Not until the mid-1880s, when the city's main cemetery was converted into what's now Denny Park south of Lake Union, did Lake View become Seattle's premier last address. Here you'll find the headstones of both the famous and the infamous: Maynard is buried beneath a tall redwood and beside one of his two wives, Catherine, whose curious epitaph reads, "She did what she could." Nearby lies Chief Sealth's daughter, Princess Angeline, who was interred in a canoe-shaped coffin. Wander the peaceful, sloping grounds and you're liable to bump into numerous other Seattleites, from mill owner Henry Yesler and first Washington Territorial Governor Elisha P. Ferry to real estate magnate Arthur A. Denny and prosperous brothel keeper Lou Graham. Most visited, however, are the graves of father-son kung fu stars Bruce and Brandon Lee.

Best place to feed the birds

"Oh sure," you're thinking. "It's the sort of thing little old ladies do when they've run out of pets to pamper." But feeding birds can be downright thrilling, depending on what type of birds you're feeding. If you want that Hitchcockian thrill of encountering a truly formidable animal face to beak, head down to Ivar's Acres of Clams (Pier 54, 624-6852). There you can sample your fish 'n' chips to the accompanying attention (and occasionally unceasing racket) of some of the biggest and goofiest-looking seagulls you've ever seen. With their knobby knees, strutting attitudes, and obnoxious screeching, there's something perversely endearing about watching them gulp, not peck, your offerings. You'll be taking part in a Seattle tradition as well; a statue in front of the restaurant commemorates the restaurant's founder, Ivar Haglund, surrounded by some gargantuan gulls all anxious for a taste of his famous chips.

Best proof that money can buy happiness (or at least some quiet)

There are always streetlights, traffic lights, headlights—electrical reminders of our fear of the dark, or of each other in the dark. But with careful real estate selection you can have your urban access and your rural tranquility; all it takes is a whole lot of money and a rich disregard for what passes for a trendy neighborhood. Join us some moonlit night as we stroll the countrified confines of Blakely Court (west off 12th NW in the 120s), a genteel North Seattle oasis of nonfabulousness. Walk past the dead end sign (it's actually a cul-de-sac, and how much does it cost to get one of those traffic-diminishing signs on your block?) and up the gentle slope of the hill. Look west over the houses and the trees, each carefully positioned to preserve the neighbors' views of the Sound. Enjoy the sound of the wind in the trees. Now look at the water, and the moon on the water, and imagine what it must cost to live in an area so safe and quiet that you can afford to be left in the dark. It's 1999, my fellow urban peasants: Let them eat halogen.

Best place to hug a tree in private

You're on the Road to Nowhere. Rare is the Seattle park that's both crowd- and cyclist-free. If you can find Carkeek Park (950 NW Carkeek Park Rd, 684-4075), you probably can't figure out how to get into it, and once you're there you're still up against some of the nastiest hills the city has to offer, not to mention all those no-mountain-biking signs. (Besides, everyone who's not on the pretty little jogging paths is down at the beach.) So Carkeek, tumbling down from the 'burbs of Broadview into the Sound, is a good place for a private moment with the Northwest flora. Strike off from the main paved path, taking care to avoid the wetlands restoration project areas and, in fall, the Pipers Creek salmon run. Heading downward might lead you into the tangles of nurse trees and ferns along Venema or Pipers Creek. Heading upward may put you into an open, grassy meadow abutting someone's backyard. Either way, you're bound to get a little quality tree time. You didn't forget to leave a trail of bread crumbs back to the main road, did you?

Best place to watch your Amazon stock go down in flames

One of the downsides of the Internet's rise is that you don't see so many stock-ticker displays anymore. When was the last time you saw people huddling around, watching the arcane stock abbreviations snake past, together with their ever-changing, up-to-the-minute prices, expressed in eighths of a cent? These days everyone's staring at their own computer screens, where you can call up any share price you want at any time. But you still can't beat the drama of a stock ticker—the mystery of the stock symbols, the excitement as they whiz past, the anticipation as you wait for that fleeting alphabetic moment when your chosen stock briefly appears—there are still places where you can experience this thrill. Our pick is the waiting area at Morgan Stanley Dean Witter in the lobby of Two Union Square (601 Union), which is equipped with a very bright ticker display. It's a suitably swank ambience, and you can recline in a pair of executive brown leather chairs as you wait for the bad news about your underwater Amazon options.

