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If you want to savor the Emerald City like a local, start by familiarizing yourself with some of its passions.
If Seattle had a soundtrack it would surely include the whir, hiss, and hum of espressos being pulled by wrist-twisting baristas. It may be a cliché, but coffee fuels and shapes a huge part of Seattle's cultural identity. Starbucks has enough local fans to be a presence here, but to understand the coffee culture—and to get a great cup of joe—visit one of the numerous independent shops and local mini-chains, many of which roast their own beans on-site for distinctive micro-roast signatures. Seattle's independent coffee shops have an atmosphere somewhere between the U.K.'s pub culture, an office park, and a Gymboree, depending on the shop and time of day. With what appears to be half the city telecommuting at any given time, coffeehouses are the de facto workplace for many Seattlites. Spend an hour or two in a shop and you'll notice business meetings and small armies of software engineers and freelancers tapping away on their laptops. Some shops, particularly in the north end, hold host to play groups and story times, and an increasing number offer beer and wine as well as evening trivia or music events. Occasionally, shops feature hard-to-get coffees at special "cupping" events, which take on the structure and feel of wine tastings.
Let's get this out of the way: the city that brought the world grunge has never stopped evolving. While you still might catch a glimpse of grunge royalty strolling in West Seattle or hunkered over the bar at Hazelwood in Ballard, our current crop of local bands is proof we've moved on. Today you're more likely to catch alt-country bands, underground hip-hop, or eclectic folk-pop like the Fleet Foxes in the city's many little clubs, theaters, and music festivals. Seattle's love of music is demonstrated more outside of its clubs than in them. You can see it in the independent record shops, where staff members handwrite poetic recommendations; in the continued success of local label Sub Pop Records; in the fanatical support for local radio station KEXP; in the health of midsize venues that can draw national acts; and the tendency of coffeehouse baristas to treat their shifts like DJ sessions.
Pacific Northwest Cuisine
Fresh, local, organic, and wild—this is a city that takes these buzzwords seriously, and it shows. Over the last decade, Seattle has emerged as a true foodie mecca, with a distinctive farm (and sea)-to-table Northwest style and a heavy Pacific Rim influence. Many restaurants get their raw materials from the city's farmers' markets, Pike Place Market, and in some cases from their chef's own organic farms. You'll even see sous-chefs emerging from some restaurant's rooftop gardens, laden with baskets of mint and lavender.
Fusion is the name of the game here—it's often hard to find restaurants that stay strictly within their original national perimeters. But arrive with an open mind and you'll come away thinking Mediterranean lamb kebabs are a natural pairing with Asian coleslaw and Bavarian bacon. We'd be remiss if we didn't push you to try seafood throughout the city—from sustainable sushi to the season's best offerings at mid- and high-end eateries. No matter where you go, don't let the casual dress code and stripped-down decor fool you—eating is a recreational hobby here and parties are more likely to include spirited debates about choice restaurants than small talk on any other subject.
Your exploration shouldn't be limited to the fanciest eateries—be sure to hit hole-in-the-wall pho joints, tiny diners, fish-and-chips shops, and bakeries for quick bites and pastry treasures. Recent years have also seen an explosion of food trucks—many of which feature high-quality, locally sourced ingredients and a devoted local following. Check out Seattle Food Truck (www.seattlefoodtruck.com) for times and locations, or head to the Mobile Food Rodeo (September; www.mobilefoodrodeo.com), Seattle's food truck festival, to sample the best roaming cuisine.
The Great Outdoors
Yeah, it rains a lot … in winter. But summers are gorgeous (as are most falls and springs), and with a major mountain range on each side and Mt. Rainier rising to the south, it's no wonder that Seattleites are obsessed with the outdoors. The best adventures—heading east to hike in the Cascade range; south to Mt. Rainier or Mt. St. Helens national parks; west to camp, hike, and spot wildlife in Olympic National Park; or across the Sound to explore one of many nearby islands on foot or by canoe or kayak—involve leaving the city, but even within Seattle proper, there's plenty to do. Bike rentals are plentiful, and kayaking is one of the easiest sports to try, thanks to the abundance of water; many people paddle around Portage Bay. Favorite urban parks include Discovery Park, Washington Park Arboretum, and Seward Park. Enjoying an outdoor adventure is easy and memorable here.
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