Short and sweet in Seattle

When you only have a day-and-a-half to see a city before or after a cruise, spend your time wisely, writes Kristie Kellahan.

Cruise passenger traffic is big - and expanding - business in Seattle. In 1999, six cruise ships came through the Port of Seattle on Washington State's pretty west coast. By last year that number had mushroomed to more than 200 ships, bringing almost half a million cruisers a year (many of them Australian) to Seattle on their way to Alaska, Canada and the west coast of the US. Carnival Cruises, Celebrity Cruises, Holland America and Disney Cruise Line all set sail from Seattle and report growing numbers of Australian cruisers.

So with a day or two pre- or post-cruise to see the place that's been dubbed the Emerald City, how do you make the most of it?

Start with a well-located hotel. The Four Seasons Hotel is a downtown hotel with water views out over Puget Sound, where the cruise ships dock. Its lobby, halls and walls are dedicated to significant artworks by Seattle artists; so respected is the curated collection that art walking tours take in the Four Seasons public spaces after a visit to Seattle Art Museum, located across the street.

The hotel is in the heart of the Waterfront District, a fun and popular precinct of shops selling the usual tourist dross alongside some striking concept stores. Standouts include Pirkko, dedicated to Marimekko fabrics and other iconic Scandinavian brands; micro-breweries where beer is as likely to taste of honey and chilli as hops; and the ever-present coffee houses that brew endless cups of joe for a population driven indoors for up to nine months of the year by rain.

The Pike Place Market, Seattle's No.1 tourist destination, is also in the harbour precinct. Bustling and eclectic, the 104-year-old location is much more than just a great fresh food market. Within the Pike Place zone there's a hotel, a couple of nightclubs and at least four ghosts. Local legend has it that a quartet of otherworldly spirits regularly roam the marketplace after dark, perhaps in search of organic chocolate.

In among the vegan smoothie stands and fresh-as-this-morning oyster bars, you'll find a Starbucks at The Pike Place Market. Alternative, eco-conscious, restaurant-chain-eschewing locals allow it because it is in fact the very first Starbucks, the master ship where the worldwide empire began to roast.

A wander through the market offered up devilishly good mini-doughnuts and a sample of garlic- pepper trout from Pure Food Fish, but I was still hungry for lunch. Every food blog and friend in Seattle had urged me to check out Tom Douglas' foodie empire. Some kind of chef savant, Douglas' empire has expanded to 13 venues, 700-plus staff and a thriving catering business.

Out front of Rub with Love Shack, one of Douglas' latest ventures, happy, smiley people were sitting on benches sinking cold bottles of beer and devouring sandwiches that looked delicious, even at a distance.

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A bearded bear of a man with kind blue eyes offered me a taste of marinated porchetta that frankly rocked my world. At $6.50, the porchetta sandwich was a crunchy, salty, buttery tour de force.

The walls of the shop were lined with jars of spice mix rub alongside a swag of cookbooks featuring a bearded bear of a man with kind blue eyes wearing chef's whites. Hang on a minute. Turns out Douglas had opened the Shack to sell his popular rubs for chicken, salmon and steak after fielding innumerable requests from customers of his restaurants.

The storefront would also be serving up rotisserie chickens and mouthwatering takeaway roast sandwiches of turkey, pork and chook. Douglas was there in typical hands-on style - this winner of the James Beard award for best north-west chef was handling the carving knife with aplomb.

Pleasantly sated with a bellyful of porchetta, I sat down to review my afternoon options. Seattle offers great shopping at Nordstrom Rack, Macy's and Pacific Place Mall, all joined by underground tunnel for easy access during inclement weather. There's the Olympic Sculpture Park, a 3.6-hectare industrial site that was transformed into an outdoor art gallery with views of the Olympic Mountains and Puget Sound.

The Space Needle is often considered the symbol of Seattle, and certainly one of its most recognisable structures. The 360-degree view of the city and bay area from the sky-high observation deck is the best you'll see. A waterfront city, Seattle has many options for getting out on the water.

Music lovers and pop culture enthusiasts will get a buzz from EMP, the Experience Music Project. A museum with an anti-Establishment alternative edge, EMP's blockbuster exhibits have included Nirvana: Taking Punk to the Masses.

With the clock ticking and just a little over 12 hours left in Seattle, I had to prioritise. Massage, then dinner, then cocktails, then sleep. The spa at the hotel offers a blissful 80-minute Hot Lava massage with basalt river stones. Suitably oiled up and blissed out, I hopped in a cab to MistralKitchen for dinner. Chef-owner William Belickis has created the sort of restaurant beloved by locals. This is Pacific north-west cuisine at its best: lashings of fresh seafood (oysters, tuna and sea scallops) and ethically raised meat (pork chop, lamb loin, veal and duck), prepared simply, deliciously well.

The dessert menu offers something for every sweet tooth: the milk chocolate pudding with espresso caramel and chocolate crumble is a standout. Sit at the bar and sample your way through the substantial menu.

There's a small bar scene in Seattle that reminds me of Sydney's trend towards pint-size drinking destinations. For our nightcap, we headed for Bathtub Gin at the end of a deserted laneway; the doorman directed us down into a tiny, dark basement that has become one of the hottest bars of the moment.

Though the visit had been short and sweet, it was a memorable holiday fling.

Kristie Kellahan was a guest of the Four Seasons Hotel.


Trip notes

Getting there

United Airlines flies a daily direct service from Melbourne and Sydney to Los Angeles and San Francisco, with convenient connections on to Seattle. 131 777, unitedairlines.com.

Staying there

Four Seasons Hotel Seattle, rooms from $US345 ($353). 99 Union Street, Seattle. fourseasons.com/seattle.

Eating and drinking there

Rub with Love Shack, 2010 Western Avenue, Seattle. tomdouglas.com.
MistralKitchen, 2020 Westlake Avenue, Seattle. mistral-kitchen.com.
Bathtub Gin, 2205 2nd Avenue, Seattle. bathtubginseattle.com.

Touring there

Seattle Art Museum, 1300 1st Avenue, Seattle. seattleartmuseum.org.
Pirkko, 1407 1st Avenue, Seattle. pirkko.com.
Pike Place Market, 1501 Pike Place, Seattle. pikeplacemarket.org.
Olympic Sculpture Park, 2901 Western Avenue, Seattle. seattleartmuseum.org.
Space Needle, 400 Broad Street, Seattle. spaceneedle.com.
EMP, 325 5th Avenue North, Seattle. empsfm.org.

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