Even on a quiet day on the waterfront, Seattle is thrillingly, noisily alive. Gulls screech while dive-bombing tourists' chowder. Espresso machines grind. Ferry horns boom. Boeing jets take off for their first flights from nearby Boeing Field. Out on Puget Sound, orcas blow as they surface.
The Olympic Mountains create a breathtaking balustrade across the western horizon and "The Mountain," as Mount Rainier is known, looms to the east. Cruise ships up anchor for Alaska and "mosquito fleet" commuter ferries beetle across to island communities. Downtown, a crop of super-stylish hotels has sprouted. Belltown hot spot Hotel Andra and funky Hotel Max, sister hotel to Portland's chic Lucia, were joined in late 2006 by the sumptuous Pan Pacific and haute tech Hotel 1000.
Tuned Trek mountain bikes and their toned riders are as likely to attract admiring glances as higher-horsepower rigs, and the calendars of gay Seattleites teem with bookings like kayaking off the San Juan Islands and scaling the adjacent Cascade peaks in pursuit of personal records. Throughout the city, coffeehouses fill to capacity with clean-cut, Mac-toting telecommuters, while Seattle's laidback, outdoor-craving Microsoft graduates and down-to-earth gay inhabitants snap up chic lofts on Belltown's waterfront, nest in the turn-of-the-century brick apartment buildings and mansion houses of Capitol Hill, and colonize up-and-coming suburbs, such as the former Scandinavian fishing settlement Ballard and its neighbor Phinney Ridge.
Practically since Klondike Gold Rush days, Seattle has been a destination for gay men. Seattle's gay scene is buoyant, with more than 20 bars, lounges, and venues catering to those with a social bent, and over 1,000 women flocking to the slick monthly Girl4Girl parties.
June's pride festival attracts upwards of 100,000 people annually, while the Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival celebrates its 12th year in October. The annual festivities of Syttende Mai (held in cities and towns around the world in recognition of Norwegian Constitution Day, May 17) see twin celebrations in Seattle, with Syttende Gay celebrating LGBT folks among the 10% of the city's population who claim Scandinavian ancestry.
And domestic partnerships, voted into Washington State law this past April, are bound to prove particularly popular in the "Emerald City": In a 2006 survey conducted by the Williams Institute of the University of California, Los Angeles, 12.9% of Seattle residents who responded identified as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, a population density second among U.S. cities only to San Francisco's 15.4%.
DAY 1 AM
Grab a Budapest coffee cake and an espresso from gay-popular Macrina Bakery and Cafe (2408 First Ave., 206-448-4032) and take it to the Seattle Art Museum's new Olympic Sculpture Park (2901 Western Ave., 206-654-3100) to contemplate the realistic male nudes in the fountain. Continue your culture crawl with a visit to SAM proper (100 University St., 206-625-8900), home to an impressive collection of Asian, Northwest Coast Indian, American, and European art.
It reopened in May after an $86 million expansion. Close by, the covered Pike Place Market (First Avenue, 206-682-7453) entices locals and visitors with decadent delights like wine and truffles, and the wares of more than 200 artists and artisans. Make your way to Belltown, home to a hip, artistic gay and lesbian set. Sample fried rockfish platters at the lesbian-owned neighborhood bistro Flying Fish (2234 First Ave., 206-728-8595). Explore Belltown's boho galleries and boutiques and stop in at one of the neighborhood's new hot spots, the art bar McLeod Residence (2209 Second Ave., 206-441-3314). The century-old building's six rooms exhibit 19th-century American landscapes, 21st-century video works, and artistic points between.
Once you've worked up an appetite, travel just two blocks to Brasa (2107 Third Ave., 206-728-4220), where lush, deep red drapes cascade from high ceilings, adding dramatic ambience to the Mediterranean Rim cuisine of lesbian Iron Chef America contender Tamara Murphy. Cap off the night with drinks at The Baltic Room (1207 Pine St., 206-625-4444), an upscale jazz lounge that attracts a hot mixed clientele.
DAY 2 AM
While away the morning hours in the stores and cafes of Seattle's well-established gayborhood Capitol Hill. Pick up your morning brew at funky Victrola Coffee and Art (411 15th Ave. East, 206-325-6520), a palace of percolation popular with the neighborhood's lesbians and gay men. If weather's on your side, join the locals in a sashay through gay-frequented Volunteer Park (14th Avenue and Prospect Street), a great site for pride festival shenanigans, people-watching, and incredible Olympic Mountain views.
The 1933 art deco Asian Art Museum (1400 E. Prospect St., Volunteer Park, 206-654-3100) provides shelter from any rainstorm and houses a wonderful 7,000-piece collection. Pop into the museum restaurant Taste to lunch with a haute local set. Once suitably satiated, head back down to Lake Union, where the Center for Wooden Boats (1010 Valley St., 206-382-2628) rents lovingly restored rowboats and sailboats. There are fabulous skyline and Space Needle views from the calm waters.
Back in Capitol Hill, sidle into 1200 Bistro and Lounge (1200 E. Pike St., 206-320-1200) for elegant drinks among the city's most stylish gay denizens. Next, tuck into nourishing Northwest fare, such as roasted black cod or Hudson Valley foie gras "steak," from the comfort of Vernon Panton chairs, at Crush (2319 E. Madison St., 206-302-7874) in nearby Madison Valley. The converted Tudor house books up well ahead, so reservations are a must. Back on the Hill, admire the diverse set of pretty, energetic boys from a couch on the mezzanine at R Place (619 E. Pine St., 206-322-8828).
DAY 3 AM
For a diversion favored by gay Seattleites, hop aboard a ferry to rustic Bainbridge Island (Pier 52, 206-464-6400). After a 30-minute crossing, stroll up shop-lined Winslow Way to the patio at destination dining room Madoka (241 Winslow Way West, 206-842-2448). A gleaming gold wall sculpture welcomes diners to this lively, elegant, pan-Pacific spot. Back across the Sound, gallery-hop round Pioneer Square, picking up java jolts at Caffe Umbria (320 Occidental Ave. South, 206-624-5847), where handsome staffers serve scoops of the day's granita. Those who need a dose of retail therapy can pick up Coach or Cartier necessities at the city's most upscale, gay-favored mall, Pacific Place (Sixth Avenue and Pine Street, 206-405-2655).
Watch the sunset over Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains from the verandah lounge at the Edgewater Hotel's Six Seven (2411 Alaskan Way, Pier 67, 206-269-4575), a haven away from the hordes. For a final fabulous food experience, soak up the penthouse ambience of Veil (555 Aloha St., 206-216-0600), with its Philippe Starck chairs, pink-lit bar, white leather booths, and progressive world menu.