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The Syracuse vs. Washington Experience: Being An Awesome Tourist

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For those of you who are coming to Seattle for the game or are thinking of coming to Seattle for the game, this is the second in a series of posts that, hopefully, make your planning a little easier.  I've gotten a lot of emails about the best times to come in, where to stay, what to do, etc. and I figured I'd do my best to help out. 

Part I: Where To Stay

Part II: Being A Lazy Tourist

Part III: Being An Awesome Tourist

Part IV: Cuse Fan Festivities

If you're coming into town but need to make last-minute plans on where to stay, I've got some help in that department.  GameDay Housing, which helps sports fans find a place to stay when traveling to other cities, wants to help Syracuse fans who don't want to do the hotel experience. Got a group of friends that want to stay together?  GDH is offering $200 off of a house rental the weekend of the SU-UW game.  At the moment they have two properties listed (and expect to add more), and if you split the difference on either of them with other people, it's a pretty solid deal.


To win the $200 off, email me with the subject line: SU-UW Contest and I'll automatically enter you in the drawing  Time is of the essence so let me know ASAP.  My only request is that you enter the contest only if you truly intend to use the prize or know someone who will. Good luck!

So last time we talked about what to do if you're just going to go through the motions of visiting Seattle.  But you're not going to do that, right?  You're going to be an awesome tourist.  You're going to put in a little effort to see the sights and hear the sounds of Seattle and the region that go beyond the Space Needle.  I'm glad we settled that. 

Just in case, I'm going to put a sniper on top of Queen Anne and have him locked on the Space Needle observation deck all weekend.  His orders...see an orange t-shirt and fire without prejudice.  But of course he won't have to do that...right?

Alright so since you want to see the best this place has to offer, let's get to it.  First, some quick thoughts:

To Car Or Not To Car: Unless you're planning to day-trip it to one of the island of Mt. Rainier, you don't need a car.  There's a train to take you from the airport to Seattle and there's plenty of public transportation to take you all around town.

How Expansive Is Seattle: I would say not expensive at all, but then again I'm coming from Los Angeles.  Obviously, it depends where you go but if you just want some good grub, cheap booze and some t-shirts, you won't break the bank.

Trains, Buses Or Taxis: Seattle's got one of the weirdest train transportation systems I've ever seen.  There are three separate public transportation train options and none of them actually connect with one another.  The Light Rail goes from SeaTac Airport to downtown. The monorail goes from downtown to the Space Needle.  And then the South Lake Union Streetcar goes from downtown guessed it, South Lake Union.  None of those options get you to the University District, or more importantly, the Stadium. 

Honestly, just grab a bus map and schedule and live by that.  It's simple, easy, relatively-cheap and the most dependable way to get around.

What Is This Tunnel Everyone Keeps Complaining About?:  You know what, don't worry about it.  Just stay out of it, honestly.

Which Newspaper Or Magazines Should I Read?: Want to kill some time or need some quick tips on where to go?  Stick to the Seattle Weekly or The Stranger.  They're both exactly the same thing though The Stranger is usually a little harsher and has a little more bite.  

And now the cool stuff to do...

Mt. Rainier - You know how every city has a "thing?"  That something about it that separates it from every other city?  Cause if it didn't that that "thing," it would just be a collection of tall buildings.  Miami has South Beach and the sweltering, unwavering gaze of the Sun.  Baltimore has the Inner Harbor.  Las Vegas has casinos and The Strip.  Minnesota has...a mall. 

Seattle has nature.  A crapton of nature.  It's surrounded on most sides by water (Puget Sound to the south and west, Lake Washington to the east).  And then there's Mt. Rainier.  The first time you see it you're almost positive it's fake.  As if someone just photoshoped it into the sky.  Out there, in the middle of nowhere is a giant, snow-capped mountain just hanging out.

If you've got a late flight on Sunday and need to work off all that beer and brat consumption from Friday and Saturday, you could do worse than to make the drive out to Rainier (1.5 - 2.5 hours, depending on where you go).  I suggest trekking to the Paradise entrance where it costs $15 to enter and hike any of the trails ahead.  Whichever one you choose, you will not be disappointed (here's some good options).

Visit An Island - Check out a map of Puget Sound and you'll quickly notice there's a lot of stuff floating around in the water. Seattle might be the heart of the Sound but there's a ton more island, inlets, harbors and other places worth checking out.

The closest and easiest one to get to is Bainbridge Island.  You can easily hop on a ferry at the waterfront and take the 30 minute ride across the Sound.  Once there it's a short walk to a "downtown" area full of shops, restaurants and other whatnot.  Perfect if mom and dad are in tow.  What's ever better is that the island offers some great watersports and biking opportunities.  Stretch those legs, people.  Stay loose!

If you want a little more adventure, head out to the San Juan Islands.  Sounding way more tropical than they have a right to, they're a little further north but worth the trip.  Especially Orcas Island, which is named for exactly what you think it's named for.

Capitol Hill - Hanging out in Downtown Seattle is easy.  Making the move up to Capitol Hill takes a little more finesse as a tourist.  But it's probably going to be worth it, especially for the younger Cuse fans among us.  Cap Hill is basically the Brooklyn of Seattle.  Lots of wear and tear, tons of shady characters walking around, and many buildings that look like they could topple over with a strong push.  But in-between and around the edges is a big-time cultural scene.  It's a major hub for bars, restaurants, theater and a lot more.  You also get a big college vibe from the Seattle University students living there.

