I had just left the wood floors of Elliot Bay Bookstore and was walking down a rain-sparkled street to one of my favorite cafes, Bauhaus, already anticipating the dim corners and foggy windows that give Bauhaus its romantic and edgy feel--the perfect blend of stimulation and hibernation needed to write the night away. Across the street on the puddled pavement of an empty court of Cal Anderson Park, a game of bike hockey commenced. I passed a drag queen in an elaborate pink evening dress. There was no doubt where I was: the hipster of Seattle's neighborhoods, Capitol Hill.
While I spent most of my week-long stay in Seattle in the University District, where I used to live and work, I visited almost every neighborhood in the immediate area. Perhaps because of the city's unique topography--houses and businesses are built up into the hills that rise from the surrounding waters of the Puget Sound, Lake Union, and Lake Washington--Seattle's neighborhoods are distinct, each with its own atmosphere, its own sub-culture and its own particular breed of residents populating its streets and cafes.
If you are in the U District, the dominate atmosphere is of course, the student population. A walk around the campus in spring time, particularly in the "quad," is essential--cherry blossoms are everywhere. Be sure to stop in my old stompin' grounds, the University Bookstore, an independent with a great selection of new and used books. Want more? Head down the back alley to Magus Bookstore, full of used books, and grab a coffee at the hole-in-the-wall cafe, Allegro. Along University Way are the typical student eateries, with a diverse smattering of Asian cuisine.
I spent a full day in Ballard, where I was amazed to see whole streets full of new, hip cafes and shops that had sprung up in the past few years. Among them were the more familiar bars that still give the neighborhood its old fishing village feel--Coner Byrne a particular favorite of mine. This neighborhood hosts a small independent bookstore that specializes in children's books, The Secret Garden.
I lived in Queen Anne for a few years, at the bottom of the hill. When I hiked to the top I found small shops and cafes, pricier than other parts of the city, but delightful to spend a day browsing. Among them, Queen Anne Books, set to re-open under new ownership in February. Just across the ship canal and the shockingly blue Freemont Bridge, is Freemont. If Capitol Hill is the "hippest" of Seattle's neighborhoods, Freemont is the "hippiest" neighborhood in Seattle, defined by its slow pace, its Sunday Market, and of course, more bookshops and cafes. It is all Jamaica Plain aspires to be, and never will be. (I love you JP, I live in you, and I have faith that you will find yourself someday).
I haven't even touched Wallingford, Belltown, Green Lake, the International District, Magnolia, Maple Leaf, Ravenna, West Seattle or Downtown (where I rode the new Ferris Wheel near Pike Place Market to stunning views of Mount Rainer, the Puget Sound, the Olympic Mountains), but I have to leave something for you to discover on your own. We've got a large selection of guidebooks covering the Pacific Northwest to help you on your way.