Weekend Getaway: Seattle

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Make a list of cities you'd like to visit this fall and Seattle may not top your survey -- but it should.

In fact, a weekend in this gem (officially nicknamed the Emerald City, thanks to its evergreen surroundings) will be just the beginning of an inevitable infatuation.

Seattleites rightly glory in their cosmopolitan center, a city with proximity to mountain ranges, lakes and countless acres of woods.

And with all the elements of a major metropolis -- cultural activities, shopping, sights and renowned dining -- Seattle manages to maintain the feel of a small town when broken down into its unique neighborhoods.

To get a real sense of the city, experience as many of them as you can.

Discovering Pike Place

Begin your sightseeing with Pike Place Market, the country's longest continuously operating public market, where locals and vendors mingle in a labyrinth of food, flowers, crafts and entertainment.

Catch a glimpse of fish flying through the air; all the seafood is as fresh as can be, and often so are the fishmongers hocking it. Sample Washington's finest nuts, jams and honeys (perfect for thoughtful souvenirs and gifts). Select a striking bouquet of flowers to brighten your hotel room during your stay. Pass by street performers and artists then watch the cheese-making magic at Beecher's Handmade Cheese.

You can even order a latte at the first Starbucks here. While there may be a line, just breathing it in while staring at the original mermaid logo -- a bit racier than its evolved sister -- makes the wait go by quickly.

Other market hotspots, all located on Post Alley, include The Tasting Room, America's first cooperative wine cellar, featuring Washington artisanal and hard-to-find wines; The Perennial Tea Room, offering collectible teapots and fine teas from around the world; Kell's, a warm and welcoming authentic Irish pub; and local favorite, The Pink Door, with stunning roof views of Elliot Bay, classic Italian fare and if you're lucky, cabaret acts.

Exploring the Neighborhoods

The oldest part of the city, Pioneer Square, is also downtown.

Visit galleries and shops along its tree-lined streets. And if you're so inclined (or declined) take the Underground Tour to explore the Seattle's archaeology.

The tour originates at Doc Maynard's Public House then descends below street level, dispensing a thorough historic background of the city prior to its retrograde and rebuilding after The Great Fire of 1889.

If you prefer department stores and malls to market stalls, there are plenty throughout downtown, all within walking distance from most hotels. Most notable is Nordstrom's flagship store, located next to Pacific Place Mall. High-end retailers Barney's, Furla and Louis Vuitton, plus a slew of other shops, are all within blocks.

Seattle is recognized as America's most literate city, and it shows; the number of bookstores -- new, used and specialized -- is staggering.

The Elliott Bay Book Company in Pioneer Square bears all the authenticity and creaky floors a respectable bookstore should. The University Bookstore in the University District (home to the University of Washington) hosts notable readings, signings and events.

And perhaps the best thing to happen to Seattle's bookworms and architecture mavens is the stunning Seattle Public Library. Opened in May 2004, this remarkable Rem Koolhaas-designed building is an impressive structure, both inside and out. Circumnavigate the block, go in and take a tour, guided or on your own -- the building is a feast for the eyes, even before you get to the one million volumes it houses.

Sleeping in Seattle

From sleek boutique hotels to adorable houseboats, accommodations in Seattle vary as much as its neighborhoods.

For a unique experience, try one of the city's many bed and breakfasts.

For luxury-seekers, the Fairmont Olympic is right in the heart of downtown's business and shopping district; the red brick Sorrento Hotel is not far from downtown on First Hill. Both offer old-world charm and veritable hospitality. Or try downtown favorite Hotel Monaco, which welcomes pets or even provides you with one (a chubby goldfish) for the duration of your stay.

If you prefer to fall asleep to the sounds of the Waterfront, stay right on the Bay at The Edgewater. From there, you can take to the water on an Argosy Boat cruise or check out the largest ferry system in the U.S. with a ride to Bainbridge Island.

Eclectic Entertainment

Seattle is a music lover's paradise, and one needn't look any further than The Stranger, a free newspaper, for all there is to know about who's playing where.

If it's more classical tunes you're after, there's also the Seattle Symphony at Benaroya Hall. A nearby jazz nightclub venue with impressive shows, cocktails and dishes is The Triple Door, beneath elaborate eatery Wild Ginger, which serves diverse Asian fare.

The NBA SuperSonics may soon be leaving Key Arena for new digs, but the Superbowl XL runner-up Seahawks will be at Qwest Field, rated the loudest stadium, for quite some time. And next door is beautiful ballpark Safeco Field, the Seattle Mariners' home complete with Dale Chihuly chandelier of glass bats and retractable roof barring all chances of rainout.

Key Arena is one of many structures, like the Space Needle, making up the Seattle Center. The Pacific Science Center houses a wonderful museum for children and an Imax theatre.

At the base of the needle is the EMP, Experience Music Project. A colorful Frank Gehry-designed building, it's must-visit for all music lovers and creators.

The Green Scene

Climbers, hikers, skiers and outdoor sports lovers in Seattle relish in the short distance to activities. However, you don't need to leave the city for outdoor action.

In Madison Valley, walk the trails in the Washington Park Arboretum or meditate in the Japanese Garden -- you'll quickly forget you're in a city.

Rent a kayak on Lake Union and cruise under bridges, through canals and alongside quaint houseboats. For special dining, don a jacket and head to Canlis for inventive Northwest cuisine. A charming locale overlooking the lake, you can watch seaplanes return from nautical excursions with graceful landings.

Watch ships of all sizes lowered and raised through the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard, home to professional fisherman. Near the locks, the fish ladder is one of few places in the world where fresh and salt waters meet, and salmon can be seen jumping through on their upstream migration.

Ray's Boathouse in Ballard's Shilshole Bay is a classic for views of Puget Sound and the exceptional seafood of which the Northwest is so very proud.

Coffee Break

Much like watching the world go by is something you must do in Paris, coffeehouse time in Seattle is required.

Capitol Hill, one of the largest and most popular neighborhoods, is prime for people-watching. Victrola, Vivace and Bauhaus are three favorites on the Hill, but independently-owned coffee shops dot the city, offering superior brews, yummy pastries and free Wi-Fi.

But what cup of coffee would be complete without the perfect doughnut? Underneath the monorail in Belltown is Top Pot Doughnuts, each hand-forged and totally scrumptious.

Whether you go for the cake doughnuts and old-fashioned, they're equally delicious and equally sinful -- so you'll just have to try both.

Seattle can get a little cloudy or drizzly, it's true. But if you do end up with a blue-skied day, you could be lucky enough to hear a Seattleite say the words, "the mountain's out," referring to the unforgettable view of the city's guardian angel, Mt. Rainier, glowing in the distance.

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