Feb 04 2013

Hipsters, Bookstores, & a Ferris Wheel

I had just left the wood floors of Elliot Bay Bookstore and was walking down a rain-sparkled street to one of my favorite cafes, Bauhaus, already anticipating the dim corners and foggy windows that give Bauhaus its romantic and edgy feel–the perfect blend of stimulation and hibernation needed to write the night away. Across the street on the puddled pavement of an empty court of Cal Anderson Park, a game of bike hockey commenced. I passed a drag queen in an elaborate pink evening dress. There was no doubt where I was: the hipster of Seattle’s neighborhoods, Capitol Hill.

While I spent most of my week-long stay in Seattle in the University District, where I used to live and work, I visited almost every neighborhood in the immediate area. Perhaps because of the city’s unique topography–houses and businesses are built up into the hills that rise from the surrounding waters of the Puget Sound, Lake Union, and Lake Washington–Seattle’s neighborhoods are distinct, each with its own atmosphere, its own sub-culture and its own particular breed of residents populating its streets and cafes.

If you are in the U District, the dominate atmosphere is of course, the student population. A walk around the campus in spring time, particularly in the “quad,” is essential–cherry blossoms are everywhere. Be sure to stop in my old stompin’ grounds, the University Bookstore, an independent with a great selection of new and used books. Want more? Head down the back alley to Magus Bookstore, full of used books, and grab a coffee at the hole-in-the-wall cafe, Allegro.  Along University Way are the typical student eateries, with a diverse smattering of Asian cuisine.

I spent a full day in Ballard, where I was amazed to see whole streets full of new, hip cafes and shops that had sprung up in the past few years. Among them were the more familiar bars that still give the neighborhood its old fishing village feel–Coner Byrne a particular favorite of mine. This neighborhood hosts a small independent bookstore that specializes in children’s books, The Secret Garden.

I lived in Queen Anne for a few years, at the bottom of the hill. When I hiked to the top I found small shops and cafes, pricier than other parts of the city, but delightful to spend a day browsing. Among them, Queen Anne Books, set to re-open under new ownership in February. Just across the ship canal and the shockingly blue Freemont Bridge, is Freemont. If Capitol Hill is the “hippest” of Seattle’s neighborhoods, Freemont is the “hippiest” neighborhood in Seattle, defined by its slow pace, its Sunday Market, and of course, more bookshops and cafes. It is all Jamaica Plain aspires to be, and never will be. (I love you JP, I live in you, and I have faith that you will find yourself someday).

I haven’t even touched Wallingford, Belltown, Green Lake, the International District, Magnolia, Maple Leaf, Ravenna, West Seattle or Downtown (where I rode the new Ferris Wheel near Pike Place Market to stunning views of Mount Rainer, the Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains), but I have to leave something for you to discover on your own. We’ve got a large selection of guidebooks covering the Pacific Northwest to help you on your way.



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May 27 2012

36 Hours in Seattle

Published by under General,Travel

Last week I had the opportunity to go to both my native hometown of Boise, Idaho and my adopted hometown of Seattle for a vacation. I had a lot of family to see, so I had to limit my time in Seattle to 36 hours, but there’s a lot one can do in 36 hours in Seattle! Recently, the NYT edited a book of the best of their feature “36 Hours” highlighting weekend jaunts across America. Of course, if you’ve never been to Seattle before, then Pike Place Market and the Space Needle are probably musts. But if you’ve lived in the Emerald City like me, and it’s been a while since you’ve been back, then your trip might look a little different.

So here ’tis, my 36 Hours in Seattle itinerary:

As soon as we landed, my husband and I were famished. Six hours on a plane with only crackers will do that. But we REFUSED to eat at the airport, and instead booked it for the nice new Link Light Rail, a high speed train that zips from Sea-Tac airport through South Seattle and deposits travelers downtown. They’re currently laying track to extend the rail to Capitol Hill and the University District, two hoppin’ neighborhoods with plenty to do. When that happens, the Link Light Rail will be a nascent T…one of the only ones out West. So, we hopped on the train for a mere $2.75, took the train downtown, hopped on the 43 bus that deposited us on Broadway Ave, the main street that runs through Capitol Hill, a funky neighborhood of awesome restaurants, lots of nightlife and a few great bookstores. It’s also where parts of Tom Robbins’ Jitterbug Perfume take place. From there it was but a mere block walk to Dick’s, the ultimate burger joint and a must for any Seattleite carnivore. Here there are basically four things on the menu and you can’t customize. So the line moves fast, you get your food immediately and it’s perfect every time. So magical.

From there we walked down Broadway, cut through Cal Anderson Park, stopped in at Elliot Bay Book Store (a local legend), grabbed coffee at Caffe Vita, my favorite of the many local roasters, and then hopped on a bus for the University District. Here we hit a couple of necessities: Magus Books, the best used bookstore in Seattle, University Book Store, which is affiliated with University of Washington, but is a fantastic new and used indie bookshop contained within the typical university bookstore. Then we hit Bulldog News, an extensive newsstand with a great coffee bar and Uncle Seth’s pink cookies, another local must.

From there we met friends, had bubble tea and then hit Gasworks Park. The city bought a factory that converted coal to gas, gated it off and created an awesome steampunk park with perfect views of the whole city and magnificent kite flying. Kinda makes a Cherie Priest novel come to life. From there we hit The Kraken, a heavy metal bar owned by two friends who book amazing shows almost nightly and keep a well-curated beer list rotating at all times. When we poked in, a heated discussion on the virtues of Game of Thrones vs. Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series was going.