Need a good place to pre-game Saturday?  You could do a lot worse than here. Plus, there's tons of hipsters to make fun of.

Ballard/Fremont - If you're standing in downtown and you look north, Capitol Hill and the University District are to your right.  You'll be heading that way for the game.  But if you look to the left, past Lake Union, you'll find a pretty quirky collection of neighborhoods worth your time.

Fremont is the self-proclaimed Center of the Universe and it's exactly the kind of town you'd expect to hoist that title upon itself.  It's quirky, it's slightly bohemian and it's funky.  There's a giant troll underneath the bridge that passes over the town.  There's an authentic statue of Lenin in the center of town from Russia.  And it's the home of the Solstice Parade,which features naked cyclists.  Sadly for you, you missed that already.

A little more north and west is Ballard.  A slightly-more suburban, middle-class version of Fremont.  Head down to Market Street and it's got a lot of small-town charm but with a seaside town edge to it. 

I cannot possibly recommend enough hitting both towns on Sunday morning or early afternoon for the Farmer's Markets.  Even if looking at trinkets and turquoise things isn't your cup of tea, the food is worth the trip.  Wood-oven pizza, pork sandwiches, gourmet hot's one of the highlights of my culinary week.

Speaking of food, let's separate the men from the po' boys and get you situated depending on what kind of meal you want:

Best Burger: Want to start a holy war in Seattle?  Ask people which is the best burger in town.  Most people will say Dick's, the old-school drive-in place with a few locations all over town.  I've had Dick's.  And frankly, I call bullsh*t.  It's basically a really good McDonald's hamburger.  Which is fine...but that's not "best burger" material in my book.  Plus, everyone always says the same thing..."it's amazing at 2am!"  Well that's fine but guess what, so are Steak'ums

If you somehow find yourself in West Seattle, Zippy's seems to be the place to go. Otherwise Red Mill has quite the reputation and I personally vouch for Zak's in Ballard.

Best Pork Sandwich: If there's such a thing as a universal truth in Seattle, it's that Paseo has the hands-down best pork sandwich in town.  Impressive for a place that you'd drive right past if you didn't see a line out front.  The goods news (and bad news) is that there is NEVER a moment where there isn't a line out front.  The place opens at 11am and closes at 9pm and I am not kidding you in the least when I say there is a line out front the entire time. 

My advice: get there EARLY.  A 11am pork sandwich goes down just fine.  Plus, they have a tendancy to run out of food later in the day so it's best to be proactive.  Also, I recommend that you stick to the sandwiches.  They might be heavenly but the sides and salads are crap.

Best Pizza: The people of Seattle recently gave The Independent Pizzeria the nod as the best in town. You'll have to take their word for it, I've never been.  All I know is, the wood-oven pizza found at the Fremont and Ballard Farmer's Markets on Sunday is some serious, grade-A insanity.

Beat Mac & Cheese: Beecher's, right outside the Pike Place Market.  Do not ask me for other options, there are none.  This might be the best thing you eat during your time here.  You may even become addicted to it.  I stand by it that much.

Best Fancy But Not Too Fancy Dining: The Pink Door, located in one of the alleys off Pike's Market, is definitely worth checking out for a lazy brunch/lunch. Try to get a spot on the outdoor patio for a view of the Sound.  The Italian menu is just on this side of unpretentious and is really friggin delicious.

Best Pub Food:  I've never been but I hear very good things about Big Time Brewery.  Very close to the University of Washington, it's "Seattle's original brewpub" and they're best known for their specialty pizzas.

Best Coffee:  Face it, you're in Seattle, you're going to drink a lot of coffee.  You have no choice really.  I don't really have too much advice to offer in this department.  I don't drink a lot of coffee despite the fact that I spend all day in coffee shop writing.  There's a lot of small coffee bars that take the whole thing way too seriously.  If you're a coffee snob, you should be able to spot these (like Caffe Vita). 

I know it's sacrilige to suggest Starbucks but if you need Wi-Fi, you'll be hard-pressed to find another coffee shop with as good a connection.  Though they all have decent internet connections.

My personal favorite spot is Fremont Coffee House.  Come for the good drinks with the fancy designs on top, stay for the people-watching from the outside deck.

Best Late-Night Eatery: If you're just looking for a quick bite, Dick's is your pick. If you're feeling adventurous and have no concern for your cholesterol, make your way over to Beth's Cafe.  It's the greasy spoon to top all greasy spoons, but that's only part of it.  Beth serves something called The 12-Egg Omelette.  It's so big it's served on a pizza dish. It looks like a sheet of pale, yellow death.  And it comes with a plate of hash-browns so big it could be its own meal.

I know all of this because many years ago my friends and I came to Seattle.  We had heard about Ol'12-Egger on a TV show and decided to make it a group challenge.  There were six of us and we each got our own omelette.  Four of us finished, two did not.  All of us suffered for it.  Yet for those of us who triumphed, it was a life-affirming moment that we could accomplish anything.  Except use the bathroom for the next two days.

Basically what I'm saying is...if you come to Seattle for the game, you MUST go to Beth's and get a 12-egg omelette.  And you must finish it.  And you must take photos to prove it.