Less than two weeks to go until VisWeek 2012, so it’s time for the crucial second part of the survival guide. There are tons of things to see and do in Seattle, it’s easy to get distracted.
While the last three months have been a solid streak of sunshine, I’m told that it does rain occasionally in Seattle. Like multiple times a year. Yes, it happens.
The key to basic survival in Seattle is to dress in layers. Temperatures change dramatically from the chilly early morning to the warm mid-day to the cold night. Also, the conference rooms at the Sheraton are kept at the industry standard temperature, which is just below freezing.
As I’m writing this, the sun is shining, the sky is clear and blue and there is not a cloud in sight (and I’m sitting on a hill!). The forecast for the next week is all sun, sun, and more sun. We’ll see what happens beyond that, but I’m keeping my fingers crossed that we’ll get another ten days of this awesome weather to prove all the people wrong who think that it always rains in Seattle. Because it doesn’t.
Seattle has a pretty decent bus system that covers all the main parts of town and is quite reliable. Seattleites will disagree on the this, but compared to many other American cities, Seattle’s public transportation is fantastic.
The key to riding the bus (or the light rail, for that matter) is loading the wonderful OneBusAway app onto your iPAQ or PalmPilot. It tracks all the buses and tells you when the next one arrives at your stop, lets you see the bus routes on a map, etc. It doesn’t win any prices for beautiful design, but it is incredibly useful.
Like all American bus systems, King County Metro buses only want exact change if you’re paying cash (though you’re always welcome to donate the rest of your $20 bill if you don’t have anything smaller). Put that twenty on an Orca card instead and it will last you much longer. You just tap the card against the reader as you’re entering the bus, while nodding knowingly at the driver (paying cash marks you as a tourist). The Orca card also lets you pay the light rail ride to the airport, even after you’ve spent all your money on Sleepless in Seattle t-shirts and Space Needle snow globes.
Things to See
The Space Needle, obviously. It just had its 50th anniversary, and it’s well worth checking out. Heck, it’s even painted Galaxy Gold (aka orange) to mark the occasion. Just look at it and imagine the flying cars docking at the rotating restaurant. It’s such a fantastic embodiment of the 1960’s view of the future. Get on the monorail and spend 15 minutes in a future that will never be. A future where Barbarella and Flash Gordon fight aliens. A future where orange is called Galaxy Gold.
But the present is even more interesting, and you need to see some of the things beyond downtown. Yes, Pikes Place Market is nice, but it’s also overrun with tourists and just pushes all the wrong buttons on my tourist trap detector.
So check out the fun parts of Seattle that are beyond downtown. The Jimmy Hendrix statue on Broadway, for example. Or the ten-foot Lenin statue in Fremont. Or the Fremont Troll. Or the Locks in Ballard. Or the Arboretum. Or the wonderful Elliott Bay Bookstore in the Oddfellows Building on 10th and Pine St. Or the Museum of Flight and Boeing Field if you want to get away from the conference for an entire day.
There’s plenty of food around the Westin. One place in particular I want to point out is FareStart, which is a restaurant where former convicts, homeless people, and others are trained to be chefs and waiters. Their food is fantastic, the restaurant is modern and beautiful, and it’s a great cause.
Other than that, I’d steer clear of the tourist traps in downtown and check out the Real Seattle. Take the bus 10, 43, or 49 up Capitol Hill and check out the area between Pike and Pine streets between Broadway and 12th Street (Molly Moon’s Ice Cream, Poquitos, etc.), Broadway itself between Olive Way and and Mercer St (Samurai Noodle is a personal favorite, best noodles in town), and the area on Denny Ave and Olive Way southwest (downhill) from Broadway. The latter is perhaps the only place in the U.S. to out-gay San Francisco, though you’ll find gay bars and an active gay scene all over Capitol Hill.
Further up on the Hill, 15h Ave between Thomas St and Mercer St is another hot spot with great restaurants and bars. If you don’t make it back to your hotel, 15th St also has great cafes where you can get reanimated before heading back to the conference.
Since you have to check out Fremont anyway, you might as well get some food there. Buses 26 and 28 take you there from downtown. There are plenty of restaurants right after you cross Fremont Bridge into the heart of the beast. Jai Thai and Homegrown are some of the best places there, but you can’t really go wrong.
The Asian influence in Seattle is very apparent in the restaurants here. This is perhaps the best place outside of Asia (and San Francisco) to get Thai, Vietnamese, and Japanese food. There are lots of small restaurants with great food that are worth checking out, and much more interesting than the big chains you can find everywhere.
Yes, Seattle is the home of Starbucks, but no self-respecting coffee snob would be seen dead with a mermaid cup. Check out some of the local mini-chains like Ladro or Victrola, or find one of the few independent places. You won’t have much luck with that in downtown, where a city ordinance requires at least two Starbucks locations per city block, but there are plenty of charming cafes on Capitol Hill and in Fremont (like Milstead and Co, right across from the Tableau Global Headquarters).
If you’re adventurous, ditch the latte and try a cold-brewed coffee. It’s the latest thing on Capitol Hill, and the next best thing after geeking out with the barista over the relative qualities of different single-origin coffees and whether shade-grown is really better for taste or just a sustainability thing.
This year continues the venerable, if recent, tradition of conference-related parties.
The Seattle Visualization Group is hosting a party at the Hard Rock Cafe on Tuesday, October 16, from 7pm to 10pm. You don’t even have to attend VisWeek to come, if you’re in town, you’re invited. You do have to register for it, though (it’s free). This party is sponsored by Tableau, and there will be food, booze, and ignite talks.
There are also at least two other parties, though I don’t know if those are invite-only, and there’s nowhere to link to. But I’m sure those will be advertised at the conference or by the old word-of-mouth technique our ancestors used before EventBrite.
It will be awesome!