A week in Seattle is nowhere near enough. But I could distill my Seattle tips for solo travelers into a single recommendation: Get outside of downtown. Preferably, stay outside of downtown too.
Downtown Seattle is not terrible: There are gorgeous views of the harbor, and Pike Place Market is worth a visit with its food stalls and fishmongers. The Piroshky Piroshky bakery was a delicious stop for lunch, which I enjoyed in a secluded courtyard behind the shop. The 20-minute wait to enter the shop wasn’t terrible even in direct sun, and the potato-and-mushroom pastry was quite good (I also ordered a cabbage-and-onion pastry and a whole baked apple with frosting).
But the highlights of Seattle are in its neighborhoods, not the chain stores and high-end restaurants that dot the streets downtown.
I stayed in Greenwood in a beautiful house with a welcoming host, just down the block from a coffeeshop and within walking distance of many more. A bus line stopped at the corner and took me just about anywhere I needed to go.
Throughout the week, I visited several Seattle neighborhoods. Here are my recommendations:
Wallingford is possibly my favorite Seattle neighborhood, with shops, restaurants, and the great Fainting Goat gelato made with organic milk. The goat milk flavor is delicious and simple, and the biscotti was amazing with a giant chocolate cookie in the middle of my scoop.
Ballard is the it-neighborhood right now in Seattle, and while I liked it, I’m not sure why it’s got such an outstanding reputation versus other neighborhoods. It’s totally worth a visit, and the breakfast I had at Portage Bay Cafe was wonderful, but while wandering the streets I didn’t notice anything that truly set it apart.
Greenwood Avenue was a great little street with a surprising amount of cafes, bookstores (yes!) and restaurants. I enjoyed strolling here, mainly because I was staying nearby.
Greenlake was a fantastic place for a brisk walk that doubled as a light workout. I stopped at Fix Coffeehouse after circling half of the lake, and enjoyed a yam-and-kale wrap followed by a brownie and tea. Delicious food, welcoming staff, ample table space and outlets, fast Wi-Fi, one side open to the air — Fix is a digital nomad’s dream.
I also visited the university area (though not the UW campus) and downtown Redmond.
I don’t feel I’ve more than scratched the surface of Seattle, and I’d love to go back.
The people in Seattle, without exception, were welcoming and friendly, and the city’s focus on outdoors life really came through in the low-key dress code (mainly casual sportswear or just-plain casual wear). I felt at home in my traveling clothes and never once pulled my dress out of my bag.
In Nature: Olympic National Park
The highlight of my trip to Seattle wasn’t in Seattle at all: It was a day tour with Evergreen Escapes to Olympic National Park west of Seattle. The park is on a peninsula, and when you go there, your cell phone thinks you’re in Canada. But you aren’t. You’re in the U.S., in one of the most beautiful national parks.
Inside the park, there are two places that really deserve your time:
Hurricane Ridge and Hurricane Hill
Drive up 5000 feet from the shore road to Hurricane Ridge. Get out and snap a few shots of the breathtaking views, then get back in the car and drive a short way past the visitor center to the Hurricane Hill parking lot.
The Hurricane Hill trail is surprisingly wide (I’m not a fan of precipitous drops next to narrow trails, and I was fine on this trail) and offers gorgeous vistas on all sides. The hills beside the trail are steep but not cliffs, so it’s easier to enjoy the landscape around you and pause to take pictures. On our hike, we saw mountains wreathed in clouds, snow-capped peaks against bright blue skies, and evergreen trees on meadows carved out by avalanches. This trail is usually open only from June through September, but this year it opened in May, thanks to unseasonably warm weather. In the winter it’s covered by tens of feet of snow, a dangerous but appealing paradise for backcountry skiers.
The weather is chancy — you never know what you’re going to get. We got lucky, since the ridge was not socked in by clouds. Instead, they were drifting in the valleys below us. When we drove up the mountain, I felt disheartened by the mist until I saw it thinning, and we kept climbing out and out into the sunshine.
There’s also a small picnic area between Hurricane Ridge and Hurricane Hill, which is a perfect spot for lunch in an alpine meadow. While eating here, my group was approached by a herd of small deer that seemed almost entirely unafraid. We also were approached by a cloud that drifted over the mountains, chilling the air and providing a rare experience.
Lake Crescent and the Hoh Rainforest
After the rush of heights and clouds, we returned to sea level and drove to Lake Crescent at the border of the Hoh Rainforest. Olympic National Park is home to two of the only temperate rain forests in the world. We hiked a wide, broad trail into the Hoh Rainforest, one of the world’s quietest places. With deciduous and evergreen trees coated in moss and hanging plants, it’s prehistoric, ethereal and strangely welcoming. We hiked to a small waterfall — a steep climb up stairs carved into a hill. Railings help a lot with the descent, so give it a try if you’re wearing good shoes.
At the end of the trip, we watched waves break on the shore at Crescent Lake, a blue-purple paradise with few boats or people in sight. The Lake Crescent Lodge is one of the only inns on the shore, and I’d love to return to canoe or kayak amid the silence and the sun.
Back in Seattle, I packed my bags and got ready to travel to Vancouver. I’m excited for the trip but sad to leave Seattle. I could spend a month here just wandering the neighborhoods, exploring the countryside and never getting bored. I hope I’ll be back to see more of this northwestern city.