Santa doesn’t just land in the Emerald City. He moves in for a month.
Kicking off a trip to Seattle by poring over Kurt Cobain’s personal postcards and photographs at Seattle’s Experience Music Project (EMP) Museum is admittedly clichéd. But festive tidings reside in unexpected places in the Emerald City and watching 20-year-old video footage of Nirvana singing “We Wish You a Merry Christmas” does a surprisingly good job of getting you into the holiday spirit. Some might think it would be hard for the Jimi Hendrix exhibit, also at the EMP, to have the same effect. They’ve obviously never heard his version of “Little Drummer Boy.”
But there are copious more overt ways to summon the Santa Claus vibe here, such as checking into the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. There, five minutes spent gazing upon designer Christmas trees – part of the city’s annual Festival of Trees – in the historic hotel’s festive grand foyer does more than the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future to eradicate Scrooge-ish leanings. While there, take Holiday Tea in the hotel’s elegant dining room at The Georgian (think scones, gingerbread and tiny turkey and bacon sandwiches sweetened with honey from bees that live on the hotel roof). Or hit the third-floor Teddy Bear Suite, where children congregate over hot chocolate and cookies among plush friends and bigger-than-life decor that smacks of Dr. Seuss’s Whoville.
But it’s more than tinsel, toys and trees that entice British Columbians to board the Amtrak and make the scenic, four-hour trek across the border each holiday season; it’s shopping. Arrive the last week of November or first week of December and catch the tail end of Black Friday sales. From Nordstrom to Tiffany & Co., Abercrombie & Fitch to Victoria’s Secret, America’s retail giants are well represented in Seattle’s downtown core. Discounts up to 70 per cent are not to be overlooked – especially with the loonie as robust as a Christmas goose.
When Main Street America shopping gets tired, many visitors hunt for unique gifts at the nine-acre Pike Place Market. In operation for more than a century, it gets all sorts of hype thanks to its used-gum wall (as literal and vile as it sounds) and a fish shop where boisterous staff throw whole salmon around like footballs. The market is worth perusing, if only to say you did it and to marvel at the extraordinary crap (though, one man’s trash. . .) available at its multi-level flea market. Plus, at its gate is a notable stop, indeed: the world’s first Starbucks (although locals dispute the location), open since 1971. But since Starbucks has gone successfully global by mass-producing its product, a better use of your time – and caloric intake – is an order of gooey Mac & Cheese at Beecher’s Handmade Cheese shop, a couple of doors down.
When you’ve had your fill of the crowds and curios at Pike Place, the lesser-known Melrose Market in the up-and-coming Capitol Hill neighbourhood is where you’ll find Seattleites checking their lists twice as they flit between a fromagerie, butcher, florist and a wine shop stocked with the best Washington vintages.
Here, a charming little loft boutique called Butter Home floats above the market floor and has a beautifully curated selection of organic and vintage-inspired housewares and hostess gifts, like felted door wreaths and log coasters. Don’t miss the handmade porcelain and driftwood cheese knives and Washington-shaped cheese boards. After all, if you go to Seattle in December, you can’t help but revel in the cheesiness of the holiday season.