There we were, in the birthplace of grunge, searching for the spot where we would be among the lucky few to discover the next Nirvana or the new Eddie Vedder. The play bill on the famous Crocodile Club said it all: Liquid Courage Karaoke. This was not our night. By many accounts the Seattle music scene isn’t quite what it used to be – but one thing Seattle’s musical vibe is not short on is history, and it’s really something.
Our musical tour of Seattle took us to some of the most surprising and colourful nooks of this somewhat underrated city (in my opinion!), so don’t be thinking Seattle is only about catching a fish hurled at you through Pike Place Market.
Read on to find out what and where is really worth your time and money when you visit Seattle.
Latch on to a local
All the reading in the world can’t match a local’s knowledge and perspective – especially when they’ve lived and breathed it through the height of Seattle grunge in the 90s. I have two words for you guys: Stalking Seattle. This three hour tour will have your head spinning with stories about all the biggest bands and craziest rock stars, she will take you to Seattle spots that inspired famous songs, and of course your conversation will turn to Kurt Cobain on more than one occasion.
Charity runs the small group tour (max of five) in her minivan, once every day and twice a day in the busy summer season.
It’s really a great way to get your bearings with the city, see a few of the sites out of the city centre that would otherwise have been difficult or time consuming to get to, or really hard to find if you’re not in the know!
Check out Charity’s website at www.stalkingseattletours.blogspot.com.
It’s all happening in Capitol Hill
The streets are paved with rainbows in Seattle’s “counterculture” hub, Capitol Hill. The inclusiveness of this neighbourhood is obvious, and comfortingly inviting. You’ll find some of the best restaurants, bars and clubs in this area, as well as the BEST bookstore you’ll ever get lost in and one or two massive music nods – the first is the Jimmy Hendrix statue and the second is Linda’s Tavern, the last place Kurt Cobain was seen alive.
- Linda’s Tavern – 707 E Pine Street (Kurt had the Linda burger and sat in the back booth on the lower level)
- Oddfellows Cafe & Bar – 1525 10th Ave
- Unicorn Bar – 1118 E Pine Street
- Elliot Bay Book Company – 1521 10th Ave
- Jimmy Hendrix statue – cnr Broadway and E Pine St
Get some history y’all
Seattle’s historic centre is just south of downtown, around Pioneer Square. This area was the original Seattle, where the settlers first landed – unfortunately lost in the great fire of 1889, the buildings here are a little newer than you might expect, but are actually built a level above the original buildings. That means there is an underground city beneath these streets.
If you want to get your tourist on, you can take an underground tour to see the remains of some original city buildings, and then you can step into another kind of history – Central Saloon (207 1st Ave S) is a piece of grunge legend… Nirvana supposedly played one of their first gigs here to a crowd of nobody but the bartender. Hey, everyone has to start somewhere, right?
Go on, head down to Pike Place
Okay, so you won’t go to Seattle without visiting Pike Place Markets – to be fair, it’s just something you should tick off. Lots of tulips and souvenirs of course, but there are a couple of incredible Seattle favourites to tuck into, so don’t miss:
- Mac and cheese from Beechers – it’s seriously delicious, and you can watch the cheese makers stirring and cutting the cheese on site. YUM.
- Rachel’s Ginger Beer – this is a Seattle institution, a lot of bars and restaurants serve it and it’s delicious. I don’t even really like Ginger Beer but this is amazing! It comes in a range of fruit flavours, and they have a great spot down there in Pike Place Markets, so definitely stop in.
- The Crumpet Shop – great place for a snack, it’s small and quite Britishly styled, but the crumpets are amazing and my crumpet-loving mind was blown so far beyond the usual jam topping!
Downtime in Belltown
We stayed at a great Airbnb in the Belltown neighbourhood, which hasn’t long been elevated above sketchy-at-best. It is now an eclectic mix of down-home pubs, local-centric and sustainably-focused restaurants, chic clubs and a whole range of shopping, right from thrift store to boutique.
It’s a great location for exploring the city on foot or by public transport because it’s only a 10 minute walk to the city centre. And I don’t know if there are many better places (Capitol Hill excepted, but accommodation is a bit scarcer out there!) to pass your downtime while you’re in this great city!
A few of my favourite spots:
- Bathtub Gin speakeasy – it’s cozy and gives you the perfect Seattle vibe, so give it a crack.
- Local 360 – great food that is locally and sustainably sourced
- Belltown Pub – perfect for a burger and some sweet, sweet happy hour deals
Secret tip for THAT city skyline view
I’m really not one for going to the touristy viewpoints, mainly because it’s usually in an iconic building itself, which means you can’t even see it when you get up there! So rather than spend the $22USD per person to go to the top of the Space Needle, we headed up the hill slightly into the Queen Anne neighbourhood. From Kerry Park you can see the sun set beautifully over the city, with the most iconic tower front and centre. And it’s free. Yes please!
Hmmm… Yeah maybe don’t bother
I started off this post talking about how important music is to the history of Seattle – the Experience Music Project is in the same precinct as the Space Needle, and while the building is amazing, the exhibitions inside leave a bit to be desired, especially considering the $25USD per person admission. The Nirvana exhibition is small but interesting, and the interactive band zone is pretty cool – you can play all the instruments and the computers help you learn to play basic beats. But otherwise there is a Hello Kitty exhibition (?!) and a Seattle Seahawks football team section, then a whole bunch of sci-fi stuff – not really musical, and not really that enticing.
It did have a great gift store too, especially for you book lovers – if you want some reading on the history of Seattle or any of it’s famous prodigies, stop by for sure.
Another level of Nirvana fandom
If you’re really keen on Nirvana history, take your obsession one step further and hire a car for a day trip down to Aberdeen, the stomping ground of Kurt Cobain and the originating town of Nirvana. Here you can see Kurt’s childhood homes, and most significantly the bridge under which he was supposedly living when he wrote “Something in the way”. It’s about two hours to Aberdeen, and on the way is Olympia, where you can see the house that Nevermind was conceived and all but recorded. It’s pretty cool actually.
We found a great article that gives so much background, loads of stories and addresses of all the main spots, so if you’re in town and want to chase Kurt Cobain, definitely use it as reference.
If I could do it all again…
I would definitely carve out some time to take a ferry over to West Seattle, the boat ride is apparently beautiful with great views of the skyline, and there are some restuarants and bars to enjoy.
But really, we covered a lot, and didn’t have much left on the list on our way out of town – so stay for 4-5 days and give Seattle your best crack. We were on our way to Canada, and with Seattle only a few hours from Vancouver, so while I wouldn’t plan a whole trip to just see Seattle, if you’re in the general region it’s definitely worth a visit!