Offers: New and used books
Claim to fame: More than one million books covering an entire city block
Powell's encyclopedic, entertaining website - which accounts for about a third of its business - tempts us to stay home and order, but why miss what author Susan Sontag calls "the best bookstore in the English-speaking world"?
Here's the Powell's paradox: Its vast literary catacombs are overwhelming in their size and variety, especially on a first visit, but at the same time surprisingly intimate and personal. Great touch: New and used editions of books are shelved together, so you can decide whether to spring for a pristine copy or a pre-owned number.
The first-time Powell's pilgrim shouldn't even think about doing the whole block in a day. Instead, target some color-coded sections (Children's Religion? History of Science? Business of Gardening?), then return fresh another time. And don't worry about getting lost; one great surprise leads on to another. Powell's also operates several spinoffs in Portland, but the Burnside mother ship is the one to e-mail home about.
Elliott Bay Book Company
101 South Main St.
Offers: New, used, and rare books
Claim to fame: More than 500 visiting authors read each year.
According to author David Guterson (Snow Falling on Cedars), "Everything book-wise in the Seattle area begins with the Elliott Bay Book Company." To see why, grab a latte from the original Starbucks in Pike's Market and stroll down South Main Street to the store in historic Pioneer Square, which has been called "the SoHo of Seattle." Elliott Bay's logo, an old sailing ship, echoes not only that nearby body of water, but the nautical feel of the store itself, with creaky wooden floors, narrow stairways, nooks, and lofts.