The Nature Of Seattle

From outdoor activities, to sustainable farming and top-notch seafood restaurants, the Seattle area offers visitors a unique flavor of the Northwest.

Story and Photos by Shannon Douglas

The author is a Seattle-based food and travel photographer, lover of the great outdoors and founder of Honest Magazine. To learn more, check her out on Facebook and Instagram.

Dark, glassy green water. Sharp mountains whose prominent, powdered peaks scrape the sky. Islands that stretch into the endless horizon. It’s no question the blood of Seattleites runs thick with a deep respect for the rugged beauty we have the pleasure to call home. That respect makes its way out in everything from the care we take in the marine life we forage, to the community businesses that tread lightly wherever they go, giving back twice what they take, to the lifestyle that is the epitome of the Pacific Northwest. Rock climbing, skiing, trail running, cycling, sailing, paddle boarding, crabbing, mountaineering- all a great way to spend your day anywhere, but do so in Washington and you’ll be grabbed hold of by the untamable beauty and pulled into the epic backcountry.

The city itself pulses with the energy of a place thick with local values and community. Tattooed, mustachioed baristas whip up finely-tuned espresso for thick-chested (and even thicker-bearded) fishermen sporting their signature orange bibs while the two exchange news of the local banter. Both are blood and bone representations of Seattle and both can be found at one of the cities many fine restaurants.

Seattle is a port city. Towering cranes resembling giant orange dinosaurs, shipping containers en route to Asia, ferries that make their way back and forth to the many islands, and Fishermen’s Terminal, the working dock of Seattle’s commercial fishing fleet in the Interbay neighborhood. Proud, bearded old salts swinging nets and rigging ropes are scattered in this moving, living organism that is the Seattle fishing industry. Restaurants and shops serving seafood pulled right off the boats are available to visitors looking for respite from the freezing air, but the heart of the operation lies in the many docks open to the public. Brave the blustering winds and you’ll be rewarded with visions of shiny metal vessels, calloused and weathered by the storms they’ve tallied, repping names equal to their voyages, (Yankee Maid, Husky, the Emancipator.) Expect to be chatted up by the fishermen and women whistling while they work, poking fun and testing little ones about their sea knowledge.

Rich in organic, sustainable farms, sea bounty and world-class foraging, the palate of Washington is bursting with juicy alpine berries, wildly beautiful woodland mushrooms, crisp orchard fruits and achingly fresh seafood. Satisfying, yet light, diners can expect to experience flavorful, nourishing meals that leave you feeling satiated and balanced. Oysters, mussels, clams, crab, seaweed, salmon, octopus and more are prized local specialties and you won’t find them fresher anywhere else.

 

In no place is this more apparent than in Seattle restaurateur Renee Erickson’s “The Walrus and The Carpenter.” Renowned worldwide and named a personal favorite by Bon Appétit’s restaurant editor, The Walrus (as it’s affectionately known to locals), is a top-notch oyster bar in an absolutely unbelievable setting. Past a giant coral-like chandelier are hand-drawn illustrations of the lively poem the restaurant is inspired after. Marble countertops circle the open kitchen in this intimate space where diners can enjoy an up-close view of their dinner being shucked as evening light pours in over the Ballard Mill Marina. Hand-written chalkboard signs sport names of the shellfish, their farms and locations.

The space is cozy, welcoming and draws a connection to its nautical location, but the key ingredient in this Pacific Northwest take on French-style dining is the people. A small team with a large respect for one another and a passionate devotion to the food, farmers and purveyors are a common thread. Chef de Cuisine Bobby Palmquist (who came to work for Renee after meeting her while working on a farm she visited to source produce), describes working for Renee as positive and adventurous and notes his favorite part of working in her kitchen is the creative freedom he gets. The restaurant still sources its produce from this farm and enjoys serving it to the farmers that come in to dine often.

As someone who makes every move conscientiously, Renee speaks about the responsibility she feels to the purveyors and farmers she sources ingredients from and the reflection diners relate to them through her restaurant. Renee values her employees, as indicated by the $15 hourly wages, health care and benefits she provides. Renee’s new “tip-free” instigation allows her to move those charges into her dishes and distribute the income fairly among employees.

