Gray Weather Survival Guide
The sky may be gray, but that’s no reason to feel blue. We’ve come up with plenty of ways to survive
By Francine Ruley and Lorna Yee with Amelia Apfel, Thea Chard, Brangien Davis, Rachel Hart, Manny Lewis and Kate Calamusa
December 21, 2010
The sky may be gray, but that’s no reason to feel blue. We’ve come up with plenty of ways to survive—and thrive—during our long winter nights and rainy days.
1. Play ball!
This town’s big on pinball—thanks to our weather, and because we’re a little geeky, says Larry Reid, curator at Fantagraphics Bookstore and Gallery and organizer of the Georgetown Invitational, a pinball tourney now in its second year. While Shorty’s in Belltown is likely the epicenter of the pinball universe (with 16 machines), the folks at Skill Shot fanzine have put together a list of pinball machines around the Seattle area—so get out there and flex your flipper fingers. You’ll be ready for the invitational in no time, this year on January 31 at Calamity Jane’s, Jules Maes and 9lb Hammer. Reid assures us, “It’s local and it’s friendly.”
2. Get some oxygen
Rehydrate your dry and scratchy winter skin with the dermal equivalent of Gatorade: a mood-boosting pure oxygen infusion facial from the Spa at the Four Seasons. A microdermabrasion scrub is followed by a pore-opening, deep-cleansing massage of vitamins (vitamin E to soften fine lines and antioxidant-rich C) and 87 minerals; the skin is then infused with oxygen, which allows vitamin-rich serum to penetrate deeper than a typical facial, leaving skin (and soul) glowing.
3. Bring on The Toucans
When the dreary days drag you down, it’s time for an emergency intervention by the summery steel drum band The Toucans. This four-piece band (three steel drums and one drum kit) began at Evergreen College and has played thousands of other gigs in the Seattle area since 1988. While Toucan members have flown in and out of the coop over the years, the current flock consists of local musicians-about-town Rob Witmer, Pete Remine, Dave Pascal and Dave “Davee C” Carpenter. These “Tony Tigers of Steel” have a repertoire that includes reggae and calypso tunes, Latin and swing music, Beatles hits, and best of all, steel drum versions of pop music (their take on “Doin’ It Our Way,” the theme from Laverne & Shirley, is irresistible). Hire them to play in your backyard as a little pick-me-up—just give ’em a tent to keep the rain from filling the drums.
4. Take a plunge
For some of us, the smell of chlorine conjures up fond memories of summer. Get a snoutful at an indoor public pool (cityofseattle.net). Or when you’ve really earned it, check into one of Seattle’s downtown hotels and play visitor in your own town. Get in touch with your inner dolphin in The Hyatt at Olive 8’s saline pool; order lunch poolside at the light-filled Fairmont Olympic’s indoor pool pavilion, which features a 42-foot-long pool and whirlpool; or take it outside at the Four Seasons, where the heated infinity pool appears to melt into Puget Sound.
5. Engage in Water Play
If another trip to the indoor community pool just won’t cut it, take it up a million notches at the ginormous water park/megahotel Great Wolf Lodge, in Grand Mound, just north of Centralia. Spend a day or two here (you have to bunk here to use the park) and you won’t have to breathe cold air for days. This spanking clean place has it all: restaurants with cute campground tent booths, a lodge-like lounge with vaulted ceiling, a spa (one for kids, too, natch) and, of course, the indoor water park. With giant water slides, a wicked wave pool, a shallow area for the little ones, indoor and outdoor hot tubs—plus an air temp always set at a balmy 84 degrees—you’ll feel the urge to slather on some sunscreen.
6. Get sweaty
Stretch and sweat your winter blues away with a Bikram yoga session at I Love Hot Yoga of Green Lake, where they specialize in nothing but the hot stuff. Also known as “hot yoga,” Bikram is a series of posture and breathing exercises done in a room heated to 99 degrees, with humidity at about 40 percent. Bring water.
