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Seattleites may spend much of their free time enjoying the city's natural surroundings, but that doesn't mean they overlook the more cultured evening pursuits. In fact, the winter weather that keeps people indoors, combined with a longtime desire to be the cultural mecca of the Northwest, has fueled a surprisingly active and diverse nightlife scene. Music lovers will find a plethora of classical, jazz, and rock offerings. The Seattle Opera is ranked one of the top companies in the country, and its stagings of Wagner's Ring series have achieved near-legendary status. The Seattle Symphony also receives frequent accolades. Likewise, the Seattle Repertory Theatre has won Tony awards for its productions, and a thriving fringe theater scene keeps the city's lovers of avant-garde theater contentedly discoursing in cafes and bars about the latest hysterical or thought-provoking performances.

Much of Seattle's evening entertainment scene is clustered in the Seattle Center and Pioneer Square areas. The former hosts theater, opera, and classical-music performances; the latter is a bar-and-nightclub district. Other concentrations of nightclubs can be found in Belltown, where crowds of the young and hip flock to the neighborhood's many trendy clubs, and in Capitol Hill, with its ultracool gay scene. Ballard, formerly a Scandinavian neighborhood in North Seattle, attracts a primarily middle-class, not-too-hip, not-too-old crowd, including lots of college students and techies. It's not the hipster Belltown scene, it's not the PBR-swilling blues scene of Pioneer Square, and it's not the sleek gay scene of Capitol Hill. It's just a comfortable neighborhood nightlife scene.

While winter is a time to enjoy the performing arts, summer brings an array of outdoor festivals. These take place during daylight hours as much as they do after dark.

To find out what's going on when you're in town, pick up a free copy of Seattle Weekly (www.seattleweekly.com), Seattle's arts-and-entertainment newspaper. You'll find it in bookstores, convenience stores, grocery stores, newsstands, and newspaper boxes around downtown and other neighborhoods. On Friday the Seattle Times includes a section called "NW Ticket," a guide to the week's arts-and-entertainment offerings.

Only in Seattle . . . -- While Seattle has plenty to offer in the way of performing arts, some of the city's best after-dark offerings have nothing to do with music or theater. There's no better way to start the evening (that is, if the day has been sunny or only partly cloudy) than to catch the sunset from the waterfront. The Bell Street Pier and Myrtle Edwards Park are two of the best vantages for taking in nature's light show. Keep in mind that sunset can come as late as 10pm in the middle of summer.

Want the best view of the city lights? Put off your elevator ride to the top of the Space Needle until after dark. Or you can hop a ferry and sail off into the night.

The Club & Music Scene

Whether you want to hear a live band, hang out in a dive bar, or dance, Pioneer Square is a good place to start. Keep in mind that this neighborhood tends to attract a very rowdy crowd (lots of frat boys) and can be pretty rough late at night.

Belltown, north of Pike Place Market, is a more sophisticated and trendy place to club-hop. Clubs here are way more style-conscious than those in Pioneer Square and tend to attract 20- and 30-something hipsters.

Seattle's other main nightlife district is the former Scandinavian neighborhood of Ballard, where you'll find more than a half-dozen nightlife establishments, including taverns, bars, and live-music clubs.

Capitol Hill, a few blocks uphill from downtown Seattle, is the city's main gay nightlife neighborhood, with much of the action centered on the corner of East Madison Street and 15th Avenue East.

The Gay & Lesbian Scene -- Capitol Hill is Seattle's main gay neighborhood; consequently, it has the city's greatest concentration of gay and lesbian bars and clubs. Look for the readily available Seattle Gay News (tel. 206/324-4297; www.sgn.org), in which many of the city's gay bars and nightclubs advertise.

Other Entertainment

Get Your Game On -- Seattle is a computer nerd's town, and downtown's massive GameWorks, 1511 Seventh Ave. (tel. 206/521-0952; www.gameworks.com), is where the geeks go gaming. This place has more than 175 video games and simulators, plus a full bar.

Bowled Over in Seattle -- A hip bowling alley? Why not? Up on Capitol Hill, you can do a little bowling, shoot some pool, and take in the hipster scene at Garage, 1130 Broadway Ave. (tel. 206/322-2296; www.garagebilliards.com). When the weather gets warm, the garage doors roll up to let in the fresh air. Definitely not your small-town bowling alley.

Movies -- Summertime in the Fremont neighborhood always means Fremont Almost Free Outdoor Cinema (http://fremontoutdoormovies.com), a series that features modern classics, B movies (sometimes with live overdubbing by a local improv comedy company), and indie shorts. Films are screened on Saturday nights in the parking lot at North 35th Street and Phinney Avenue North. The parking lot opens at 7:30pm, and there is a $5 suggested donation.

Want to sip a martini while you watch the latest indie film hit? Find out what's playing at Belltown's Big Picture Seattle, 2505 First Ave. (tel. 206/256-0566; www.thebigpicture.net). This little basement theater below El Gaucho steakhouse is the coolest little theater in the city and a favorite of fans of indie films.

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.