Best-smelling downtown street

You're innocently driving along Dexter Avenue N with the windows down when suddenly you're flooded with childhood memories and overcome by a powerful craving—one that, fortunately, can be satisfied at pretty much any gas station or convenience store. It's the craving for Hostess Cup Cakes—the chocolate variety, to be exact. From whence comes that luscious smell? Why, from the Hostess plant of course, which has been emitting its unique chocolate aroma from this downtown bakery at Harrison Street, between Dexter and Aurora, since 1912 (Hostess Bakery, 434 Aurora N, 328-7545). The plant employs about 120 people and runs 24-7, supplying the entire northwestern United States and Canada with cupcakes, Twinkies, Ding Dongs, and fruit pies. Outside is as close as you going to get to the plant: They no longer offer tours to the public because of liability issues. Sure, there may be streets downtown that smell a little more gourmet. But none smell better.

Best urban nature walk

This is a competitive category, with Foster Island, Discovery and Marymoor Parks, and more urban wildscapes all making strong bids. But the West Hylebos Wetlands State Park (I-5 or Pacific Hwy S to S 348th, west to Fourth S [which looks like a driveway], and south to the trailhead at road's end) is a refuge like no other, a haven of silence (except for bird calls) and astonishing ecological riches in the midst of Federal Way's sprawl. A mile-long boardwalk bears you safe and dry over a primeval peat bog thick with old cedars and spruces, spectacular blown-down root cakes, weird mosses, fungi, and swamp flowers, even a "bottomless" sinkhole. Illustrated plaques (vandals willing) detail the species. It's all the legacy of the indomitable Ilene Marckx, who donated the wetland and fought for its preservation—and who still lives nearby. If she's about she may even share the tale of the "long bloody struggle," plus a peek at the "prehistoric forest" and Marlake nature preserve she still holds, which are nearly as lovely. Note the log cabin on the way in: It's Seattle's oldest surviving house, in which David Denny once sold real estate on Lower Queen Anne, moved here to beat the wrecking ball.

Best training staircase

For those of us who prefer real staircases in the open air to nightmarish, mechanical staircases under fluorescent lights, Seattle is a fine town. There's no more fun workout than a stair climb, and Seattle's got tons of public treads available for exploring. The longest, most satisfying of them all is out in West Seattle, just off Fauntleroy (SW Thistle at 46th SW). Here you can race up more than 350 steps—interrupted by a couple of street crossings—and on your way back down, enjoy lovely views of Puget Sound and the Vashon Island ferry. The stairs are in pretty good shape and there are no mean dogs.

Best Aurora Avenue icon

What Northwest tribe lived in striped canvas teepees filled with carvings and totems painted with a '60s palette of gold, orange, moss green, and aqua? The same tribe that throws canned beets on your salad and serves tapioca for dessert. It's the unique tribe that inhabits the Twin Teepees (7201 Aurora N, 728-9740). Serving "homestyle meals since 1937," this highway restaurant is a thriving survivor of Aurora's diner days, when things like road food and gas came in packages designed to delight and amaze (giant teapots! king-size hat and boots!). At a time when Seattle seems to be hemorrhaging kitschy commercial historical landmarks (goodbye, Dog House! goodbye, Rainier Brewery!) and consumed with political correctness (goodbye, SU Chieftains!), the Teepees stands as a monument against the times: Bluehairs still come for lunch, and there are no SUVs in the parking lot (though maybe a gold Monte Carlo or two). Just seeing it on Old Highway 99 is a kind of psychic comfort food.

Best building name

Many a motorist driving up Phinney Ridge has wondered how to pronounce the name of the Bugg鼯B>, a 72-year-old brick apartment building near Green Lake that's named for its architect (6402 Phinney N). Manager Nita Chambers says nobody knows exactly how to pronounce it, but "We in the building like to say 'boo-JAY,'" (but of course!). She says some apartment hunters call inquiring about units in the "bug," "buggy," or "boogie," but those don't seem French enough to do the mysterious name justice. "It's a nice building," Chambers asserts.

Best women-watching

Even the most mature of today's bachelors must occasionally give in to his adolescent impulses and find a perch for perusing the stream of Seattle's healthy population of attractive women. Therefore, purely in the interest of scientific study, we set forth during several consecutive lunchtime hours to discover where in Seattle the largest and finest collection of such women were visible. Pike Place Market, while containing a fair share of babes, lacks decent vantage points (except the veranda seating of some second-floor restaurants), and besides, there are all those vendors and tourists to peer around. Similarly, city parks usually contained women only in pairs with their lunch dates, a discouraging sign that only drove home to us the ultimately pathetic nature of our quest. But it was when we stopped to refresh ourselves with a convenient latte in the downtown Nordstrom Espresso Bar (500 Pine, 628-1615) that we finally discovered our mecca. The confluence of shop clerks, customers, downtown office workers, and other fashionably dressed women was awe-inspiring in its variety, quality, and general all-around babe-ishness. It gave a healthy dose of that particular sort of wistful embarrassment that a single guy looking for a significant face in the crowd feels.

