“I went sleepless in Seattle in the Emerald City and I was not disappointed.”
The famously rainy city of Seattle was in the middle of a heat wave when I arrived. The flight from Heathrow lands at 1.45pm local time, and the taxi ride from the airport to the city center only takes about 20 minutes, so to make the most of it, I went “no sleep in Seattle” and hit the streets straight away.
I bought emergency sunscreen and headed out on an itinerary that included scenes from the Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan rom-com — now in its 30th year — but soon discovered that the Emerald City’s brilliance is much more than just a Hollywood veneer…
The classic rock soundtrack in the Edgewater Hotel’s mountain lodge-style lobby is part of the venue’s musical character as the place where the Beatles were filmed fishing out the window.
My waterfront room, which had a balcony overlooking Puget Sound, was a great place to relax, with playful seals, sea hawks and the elegant sailboats of wealthy Seattleites nearby — plus, if you’re lucky with the weather, views of the 14,411-high volcano Foot Mount Rainier, the highest peak in Washington state.
When the hotel’s rich musical past inevitably inspires guests, acoustic guitars and record players are available. While the gift shop offers albums by greats with local ties, like Nirvana and The Sonics, music lovers need to visit the city’s abundant independent record stores, including the popular Easy Street Records (which has an in-store café that serves delicious coffee to boot).
As the West Seattle water taxi turns away from the downtown pier, a stunning view of the city skyline begins to emerge.
I couldn’t quite fit it in during the 10-minute ride, so I hopped on and grabbed an outdoor table at Marination Ma Kai, a popular lunch spot next to the jetty that serves a Hawaiian-Korean fusion menu of exotic fast food and delicious food. Colored soft drinks. From there, it was an easy walk around the peninsula to Alki Beach.
As I approached the point, I stopped at the pier to take in the views across Elliott Bay to the city and to the west to the Olympic Mountains, covered in snow even as I was enjoying the 26°C temperature. I bought a huge ice cream and settled down on driftwood logs scattered on the pebbly beach to look out over the water at the forested coastline and majestic peaks.
Far from the hustle and bustle of the city, Alki Beach seems miles from Seattle, and the exotic classic muscle car that pulls up near the seafood and burger joints seems like a sleek miniature American world.
Head in the clouds
The Space Needle is a tourist attraction that is definitely worth a visit. The 605-foot-tall structure was built in record time for the 1962 Space Age-themed World’s Fair.
Those with a love of heights can take the elevator to the observation deck for stunning views in all directions, admiring the distant Olympic and Cascades mountain ranges, while seaplanes and news helicopters buzz like insects around the downtown skyscrapers.
In the late afternoon, we had a Mai Tai at the famous landmark on what is described as the world’s only rotating glass floor – 500 feet above the city. To complete the retro-future experience, I took the monorail – a remnant of the World’s Fair that is now an actual commuter line.
But not before visiting the Museum of Pop Culture (MoPOP) which is a work of art in itself. The huge figure was iridescent beauty in the pulsating sun. Inside, exhibits including pop music, movies and computer games are spread across several floors. Washingtonians Jimi Hendrix and Nirvana get excellent performances featuring clothes, guitars and other oddities.
If you prefer architecture and heights, the Smith Tower is worth a look. I took a captivating tour of the historic building, using golden birdcage elevators to climb between ornate marble walkways lined with wood carvings of Seattle’s Native American chief, all while my guide weaved the tower’s tale of rum smuggling, romance, and typewriters. .
A short taxi ride away is the early 20th-century Hotel Sorrento, an elegant Italian Renaissance-style venue featuring an attractive wood-paneled lounge and a bar serving fine cocktails.
It hosted cast and crew during filming, and one of its luxurious suites doubled as the New York Plaza Hotel in a scene with Meg Ryan and Bill Pullman.
Boat loads of fun
From the Space Needle you look out over nearby Lake Union. From its base in Fremont, I took a two-hour boat ride with Candere Cruising and its lively host, Captain Curt, who gave a fascinating, fact-filled tour of the lake and its floating homes and helipads owned by tech executives.
The sunny weather meant the water was packed with parties enjoying lumbering hot tub boats and wake-braving boaters.
Here you can see the houseboat inhabited by Tom Hanks in the movie Sleepless, one of several hundred similar dwellings on the water that these days sport privacy curtains.
As we walked down Montlake Cut while enjoying drinks, we passed crowds of University of Washington students clinging to the beach keeping cool. After the cruise, Fremont Brewing’s taproom and beer garden overlooking the marina boats and Aurora Bridge is a good stop with a host of American IPAs.
Pike Place Market delivers the goods
Life in the intimate area of stalls and shops at the historic Pike Place Market doesn’t really start until after 10am but after that it’s full of colour. It is the oldest continuously operated public farmers’ market in the United States, and its “day stalls” section still hosts independent vendors with local produce and arts and crafts that are extensively vetted to ensure authenticity.
Only off-market chains are allowed to operate there, which is why one of the first Starbucks outlets can be found across the street.
Awed by tasters of fresh smoked salmon, I stood next to Pike Place Fish Market, where its crew of armor-clad employees tossed fish onto the shop floor to the gathering crowds. I followed the neon seafood lunch sign to find the Athenian, a remarkably old-school restaurant that’s a city institution where you can eat local lobster, chowder, codfish and Alaskan chips.
Sleepless fans can also sit on the benches as Tom Hanks and Rob Reiner discuss dating over steamed oysters and beer.
Sweet as pie
Having traveled more than 4,500 miles, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to sample the restaurant’s “amazing” coffee and cherry pie from David Lynch’s 1990s Twin Peaks series. A 45-minute drive outside the city to North Bend, this slice of small-town America lies beneath towering Mount Si, surrounded by evergreen vegetation and sparkling rivers.
I was preparing to stumble into it but inside Twede’s Cafe I found mainly locals eating breakfasts and a few nods to its alter egos like the Double R Diner in the show.
Along the way, past the magnificent dilapidated locomotives of the Northwestern Railroad Museum, lies Snoqualmie Falls, a powerful 270-foot waterfall next to which lies the Salish Lodge Hotel, also known as the Twin Peaks Great Northern Hotel. A nice way to end a wonderful trip.
Book your vacation
go there: Virgin Atlantic flies from Heathrow to Seattle for £496 one way. virginatlantic.com
stay here: Room rates at The Edgewater Hotel in Seattle start from just £288 per night. edgewaterhotel.com
Book Heathrow hotels, lounges and car parks on Holidayextras.com.
You can also find more information at Visiteattle.org.