A Visit to Seattle – Even if You Are Not a Music Lover

Seattle and the Pacific Northwest have a significant toehold when it comes to American music.

  • The infamous “Louie Louie” (a staple of every rock band ever formed) was recorded in 1957 by The Kingsmen, from Portland. The impossibly simple song has been called both “a law of nature” (Greil Marcus) and “a cornerstone of rock” (The New York Tines). 
  • A decade later Jimi Hendrix, Seattle’s most famous guitarist, turned his electric guitar and then the rock world upside down. 
  • Seattle was the final date on The Kinks’ US tour in 1965, and they would not be allowed US work visas for another four years (a lifetime in the heyday of the British Invasion).
  • Two decades later Kurt Cobain and Nirvana fueled a generation of teen angst and spawned the still-relevant grunge scene. 

That musical history seems never too far below the surface in and around Seattle. 

We made our base of our operations the Seattle W Hotel, a wise choice. Sure enough, the attention to music did not go unnoticed. Adjoining the lobby is The Living Room, an area in which to hang loose during the day and catch some musical vibes by night. A DJ handles the musical vibe on Friday and Saturday nights, and on First Fridays the hotel coordinates with famed radio station KEXP-FM to spotlight local bands. 

Several murals with a sonic theme have been painted by artist Morgan Zion, also the hotel’s resident yoga instructor. 

On the top floor of the hotel is a recording studio, available for guests or visitors to lay down tracks, perhaps inspired by the local environment. It is the first such studio in a US hotel. 

Mornings in the W Hotel lobby at TRACE Market were marked by local, traceable food. I enjoyed the Blazing Bagel Sandwich (adorned with jalapeno cheddar bagel, thick cut bacon, cheddar cheese, egg, tomato aioli) and my wife raised her eyebrows in delight with the Sourdough French Toast (tricked out with lemon curd and huckleberry compote). 

I was able to find time for a workout in the fitness room, well equipped with Peloton and various exercise machines. Our corner suite looked out across the city and featured a dreamy king bed. The hotel staff was uniformly responsive to our requests, whether bringing extra towels or refilling my cup of mocha.

It is impossible not to notice The Space Needle when in Seattle, and after the recent $100,000,000 refurbishment a visit is recommended. The revolving restaurant has been replaced with “The Loupe,” the world’s first revolving glass floor. After getting to the top of the Needle is was great overcoming the initial vertigo and then watching new arrivals do the same. The original structure (created for the 1962 World’s Fair) now has an additional 176 tons of glass. It is easy to believe that the 605 foot tower has over a million visitors per year. We gaped at the expansive view of the Puget Sound and the city below.

Indeed, one of the sights almost directly below us was Chihuly Garden and Glass. It is an indoor and outdoor museum dedicated to the glass blowing art of Dale Chihuly. Born in Tacoma, he studied at University of Washington and Rhode Island School of Design, returning to the Pacific Northwest to further his art career after a Fulbright Scholarship and an apprenticeship in Venice.

His impossibly colorful, delicate yet robust glass sculptures are arrayed in a series of galleries. Chihuly’s designs paying homage to the ocean are especially compelling. Stepping outside you see his work integrated with lovingly tended flora. It is a touch surreal, in the same way that James Cameron’s visions in his “Avatar” film are mostly different yet eerily familiar. A great way to enjoy the outdoor component of Chihuly Garden and Glass is to watch demonstrations of glass blowing design before kicking back with a wood-fired pizza and a local ale. It is a perfect way to contemplate the various arts that combine fire and the earth’s elements. Chihuly Garden and Glass is open year round (imagine a fine dusting of snow on the outdoor displays), and commendably donates a portion of proceeds to local arts organizations, kids and public schools.

Other stops in Seattle should include Pike Place Market and The Edgewater Hotel. The former is one of the largest and oldest public markets in the country, spanning nine acres in Seattle’s downtown waterfront. A non-profit board oversees the operation, which helps maintain its eclectic diversity of shops and eateries on offer.

The Edgewater Hotel deserves its own detailed article; suffice to say its history is rich with visits and stories from The Beatles, Led Zeppelin and Frank Zappa to local legends like Kurt Cobain, Pearl Jam and Ray Charles. Brother Ray moved to Seattle in the late 1940s to join the vibrant music scene and to get as far away from his birthplace as possible, but he only stayed a couple years. He nonetheless cut his first record in Seattle and developed his genre-breaking style.

There is no certainty that your visit to Seattle will be as musically productive, but a splendid time is guaranteed for all.

(photos by Brad Auerbach unless indicated otherwise)

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.