This time next week I will be in my beloved Seattle. I am traveling there to officiate the wedding of a dear friend. And I am so looking forward to it. Seattle is my home. It is the place where my soul finds rest. (My beloved’s soul home is England, which is why I think we are stuck on the Atlantic Coast of the USA- half way between both!)
The ‘soul home’ is the place where we feel at peace, simply by being there. When I am in Seattle, I feel that the world is okay, my body relaxes in a way it does not here in Southern New England, and I feel at peace, even if the world is in chaos. People speak with the same words and symbols I do. We wait in line for coffee the same way. It is a place where I know the language and the customs; I don’t have to fumble with them, they are in my blood.
The city has certainly changed in the last 15 years, but it remains my place. And while I won’t ever return to live there, it lives in my heart. Always.
Of course, the Seattle of my heart is the Seattle of the 1990s. When Grunge music was taking center stage, we all wore Doc Martins and plaid shirts, and telling the dark truth about life became the savior spirit of our music and culture. I remain romantic and nostalgic about that time- and I doubt that will ever change. They were grand years, the 1990s.
If you travel to Seattle today, you would barely recognize it from the 1990s. A little neighborhood called Ballard used to be a joke – all the old, Swedish ladies lived there and no one cool would venture in. Today, Ballard is full of huge apartment buildings housing Amazon’s latest and brightest and is considered quite posh for the newly rich. It’s like that most everywhere.
So, let me tell you about the Seattle of the 1990s. Let a local gal show you the sights.
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You must, of course, do all the tourist things. Go to the Space Needle and take the tour. I had my 16th birthday dinner there- the spinning restaurant was a new attraction then and the subterranean shop had not yet been imagined. The food is still very tasty and the view is worth the price. Take all the pictures and don’t forget to look down at the rooftop art.
The Pike Place Market is also on the list. You have to see the flying fish guys and the copper pig. But don’t forget to buy a Texas sized doughnut (not ‘donut’!) and visit the dusty antique shops in the lower floors (that is where we found some of the absolute best junk to wear in the 90s). The Pike Place Market is also one of the most sensual places you’ll ever visit. There are so many sights, sounds, smells, colors, and textures. Try all the samples. Smell all the flowers. Eat fresh Alaskan crab or Pacific clam chowder. See a geoduck (pronounced: gooey-duck.) Buy the gorgeous t-shirt. Take your time and enjoy it all. It’s beautiful.
If you’re a 90s person, you’ll want to find the SubPop offices. They were the first label to sign Nirvana, Soundgarden, Mudhoney, and Sleater-Kinney (which is a street near where my family lives). And you can still buy their iconic black and white logo t-shirt.
You’ll also want to hit The Crocodile Cafe in Belltown. The Wikipedia page will show you the amazing list of who played here. And I will tell you- it’s shinier now than it ever was in the 90s.
Little known spots of the 90s music scene are the actual sound garden, an art installation called ‘A Sound Garden’ on the NOAA campus in Seattle. You gotta ask permission to visit these days, though. In the 90s, you could just walk right up to it. Magnusson Park- great place. And yes, the band did take their name from the installation.
Drive-bys include the condo block where Layne Staley (of Alice in Chains) was found dead. This is actually in a neighborhood called ‘the U district’ (that’s what locals call it) and is worth more than a drive-by. It’s a quirky couple of blocks, but worth a walk with a coffee in hand. Kurt Cobain’s house, of course. Fun fact: my high school best friend’s brother was on MTV when Cobain’s suicide was announced. He was one of the first people to show up and start the impromptu memorial. (I know, it sounds like Ferris Bueller, but whatever.) And the Jimi Hendrix statue on Capitol Hill (which used to be the best gay neighborhood ever. Fuck you, breeder gentrification).
There is a much larger Jimi Hendrix memorial in my hometown of Renton. (More about all the Jimi Hendrix memorials, in this article.) It’s rather ostentatious and more about the ornament than the music, I think. Back in the 90s, you could still visit the single, nondescript plaque in the same cemetery, just like in Singles. (That link also contains many of the Seattle locations used in the film. Go see them all you 90s time-travelers!) I will tell you- there were never that many candles or roaches at his grave. Bruce Lee is also buried in Renton, but at a private cemetery.
