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Explore the Arty Side of Seattle

With a treasure trove of indie bookshops, spots to make your own masterpieces, and imaginative chefs taking over, the city’s creative side is flourishing.

Where to Stay

Wink at the wry art at the Palladian Hotel (from $200/night), where paintings of local celebs like Bill Gates and Jimi Hendrix wearing Napoleonic garb greet guests in the lobby. Rooms are kitted out in similarly cheeky fashion, with pillows printed with rock-star portraits, along with utilitarian-chic touches like vintage maps on the walls, exposed brick, and claw-foot tubs. Taste seafood specialties like diver scallops with golden-raisin purée ($28) at on-premises Shaker + Spear, and stop by bar Pennyroyal for an inspired nightcap like the Follow the Map, made with duck-fat-infused rum ($12).

At the Palladian Hotel, you may find yourself bedmates with a rock star.  

Sleep amidst clean Scandinavian design at Hotel Ändra (from $289), where the face-lifted efficiencies are decked out with sleek Aalto salon chairs, coffee tables made from fallen Seattle trees, Tivoli clocks, and Face Stockholm body-care products. Perch in the lofted above-lobby bar, sipping from a menu of 35 aquavits, or order room service from adjoining Lola, one of Seattle’s best Greek restaurants.

Kick back at the Hotel Ballard (from $229), located right amidst the bistros and rollicking pubs of its namesake neighborhood. Ask for a top-floor Courtyard Suite (from $289), equipped with a fireplace in the parlor and a free-standing soaking tub. Grab a sour-cherry phosphate ($3) from the on-site Stoneburner restaurant and bring it up to the rooftop to warm up by the outdoor fireplace, with views of the Olympic Mountains. On Sundays, step out the front door to lively Ballard Avenue, which hosts one of the city's largest farmers' markets.

Where to Eat

Inhale deeply upon entering the Whale Wins; the sweet scent emanates from a giant applewood-burning stove. Within the restaurant’s marble-and-tile interior, dishes are served family-style, like Painted Hills marrow bones with golden raisins and pickled shallot relish ($21) and roasted half-chicken, served atop lentils and coconut with a dusting of peanut, sumac, and cabbage ($29). If slow-cooked nettles ($9) are on the menu, they're a must-order; each smoky bite brings to mind a Northwest spring forest.

Share rustic dishes cooked in the fragrant wood-burning oven at the Whale Wins.  

Score front-row seats at Art of the Table, overlooking chef Dustin Ronspies's masterful creations. Watch him and his team whip up locally focused dishes like wild Columbia River sturgeon alongside greens and chile oil ($23), or chicken-fried halibut with root-veggie slaw ($13). It’s not all serious business here, though, so be sure to try a tipple like the Drink Your Care Away (kümmel, lime, orange bitters, $11) along with duck-confit lollipops ($22), which the waiters will encourage you to eat with your bare hands.

Globe-trot at Nue , where creative round-the-world-inspired dishes fill the communal tables. Settle in among the travelers’ treasures scattered in nooks around the room—Russian nesting dolls, a neon Mizuno pachinko machine, rice-steaming baskets—and get in the adventurous spirit with a cocktail like the Beetle Juice (vodka infused with Thai water beetle, $12). Start with a Vietnamese spinach-and-herb salad ($6) or Indian spinach pakoras ($8), followed by Trinidad goat curry served with coconut-and-pineapple cornbread ($16) or a Caribbean Maracas shark and bake, made with Pacific rockfish, fry bread, and green-banana salad.

What to Do

Expand your artistic skill set in one of the numerous hands-on classes springing up around the city. Travel with your paintbrush to the Bainbridge Island Bloedel Reserve for a weekend watercolor class ($325), or create a new superhero (yourself, maybe?) at a comic-book intensive course ($215), both from the Gage Academy. Try your hand at screen-printing in the studio at the Vera Project, an all-ages music-and-art venue ($30). Learn how to handle heat and craft sculptures at Pratt Fine Arts Center’s Ladies Forging Night ($70) or Ladies Welding Night ($70). And those who’d rather mold a story than a vase can try an intensive memoir-essentials ($95) class at Hugo House, Seattle’s nonprofit writing center.

Among the many hands-on art classes around the city, one brings aspiring painters to Bainbridge Island.  

Explore Seattle's niche bookshops. Start out at Left Bank Books, sifting through the anarchist critiques, situationist fiction, and feminist essays on the shelves. Indulge your inner geek with sci-fi novels and build-it-yourself electronic dice kits at Ada’s Technical Books, along café-lined 15th Avenue. Then pick up a signed copy of Allen Ginsberg’s Howl ($150) at Open Books: A Poem Emporium, which crams 10,000 new, used, and out-of-print poetry books, from Chris Abani to Martha Zweig, within its shoe-box-like space. For new, vintage, and imported cookbooks, browse the Book Larder, a tidy aqua room fitted with a kitchen for cooking demos and discussions.

Put on your sneakers for a walking tour of Seattle’s expansive outdoor art, starting with a hike through Olympic Sculpture Park’s 22 massive pieces set amid nine waterfront acres. Highlights: the barely balanced Typewriter Eraser, Scale X and the nearly three-stories-high arcing Eagle. Head north to the neighborhood once referred to as "The People's Republic of Fremont" for a thought-provoking sculpture walk that still evidences proletarian spirit: For example, Seattleites add their own personal touches—such as red fingertips—to the 16-foot-tall bronze Vladimir Lenin salvaged from Slovakia. Add your hat or scarf to one of six cold aluminum commuter heads at Waiting for the Interurban, or climb the 18-foot-tall Fremont Troll, who stares out with one crazed silvery eye from beneath the Fremont Bridge, clutching a VW Beetle.

Expert Tips

From local author (A Young Man’s Guide to Late Capitalism, The Dismal Science) and Sierra Nevada M.F.A. program professor Peter Mountford.

Take in a flick at the early 20th-century Guild 45th Theatre.   

Book-It Repertory Theater puts on events that are something between a play and a reading. The performances are much more visceral than readings, because the actors perform dialogue, blocking, and so on, but the performances also retain a lot of the language and tone of the original piece (tickets from $25).

The Guild 45th Theatre was built in 1919 as a live stage venue. It's now a bare-bones, no-frills cinema: One person does the tickets and the popcorn. The last time they put in new carpet was probably the early 1980s, but it's charming and they pick great films (tickets from $8).

I love Chungee's on Capitol Hill for homestyle Cantonese cooking. I eat whatever's recommended by the woman who runs the place, who pulls vegetables from her garden. If the garden specialty isn't on offer, I order Beef Chow Phun ($12.95) or Shrimp Moo Shoo ($13.95), which taste more fresh and natural than at any other Chinese restaurant I know of in town.

The Sexton in Ballard has hipster craft cocktails in an artfully distressed building that used to be a brothel, according to local legend. I go for the Sexton Signature ($10), or the Aged Old Fashioned ($12) with bourbon, which is warm and inviting and seems innocuous until you're unconscious under the table.

The Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (known as the Ballard Locks) has a dainty English garden and grassy slopes ideal for a picnic, but watch out for falling gull poop. The Locks connect Seattle's lakes to Puget Sound, and offer passage to an amusing and awkward mix of gleaming yachts and rusted fishing trawlers.


Free copies of the Pulitzer Prize–winning alt-weekly The Stranger can be found street-side or online; the newspaper serves up solid Seattle event critiques and recommendations.

Discover in-depth interviews, reviews, and previews for Seattle’s performing, visual, and literary arts in City Arts.

Read up on local chefs, cooking classes, and cuisine in Edible Seattle’s print magazine and on its online site.