IF YOU GO

GET AROUND: Metro Transit buses are free downtown and about $2 through the greater Seattle area. Trolleys run along Pier 70, the waterfront and around the International District. Sound Transit will get you to Tacoma, and the monorail goes between downtown and the Space Needle ($2 each way). If you want to get across Puget Sound, take a ferry (starts at $4.10 each way, depending on destination).

STAY: The Hotel Max (620 Stewart St., 866-986-8087, hotelmaxseattle.com) is hip and comfortable without being frou-frou, a stylish and modern hotel filled with art and sleek furnishings that also won't break the bank. Located downtown, Max is within walking distance of restaurants and museums, theaters and galleries, and also sports its own cool Asian fusion eatery. Rates start at $130.

BROWSE: Elliott Bay Book Co. (1521 10th Ave., 206-624-6600, elliottbaybook.com) is one of those hard-to-leave bookstores that has plenty of spots for lounging and a good, independent vibe. The Capitol Hill locale puts it on the way to theater and music venues, and the little cafe inside does a great latte and sandwiches.

DINE: They sound girly, but then you try a crumpet, and the next thing you know, you're on your fourth one at The Crumpet Shop (1503 First Ave., 206-682-1598, thecrumpetshop.com). What is a crumpet? Kind of like a puffy, slightly sweet English muffin, and the shop either tops them with jam and butter or Nutella and ricotta, or fills them like a sandwich with meats and cheeses. They start at about $3, and they're addictive, as is the coffee here.

Elliott's Oyster House (1201 Alaskan Way, Pier 56, 206-623-4340, elliottsoysterhouse.com) It's a locals hangout, because Elliott's shucks the freshest oysters around by the million.

AMBLE: The 9-acre Pike Place Market (First and Pike, downtown, pikeplace.org) seems like such a tourist thing to do, but you'll run into locals here too, picking up their fish and vegetables, because it's the freshest, and often the cheapest, stuff around. It's also fun people-watching and souvenir-shopping - and while the original Starbucks moved from its first location at 2000 Western Ave., it relocated in 1976 to 1912 Pike Place.

PLAY: Hike around Discovery Park, the 534-acre haven that overlooks Puget Sound and offers spectacular views of the Olympic and Cascade mountains. The best route is to go along the beach to the lighthouse and then along the bluff. Pick up a trail map for the easy, 11.8-mile jaunt at the Discovery Park Visitor Center (3801 W. Government Way, 206-386-4236, seattle.gov/parks).

Guys who hunt and fish use cabins - rustic dens with wood stoves and barnboard floors and rough-hewn tables - where for entire weekends, and longer, men park their glasses of whiskey and show their poker hands and yak into the wee hours.

The rest of us? Guy-to-guy bonding might come in fits and starts - a round of golf, a trail run. But then too quickly we are back under the thumb of a boss, or lost in the thickets of child-rearing, or dutifully attending to our romantic relationships.

I envy the fellas with the cabins. But I'm gunless and moronic when it comes to hooks and fish.

So this summer I went hunting for a metaphorical retreat - a "cabin." And I bagged it in Seattle. And next summer my li'l bungalow will pop up somewhere else - maybe Montreal, or the northern coast of California.

What I'm saying, lads, is my "cabin" is a guys-only trip, and maybe you too should man up and book a getaway with your comrades.

Here's how my trip came about.

Last year, I knew I wanted to spend time with a few of my best friends, but I wasn't sure how it would happen. After much e-mailing, we decided to just meet somewhere - we opted for Seattle - and take a vacation together.

I was the trip's planner. By "planner," I mean I entered terms in Google and found an old, downtown hotel that sounded refreshingly seedy, and then I booked a suite of two rooms with three beds.

Enough planning.


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The party involved a high-school friend from New York, and a reporter buddy from California. They didn't know each other. Both are unusually chatty, for guys, so I presumed (correctly) the trip at least would not contain uncomfortable silences.

We caught a baseball game. We inhaled an inlet's worth of raw oysters. We hoisted adult beverages. We walked. And walked. Mile after mile of hilly Seattle, through neighborhoods of students, past coffee shops dense with heavily tattooed people staring into Macs, along an island beach, through Pike Place Market.

The trip worked. I'm eager for next year's plunge into Guy World.

I, at least, found the three days with the guys refreshing. We talked some trash, we blabbed about work, we delved into politics, relationships, even religion. And we laughed a lot.

The idea of men taking a vacation together isn't novel.

The marketing sorcerers even coined a term for it, "mancation," but I think that's embarrassing. "Mancation" should be the title of a poor movie starring Adam Sandler as the emasculated simpleton who finally escapes with his buddies. They get drunk.

They burp - big laughs. They ogle vacationing cheerleaders in bikinis. The whole trip nearly unravels because without the sensible guidance of women, the dudes don't know how to act; they become adrift at sea in a rowboat, or they get lost in a forest as the sun sets.

By the end, they all are ready to return home, but they bonded and learned a few important lessons along the way.

I mean, this is just dreadful. Who wants to hear about important lessons?

Kumbaya moments or not, the idea of the guys vacation is taking hold in popular culture. In the September issue of Cosmopolitan magazine, for example, the publication identified the phenomenon as a top trend, said James Hills, the founder of mantripping.com.

Hills, who has run the site for two years, said more and more guys are checking out his site and booking trips together.

"There is money there," he said. "It's not all boys behaving badly. Sitting around a campfire drinking bourbon and talking, guys understand each other. It's like group therapy. It sounds sappy, but I think there is something to it."

Another guy-trip advocate, Randy Goodman of Mancation Nation, an Arizona company that hosts guys-only trips, said men "are realizing they need to go back and be in high school," to a time before the crush of responsibilities that defines being a grown-up.

"When they get back home," he said, "they are better dads and husbands and guys."

My getaway didn't involve corn liquor and a campfire. And I'm certain it did not transform me into Much Improved Man.

As for important lessons, I learned just one thing during my three-day bacchanal of unkempt pride, walking without a plan, almost missing a flight home, and passing out in a park in the afternoon (due to all of that walking without a plan).

The important lesson: Wandering is a great guy thing.

This sounds counterintuitive, because the stereotype is guys are map-obsessed, stern about "game plans," results-oriented. But I think guys are made for wandering.

You know who wanders? Men with shotguns working a fence row for pheasant, or tracking elk, or trudging up a river, searching for signs of trout.

Men, that is, with cabins.

When they get together for their enviable pilgrimages, they spend a lot of time wandering. When we met in Seattle, without guns and rods and prey - it didn't matter. Same thing. We wandered.

Guys, book that trip. Shrink from excessive planning. Just get there and commence wandering.

The guys on my trip who didn't know each other got along, and both want a repeat next year, in a different city. And a few more pals, now, want invitations to the "cabin."

The structure may just be a state of mind. But it's beginning to feel permanent.