Think Seattle and you think: Seahawks. Space Needle. Microsoft. Crummy weather.
Not so fast. The Pacific Northwest's "Emerald City" (so named because of all the green) actually has a ton of sparkle.
Just back from visiting, and I will admit I never could live there. For one, the gloomy weather.
Before you start arguing with me, that climate assessment comes from a friend who's lived there for years and loves the place but hates the steady drizzle and having to turn her headlights on at three in the afternoon in the winter -- because while it's not Siberia, it's pretty far north.
She, by the way, is looking to move back to Southern California because she can't take it anymore.
(I was fortunate to have her chauffeur me around and offer her very thoughtful commentary in the bargain.)
For another, the lofty prices (this is, after all, the home of said Microsoft and Amazon).
But it had so much going for it; I was almost tempted to look into buying a toy-sized houseboat. For a nanosecond, I thought I could be like those Seattleites, as they're called, who shrug off all that wet with all that cool outdoor gear. I could be hardy too. Actually, no, I couldn't.
At any rate, I always love bopping around there, and here's why you should, too:
1. LA, New York and Alaska all in one. Seattle is so far northwest, it's an easy drive to Vancouver, Canada. And it's an air and ferry gateway to Alaska.
Like some of Alaska, it started out in part as a timber town wedged between the Puget Sound -- an inlet of the Pacific Ocean -- several lakes, and distant mountains.
Now, it's a string of eclectic neighborhoods that make one big, cosmopolitan city. Big enough to attract superstars Adele and Bruno Mars. At a fraction of the entertainment cost of NYC or LA, says my friend. And much easier to get to. No LA-magnitude traffic jams.
... and then browsing at the nearby Elliot Bay Book Company, a popular hangout.
And then watch boats navigate through the Ballard Locks connecting the Puget Sound with Lake Union. (There's also a salmon hatchery nearby.)
2. Still, it's its own place. Though it's hilly and looks like San Francisco in spots with ahhh views of the sound, it's its own place. Several locals all told me it's not as international as Vancouver, nor as small as that other Pacific Northwest city: Portland.
3. Home of the original Starbucks. Yep, it all started here, in the iconic Pike Place Market on the sound, which Seahawks' star Richard Sherman told me in an email is one of his favorite places. (Pike Place, not Starbucks.)
There's really not much to the place. Trust me, it's a lot smaller than the one in your neighborhood. And crawling with tourists (guilty as charged), so you won't want to linger long.
4. A haven for coffee lovers in general. You can get a caffeine and pastry fix on almost every corner. Locals all have their favorites, and there are so many; Starbucks is just a drop in the coffeepot.
And what's with Seattle and coffee, anyway? The obvious: It's nice to cozy up to something toasty when it's dreary and you feel like you just emerged from the shower much of the time. (I was lucky, I'm told, to have experienced two sunny days in a row. That's why there are blue skies in all my photos.)
My friend also pointed out that the coffeehouses offer a sense of community -- a warm hug on a raw day.
5. Great food scene.
I shouldn't have been surprised that there's a lot more to the Seattle food scene than seafood and java. Move over, all you other culinary capitals. Seattle's got just about everything. And does it pretty well.
Extra points, too, for fairly decent Philly cheesesteaks. There's actually a couple of contenders. I tried one at Tat's Deli, started by a guy from the Philly area. One gulp of Cheez Whiz, that sinfully great ingredient, and I was transported back to my college town.
6. glassybaby. When my friend wanted to buy me a souvenir, this was where we ended up, much to my delight. This candle company that counts area resident and Amazon chief Jeff Bezos as a fan was created by a lung cancer survivor.
Today her company makes many shades of that original cup, with glassblowers right on site at one of the stores in the Madrona neighborhood.
7. Great parks -- and a real beach. There are many, including Gas Works Park, which offers a particularly nice view. This former site of a gas plant sits on Lake Union, where the floating house in the film Sleepless in Seattle still sits.
Alki Beach park is on Puget Sound. It's got an LA feel to it, complete with a couple of palm trees -- a surreal sight this far north -- along with joggers and rollerbladers.
8. Volunteer Park Conservatory. Step into this giant greenhouse filled with exotic plants and feel like you're back in Victorian London. That's the idea: It's modeled after a famed London exhibition hall.
9. The Fremont Troll. The troll, as the name indicates, is in the, um, Fremont section. A folk tale was the catalyst for the sculpture.
10. The Gum Wall. This monstrosity just may be the most disgusting attraction you'll never want to rub elbows with. This giant wad of chewing gum has been evolving for decades.
11. Seattle Underground Tour. Touristy, but interesting if you've never been. It's a creepy trek around what were once the main streets and first-floor storefronts of old downtown Seattle.