Ken Jennings won 74 consecutive games of Jeopardy! in 2004, and is the best-selling author of Brainiac and Ken Jennings’s Trivia Almanac. His latest book is Maphead: Charting the Wide, Weird World of Geography Wonks. He lives outside Seattle.
I often think that growing up in Seattle is what made me the geography nerd I am today — it’s impossible to be here without a constant awareness of the geography around you. Seattle is no dull street grid dropped onto a bit of prairie. The rhythms of the city are clearly shaped by the phenomenally beautiful terrain: by the trees, the hills, the water, the (famously drizzly) weather. If you hooked me up to one of those hospital monitors, the graph of my heartbeat would look exactly like the Olympic Mountains seen across Puget Sound on a sunny day. Well, no, not really. That would be charming, but probably fatal.
Hiram M. Chittenden Locks
3015 54th St NW
Seattle, WA 98107
You’ll find a couple of cool geographic curiosities at the western end of the Lake Washington Ship Canal: a set of locks that raises and lowers boats 22 feet from lake to sea, and the nation’s only fish ladder that helps salmon navigate between salt water and fresh. In other words: both locks and lox.
The Seattle Centroid
In front of 301 Minor Ave
Seattle, WA 98109
Right next to Cascade Playground sits an unassuming apartment building with a little-known secret. Look down at the sidewalk in front of you: a small plaque marks the exact physical center of the city of Seattle. If you were to balance the city on the head of a pin, which would admittedly be an odd thing to attempt, this is the point where it would balance.
608 1st Avenue
Seattle, WA 98104
In 1889, the Great Seattle Fire destroyed 31 blocks of the city. The city fathers made an odd decision when they rebuilt: they chose to re-grade the entire area and lay the new sidewalks as much as thirty feet above the old street level. The “Seattle Underground” was locked up for public health reasons in 1907, but curious tourists can now explore the colorful secrets of the city’s (now literally) buried past.
1511 1st Ave
Seattle, WA 98101
This map mecca near Pike Place Market is a browser’s paradise. Nautical maps, historical maps, city maps, atlases, globes–if you can’t find it here, it’s not a map. Wide World Books and Maps in Wallingford is great too and (quick trivia!) claims to be America’s first travel-only bookstore.