SEATTLE DOWNTOWN & FIRST HILL
Downtown Seattle is a bit of an anomaly. Instead of being the beating heart of
the city, it's a fairly quiet, functional business district between Seattle's
twin hearts, Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square. What most people mean by
'downtown' is the collection of office buildings, hotels and retail shops
between 2nd and 7th Avenues. It's best to visit downtown on a weekday, when
throngs of people are working and shopping in the area. At night and on
weekends, this part of town feels rather desolate.
Flanked to the south by Pioneer Square and to the north by Belltown, today's
city center is bordered to the east by First Hill, where Seattle's pioneer elite
built elaborate mansions with views of downtown and Elliott Bay. The jungle of
high-rises teetering on Seattle's steep streets makes downtown look very
imposing when viewed from a distance. The city seems especially daunting on the
incoming ferry ride from Puget Sound or at the first glimpse of the city from
1-5. The actual core, however, is quite compact. No part of downtown is more
than a brisk 20-minute walk from another, and the multiple transit options make
it easy to get around.
GETTING AROUND SEATTLE
The area is bounded by Virginia Ave and Denny Way to the north, Yesler to the
south, 1-5 to the east and 2nd Ave to the west. This area contains the vast
majority of the city's major 45 hotels, shopping venues and soaring business
towers. It's easy to further divide this lengthy strip into two separate
sections: the lively retail core to the north and the contemporary business
district to the south.
Seattle's retail heaven extends from the corner of 5th Ave and Pike St two or
three blocks in all directions. A block north, on 5th Ave at Pine St, is the
flagship store of Nordstrom, the national clothing retailer that got its start
in Seattle. Just to the west of Nordstrom is Westlake Center, the veritable
pumping heart of the retail district.
Across Pine St, a pedestrian plaza called Westlake Park is a popular
people-watching haven and a great place to plop down on a bench and eat lunch or
sip coffee on sunny days. Skateboarders and bike messengers careen through
crowds of trench-coat-clad professionals and shoppers teetering under the weight
of their bags. Buskers pipe out songs, entrepreneurs hawk T-shirts, and
preachers bellow fire and brimstone. Don't miss artist Robert Maki's water
sculpture, which you can walk through without getting wet.
The entire retail area seems to be in a perpetual state of demolition and
reconstruction. As the area's older hotels and redbrick warehouses fall to the
wrecking ball, new shopping and parking structures go up in a feverish attempt
to sustain the growing number of consumers who throng to this area to ogle and
Seattle's modern business district is south of the retail core, along 3rd, 4th
and 5th Ave. Rather dull modern office towers dominate this area; however, some
of the older art deco and terra-cotta-fronted buildings are worth taking a look
If you're trying to keep track of the street names in downtown Seattle, here's a
handy mnemonic device: from Yesler Way up to Stewart, the streets proceed in
alphabetic pairs - Jefferson and James, Cherry and Columbia, Marion and Madison,
Spring and Seneca, University and Union, Pike and Pine. The tool for remembering
the order is the old saw, learned by Seattle schoolchildren for years, that
Jesus Christ Made Seattle Under Protest.
It's also worth remembering that Seattle has some very steep streets, a
consideration for both drivers and pedestrians. In fact, if you're going to
spend a significant chunk of time downtown, leave the car at home or parked in
one of the outlying neighborhoods. Abrupt uphill's, one-way streets and
expensive parking make driving downtown a little hectic, especially when you
consider that all buses in the downtown core are free.