Pipe Dreaming Saturday: Perth and Seattle

There seems no end to the bounty of Australia. This time, they’ve combined beaches, bays, islands, and a ‘smashing’ arts scene into one incredibly dynamic city. It’s called Perth.

Sailboats and parks line the Swan River near downtown Perth, Western Australia. Photo courtesy of Ds-Lands.com.
Sailboats and parks line the Swan River near downtown Perth, Western Australia. Photo courtesy of Ds-Lands.com.

Located on Australia’s southwestern coast and the country’s fourth largest city, Perth and its metropolitan area spill into the Indian Ocean through white sands, boardwalks, and turquoise shallows. After the Great Divide back east, Australia’s landscape morphs into what it’s best known for: the Outback. For hundreds of miles west the ground reddens and the sands shift through towns that seem transplanted from old Western movies. But then the land begins to liven until you catch sight of the glistening ocean beyond Perth’s suburbs. Soon, the Swan River begins to meander until it widens into a series of lakes at Perth’s CBD and finally spills into the sea at Fremantle, Perth’s port city.

Perth is one of those spectacular cities that embraces its natural setting, with parks popping up every which way to give residents and visitors access to the picturesque waterways near downtown. Take a boat ride along the Swan River or bike along its shores. Head further west to the Sunset Coast and you’ll find a hip, laid-back version of any great Florida beach town. Grassy promenades wind along golden sands at Cottesloe Beach (one of Western Australia’s most popular for swimmers and surfers), backed by cafes and ruled by casual cyclists. A little more than 10 miles west, Rottnest Island is a nature lover’s dream: tons of beaches, bike trails, and calm waters to kayak. This is the locals’ playground (as if they needed it).

But it’s not just shores and green spaces here: Perth has undergone a dramatic cultural transformation in recent years. New, cutting-edge restaurants and bars have opened up all over the place, bringing famous chefs like Jamie Oliver (Jamie’s Italian) to Perth’s food scene. In the city’s east, the Riverside Project is adding more shops and cafes along the Swan, and fancy hotels are spreading like wildfire.

Depending on where in the US you live, Perth might just be the exact antipode of your hometown. It’s long and expensive to get to.  But there are other cities where environment takes the spotlight- many of them, in fact.

One is none other than Seattle, Washington: the last major city in the continental US if you’re heading northwest. While Seattle doesn’t have the balmy weather or sandy beaches that Perth does, it’s saturated with thick, deep green forests and ultramarine lakes and inlets- a colony for the down-to-Earth and the rugged. And, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t rain constantly- only 158 days out of the year.

Scenic, Earthy, funky Seattle, WA. Photo courtesy of Reddit.
Scenic, Earthy, funky Seattle, WA. Photo courtesy of Reddit.

Seattle is arranged along the shores of Puget Sound to the west and a bunch of little lakes and islands to the east. Its waterfront setting mirrors its equally fluid local color: there are quirky museums, fern-green parks, and market strolls along chilly waters. The iconic Space Needle points to the sky, looking ready to hyperjump back to its home planet. There’s a chance you might get smacked by a fish in the frenetic Pike Place Market. And, like some Amsterdamers, many residents live in houseboats.

Water is the main attraction in Seattle. You can sea kayak among thickly wooded isles, take a ferry north to the incredibly scenic San Juan Islands, or board a sailboat and set out on one of the city’s sporty lakes. Like in Perth, bicycles are a must in Seattle- along inviting avenues lined with organic markets, tiny cafes, and indie bookstores. And there’s plenty to do for the super outdoorsy types by way of day trips. Mt. Rainier is 3 hours southeast for hiking and glissading in summer, and skiing in winter. 2 and a half hours east is the Bavarian-style city of Leavenworth for all things German. 4o minutes south is Tacoma, which has recently become famous for its prolific glass-blowing scene. And further to the west lies the awe-inspiring Olympic Peninsula, for tide-pools, dense temperate rain forests, beach camping, and wild sunsets.

Seattle is a city that wishes it were just a big national park. And it’s America’s eco-minded outdoor playground- without the “other side of the world” part.



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