Winter vacation in...Seattle?
December 1, 2010 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Thinking of a mini-vacation in January. In Seattle. Am I crazy and...

I've got a credit on Virgin America I need to use up before February. They don't fly to that many places from DC, Seattle being one of them. I've always wanted to go but never only PNW experience has been Portland, which I loved. We are not outdoorsy though, and I don't ride bikes or go on boats. We like museums, interesting shopping, music, food, classic cocktails, dive bars, and just wandering around.

We're looking at January 20 to 23. Questions:

Is the weather going to be too awful to do anything?
Can we get away with not renting a car?
Anything special going on that weekend to not miss (or avoid)?
Any recommendations that haven't turned up in other Seattle questions? (I did check!)
posted by JoanArkham to Travel & Transportation around Seattle, WA (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It shouldn't be too cold (relative to Pittsburgh/NYC/DC), but it will be rainy.
posted by Raichle at 8:46 AM on December 1, 2010

If there is sun, it won't be too bad, but what about going to LA or San Diego? VA flies to LA from D.C.

If you could, I'd suggest sticking it out and waiting to visit Seattle, the Peninsula, and the San Juans between May and September, and doing something else with your credit.
posted by jgirl at 8:53 AM on December 1, 2010

I think jgirl is right. I don't think the weather will be too awful, but it is much nicer in the summer.

Stay downtown or in Belltown and you will solve many of your problems. You will be able to walk to many places, or take the bus anywhere else you would want to go with no problem. No, you won't need a car. We rarely get super-awful weather to the point where you won't want to go outside even with proper clothing. Occasionally we get a tiny amount of snow that shuts the city down, but that won't matter as much if you are within walking distance from stuff.

museums: Seattle Art Museum, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Frye Museum, Henry Museum, art galleries in Pioneer Square are all nice. Nothing will compare with the Smithsonian, obviously.
interesting shopping: check out Capitol Hill and Ballard
music: you should check The Stranger's listings. Any kind you're interested in?

Anything special going on that weekend to not miss (or avoid)?

Check the calendars of The Stranger and Seattle Weekly when it gets closer to the date.

If you do want to go to the San Juans or the Olympic peninsula, you will want a car for that, but you don't have to keep it for your whole visit. Also, this will involve a ferry ride (I don't know whether this is precluded by your desire to avoid boats).
posted by grouse at 8:57 AM on December 1, 2010

I live near Seattle and it is very rainy. Are you sure that you're prepared for the gloom? It is hard for natives to handle. I might suggest Vancouver, BC as an alternative. I was there last winter and it was gorgeous and there was absolutely lots to do. You'll love it and it is similar to Portland and Seattle!
posted by 200burritos at 9:05 AM on December 1, 2010

Aww, what a bunch of weenies. January is lovely in Seattle! Lovely being defined as damp, grey, and promoting a lifestyle in which brisk well-Gortexed walks are followed by idling in a warm cafe with a restorative beverage. Seriously, bring good raingear, stay someplace with a fireplace, and enjoy the coziness.
posted by ottereroticist at 9:09 AM on December 1, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yep, Seattle is usually fine in Janaury. We do get the rare snowstorm but generally all you need is an umbrella and rain jacket. I always use public transportation in Seattle (take the lightrail from the airport to downtown and then the bus system should take you anywhere you want to go). There's plenty of places to visit in Seattle that are indoors (museums, shopping, and even Pikes Place Market is covered). Have a great trip!
posted by MsKim at 9:28 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks, all. We're totally OK with gloom although I'm not crazy about really cold weather or snow. We also don't have any interest in Southern California or Las Vegas, and we were just in San Francisco.

idling in a warm cafe with a restorative beverage

Oooh, yes please.

Music: we like just about anything considered "indie" or "alternative"...punk, surf, alt-country, garage. We might try to get in to the Mercury, just so we can say we went.

We will likely stay in one of the Kimpton hotels, BTW.
posted by JoanArkham at 10:07 AM on December 1, 2010

Best answer: I have gone kayaking in perfectly sunny 60 degree weather in Seattle, during January. But this year is supposed to be wetter and colder than normal, so YMMV.

You can get a list of about 600 events already planned for January from the SeattlePI. There's a Steampunk Ball, Ray City Rollergirls, a farewell tour-show for my alt-country faves, Asylum Street Spankers, lots of cinema and dance events.
posted by nomisxid at 10:51 AM on December 1, 2010

Best answer: Seattle will seem like heaven compared to January in DC. Yes, it's drizzly and the sky is gray but it's usually well above freezing and there's no wind chill. Seattle is a great city for eating and drinking, and the gloomy weather sort of encourages it.

You will not need a car if you are staying at a Kimpton hotel downtown. Spend your time wandering around Capitol Hill and Ballard. You can get around by bus, cab or private car service.