This is another great thing about Seattle. You will notice that the first 18 of my 36 hours are winding down and I’ve hit three bookstores, a newsstand and overheard a conversation about a cumulative 17 books. Seattle is a super-literate city. When I lived there, there was a constant war between Seattle and Minneapolis for “Most Literate City in the US.” DC won last year, and Boston is usually in the top five, but there is a huge reading culture in Seattle. With tons of bookstores, tons of libraries, lots of readings, a lot of local authors and rain or shine tons of people walking the sidewalks while reading. Seems dangerous, but they’ve perfected the art. So if you like books, and especially drinking coffee while reading books, Seattle is a must.

The next morning we started early with our favorite breakfast: Portage Bay Cafe, and then took another bus downtown where we scoped the gorgeous view of Elliot Bay from Pike Place Market. Here, we smelled the cookies and fruits and flowers and fish. And with one last cup of locally roasted coffee we said our teary goodbye to the beautiful Pacific Ocean.

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May 22 2012

“Tesser” to Seattle

In Madeleine L’Engle’s classic A Wrinkle in Time, characters time travel by way of “tesser.” The shortest distance between two points is a line, Mrs Whatsit explains,  but what if that line could wrinkle? Imagine a length of yarn, and if you folded it in half, the two ends would meet.

This is how I thought of the distance between Seattle and Boston when I chose to move to the East Coast after three years in the Northwest. Fold a map, and the cities kiss. I wouldn’t be that far from the stunning Cascade and Olympic mountain ranges that hemmed me in on either side, Allegro, my favorite hole-in-the-wall cafe, and my closest friends.

On one of my first evenings in Boston–already missing the ship canal that used to flow through my Seattle neighborhood–I took a walk to the Charles River. I approached around sunset, quickening my pace. The sky was turning a lovely pink and I could glimpse the John Hancock and Prudential buildings beginning to reflect the hue. Afraid all the benches along the river would be taken, I hurried on.

The NFT guide to Seattle highlights little known haunts where you can slip away from the fifth dimension.

I should not have worried. Every bench along the bank was free, as everyone within sight was in movement: walking, jogging, sprinting along a path. Even the sailboats in the river were racing in a regatta. I knew then that the pace was different here. I sank down onto a bench, already nostalgic for the cafe culture of Seattle, where one could sit for hours with a good book and cooling cup of coffee without wondering once where else they should be.

So when I noticed a recent slew of Booksmith booksellers taking time off to travel to the Northwest, I understood.  While I’ve come to appreciate the productivity and drive of America’s easternmost cities, sometimes it’s necessary to get away for awhile. If you’re planning a trip to the Pacific Northwest, we’ve got all the guidebooks and maps you need, plus a staff of travelers with recent experiences in Seattle, Portland, even Alaska. We’ll be sharing some of these adventures here at, so tesser back soon.

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Jun 29 2009

Potlach, Tourist Style

Published by under Travel

Dancer and Mask--photo by Lisa

Dancer and Mask--photo by Lisa

Last week I had the rare opportunity to leave rainy Boston and head to sunny Seattle. Thankfully the weather was perfect for my family, friends, and me to take a cruise to Blake Island State Park in Puget Sound. Our main objective was to go to Tillicum Village for a traditional Northwest Native American Potlach.  Traditional Potlachs are ceremonies practiced by Native Northwest Indigenous Peoples where the tribal leaders would gather guests for a redistribution of wealth; they usually included dances and feasts. We went to see the tourist-friendly modified show.

Potlach Dinner--photo by Lisa

Potlach Dinner--photo by Lisa

Blake Island is a beautiful island that is only accessible by tour or private boat. Among the many attractions are hiking trails and a long house that was built in 1962 to help showcase Northwest Native American Culture for the Seattle World’s Fair. Today the long house still serves as a showcase and there are tours of it during the summer. Boats leave from Pier 55 and there is a narrated hour-long cruise through Elliot Bay into Puget Sound all the way to Blake Island. We were greeted with a cup of clam nectar and then led into the long house for a “smorgasbord-style” salmon dinner. After the dinner the lights dimmed and the dancers began to demonstrate different dances from the region. The masks were impressive and one even weighed more than 55 pounds.

It was a great way to spend a sunny Sunday afternoon and the views of the Seattle skyline were picture perfect. I was so surprised to return from Seattle with a tan.

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Jan 20 2009

I Was “Sleepless in Seattle” Because I Drank Way Too Much Coffee

Published by under Travel

Pike Place Market -photo by Lisa

Pike Place Market -photo by Lisa

I have many rituals I have to complete every time I return home to Seattle for a visit. I must have almond-fried chicken at any Chinese restaurant because I have never found it in Boston. I must have Ivar’s halibut and chips. I must meet up at cafes with friends and drink lots of vanilla lattes. And I absolutely have to go to my favorite place in the world: The Pike Place Market.

Pike Place Market is one of the most popular and

Crafts at the Market -photo by Lisa

Crafts at the Market -photo by Lisa

iconic sights in Seattle. After having worked there for five years as a barista in one of the many cafes, I have spent lots of time wandering around. Pike Place Market is a huge maze of small shops with everything from Polish pottery to magic shops, cheap and not-so-cheapish ethnic foods, flower stalls, arts and crafts vendors, coffee shops (including the first Starbucks, which whether you like it or not, has become a pilgrimage destination), street performers, tourists, locals doing their shopping, and most importantly, fish mongers.

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