An abundance of fresh local foods, walker-friendly streets, and inclusive attitudes helps make Seattle America's best city for healthy living.
Credit: Douglas Merriam

Whether seen from the vantage point of a peaceful kayak excursion on the waters of Puget Sound or a morning tour of bustling food lover's mecca Pike Place Market, Seattle always appears to be a place where healthful living comes easily and naturally. In our year-long countdown of U.S. cities that epitomize the Cooking Light philosophy, Seattle ranked highest for dollars spent on parkland-$266 per person annually, according to the Trust for Public Land. The American Podiatric Medical Association ranked pedestrian-friendly Seattle a top spot for walking. Nearly 85 percent of city residents report exercising regularly and 89 percent say they are in good or better health, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. And when Seattleites are ready to indulge, they can do so in any of the city's many top-rated restaurants-it's home to both numerous James Beard Award-winning chefs and restaurants ranked "extraordinary to perfection" by culinary review, Zagat. If you love Cooking Light, we think you'll love Seattle, too.

Best spot to savor the city's flavor: Everything great about Seattle is distilled in Pike Place Market (206-682-7453). Tucked between a vibrant downtown core and the Puget Sound's Elliott Bay, the lively market offers fresh breezes off the water, locally grown foods, quirky shops, a diverse crowd, and, of course, the famous fishmongers of Pike Place Fish (206-682-7181), who fling fresh salmon to one another through the air. Those in the know do as the locals: Shop the market early in the morning before it becomes crowded. Seek out an on-the-go breakfast or the makings for a picnic lunch at the market's numerous ethnic food shops, where you'll find everything from dim sum to Turkish delight.

Best diner: Ingredients are only footsteps away at Steelhead Diner (206-625-0129), located in Pike Place Market. Comfort food, such as fish and chips, grits, and po' boy sandwiches (here called "rich boys," a reference to flavor rather than the sub-$10 price tag), become haute cuisine when they're made with the best of what local vendors have to offer.

Best seafood: Chef-owner Christine Keff changes the menu daily at Belltown's Flying Fish (206-728-8595), which has consistently been regarded as one of Seattle's top seafood spots since it opened. "You can find great seafood all over the city," says Cynthia Nims, Seattle-based cookbook author and contributor to Cooking Light. "But Flying Fish elevates ocean fare to the more exotic with a broader culinary influence over the array of unique regional seafood." Make sure to try the small plates of seared scallops with pineapple hollandaise or Thai crab cakes, or share a large family-style platter of oysters and pickled ginger sorbet.

Best place to eat green: Nearly everything about Tilth (206-633-0801) is green, including the space it occupies: a little green bungalow in residential Wallingford. Organic growers and farmers provide at least 95 percent of the ingredients served here, such as chilled truffled asparagus or duck raised in Washington State. All main dish items on the menu are available as a small plate ($6 to $15) or a large ($10 to $29), so you can order tapas-style and share your partner's selections.

Best splurge: The cuisine at Rover's (206-325-7442) is led by James Beard Award-winning Chef Thierry Rautureau (known as "the Chef in the Hat" for his ever-present fedora). Rautureau serves a prix fixe dinner menu daily (including an eight-course feast and a five-course vegetarian option), as well as à la carte items at lunch for the budget-minded. The food is French meets Pacific Northwest: You'll see anything from Oregon quail with roasted beets and wild boar prosciutto to Rautureau's signature scrambled eggs with lime crème fraîche and caviar.

Best park: While north Seattle's Green Lake is popular with joggers and walkers, Discovery Park (206-386-4236), a 534-acre wilderness area just northwest of downtown, offers real treks. Formerly a U.S. Army fort, it's now the largest park in the city and home to an extensive trail network, tidal beaches along Puget Sound, and a lighthouse. Save time for a trip through the park's Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center (206-285-4425), an art gallery and Native American Community Center. Among the permanent collection are works by Nathan P. Jackson, a member of the Tlingit tribe, who carves and paints western red cedar planks with native legends.

Best family outing: Woodland Park Zoo (206-684-4800), near Green Lake, is rated as one of the top zoos in the country. It initiated the now-common method of building exhibits that mimic natural ecosystems, rather than restrictive cages. A self-guided Rainy Day Tour (download a map from the Web site) means you can explore the zoo's many covered exhibits and interactive indoor displays without having to wait for the weather to cooperate.

