SEATTLE — Home to Microsoft and Starbucks, grunge rock and a constant rainy drizzle, Seattle is defined by the collision of urban soul and natural beauty. It's also a great destination for the budget-conscious traveler. An abundance of outdoor activities and a pulsing arts community make it the perfect place to visit while holding onto spare change.
Seattle is the eternal home of the $5 cover. But if you shy away from commitment to one bar for the night, a joint-cover price allows you to club-hop between nine locations in Pioneer Square for $10 on weekends and $5 on weekdays; www.jointcoverseattle.com/main.html.
For best bets on live shows and music, snag a copy of The Stranger, Seattle's free alternative weekly, to find out who's playing where. If you're looking for a quieter evening, pack dessert and head to Gas Works Park in Wallingford or Kerry Park on Queen Anne Hill for stunning views of the city skyline.
Few things go together better than penny-pinching and happy hour, so look for deals around the city for fantastic food and cheap cocktails. Foodies will want to check out Brasa, 2107 Third Ave., 206-728-4220, www.brasa.com, in Belltown, which rocks 5 p.m.-7 p.m. with specials that include half-off bar menu items like steak frites with cabrales butter $7 or a lamb burger for $5.50. Don't leave without trying the trademark sundae for $4.
Another classy spot is Barolo, 1940 Westlake Ave., 206-770-9000, www.baroloseattle.com, in Westlake, where stellar deals include a $14 bottle of wine, $3 pints and a rotating bar menu that features organic buffalo burgers $5 and a pound of sauteed mussels $5.50 from 3 p.m.-6:30 p.m. and 10 p.m. to close. Closer to the water, Elliott's Oyster House, on Pier 56, 206-623-4340, www.elliottsoysterhouse.com, has a special that kicks off at 3 p.m., with oysters for just 50 cents each, six bucks for a dozen. Prices increase 20 cents every half hour, so get there early to save the most clams.
Other hot spots are easily found at www.seattletravel.com/seattle-happyhour-downtown.htm. The site gives you the lowdown on more than 200 bars in the city.
For cheap eats at all hours of the day, stick to Seattle staples like Dick's Drive In, www.ddir.com, an old-school burger joint with five locations, or Ezell's, with three locations in Seattle, www.ezellschicken.com, to gobble up some of Oprah's favorite fried chicken. Salmon lovers should check out Ballard Brothers Seafood and Burgers, 5305 Fifteenth Ave., NW, 206-784-4440, www.ballardbrothers.com, where the house specialty, a Cajun-style blackened salmon sandwich is just $7.
You can't make it to the Emerald City and not visit Pike Place Market, the heart of downtown and one of the nation's original farmer's markets. Home to the original Starbucks, world-famous flying fish and a maze of fresh produce, crafts, and street performers, it's free and a great way to spend the afternoon. Close by is the Green Tortoise, 105 Pike St., a brand-new hostel where a bed in a dormitory will run you between $31 and $36 a night, including free Wi-Fi, continental breakfast and free dinner on three nights during the week. Private rooms run about $85. Reservations, 206-340-1222, www.greentortoise.net/index.html.
When you've had your fill, wander up Elliott Avenue to the Olympic Sculpture Park, a nine-acre waterfront site nestled on the shoreline with towering, permanent sculptures by some of contemporary art's hottest artists.
Then, visit Ballard and the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks, where boats rise and fall as they move between the sound and the inland waterways and salmon run through a fish ladder.
If you feel like window-shopping, wander through Pioneer Square's locally owned stores, such as Elliott Bay Book Company, 101 S. Main St., www.elliottbaybook.com, a 25,000-square-foot tribute to literacy.
For a little cash and some fancy footwork, you might just forget you're on a budget. Good options include the Pacific Northwest Ballet, http:www.pnb.org/, where gallery floor seats are just $25, or for the younger crowd, use a college ID to get into the Seattle Symphony for just $10, www.seattlesymphony.org.
For standard fare, you'll want to visit the Experience Music Project, an interactive and historic tribute to rock, the Seattle Aquarium, Woodland Park Zoo and get on a boat tour in the Puget Sound. To see these sights and more, your best bet is to plunk down $44 per adult and $29 per kid and let CityPass hook you up with a nine-day all-access pass; www.citypass.com/city/seattle.html.
Look past the Space Needle to views of the soaring Olympic mountain range and Puget Sound. If you're itching to get out in a boat, look to the Northwest Outdoor Center, www.nwoc.com, 206-281-9694, to put you on a kayak for just $13; the UW Waterfront Activities Center, 206-543-9433, for canoes and rowboats, at just $7.50; or the Center for Wooden Boats, www.cwb.org, on Lake Union for sailing at just $15. Keep an eye out for special events: NOC offers sporadic Paddle Seattle kayak tours at sunset and moonrise, and the Center for Wooden Boats has free Sunday afternoon sails.
If the weather cooperates, head to West Seattle, where Alki Beach is the place to be for jogging, rollerbladding, volleyball or a walk along the water. Look to Wheel Fun Rentals www.wheelfunrentals.com/listlocations/104, 206-932-2035, to rent you a tandem bike for $12. In Ballard, Golden Gardens is a great place to watch the sun set over the Olympics and roast marshmallows over a bonfire.
In Green Lake, you'll find windsurfing, swimming, and a heavily-used running trail with loads of people out to picnic and play.
Buses in Seattle are cheap, just $1.50, or $1.75 during peak hours. If you're looking to see the sights, hop on a ferry down at the docks, where $7.50 will get you a half-hour cruise to Bainbridge Island, where a more laid-back vibe awaits.