There are some fun neighborhoods in Seattle. First off: Fremont. It is known as ‘The Center of the Universe’ by its inhabitants and has a naked bike ride every year. This tells you everything you need to know about Fremont. Also, the statue of Lenin. The ‘under the bridge troll’ is here- great for kids and pictures. And when you’re done trolling around, the best cake place on Earth is also in Fremont. I’m gluten free now, but I will buy a slice of their white-chocolate strawberry cake just to have one bite. It is that good. Get some tasty Thai at the place around the corner.
Golden Gardens is a lovely little beach and garden area at the bottom of the Ballard hill. I officiated my first wedding here. It was ‘off the books’ so the groom could relax- no papers to sign and no rush. We did the official one a couple of days later. It was perfect and I highly recommend two weddings to any nervous groom. When you’re done at the park, there are great hiking trails back up the hill and some gorgeous scenery along the way.
Other neighborhoods in Seattle that are worth some time are Capitol Hill. It used to be much less built up (tallest building for the length of the strip was 3 stories high). And there were groups like Q-Patrol and naughty gift shops of all varieties back in the day. And a great bookshop that has since died. Me and everyone in my high school (I found out years later) went to dance at Neighbors as their first ‘gay club’ experience in the 90s. You can still go there and it seems better than ever.
Lower Queen Anne and the International District are also great to visit, but I have zero 90s memories to offer. Lower Queen Anne now has some tasty places to eat and fun venues for music, but I have no recommendations. The International District is a great place to wander and feel what it’s like to be a minority as a caucasian person (it’s very good for your entitled, white ego to get smashed. Go and enjoy it).
The last thing I will say about Seattle and its surrounding areas is eat everything you can. One of my favorite things about Seattle is that you can find most any type of food you’re interested in and it will be made by people from that actual place. Japan, China, Laos, Philippines, Taiwan, Thailand, Mexico, Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, India, Pakistan…EVERYTHING is available there. And it is all delicious. You have not lived until you’ve had a lumpia, or twelve, okay? Plus, a lot of damn fine, local brews. Go: eat.
[ETA: It was late last night when I wrote, my brain hurt just thinking of all my bittersweet feelings for Seattle. I forgot to add these wonderful places-
Gasworks Park (went to my first large drinking party there; left rather quickly),
a Seattle ferry anywhere (really, just take one anywhere),
and Deception Pass (out of town, but worth the drive, which is beautiful all in itself; walk the whole pass, it is breathtaking),
and, OMG, take the Seattle Underground tour (it’s so cool!)
and see the Chihuly glass gardens (just lay there and look up)
and, of course, the Experience Music Project (but call it ‘the ee-em-pee’ to sound local).
Knowing me, I’ll probably add more later. Keep checking back!]
If you want to get out of town, I recommend two places. Travel north 1.5 hours to Bellingham, WA (where my sweetie and I met and fell in love) or south 1.5 hours to Grayland Beach. Bellingham is a highly cultured college town and full of good food, music, art, and beautiful trails to walk and ride. I will be buried there, that’s how much I love this place.
Grayland is probably my most spiritual place ever- it’s where I began to write, to consider myself a writer-of-good-things. You can also stop by Aberdeen on your way there, where Kurt Cobain spent some of his youth- and where ‘The Banks of the Wishkah’ album got its name. Grayland does, in fact, have beaches and they are beautiful, especially in the rain. There are artisans and cranberry bogs tucked away along the two-lane road; go find them.
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Now that I’ve spent almost 2 hours writing this, I think I have nothing else to say. Not true. I have a zillion more things to say, but you only get them if you hire me to be your personal Seattle tour guide (we’ll be staying at the W hotel, justsoyouknow). In which case, I would excitedly point out interesting things about pretty much every building we pass and place we go. I think it’s clear, though: I love this town. It has my heart and soul.
I hope to drop a few photo love bombs for you while I’m there. I’ve got lots of people to love up while I’m there, though- and people are the experience I live for. Let me know if you ever want to go to Seattle, though. I’m ready to show you my world. And if not, let this be a short guide to what is wonderful and star-filled and rain-washed about the city, a gift of joy and kindness from my heart to yours.