Seattle, USA travel tips and things to do: 20 highlights

1 SEE: THE SPACE NEEDLE

The Space Needle started life as a doodle on a serviette in 1959. The tower, with its space-age vernacular, came to symbolise the city's 1962 World's Fair. The fair's theme was the 21st century – and the good news is that the Needle more than stands the test of time. Check out the interactive displays on the Observation Deck showing where landmarks such as the Jimi Hendrix statue and Bill Gates's house are located. Everyone will have their favourite time of day to visit but twilight, when Seattle's lights start twinkling below, is quite something. See spaceneedle.com

2 VISIT: CHIHULY GARDEN AND GLASS

At the Space Needle's base is Chihuly Garden and Glass – eight galleries, a glasshouse and garden showcasing the fantastical, large-scale, free-blown glass art of famed Seattle artist Dale Chihuly. Next door in Collections Cafe, Chihuly's obsession with collecting is on display with vintage objects such as piano accordions, Bakelite radios, fishing reels and shaving brushes dangling from the ceiling, lining shelves or sitting within tabletops. Wine connoisseurs will also savour the cafe's patriotic list. See chihulygardenandglass.com

3 LEARN: ALL ABOUT NIRVANA

Need a third reason to head towards the Space Needle? Culture vultures flock to the curvaceous Frank Gehry-designed EMP Museum – dedicated to contemporary culture – near its base. It's easy to spend an hour or two on the Nirvana exhibition alone (the band that symbolised the grunge era came from Aberdeen, 175 kilometres down the road). The Space Needle, Chihuly Garden and Glass, and EMP are all part of the US$69 Seattle CityPass. See empmuseum.org, citypass.com

4 AVOID: AN UMBRELLA

Just like Portlanders, stoic Seattleites hate carrying an umbrella. In light rain, they simply zip their rain jacket and soldier on (the attitude is summed up by a Pioneer Square bar called Damn the Weather). If you came unprepared, browse the outerwear racks at The North Face on First Avenue in downtown or head into the REI flagship store in South Lake Union. See damntheweather.com, stores.thenorthface.com, rei.com

5 SEE: THE MUSEUM OF FLIGHT

If there's time for just one aviation-themed attraction, make it this one. The Museum of Flight is a 10-minute drive south of downtown (you can also arrive by bus or private plane – five plane-parking spots are provided).  Permanent exhibitions include vintage aircraft, WWI and II fighters, a fascinating space exhibit and an open-air lot filled with planes such as a British Airways Concorde jetliner (only 20 were ever built). The largest artefact is the original Boeing plane factory known simply as The Red Barn. See museumofflight.org.

6 VISIT: BOEING FACTORY TOUR 

At the city's other end (about 40 kilometres north of downtown) is the Future of Flight – the starting point for a 90-minute tour of the modern-day Boeing factory. The Boeing Assembly Plant – where Boeing 747, 777 and 787 Dreamliner jets are put together – is the world's largest building by volume. Cameras and mobile phones can't be taken into the factory where employees cover long distances on tricycles (bicycles were phased out last year to improve factory-floor safety). See futureofflight.org

7 DRINK: A CUP OF JOE

Arrive early at 1912 Pike Place to avoid the queue that snakes down the street most of the day at the world's first Starbucks. The unassuming Pike Place Market shopfront offers several reserve coffees – from Colombia, Nicaragua and the like – for aficionados. Nine blocks away, at 1124 Pike Street, is the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room. Perhaps the city's best located Starbucks, though, is the outlet in Columbia Tower skyscraper. Open weekdays only, the 40th-floor eyrie offers captivating sky-high city views. See starbucks.com

8 CRUISE: LAKE UNION

The Lake Union floating home that featured in Sleepless in Seattle as Tom Hanks's home is privately owned (it sold in 2014 for more than US$2 million) but it's possible to cruise past to sneak a peek on a sightseeing cruise. Opt for the Lake Union or Locks cruise for an up-close view of these homes, which have a fascinating working-class history. Locals gather to watch the sightseeing vessel's passage through the Chittenden Locks. See argosycruises.com

9 STAY: THE EDGEWATER 

The Edgewater, with its enviable overwater location, is easily the city's most striking hotel. It also comes with serious rock'n'roll history – this is where the Beatles stayed (and fished from their room windows) in 1964. Their rooms have now morphed into a Beatles-themed suite with views over Elliott Bay. Enjoy those same views from the forest-themed bar or take a seat at Six Seven restaurant, which serves miso-glazed Pacific cod and lobster mac'n'cheese. See edgewaterhotel.com

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10 EXPLORE: PIKE PLACE MARKET  

It's hard to believe the market, which includes a maze of arcades overlooking Seattle's waterfront, was threatened with demolition in the 1960s. Today, locals and visitors come to not only shop for fresh produce but to pat Rachel the bronze piggybank, listen to fishmongers spruik their wares or line up for hot donuts from the Daily Dozen Doughnut Company. The Post Alley gum wall (a quirk that began when Market Theatre patrons were asked to leave their gum outside) was scraped clean of a tonne of gum in November but re-gumming started immediately. See pikeplacemarket.org

11 STAY: INN AT THE MARKET 

Grab a room with a view at Inn at the Market to enjoy Seattle's morning fog that hides then reveals city sights – the ferries, the Great Wheel, Mount Rainier and more – in the most beguiling way. The 76-room hotel is within the Pike Place Market complex: guests can also wander onto the rooftop deck with a coffee to watch the comings and goings of Elliott Bay. See innatthemarket.com.  

