A quick 360-degree scan of the horizon on a sunny day in Seattle will present a mesmerizing view, over the shimmering waters of Puget Sound to the snow-covered peaks of the Olympic Mountains to the west and the massive mound of Mount Rainier to the east. In between, there’s the iconic Space Needle and all the towers of downtown Seattle. With sights like these, it’s easy to see why people would want to live here. The 1993 movie Sleepless in Seattle helped to romanticize a city that nobody saw as particularly romantic—until the tech boom brought Seattle into the national consciousness and gave the city and its residents a new edge of sophistication.
Although the weather in Seattle is notoriously drizzly, the residents for the most part don’t let precipitation stand between them and the outdoors. The temptation is too great to head for the hills, the river, the beach, the Sound, or the San Juan Islands. Consequently, life in Seattle tends to revolve as much around parks, gardens, waterfronts, and other outdoor spaces and activities as it does around such traditional urban pastimes as shopping, the performing arts, and dining. And when the city’s green spaces aren’t wild enough to satisfy the craving for an outdoor adventure, there is something wilder close at hand. If you live in Seattle, you can be in a national park, national forest, or state park within an hour or two.
The region’s outdoors aesthetic does not, however, preclude a strong support of the arts. The Seattle Opera is one of the finest companies in the country (well known for its stagings of Wagner’s Ring cycle), as is the Seattle Symphony, which performs in downtown’s Benaroya Hall. Seattle also has the best theater scene on the West Coast. (Seattle is where playwright August Wilson got his start and made his mark before Broadway.)
The visual arts aren’t overlooked either. Seattle expanded its Seattle Art Museum back in 2007. Chihuly Garden and Glass, a stunning new museum dedicated to the work of internationally known glass-master Dale Chihuly, a Tacoma-native, opened next to the Space Needle in 2012.
Despite the collapse of the over-inflated real estate market, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen’s Vulcan company continued and continues with its ambitious redevelopment of Seattle’s South Lake Union neighborhood, now home to the world headquarters of Amazon and attracting new biotech companies With the economy in better shape now, Seattle building and development is back in almost full swing. Cranes rise up all over the South Lake Union area, which is quickly integrating with the rest of urban Seattle, and other building and rebuilding projects are advancing in downtown. Down on the waterfront, the new Seattle Great Wheel started spinning in 2013 and instantly became a new landmark.
The biggest building project in Seattle right now is not about construction but deconstruction. The horrible Alaskan Way Viaduct, put up in the 1950s directly next to the waterfront, effectively cutting off downtown from the harbor, is finally being dismantled, and a giant tunnel is being dug to funnel the traffic. The site of the viaduct will become a giant waterside park, transforming the city and bringing it back to the waterfront where it began. (Unfortunately, the huge boring machine used to create the tunnel was damaged in 2014, and work has been delayed for months.)
Despite its reputation for foot dragging when it comes to public transit, Seattle finally got a light-rail system up and running in 2009, and in 2010, service began between Seattle Tacoma International Airport and downtown Seattle. Seattle also has a new streetcar line that runs from downtown to South Lake Union. But Seattle also continues to have some of the worst traffic congestion outside of L.A. If you visit with a car, avoid driving at rush hour or, better yet, avoid driving altogether.
The economic news has been brighter for aerospace giant Boeing, the region’s biggest employer, since the first of its new 787 Dreamliners finally took to the air in late 2009.
Like any big city in a global economy, Seattle has seen its share of boom and bust. That, in fact, is what Seattle is all about. Economy aside, however, Seattleites continue to share a common interest in the outdoors, and it is this interest that tends to dominate the character of the Puget Sound region. If winters are long, gray, and rainy, well, you just put on a colorful rain jacket, fill the travel mug with a double tall latte, and head for the hills anyway.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.