Dan Callister  /  Getty Images
The Seattle skyline.
By
Special to msnbc.com
updated 9/25/2006 5:24:47 PM ET 2006-09-25T21:24:47

If cities had astrological signs, Seattle would be a Gemini. It’s lively, intelligent, dual-natured, and subject the graces and foibles of youth. It’s got the highest percentage of college graduates of any major U.S. city, the highest per capita rate of music and dance attendance, and an alarmingly high rate of homeless kids on the streets. It’s a city of bookworms, computer geeks, entrepreneurs, and anarchists. It sets musical trends the world follows, and it designs computer operating systems the world’s stuck with. It holes up on dreary days in artisanal coffee houses drinking way too much caffeine, and it rampages in the streets with anti-globalization fervor whenever the World Trade Organization comes to town. It rains half of the time (not that it carries an umbrella), but it likes to call itself The Emerald City, highlighting the brilliant hues its evergreens take in direct sunlight. Like a Gemini, Seattle is restless, clever, charming and great company. With just 24 hours, you haven’t got a prayer of truly getting to know it. But with the following itinerary, you can have a truly memorable fling:

8 a.m. – 9:30 a.m.: Start your day with fresh fruit and a big, fat cheese blintz at Crave , a new-school neighborhood diner in the ultra-hip Capitol Hill restaurant district. Crave makes just about everything made from scratch, using organic, free-range and locally-grown ingredients as much as possible. If the blintzes don’t call you, perhaps the Crave Omelet will. It’s loaded with shiitake mushrooms, goat cheese, rosemary and duck confit. Or perhaps you’ll hold out for the biscuits-and-gravy, made with crispy fresh-baked biscuits, creamy-thick gravy and crumbled Italian chicken sausage.

9:30 a.m. – noon: Wander about Pike Place Market . It’s packed like a sardine can with tourists, it smells like fish, and no visit to Seattle would be complete without a visit. The nation’s oldest continuously operating farmers market, it’s a bustling Northwest bazaar of seafood and produce, where fruits and vegetables are stacked in precarious pyramids, and fish mongers in rubber boots send tuna hurling through the air like silvery missiles. It occupies a multi-level series of arcades filling nine prime downtown acres, and if you’re not in the market for octopus or persimmons, the place is loaded with gift and curio shops. When you’re ready for a pick-me-up, pop into the Starbucks next door – the world’s very first Starbucks. (Check out the original Starbucks’ mermaid, a saucier version of her more conservative, corporate sister logo.)

A SUBTERRANEAN MORNING ALTERNATIVE

Head to Pioneer Square, then below it and back in time. In the rebuilding effort that followed a devastating downtown fire in 1899, several blocks of old Seattle ended up entombed underground. You can still see some of them today on Bill Speidel’s Underground Tour . A guide leads you on a 90-minute tour of old downtown, regaling you with humorous stories of Seattle’s wild early days. The tour winds up in a literal Rogues’ Gallery, where portraits of colorful characters from Seattle’s pioneer-era past hang.

Noon – 2 p.m. Drop your coat on a sculpted iron fishhook, take a seat in the breezy dining room beneath octopus tentacle lighting, and watch the hubbub of Pike’s Place Market through the big plate glass window at Etta’s Seafood . This place helped pioneer the Pacific Northwest –Asian fusion thing. You might find yourself here starting off with a sashimi salad or a scallion pancake with wasabi, followed by a lobster Rueben or a fried oyster po-boy. Etta’s does comfort food, Seattle style.

2 p.m – 5 p.m. Hop into the elevator at Seattle’s iconic 605-foot Space Needle , and take rocket-ship ride up to the slowly-rotating, flying saucer -like Observation Deck. From there Seattle is a toy town, with miniature skyscrapers, wind-up ferries criss-crossing Puget Sound, and itty-bitty floatplanes buzzing around below. In contrast, Mount Rainer and the surrounding Cascade and Olympic ranges lose none of their grandeur. When you get back to earth, explore The Experience Music Project at the foot of the Space Needle. The glossy curves of the electric guitar were clearly on famed architect Frank Gehry’s mind when he designed this avant-garde museum, which started out as a memorial to Seattle native Jimi Hendrix and turned into a celebration of rock ‘n roll in general and Pacific Northwest rock in particular. In the interactive Sound Lab, you can put aside you air guitar and experiment with the real thing, as well as drums, keyboards, and DJ turntables. In another room, you stand on stage while 10,000 adoring virtual fans scream for more. Throw your arms in the air and say, Thhh-ANK You-oooooooo!

AFTERNOON ALTERNATIVE

Head over to Lake Union, one of the loveliest parts of Seattle, and take in the Center for Wooden Boats . Most of this museum sits either in dry dock or tied up in slips. Inspect the fleet, then sail or row off in one of the exhibits (but call ahead and arrange a boating skills checkout, which takes about 20 minutes).

6 p.m – 8 p.m.: Make reservations at Campagne , and enjoy a good glass of wine and some exquisitely prepared French bistro-style fare with subtle Northwest twists. If the main room feels too formal and romantic for you, skip the resos and grab a wooden banquette downstairs to Campagn Café. Upstairs or down, you might find yourself starting with the pate de campagne (a union of chicken and goose liver that simultaneously melts and blooms on your palate), or the escargot de bourgogne (roasted in pseudo-parsley pesto with shallots and garlic).

