Bumbershoot: a gem of a festival in the Emerald City

Music under the Needle.  Photo credit: cntraveler.com

Music under the Needle. Photo credit: cntraveler.com

Seattle closes down the summer festival season with a huge party every Labor Day Weekend, with the eclectic Bumbershoot Festival.  Dubbed the largest arts festival in the United States, Bumbershoot sees up to 100,000 or so attendees over the long weekend.  You may be thinking, “what kind of weird-ass name is Bumbershoot”? Well, it’s a synonym for umbrella, which makes sense considering Seattle’s drizzly weather.

While the 2014 line-up has not been announced yet, Bumbershoot crosses many music genres, often sporting well-known festival headliners, the cream of the indie crop, and a slew of homegrown Seattle artists.  This year should be no exception.

The festival setting is the Seattle Center grounds (think: Space Needle), which is just north of downtown and Belltown.  The area is well-served by transit, including by bus, ferry, and monorail (which takes you to Westlake Center, where you can pick up the light rail system).   Some of the newest and least expensive hotels just happen to be within walking distance, with ritzier hotels just a short walk or monorail ride uphill to downtown.

Seattle Center provides the perfect setting for the festival, with large open spaces for sunny days and a number of exhibition buildings for rainy days.  The main stage is indoors at Key Arena, which has decent acoustics and provides a reprieve from the weather and a (fairly) comfy seat.  In addition to a talent-packed music line-up, pass holders also get into comedy shows, dance performances, and a number of exhibits celebrating the Great Northleft, as they like to put it.

As it is still early in the year, there are several hotels nearby available on award nights.

All of the above hotels are within a few blocks walk of the Seattle Center and have availability from August 29 to September 2.  There are even more hotels in the downtown area, often for higher points.  Downtown hotels tend to be highrises, so they may stay available with points even longer.

While Seattle Center provides for many food options right on the grounds, the Belltown neighborhood is just a few short blocks away.  Belltown is home to many up-and-coming restaurants, gastropubs, and even my favorite hole-in-the-wall bar, the Five Point Cafe.

So enjoy one of the most laid back urban festivals in North America, and don’t forget your bumbershoot!

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A dive bar and awesome fireworks

No matter where I go, I try to find a local hangout.  I’m a greasy spoon connoisseur and have long loved the many dives to be found in Seattle.  It’s one of my favorite cities, and I really enjoy the crowd that gathers each year on New Year’s Eve around the Seattle Center to watch fireworks, listen to bands, and enjoy the company of other revelers.

I’m not a big people person, so hanging out in crowds is not my normal behavior. But every once in a while you find a great spot that makes the crowd enjoyable.  And that place for me on NYE is The 5 Point Cafe in the shadow of the Space Needle.  It’s pure Seattle grunge at its finest.  It harkens to the dives of old with tiny bathrooms (no ADA here!), walls covered in stickers, loud music, and snarky comments in its menus.  And they mix a killer long island iced tea.

Space Needle NYE

Spectacular fireworks frame the Space Needle.

The eclectic crowd is a blast, and the hours fly by with friendly patrons and lots of people watching.  And guess what?  No cover.  While other bars and pubs in the area jack up the rate on New Year’s due to location, location, location, The 5 Point Cafe stays true to its roots.  And the best part?  Awesome fireworks at midnight.

A few hours before midnight, the cafe turns on the patio heaters and the crowd starts spilling out onto the street.  The real rush out begins with the countdown, where all are rewarded with amazing views of the fireworks.  This year, it was getting a bit cloudy as midnight came around, and the fireworks created even more smoke.  The effect was both eerie and beautiful, and made for a wonderful memory.

Foggy Space Needle

The fog gathering around the Space Needle.

For those from out-of-town, there are tons of chain hotels within walking distance, many of which had availability on award nights right up to a few weeks before New Year’s.  We stayed at the Crowne Plaza Seattle – Downtown, which was a refreshing 15 minute walk from the Seattle Center and just a few blocks away from the monorail that runs from the Seattle Center to the Westlake Center.

What are your favorite destinations and hangouts for New Year’s?  While I love Seattle, I’m hoping to try out new and exciting experiences each year.