Cover Story

Sleeping in Seattle

... and eating in L.A., and touring the English countryside on the cheap. WORLD reviews several summertime travel destinations

Issue: "Summer Travel 2001," May 12, 2001

A $164 per night view?
Why is it that all the travel destinations featured in those glossy magazines seem so, well, glossy? The mental snapshots of my own travel memories tend to have a decidedly matte finish. When I travel, it rains. I get bumped. I get lost. The attractions are closed for repairs. Or is that jealousy talking? Maybe travel really is exponentially more enjoyable when you have a bottomless budget. I decided to test that hypothesis in one of my favorite cities: I would spend one night in one of the best Seattle hotels I could find, followed by a night in the kind of hotel I would normally use. Price wasn't the only factor, though it was a big one. I wanted to spend both nights in independent hotels that were somehow typical of Seattle, rather than in big chain properties. I also wanted to be right in the thick of things both nights. For my night on a credit-card bender, I chose the Inn at the Market (86 Pine St.), a beautiful little courtyard hotel almost right on top of the Pike Place Market, Seattle's second most-recognizable landmark. Built on a hillside that drops off sharply to the waterfront just blocks away, the hotel offers wonderful views of Mt. Ranier on the left, the snow-capped Olympic range on the right, and the Puget Sound dead ahead. The $250 I paid for one night got me a Laura Ashley suite with more chintz than I cared for, but infinitely more service than I was used to, and a private deck with great breezes. The city's spectacular art museum is close by, as is Seattle's upscale shopping district, and one of the best restaurants in the country, if you trust the food critic at Esquire magazine, is right downstairs. Campagne is a cozy little French country place where two people could conceivably spend as much for dinner as they did for their room. The next day I moved just six blocks to the Hotel Seattle, at 315 Seneca. I was prepared for a let-down, but what I found was a budget gem. When it was built in the 1920s, the 12-story tower was a landmark at the north edge of old downtown. Since then it's been swallowed up by new skyscrapers, stretching ever higher in search of a water view. In the process, the old hotel has been mostly forgotten. Lucky for those with long memories. Behind the unassuming façade is a classic European-style city hotel. No fancy lobby, no pool, and no fern bar-just spotlessly clean, tastefully appointed rooms within walking distance of everything. My room, on the sixth floor, cost $86 a night. That was just $1 more than I'd paid a few nights earlier at a dreadfully dull chain motel some 15 miles out in the suburbs. The Hotel Seattle enjoys a near-perfect downtown location. Just check out the surrounding real estate: Three trendy boutique properties surround the Hotel Seattle, offering beds at $200-plus per night. And catty-corner across the street is the Four Seasons Olympic, perhaps the city's most expensive place to sleep. Walk out the front door of the Hotel Seattle and down the hill, and you hit the waterfront in four short blocks. The Hotel Seattle has other advantages as well. Local calls cost just 35 cents, compared to 75 cents at the Inn. (That's right, $250 a night, and you still pay to use the phone.) And while no one is going to mistake Bernard's, the hotel's dark, English pub-style restaurant, for one of the world's best, it does offer one of Seattle's best breakfast deals. Order two eggs, bacon, French toast, and coffee, pay with four dollar bills, and they'll give you back a quarter to tip the very friendly, efficient waitress. The drawbacks? There's no view, of course, since you're surrounded by taller buildings. And because the hotel doesn't have a parking lot, if you're driving you'll have to use a public garage ($18!) one block up the hill. But overall, the city is every bit as enjoyable at $86 as it is at $250. But that last sentence is true only because the Hotel Seattle is such an outstanding value. If you're on a budget and can't book one of its 80 rooms, beware: The dingy little cellblocks that surround the Space Needle are neither charming nor convenient. Don't be fooled by their "downtown" location. They are literally on the wrong side of the (monorail) tracks, and you won't want to walk to the good stuff. It's better to avoid downtown entirely and head for one of the city's interesting neighborhoods. Belltown, Lake Union, First Hill, and the University District all offer distinct charms and bargain prices. Dining with the stars
For decades local sports stars have invested in eateries, often near ballparks, but over the past decade movie stars have begun lending their names. That's particularly apparent in Los Angeles, where Jennifer Lopez, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and many others are trying to make it in the crowded and fickle restaurant market. The concept makes economic sense: Stars provide restaurants with "buzz" and restaurants provide stars with bragging rights. More often than not, though, the celebrity is merely an investor, not an active, hands-on partner. Servers at some restaurants report that they haven't seen their famous owners in months. And celebrity-owned eateries aren't all as painfully hip as you might expect. Sure, there are self-conscious excesses like Woody Harrelson's O2, with its raw organic fare and "flavored oxygen," but they seem to be in the minority. Here are experiences in five restaurants:

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