The award-winning Theo Chocolate is another local business in the forefront of the conscious business movement. Located in Fremont, Seattle's greenest neighborhood (brimming with farmers’ markets and startups). Theo is the first fair-trade organic bean-to-bar factory in America and continually committed to promoting fair trade practices and investing in the farmers they partner with in the Eastern Congo. Daily factory tours (complete with tastings), take you through the bean-to-bar process, offering delightful visuals and fair trade education.

Nothing says Seattle more than tying off your boat and stepping into the nautical-themed restaurant of Westward (named #5 best restaurant in America by Bon Appétit Magazine in 2014). Travel by bike, car or boat (a dock sits out front), and step into the outdoor seating area. Slink into an Adirondack chair around a crackling bonfire and wrap yourself in one of the lush, wool blankets offered. Tantalizing Mediterranean fare including octopus bolognese, wood-fired oven baked gigante beans and local oysters are available in both indoor and outdoor seating areas.

In addition to the nautical-style digs and patio views, the interior of the restaurant is a work of art in itself. A whimsical interpretation drawing heavily from Wes Anderson's “The Life Aquatic,” the bar boasts a custom-built ship, complete with fun fantasies and scenarios played out in between liquor bottles. Framed paintings of Bill Murray hang on the concrete walls, and a wood-fired oven is continually tended to in the back. A wall built entirely of glass opens in the summer to continue the space outdoors. In the winter, light shines off the water, filling the spacious dining room.

The laid-back atmosphere makes it impossible not to turn a cocktail into a meal, and a meal into another cocktail. Waiters so friendly you feel like old friends casually take your order wherever you sit (inside or out). As the sun lowers, lights begin to appear on the ships in the harbor, and the city casts an illuminating glow on the water just in time to grab a few more of those blankets.

You can't visit Seattle without visiting the hipster neighborhood itself, Capitol Hill. Grungy, vintage, off-center, this is the home of music and the world’s greatest coffee. Grab a cup from one of the many small cafes and make your way uphill to the favorite local spot to walk, run and picnic, Volunteer Park. Visit the lush conservatory, wander through the towering trees and climb the old water tower for 360 degree views of the city. Stop by Renee Erickson's new restaurant, Bar Melusine, for smart cocktails and pillowy pork in a teal and Moroccan-tile setting. Chef de Cuisine Jay Guerrero (formerly of Prune, Boat Street, The Walrus and The Carpenter), whips up playful and delicious culinary perfections, working hard to give diners a one-of-a-kind experience.

Here we take whatever we can and move it outside. Framed against the backdrop of an alpine slope or a cool, blue ocean, the experience is elevated. Opportunities for outdoor recreation are endless. Situated between two mountain ranges, the Puget Sound and numerous ocean and alpine lakes, you can rest assured you'll find something waiting for you whenever you turn.

Grab a cup of that world-class coffee and head east to the I-90 corridor, a section of the Cascades (known as the “American Alps”), full of mountains, lakes and rocks, popular for backpacking, rock climbing, swimming, trail running and mountain biking. Approaching exit 52, you'll enter Snoqualmie Pass and the Summit at Snoqualmie ski resort. Pick from one of the resort's four parks for a day spent sailing down powdered mountains, surrounded by rugged views of unforgiving peaks. Whip through thick-bodied trees under a sky of interwoven branches and slide down Washington's steepest run (if you’re brave enough), at Alpental. Wind down the day with a hot cup of cocoa or toasty alcoholic beverage in the cleverly designed Commonwealth Cafe and Pub. Better yet, rent one of the many cabins available surrounding the summit for ski-to-door convenience and maximum time spent on the slopes.

Should you be in the mood for a milder route, hike one of the many trails lining both sides of the I-90 corridor. Choices abound from short and easy (4.0 mile, 1,160 feet), to longer and more vigorous (8.6 miles, 3,800 feet). Whatever route you take, be prepared to pass numerous alpine lakes and break through trees into sweeping panoramic views, no doubt showcasing at least one of the states five scenic volcanoes.

Fine coffee, fresh seafood, and stunning nature. It's true, all of these things can be found in this city and the area that surrounds it, and people here are very proud of it. From the fishermen rigging the lines at the docks to the oyster man shucking shells at the bar, to that breath of fresh air you get topping out on the summit, people here love what they have, and they are proud to share it.

 

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