Seven Things (Not) to Do in Seattle This Summer

With so much to do this time of year, Knute Berger suggests leaving a few things off your list
Madison Park
Looks can be deceiving, indeed. Whether it's the Sound or Lake Washington, think before taking a dip in Seattle's cold water

1. Avoid artisanal ice cream.
It’s a challenge to keep the taste buds of the creative class from getting bored. Seattle ice cream makers offer up all kinds of exotic flavors for foodies: lavender, beet, bacon, squid ink. I’m sure the kids are just begging for a double scoop of purple yam ripple! My advice—whether you go to the quality shops such as Molly Moon’s or seek out normal fare at old-school emporia such as Husky Deli in West Seattle—is to stick with the basics. The Husky Deli has been making ice cream for more than 75 years, and that frozen goodness saved the business during the Great Depression. It’s the kind of place where spumoni is “gourmet,” and squid ink isn’t on the menu.

2. Don’t be seduced by a tossed fish.

The Pike Place Fish Guys have made a big business of throwing fish (and not just stunt salmon used for their tourist-thrilling effects), and it’s fun to watch. They’ve even turned it into a kind of corporate training sensation wherein fishmonger wisdom is used for “team building” exercises at company retreats. I guess it beats group hugs and trust falls. But I come from a long line of folks who made their living from the sea, from Alaska fishermen to marine scientists, and not one of them has cited the benefits of throwing a salmon around before cooking, except as a way of catching tourists.

3. Skip the safari gear.

We get so little sun, why do so many middle-aged people don floppy, khaki sun hats and act like sunlight is a toxin? And what about those ridiculous “convertible pants” that can be turned into shorts? What ever happened to cutoffs? I’d rather see someone absurdly sunbathing at 55 degrees than someone dressed as if Green Lake is the Congo.

4. Don’t obsess about politics.

Yes, there is an important mayoral primary on August 6, but politics should be minimized between Memorial Day and Labor Day. Do your research early this month, while the warm weather takes its time to arrive. And when you get your ballot in July, vote right away. It’s like slapping a mosquito before it has time to jab you with its big blood-sucking proboscis. Then, unplug and get out to enjoy what are statistically the driest days of the year in Seattle (July 21–August 4).

5. Don’t trust your lying eyes.

My grandfather grew up on the fjords of northern Norway, so for him, Puget Sound was a tropical pond, and I’ve seen old home movies of him swimming around like a happy sea otter. But for normal people, the Sound will chill you—its average July temperature is only 53 degrees Fahrenheit. Looks can be deceiving: blue water, sunny skies, warm sun. I once fell off a boat and experienced mild hypothermia. It took a year for my testicles to descend.

6. Don’t forget to research your beaches.

As for local swimming holes, it’s best to Google before you go. There are nude beaches, gay beaches, kid beaches, illegal dog beaches. The beach at Denny-Blaine, for example, is a lesbian-hipster hangout once nicknamed Dykiki. Your affinity group or Facebook friends likely have a place in the sun (or rain) where you’ll feel most at home.

7. Don’t expect to see Canada from the Space Needle.

Tourists have all sorts of nutty ideas. One of my favorite anecdotes: A tourist on the observation deck of the Space Needle points at the Olympics and asks, “Which one is Mount Fuji?” That’s right, the entire Pacific Ocean is only as wide as Elliott Bay! As writer-in-residence at the Needle, I fielded lots of questions, and more than once was asked to point out Vancouver, B.C. You can’t see that far. If you do want to see a rarity, on a few, ultra-clear days, you can just see the top of what’s left of Mount St. Helens. That is worth asking about.