Green and airy city on the Pacific

Costa Rica

This green and airy city on the Pacific, its gleaming high-rise skyline etched against the dazzling saw-toothed Olympic Mountains, is one of the most attractive US city destinations. This is my don't miss list. It includes sunset dinner overlooking Puget Sound, the very first in a global coffee shop chain, a famous old market, and a rock and pop museum in the shape of a smashed up guitar. Photo: Gareth Huw Davies

High point

These days most cities’ high views come from the top of a skyscrapes. And too often there’s often another building in the way. Seattle''s Space Needle offers the rare luxury of a clear, unimpeded sweep around the compass. It rises 605 feet above Seattle Center park, centrepiece for the 1962 World''s
Fair. (While you are there, see also the Pacific Science Center, Aquarium,
and Tropical Garden). A fast lift whisked me to the circular glass sided
observatory at the top. I could see deep into the mountains, as far as the
stupendous 14,411 feet Mount Rainier 54 miles southeast, and north into
Canada. The best way back is the automatic monorail, to
downtown. A pity this sublime above the streets transport, also built for
the 1962 Fair, never caught on.

Coffee holic.

This is the birthplace of the coffee shop. The original Starbucks, named
after the coffee-drinking first mate in Moby Dick, is at 1912 Pike Place. It
was opened here in 1976 by two teachers and a writer who searched in vain
for a decent cup of coffee. This protected building retains its original 70s
decor, with plenty of saggy armchairs. I went from this, the first shot in a
global consumer phenomenon (and don''t mock - coffee was often dire before
Starbucks and the others), to a one-off Seattle caffeine shrine. Just over
Pike Street is the nearest thing I found to match the fussy Frasier
brothers'' fictional Cafe Nervosa in the TV series. The Seattle Coffee Works
served me an exceptional cup. True coffee geeks may step in to their
tasting room for the fuller story of this remarkable bean and how best to
serve it.

Test the market.

Quick-talking fishmongers turn retailing into high entertainment at the
stall at the entrance of the Pike Place Market. With the patter of skilled
street performers, Pike Place Fish staff play a routine which involves
tossing three feet long salmon to each other. And the point of this? Well,
very few tourists walk by. And it sets the mood for the jolly bustle in one
of America''s premier farmers'' markets. This crowded line of covered stalls,
perched high above Puget Sound, was a riot of opportunity on my visit. In a
few steps I could have bought cinnamon buns, organic raspberries, frozen
yoghurt (with fresh fruit), any vegetable from artichokes to zucchini, and
so many berries I''d never even heard of. The Truffle Tasting Table and Café
served - and why not?- truffle sandwiches. At the Confectional the lure
was ''sinfully dense, cheesecakes''. There were craftspeople, artists, street
performers and musicians. And cafes and restaurants galore, most of them
overlooking the Sound. Queue for a window table, and synchronise your meal
with the glorious Pacific Sunset.

Guitar man

One local paper compared the Experience Music Project (EMP) to a smashed-up
electric guitar. And architect Frank Gehry didn''t disagree, when his curvy
sheet-metal construction, a variation on the theme of his Guggenheim Museum
Bilbao, opened in 2000. The principal backer of EMP, an homage to the
creativity and innovation in popular music, was Microsoft co-founder Paul
Allen, and new technology plays a big part in the exhibits. One room honours
Jimi Hendrix and other rock ''n'' roll heroes; another gallery extols the
guitar. There are many more items from popular music history. You may try an
instrument, and have a go on stage. In 2004 they added the Science Fiction
Museum and Hall of Fame. Exhibits include Captain Kirk''s command chair from
Star Trek, and the Death Star model from Star Wars. Another Paul Allen
creations is the Flying Heritage Collection.

Day tripper

Green is Seattle''s defining colour. The eco-drive starts downtown, where
public transport is free, parks are everywhere (with free summer lunchtime
concerts) and there’s a big programme of low-energy streetlights. It
continues into Olympic National Park (two hours by road), a vast tract of
original wilderness USA. Rising above miles of unspoilt coast are swathes of
pristine rain forest, sanctuary for a big free-running herd of Roosevelt
elk. Keep climbing, and you reach glacier-capped, 8,000 foot-high
mountains. Book an overnight lodge to experience prime American solitude.
Buses from downtown Seattle to the main visitor center in Port Angeles.
Closer by (Mukilteo, 30 miles N of Seattle) is the HQ of the
city''s main export to the world and its skies, the huge Boeing complex.
Daily tours.

Gold medal stay

The city''s King Street railway station is the spit of Venice''s Campanile di
San Marco. And one of Seattle''s best hotels, the stately Fairmont Olympic,
with its handsome buff-faced brick, and terra cotta trim facade, is another
memory of Italy, a copy of a Renaissance palace. It was built in 1924 in
the heart of Seattle, and restored in the 80s. It has hosted presidents and
princes, and stars from Wayne to Presley. Finest feature is the great ornate
marbled lobby, panelled high with American oak, under a ceiling dripping
with gilt and crystal chandeliers. It''s a fine place to stay (BA does a
package), but even if you can''t there are some sharp bargains if you want to
taste the elegance as a non-resident. The main restaurant, the Georgian,
offers a four course lunch for $15.
British Airways offers 7 nights,including return flights
from Heathrow, at the Fairmont Olympic from
£1,445 per person.

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