7. Light up with culture
At Light Reign, the James Turrell Skyspace on permanent exhibition at the Henry Art Gallery, benches line an oval chamber with a large hole in the ceiling, letting you watch the sky change as the day progresses. The best part: When it rains, a movable dome covers the opening, and a secondary light source creates an artificial (but still beautiful!) blue sky above. Get a more organic illuminating experience at the Frye Art Museum, where a large glass rotunda in the lobby provides a glow of filtered natural light. And at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham, the brand-new lightcatcher, a 36-foot-high, 180-foot-long, 42,000-square-foot translucent glass wall, houses climate-controlled galleries and a green roof, making for a beautifully lit and eco-friendly sight—perhaps the light at the end of a rainy, cloudy tunnel.
8. Feel the heat while you eat
The Chongqing chicken at Spiced: Truly Chinese Cuisine in Bellevue is carpeted with red chiles and toasted Szechuan peppercorns for a double knockout punch. But to test the limits of your heat tolerance, go to the Wing Dome in Greenwood, where ordering the 7-Alarm Wings requires the signing of a waiver. Down all seven wings in seven minutes, and have your (tearing, sweaty, beet-red) mug plastered on the Challenge wall.
9. Lift your mood
The otters at the Seattle Aquarium are so sweet they’ll make your teeth hurt. And here’s a fun fact from the aquarium’s Web site: Sea otters eat more than 25 percent of their body weight each day. If there is reincarnation, we know what we’re coming back as.…
10. Dance to a sunny beat
A Brazilian beat and your two left feet will make for a spirit-lifting (and sweaty) workout at a Zumba class. Check your local Parks and Recreation center (cityofseattle.net/parks) for a class in this Latin-rhythm dance-aerobic phenom that’s catching on in Seattle.
11. Wing it with the butterflies
The Tropical Butterfly House at Pacific Science Center is kept at a balmy 80-degree temp and at 60 to 70 percent humidity so that these fluttering beauties can feast on the nectar from tropical flowers all day.
12. Smile for the camera
There’s nothing like a good funny-face session in an old-school photo booth (find locations at photobooth.net, but we like the ones at Stellar Pizza, Ale and Cocktails and Jillian’s Billiards Club) to set off a wave of snort-laughs with your friends. We like the anticipation of waiting for the machine to spit out a strip of B&W photos, too. So, pull the curtain shut, cross your eyes and stick out your tongue—trust us, it’s healing.
13. Go Hawaiian
We know plenty of Seattleites who up and leave in January, crossing the Pacific to our 50th state. But you can save the airfare and experience Hawai‘i without leaving Seattle:
EAT: Owned and operated by, yes, a family that hails from Kaua‘i, the Kauai Family Restaurant in Georgetown offers an authentic experience that makes it a favorite. Hawaiian transplants generally consider it the best purveyor of Hawaiian food in Seattle, thanks to staples like loco moco (hamburger patties topped with eggs, covered in brown gravy on a bed of rice), kalua pig (shredded roasted pork) and lau lau (pork wrapped in taro and ti leaves). Besides a thorough menu stocked with the requisite items, popular Kona Kitchen in Maple Leaf is noteworthy for two things: its Friday- and Saturday-night karaoke, when a relaxed family dining atmosphere gives way to wailing at the restaurant bar; and its actor-owner, Yuji Okumoto (who runs the place with his wife, Angie), known for his portrayal of Ralph Macchio’s nemesis in The Karate Kid, Part II.
SHOP: Running the gamut from authentic island items to tacky kitsch, Wallingford’s Hawai‘i General Store and Gallery is a valuable resource in the dreary winter months for Hawaiian expats looking for a reminder of home or Seattleites looking to liven up their dwelling with some loud tropical colors. Here you can buy lei both real and plastic; find literature with Hawai‘i-related folklore, song lyrics and sheet music, and recipes; and pick from an assortment of clothing, calendars, snacks, lamps, necklaces and Hawaiian music CDs.
