In a city where the coffee culture is so competitive you can buy a latte at a gas station, where the latest Zagat restaurant guide boasts 3,165 contributors, and where locals talk about food as enthusiastically as they do about football, a wise visitor gathers a little insider intelligence before diving in to Seattle’s culinary scene.
Make your research easy – and delicious – by beginning your next Seattle getaway with one of these three food and drink-related city tours. Each combines a dash of sightseeing and a pinch of history with generous helpings of samples and savvy tips from tour guides who are passionate about sharing the best of what Seattle has to offer.
SEATTLE COFFEE CRAWL
What’s offered: A caffeine-fueled walking tour of the west coast capital of coffee. Spend two hours (or longer, depending on bathroom breaks) strolling around downtown, talking coffee, sipping coffee and learning quirky facts – coffee-related and otherwise – about Seattle’s history, architecture and culture.
The route: Meet guide and tour company owner Vicki Schuman under the neon coffee mug at Seattle’s Best Coffee, located at Post Alley and Pine Street in Pike Place Market. Walk about 1.5 miles, passing the “original” Starbucks (actually its fourth location, according to Schuman) and stopping in at Seattle Coffee Works, Dilettante Mocha Café, and Monorail Espresso, a tiny spot that pays homage to the over 200 coffee carts that once graced Seattle sidewalks. In foul weather, hop a free downtown bus to reach your final stops at Trabant Coffee & Chai and Zeitgeist in Pioneer Square.
The repast : Cups and cups of coffee, with a chaser of hot chocolate. Don’t miss playing “guess the blend” with a flight of coffee at Seattle Coffee Works, a micro-roasting café on Pike Street. And feel your coffee horizons expand when you sip the Ethiopian Beloya at Trabant, a third-wave coffee outlet (meaning a place where coffee is treated with the same respect as fine wine and chocolate). Matt the barista suggests the Beloya offers up “hints of cinnamon, lemon drop and explosive blueberries.” Sure.
Added bonus: The tour finishes across the street from the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, a most excellent place to learn more about Seattle’s history while dealing with your caffeine jitters.
Contact: Seattle by Foot, 800-838-3006, seattlebyfoot.com
SEATTLE FOOD TOURS
What’s offered: A walking tour down some of Seattle’s most historic and food-focused streets. Enjoy surprisingly large food samples on this 2 1/2-hour tour that delivers a charming dose of history along with tips on where to dine, drink and get your groove on in Seattle.
The route: Meet your savvy guide in Belltown, a lively and eccentric downtown neighborhood with weathered brick buildings dating back to the late 1800s. Eat your way south along First Avenue, detouring to check out the courtyard at La Fontana Siciliana (“Seattle’s best kept secret” according to my guide, Carol) and peer in the windows at Spur, a new gastro pub. Enjoy delicious stops in Pike Place Market, then stroll west for a piece of coconut cream pie from restaurateur extraordinaire Tom Douglas’ Dahlia Bakery.
The repast: Loosen your belt and tuck in to a half-dozen different samples, including apple cinnamon monkey bread, barbecued pulled pork sandwiches, award-winning clam chowder, smoked salmon salad and (this being Seattle) lattes. No need for lunch after this filling tour.
Added bonus: Your food-loving guide will give you dozens of personal recommendations and a restaurant contact list that will set you up for the rest of your stay. Expect honest assessments of the best steak joint (Buenos Aires Grill, according to my guide), a must-try pizza joint (Serious Pie), and where to find live Hawaiian music (Ohana, every Wednesday night).
Contact: Seattle Food Tours,800-979-3370, seattlefoodtours.com
What’s offered: Two hours of chocolate-filled touring, punctuated with information about the wonders of the cacao bean and the reasons why, according to my guide Aubree, the number of chocolatiers in Seattle has risen from 10 to 50-plus in the last decade.
The route: Meet your guide in the upper lobby of the Mayflower Park Hotel (4th Avenue and Olive Way). Your tour begins downstairs in Oliver’s Lounge before taking to the street. First stop is chef Tom Douglas’ sweetest establishment on the edge of Belltown, followed by stops near, in, and just beyond Pike Place Market. Unlike other tours, you won’t learn much about Seattle’s history or culinary scene, but you won’t care—you’ll be living a chocoholic’s dream.
The repast: “My jokes get a lot funnier after you drink this” says guide Aubree, referring to the Flatliner cocktails (espresso, Bailey’s, Crème de Cacao, 151-proof rum) that kick-start the tour. Expect at least 15 samples along the route, including triple coconut cream pie and chocolate crinkle cookies at Dahlia Bakery; chocolate-dipped brownies, double-dark truffles and Molly Moon ice-cream washed down with milk at The Chocolate Box; Columbia sipping chocolate and cheesecake from The Confectional; and chocolate-topped popcorn at Kukuruza Gourmet Popcorn. The final stop is at Fran’s, the “Tiffany of chocolate,” located in the Four Season’s Hotel.
Added bonus: Take-away bags are handed out during the final two stops for participants who just can’t eat another bite (count me amongst them). Be sure to take the business card handed out at the end of the tour; it lists 42 partner restaurants and food-related shops offering discounts.
Contact: Savor Seattle, 888-987-2867, savorseattle.com
Article originally appeared in The Oregonian