12 CHEER: THE SEATTLE SEAHAWKS 

Wear blue and green and you're almost guaranteed to strike up a conversation about the city's beloved football team. The Seattle Seahawks won the Super Bowl in January 2014 but lost in a devastating way the following year. The team's dedicated fans, known as the 12th man, have twice set a world record for generating the loudest crowd noise at a sporting event. See seahawks.com.   

13 SEE: VAMPIRE TERRITORY

The tiny town of Forks is now world-famous thanks to the Twilight series. It's a half-day trip west from Seattle so overnight in Forks between checking out movie locations. From Forks head to La Push, stopping at Three Rivers Resort on the treaty line between vampire and werewolf territories. At Bella Italia in Port Angeles, order the mushroom ravioli that Bella ate on her first date with Edward. See forkswa.com, threeriversresortandguideservice.com, bellaitaliapa.com.  

14 EAT: CELLULOID CHERRY PIE 

If you're without wheels, it takes two buses and two hours to travel to North Bend, 50 kilometres east of Seattle. North Bend is home to a bunch of outlet stores but fans of the 1990-91 David Lynch series Twin Peaks head here for one reason: to slide into a booth at Twede's Cafe for a slice of cherry pie and "a damn fine cup of coffee". The corner diner, formerly known as the Mar-T, was the Double R Diner in the series that's now being revived. See twedescafe.com.   

15 BROWSE: CITY BOOKSTORES

Seattle-based online behemoth Amazon.com recently opened a hometown shopfront, rattling the city's independent bookstores. Amazon Books in University Village stocks about 5000 titles; Capitol Hill's Elliott Bay Book Company stocks more than 150,000 titles on its cedar shelves. Don't be surprised to overhear lively discussions – the store hosts four in-store book groups a month as well as regular author events. Open until at least 9pm each night. See uvillage.com, elliottbaybook.com

16 EXPLORE: THE NEIGHBOURHOODS

Drop into Capitol Hill's carnival-themed Unicorn bar for fun times, pinball machines, drop shots, local beers and silly snacks such as Unicorn Droppings (fried peanut butter cookie dough) and Narwhal Balls (cheesy potato croquette with aioli). At South Lake Union's Lunchbox Laboratory, things are equally zany. Tackle the Tear Jerker burger with jalapenos and Satan's Tears ketchup; cool things down with an Astronauts Manmosa (mandarin vodka with prosecco and Tang). See unicornseattle.com, lunchboxlaboratory.com

17 VISIT: BAINBRIDGE ISLAND

For another angle on Seattle, take a ferry across Puget Sound to Bainbridge Island. On a clear day, the trip is worth it just to see the skyline and nearby peaks such as Mount Rainier. Reboard the ferry or stroll into charming Winslow to explore further. Snack on Blackbird Bakery's glazed lemon blueberry scones or warm up with soup. Curious about local wines? Taste them at Island Vintners. See wsdot.com, blackbirdbakery.com, islandvintners.com.

18 HIKE: MOUNT RAINIER

It takes about three hours to drive to Paradise on Mount Rainier's southern slopes. Head to the park's visitor centre for advice on hiking trails around the active volcano (even in summer, some trails are under snow). Rangers lead snowshoe tours during winter and early spring. See nps.gov/mora

19 SHOP: SUB POP 

Heading home to your loved ones empty-handed? Never fear. Seattle's cult record label, Sub Pop, known for signing bands such as Nirvana, The Shins, Fleet Foxes and Iron and Wine, has an outlet at Seattle-Tacoma international airport. Open every day of the year, the store stocks Sub Pop merch as well as cool gifts channelling a Pacific Northwest vibe. See subpop.com

20 VISIT: HIT CANADA  

Seattle is part of a triumvirate of intriguing Pacific Northwest cities. Take a float plane from Lake Union to Victoria's Inner Harbour or hop aboard the Victoria Clipper, a high-speed ferry that takes three hours to travel between downtown Seattle and Victoria. Two daily Amtrak services slither between Seattle and Vancouver; in 2013 the Rocky Mountaineer launched the Coastal Passage route to connect Seattle to its Canadian network, facilitating cruise-rail holidays. See kenmoreair.com, clippervacations.com, amtrakcascades.com, rockymountaineer.com

Katrina Lobley was a guest of Scoot, The Edgewater, Inn at the Market and Visit Seattle. 

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