It's hard to speak of Seattle and not be reminded of my dad telling us about the time he (as a 20-something full of vim and vigour) accidentally ordered from the banquette menu at Na Ga Po Room in downtown Seattle because the menu was entirely in Chinese. What unfolded next was a multi-course meal for eight, paraded out, with cloche after cloche lifted to reveal mounds of steaming authentic dishes. No doubt delicious, but entirely too much for one man alone.
Aside from being one of my favourite family stories, it's an apt metaphor for the city. Heaps to see and do and simply too much for just one visit. Nevertheless, I will attempt to impart my Seattle wisdom in the form of fun and funky things to do for first timers.
For me, a trip to the city isn't complete without a visit to Ivar's Fish Bar on Pier 54. As a Seattle staple, Ivar's has been serving up fantastic seafood-to-go since 1938. The original location is still in operation, offering visitors a chance to grab piping hot bowls of New England-style clam chowder and fish n' chips so fine, they'd rival any here in Oz. Just save a couple chips for the seagulls. Tossing a fry skyward to watch them swoop in for the catch is all part of the experience.
It's not all about food though. Should you find yourself longing for liquid refreshment, skip the myriad of bars and clubs. The chance to satiate your thirst while in the city comes in the form of the Mystery Coke Machine. Stationed on the corner of John Street and 10th Avenue East, this soda dispenser is a bit of an anomaly. It's a relic of the 1970s with a faded facade that's definitely seen better days, but it now has a Facebook page so you know it's legit.
Sure, nobody really knows who it belongs to or who restocks it, but the real mystery lies in its selection. For a mere 75 cents (USD), you can choose from such standards as Mountain Dew, Coca-Cola and Pepsi, or – for the more adventurous – try your luck with the Mystery button. You're guaranteed to get your sugary soda fix, but as far as what flavour, only the machine knows ...
The Pike Place Market is one of the major highlights of the city, but there are a few things in this buzzing public space that may get overlooked by first time visitors.
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You'll probably hear the Pike Place Fish Market before you actually see it. The famous fishmongers gather crowds with their loud calls while they stock ice-packed displays with the freshest seafood you can get. But don't pass these guys up as typical market hawkers. Stick around for the famous flying fish.
These gents dazzle onlookers by tossing whole fish back and forth with loud calls over their audience. Ever see a whole salmon gracefully flying through the air? It's nothing short of magical, especially when you see the guy on the receiving end catch it and pack it with such finesse, you'd hardly think the slippery things can weigh upwards of 10 kilograms.
While you're at this bustling open air market, don't forget that there are three additional levels of shops below the main arcade. This is where you'll find the Market Magic Shop. Far from your typical joke store, this shop is packed to the brim with cool tricks, vintage posters and more. The real highlight, though, is Alexander 'The Man Who Knows' and his fortune telling machine at the front of the store.
Before you leave the markets bound for more Seattle delights, be sure to pay Rachel the Piggybank a visit. This giant bronze piggy is just beneath the Public Market Clock and Sign at the corner of Pike Place. You can drop a few coins in to support the Market Foundation; just make sure you rub her snout for good luck!
Next up, make sure you hit the Experience Music Project (EMP). This one isn't much of a secret, if only because of its odd and colourful exterior designed by Frank O. Gehry that makes it hard to miss.
For music lovers, this museum is something of a mecca with incredible exhibits dedicated to sound. This includes the Guitar Gallery, which showcases 55 vintage, world-changing guitars. There's also the Sound Lab, in which you can play and record instruments yourself, as well as a sweep of travelling exhibits dedicated to the "compelling stories of music". Going beyond music, the museum also honours the areas of science fiction, cinema and pop culture with equally intriguing exhibits that range from Star Wars and the Power of Costume to Indie Game Revolution.
You can get to the EMP on the Seattle monorail (another quintessential city experience). The Seattle Space Needle also happens to be right next door if you're looking for exceptional views over the city and Puget Sound.