Firepits combat the chill of cocktails on ice at Salish Lodge. Photograph by AJ Ragasa.

The line used to be clear: Seattle’s hotels were for the visitors, the tourists, the family members from out of town, while the rest of the city was for us. (We’re nice, we share our restaurants and museums.) But when the pandemic halted leisure travel, we all started looking a lot closer for a much-needed getaway. It just happens that the past few years have meant a boom in new local accommodations—cutting-edge construction alongside historic old buildings reborn with retro style—and local classics with new verve.

Hotels reopened throughout the summer, many touting fine-tuned new cleaning systems, but without the cruise boaters and the tourists from afar. As we all stick close to home, we have the chance to check in to our own backyard for once. To wander new blocks, to dine at sidewalk cafes that weren’t here last time we happened by, and to see the Northwest through the eyes of a newbie. Turns out it’s pretty swanky on the other side of the line.

Downtown

State Hotel lobby exudes quirk thanks to a doorknob wall.

Image: AJ Ragasa

State Hotel

For most of its century-long life, Second Avenue’s Eitel Building failed to live up to its promise, passed between ownership as the fortunes of its downtown-meets-Belltown block rose and fell. Its rebirth as an indie boutique hotel gives its arched doorway and cream stone exterior new dignity, but inside the lobby is an explosion of color; whimsical sealife wallpaper from artist Kate Blairstone coats the elevator bank, and a mountainscape from Ryan Molenkamp amps a nature scene with a magenta sky. Rooms are a little less busy—clean white lines make them feel more spacious—and a guest-only terrace offers an Elliott Bay overlook. Restaurant Ben Paris is better than it has to be, drawing non-guests with upscale comfort food like fried chicken in a big, bright space.

Thompson Seattle

When the international chain swanned into town in 2016, the trendy vibe shone from every surface of the glass-block style building. But the property, part of a Hyatt-owned luxury chain, never turned out to be too cool for a city that still pulls puffy jackets from our closets for a night out. Some rooms face Pike Place Market, though everyone gets the eagle-eyed view of flying fish audiences from the patio of the rooftop Nest bar. View suites boast living room furniture with angles so sharp they demand an impromptu photo shoot.

Palihotel

Hotelier Avi Brosh knows how to smash vintage and modern together to create a property that exudes personality; though everything inside feels new, the hundred-year-old bones of the onetime Colonnade Hotel feel obvious. This lodging isn’t afraid of the word “cozy,” mixing floral patterns with the bold swaths of color that boutique hotels have become known for and stocking rooms with unique, sometimes upcycled bits of antique furniture. Old brick fireplaces become painted shelves, and tiny bathrooms use color to feel bigger than they are. Ground floor restaurant the Hart and the Hunter manages an industrial twist on a diner vibe and Southern-style biscuits made famous by California’s original Palihotel. Reopening scheduled for mid-October.

Retro touches at Palihotel.

Sound Hotel

Hilton’s Tapestry Collection brand is meant to scream upscale polish, not the anonymity of a chain. The striking green and orange exterior at the bottom of a Fourth Avenue tower certainly doesn’t scream cookie-cutter, though inside is the rigorous framework of a company that knows exactly who it's serving. Keurigs and valet parking yes, pets no. A dose of this professional-level calm can reset the most harried of homeschooling parents. Located in Belltown, it’s walkable to everywhere—but blissfully not itself in the middle of anything. Reopening scheduled for January.

Motif Hotel

There are only a few places in Seattle where buildings loom over the sidewalk like giants, without broad views to break up the urban canyon; Motif’s Fifth Avenue tower rules over one of those blocks. The vertical stripes of its exterior encourage passersby to look up and remind us: Seattle truly is a metropolis. As part of a chain, its 300-plus rooms make for a buzzier property, and the spacious fifth-floor outdoor patio, part of the Frolik eatery, draws young urbanites on warm evenings. Though thanks to fire tables, it’s a party year-round. Rooms come with not only local art but a specially programmed Amazon Alexa speaker.

The Charter Hotel

Part of the rush of high-end spots opened in the last few years, the Charter sits between Westlake and Pike Place Market, 16 stories tall. The outdoor space at the rooftop Fog Room may be limited, but the hotel’s fitness area offers a steam room and sauna. There’s a corporate feel to the Hilton-owned brand—this one is part of the Curio line—with the kind of subdued decorum that sets it apart from its personality-driven neighbors.

Elliott Bay is close enough to wave back from Four Seasons Seattle.

Image: AJ Ragasa

Four Seasons Seattle

This waterfront stalwart hasn’t been here as long as it feels—just since 2008—but it’s quickly settled into old-guard territory. The last time it made much noise was when Ethan Stowell opened his well-regarded Goldfinch Tavern, a glossy take on modern cuisine that stretches across the hotel’s lobby floor. Muted tones and high thread counts in the rooms deliver the classic luxury hotel feel. Marble-trimmed bathrooms wrap around deep soaking tubs for private indulgence, but the hotel’s real showstopper is a terrace that seems to hang over the Seattle waterfront, its firepit, hot tub, and outdoor infinity pool in a sunset-ready position.

