The South Sound User’s Guide, illustrated and designed by Sean Alexander and edited by Ken Miller, provides a detailed introduction to the South Sound area.
The guide covers places of interest, restaurants and breweries, parks, hiking trails, hotels, locally significant retail, museums and galleries and historic sites in Pierce, Thurston and Mason counties.
The introduction provides detailed instruction on how to assimilate with the distinctive Pacific Northwest culture found in the South Sound.
Readers are informed of our peculiar aversion to umbrellas, the way we say “I-5” instead of “the Five,” the pronunciation of Puyallup, social conventions, casual dress and the way that “recycling and separation of waste are civic virtues.”
The introduction takes it perhaps too far by stating that “Tacoma is T-Town to hipsters,” which, though it might be true, is a bit too generalizing.
Speaking frankly, without exaggerating the area’s upsides or downplaying its flaws, the introduction provides a charming overview. The writing is peppered with facts that do not interrupt the flow of the descriptions, giving a helpful, informative tone that characterizes the whole guidebook.
The book is organized around “hubs:” towns like Lacey and Tumwater are hubs in themselves, while smaller communities within larger cities like Tacoma and Olympia—the Tacoma Dome district, for example, or Sixth Ave.—are considered hubs and have their own section.
Within each section, notable sites are listed in no particular order, followed by a brief description written with a local’s insight.
This organization is helpful if you find yourself in a particular area and you want to hit all the sights or you’re looking for a good restaurant nearby; if you’re looking for a particular type of restaurant or attraction in all of the South Sound, the back of the book complies with an index. Food is organized by type, from barbecue to vegan.
The guidebook is thorough in its inclusion of all the notable sights in each hub. The book avoids chain restaurants and retail stores, preferring to focus on businesses that are unique to the area and worth an out-of-towner’s visit.
The South Sound User’s Guide also devotes two pages to the University of Puget Sound, directed at the casual visitor with no interest in academics.
The two pages contain blurbs on architecture, the multitude of trees, music and cultural events, public art, bookstore, athletics and KUPS. Attractions like the gray whale skeleton and the Chihuly piece are duly noted alongside our place on the list of Most Vegan-Friendly Colleges and KUPS’s 2010 MTV Best College Radio Station award.
Although the writing is helpful and informative and the organization is sensible, perhaps the best part of the South Sound User’s Guide is the illustrations.
Each page contains one or more hand-drawn pen-and-ink illustrations by Sean Alexander, depicting the quintessential natural scenes, storefronts and quirky people of the South Sound.
From half-page landscapes to dime-sized images, the illustrations break up the text and lend the entire book an artsy charm.
The style of the illustration shows influences from local Native American artwork in its patterns as well as the quirkiness of South Sound residents. Human figures are distinctively offbeat; motion in scenes is captured by sketchy lines.
The text is also helpfully punctuated by original small-scale maps, neatly designed and artfully executed.
Maps feature stark lines—designating roads—with circled numbers indicating places of interest over washed-out photos of characteristically South Sound scenes or symbols like Stadium High School or the face of a gray wolf.
This first edition of the South Sound User’s Guide is an artfully designed guide to experiencing the area like a savvy native. The helpful tips and wonderful illustrations make the Guide indispensable for visitors and locals alike.
For information on how to acquire the User’s Guide, and on Sean Alexander and Ken Miller, the designers and editors themselves, please visit: https://sites.google.com/site/southsoundusersguide/
COVER COURTESY / SOUTH SOUND PRESS