8 p.m. – 10 p.m: Put on your dancing shoes, hit the fabulous Century Ballroom and dance like there’s no tomorrow. You might arrive on an evening devoted to the tango, or to swing, or to the waltz, or to salsa, or maybe the lindy hop. Whenever you get there, the scene will be cordial, gilded, airy, all-ages, and very, very civilized. Arrive before 9 p.m. and you can get take a half hour dance lessons, should you need one.

10 p.m. on … Head to the Crocodile Café and check out whatever up-and-coming local or national music act is onstage. In the early 1990s, before Grunge broke out of Seattle and swept the nation, The Croc played nursemaid to just about every soon-to-be-big Seattle band there was. Then, it was a dive venue, where countless kids in corduroy and plaid slam-danced themselves silly. Now it’s a historic landmark of mythic proportions. It’s a bar and restaurant too. And, you’ll be glad to know, it’s still kind of a dive.

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

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Crave, 1621 12th Ave., phone 206/388-0526.

Pike Place Market, between Pike and Pine sts. at First Ave, phone 206/682-7453;  www.pikeplacemarket.org/.   Most businesses are open Mon-Sat from 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Sun 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.; many produce vendors open at 8 a.m. in summer.

Bill Speigel’s Underground Tour, 608 First Ave, phone 206/682-4646;  www.undergroundtour.com. The tour lasts 90 minutes and involves a lot of walking over sometimes rugged terrain, so wear comfortable shoes. Adults pay $11, senior/students $9.

Etta’s Seafood, 2020 Western Ave at Pike Place Market, phone 206/443-6000; www.tomdouglas.com. Open Mon-Thurs 11:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m.; Fri 11:30 a.m. - 10 p.m.; Sat-Sun 9 a.m. - 3 p.m.; Sat 4 - 10 p.m.; Sun 4 - 9 p.m.. Call in advance for reservations. 

The Space Needle, 400 Broad St at the Seattle Center; phone 206/905-2100; www.spaceneedle.com. Open Sun-Thurs 9 a.m. - 11 p.m.; Fri-Sat 9 a.m. - midnightAdmission $13 adults, $11 seniors, free if you’re dining at the SkyCity restaurant.

Experience Music Project, 325 Fifth Ave. N  at the Seattle Center, phone 877/EMPLIVE or 206/EMPLIVE; www.emplive.com  Open from Memorial Day to Labor Day daily 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. and from Labor Day to Memorial Day Tues-Thurs, Sun 10 a.m. - 6 p.m., Fri-Sat 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. Admission $19.95 adults, $15.95 seniors.

Center for Wooden Boats, 1010 Valley St  at Waterway 4, south end of Lake Union, Seattle Center & Lake Union, phone 206/382-2628; www.cwb.org. Free admission, open mid-May to Labor Day daily 10 a.m. - 8 p.m.; Labor Day to late Sept and early Apr to mid-May daily 10 a.m. -6 p.m.; late Sept. to early April daily 11 a.m. - 5 p.m.

Campagne Restaurant, 86 Pine St, phone 206/728-2800; www.campagnerestaurant.com/. Open daily 5:30-10 p.m. (late-night menu Fri-Sat until midnight) 

Century Ballroom, 915 E. Pine St, phone 206/324-7263; www.centuryballroom.com.

Crocodile Café, 2200 2ND AVE, phone 206/441-5611; www.thecrocodile.com

Pauline Frommer is the creator of the new Pauline Frommer guides in bookstores now.

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Photos: The Emerald City

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  1. Art & architecture

    The Experience Music Project and the Seattle Space Needle share acreage on the Seattle Center Grounds. (Tim Thompson / Seattle CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. Bell Harbor Marina

    Boats move in and out of the Bell Harbor Marina, with the Seattle skyline as a backdrop. (Tim Thompson / Seattle CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. Ballard Locks

    Visitors watch as boats make the transition from the fresh water of Lake Washington and Lake Union to the salt water of Puget Sound through Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Ballard, Seattle's Scandinavian neighborhood. (Seattle CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. Seattle Art Museum

    The downtown Seattle Art Museum, designed by architect Robert Venturi, opened to rave reviews in 1991. (Seattle CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. Lake living

    Modern apartments and condos sit on the hill above houseboats on Lake Union. The small Houseboat Tour takes passengers on a one-hour trip around the lake showing off the homes. (Barry Sweet / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. Fish do fly

    Seattle's Pike Place Market is world-famous for its fresh seafood and produce, and its lively arts and crafts scene. (Seattle CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. Curl up with a book

    With shelves specifically arranged in a non-linear formation, the main lobby of the Seattle Central Library. (Ted S. Warren / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. Seattle Central Library

    A visitor to the new Seattle Central Library views an art installation set into an escalator wall in downtown Seattle. (Ted S. Warren / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. Arch exhibit

    A stunning arch with usable space connects old and new exhibit areas at the Washington State Convention and Trade Center. Set in the heart of downtown Seattle, the center is within easy walking distance of more than 6,000 hotel rooms. (Tim Thompson / Seattle CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. Fun, sun & sports

    Parasailing on Puget Sound, with SAFECO Field (home to the Seattle Mariners) and the Qwest Field (home to the Seattle Seahawks) in the background. (Tim Thompson / Seattle CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. A mile a minute

    Seattle Center's Monorail was built for the 1962 World's Fair, making the one-mile trip between the fairgrounds (now the Seattle Center campus) and the downtown retail district in less than two minutes. The Experience Music Project museum is in the background (Tim Thompson / Seattle CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. Mount Rainier

    The majestic Mount Rainier watches over pleasure boats on Puget Sound. (Tim Thompson / Seattle CVB) Back to slideshow navigation
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