Best day trip

Halfway up Whidbey Island, just west of Coupeville, is Ebey's Landing National Historical Reserve—a beautifully "preserved" 19th-century agricultural landscape virtually unchanged since the days of early settlement in the 1850s (even the Indians cultivated this natural prairie). At the western edge is a beach and a bluff, once the turf of Washington territorial pioneer renaissance man Colonel Isaac Ebey, a soldier, legislator, customs inspector, trader, and farmer whose boat landing here was once the most hospitable stop on the thoroughfare between Puget Sound's point of entry at Port Townsend and Whatcom County. The Reserve occupies glorious ground: You can walk up a long, driftwood-filled beach stretching to the north, or follow a trail up a grassy bluff to a commanding view of Admiralty Inlet with an Olympics backdrop to the west and, to the east, verdant fields overlooked by Mount Baker and the Cascades. On one side the bluff trail slopes dramatically to the beach; on the other, weather-battered firs line the way. Follow the trail far enough, and it circles down to the beach and a lagoon. Other trails take you across the farmscape and up to the local pioneer cemetery where Ebey, among others, is buried. In good weather, the views are spectacular; in winter, the storms batter the shoreline and make Ebey's landing a wet, windswept walk with gothic appeal. Also appealing to goth sensibilities: Ebey was beheaded at the landing by North Coast Indians on a raid from Alaska, his head taken in revenge for the US Navy's killing of a Tlingit chief at Port Gamble. They left Ebey's headless corpse behind; his scalp was recovered by Hudson's Bay Company traders years later, and, we're told, interred with his remains. Take the Mukilteo ferry to Whidbey, drive 26 miles north on Highway 525 to Coupeville, and turn left (west) at the sign (for online info: www.nps.gov/ebla).

Best way to get away

For Seattleites who prefer urban vacations, there's no place closer or more interesting than Vancouver, BC. And now getting to Vancouver is more comfortable than ever. Forget about driving three hours north, or flying and then having to negotiate your way downtown from the airport. Instead, hop the Amtrak Cascades train to Vancouver. Sure, rail travel takes an hour longer than car transit, but you don't have to wait in long lines at the border to clear customs, and you'll arrive in the Terminal City rested. Sleek new trains leave Seattle's King Street Station at 7:45, dropping you off in Vancouver in time for lunch. Catch a return train back at 6:00 the next evening. (Round-trip fares start at $42 and go up to $72 for Business class.) In between, go shopping and people-watching along Vancouver's consciously hip Robson Street; browse British and obscure Canadian titles at popular Duthie Books (650 W Georgia, 604-899-1448); stroll the peaceful perimeter of mammoth Stanley Park; roam the busy food aisles of Granville Market; and sample some of the many restaurants that seem to sprout and fade even faster in Vancouver than they do in Seattle. Vancouver is a walker's town—take advantage of it. You can always sleep off your exercise on the train home. Call 800-USA-RAIL for exact schedule.

Best place to pick up on (or get picked up on by) Seattle firefighters

If you want to talk raw sex appeal, few occupations get more moony eyes and plaintive sighs than the noble, rugged, death-cheating firefighter. (Most independent polls put them somewhere just behind combat pilots but comfortably ahead of rock guitarists.) They're buff, sort of knightly in their own way, they drive big noisy trucks, and, hey, have you seen those hoses? So if you're looking to mix with Seattle's boys (and girls—we do have 94 of them) in red, head down to McCoy's Firehouse (173 S Washington, 652-5797). With its olden-days firefighting motif, this Pioneer Square pub (near the local enginehouse, natch) has long been a hangout for Seattle firefighters. And if Pioneer Square isn't your scene, Matt Anderson of Capitol Hill's Engine 25 confides that there's another spot you're sure to bump into Seattle's Finest: Eagle Hardware and Home Depot. It seems that the typical 24 hours on, 48 off, 24 on, 96 off schedule leaves time for a lot of home improvement.

Best place to shake seasonal affective disorder

Remember how you felt this winter? Cold? Soggy? Suicidal? Chalk it up to that trademark Seattle malady, seasonal affective disorder. Too little exposure to sunlight and too much exposure to your grumbling, wet-fleeced, caffeine-agitated fellow citizens can make even the most chipper among us begin to droop. But if you ain't movin', you better get used to it. Fortunately you can find temporary relief, and at a fraction of the cost of other treatments such as alcoholism or trips to Cabo. A few bucks will get you into Pacific Science Center's new Tropical Butterfly House (at Seattle Center, 443-2001), bathed year-round in full-spectrum light, heated to a balmy 80 degrees, and suffused with a bone-warming 80 percent humidity. And perhaps best of all, nearly a thousand exotic butterflies flutter nearby as you bask in this little paradise. Awwww . . . now how can you be grumpy with company like that?

Check out the rest of the critics' picks: wonks, geeks, bites, acts, clerks, and beats. Or, go to the 1999 Best of Seattle main page.

 
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