Be My Guest: Seattle
My secret garden
When my mom's best friend came to visit from India for the first time, I wanted to show off the city I call home. She was here in July, when Seattle is at its best, with warm days in the upper 70s and low 80s. The first place I took them both was the Washington Park Arboretum (2300 Arboretum Dr. E., 206/543-8800), a wilderness home to more than 10,000 plants, just off the University of Washington campus, where I teach. We visited my two favorite spots: Azalea Way, a scenic walk through flowering trees, and the very serene Seattle Japanese Garden (Lake Washington Blvd. E., north of E. Madison St., 206/684-4725, $5, includes a guided tour Wed. and weekend afternoons).
Pike Place picks
As a kid in Seattle, I spent a lot of time at Pike Place Market (pikeplacemarket.org), a tourist spot we locals actually love, too. I liked to duck my head under the hanging peppers in the Mexican part of the market and roam all the colorful produce stalls, accepting samples of locally grown Rainier cherries and Granny Smith apples. Today, if I happen to be downtown, I'll still pop in to soak up the ambience. My lunch spot is Turkish Delight (1930 Pike Pl., 206/443-1387). The lines are long, but it's worth the wait: The owners, who hail from Istanbul, have ready smiles, and the lentil soup, fragrant with dozens of mystery ingredients, is heavenly. Being a sucker for all things French, I find I can't leave without a visit to Parisian-style bakery Le Panier for a pain au chocolat (1902 Pike Pl., 206/441-3669, lepanier.com, $2.25).
Views from the waterfront
Nearby is Olympic Sculpture Park (2901 Western Ave., 206/654-3100, seattleartmuseum.org), a nine-acre green space right on the waterfront. With its miles of trails—and views of Puget Sound and the Olympic Mountains that I sure don't get at my gym—the park makes for a picturesque workout. But it's also a backdrop for supersize art installations. My favorite is the 39-foot eagle, which frames the Space Needle perfectly.
A recent discovery
I've come to love the charming restaurant The Pink Door (1919 Post Alley, 206/443-3241, thepinkdoor.net), tucked discreetly in an alleyway. I used to pass by the place and pine for a spot on the sun-drenched patio, where getting a table seemed impossible. Last summer I finally got my wish: By arriving at 4:30, between lunch and dinner, my friend Shamila and I were able to spend three blissful hours gossiping and feasting on cioppino in white wine, huge Caesar salads, and crème brûlée. As the sun sets, the atmosphere gets more boisterous, with burlesque shows on Saturday nights and trapeze artists on Sundays.
Shall we dance?
My girlfriends and I mark our calendars for every second and fourth Saturday at The Baltic Room (1207 Pine St., 206/625-4444, thebalticroom.net). Their I Love Shiva Nights make you feel like a Bollywood star. And for six years I practiced the Argentine tango during the lessons (free with admission) one Friday per month at the elegant Century Ballroom (915 E. Pine St., 206/324-7263, centuryballroom.com, $10).
My go-to spot is Cafe Flora, with farm-fresh ingredients and a really creative menu. My mom's friend was partial to the yam fries—she polished off one bucket and got another to go (2901 E. Madison St., 206/325-9100, cafeflora.com).
Acres of shopping
In the Fremont Sunday Market, I always head for the ethnic stalls selling dresses made out of recycled saris. My mom and her friends gravitate to the big antiques warehouse: Their best find yet was a brown ceramic teapot embellished with tulips—my mother's favorite flower (3401 Evanston Ave. N., 206/781-6776, fremontmarket.com).
Speaking of shopping, I confess to being a bit of a clotheshorse. Lest you think my wardrobe consists only of Polarfleece, let me say two words: Le Frock. This vintage boutique in Capitol Hill is my favorite place to score high-end brands at heart-stopping prices (317 E. Pine St., 206/623-5339, lefrockonline.com). It's also where I became the proud owner of a gray Prada clutch—for a mere $85.
If the slightly offbeat is more your style, grab a number 16 bus to Wallingford Center, a schoolhouse full of one-of-a-kind shops. I like Crackerjack Contemporary Crafts (1815 N. 45th St. #212, 206/547-4983, crackerjackcrafts.com), which specializes in work by American artisans. With organic-cotton scarves, carved wooden mirrors, and heirloom jewelry, the shop is a treasure trove of very beautiful, very Seattle things.