But the Emerald City revels in its cliches, and the truth is, you really can't get a bad cup of coffee here. No watered-down swill in this city, no sir.
Having visited Seattle many times over the past 20 years, I believe its charms are best discovered one cup at a time. That means venturing into the lesser-known parts of town, where you'll find quaint, independent coffee shops and small chains that offer steaming cups of some of the best coffee you'll ever drink.
In any of them, you might discover that Seattle is an amalgam of many different cultural personalities. You might encounter flannel-clad throwbacks to the grunge era, techie businesspeople toting laptops, and outdoorsy hikers, bicyclists and kayakers - probably all ordering the same drink.
Of course, it's hard to consider Seattle coffee without Starbucks, the corporate monolith that was founded here in 1971 (if you must make a pilgrimage, the original shop is at 1912 Pike Place).
Sure, Starbucks is really good coffee, and it's nothing if not ubiquitous in the greater Seattle area. If convenience and familiarity are your priorities, well, Starbucks has you covered.
But Seattle is a city of little nooks and
Located near most of Seattle's main tourist attractions, they offer good, inexpensive coffee and decadent homemade pastries.
Here are several coffee shops that will introduce you to the sights of Puget Sound and this jewel of the Pacific Northwest.
One cup at a time.
PIKE PLACE MARKET
Located in the middle of the famous and bustling Pike Place Market in downtown Seattle, and close enough to the original Starbucks to tip your hat, Le Panier is a traditional French bakery that is visited by downtown business people and visitors alike.
Pike Place Market is the destination in Seattle for foodies, and Le Panier is the perfect place to start your tour before heading off to see flying fish, elephant garlic and vendors who sell everything from left-handed bread knives to the most perfect produce you've ever seen.
At the height of tourist season and the holidays, Le Panier, which is decorated with photographs of Paris, is packed with people going in for a quick snack and gifts. You will encounter lines, but there's good reason to wait in them. The pastries, cookies and sandwiches are out of this world, and the coffee is strong and warm on those days when the wind is whipping off the sound.
My favorite pastry is the chocolatine - a croissant loaded with a hazelnut cream and chocolate chip filling. Served warm, this pastry is sweet, flaky and gooey, and it is perfectly accompanied by a cup of Le Panier's cafe maison, or house-blend coffee. If you want a total chocolate attack, try it with a cafe mocha.
Check out the bakery's array of petit fours, tartlets, artisan breads and unique "sable" cookies in a variety of flavors. The coffee drinks range in price from around $1.60 for a small coffee to $2.35 and up for cappuccinos - cheaper than what you'll find at the chains.
The Elliott Bay Book Co. is as much an institution here as the coffee. It is a mecca for readers of all ages and lovers of independent bookstores.
And it is a sight to behold. The creaky wooden shelves rise to the rafters of this building in historic Pioneer Square, and each shelf is practically buckling under the weight of the latest and greatest tomes.
The basement of this establishment is packed, too, with coffee and pastries - and more books. The vibe in this cafe is pure Beat poet, with a Seattle twist.
On any given day, you might be served a cup of joe (or tea) and a buttery, delicious scone by someone who looks like a throwback to grunge music's glory days. The day I was there, a man with dreadlocks stuffed heavily into a wool cap and requisite flannel shirt tied around his waist served my latte with a smile.
Elliott Bay Book Co. carries a terrific selection of books on local history and culture, and throughout the year hosts readings and other events for adults and children.
That, alone, would make it worth a visit, but its location in Pioneer Square also places you squarely in the historic center of the city, convenient to its famous underground tour.
Stop at the cafe for lunch or a snack, and then head over a few blocks to take a tour of subterranean Seattle (www.undergroundtour.com).
Also in Pioneer Square is Zeitgeist, a coffee house for the hip literati.
Its atmosphere is modern and industrial, its coffee strong and robust. Silver coffee and tea pots in all shapes and sizes adorn the interior. And it's not unusual to see young men smoking pipes out front, or people surfing the Net while drinking cappuccinos.
Zeitgeist has one wall devoted to events going on in the art community; it's located close to some of Seattle's premier art galleries.
