Piano music spills across Lake Union Park, as dishes clatter on the waterside patio of the Compass Café, attached to the Museum of History and Industry. Patrons fall quiet, as a floatplane buzzes overhead and splashes down. Then the chatter resumes, backed by the creaking of historic boats docked nearby.
Even in cooler weather, the space offers spectacular views of the lake and Space Needle. For a Sunday-afternoon twist, sip a cuppa among the Tiffany lamps of the M/V Lotus. When she launched in 1909, this Edwardian cruising houseboat was the largest power-yacht on the West Coast.
Coffee connoisseurs may prefer to skip the scenery and head for Herkimer, a third of a mile west. Known for its careful sourcing—all from small farms free of pesticides and fertilizer—this company’s also the roaster for the city’s soon-to-open cat café: Seattle Meowtropolitan.
For a gab session with friends, try the Uptown Espresso outpost on Westlake. Art and gilded mirrors jazz the already energetic space further, making up for the strange, moss-like emerald rug. Style mavens tend to gravitate to Portland-import Kakáo instead. A high ceiling—resembling an inverted, wooden boat hull—floods the chic space with light. It serves Herkimer beans and local Miro teas, and sometimes spins these everyday ingredients into wild combinations like honey-lavender lattes and cardamom white mochas.
Line up alongside Amazon workers at Top Pot Doughnuts, which “hand-forges” confections like the Feather Boa slathered in pink icing and coconut shavings. It also serves up small-batch beans roasted in-house. Got time to spare? Try your coffee siphon-style: a 15-minute process that boils water with an infrared burner, circulating it through the hourglass-shaped twin chambers. Fascinating to watch, it creates a full-bodied flavor chock full of science.
Two blocks east, the Row House Cafe sprawls through three 1904 Craftsman cottages, which once housed shipbuilders. This charmingly eccentric spot does it all, from brunch bread pudding to chicken harissa for dinner. Not to mention its delicious Illy coffee and cocktails like the Candlebox, which blends local Woodinville Bourbon with Campari and orange juice.
Breakfast aficionados should hoof slightly uphill to Nollie’s Café, however, which turns out home-baked biscuits, English muffins and potentially addicting Creamsicle Cookies that pop with citrus. The seating space is petite here, so order takeaway and cross the street to the Cascade Playground park, weather-permitting. Some of the neighboring P-Patch’s funkiness spills into the median strip here, with found art, a chessboard-embossed table and a foosball game made from wine corks.
Closer to the downtown core, La Toscanella Bakery & Paninoteca also delivers outstanding breakfast and lunch options. This northern Italian café keeps the espresso machines roaring, whipping up the classics, as well as curiosities like Coco Cano (an Americano with coconut water). Be strategic. Sit down to indulge in baked, bubbling dishes like cannelloni or the tricolore skillet (eggs, tomatoes, baby spinach and mozzarella). And then load up on pastries—from tarts to éclairs and caramel cheesecakes—to fuel your exploration of South Lake Union.