Classic cocktails: Sun Liquor, Knee High Stocking Company, Rob Roy, Zig Zag
Fancier eats: La Bete, Quinns, Sitka and Spruce, Staple and Fancy, Walrus and Carpenter
Cheap eats: Mike's Noodle House, Thai Curry Simple, Smith, Pike Street Fish Fry, street vendors for a "Seattle-style" hot dog, The Saint
Music: Chop Suey, Tractor, Neumos, The Moore
posted by joan_holloway at 11:06 AM on December 1, 2010

Best answer: You can have a fantastic trip. Stay at the Alexis Hotel (a Kimpton) in a great location downtown (1st and Madison). Bonus: they've typically had fantastic winter rates.

It's an easy walk from the hotel to the waterfront (and the Olympic Sculpture Park!), the Pike Place Market, the Showbox & Triple Door (great live music venues), the Seattle Art Museum (which is hosting a fabulous Picasso exhibit), and tons of restaurants, cafes, and bars. You'll be able to walk to historeic Pinoeer Square and up into the International District if you fancy some dim sum. The Crocodile Cafe in Belltown (walk or $4 cab) hosts bands nightly and was one of the hotspots from the grunge heyday.

You can hop on buses (ride free in downtown) to get to some outlying neighborhoods such as Fremont or Ballard and you're a ~20 block (uphill) walk or cheap (<>
If you want to get a different perspective on the city, walk two blocks west to the ferry terminal and hop on a ferry to Bainbridge Island--you'll have a gorgeous view of the city, the Puget Sound, and the island. Take a stroll into town, have some coffee, walk to the harbor, maybe see some eagles or sea lions.

None of the above requires a car.
posted by donovan at 11:17 AM on December 1, 2010

Seattle in Jan can be very nice. You need to dress for wet, not cold. waterproof, layers and good waterproof shoes if you are going to be walking around. days are short and the pike market closes early (5pm i think). there is an abundance of art-house cinema, coffee shops, specialty chocolate shops and the like.
Seattle is a city of neighborhoods, each with a street or two of walk-in goodness. Fremont, capital hill, queen anne, greenlake, wallingford, u district to name a few. locals will be happy to direct you.
Pop into a PCC, by some columbia valley wine, find a local bakery, talk up the folks in those places and you will be on firm footing.
take a ferry ride, standing on the deck in the cold rain is invigorating, and makes that next hot coffee soooo much more warming.
come and enjoy, you will want to come back in the summer to see what you have missed!
posted by OHenryPacey at 11:19 AM on December 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Today it's sunny and moderately warm, yesterday there was rain, last week we had a couple days of snow. January will be much the same. A couple things to keep in mind are that the days are pretty short in winter, it gets dark around 4:30 or 5. And the city doesn't handle snow very well, the buses will tend to be a nightmare if the streets are slick. Luckily if you're downtown there's really no need to travel any further than walking distance to get to any sort of attraction (especially bars) that you could want.

We like...classic cocktails, dive bars

You are in luck. The establishment I work at is both of these and more (more being full of clown paraphenelia and pinball). I work the back bar Thursday through Sunday (except Friday after nine) and have a policy of giving deals to Mefites. I recommend Thursdays, Sundays, and Friday happy hour until 8 or so. The weekend nights tend to bring out a really obnoxious crowd (this is true for all of Belltown) and I would avoid the place entirely if I weren't behind the bar.
posted by Jawn at 11:19 AM on December 1, 2010

I grew up in that area and worked at 1st and Spring somewhat near the Alexis. That area is very walkable and there is lots to do. By all means do everything you planned, but don't miss the Pike's Place market. Expect rain, but snow is a possibility. Bring a book, iPad or friend in case of snow. Jawn isn't kidding about the city not handling snow well. Any more than a light dusting and that whole part of town will shut down transportation-wise and some smaller businesses may close.

This time of year, I'd wear a waterproof jacket and layer my clothes to keep warm. I advise gloves, but ski-gloves are overkill. Waterproof or at least resistant shoes are a must as are a few pairs of extra socks.

As for LA, there is plenty to do down here and weather is in the mid-60's to mid-70's this time of year. (68 right now.) Personally, I'd stick with Seattle. You'll have a blast, and if it sucks, take the train to Portland.
posted by Hylas at 12:00 PM on December 1, 2010

Nope, not crazy. Before I moved up to Seattle, I visited in the winter at least once (February?), and it was a fun trip. Rain is pretty much guaranteed, but bitter cold and snow are pretty unlikely. The fact of it being a La Niña year makes snow a little more likely than usual, but the likelihood of snow during your trip is still quite low. Seattle has lots of great museums, restaurants, and bars, and plenty of nice places to wander around. Also, coffee shops everywhere. I don't think anyone has mentioned the Underground Tour in Pioneer Square yet, which I hear is cool.

It's not nearly as beautiful in the winter as it is other times of the year, but as long as you have the gear to stay dry while you're wandering around, Seattle is a very nice place to visit even in the winter.

