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Arts and Culture

The Great Outdoors gets so much attention it's easy to overlook Seattle's Great Indoors—the myriad galleries, museums, music clubs, independent bookstores, theaters, and cinemas. The city teems with visual artists and sculptors; several excellent film festivals attest to the number of resident cinephiles. Nearly every local coffee shop (and many restaurants, bars, and stores) serves as an impromptu art gallery; some even hold official openings with food, drinks, and music when exhibits change.

A great way to get an overview of Seattle's art scene—and mingle with locals in the process—is to participate in one of the city's many art walks, which include stops at galleries, coffeehouses that have rotating art exhibits, restaurants, shops, and public works of art in all their quirky glory. The biggest walk is the First Thursday Art Walk in Pioneer Square (first Thursday of every month from noon to 8 pm www.firstthursdayseattle.com), which starts at Main Street and Occidental and takes you through the city's gallery district, as well as to some Downtown spots. There are also smaller, though no less interesting, walks in every neighborhood in Seattle (Wednesdays to Saturdays, complete listings at www.seattleartwalks.org). Some of our favorites are Capitol Hill (second Thursdays from 5 pm to 8 pm www.blitzcapitolhill.com), Fremont (first Fridays from 6 pm to 9 pm www.fremontfirstfriday.blogspot.com), and Ballard (second Saturdays from 6 pm to 9 pm www.ballardchamber.com).

Check out what local writers are up to at readings at the Richard Hugo House, Open Books, and Pilot Books and at local bookstores and venues citywide (www.thestranger.com/seattle/books for weekly listings).

The grande dame of the art scene, the Seattle Art Museum has rotating exhibitions and a lovely permanent collection. SAM's outdoor branch, Olympic Sculpture Park, is where striking sculptures compete with views of the Puget Sound. Other favorite museums include the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience and the Frye Art Museum, along with the new Chihuly Garden and Glass museum featuring the work of renowned artist Dale Chihuly.

A nonprofit that aids Seattle's budding filmmakers, the Northwest Film Forum (www.nwfilmforum.org) has the scoop on independent film in the Northwest and worldwide. At NWFF's hip screening room, film geeks can catch hard-to-find documentaries and feature films or just revisit classic films from masters like Jean Renoir and Akira Kurosawa.

Water

Bound and sliced by impressive stretches of water, even longtime residents can be found gawking at the mountain-backed Puget Sound and its bays.

A must-see on any itinerary, the Seattle Aquarium shows you what's going on underneath the surface, with special exhibits concerning the marine and river ecosystems of the Pacific Northwest. Get an up-close look at all sorts of craft, from research boats to posh yachts as they navigate the Lake Washington Ship Canal and the Hiram M. Chittenden (aka "Ballard") Locks.

If you're not content with views alone, rent a canoe or kayak from Agua Verde Paddle Club and tool around the ship canal or head into Lake Union to see Seattle's famous houseboats. Experienced sailors might want to consider renting a sailboat from the Center for Wooden Boats; lessons are available for landlubbers.

On hot days, the swimming rafts in Lake Washington beckon. Several beaches along the western shore of this massive lake have lifeguards and other amenities. The eastern shore of Green Lake also has a beach and swimming raft and offers a more subdued dip—a good way to cool off after you join Seattleites in a jog around the lake's nearly-3-mi pedestrian path.

To experience a little taste of California in Seattle, with beach volleyball and a general SoCal beachy feel, take the West Seattle water taxi (www.kingcounty.gov) across Elliott Bay. Stroll or bike along Alki Beach, dip a toe or a kayak in the water, and enjoy a great panorama of city skyline, mountains, and sea. Riding a Washington State ferry —perhaps a trip from Downtown Seattle to Bainbridge Island—is pure exhilarating joy, with the views, the waves, the seagulls, the spray of water, and the seals frolicking. Don't miss an opportunity if you can help it.

Lazy Days

Despite all the activities they enjoy, Seattleites appreciate the beauty of slowing the pace and spending a few quiet hours away from distractions.

Grab a few books, find a coffee shop, and spend a couple of hours reading and writing postcards.

Instead of jostling with joggers around Green Lake or power walking in Discovery Park, head to Gasworks Park and stake out a piece of green. From the park's hill you can watch the boats in Lake Union.

Take the ferry to nearby islands Vashon or Bainbridge. Rent a bike and tool around past parkland, farmland, and orchards; then pop into galleries and crafts shops if you feel so inclined. Or just find a piece of beach and relax for a few hours.

Wining and Dining

It's no secret that Seattle has excellent restaurants as well as an obsession with wine (both Northwest and international varieties) and increasingly, craft beer. A wine list is never an afterthought at the city's best restaurants, and it's never difficult to find a place that does food and drink equally well.

Purple Café and Wine Bar is the first stop for the indecisive. You can get anything from baked Brie with apricot preserves to short rib sandwich. You can also order flights of three or four different wines, paired with cheeses, if you have trouble choosing from the wine list, which is so long it has a table of contents.

In recent years, craft beer has become somewhat of a local obsession, with an explosion in beer festivals, microbreweries, and taphouse's with multi-page menus of seasonal beer. To join in the fun, head to Brouwer's Café in Fremont to sample their rotating menu of 64 beers on draft (and over 60 scotches) with a side of modern European food, or the Noble Fir in Ballard with a similarly impressive list and great small plates. Stock up at Bottleworks or make a pilgrimage to Chuck's Hop Shop, a guarded local secret that hosts 30 craft beers on tap, 1,000 bottled beers, food trucks, events, and tastings out of its inauspicious storefront.

Out of all of the city's current favorite restaurants, Canlis, Cascina Spinasse, Sitka & Spruce, the Walrus and the Carpenter, Tilth, How to Cook a Wolf, Poppy, Anchovies & Olives, Matt's in the Market, and Lark are just a few that get a special nod for excellent food and wine choices that never disappoint. Café Juanita and the Herbfarm, in the city's eastern suburbs, take special-occasion dining to a whole new level. At the Herbfarm you'll get no fewer than nine courses and five or six paired wines, along with commentary from the chef and owners.

To indulge during daylight hours, create the perfect picnic with food from Salumi Cured Meats in Pioneer Square, Paseo in Fremont, or DeLaurenti's at Pike Place Market (be sure to grab a few choice bottles from the Pike & Western Wine Shop nearby).

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