A Street Photographer (and Foodie)’s Guide to Seattle

In front of the first Starbucks in Pike Place!
In front of the first Starbucks in Pike Place!

I recently traveled to Seattle and taught a street photography workshop there. As a native Californian, I never ventured to the Pacific North-West, and man– I was impressed. I think Seattle is seriously one of the most underrated places in the West Coast (and in America as well).

If you ever have the chance to visit Seattle (flights are quite affordable via Southwest, a one-way from SFO was only ~$69). So if you want a weekend getaway somewhere– Seattle is your place to go.

Huge thanks to Walter Lau who was my generous host during my time there with Cindy. He showed us all the great spots in Seattle, and here are some of his recommendations in terms of where to shoot, where to have coffee, to get food, and drinks! If anyone also wants to meet up with some other great street photographers in Seattle, check out the Seattle Streettogs Group on Facebook.

Places to shoot

Some of the places I recommend to shoot street photography include the following:

1. Pike place

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Pike place is a really cool place– and also the home of where Starbucks originated (people from Seattle actually don’t like Starbucks coffee). It is by the water, and there are lots of covered stalls where you can get fresh food, some cute presents for friends and family, and a lot of people coming in and out.

During the workshop it rained a lot (surprise– it rains a lot in Seattle), and Pike place was the perfect place to shoot. It helped us stay dry when it was pouring down.

2. Capitol Hill

Cindy and I stayed with Walter on Capitol Hill (yeah he’s a baller) — and it was certainly one of the coolest neighborhoods in Seattle. There are a lot of great restaurants, bars, and coffee shops there– but also a ton of interesting characters walking around. I have never seen so many people with neck tattoos (in the world) — than this area.

Walter’s tip: come visit on a Friday or a Saturday night, when it is really popping.

3. Space Needle (Seattle Center)

seattle center

I’m sure you have all seen it: the iconic Seattle Space Needle. It was built during the world’s expo– and is a really cool area. There is a lot of beautiful architecture, geometry, and colors — which make for great backdrops to shoot street photography. If you are into street photography, architecture, and juxtaposition shots– this will be an ideal locatino for you.

4. Fremont

Famous statues that people in Fremont dress up! With Walter and Cindy
Famous statues that people in Fremont dress up! With Walter and Cindy

Just over the bridge is an area called Fremont– which is also another cool area. A bit more low-key than Seattle, there are a lot of interesting sights to see such as the Fremont Troll, the Lenin Statue, and the beautiful Gasworks Park (an old factory converted into a park, that gives you a great view of downtown Seattle).

Didn’t shoot too much street photography here– but definitely a lot of cool backdrops and things to see.

5. Seattle library

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I was quite blown away by the Seattle library, which is an amazing new multi-million dollar project by the city of Seattle. The architecture of the place is beautiful, and if you go inside you can get lots of great silhouettes when you shoot inside here. Also there are a lot of great colored walls inside, which also make for nice backdrops. Seriously one of the most impressive libraries I have been in the world, and another great place to shoot street photography when it is wet and rainy outside.

Coffee

Seattle has the best coffee I have ever had (sorry France and Italy). I had a goal during the week: no Starbucks for the entire week. Fortunately I survived, and was able to try some of the best espressos and pour-overs in the city. If you are into Coffee, make sure to visit these places:

1. Cafe vita

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Located on Capitol hill, it is a two-tiered coffee shop, and a great place to go bring your laptop and do work. Nice, dark, and moody inside– and great coffee (especially their pour-overs).

2. Cafe Vivace

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Another Cafe on Capitol hill– you can get the best espresso of your life for only $2. Inside has a nice and warm cozy European feel, and apparently Latte art (and lots of other types of Espressos) were pioneered here.

3. Victrola

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Apparently a “Victrola” is an old-school record-player. Anyways, from outside it looks unassuming– but when you go inside it is bright, warm, and inviting. Lots of nice colors inside, and has a great and comfortable vibe inside. Also top-notch Espressos here.

4. Stumptown

Basement of Stumptown-- where they roast the coffee!
Basement of Stumptown– where they roast the coffee! Love the “Drugs” sign.

There are a few Stumptown’s in Seattle, but the one I visited was on Capitol hill (surprise again). Stumptown originated from Portland, and they roast their stuff daily in the basement. If you get a coffee here, you won’t be disappointed. I bought a bag of Espresso beans here, ground them up, and am drinking their coffee now (as I write this). Good stuff.

5. Top Pot Doughnuts

Donut heaven.
Donut heaven.

Technically not coffee, but seriously the best donuts in the world. Don’t miss out.

Food

Cindy and I had some damn good food in Seattle– I would say the places rival that of San Francisco and Los Angeles easily. Here are some places we visited that had great food (at an affordable price):

1. Cafe presse

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A great place for breakfast, brunch, and happy hour. You go inside– there are beautiful tall ceilings and a cool bar area. They are famous for their “Croque madame” (a grilled ham and cheese sandwich with an egg on top). Cindy and I went during happy hour, and were able to share a bottle of house red wine for only $10, and got tons of little places for an affordable place. Friendly service there too!

2. Black Bottle

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A great tapa’s place– go there with a bunch of buddies and share some plates together. We went here after the workshop as a group of around 6, and the variety of the food was amazing. Don’t miss out on the Pork Belly with Kimchi!

3. Din Tai Fung 

Dumpling heaven
Dumpling heaven

Located in Bellevue, it is one of the best dim sum places I have been to. Be warned, the line can be super long and you will need reservations in life. But certainly worth the hype, the Juicy Pork Dumplings (with soup inside) is like heaven on earth.

4. Cafe Champagne

Campagne

When Cindy and I first arrived from the airport, cold and wet– this is the first place we went to go eat. A very cute and French place– feels like I was back in Paris. We had the duck confit salad (great portion size) and the lamb burger (drool-worthy).

5. Pike Street Fish Fry

Fish fry with Cindy!
Fish fry with Cindy!

If you are a fan of fish and chips, go here and you won’t be disappointed! Endless chips (fries) and delicious dipping sauces (recommend the lemon aioli).

6. Quinn’s

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A cool bar and restaurant in Capitol hill, love the inside decor– and extremely high ceilings. Got a great vibe here for dinner and drinks. Lots of great beers made in-house!

7. Vostok Dupling House

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Russian dumplings? That’s right– bring some friends and get carb-heaven with the variety of dumplings here. Huge portion sizes too! A bit pricy, but definitely worth it for the experience.

Drinks

1. Stumbling monk

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My favorite bar in Seattle!

Imagine a bar where the owner only serves beer that he personally likes (generally micro-brews or other obscure beers). One of the best places off-the-beaten-path to check out! Walter’s favorite place in Seattle.

2. The Zig Zag Cafe

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A cool bar– with a great ambiance, selection of drinks– and a nice crowd. If you are more into cocktails, this is the place to go.

3. Von’s 1000 Spirits

Epic bar inside
Epic bar inside

Not to be confused with the grocery chain in Southern California, Von’s is a great place to grab a burger and a beer– and they have a great happy hour too! We went here to do our critique session after shooting in a private back room. If you love “New American” food — this is the place to go (and a great selection of beers).

If you plan on going to Seattle and want to meet up with some other great street photographers here, check out the Seattle Streettogs Group!

I was only in Seattle for a week, so I am sure I am missing a ton of other great places to shoot, have coffee, eat, and drink! For those of you who live in Seattle (or have visited)– share your personal recommendations below!

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