Exploring Seattle 30 years after a Tom Hanks romcom put it on the map

No wonder they’re sleepless in Seattle: Thirty years after the romcom put the waterfront city on the map, it has established itself as one of the buzziest – and most affluent – in America

  • Peter Wilson found that Seattle is a compact city with an easy-to-navigate centre
  • He explored famous Pike Place Market, which appeared in Sleepless in Seattle
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Traci Calderon is just what a visitor to Seattle needs: a friendly local who can help you get beneath the surface of the city that most outsiders know only from a classic romcom starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan.

Released 30 years ago, Sleepless In Seattle introduced millions to America’s northern-most large city, in Washington State, which is now attracting more people than ever as it’s where so many cruise ships head off to Alaska.

But when my sister and I disembarked from our cruise, rather than flying home we decided to spend a few days exploring – and Chef Traci, as she is known, made it so much easier.

Traci runs market-to-plate shopping tours in Pike Place Market, the century-old waterfront hub that features often in Sleepless In Seattle. The lively market has dozens of food, fashion and craft outlets, but she takes you around her favourite stalls and suppliers, including Sunny Honey, Truffle Queen and the Pike Place Fish Market, where fishmongers theatrically toss enormous halibut back and forth.

Further on, Traci points out downtown locations from the 1993 romcom while sharing insider tips about the city.

Peter Wilson spent a few days exploring Seattle with his sister. Above is the city’s skyline, with Mount Rainier in the far distance

A scene from Sleepless in Seattle, the 1993 film starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks that put the city on the map 

She ended our tour at her Atrium Kitchen restaurant for a cooking lesson and lunch of Pacific Northwest favourites such as salmon with wild blackberry honey and blueberry sauce – all absolutely delicious.

We were staying a few blocks away at the comfortable Alexis Royal Sonesta Hotel.

Seattle is a compact city with an easy-to-navigate centre, making it straightforward to explore on foot.

A short stroll from Pike Place Market you’ll find all sorts of attractions, including the Great Wheel ride on Pier 57, offering sweeping bay views, the dock for the excellent one-hour Argosy harbour cruise and the Seattle Aquarium. A mile north is the site of the 1962 World’s Fair and its Space Needle. At its base is the Chihuly Garden And Glass, a stunning collection of glass sculptures.

Catch of the day: Peter went on a guided tour of Pike Place Market where workers ‘theatrically’ toss fish to each other (pictured)

The Museum Of Pop Culture, pictured, celebrates the lives of local boys Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain

Nearby are two remarkably different attractions funded by the founders of local tech giant Microsoft. The first is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Discovery Center – not a lot of fun but thought-provoking, explaining the philanthropic causes it is involved with. Meanwhile, the late Paul Allen poured some of his own Microsoft fortune into a rock music centre that evolved into the Museum Of Pop Culture, celebrating the lives of local boys Jimi Hendrix and Kurt Cobain, among many others.

Downtown is surprisingly uncrowded, partly because of working-from-home and the fact that corporate giants Boeing and Microsoft have their own campuses outside the city. That makes hotels near the waterfront and Pike Place Market quieter and more attractive than in most US cities’ downtowns.

With glittering water all about, Seattle is undoubtedly romantic. No wonder it was chosen as the location of the love story between Hanks and Ryan.

The best way to see it is from one of its three viewing spots. The most famous is the aforementioned Space Needle while the highest is the Sky View Observatory on the 73rd floor of the Columbia Center.

‘With glittering water all about, Seattle is undoubtedly romantic,’ says Peter  

Above is Merchants Cafe, Seattle’s oldest bar/restaurant, which is a ‘friendly spot for chatting to locals’ 

Peter was driven 35 minutes out of Seattle to Snoqualmie Falls (above), which is 100ft higher than Niagara Falls


Doubles at Alexis Royal Sonesta Hotel in Seattle cost from £230 per night (sonesta.com). British Airways has Heathrow-Seattle returns from £510 (ba.com).

But my favourite was the oldest skyscraper on the Pacific coast, the Smith Tower, a beautiful 1914 office tower clad in white terracotta with a 35th-floor observatory and a speakeasy-style bar offering creative cocktails. Opulently decorated, it has a lobby decked in magnificent onyx.

The tower sits beside Seattle’s birthplace, Pioneer Square district, where you can join tours of underground streets that were buried when the city was remodelled and elevated after a fire in 1889.

One booze-smuggling tunnel ran from Smith Tower to Merchants Cafe, Seattle’s oldest bar/restaurant. It is a friendly spot for chatting to locals and watching broadcasts of the Seattle Seahawks (American football), Sounders (regular football), and Mariners (baseball), whose stadiums are close by.

It is also worth heading out of Seattle. We were driven 35 minutes by the upmarket operator First Nature Tours to Snoqualmie Falls, which is 100 ft higher than Niagara Falls. Another 40 minutes took us to the wine-tasting hub of Woodinville, where an afternoon at John Bigelow’s JM Cellars and the nearby major producer DeLille Cellars left us relieved that we had not driven. And it also meant we slept well that night – no Sleepless in Seattle for us.

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