After a mere three or four hours of clicking, I mapped out an itinerary, which included Smith Tower and its 35th-floor observation deck and the outdoor-equipment retail behemoth REI (“Your [sic] first greeted by an amazing waterfall that truncates next to the outdoor hiking trail that the employees and customers use to test out mountain bikes”). I caught a bus to the Fremont neighborhood, lured by the prospect of seeing a statue of Lenin, a Cold War–era rocket attached to a restaurant, and, under a bridge, a squat concrete troll crushing a Volkswagen. Everything lived up to its billing, and then some.
The most useful site was Chowhound.com, a discussion board for the food-obsessed, which I’ve used for several years. (A new interface added in 2006 makes it much easier to search past posts.) It was launched with an emphasis on cheap eats but now hosts a diverse, committed, and generally knowledgeable community of foodies, who post fewer maddeningly uninformative comments of the sort found elsewhere. (Like this one, from a review of a Seattle restaurant on IgoUgo.com: “The elegant decor tips you off that you are about to have a food experience.”)
For travelers, as for so many other Web users, the Internet is great for finding the needle in the haystack. But it’s not so good at finding the haystack—at culling infinite possibilities into a manageable list of options. What I like most about Chowhound is the propensity of reviewers to provide a cluster of choices—the five best seafood restaurants, the best bars for a cocktail. (The latter, incidentally, led me to Zig Zag Café, easily one of the best bars for a serious cocktail fancier that I’ve found anywhere—classic drinks, no attitude.) Chowhound, like many of the Travel 2.0 sites, is in fact best approached like a cocktail party: you can learn more by eavesdropping here and there than by tracking any one conversation. There’s rarely a consensus, so it’s best just to skim through. At the very least, you’ll come away knowing which restaurants have recently changed chefs and may be on unsteady legs, and which new places might be worth a gamble.
My adventures weren’t without glitches, of course. In Fremont, for example, I looked forward to lunch at El Camino, a Mexican restaurant that several of my virtual friends had recommended. But it wasn’t open for lunch. Nobody’s paid to add the essential minutiae on Travel 2.0, such as when establishments are open. Or even whether a place still exists—I came upon a few phantom restaurants, making me wonder whether amateur traveler sites will eventually become boneyards of failed enterprises unless paid updaters occasionally police the neighborhood.
Near the end of my stay, I wandered down to the Seattle Public Library, Rem Koolhaas’s 2004 glass-and-steel structure famous for its exoskeleton. Not only is it one of the AIA’s 150 most-loved buildings (OK, I peeked), but several travelers had suggested a stop there. (“I highly recommend visiting the library if you come to Seattle, even if you think libraries are big yawn-factories,” wrote Corry on Real Travel.com. “The reading room was rad because it was giant, beautiful, and every single desk had a multitude of outlets so you’d never have to worry about not being able to plug-in.”)
Outside, the building looked like a Transformer unfolding into something as yet undetermined; inside, it was a beautiful soaring cathedral of information, with sherbet-colored escalators and elevators and vertigo-inspiring interior vistas. “Rad” might even be an understatement.
I sat down at a desk, took out my laptop, and plugged in. It was as perfect a spot as I could imagine to set out in search of a place for dinner.