You definitely don't need a car. You would only need one if you wanted to get out of the city, but if you're not very outdoorsy, you won't have much reason to. Most of the things that you will want to do will probably be in walking distance or an easy bus ride away.
posted by mandanza at 2:29 PM on December 1, 2010

If you do want to go to the San Juans or the Olympic peninsula, you will want a car for that, but you don't have to keep it for your whole visit. Also, this will involve a ferry ride (I don't know whether this is precluded by your desire to avoid boats).

You can rent a car on SJI and Orcas, and almost certainly Lopez. I know that SJI has several taxi services. I was there last week for Thanksgiving, and it snowed about 2 inches at sea level on SJI! That is highly unusual, though.

You can also fly to the islands on Kenmore Air.
posted by jgirl at 5:00 PM on December 1, 2010

We also have TONS of great cocktail bars! Zig zag cafe, for instance, was just voted the #1 best cocktail bar in AMERICA by GQ. TONS.
posted by stranger danger at 5:54 PM on December 1, 2010

Best answer: A summer trip with give you nice weather and much more daylight.
A winter trip will give you a truer Seattle experience. Less tourist hub-bub. Shorter lines at popular spots.

More suggestions for winter activities:

If you visit Ballard, don't miss the Sunday morning farmer's market. It's vibrant, even in January. It's a fun local scene with several food stands.

Nthing the ferry rides. The water taxi is inexpensive and gives you great views of the city.

The Edmonds-Kingston ferry is a beautiful 30 minute crossing, especially at sunrise or sunset. On a very clear day, you can see both Mt Rainier and Mt Baker. Both Kingston and Edmonds are walkable and fun to explore.
(Theoretically you could reach this ferry terminal by buses, but you really need a car.)

If you need some brightness on a grey day, visit Volunteer Park. Lots to do in a small area. Asian Art Museum. The Victorian conservatory has lovely greenery, orchids, and succulents. Trails with beautiful old trees. Interesting view of the space needle.

Do you like quirky, hospitable cafes?
Explore the Greenwood/Phinney corridor (#5 bus). Check out The Green Bean Coffeehouse -- a non-profit coffee-house with an interesting history. Very community-oriented and friendly. Across from Green Bean is the Wayward Coffeehouse. This is geek central. Dark place for introverts and their laptops. They host sci-fi/fantasy events. Check their calendar.
This same neighborhood has my favorite antique furniture store, really good gyros, and a space travel supply store.
I'm no coffee expert, but I've heard that Herkimer makes some of the best coffee in Seattle, and it's low key and friendly.

Seattle people will roll their eyes... but I like the Bellevue Arts Museum. Great building with unusual, provocative exhibits. The Seattle Art Museum is good, but IMO they do a lot of "crowd-pleaser" shows.

I hope you decide to visit. Have a great time.
posted by valannc at 12:55 AM on December 2, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was coming here to say that the Water Taxi doesn't sail during the winter, but it looks like I'm wrong.

If you do decide to check out the Bellevue Arts Museum, the 550 bus runs from the Transit Tunnel in Seattle to within a few blocks of the museum. The ride will cost you $2.50 one way, and the 550 is frequent. (Who knew making that trip five to six times a week would come in handy on MeFi?)

I'm a big fan of the Seattle Public Library Central Branch. And I second taking the ferry. These two are some of my favorite idle-day-in-Seattle things to do.
posted by gc at 5:39 AM on December 2, 2010

Response by poster: OK, I'm convinced. I've always been a fan of "off season" vacations anyway, maybe that comes from being born in a summer beach town. I think we'll make our reservations tonight. And Jawn, I may very well take you up on that offer!
posted by JoanArkham at 6:02 AM on December 2, 2010

Response by poster: Not sure if it's ok (or useful?) to add on here but...we're definitely coming in 2 weeks. I can't for the life of me figure out the transit options. I understand there is a free zone, but is there some sort of tourist pass so we don't have to worry about going outside the zone? Like San Fransisco's 3 or 5-day pass.
posted by JoanArkham at 1:54 PM on January 3, 2011

The shortest-period pass available is for a month. Single fares for you on King County Metro are $2.25 off-peak, $2.50 peak in Seattle, and $3 peak for buses that leave the Seattle city limits. Paying in cash (exact change) is probably easiest. Transfers are usually pretty generous.
posted by grouse at 6:25 PM on January 3, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks! I guess they used to have a day-pass, but no longer do.
posted by JoanArkham at 12:07 PM on January 4, 2011

Yes. The day pass was almost never an economic choice, though. It was only available on weekends and I think it cost almost as much as three trips. The paper transfers are usually valid so long such that people hardly ever pay to use the bus more than twice a day anyway.
posted by grouse at 12:10 PM on January 4, 2011

Response by poster: Just wanted to say THANK YOU to everyone for the advice...we had a wonderful time, and plan on coming back at some point. And big extra thanks to Bartender Jawn for pouring some really good drinks! (Wish I could remember what was in that last rum drink. So. Good.)
posted by JoanArkham at 6:53 AM on January 25, 2011

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