If you distilled Seattle’s history into five points, it would read something like this: a great fire (1889), a frenzied gold rush (1897), a World’s Fair (1962), the formation of an airplane company called Boeing (1917), and the emergence of a game-changing computer company named Microsoft (1975). Of course, the city’s location on Puget Sound didn’t hurt, either, because that gave Seattle access to the Pacific Ocean.
For much of its relatively brief existence, Seattle was the wettest, wildest city in the Pacific Northwest, a gritty maritime depot that became the jumping-off point for tens of thousands of Alaska-bound gold-seekers. Puget Sound was Seattle’s gateway to the rest of the world until the railroad arrived, at which point it became a major freight terminus by land and a port by sea.
Then Boeing and the aerospace industry came along, and Seattle took to the air, too. A wartime boom in shipbuilding and plane manufacturing bumped the city’s fortunes up another notch.
The Seattle World’s Fair of 1962 was another turning point, an event that introduced this unique and atmospheric city on Elliott Bay to a new generation of visitors. Then came computers and software, personified by Bill Gates and Paul Allen of Microsoft, and Seattle was again “discovered” by the rest of the world.
The city experienced phenomenal growth in the 1980s, and turned into a Big City where people raced around with a Starbucks cup in one hand and a cellphone in the other. And during the real-estate bubble, it did more than bubble—it frothed.
So it’s safe to say that when Seattle sees an opportunity, it takes it and runs. This opportunistic nature is what makes for its highs and lows, its booms and busts, and gives it the big-city edge and push that Portland looks at half-longingly yet doesn’t quite covet.
Seattle’s location amid great natural splendor and its up-to-the-minute trendoid consciousness adds to the pleasures and excitement of a visit. Yes, it does rain a lot, but it’s supposed to. That’s what this northerly Pacific Northwest maritime climate west of the Cascades does: It precipitates. Without those gray, misty days with the smell of saltwater in the air, it wouldn’t be Seattle—and you might not appreciate the clear days, when the Olympic Mountains glow far across the water to the west and Mount Rainier appears majestically to the east.
Nor, without the precipitation, would you see as much green. If you look around at the green coniferous forests that are another characteristic of this moist, temperate climate, you’ll understand why Seattle’s nickname is The Emerald City. The name has nothing to do with Oz, but there is a natural and self-made magic to the place. It’s casual and caffeinated, definitely into good food, arts, and recreation, and offers visitors plenty to see and do, along with a great big dose of fresh sea air.