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Seattle, Washington on Wikipedia
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Seattle, Washington, is the largest city in the Pacific Northwest. Located between Puget Sound and Lake Washington in King County, of which it is the county seat, and overlooking Elliott Bay, Seattle is nicknamed The Emerald City. The city is a damp green gem, with an abundance of evergreen trees throughout, and spectacular views of the Cascade mountains to the east and the Olympic mountains to the west. Known for being the home of the Space Needle, Microsoft, Boeing, Amazon.com, Nintendo of America, Starbucks, and the University of Washington, Seattle is also the home of a vibrant arts scene and an excellent park system.
The Space Needle with Downtown in the Background
Seattleites nearly always describe a location in terms of its "neighborhood." This is partly because of a potentially confusing system of street addresses (see Get Around). The breakdown into neighborhoods is informal and mutates over time, and while there are often signs on major arterial roads to let you know that you are "entering" a particular neighborhood, the placement of these signs is arbitrary.
Still, knowing what neighborhood you're looking for can be a good sanity check when you're looking for an address. A Seattleite would describe 1401 45th SW as being in West Seattle, and 1401 45th NE as being in the U District (University District), which you'll note are diagonally opposite on the map. See Get Around for an explanation.
The Seattle City clerk maintains an interactive map that starts with the high-level districts, but lets you click on those to get the detailed neighborhoods too.
Overview of Seattle districts
Downtown and environs:
Denny Regrade and Seattle Center. The boundaries are vague, but you will regularly hear locals use these names to explain where something is.
Queen Anne Hill
South Lake Union, or Cascade.
Eastlake. The boundaries are vague, but you will regularly hear locals use these names to explain where something is.
East of downtown (or I-5)
Capitol Hill including Broadway
Along Lake Washington
Madrona. Upper Madrona has a nice little shopping district.
Leschi. Mainly of interest for its waterfront parks.
South of downtown (or I-90)
Georgetown (including Boeing Field/King County Airport)
North of the Ship Canal
North of Greenlake (or NE 85th Street)
Some others that may crop up are:
Sodo - Originally "South of the Dome", referring to the now-demolished Kingdome. To keep some sense in the name, it is sometimes explained now as "South of Downtown".
Maple Leaf, Lake City, Ravenna, and Wedgewood have similarly fuzzy boundaries as you move from Northgate towards Laurelhurst.
The "East Side" means the region east of Lake Washington comprising the suburbs of Bellevue, Kirkland, and Redmond.
A view of the Seattle waterfront
Seattle was founded on the rough, physical industries of fishing, logging and coal mining, with San Francisco as her primary customer. Boeing was founded in 1916 and, as natural resources were depleted, grew to be Greater Seattle's primary industry. The region's strong economic dependence on Boeing gave the oil recession and cancellation of the SST (Supersonic Transport) in the early '70s a grim effect. Over the last twenty-five years, the area has become less seedy and more developed with the massive influx of Microsoft money (and other software and biotech proceeds), but Pioneer Square is still the original Skid Row. (Yesler Way was a "Skid Road" for logs skidded downhill using dogfish oil to Henry Yesler's lumber mill).