Locals joke that there are two seasons; cold rain and warm rain. But there are also unexpectedly uplifting moments, as only a temperate climate can provide. By the time we landed it had started drizzling again but it was too late.
I knew there was sunshine to be had here. This Pacific North-west coast city has had a low profile as a UK holiday destination, mainly viewed as a gateway for Alaska cruises. But the launch of the new Virgin Atlantic London-Seattle route last week is a big hint to think about exploring it in its own right.
Woods, water and snowy peaks frame a relaxed and deeply cool city known for both its love of the great outdoors and cosmopolitan, entrepreneurial vibe that gave the world Microsoft and Boeing.
The TV series Frasier was set – but not filmed – here, Tom Hanks was Sleepless here. Yet its real charm remains in its down-to-earth pioneer spirit.
Food unites Seattleites
I blew off jet lag the next morning impersonator Dave, who hung up his rhinestone jumpsuit a few years ago to become a tour guide with Show Me Seattle.
His commentary brings the city to life through quirky detail; whether pointing out Seattleite Bruce Lee’s favourite restaurant Tai Tung (ask to sit at his usual table), the statue of the eponymous Native American Chief Seattle or the “pea-patch” stepped allotments of Japanese neighbourhood, Kobe Terrace.
Chased down the hill by wind-blown cherry blossom, we headed along the waterfront where the Ferris wheel rotates slowly in front of the cranes and shipping containers of this working port.
For all its urban draws, the city knows its place – to the south sits the active volcano Mount Rainier. There are mountains – the North Cascades and the Olympics – and Washington State’s national parks, all within easy reach for hiking and other rugged pursuits. And everywhere, from dappled glade to Downtown, the faint tang of saltwater and cedar in the air.
You need to invest time in the supersized scenery – the Olympic National Park alone is a million acres – but you can touch on it with the state ferries from the city’s Pier 52 to islands in Puget Sound, or go whale watching.
The orcas here and around the San Juan islands are tagged, taking the guesswork out of finding them, so you can watch them cleaving the dark waters beside your boat.
Further back from the water, in Downtown, Pioneer Square is the city’s original neighbourhood, full of Renaissance Revival architecture and a racy history of brothels whose taxes helped fund the city’s 19th-century growth during the Klondike gold rush.
It is the newer boundaries, though, that spin the city on its axis. Starbucks and Amazon both began here – the latter now such a big employer it even has its “own” neighbourhood, dubbed “Amazonia”.
I paid my homage to the former the next day at the original Starbucks in Pike Place, Seattle’s food and flower market – a five-minute walk from my sleek charcoal and cream boutique base, the Thompson hotel.
Connoisseurs can also visit the coffee chain’s Reserve Roastery to taste and buy rare, small-batch beans that shrivel at the thought of hazelnut syrup and squirty cream. You get a different perspective on things with the 603ft, 45-second trip up the Space Needle, built for the 1962 World’s Fair.
Wherever you are in the city, people will promise that on a clear day you can “see Mount Rainier from here” and this was no exception. I squinted politely out at the omnipresent cloud. Below, the museum of local glassblowing legend Dale Chihuly, and the Museum of Popular Culture were compensation for the lack of views.
So, too, is a bucket of seafood you eat with a bib and a mallet. The Crab Pot is one of a myriad of fantastic seafood restaurants here, plucking their menu from the waters on their doorstep. Food unites Seattleites and the restaurant scene here is a worthy challenger to that other Pacific North-west dining haven, Portland, Oregon.
Both share a philosophy of sustainable, locally sourced and organic produce at food trucks around the city or in independent restaurants. To get a feel for the scene, Savor Seattle offers gastro tours – from gourmet downtown restaurant crawls to a “booze and bites” journey of local craft beer and ciders.
It’s also worth heading half an hour out to Woodinville to visit some 115 Washington wineries for $10 tastings to discover why this young wine region is creating a buzz with its viticulture.
Driving back toward the city, the sun began to leak out from behind low-lying clouds. Across the water, the mountainous necklace on the horizon, set with the jewel of Mount Rainier, came into sharp, spectacular focus. I knew Seattle was hiding the weather somewhere.
Virgin Holidays (0344 488 3084/virginholidays.co.uk) offers four nights at The Edgewater in Seattle from £1,315pp (two sharing), room-only. Price includes return flights from London Heathrow and car hire.
Virgin Atlantic (0844 2092 770/virginatlantic.com) offers return flights from £479. Thompson Seattle (dialling from the UK: 001 206 623 4600/thompsonhotels.com) offers doubles from £190 (two sharing), room only.
Seattle and Washington State tourism: seattle-washingtonstate.co.uk