Greater Seattle

Hotel Ballard

It’s hard to name another Seattle hotel that manages to be both high-end and unequivocally rooted in a neighborhood far outside downtown. Few who stroll down shop- and restaurant-laden Ballard Avenue even notice that one facade hides visitor accommodations, though its Juliet balconies and two-tone awning suggest a Parisian hotel. The giant upholstered headboards in each room highlight how cushy this stay is supposed to be; access to the attached Olympic Athletic Club, with its locker room saunas and multiple pools, seals the deal. Outside is the most walkable block in the city, especially when the farmers market unfurls on Sundays.

Graduate Hotel

Nothing coy about this purple-hued property; this is a University of Washington joint that delivers to anxious parents who’ve shelled out four years of tuition and want to see their precious offspring in a cap and gown. But the art deco building has plenty of life beyond graduation weekend, especially thanks to its location across the street from the Neptune Theater, one of the city’s best live music venues. Rooms lean into the 1930s theme with gilded mirrors and retro art, and the rooftop Mountaineering Club does a plaid and leather take on the city’s outdoorsy side, complete with a Rainier-view patio. With such an emphasis on Huskies, the hotel is predictably pet friendly. Reopening scheduled for early fall.

The Graduate has an advanced degree in decor.

Eastside

Heathman Hotel

One of the most colorful hotels on the eastside, Kirkland’s boutique property manages to fold thoughtful touches into what could otherwise feel like a big-chain experience (it’s not). A bed menu offers three different toppers for ideal sleep, from feather to high-end foam, and a pet package with bed and biscuits. Free rental bikes are available for local cruising, and the general manager will even take a Friday afternoon off to lead guests on a hike around a local park.

McMenamins Anderson School

Part of a Northwest chain that rehabs old buildings into ultra-quirky hotels, the Bothell junior high’s old educational roots are still evident—tall classroom windows let light into the guest rooms, many named for old teachers. A tiny bar is tucked into the principal’s office, and the old gymnasium is reborn as a movie theater. With several acres of hotel grounds, it’s an easy place to wander from firepit to shuffleboard table with a drink from the on-site brewery, though the obvious highlight is the indoor, heated saltwater pool; a tiki lounge overlooks the South Pacific–themed space.

W Bellevue

Of all the glassy pillars that rise on the east side of Lake Washington, the W stands apart—though not literally, since it’s right in the middle of things on the edge of Bellevue Square. The recently built hotel embraces a lakehouse theme, surprising for such an urban site, complete with hanging swings in the suites and a porch-style sitting room that opens to the outdoors. But the lobby murals and room decor are as modern as anything else in techy Bellevue. All-glass showers make it an intimate getaway spot—this is not a room to share with a mere acquaintance—and the Lakehouse restaurant offers some of the city’s best, most innovative dining from James Beard Award–winning chef Jason Wilson.

Greater King County

Willows Lodge

One of the only lodging options located right in the middle of Woodinville wine country manages to also be one of the best getaways within commuting distance of Seattle. The whole property feels like the spa that’s tucked within it—serene, packed with cool stone surfaces and lush greenery. Fireplaces and giant soaking tubs make guest rooms into sanctuaries themselves; many even have small outdoor terraces that feel private for how close you are to the area’s tasting rooms and bike trails. Speaking of which, bicycle rentals are free for local rides.

S’mores with a cocktail chaser at Salish Lodge.

Image: AJ Ragasa

Salish Lodge and Spa

One doesn’t have to be a Twin Peaks fan to appreciate a hotel perched over a roaring waterfall, though those who did watch the series will appreciate the spooky grandeur of the show’s signature setting. Snoqualmie’s noted special-occasion vacation spot has long gone for a warm, woodsy feel with fireplaces and a signature breakfast that includes drizzling honey from their own bees onto fresh-baked biscuits. With walking trails outside and a spa inside, it’s a place where you’d never need to venture into nearby North Bend, though its classic downtown is worth a stroll.

Cedarbrook Lodge

Everything about Sea-Tac’s hidden lodge is surprising; it’s closer to the international airport than some of the cheapest park-and-fly lots, but manages to use greenery and an 18-acre property to feel miles away. Large guest-only living rooms serve as a quieter version of a hotel lobby—big couches and fireplaces for lounging, free snacks including ice cream—and lots of patios encourage an outdoor recharge, as does the spa located in one corner. Though popular pre- and post-flight with travelers, the Copperleaf Restaurant farm-to-table fare could convince us we’re in the land of haystacks and harrows, not runways.

Bed, Breakfast, and Capitol Hill

Few hotel options beckon in the city’s buzziest neighborhood, but bed and breakfasts hide within its residential blocks.

From left, Bacon Mansion, Schafer Baillie Mansion, and Gaslight Inn. 

Bacon Mansion brings old-English style swagger to a young city thanks to a crystal chandelier, marble fireplaces, and a library. Though built in 1909, most of the inside dates back to a post-fire 1980s restoration.

Shafer Baillie Mansion sits a block from the equally stately Volunteer Park in a stretch of villas still sometimes referred to as Millionaire’s Row. Big windows make it surprisingly sunny inside, despite the heavy carved wood pillars and four-poster beds.

Gaslight Inn has an outdoor swimming pool in its backyard, one of the few in the neighborhood. Though it’s slightly more modern than a classic B&B, stained glass windows and a resident dog keep things cozy.

The Newly Normal Caveat Availability of dining and other amenities, or even overall operations, may vary as hotels adjust Covid procedures and adapt to state regulations. Consult official guidance on leisure travel before making plans—and, if need be, consult each property for possible relaxed cancellation policies.

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