72 hours in the Issaquah Highlands

Or is it a lifetime? An insider's guide to Seattle's legendary suburb where everything was planned.
Or is it a lifetime? An insider's guide to Seattle's legendary suburb where everything was planned.

Glimmering enticingly on the Sammamish plateau, the Issaquah Highlands, a planned community of 3,200 homes in suburban Seattle, offers a magical travel experience. A scant half hour from grubby Seattle, the Highlands are resplendent with sublime architecture, glorious views, world-class cuisine, vibrant nightlife, and to-die-for shopping. Go now, before the Highlands are overrun with tourists. Be aware that your visit might leave you aesthetically and intellectually inebriated, and your hometown looking dull by comparison. The top sights:

  • The Interstate 90 off-ramp at Exit 18: Majestic and one of the longest in Western Washington, it curves gently to the right and then sweeps dramatically across the freeway, offering a spectacular view of the traffic below, before connecting to Highland Drive.
  • The intersection of Highland and Park drives: This bank of stoplights, impressive during daylight, is simply stunning at night.
  • The I-90 on-ramp at Exit 18: Not quite as spectacular as the off-ramp, but what is? While shorter and not as seductively sinuous, the on-ramp offers better views of the retaining wall.
  • Architectural masterpieces by GMP Homes, CamWest, Noland Homes, Greacen Construction, and Bennett Homes.
  • The High Street retail village: (See dining and shopping.)
Getting oriented The Issaquah Highlands consists of two major sections, each comprised of multiple neighborhoods. In Old Town, built between 1998 and 2004, old-world charm embraces cutting-edge design in an unforgettable mixture of past and present. While Old Town has roots and traditions, New Town has soul. Built after 2004, New Town is "where the action is." Always on the go, exuberant, fun-loving Newtowners exhibit what the French call L'esprit de Cul du Sac. Events The Highlands seems like a yearlong party, culminating with Novemberfest, a three-day celebration.
  • March 11, Daylight Savings begins. Highlanders celebrate by turning clocks forward one hour.
  • June 14, Flag Day.
  • Oct. 16, National Boss Day.
  • Nov. 4, Daylight Savings ends. Highlanders celebrate by turning clocks back one hour.
  • Nov. 16-18, Novemberfest: The celebration of upper-middle management. It includes the Parade of District Managers on Park Street; the Running of the Software Engineers at the Village Green; the Salute to the Accountants and Actuaries in Vista Park; and the Festival of the Roofs. (The Native-American word Issaquah means "place where all houses have seven different roof heights.")
Nightlife With hundreds of TV channels available via cable or satellite, Highlanders can choose among an almost infinite variety of nighttime entertainment. Dining Foodies flock to the High Street retail village to sample the exotic menus at Ricenroll and Marcela's Mexican Grill. The highly anticipated opening of World Pies at Northeast Park Drive and 25th Avenue Northeast will create a second "Gourmet Ghetto." Shopping On its way to becoming a Mecca for shoppers, the Highlands recently welcomed its first retail establishment. At Occhio! Vision Care, in the High Street retail village, you can find the latest in fashion frames, schedule an eye exam, or get fitted for the latest in high-comfort contacts. Le Chic Pet, a pet boutique and spa that offers nutritious food, high-quality toys and accessories, as well as a self-serve dog wash, will open this fall. Art and music There are rumors that a Karaoke bar may open in New Town in 2009. Lodging While there are neither hotels nor motels in the Highlands itself, a Motel 6 is only five miles away, at Exit 16 on I-90. Suggested Itinerary Day 1: In the morning, drive the off-ramp and on-ramp at Exit 18, then tour the intersections along Highland Boulevard. In the afternoon: shop at Occhio and, if it's open, Le Chic Pet. Day 2: Architectural tour. (All quotes are from the builder's Web site.) The Highlands presents a dazzling array of architectural styles, ranging from $200,000 (The Ashford Collection at Vista Park) to $3 million in Grand Drive Ridge ("a home that is magnificent in scale, rich in detail and timeless architectural character.") Amateurs often have difficulty identifying which of the 47 shades of grey have been used on the exterior of each home. At a minimum, you should tour the following neighborhoods:
  • Hudson Heights: "Combining natural beauty and architectural elegance in the highly sought-after master planned community."
  • Roanoke Ridge: "A unique urban village lifestyle, nestled high above Issaquah Merging timeless architectural detailing with fresh, contemporary interior elements."
  • Brighton on Park: "the perfect setting for your vibrant lifestyle"
  • Grand Ridge Drive: "Featuring privacy, seclusion and a location just five minutes from I-90."
  • Wisteria Park: "Three unique homestyles"
  • Dahlia Park: "Priced from the $600's ... Only 2 new home opportunities left."
  • Starpoint: "It's all about you!"
  • Central Park: "Spectacular views welcome you to this prestigious enclave of exclusive new homes high on a ridge at spectacular Issaquah Highlands."
If you have time left, visit the Great Rooms in the Model Homes at CamWest, GMP Homes, and Greacen Construction. Day 3: Take a day trip to other nearby housing developments such as: The Crossings at Pine Lake, Windsor Greens, Shamrock Heights, Alderra Estates, Hawks Ridge. Health and safety Unless accustomed to the intensely exciting pace of Highlands life, you should take a mild tranquilizer (Xanax or Valium) three times a day during your visit. Language Highlanders speak a pigeon English that employs at most 50 phrases repeated in different sequences. The most common phrases are:
  • "Have a good day."
  • "What weather!"
  • "How about those Huskies."
  • "What's on TV tonight?"
  • "I don't get it. Is that supposed to be a joke?"
Some linguists believe the meaning of each phrase changes depending on inflection. For example, "How about those Huskies" and "What weather!" may be celebratory or critical depending on intonation.  

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