PLAY: Nothing says Hawai‘i like the hula, and you can learn the dance that gives graceful visual expression to an accompanying song or chant at Greenwood’s American Dance Institute. Hawai‘i native Kathy DeAguiar, who is well versed in the Hawaiian dance tradition, teaches classes for kids ages 8–12 (adult classes are planned with an anticipated studio expansion), and offers private and group lessons for adults at her own halau (hula studio).
14. Visit the jungle
A trip to the Woodland Park Zoo can unleash your inner chimp—and doesn’t that always put a smile on your face? When it’s raining cats and dogs, head to the zoo’s tropical rain forest exhibit and pretend you’re in Ecuador.
15. Get steamed
The blissed-out, smiling folks gliding out the door of South Lake Union’s Banya 5 are experiencing “Banya-head,” says Larry Holman, marketing and client services director—and you can, too. The road to euphoria begins in the “Parilka,” a sauna where the temp varies between 210 and 240 degrees (coed—wear your bathing suit). Yes, it’s hot, but it’ll be worth it because your next move is a bracing dip into a cold plunge pool. The airy, light-filled space also offers a saltwater pool, steam room and hot water whirlpool to loosen up your achy muscles and get your circulation going.
16. Have a drink with an umbrella
Searching for tiki classics like mai tais and creamy piña coladas? Find them both at Luau Polynesian Lounge in Green Lake. (Psst…both drinks are discounted to $5 during happy hour!) Naga—Chantanee Thai’s cocktail lounge in Bellevue—has arguably the largest selection of authentic tiki drinks around, many served in tiki mugs (though you can order any drink in a large skull bowl for $25). Our pick:
the Bermuda rum swizzle, with dark rum, fresh lime, pineapple, orange and house-made falernum.
17. Visit a sunny spot
Best bet for a sunny westside day? Head to Sequim on the Olympic Peninsula, a town that boasts 320 sunny days a year—and just 16 inches, on average, of rain (compared with Seattle’s 36.2). Located within the region’s much touted rain shadow (and with a tourism Web site, visitsun.com, that boasts of its best asset), this sunny spot misses the worst winter storms. While there, don’t miss the nearby Dungeness National Wildlife Refuge, which bills itself as one of the world’s longest natural sand spits.
18. Feel the sand beneath your feet
There’s nothing like walking on a warm swath of sand; it makes you want to drop and roll around like a dog (at least until you notice all the gooey gum wads and cigarette butts that plague so many public beaches). Lynnwood’s Olympus Spa (ladies only, fellas) offers a clean alternative with its sand room. The 150-degree sand is covered with a canvas tarp—lying down on the warm surface is said to relieve menstrual cramps, among other bummers. Worth a try.
19. Brighten up
Stroll through the tranquility of the Volunteer Park Conservatory, a Capitol Hill treasure featuring rooms full of palms, cacti, bromeliads—basically, what your house plants would look like if they were in a balmy, humid environment (and if you had a green thumb). The 6,300-square-foot conservatory is a light-filled oasis, with soaring ceilings and the original 1912 lunette window situated above the main entry. Take a free, self-guided tour, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Tuesday–Sunday.
20. Drink chocolate
The next best thing to eating chocolate is enjoying it in liquid form—and we scoured the city for a few of the best cups. At Caffé Umbria in Pioneer Square, the hot chocolate is so thick, it’s practically pudding. At Sweet and Savory in Mount Baker, watch as your individual order is whisked up on the stovetop. Bonus: The chocolaty goodness here comes with a side cup full of whipped cream! For real connoisseurs who’d like to specify the exact type of chocolate used in their drink, chocolopolis offers eight different flavors—including a spicy version made with a blend of three chiles.
