Teeth bared and crest spines flaring, gilded dragon boats skate across Lake Union. Twenty paddlers dip their heads, digging into the water hard. In the prows, drummers pound out a steady, unrelenting beat. This 2,500-year-old Chinese tradition claims to be the oldest continuously practiced team sport in the world, and this particular sighting has a decidedly Seattle flavor as the long, narrow dragon boats blaze past the Space Needle and the Historic Ships Wharf before arrowing through a floatplane’s wake.
Asian influences like this grace the city at every turn, from pho houses to koi swirling in Japanese gardens. But they’re just one rich refrain in the symphony of Seattle, which started 10,000 years ago with the Duwamish and Suquamish tribes. Fueled by the area’s superabundance, the Native people developed a culture anchored by art, longhouses, and potlatches—feasts where chiefs built status by giving things away.
Natives were the ones who welcomed the first Europeans in 1851. Soon glowing reports reached Scandinavia, like this one from early settler Ostenson Stine: “When you throw your eye upon Puget Sound, and behold the fleet of fish barges, rolling upon her briny breast, a reminiscence of the coast of Norway steals into your soul.” Immigrants poured in, bringing with them Nordic traditions that are still expressed today.
Waves of African American workers and a more recent influx of people from Latin America continue to shape the city and its ever-evolving heritage. Discover the diverse experiences that prove the city’s knack for fine food, creativity, and colorful customs has only grown over time.