I was going to do a post of ten things for each city, but decided that I probably wouldn't have enough activities considered suitably 'alternative' since I was only in America for a total of ten days. However, if you're also considering a visit to the Northwest, then I hope there are enough ideas here for your trip to be extra special.
1. Attend the theatre
In Seattle, we went to Theatre Off Jackson to see a new play called The Clockwork Professor. It was a great choice because we wouldn't have seen it anywhere else, and it was very entertaining with a great atmosphere throughout the audience. Also in Seattle is the famous Market Theatre where you can see improv comedy. Seeing theatre in another country is always an interesting experience and usually well worth scouting around for some unique productions.
2. Have at least one healthy breakfast
The temptation is basically to have pancakes, waffles, or French toast every morning, but don't forget to try some of the healthier options because America does good breakfast no matter how many calories are in it. I liked the oatmeal at Cherry Street Coffee House in Seattle, since I was still suffering from aeroplane nausea and it completely revived me, plus the atmosphere there is quite hip without being overcrowded.
3. Go to an author event at Powell's
If you like books, you have to go to Powell's City of Books. It's an entire city block of bookstore, with a cafe too. They also have frequent author readings and signings, and it just so happened that one of my favourite writers, Alexander Maksik, was there at the right time! Even if you don't know of the writer, it can still be interesting to hear them speak and maybe pick up one of their books to have as a holiday read.
4. Release your inner nerd
The EMP Museum in Seattle is literally Nerdvana. Exhibits on music feature Nirvana and Jimi Hendrix, while a fantasy gallery houses props from The Princess Bride, Percy Jackson, and Harry Potter. Then there's a Sci-Fi icons exhibit, which includes a dalek and Captain Kirk's chair, and next-door, you can see the axe from The Shining in the horror gallery. I could have spent hours there; the galleries are so well thought-out and engaging.
5. Eat some fudge at the Space Needle
You basically have to do the Space Needle in Seattle. It's practically law. When it comes to the really tourist-y things, I find it's more fun to just throw yourself into it and indulge in all the silly things on offer. Downstairs they have the most amazing fudge counter, where you can buy some (fairly expensive) pieces in whatever size you choose. I have a bit of a tradition for eating junk food on tall landmarks (an eclair on the Sydney harbour bridge, a pretzel on the Eiffel tower) so I just had to get a picture of myself looking silly with the Seattle skyline and some peanut butter fudge.
6. Spot the 10 Things I Hate About You locations
If you haven't seen 10 Things then you need to go away and watch it now please. Of all the teen movies from the past 20 years or so, it is undoubtedly my favourite (I even prefer it to Mean Girls). When I realised that Stadium High School, where they filmed several scenes, including Heath Ledger's famous singing-on-the-bleachers moment, was in Tacoma (near Seattle), we had to take a trip there. We also saw the Fremont Bridge Troll, where Bianca and Cameron discuss what kind of guy Kat likes, and went to Gas Works Park, the setting for my favourite scene in the entire movie.
7. Find the streetmarkets and antiques stores
Both places are great for this. In Seattle, there's the Fremont street market, where we got some excellent tacos, and over in Tacoma we stumbled upon a vintage fair on Main street. Then of course there is the famous Pike Place Market, where you can go to the original Starbucks, along with hundreds of other interesting stalls and shops; I really liked Moon Valley Organics, who sold me some delicious skin products. In Portland, grab breakfast from a street cart at the Skidmore Market, or take a trip outside of the city to some of the little towns along the Historic Columbia River Highway. I got a lovely necklace for just $1 at Bev Frank Antiques in Troutdale.
8. Check for open-air events
Especially in the summer, everywhere seems to have some sort of outdoors entertainment. In Portland, we saw two open-air theatre productions: Cymbeline performed by the Portland players, and Trek in the Park - a re-enactment of the legendary Star Trek episode The Trouble With Tribbles. We also stumbled upon several things in Pioneer Square, including a free showing of The Princess Bride and a troupe of Chinese children doing better tricks with diablos than I've seen most adult street-performers do - and I live in Winchester, the home of the world's oldest street-arts fair!
9. Take a hike
We broke up out stay in Portland with a trip out to the Mount Hood area, staying in a ski lodge owned by the hotel from The Shining - how reassuring! Still, there is some beautiful scenery in the mid-west, much of it accessible through fairly easy walks. We didn't really go outside of Seattle, though if I went to Washington again I would probably explore the area more and perhaps even pay a visit to Forks to get my teenage vampire kicks...
10. Seek out independent shops and cafes
Seattle in particular has a very enterprising feel to it, being the home of Amazon, Starbucks, and Microsoft (seriously, try playing a game of 'spot the building paid for by someone called Gates or Allen'). So be sure to mix things up and try weird places to eat and shop, because you never know, they might end up being the next international super-brand.
Enjoyed this? Why not look at my list of 10 Alternative Things to Do in London?