21. Eat chocolate
When it’s nasty outside, wrap yourself in a cocoon of chocolate. Make a reservation to tour Theo Chocolate in Fremont. Nibble on a selection of organic free-trade chocolate by the cozy fireplace in the retail shop. Then it’s time to don a hairnet (“Schlemiel, schlimazel!”) and take the factory tour (reservations recommended, 206.632.5100; $6 for the tour), on which you’ll learn the story of cacao, from bean to bar.
It’s OK to feel a little antisocial in this weather. We understand. You’ll be happy to know that the Odegaard Undergraduate Library on the University of Washington campus is an ideal place to grab a book and go all Garbo when you “vant to be alone.” Head for the third floor—it’s the designated “silent study floor.” The library is open 24 hours a day beginning at 1 p.m. Sundays until 9 p.m. Fridays. But don’t hibernate for too long—we’ll miss you.
23. Ignore the chill and hang 10
Die-hard Northwest surfers have reason to welcome winter because heavy wind drums up the best waves. And the best spot to catch them is Westport, just a two-and-a-half-hour drive from Seattle. Bring your own gear (wetsuit and board) or rent it at The Surf Shop or Steepwater Surf Shop in town (lessons also available). Then head to one of three surf spots: the jetty at Westhaven State Park, which has reliable waves and is often the most crowded; Half Moon Bay, where the waves break close to shore (not a good choice for beginners); and The Groins, which usually has bigger and more unpredictable waves. Don’t forget to bring plenty of warm clothes and lots of quarters for the blessedly hot parking-lot showers at the jetty ($1 for five minutes).
24. Cozy up fireside
Sink into a comfy wing-back chair next to the flickering fireplace in the Fireside Room at the Hotel Sorrento. One drink, and you’ll feel like wearing a monocle and calling everyone “old chap.” Or for a different kind of experience, pull up a chair at the tall bar table at bastille, where the fireplace is in the table’s center. It’s a popular spot (no reservations taken), so come early before the crowd if you want that rock-star seat.
25. Cocoon with a cookbook
Take a cue from Julie & Julia and cook your way through a cookbook. That’s just what Alexis Lim of Seattle, a self-proclaimed foodie, is doing with The Wisdom of the Chinese Kitchen: Classic Family Recipes for Celebration and Healing by Grace Young. “It’s the first Chinese cookbook that’s my-mom-approved!” she says, and counts it as a way to beat the gray days of Seattle winters.
26. Have a stiff (tea) drink
Tucked away on Capitol Hill, Remedy Teas is a soothing little oasis where you can select from more than 150 organic, loose-leaf teas. Remedy earns high marks for its peaceful atmosphere and friendly servers. miro tea in Ballard also receives a thumbs-up for its quiet, relaxing atmosphere. We notice that folks in tea rooms tend to be the reading-a-book type rather than the poking-away-at-a-laptop type. Hmmm.
· There’s more room in the fridge, since the porch works fine for cooling that six-pack of beer.
· You can get close enough to touch the vegetables at the Pike Place Market.
· The fashion police are willing to overlook the excessive use of fleece.
· You can forgo lathering up arms and legs with sunscreen.
· The line at Molly Moon’s is short(er).
· Out-of-town guests won’t beg you to go on the Ride the Ducks of Seattle tour (and better yet, they probably won’t visit).
· It’s easy to hide those holiday pounds under big, bulky sweaters.
· There are fewer cyclists to dodge on the streets.
· You can easily claim a fire pit at Alki Beach and Golden Gardens.
· The lawn doesn’t need water or mowing.
· Now you have an excuse to wear your yellow rain boots.
· The Mariners can’t possibly lose.
· There’s less highway construction on I-5 (and other roads).
· It’s OK to zone out on an antihistamine buzz.
· You won’t be hit by a Frisbee on your walk through the park.
· There’s actually room to run on the path around Green Lake.
· You can get the gloomy atmosphere of a really good mystery novel without actually having to read one.
· Smells (body odor and otherwise) are less noticeable when it’s cold