Best way to see the water: Kayaking around Seattle can be as easy as ordering dessert. The Agua Verde Paddle Club and Cafe (206-545-8570) is part Mexican restaurant and part kayak-rental shop situated on Portage Bay in the center of town. Head west and you'll kayak through the floating community of houseboats for which the city is famous (as seen in the movie Sleepless in Seattle). If you're looking for the city's natural side, an eastern route paddles past the Washington Park Arboretum (206-543-8800), where any of more than 200 bird species may be spotted. The paddle club has boats designed for beginners, and guided tours-including a popular Full Moon route-are available to groups of eight or more with advance reservations. 

Best vantage point: The photographers behind Seattle Daily Photo Blog  know the city well; every day the site presents a new Seattle scene. One of their top selections for a postcard-worthy view is from Kerry Park lookout on Queen Anne Hill's southern slope. "This vantage point includes the downtown skyline, the Space Needle, and Mt. Rainier all in one shot," says one of the photographers. "Keep walking west along Highland and you'll pass gorgeous homes from several architectural periods, quaint private gardens, and a serenely small public park. In addition, the sunset is magical on this little jaunt."

Best scenic stroll: The informative, in-depth See Seattle Walking Tours (425-226-7641) make the most of Seattle's noted walkability. These tours draw nearly as many locals as visitors, thanks to their emphasis on the city's history and oft-overlooked architectural details in its signature art deco buildings. You'll begin at Westlake Plaza in the downtown business district and end at Pioneer Square near the waterfront. It's a full day of walking, with stops for lunch and rest breaks. Tours leave daily Monday through Saturday at 10 A.M., as long as at least six walkers have made reservations, which are strongly recommended.

Best day trip: Ferry boats are one of Seattleites' favorite modes of transportation. Visit for schedules and terminal locations. Catch a ferry to Bainbridge Island (206-842-3700) to enjoy the beauty of Puget Sound. Find a spot on the upper deck, where views are best. From downtown, the ride takes about 35 minutes to reach quaint Bainbridge, where you can rent a bicycle and easily explore the island's winding roads and hills. Pedal to the Bainbridge Island Vineyards and Winery (shown at right; 206-842-9463) for weekend tastings of the winery's many island-grown varietals, such as the limited edition strawberry dessert wine. Art lovers are inundated with gallery options. There's one for nearly every medium-from stained glass to Indonesian textiles.

Best musical experience: The exterior of the Experience Music Project (877-367-7361) was designed by architect Frank Gehry to resemble a smashed guitar. Inside, you'll find a museum that pays homage to popular music with memorabilia, exhibits on the evolution of the Seattle music scene, and video interviews with hundreds of influential musicians, from Randy Newman to native daughters Ann and Nancy Wilson of Heart. Musicians or those who aspire to be are equally at home here: The museum's 12 soundproof studios can be reserved for everything from jam sessions for experienced players to step-by-step instruction for beginners. An added bonus: Visit on the first Thursday evening of the month, and admission is free.

Best architecture: While many visitors head to the iconic Space Needle for a view of the city, Smith Tower (206-622-4004) provides a less crowded vista and a glimpse of Seattle architectural history. Completed in 1914, the 42-story Smith Tower was the city's first skyscraper and, for almost 50 years, the tallest building west of the Mississippi. Reaching the top is half the fun: Elaborately decorated brass and copper elevators (the last manually operated elevators on the West Coast) whisk you from the marble and onyx lobby to the 35th floor observation deck.

Best place to see wildlife: The fish ladder-a man-made series of underwater steps that help migrating fish safely transit from salt to fresh water at a gradual rate-at Hiram M. Chittenden Locks (206-783-7059, provides a fascinating look at salmon and the occasional steelhead trout making their way from the open sea back to Lake Washington to spawn. Located five miles northwest of downtown in the neighborhood of Ballard, a viewing gallery lets visitors watch from underwater. Adult salmon navigate the ladder from June to October; steelhead from January through April.

Where to stay

Best room with a view: Perched over the water in Elliott Bay, the Edgewater (shown above, from $299 a night; 800-624-0670) has a storied past as a refuge for touring rock bands, including the Beatles, who famously fished out the window; you can stay in their suite. The hotel's theme is pure Pacific Northwest, with stone fireplaces and rough-hewn pine furniture. Half of the 223 rooms have water views; the rest overlook the Seattle skyline.

Best boutique hotel: Just a quick stroll from Pike Place Market, Hotel Max (from $179 a night; 866-833-6299) is arty and open-minded. Rooms are small but packed with style-each displays original artwork that contribute to a total of more than 350 photographs and paintings featured throughout the hotel.

Best B&B: The Bacon Mansion (from $89 a night; 800-240-1864) is located on a quiet residential street just past the lively action on Capitol Hill, home to the city's best nightlife. There are 11 rooms, including a carriage house that's wheelchair-accessible. One large suite has a winter view of the Space Needle; two have fireplaces; and another opens onto a private garden.