The shop is also convenient to the Safeco Field/Seahawk Stadium sports complex and the Union Station train depot.
When the sun shines in Seattle - no snickering, the sun does shine here - the views of the surrounding mountains are as breathtaking as any in the world.
Madison Park, a community on the shores of Lake Washington, takes it all in: Mount Rainier to the south, standing in stark relief while keeping watch over her city, and the Cascades to the east and the Olympic range to the west putting on their splendid displays of snowcapped beauty.
You can relax lakeside and savor the view with a nice cup of coffee from Tully's, a smaller Seattle-based chain of coffee shops (there is even a location in Santa Monica).
The coffee is strong but smooth, the pastries are hearty staples, and the atmosphere mirrors both. In this Tully's, there is a cozy fireplace and sturdy, comfortable armchairs. It feels homey and warm and mellow. The locals love this place, and the baristas know the regulars by name - and drink.
Madison Park has a tiny village with sweet little shops and a beach located a few blocks down the road from Tully's. In the summertime, grab an iced coffee drink and walk the few blocks to the grassy - yes, grassy - beach park. There is a lifeguard on duty for those who want to take a swim or go kayaking, and benches at the water's edge for those who just want to sit and sip.
This town is 15 miles outside Seattle proper, and from here you can hop a ferry and sail off to other parts of Puget Sound, like Bainbridge or Kingston islands along the Olympic Peninsula.
Edmonds itself is a lovely village of antique stores, restaurants and specialty shops. It also has the distinction of being the headquarters of travel guru Rick Steves.
But before you head off to or plan your next travel destination, stop at the Waterfront Coffee Co.
This tiny little establishment located a literal stone's throw from the ferry dock is small in space but big on warmth and flavorful coffee and pastries. The blueberry scone is one for the books - packed with berries, and with a delicious sugary crust.
The cafe showcases paintings by local artists. Lovely, country-style tables and chairs invite you to linger. And the service is always accompanied with a smile.
The pastries are fresh and the coffee is reasonably priced. Take a cup along to keep you warm on your journey, wherever it might take you.
The Essential Bakery Cafe is where locals go to get some of the best baked goods around. At lunchtime, the place is jammed with residents craving not only the classic French pastries and desserts, but the soups and salads.
The Essential Baking Co. supplies some area grocery stores with organic baked goods. Because of that, the coffee and treats at its cafes (and there are several in the Seattle area) are reasonably priced.
I can honestly say that my search for the world's best chocolate chip cookie ended here: It was loaded with chips but also possessed the perfect balance between chewy and crispy. Pair that with a gigantic mug of their house coffee and this place is a winner.
The Essential Bakery Cafe is nestled in between the funky, arty neighborhoods of Wallingford and Fremont, a short walk or drive from Seattle's famous Gasworks Park - where kite-flying is the order of the day. The park is located right off Lake Union, and the wind makes the kites soar like nowhere else.
Fremont has a terrific farmers market on Sundays, and during the summer it hosts an outdoor cinema.
The bakery is located just off the Burke-Gilman trail, which courses 18 miles in and around Seattle and its neighborhoods. The trail is perfect for hikers, cyclists and casual walkers.
The bakery's proximity to the lake also makes it the ideal stop for kayakers, who pop in for a tasty energy source before or after a day on the water.
|IF YOU GO|
|ELLIOTT BAY BOOK CO.:||101 S. Main St., Seattle. www.elliottbaybook.com; (206) 624-6600, (800) 962-5311.|
|THE ESSENTIAL BAKERY CAFE:||Wallingford, 1604 N. 34th St., Seattle. (206) 545-0444; www.essentialbaking.com.|
|LE PANIER:||1902 Pike Place, Seattle. www.lepanier.com; (206) 441-3669.|
|TULLY'S:||4036 E. Madison St., Seattle. www.tullys.com; (206) 329-6659.|
|THE WATERFRONT COFFEE CO.:||101 Main St., Suite A, Edmonds, Wash. (425) 670-1400.|
|ZEITGEIST:||171 S. Jackson St., Seattle. zeitgeistcoffee.com; (206) 583-0497.|
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