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Take a Tour of the Pacific Rim

Kubota Garden. Photo by Jaime Pharr.

More than 450 volcanoes flank the Pacific. This “Ring of Fire” opens deep submarine trenches, scatters islands across the waves and heaves mountain ranges high. It folds the earth like origami and blasts lava hot as Godzilla’s breath. Stone meets the sea and sky on its wild edge— shaping cultures that share far more than geology. Sample them all in Seattle, a liberal lighthouse of a city where Chinatown evolved into a cosmopolitan “International District” and Pacific Rim culture flourishes at every turn.

With the exquisite Asian Art Museum closed for renovations until 2019, head straight to the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience, the Northwest’s first Smithsonian affiliate. Its 1910 building began as a single-occupancy hotel that hundreds of Chinese pioneers worked together to construct. Apartments, a historic store and meeting rooms—for social organizations called “family associations”—remain preserved today, from dusty mahjong tiles to a lavish stamped-tin ceiling.

Pause below Letter Cloud, an art and sound installation that includes stories of love, longing, hopes and dreams sent to those back home. Another highlight: the approximately 29-by-15-foot theatrical curtain, stiff with painted ads in Japanese. One promotes Maneki, the restaurant that introduced sushi to Seattle and helped a university-student dishwasher on his path to serving as his homeland’s prime minister: Takeo Miki, 1974–76. The eatery’s still going strong and stars on the James Beard Foundation’s prestigious list of America’s classics.

The Wing Luke offers tours exploring its exhibits and the surrounding area, honored on the Seattle Chinatown National Register Historic District. Indulge in a seasonal food tour or power up on a three-hour extravaganza tracing the nearby footsteps of master martial artist Bruce Lee, a longtime Seattle resident who came of age in Hong Kong. He’s now buried in Lake View Cemetery.

Ready for a more pastoral jaunt? Retreat to Kubota Garden, where Asian aesthetics meet Northwest native plants fanned out in a dazzling array. Once a clear-cut, brush-choked swamp, this Rainier Beach haven lucked into just the right owner. Granted, discriminatory laws are thought to have stopped Japanese immigrant Fujitaro Kubota from truly possessing these 20 acres at first (a friend helped out). After spending World War II incarcerated in an internment camp because of his heritage, the visionary gardener began creating a lacework of streams and waterfalls across the ever-lovelier landscape, punctuated by The Moon Bridge. Seattle Parks now maintains this landmark as a public garden with year-round free admission.

Finish on a high note at Billiard Hoang in Columbia City, one of America’s most diverse ZIP codes, which is now colonized by hipsters. Hit the pool tables, then take a break with Vietnamese bánh mì: a sandwich that typically unites crispy single-serving baguettes with meat (usually chicken or pork), cucumber, cilantro, mayonnaise, sliced jalapeños, a tangy-sweet daikon and carrot pickle, plus a drizzle of soy sauce. But look for some unexpected Pacific Rim twists here, like egg and Spam!


Bunk in Seattle’s only National Treasure at the Panama Hotel, a landmark 1910 building that once housed not only travelers and Alaskan fishermen but also Asian immigrants. Today it shelters the country’s last intact sentō (Japanese communal bath), as well as a teahouse and simple rooms with period décor. Or opt for the sleek, chic, 12-story Thompson Seattle boutique hotel, which opens onto Pike Place Market, Puget Sound and, on a clear day, the snow-gilded Olympic Mountains. Architect Tom Kundig designed it to feel like an inviting and luminous beacon on the Pacific Rim’s edge. 


Curate your own $37 tasting menu of Japanese comfort food at Adana, a hot spot orchestrated by chef/owner Shota Nakajima. Savor dishes such as tempura-fried okra and miso-braised chicken wings. Seattle’s still riding the wave of poke (Hawaiian raw-fish salad), but connoisseurs look to the 50th state for tropical-flavored sweets, too! Don't miss the mango-cream cheese pie and buttery pineapple upside-down cake at Cakes of Paradise Bakery. The Din Tai Fung chain has earned a Michelin star, a first for a restaurant anchored in Taiwan. Plump xiaolong bao (Chinese soup dumplings) remain the most popular choice here. 

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